Sustained, p.23
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       Sustained, p.23

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  bang and she doesn’t waste any time whirling around to face me.

  “This isn’t fair! You can’t do this!”

  “What exactly do you think I’m doing, Chelsea?”

  “Turning the kids against any man I go out with. My love life is not up for a vote!”

  The only words I process from that statement are love life. What the fuck is up with that?

  “You have a love life?” I ask, horrified. The popcorn I ate during the movie with the kids turns to lead in my stomach.

  She pokes my chest. “I have the right to be happy!”

  Poke.

  “Believe it or not, Tom actually finds me attractive!”

  Poke.

  “He likes talking to me, spending time with me!”

  Poke.

  “He wants me . . . even if you don’t!”

  I catch her hand, spin her around, and press her back against the wall of the house. She glares up at me, chin raised, fearless and daring, her ice-blue eyes cold with fury.

  Thinking straight went out the window when she started talking about other men. Weighing the consequences of my actions came to a halt the second she said I didn’t want her.

  As if that was even fucking possible.

  Now it’s all just mindless instinct. Pure emotion, fire, need. The need for my touch to be the last one she feels tonight. My lips her goodnight kiss. Not. Fucking. Tom’s.

  “Wanting you was never the issue, Chelsea.”

  I lean against her, feel her breasts achingly soft against my chest, my knee between her thighs, where she’s warm and heavenly. My face so close to hers, we breathe the same air.

  She pulls against my grip, bucks. “It is!” she hisses. “That’s what you said. This—me—isn’t what you wanted.”

  That awful night is a blur. A vague memory of foreign nervousness, regret, and stumbling words. I don’t know what the hell I actually told her.

  “Did I?” I press even closer, letting her feel exactly how hard she’s wanted. “Then I’m an idiot.” My eyes drink her in, every inch—her panting lips, flushed cheeks, the throbbing pulse in her neck that tells me she wants me too. “And even worse—I’m a liar, too.”

  My mouth covers hers and I taste her moan—it’s long and desperately relieved. She whimpers as I release her wrists, just so I can touch her, and she wraps her arms around my neck, pulling me closer. I suck on her bottom lip before delving back into the slick sweetness of her mouth.

  It’s been so long. Too long.

  She arches against me and all I want to do is grab her, lift her, and fuck her against the wall.

  It’s that thought that brings sanity roaring back.

  Shit, what am I doing? I told her this had to stop, and then . . . Fuck, I’m a caveman.

  Gently, I grip her arms and force myself to step back, separating us. I stare down at the stone patio, so I don’t have to look at her. “Chelsea, I’m . . . This was a mistake. It won’t happen again. I’m sorry.”

  She doesn’t say anything at first. But I can feel her. Feel the confusion and then the anger—it radiates from her in thick, weighted waves. When I finally look at her face, her mouth is more of a snarl than a frown. Her brows are drawn together and her eyes shoot blue sparks.

  And sick bastard that I am, it turns me on even more.

  Until she speaks. “You know, Jake, I always knew you were capable of being an asshole, when you wanted to be. But I never, ever, thought you’d be a coward.”

  And she walks away. Opens the French door and slips back into the house.

  And I feel like fucking dirt. Like the kind that gets trapped under Cousin It’s claws. That’s me—a speck of filth under the tiny nail of a small goddamn dog.

  27

  The next day, at work, I’m at the very top of Sofia’s shit list. This is driven home when she comes barreling into my office and slams the door behind her. Eyes blazing, hair flying, she braces her arms on my desk, leaning over me.

  And I have a whole new respect for Stanton. Sofia can be pretty goddamn intimidating when she puts her mind to it.

  “What the hell is wrong with you?”

  “If you want an actual answer, you’ll have to be more specific.”

  “You’re playing games with Chelsea. And it needs to stop.”

  Obviously, Chelsea filled her in on our interaction in the garden. I wonder what she said, how she described it. And I don’t actually mind that Sofia is taking her side—Chelsea deserves to have someone in her corner.

  “I didn’t mean to.” Weak. So fucking weak.

  “You’re tearing her apart, Jake. She doesn’t know which end is up.”

  I flinch.

  “So either shit or get off the pot. Either you’re her friend, or you’re more than her friend—you can’t have it both ways.”

  “I fucking know that!” I snap. “I’m her friend.”

  Sofia straightens, folding her arms. “Then I suggest you start acting like it.”

  • • •

  Sofia’s verbal attack bugs the shit out of me the rest of the day. My focus is crap because of it—so I cut out early and drive straight to Chelsea’s house. To talk to her. To make sure we’re okay.

  ’Cause I really fucking need us to be okay.

  There’s a strange car in the driveway when I pull up—a white Chevy Suburban. The front door is unlocked, so I walk in. The house is quiet, so I make my way into the kitchen and look out the glass of the back door. Chelsea’s wearing overalls and a tiny white T-shirt. Her hair is pulled into a shiny bun. Ronan is crawling around on a blanket beside her. She’s in the vegetable garden, smacking at the ground with a shovel, maybe a hoe.

  And she’s not alone.

  Beside her, talking easily, swinging his own tool, is Tom Caldwell.

  And he . . . fits. Looks like he belongs here—in a house with a garden, a ruglike dog, and a three-car garage. The kind of guy who goes to PTA meetings and Boy Scout jamborees. They match—him and Chelsea—as fucking nauseous as it makes me to admit that. I think of Rachel and Robert McQuaid’s wedding portrait in their upstairs bedroom and can so easily imagine Chelsea and Tom’s faces in their place.

  I drop my hand from the glass and turn around. I make it to the foyer before the five of them converge on me. They seem to come out of nowhere, like brain-sucking zombies in an old-time horror film. Only a lot cuter.

  “You’re just gonna leave?” Riley asks.

  I watch them for a minute, soaking them in. Then I shake my head. “Tom’s here.”

  “We want you,” Raymond quietly declares. Without question or doubt.

  “Tom’s a nice guy, Raymond.”

  “He’s not you,” Rory says. “We want you.”

  They all nod.

  Then Rosaleen brings me to my knees.

  “Don’t you like us anymore, Jake?”

  What do you say to that? I mean, really—what are the fucking words?

  “C’mere,” I tell her. And she steps forward into my arms. I clear my throat to dislodge the lump that’s suddenly sprung up. “Of course I like you. Out of all the little shits in the world, the six of you are my favorite. But I’m trying to do the right thing here, guys.”

  “By ditching us?” Rory frowns.

  My voice turns sharp. “I’m not ditching you. Ever. Whatever happens . . . between me and your aunt, I’m always going to be your friend. For the rest of your lives—I’m not going anywhere.”

  Voices come from the kitchen and I hear the sound of the back door closing. I stand up as Chelsea and Tom come into the foyer.

  “Jake. I didn’t know you were here.”

  There’s an adorable streak of dirt on her cheek that I want to brush away for her. Right before I kiss her.

  “Yeah, I just got here. It’s a nice day—I thought I’d take the kids to the park. If that’s okay with you.”

  She smiles tightly. “Of course it’s okay. I’ll just grab Regan’s jacket.”

  • • •
r />   Another week goes by. I don’t go on any more stupid double dates with Brent—I don’t go out on any dates at all. I even stop jerking off.

  Well . . . maybe stop is too strong of a word. But there’s a drastic decrease.

  I’m terrible fucking company—even to my own cock.

  Everything just seems to rub me the wrong way. And even worse, the things I used to look forward to, that gave me actual joy—an acquittal, a motion granted, watching a goddamn basketball game—just seem pointless. Hollow.

  Empty.

  Milton gets arrested again. For vandalism, destruction of property. And I can barely bring myself to yell at him.

  He asks me if my dog died.

  Then, before he leaves my office, he tells me to keep my chin up. When Milton Bradley has pity for you, that’s some rock fucking bottom, right there.

  But I don’t even care.

  I can barely stand myself, and after the second week rolls around, apparently everyone else has had just about enough of me too. Because early one evening, Brent, Sofia, and Stanton charge into my office, and Stanton shuts the door behind them. Brent closes the laptop on my desk and takes it away, like I’m grounded or something.

  “What the hell is this?”

  “This is an intervention,” the bearded bastard says.

  “I don’t need an intervention.”

  “Well it’s either this or Stanton’s gonna take you out back and go Old Yeller on your ass.”

  I sigh and look at each of them as they sit across from me. “I’m fine.”

  “Nooo”—Sofia shakes her head—“you’re what the opposite of fine looks like.”

  “You’re miserable,” Stanton says.

  Thanks, buddy.

  “Chelsea’s kind of miserable too,” Sofia adds, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

  “And you’re both making us miserable,” Brent says. “It’s like osmosis, it’s just spreading out from you. It’s messing with my mojo, and it needs to fucking stop.”

  “Jake”—Stanton stands, his eyes more serious—“it’s obvious you want to be with Chelsea. Why the hell don’t you just put yourself out of your misery and be with her?”

  Finally, a little fire sparks in my voice. “Because I don’t want her getting hurt.”

  “She’s hurting now,” Sofia argues.

  “But this way, I still get to keep her!” My gaze drifts to each of them, daring them to say I’m wrong. “I know how to fight, and how to be a lawyer, how to be a friend.” By now I’m breathing hard. “I don’t know how to be a family man.”

  “We thought you might say that.” Stanton nods, then gestures to Sofia. “Ladies first.”

  Sofia rises and paces like she’s cross-examining me. “How many ounces of formula does Ronan drink?”

  “What does that have to do—”

  “Just answer the damn question.”

  “Six.” I sigh. “Except at bedtime—then you gotta top him off with an extra two.”

  She nods. “And how many words does Regan know?”

  “Three. Hi, no . . . and Jake.” I can’t stop a grin. “She’s brilliant.”

  Sofia sits and Brent stands. “What is Rosaleen’s favorite color?” he asks.

  “Rainbow. Whatever the hell that means.”

  He nods. “What is Raymond afraid of?”

  I don’t even have to think about it. “Space rocks. Meteors. Anything he can’t predict or control.”

  Brent takes his seat. Stanton leans on the back of Sofia’s chair, looking me in the eyes. “What does Rory want to be when he grows up?”

  “A Supreme Court justice—God help us all.”

  Stanton smirks. “What is the name of the boy Riley has a crush on these days?”

  I frown. “Preston Drabblesmith.”

  And he’s an actual kid—not a character from Harry Potter.

  Stanton comes around and smacks my arm. “Congratulations, Jake. You already are a family man.”

  I think about his words, their questions, while Brent and Sofia smile like idiots—and I get what he’s saying. It’s just . . . “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”

  Stanton rubs his chin. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret—none of us know what the hell we’re doin’. You think I knew what I was doin’ when they put a baby girl in my seventeen-year-old arms? Shit, man, I didn’t stop shaking for three days.”

  “You think Chelsea knew what she was doing when she rushed here from California to raise those kids?” Sofia adds.

  “All you really have to do is love them,” Stanton says. “That’s the biggest thing. After that, the rest . . . just falls into place.”

  “Besides,” Brent says, “do you actually think there’s anyone out there who will bust his ass as hard as you will to make them happy?”

  And that’s the easiest question of all.

  Fuck no.

  So . . . what the hell am I still doing sitting here?

  I stand up. I leave the briefcase, the paperwork. Screw it all. “I’ve gotta go.”

  But just as they’re all smiling, smacking my back, and rushing me toward the door, my boss, Jonas Adams, walks through it.

  “Good evening, everyone.”

  There’s greetings all around. And not a little shock—because Jonas Adams, founding partner, doesn’t come to his associates’ offices. Not ever.

  He clears his throat. “There’s been an incident, Mr. Becker. Mrs. Holten has, unfortunately, taken a fall down a flight of stairs.”

  The excitement and anticipation that was bursting out of me just seconds ago shrivels on the vine. My eyes close and I swallow hard, and there’s not a sound in the room, except for my question.

  “Is she alive?”

  Adams takes off his glasses and cleans them with a monogrammed handkerchief. “Oh yes, Sabrina is alive, just a bit bruised. The police have arrested Senator Holten, so I’ll need you to head down to the precinct, assist him with any interrogations they may attempt, arrange for bail—”

  “No.”

  The one syllable is so clear and sounds so right on my lips. Almost as right as Chelsea’s name. I know the kind of man I am—and I know what I can do. And more important, what I won’t fucking do. Ever again.

  “I won’t do that, Mr. Adams.”

  His eyes squint, like he can’t see me clearly. “May I ask why not?”

  “Because he’s guilty.”

  “Has he confessed as much to you?”

  “No. But I know he hurts his wife.”

  Adams’s cheeks bloom angry red and his chest puffs out. I’ve wondered if Jonas is really that blind or just willfully ignorant. Either way, doesn’t matter.

  “William Holten is a client of this firm, and more than that, he has been my friend for over forty years. He deserves a defense.”

  “Not from me.” I shake my head, staring him down.

  Adams’s lips tighten into a nasty little bow. “Mr. Becker, you should think very carefully about your next words, because they will determine your fut—”

  “I quit.”

  “Jake.” My name rushes from Stanton’s mouth in a hushed warning. But I don’t need one.

  “My resignation will be on your desk in the morning, Mr. Adams. He’s your friend—you defend the piece of shit.”

  Adams lift his nose. “Consider your resignation accepted.” He walks out.

  And a weight vanishes off my shoulders.

  Authority really never was my thing.

  “Jake, what did you do?” Sofia asks, her eyes narrowing with concern.

  I kiss her cheek. “The right thing.”

  I smack Brent’s arm and shake Stanton’s hand, grinning like Ebenezer fucking Scrooge on Christmas morning. “And it was really easy.”

  I head for the door. “I’ll talk to you guys later. Thank you—I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to pull my head out of my ass without the three of you.”

  “There’s a visual I really didn’t need,” Sof
ia says, and I laugh.

  Stanton says, “Well, go get her, man.”

  And that’s just what I plan to do.

  • • •

  Before I drive to Chelsea’s, I make a quick stop at the US attorney’s office. I take the elevator to Tom Caldwell’s office—he’s at his desk like I figured he’d be.

  I lean against his doorway, scanning the room. “This is a really small office. I knew they were small—but this is like, you’ll-get-charged-with-animal-cruelty-if-you-put-a-dog-in-here kind of small.”

  “Is there a reason you’re here, other than to compare office sizes, Becker?”

  I nod. “Did you hear about Holten?”

  “Course I heard—I’ll be the one prosecuting the son of a bitch. Why aren’t you down at the police station, protecting his delicate feelings from invasive questions?” I’d have to be deaf not to hear the scathing sarcasm.

  “I dropped the case.”

  His eyes pop wide open. “No kidding? Jonas must’ve loved that.”

  “I quit.” I shrug.

  “Huh.” Caldwell looks me over. “Don’t suppose you’d be interested in coming over to the light side of the force? We could use you in one of these shit-small offices.”

  I chuckle. “No . . . locking people up just isn’t my style. A beautiful woman once told me I’m more of a . . . defender.” I step forward, pulling a business card out of my pocket. “I just wanted to drop this off for Sabrina Holten. My home number and cell are on the back. Tell her I’d like to help.”

  Caldwell looks at the card. “Help with what?”

 
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