Appealed, p.21
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       Appealed, p.21

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  For more.

  For faster.

  Harder, Brent. Deeper.

  Then it’s a sonata of breathy gasps, ragged groans, and the sound of slapping skin. The tendons in my back lengthen and strain, like the string of a bow stretched to its snapping point. Kennedy’s toes curl and her tiny feet flex, searching for purchase in the air. With a series of grunts that grate my voice box raw, I come, fingers digging into her hips, holding her still—making her take everything I have to give.

  Her hands ravage the sheets and Kennedy climaxes right after. Her contracting muscles clamp down, wringing every last drop from my still-pulsing cock. My head goes light, my vision hazy. It’s possible I’m about to pass the hell out.

  And I collapse on top of her, my bones turned to Jell-O.

  When the aftershocks eventually ebb, she laughs. That twinkling, magical laugh that sings of contentment and tugs up my own lips in a responding smile.

  Now that—that is how you start a fucking trial.

  • • •

  Once I’m actually able to stand again, we hit the shower. With Kennedy’s cast wrapped in a plastic bag, washing her hair—and all her nooks and crannies—is a challenge. Naturally, I’ve been helping her out. It’s the only decent thing to do.

  And just a little while later, I’m in my suit—the navy one with my lucky cuff links—assisting Kennedy with her first layer of clothing.

  “Kevlar’s a hot look for you.” I secure the Velcro seam. “We are definitely taking this home with us.”

  Her golden hair slides off her shoulder when she turns my way. “You’re kind of a kinky bastard, aren’t you?”

  “You have no idea. But don’t worry—you will.” I seal the promise with a kiss on her cheek. Then I hold her blouse while she slides her arms in.

  “How are you feeling, champ?” I ask.

  I’ve seen firsthand over the last weeks that Kennedy is stellar at compartmentalizing. Burying any pesky emotions like fear or doubt way down deep during the day. But at night, when we’re alone, that’s when the demons creep from their crypt and tell her that she’s bound to fail—or worse. And I’m grateful to be here—to be the man who gets to hold her when she trembles, the one she whispers those worries to, the one who helps her shoulder that burden.

  She’ll never have to do it alone again.

  “I’m good.” She grins back, and the gleam in her eye tells me that’s true.

  I drop a peck on her nose and button her blouse, because the cast makes that difficult too. But as I look at the remnants of her injuries—still visible through her light makeup—it hits me. I turn her head, checking out the yellowish bruising in different lights.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “The defense is going to ask the judge to recuse you because of the bruises, the cast. They’ll say you’ll prejudice the jury.”

  She frowns. “You think so?”

  “It’s what I’d do.” I shrug.

  Kennedy nods her head slowly, gazing at the carpet—seeing the potential exchange play out behind her eyes. “Okay. Then I’ll be ready to argue that motion.”

  “Yeah,” I kiss her forehead now. “You will be.”

  • • •

  Kennedy walks into court like a general. The way I imagine Joan of Arc walked onto the battlefield—just daring the English to bring it on. I sit in the front row of the gallery, right behind her. Next to me is Connor Roth, the green-eyed, stone-faced marshal who took me up to her hospital room. He’s been by her side ever since.

  While she speaks in hushed tones to the other prosecutors at the table, I check out Moriotti, on the opposite side of the courtroom, next to his own team of attorneys. He’s in his forties, short but stocky—powerful—with black, slicked hair that’s just starting to gray at the temples. He looks like a typical scumbag, even dressed up in an Italian suit, which I know at a glance cost him the average person’s mortgage payment. He follows Kennedy with his eyes, and when he notices the cast on her arm—the fucker laughs.

  Rage shoots through my bloodstream like a speeding bullet, making me careless—thoughtless. I start to rise from my seat, intent on walking over there and ripping the motherfucker’s head off with my bare hands. And I pity the bailiff who gets in my way.

  A strong grip on my shoulder holds me back.

  “Don’t do it, Batman,” Roth murmurs. “Getting thrown out of court and locked up before the trial even starts won’t do your girl any favors.”

  His words pull me from my gory fantasies, because he’s right. It sucks—but he’s right.

  • • •

  Three days later, I tell Kennedy I won’t be in court that afternoon. When worry shadows her face, I’m quick to explain I have some of my own work to catch up on. It’s a lie—Jake is awesome at holding down the fort, and even on maternity leave, Stanton has been picking up my slack from home. But it’s just a little lie—the good kind.

  Because if she knew where I was really going, that shadow of concern would turn into a full-blown eclipse.

  • • •

  The modern-day Mafioso is very different from the olden days of Al Capone, fedora hats, and Tommy guns hidden in violin cases. The Sopranos got it pretty right. If you didn’t already know it, you’d never suspect that Carmine Bianco—the seventy-year-old, dark-haired, leather-faced guy in the back corner table of this neighborhood deli—is the supreme leader of a ruthless, multimillion-dollar criminal organization that the feds have been trying for two decades to pin a RICO charge on. He looks like somebody’s grandpa, or an old benevolent uncle.

  Except for the two massive bastards standing behind him—with gun belts strapped beneath their jackets.

  We’re the only customers in the deli, so when one of the big guys steps up to me a few feet short of the table, I automatically hold out my arms and he pats me down—checking for weapons or a wire. My whole life, people have commented on my youthful face, my boyish good looks, and have underestimated me because of them. I press that advantage now, and give Carmine an affable smile as I sit down across from him.

  “Mr. Bianco, I’m Brent Mason. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

  He puts his overflowing sandwich down and chews his mouthful, swiping a napkin across his lips with thick fingers. “You want a sandwich?”

  I shake my head. “I’m good, thanks.”

  His eyes are sharp, gleaming like a switchblade as he takes me in—my gray suit, loosened tie, Rolex watch. “I don’t know you. I don’t know how you know me—but my money guy said I should meet with you, so here we are. What can you do for me, kid?”

  His business advisor is an associate of an associate of one of my family’s longtime brokers. So I made a few calls—because it doesn’t matter if you’re a mobster or a prince: money always talks.

  “I guess you could say I have a . . . business proposition for you.” My voice gives me away. It’s hard—tight. I don’t know if he ordered the hit on Kennedy, or if his boys clean up their own messes. And I can’t ask; he wouldn’t tell me either way. All I can do is deal with him, because when you want to get rid of a snake, you aim straight for the head.

  He leans back in his seat. “I’m listening.”

  “Gino Moriotti. He works for you.”

  The old man’s mouth quirks. “Allegedly.”

  “Of course, allegedly.” I chuckle.

  “What about him?”

  Then I’m not chuckling anymore. “How much is he worth to you? How much money do you stand to lose when he gets put away—and I have no doubt whatsoever that he will be put away.”

  That gets his attention. He stares at me the way you stare at someone you think you’ve met before, but can’t quite remember. Like he’s trying to place me. Figure me out.

  I give him a hand and lay my cards bare on the table.

  “The lead prosecutor on his case—”

  “The blonde.” He points at me, nodding with understanding.

  “The blonde,” I confirm.

&
nbsp; “She’s cute.”

  “Yes, she is. She’s also very important to me. When this case is finished, I’m going to take her back to DC. I’m going to marry her, have beautiful babies with her, and grow old with her. And I’m not gonna do that looking over her shoulder all the time, worrying that someone from your organization is going to try and settle a score.” I let him absorb that.

  Then I tell him, “I have money. I have properties I didn’t buy, cars and carpets, antiques and jewels—and none of them means a damn to me if I don’t have her. So—give me a number.”

  We stare each other down.

  When he remains quiet, I add in a low voice—just shy of menacing. “Think of this as my big, fat carrot. You catch more flies with honey, y’know? But rest assured that my stick is pretty fucking lethal—and I’m not afraid to use it.”

  Laughter shakes his whole body, vibrating the table. “Aye, oh—listen to you. Somebody’s got balls to spare, huh? Sounds like a threat.” He turns to one of the ogres behind him. “You believe this kid, Tony?”

  Tony doesn’t believe it. “I don’t believe it, Mr. Bianco.”

  “I musta misheard you. Right . . . Brent?”

  And as quick as a snake strike, lethal energy radiates from him, like steam from a boiling pot.

  And I don’t give a shit—because I’ve done my homework.

  I lean forward, looking straight into his eyes. “You’re married, right, Carmine? To the same woman for over fifty years. There’s just something about the girl next door—your childhood sweetheart. The prosecutor? She’s mine. So . . . ask yourself if there’s anything you wouldn’t do to keep your wife safe. Any horror you wouldn’t commit, any law you wouldn’t break. Then . . . you tell me if I’m threatening you.”

  Thick, heavy silence blankets the room.

  Then Bianco reaches down and takes another bite of his sandwich. As he chews, he tells me, “I like you, kid.”

  I shrug. “Most people do.”

  He takes another bite. “You gamble?”

  “Sometimes.”

  He nods, swallowing his bite. “The way I gamble . . . you gotta try and tip the odds in your favor. Load the dice, weight the wheel, count the cards. But after you play your hand—if you lose, it’s over. You cut your losses, walk away from the table. Turning around to take out the dealer only pisses off the casino. Brings unneeded attention, you know what I’m sayin’?”

  And I’m pretty sure I do.

  Bianco leans back in his chair, regarding me. “So . . . after Gino’s hand plays out, you marry your cute girl, have lots of blue-eyed lawyer babies—and don’t bother looking over her shoulder. We’re not gonna be there.”

  • • •

  Three weeks later, the verdict is in. I’m right behind Kennedy when the foreman reads it aloud. And I’m the first person she hugs after Gino Moriotti is found guilty on all counts.

  Kennedy and I go out and celebrate with the prosecutors and agents who worked the case with her. She drinks vodka. A lot of it. It’s a great fucking night.

  And then I pack up my warrior princess and take her home to my castle.

  Epilogue

  Six months later

  “Welcome Saint Arthur’s Class of 2000!”

  The high school reunion: one of the most excruciatingly annoying experiences ever invented. You have to get all dressed up to see people you didn’t actually like enough to keep in touch with over the past fifteen years. Men worry if anyone will notice how bald they’re going—and the answer is yes. Women worry if they look the same as they did when they were eighteen. News flash—you don’t. Or, if you do, that’s some toxic fucking voodoo you’re pumping into your veins, so you should stop right away.

  Vicki and Brian begged off, using the ultimate ironclad excuse of their kids to get out of going. Kennedy was reluctant too. But after my relentless oral persuasion—and two orgasms—she gave in.

  I think it will be good for her to face those ghosts, so she can see that even bullies grow up, and more important, get old. She says she doesn’t need that, but I think deep down, she still carries a tiny open wound from those years. Coming back here, with me, might finally scab it over completely.

  And to be honest—I want to be here with her. I want to show her the fuck off—her and the three-carat engagement ring I put on her finger last month. It’s not just because she’s drop-dead gorgeous either. I’d want her on my arm even if she was still wearing those old glasses and braces and big baggy sweaters. Because I’m proud of her—not just how she looks.

  And—if everything goes like I think it will—I have an additional ulterior motive for coming back.

  Cher blasts from the speakers as Kennedy and I step into the gymnasium, hand in hand. Since our boarding school costs a pretty penny, you’d think the event would have more elegance. Class.

  But nope—it’s the typical streamers, dimly lit, candles on the table, occasional strobe lights flashing like we’re in a club, bad DJ, kind of setup. We get a drink from the bar and walk around—mingling with my old lacrosse teammates and even chatting for a few minutes with William fucking Penderghast. He’s a big-time CEO now, with a Victoria’s Secret model for a wife. Good for him.

  But we both know I still got the better end of the deal.

  “Holy shit, Brent Mason! Come here you handsome bastard!”

  I’m accosted by a tan, blond woman in a sequined gown, wearing way too much Chanel No. 5. When she steps back, I see it’s my old girlfriend—Cashmere Champlaine. It’d be nice to say she got what she deserved—that the years hadn’t been kind to the face and body she valued so much. But that just wouldn’t be true. She’s still beautiful, with a tastefully medically enhanced face and a toned body without any obvious fat. I’d heard she’d married a professional football player a few years back, then divorced him. And married one of his teammates.

  Her lips peel back in an aggressive smile, revealing glowing, straight teeth. She smacks the lapel of my suit. “How are you, stranger?”

  “I’m good, Cazz,” I answer coolly. “How about yourself?”

  “I’m amazing! I’m running my own modeling business now out in LA! Everyone thinks they’re going to be the next Giselle—though most of them couldn’t get a hemorrhoid cream commercial without blowing the photographer first. What are you doing with your fine self these days?”

  And here’s where that ulterior motive comes into play.

  “I got engaged recently.”

  Her smile turns forced and her eyes harden. “Really? How nice.”

  “It is.” Then I pull Kennedy around from behind me. “My fiancée is Kennedy Randolph. You remember her, don’t you, Cazz?”

  Her pretense of good humor drops, melting into an ugly scowl.

  “Hello, Cashmere.” Kennedy stares her down, her eyes hard like topaz. It’s similar to her court stance. Fearless.

  “You have got to be fucking kidding me!” Cashmere screeches at me. “I knew it! I always knew you had a thing for her! Unbelievable!”

  My voice is calm, and deceptively contrite. “Yeah, you’re right. I always did. The thing is, I have a little confession to make.”

  “What?”

  “I cheated on you, Cashmere. All through boarding school. All those nights when I said I had to practice late or my leg bothered me or I had to study—I was really with Kennedy.” I look right into her angry eyes. “It was always her. Always.”

  When a stunned expression fills her face, I know she believes me. That my words struck her right in the heart. And Kennedy’s final dragon is slayed.

  “Are you . . . are you serious?”

  “Totally.” Then I shrug. “But it’s no big deal, right? Kids are assholes. They only care about themselves—they don’t give a damn how much they might hurt someone else. No hard feelings, right?”

  Cashmere swallows whatever she was about to say, because we’re surrounded by her old groupies—and every one of them heard. So she saves face as best she can.

 
She smiles tightly. “Yeah. No hard feelings.”

  “Great.” I stroke the back of Kennedy’s hair. “Oh—this is a good song. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dance with the girl of my dreams. Later, Cazz.”

  I turn around and lead Kennedy away.

  Once we’re on the dance floor, with my arms around her, she smirks at me.

  “Why did you do that?”

  I press my lips against her hair. “I can’t go back and change those years for you, but I can change how she remembers them. She doesn’t get to think she was better than you—she never was.”

  Kennedy’s sigh sounds content and grateful at the same time.

  “Thank you.”

  She lays her head on my chest and we dance for a few minutes. Then her head pops back up excitedly. “Hey, you know what we should do?”

  “What?”

  “We should drive back out to the overlook.” Her voice drops to sultry. Teasing. “We could . . . make out . . . like we did last time.”

  I brush my nose against hers. “Will you let me go all the way this time?”

  She bites her lip, like she has to think about it. “I’m not sure . . . I’m a good girl, you know.”

  My hands slip down to her hips, squeezing. “But it’s so fun when you’re bad.”

  And hot. She’s really fucking hot when she’s bad.

  Kennedy’s head tilts back and her eyes sparkle. All for me. “You play your cards right, things could turn naughty.”

  Sweet. I’m a kick-ass card player.

  “You know what else I just realized?” she asks.

  My hands slide up her thighs, cupping her ass. “What?”

  “You never settled on a nickname for me.”

  I kiss her softly, with the promise of more to come.

  “But I did. The best nickname ever—and in a few months, I’m going to use it every chance I get.”

  Her head angles to the side, trying to guess. Eventually she gives up.

  “What is it?”

  I raise Kennedy’s left hand to my lips, kissing the knuckles where her engagement ring sits. Where, very soon, a wedding ring will be.

  “Wife.”

  Extended Epilogue

  Once upon a time . . . at the Mason Potomac Estate

  “Robert?” Vivian Mason’s voice whispered. “Are you awake?”

  She wasn’t supposed to be. Her parents had tucked her into bed hours ago. Her mother had softly brushed back her blond hair and kissed her forehead, her mother’s beautiful white dress glowing in the dim room like a star in the night sky. And her father had wished her sweet dreams, calling her his Little Fox, because he said she was smart like a fox. He was silly like that, always coming up with funny names for her and her little brother and sister.

  But how could they expect her to sleep? It was New Year’s Eve and there was a grand party in the ballroom below them.

  “Robert!” she demanded, louder now.

  “Yes, I’m awake!”

 
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