Overruled, p.22
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       Overruled, p.22

         Part #1 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  But then I remember— “Sofia doesn’t fly.”

  Brent’s gaze warms just a little—with pity. “Then I guess she really wanted to get out of Dodge—because she flew today.”

  I collapse in the chair, wheels already turning, figuring out ways to track her down—tie her down if necessary. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

  “She asked us not to. Said she needed to pull herself together. She promised that by the time we get back, everything will be back to normal.” He pauses, then adds, “I’m sorry, Stanton.”

  I bang the table. “I don’t want things back to goddamn normal! I love her, Brent!”

  He scratches the new growth of brown stubble on his chin. “I’m not Dr. Phil or anything—but you probably should’ve mentioned that to her.”

  There comes a time in every man’s life when he takes a good, long look at himself and admits he’s been an asshole. A self-centered prick.

  I don’t know if it’s the same for women, but if you’ve got a dick, it’s inevitable. Because even good men, brave men, world leaders, renowned scientists, theologians, and Rhodes scholars have a greedy, selfish space inside them. A childish, needy black hole that will never be satiated. Look at me, listen to me, it says. It wants what it can’t have, as well as all the things it can. It wants to eat all the fucking cakes. It knows the world doesn’t revolve around us, but that doesn’t stop it from trying to defy the laws of physics and make it that way.

  This is my asshole moment. Forsaken by the woman I love. The infuriatingly beautiful girl I have no intention of living without.

  The worst part is, I see how it all went wrong. Every mistake. Every terrible choice.

  If I’d had the awareness to step back and evaluate the situation from the outside, none of this would’ve happened. But I was deep in the black hole—with only me, myself, and I for company.

  My momma would say my chickens have come home to roost. It’s a fitting metaphor. Fowl possess a never-ending supply of shit that they proudly leave in their wake. So when they roost?

  It just plain stinks.

  Brent wipes his mouth with a napkin and stands. “In any case, it’s nine thirty—the wedding starts in two hours. I need a lift back to the hotel to get dressed. JD invited me last night—hell of a guy.”

  I snort. “Yeah—Saint fucking JD.”

  He smacks my arm. “Don’t worry, you’re still the coolest southerner I know.”

  It’s only then that I notice how still the house is. This house is never still. “Where is everyone?”

  Brent heads toward the back door, ticking off his fingers. “Your mother’s getting her hair done, your father’s taking a nap—which apparently he rarely gets to do. Carter is passed out on the living room couch, naked. And your little brother hasn’t come home yet.” Then he points at me. “Oh, and your sister, Mary? Scares the fuck out of me. If I go missing tonight, promise me her closet is the first place you’ll look.”

  I laugh. And force myself to bury my feelings—the panic, the yearning—for Sofia. Swallow it down, suck it up. Because today . . . my girl’s getting married.

  • • •

  The church is filled to the brim. Miss Bea plays the “Bridal Chorus” on that old organ. Presley scatters rose petals down the aisle. And Jenny . . . Jenny is gorgeous, as I knew she would be. I watch JD’s face when she steps into the church—it’s filled with wonder and gratitude and so much love.

  And it doesn’t make me want to punch him—not even a little. It doesn’t make me sad.

  It just feels . . . like it’s something that’s supposed to be.

  The reception is held outside, behind the church, in white tents with elegantly decorated picnic tables and padded folding chairs. The grass is as green as my daddy’s pastures, the sky almost as blue as my daughter’s eyes. The whole town is here—the people who’ve known me even before I was born. Brent chats with Pastor Thompson. Marshall leans against a tree, trying to look cool talking to a girl. Mary’s surrounded by a group of giggling females, all whispers and wide eyes. Carter holds court on the grass, preaching to a gaggle of worshipful-faced kids, who gaze at him like he’s Jesus Christ on the mount. My parents dance to the band’s music.

  The only thing missing . . . is her.

  I’ve tried calling a few times, but it goes to voice mail. I tell myself that she just forgot to turn it back on after the flight, but my powers of persuasion appear to be stronger with a jury than with my own fucking head.

  “I saved a dance for you. Feel like cashin’ it in?”

  Jenny stands next to me, hands folded, smiling. We head out onto the wooden makeshift dance floor. As we slowly rock I tell her, “You look stunning.”

  She bats her lashes. “I know.”

  We chuckle and then, cautiously, she asks, “Sofia went back to DC?”

  I nod silently.

  “I like her, Stanton. I hope you don’t plan on letting her get away.”

  “I have no intention of letting her get away—she just doesn’t know that yet.”

  I look down into Jenny’s baby blues, hold her in my arms—my dearest, sweetest friend.

  “I’m glad you didn’t let JD get away. You deserve to be looked at the way he looks at you.”

  She pushes my hair back from my forehead. “You deserve that too.” She glances over my shoulder for a moment, and then her gaze is back to me. “Remember the other day by the river? When you said that Presley and I are your family?”


  Her eyes grow shiny with emotion. “We’ll always be your family.”

  Warmth rises in my stomach—a comforting, tender sort of heat. Presley’s voice catches both our ears and at the same time, we look over at our beautiful, laughing baby girl.

  “We did good though, didn’t we, Stanton? All things considered.”

  My voice is rough, choked with feeling. “Ah, Jenn—we did great. Just look at her.”

  And for a time, we do. Intimately joined by memories and the unending love for the same little person.

  “If I could go back and do it all over again with you, I would,” Jenny whispers. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

  I look into her eyes, and then I press my lips to her forehead gently. “Me too. Not a single thing.”

  And that’s how Jenny and I say good-bye.

  • • •

  Later on, I sit on the wooden, two-seater swing beside Presley, watching the celebration continue. “And then, when school lets out, you’ll come to DC for the summer.”

  “For the whole summer, right? You promise?”

  “The whole summer,” I say, nodding. “You have my word.”

  “Will Miss Sofia be there?”

  “She will be, yes.”

  My daughter looks at me sideways, with round, knowing eyes. “Did you screw that up, Daddy?”

  A little bit, yeah. But I’ll make it right.”

  She bestows her approval with a quick nod of her head. “Good.”

  A blond boy in a button-down shirt and clip-on tie calls from a few feet away. “Hey, Presley! We’re goin’ down the river—you comin’?”

  “I’ll be right there,” she shouts back.

  My brow puckers. “That was Ethan Fortenbury, wasn’t it?”

  “Yep, that’s him.”

  “I thought he was a horse’s anus.”

  “Well,” she sighs, “he said he was sorry for sayin’ I had man hands. Tol’ me he only did it ’cause his older brother dared him to.”

  This sounds uncomfortably familiar.

  “Those big brothers can certainly be trouble.”

  Then she grins bashfully. “He thinks I’m pretty. And he likes how I throw a football.”

  Oh shit.

  “He’s got good eyesight, then.”


  She stands up, smoothing her blue satin dress. Before she runs off, I implore, “Hey baby girl, can you promise me somethin’?”


  “Just give
me a few more years before you start turnin’ my whiskers gray, okay?”

  She laughs and kisses my cheek. “Alright, Daddy—I promise.”

  Then she skips off.

  And I shake my head. “Ethan fucking Fortenbury. Sonofabitch.”



  Brent and I make record time driving back to DC—I pushed my Porsche to the limit and she did not let me down. I refused to stop overnight, so one of us slept in the passenger seat while the other drove. For two men over six feet, sleeping in a Porsche is not conducive to happy fucking dreams, but Brent didn’t complain. He knew it was killing me to be so far away and he put “Ride of the Valkyries” on repeat to help lighten the mood.

  I park in front of his townhouse and jog down the block to Sofia’s. As I get closer, I see boxes on her stoop and furniture stationed at her curb. My heart starts to hammer in my chest. Is she moving?

  I knock hard on her front door, impatience pushing on my back. The door opens . . . and a giant looks back at me. Literally. Six-five, wide chest, arms like a professional wrestler, and a menacing scowl.

  “What do you want?”

  And I feel like a ten-year-old kid. “Is Sofia home?”

  “Who wants to know?” From shoes to head, his eyes appraise me. Hazel eyes. Eyes I’m intimately familiar with.

  I point my finger. “You’re the brother—the one she said could kick my ass. The doctor.” He doesn’t nod, but he also doesn’t say I’m wrong. “I’m . . . your sister and I are . . .” I refuse to call her my friend, ’cause she’s much more than that. So for the first time in my life, I stutter—like a goddamn idiot. “I’m her . . . we’re . . . she told me all about you.”

  He crosses his arms, and they grow even larger. “She hasn’t said a word about you.”

  Before I can respond, another guy comes to the door—this one more normal size, a little bit shorter than me. He has thick, short brown hair, a friendly smile, and teasing brown eyes—just like Sofia described him.

  “Victor, come on, the couch isn’t going to move itself,” he says to Gigantor. Then he notices me. “Hey.”

  I hold my hand out, eager to introduce myself to Sofia’s closest brother. “Stanton Shaw. You’re Tomás?”

  He shakes my hand and his smile broadens. “That’s right. How are you doing, Stanton? Come on in, Sofia’s told me about you.”

  Gigantor steps aside as I walk in. “Why didn’t she tell me all about him?”

  Tomás gives his brother a look that I’ve seen on my own brothers’ faces. “’Cause you can’t keep a secret—none of us tell you anything.” Then he smacks me on the back and asks, “Have you come to grovel?”

  I chuckle, maybe just a bit nervously. “Yeah. How’d you know?”

  “I know my sister.”

  “What does he have to grovel for?” Gigantor asks.

  “Doesn’t matter,” Tomás tells him. “As long as he’s here.”

  Then we walk into the living room—stepping around boxes and furniture. Looks like the tornado hit here instead of Mississippi.

  “Sofia felt the place needed a makeover,” Tomás explains. “She gets like that when she’s stressed. So she rallied the troops and here we are.”

  In the kitchen I see another dark-haired guy wearing round John Lennon glasses—Lucas, brother number two, I’m guessing. Near the couch is an older but still solidly built man with salt-and-pepper hair.

  Sofia’s father.

  I walk up to him and hold out my hand. “Hello, Mr. Santos, I’m Stanton Shaw. It’s an honor to meet you.” I pause, trying to think of the right words. “I think your daughter’s an amazing woman, sir.”

  He pins me with his stare for a few moments. Then he grins and shakes my hand. “It’s good to meet you, Mr. Shaw.”

  All heads turn to the woman coming down the stairs. She’s smaller than I’d imagined Sofia’s mother to be, with shoulder-length dark hair and lovely, familiar features. Her eyes settle on me, filled with recognition—and animosity. And I know Tomás isn’t the only member of her family Sofia poured her heart out to.

  I approach her, holding out my hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Santos, I’m—”

  She glances at my hand with disdain and cuts me off—in Portuguese. “Você é um homem estúpido que machucou a minha filha. Se eu tivesse meu caminho, eles nunca iria encontrar o seu corpo.”

  It would seem I’m a stupid man, and if she had her way they’d never find my body.


  I shake my head. “Estou aqui para fazer isso direito. Sofia significa . . . tudo para mim.” I’m here to make it right. Because Sofia means everything to me.

  At least, I hope that’s what I said.

  Her eyes flash with surprise.

  “Sofia’s been teaching me Portuguese,” I explain with a shrug. “I’m a fast learner.”

  A reluctant smile tugs at Mrs. Santos’s lips and her head tilts with begrudging approval. Then she steps aside. “She’s upstairs, in the bedroom, painting.”

  I nod. “Thank you, ma’am.”

  • • •

  I step softly through the open doorway. Her back is to me as she stares at fresh paint on the wall. I take the opportunity to soak her in, like a plant that hasn’t seen the sun in a year. Her hair is pulled up, tiny wisps brushing the sweet-tasting skin below her ear. I take in her delicate shoulders under a red T-shirt, black yoga pants, the elegant curve of her spine that leads down to the luscious swell of her ass—also sweet tasting.

  “What do you think, Mamãe?” she asks without turning, her head tilted. “I’m not sure about the yellow; it’s duller than it looked on the swatch.”

  “I think it looks like dried dog piss, if you want the truth.”

  She whips around, eyes wide like she’s seeing a ghost. “Stanton!” After a moment, she blinks, trying to rein in her surprise. To act casual. “When did you get home?”

  But casual can kiss my ass.

  “I haven’t been home. I dropped Brent off and came straight here. To you.” Now I eat up the view from the front—those lips, her amazing breasts that I want to rest my head on, the green speckles in her eyes, like precious gems.

  I lift my chin toward the paint cans. “What’s that about?”

  She looks between me and the cans, nervously. “Redecorating—it felt like I needed a new start.”

  I move forward, needing to be closer. And I’ve held back about as much as I’m capable of. “Christ I’ve missed you, Soph. The last two days have felt like forever.”

  Her gaze drops to the floor. “I’m sorry I left like I did, but I needed to—”

  “No.” I stalk the rest of the way across the room. “You had your chance to talk. You rested your case—now it’s my turn.” I kick a folding chair toward her, and there’s a definite warning in my voice. “So sit down and listen up.”

  Her eyes widen, and for a second I think she’s going to argue. But then she does as she’s told.

  I stand in front of her. “It started at the softball game, with Amsterdam staring at your ass.”

  “Stanton, I told you—”

  “Quiet,” I snap, pressing a finger against her now-closed lips. “When I wanted to rip his eyeballs out for lookin’ at your ass, that was the first time it felt like . . . more. It wasn’t my place to tell him not to look at you—but I wanted it to be.”

  I push a hand through my hair, trying to explain so she’ll understand. “That’s the real reason why I asked you to come with me—even though I didn’t see it at the time. Because I didn’t want to be away from you—didn’t want to risk losin’ you to someone else. And when I saw you there, in my home—with the people who mean the most to me . . . it got more intense. Wantin’ you, needin’ you, feelin’ so fuckin’ grateful to have you. But it was all screwed up—mixed up with Jenny gettin’ married, feelin’ like I needed to do somethin’ to keep from losin’ her.”

  She’s leaning forward, hanging on every word, her eyes breaking
my heart—filled with hope and fear. “When I got it sorted out in my head, when I finally had the balls to admit to myself how much you meant to me . . . it was already too late. I didn’t know if there was a chance you felt the same way. I didn’t know how to tell you without it lookin’ like you were just the rebound. And I never wanted you to feel that way—not for a minute.

  “Jenny will always be my friend, the mother of the little girl who owns my heart, the first girl I loved.” Then my voice goes scratchy, strangled with emotion. “But you, Sofia . . . I swear, if you let me . . . you will be the last.”

  There are tears in her beautiful eyes, rolling down her cheeks. I crouch down in front of her, running my hand over her shoulder, holding the back of her neck. “And I’m so fuckin’ pissed off at you. I want to sit down on that bed, strip you down, and spank your ass till it’s as red as that wall downstairs.”

  She hiccups. “P . . . pissed at me? Why?”

  “Because you let me hurt you. You never said anythin’. When I think about how it must’ve been for you . . . like a thousand paper cuts.”

  I hold her face, brush her tears away with my thumb, because I can’t not touch her a second longer.

  She blinks up at me, swallowing a breath. “That was one hell of a closing argument, Stanton.”

  I gaze into her eyes. “It’s what I do. So . . . what’s the verdict?”

  She runs her fingers through my hair, her expression tender and soft. “The verdict is . . . no.”

  I knew it. Never doubted my powers of persuasion for a second. I was sure if I just had the chance to explain, she’d . . . wait.


  I lean back. “What the hell do you mean, no? You can’t say no!” Moisture breaks out on my brow and my heart protests in my chest.

  She shrugs. “I just did.”

  My hands tighten reflexively around her jaw. “What the fuck, Soph? Two days ago, you told me you were in love with me! You don’t fall out of love with someone in two goddamn days!”

  “Exactly,” she says in a small voice.

  “I don’t under—”

  “I’ve watched you pine over another woman for the last week. For months, I’ve heard you talk about Jenny this and Jenny that. And now that she’s unavailable, you suddenly realize I’m the one you love?”

  “I haven’t been in love with Jenny for a very long time, Soph. I just didn’t know it until now.” I swallow hard. “You don’t . . . you don’t believe me?”

  She touches my face, tracing my jaw, watching her fingers’ path with rapt attention. “I want to. I want to believe you so bad.” Then she withdraws her touch. “But . . . I can’t be your rebound. I won’t. That would break me, Stanton. A week ago, I was okay with having any part of you I could—but I’m not okay with that anymore. I want all of you. For real. And forever.”

  I lean closer, looking into her eyes. “Darlin’, you have me. By the heart, by the balls, and any other way you want.”

  A smile tugs at her lips as she gazes boldly back at me. “Prove it.”

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