Sustained, p.2
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       Sustained, p.2

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  “Some advice for future reference?” I tell young, entitled Milton. “Don’t screw around with the Federal Aviation Administration. They’re very sensitive these days and they’ve got the budget to make your life miserable.” Then I turn to the father. “And in answer to your question, Malcolm, it’d be easier to make this go away if your son could refrain from getting himself arrested every few weeks.”

  Two DUIs, a disorderly conduct, and an assault in a bar fight—all within just the last three months. I bet you think that’s some kind of record.

  It’s not.

  “So you’re saying we can’t win?” Milton asks, his voice cracking like he’s Bobby from The Brady Bunch.

  My lips slide into a half grin that feels cold on my face.

  “Of course we’re going to win. You took medication before the flight for anxiety. That’s our angle. A bad reaction to the pills, which explains your offensive behavior. A sworn statement from the prescribing physician should be sufficient.”

  It’s almost too easy.

  I point my finger at him. “But for the next six weeks, you need to stay home. Keep your name out of the papers and off of TMZ. Don’t drive, don’t go out to the clubs, don’t fart in a public place. You understand?”

  Malcolm grins and places his hand on his son’s shoulder. “We do.” The three of us stand. “As always, thank you, Jake. We’re lucky to have you on our side.”

  “I’ll be in touch.” And with a handshake, they’re gone.

  • • •

  Two hours later I’m sliding into my suit jacket, ready to head out to lunch. I automatically straighten my tie, adjust my collar—to ensure the scattering of tattoos that begins at my collarbone, wraps around my right shoulder, and trails down to the end of my wrist is covered. It’s a bitch in the summer, but the presence of ink tends to make my upper-crust clients uncomfortable, and it’s never well received by judges.

  My secretary, Mrs. Higgens, walks into my office. Mrs. Higgens is the classic little old lady, right down to the pearl necklace and spectacles—the kind you’d expect to be sitting in a rocking chair crocheting blankets for dozens of grandkids. She’s terrific at her job. I’ve been accurately called a coldhearted bastard on a number of occasions, but I’m not sure if even I could muster the level of callousness that would be needed to fire her.

  “There’s a young lady here to see you, Jake. She doesn’t have an appointment.”

  I fucking hate walk-ins. They’re unexpected and unpredictable. They screw up my schedule, and my schedule is sacred.

  “I’m on my way out.”

  Mrs. Higgens looks at me sideways and drops an unsubtle hint. “She’s very pretty.”

  I glance at my watch. “Fine. But tell her she’s got five minutes and five minutes only.”

  I sit back down and a few moments later a petite, dark-haired woman enters my office. I’d say she’s in her late twenties, attractive, with a banging little body under those beige slacks and that prim yellow cardigan. But her shifty eyes and jittery movements dampen the appeal.

  Looks matter, but confidence is by far the most alluring accessory a woman can wear.

  Mrs. Higgens closes the door as she exits, and the brunette walk-in stands in front of my desk.

  “Hi,” she says, glancing ever so briefly at my face before staring back at the floor, pushing her hair back behind her ears.

  “Hi. Can I help you?”

  That gets her looking up. “You don’t remember me, do you?” she asks, hands twisted together.

  I study her face, more carefully this time. She’s neither remarkably beautiful nor outstandingly fugly. Just kind of . . . generic. Forgettable.

  “Should I?”

  Her shoulders hunch as she covers her eyes, muttering, “Jeez, I thought this was going to be hard enough . . .” She sinks down into one of the chairs across from my desk, perched on the edge—ready to run. After a beat, she adds, “We met last month at the Angry Inch Saloon? I was wearing a red dress?”

  Nope, doesn’t ring any bells. I’ve met lots of women at that bar and when available, I go for blondes. They’re not more fun . . . just hotter.

  She brushes her dark bangs to the side and tries again. “I asked you to buy me a drink, and you did. A cosmopolitan.”

  Still nothing.

  “We went back to your place after I told you about walking in on my boyfriend having sex with my best friend?”

  I’m drawing a blank.

  “While he was wearing my favorite pink nightie?”

  And we have a winner. Now I remember. Made me think of Marv Albert, the sportscaster with a penchant for women’s lingerie—and assault and battery. And yet, he’s still on TV.

  Only in America.

  “Yes. I remember now . . .” I squint, working on the name.

  “Lainey.”

  “Lainey.” My fingers snap. “Right. What can I do for you?” I glance at my watch—two minutes left and I’m out the door.

  She’s back to nervous and jerky. “Okay, there’s no easy way to say this . . . so I’m just going to say it.”

  Sounds like a solid plan.

  She takes a big breath and rushes out, “He didn’t just take my best friend and my best lingerie . . . he left something behind, too.”

  How poetic.

  “Syphilis.”

  • • •

  That sound you just heard? That’s me thinking, What the fuck did she just say? I actually stick my finger in my ear, to clear out the water that’s obviously clogged in there from my morning shower, distorting the hell out of my hearing.

  But then she speaks again. And it sounds exactly the same.

  “Yeah, syphilis.”

  My stomach seizes, and there’s a really good chance I’m about to lose my breakfast.

  “I got my test results back a few days ago. The people at the clinic said I needed to contact everyone I’ve had sex with since him. And that’s only you. I remembered your name and you said you were a lawyer here in DC.” She flaps her hands. “So . . . here I am.”

  She might want to move a little bit to the right. I’m definitely going to blow chunks.

  She breathes easier now, looking relieved that she got it all out. How goddamn nice for her.

  “Do you have any questions, Jake? Anything you want to say?”

  Motherfucking hell, I should’ve just gone to lunch.

  2

  I wasn’t always so committed to structure, dedicated to routine. In my younger years, I was the epitome of the bad boy. The badder the better. I’ve got the scars, the tattoos, and the sealed juvenile criminal record to prove it. In those days I had a major temper and an even bigger chip on my shoulder—a dangerous combination. And I let both rule me the way crank controls a meth head. It was only after a major scare—a near fucking miss that almost decimated my life—that I went legit. With the guidance of a crotchety old judge who took me under his wing and kicked my proverbial ass, I was able to lock up the bad boy and throw away the key.

  Because he saw something in me that I’d never seen. Potential. Promise. The possibility of greatness. Sure, my mother always predicted it, but as far as my screwed-up brain was concerned, she didn’t count. All moms think their kid is the next Einstein or Gates or Mozart just waiting to happen.

  He accepted me for who I was, scabs and all. But he refused to accept that that was all I was. And when someone believes in you, goes out on a limb for you when they have no obligation to do shit—it has an impact. It made me want to look in the mirror and see the man he knew I could be.

  And today, that’s the fucker who stares back at me. Controlled. Powerful. Top of his game. Sure, once in a while the temper rattles the cage, but I keep that shit locked down tight. The bad boy gets out to play in a limited capacity—on a short, thick leash. Women love a man with an edge; they get all wet and quivery for a tough guy—so that’s his playground. ’Cause when it comes to fucking . . . like I said . . . the badder the better.

  It
s that practiced restraint that allows me to keep my standing lunch appointment, even though eating is the last thing I want to do. But it’s a ritual. Me, Sofia, Brent, and Stanton—the current fab four of criminal law. Sometimes it’s in our offices, most times it’s held at any of the taverns or cafés located within blocks of our firm. We’re sitting at one of those places now—at a round, checkered-clothed curbside table, the March air and afternoon sun just warm enough to eat outside. Stanton’s morning court session ran over so he’s late to the party.

  Sofia stands up when he approaches, smoothing down her sleek black skirt, her four-inch heels lifting her to eye level with her boyfriend.

  He kisses her with smiling lips and a sappy expression. “Hey, darlin’.”

  She runs a hand through his blond hair. “Hi.”

  Brent leans back in his chair, his dark blue gaze glinting with mischief. “I don’t get a kiss?”

  Stanton pulls out Sofia’s chair for her, then sits in his own. “My ass is always available for you, Mason.”

  “Actually, I was talking to Sofia.”

  “Her ass is off-limits,” Stanton replies, scanning the menu.

  Stanton Shaw is a good old boy—in every sense of the term. Originally a Mississippi farm boy, he’s honest, loyal, has a low tolerance for bullshit, and exudes an easy, genuine charm that women find irresistible—as do juries. We met in law school and became roommates shortly after that. He’s a heavy hitter around the firm—his record is as impressive as my own—and he’s got his eye on a partnership. But, unlike me, Stanton has baggage. Cool, sweet baggage, sure, but baggage all the same.

  I don’t like kids—too needy, too whiny. Stanton’s daughter, Presley, is the sole exception. She lives back in Mississippi with her mother, Stanton’s ex, but she comes to DC often enough that my friend has more than earned his Daddy moniker. And he relishes it. If sunshine took human form, like some Greek myth, she would be Presley Shaw. She’s just a great fucking kid.

  After we order, talk turns to our latest cases, the goings-on at the firm. Who’s stepping on whose toes, who has a figurative knife ready to perform a good backstabbing. This isn’t gossip; it’s intel. Ears to the ground to gather the information we need to know to make our next move.

  Our food arrives and the conversation shifts to politics. DC may be a large city, but when it comes to strategy and alliances, it resembles an episode of Survivor. And everyone’s salivating to vote someone off the island.

  But I’m only listening to them with one ear. My other ear is still ringing with the revelation of my unexpected visitor. Lainey. Not likely to forget her name again. I try to stay calm about it, but my sweaty palms betray me. And unless I’m hitting the bag at the gym or running my seven miles a day, I don’t fucking sweat. I consider the odds that I’m actually infected and what that means for me. I think about how I came to this point—the choices I should have made differently to avoid the sick feeling in my stomach that makes me leave my meal untouched.

  Brent’s voice pulls me out of my head. “What’s wrong with you today?”

  I meet his inquisitive stare with a bland one. “Why would you think something’s wrong?”

  He shrugs. “You’ve gone way beyond the strong silent type and are approaching selective mutism. What gives?”

  Brent is a talker. A sharer. He comes from a family of extreme wealth going back several generations. But his parents aren’t the cold, silent aristocrats you’d imagine. Sure, they’re kind of eccentric, which I find entertaining as hell, but they’re also warm, funny, giving people and they passed those qualities on to their son. Because they don’t actually work, Brent’s family members have way too much time on their hands—so they’re also way too involved in each other’s personal lives. There are no secrets in the Mason clan. Last month his cousin Carolyn emailed the family newsletter with her ovulation date attached, so everyone could keep their fingers crossed for her.

  And I’m not even kidding. They’d make a fucking hysterical reality show.

  When he was a kid Brent was in an accident, hit by a speeding car. He survived, minus the lower half of one leg. But he’s good with it—self-pity is not in his vocabulary. His pretty face probably helps in that regard—and the fact that women practically beg for him to screw them doesn’t hurt, either. He’s also a big believer in therapy. I suspect he’s dished out more cash to therapists over the years than he paid for his house.

  I am not a sharer or a talker. But we still get along—a yin-and-yang kind of thing. Brent has a knack for dragging me out of my shell in a way that doesn’t make me want to punch him.

  But not today.

  “I don’t want talk about it.”

  His eyes lock on me like a fighter pilot on a target. Or an annoying younger sibling. “Well, now you have to talk about it.”

  “Not really,” I say flatly.

  “Come on—spill. Tell us. Tell us. You know you want to. Tell us.”

  Stanton chuckles. “You might as well just come out with it, Jake. He’s not gonna stop until you do.”

  I offer an alternative. “I could break his jaw. Having it wired shut would stop him.”

  Brent strokes his newly grown, manicured beard. “Like you’d do anything to mar this priceless work of art. That would be a crime. Just tell us. Teeeeeell us.”

  I open my mouth . . . then pause . . . staring hesitantly at Sofia.

  She reads me loud and clear, and rolls her hazel eyes. “I grew up with three older brothers. And I live with him.” She points at Stanton. “There’s literally nothing you could say that I haven’t heard before.”

  O-kay. I take a breath and force the words from my lungs. “Turns out a woman I nailed last month has syphilis. I have to get tested.”

  Sofia coughs on her drink. “I stand corrected.”

  Brent laughs, the bastard. “Man, that’s awful.”

  “Thanks, asshole.” I glare at him. “You sound real broken up about it.”

  Brent reins in his hilarity. “Don’t get me wrong, it sucks, but syphilis is cured with a shot—it could’ve been worse.” His voice lowers. “You wanna play, sometimes you have to pay. It happens to the best of us. I had a bad case of seafood critters once myself.”

  “Seafood?” Sofia asks.

  Stanton fills her in. “Crabs, baby.”

  Her face scrunches up. “Ewww.”

  Stanton wags his finger at me. “I told you one day that revolving pussy door was gonna pinch you.”

  “Thanks for not saying I told you so.”

  “Anytime.”

  When he was single, Stanton wasn’t a monk. But his hookups were more of a slow burn. He dated. Had a solid stable of women he felt comfortable calling when he wanted to get laid.

  I don’t roll that way. It takes too much energy, too much time. A woman’s mind and personality don’t turn me on. It’s her other parts that hold my attention.

  I feel the need to defend myself. “It’s not like you two are so discriminating. I’ve seen some of the women you’ve fucked. Those were some pretty low bars.”

  “I resent that,” Brent tells me. But his grin says he kind of doesn’t.

  “At least I knew their names,” Stanton counters. “A little bit of their background, tastes, history . . .”

  “Sure,” I argue, “ ’cause right after ‘Nice weather we’re having,’ a chick is gonna throw out, ‘Oh, FYI—I have syphilis.’ ”

  Stanton thinks on that a moment, then shrugs. “She might, actually. You’d be surprised what you could learn if you took the time to talk to women. And even if she didn’t tell you, when you get to know a woman, you get a feel for what kind of person she is. That goes a long way in deciding who you don’t want to stick your dick into.”

  I hate to admit he has a point, but he does. And I resolve in this moment—if my tests come back clean—to get to know the next woman I intend to stick my dick into. At least a little. So I’ll never—ever—have to deal with this shit again.

 
; Sofia leans forward, bracing her elbows on the table. “Did you call your doctor?”

  “Yeah. I have an appointment tonight.”

  I avoid doctors like the bubonic plague. On some level I know it’s ignorant, but I think the stress of knowing you have a fatal disease kills faster than the disease itself. I’d rather not know.

  Give me a sudden heart attack in the middle of a fantastic lay or argument in the middle of a courtroom any day. That’s how I want to go. Many, many years from now.

  “You know what the worst part’s gonna be, don’t you?” Brent asks. The bastard is still grinning.

  “This isn’t the fucking worst part?”

  He shakes his head. “Nope. The celibacy, my good man. No fun times for you for probably about two weeks. Until the test results come back.”

  “Two weeks? Are you screwing with me?” My dick aches at the idea; it might as well be two years.

  He nudges my shoulder and I want to hit him. “Afraid not. You and Hanna are going to be monogamous for a while.”

  My eyes squint, ’cause I have no idea what he’s saying. “Hanna who?”

  He waves his palm. “Hanna Hand.”

  3

  Two weeks later

  Brent was right. It’s been two of the longest, slowest weeks of my life. I’ve worked out so much I busted my weight bench. Hanna and I have been spending way too much time together. The sex is stale and she’s starting to get clingy. Time to kick her to the fucking curb.

  I’m not a nympho, I don’t need to hump every night, but two weeks is a major dry spell. It hasn’t been pleasant—and neither has my mood. With every day that’s passed, I’ve become exponentially more unbearable. I’m tense. Short-tempered. On edge.

  Essentially, really goddamn horny.

  Stanton has taken to avoiding being in the office with me. The afternoon I threatened to rip his tongue out while he was getting frisky on the phone with Sofia may have had something to do with that.

  And even though today is the day I’m hoping to end the fast, anxiety about my test results has me even more stressed out. Which is really bad news for the client who just stepped into my office.

  Milton I-Can’t-Follow-a-Simple-Motherfucking-Direction Bradley.

  Milton I-Got-Arrested-Because-I-Was-in-a-Car-That-Got-Pulled-Over-with-Ten-Bags-of-Heroin-in-the-Glove-Compartment Bradley.

  The door rattles on its hinges as I throw it closed behind him and level my darkest glare at him. He puts his hands in his pockets and walks to a chair like he’s strolling through the park, not a care in the world.

  Not today, dipshit.

  As he slouches in the chair, I sit behind my desk and fold my hands to keep from punching him.

  “What did I tell you?” I ask him.

  “It wasn’t mine.”

  My voice gets lower. Sharper. “What. Did I. Tell you?”

  His eyes drop, like he’s a submissive dog. “You told me to stay home, but—”

  I hold up my finger. “There is no but. I told you to keep your sorry ass
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