Sustained, p.24
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       Sustained, p.24

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  I slip my hands into my pockets. “Anything she needs.”

  I turn to go.

  “Jake.”

  I turn back around. “Yeah?”

  Tom looks on the fence about something—but then he decides. “Chelsea had the talk with me the other day. You know, where she tells me she doesn’t feel ‘that way’ about me.” He draws a square with his fingers. “I’m in the friend zone.” Then he shrugs. “I figured you’d probably be interested in knowing that.”

  And my mood just got even better.

  “I am. Thanks, Tom.”

  “See you around, Jake.”

  Look at that—Caldwell’s not such a douchebag after all.

  28

  The kids are on the front lawn when I pull up. Riley’s close to Regan, Rory is chasing a screaming Rosaleen around, and Raymond is working on flipping his skateboard.

  “Get your goddamn helmet on, Raymond!” He rolls his eyes but puts it on.

  “Jaaaake!” Rosaleen screeches, and my ears bleed. “Help!” She throws herself at me, with Rory hot on her heels, dangling a caterpillar from his fingers. “Rory said he’s gonna put the caterpillar in my ear, and it’ll eat my brain and lay eggs, and when all the baby caterpillars hatch my skull will burst!”

  I pin the kid with a hard look. “What’s the matter with you?”

  Rory shrugs, petting the bug. “She has to learn not to believe everything she’s told.”

  Before I say another word, Riley shouts from the side of the house, “I’ll save you, Rosaleen!” Then she fires two automatic water guns high in the air.

  “Yes—water guns!” Rosaleen and Rory yell, at almost the same time, before they all take off, screaming, in Riley’s direction.

  I cup my hands around my mouth and remind them, “Stay away from the pool!”

  I watch them for a minute, enjoying the smile that tugs so easily at my lips. And then I march inside the house. Chelsea’s in the kitchen, wiping down the counter—her hair is down in soft, silky waves, and she makes jeans and a T-shirt look more alluring than any cocktail dress.

  She looks up when I walk in the room. “Hey. I didn’t know you were stopping by today.”

  I don’t waste a second, don’t stop to overthink jack shit. And honestly, I’ve waited as long as humanly possible.

  I walk up to her, take her face in my hands, and kiss her. I kiss her soft and sweet, hard and demanding. I kiss her until she moans and she has to grip my arms because her knees are weak.

  Then I brush my fingers across her cheeks and look into those spectacular blue eyes. My voice comes out strangled and raw. “I love you.”

  Chelsea gazes back at me, her smile pink and hopeful.

  At first.

  But then she remembers, and the smile fades. She pulls away from me, stepping back. Her arms fold, a mask of indifference covering her face.

  “When did you decide that?”

  But she can doubt me all she wants—I’m not going anywhere.

  “I’ve known for a while. I just . . . decided to stop being an idiot about it. To stop fighting it.” I tilt my head toward the window, where five screaming voices come through. “I love them, too, in case that wasn’t clear. They’re awful and perfect . . . and I love them like they’re mine. Like they’re ours.”

  She bites her lip and her eyes go wet and shiny. I step closer. “Please don’t cry. I love—” I choke on the words, throat burning, eyes stinging. “I love you.”

  Chelsea sniffles and recrosses her arms, trying so hard to be tough. “Am I just supposed to forget the last few weeks? The things you said—how cold you’ve been?”

  I rub the back of my neck. “I was kind of hoping you would . . . yeah.”

  She looks down at the floor.

  I step in closer, lift her chin with my fingers. “I was trying to protect you. I wanted better for you, Chelsea. For them. A good man. I didn’t think I was capable. I didn’t think I could be what you needed.”

  She searches my eyes. “And now?”

  “Now I know I can. Because . . . because no one could love you—need you—as much as I do. You’re everything to me—the only thing that matters.”

  A tear streaks down her cheek. She drifts closer. “Don’t hurt me again.”

  “I won’t.”

  “Don’t pull away from me again.”

  “I can’t.”

  She leaps into my arms, squeezing so hard the breath rushes out of me. It’s the best fucking feeling in the whole world. Second only to the feel of her lips against mine. Her legs wrap around my waist, like she can’t get close enough. Her head angles, moves with mine, like she can’t taste deep enough. My fingers dig into her back and our hearts pound.

  I set her on the counter, pressing against her, pushing her T-shirt up—needing to feel her skin to skin.

  “The kids,” she gasps.

  I kiss her neck, her ear, her beautiful face. “We’ll hear them. As long as they’re screaming we’ll know they’re okay.”

  And we do hear them, loud and clear, through the window. Still yelling and playing—the good kind of screams.

  Her tongue slides against mine and I groan. Then Chelsea pants, “But they could come in any minute. They might see us.”

  She’s right. Damn it.

  I look around the room, eyes frantic and searching. The pantry! I carry her in, slam the door behind me with my foot, and reach around with my hand to lock it.

  Chelsea nips at my lips, sucks on my earlobe. “I always wondered why the pantry had a lock.”

  All I’m able to say is, “Locks are awesome.”

  She laughs against my mouth. Her feet touch the floor just long enough to peel our clothes off. Then I pick her up, legs around me, back against the wall.

  I take my cock in hand and test the waters—they’re slick and wonderfully hot. I push in slow, gentle, ’cause it’s been awhile. When I’m fully seated, when there’s not a breath of space between us, Chelsea whispers, “I missed you so much.”

  I start to move, sliding in and out in a smooth rhythm. And it’s so fucking perfect and real. And right. Nothing has ever felt this right in my life.

  Her head tilts back and my eyes roll closed. I worship her neck with my mouth. I promise and whisper how beautiful she is. All the things I want to do to her. All the things she means to me.

  She squeezes me harder, pulls me closer with her legs, fingers buried in my hair.

  Chelsea’s breath hitches. “I . . . love you. Oh god, Jake . . . so much. I love you so much.”

  And it’s too much. Overwhelming. And yet, not nearly enough.

  The pressure builds, tight and low and fantastic. The purest of pleasure unfurls in my stomach, making my thrusts quicken, chasing that edge with Chelsea. We find it together, pulsing and writhing, clasping hands and moaning voices.

  I pant against her cheek, my heart not getting the message yet that it’s time to slow. I brush her hair back from her forehead and gaze into her angel face.

  “So . . . you love me, huh?”

  Chelsea smiles, even as tears rise in her eyes. “Yes. I’ve loved you since you carried me to bed, sick as a dog, and told me everything was gonna be okay. I love every part of you, even the parts you were afraid to show me. And even though you’re kind of an idiot sometimes, I’m going to love you forever.”

  I laugh and kiss her sweetly. “Good to know.”

  • • •

  I spend that night at Chelsea’s. We make sure all the kids take baths and get to bed. Then we spend half the night talking. Planning. The other half is spent . . . not talking. Nothing coherent anyway.

  I hand in my resignation letter the next day, begin to make the necessary arrangements for my departure from Adams & Williamson. And not a thing about it feels wrong.

  Chelsea and I are both waiting when the kids get home from school. We gather them in the den, to talk about what we’ve planned.

  “I know it seems fast,” Chelsea tells them while I bounce the hel
l out of Ronan on my leg. “But there was this movie in the eighties—your parents loved it—called When Harry Met Sally—”

  “Sounds lame,” Rory interrupts.

  “It was kind of lame,” I tell him out the side of my mouth.

  But Chelsea hears me. “It was not lame! It was perfect. Anyway, there’s a line from it that says how when you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to start right away.” She glances at me. “That’s how Jake and I feel about each other.”

  I jump in. “But if you guys aren’t good with this, I want you to tell us. It’s okay to say no—you won’t hurt my feelings. I only want to move in here if you all really want me to.”

  They look at each other. And think. It’s a little fucking weird, how quiet they are.

  “Would you move into Mom and Dad’s room?” Riley asks.

  I wink at Chelsea, ’cause we already talked about this.

  “Actually,” Chelsea tells them, “we were thinking we’d do some construction on my room down here. Make it big enough for two people, make the bathroom and the closets larger. And your parents’ room . . . Jake and I thought it’d be pretty neat if we made it an upstairs family room. Somewhere we can all hang out together. We could get a pool table, a big couch, a new television . . .”

  “And an arcade game!”

  Rory’s obviously on board.

  Chelsea nods. “And I could draw whatever you want on the walls. And we could paint it together.”

  “Oooh, ooh—I want butterflies!” Rosaleen yells. “And unicorns and rainbows.”

  “And monster trucks,” Rory says.

  “And skateboards,” Raymond adds, tapping his brother’s fist.

  “And,” Riley finishes, “a whole wall with One Direction and 5 Seconds of Summer Fatheads.”

  “Yeah, we can do all that,” Chelsea tells them.

  “It’s gonna look like a schizophrenic’s room,” I murmur, and she laughs.

  “So about Jake moving in here with us, what do you say, guys?”

  “Can I move in with my boyfriend one day?” Riley asks, because she’s smart.

  “Sure,” I answer. “When you’re twenty-six and raising six children, you can absolutely move in with your boyfriend, and I won’t say shit about it. Until then, no way.” Because I’m smarter.

  She rolls her eyes. “Whatever—I vote yes, Jake should move in.”

  “Definitely,” Rory agrees.

  Rosaleen’s smile is huge as she runs up and hugs me. “Yes, yes, yes!”

  “Sure,” Raymond says.

  We all turn to Regan, who grins her tiny baby grin and seals the deal—with word number four.

  “Yes.”

  • • •

  That night, after the kids’ homework is finished and everyone is in their pajamas, we lie around in the den, watching TV. My cell phone rings on the table—it’s Brent.

  “Hey.”

  “Hey, how’s it going?”

  My eyes land on Chelsea. “Pretty incredible, if you want the truth.”

  He chuckles. “Good to hear. Listen, are you free for lunch tomorrow? There’s something I want to talk to you about. Stanton and Sofia too.”

  “Yeah, I’m free. What’s up?”

  “Well, the thing is, I own this building . . .”

  “You own a building?”

  “Yeah. It’s a nice building . . .”

  Epilogue

  One year later

  The office I’ve worked in for the last six months is bigger than my old one—top floor with a corner window view. And I don’t share it with anyone. Legal volumes fill the bookshelves on one wall, and a bunch of family pictures sit proudly on my desk. And Brent, Sofia, and Stanton each have their own corner office on the top floor.

  Being a founding partner has its perks.

  That building Brent mentioned, the one he owned downtown? It’s been extensively renovated and now has a name stenciled in black above the front door.

  The Law Offices of Becker, Mason, Santos & Shaw.

  Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

  When I kicked Adams & Williamson to the curb, Brent, Stanton, and Sofia started thinking about branching out on their own too. Calling our own shots, picking our own cases. It was a risk, but for the four of us, it was a risk worth taking.

  Mrs. Higgens pulled a Renée Zellweger from Jerry Maguire when I left and came over here with me. She pops her head through the office door right now, pearls hanging off her ears, accenting the formal dress she’s wearing. “Jake—you’re going to be late!”

  “I’m not going to be late. I’m never late.”

  Then I check my watch. “Shit, I’m gonna be late!”

  My leather desk chair rolls back as I stand. I check the pockets of my sharp black suit—keys, wallet, phone; I’m good.

  “Go, go.” Mrs. Higgens waves. “I’ll shut everything down and lock up.”

  “Okay, thank you. I’ll see you there, Mrs. Higgens.”

  I jog the four blocks to the day-care center where Regan and Ronan spend part of their day. I greet the teacher through the Plexiglas window and sign the clipboard next to the kids’ names. The cheerfully decorated door opens a few minutes later, and the sound of Barney’s “Clean Up Song” echoes through it.

  The hairs on the back of my neck stand up—I have nightmares about that song.

  A teacher’s assistant brings out the troublemakers, holding their hands. Ronan is about a year and a half now—a full head of blond hair, freckles on his nose, and a devilish look in his eye that reminds me of his brother. He’s walking, slowly and unsure still—which is why I scoop him up with one arm and Regan with the other. They wave good-bye to the teacher as we haul ass out the door.

  “Today, we made paper flowers for the room, and mine was the biggest. Then Mrs. Davis brought a stuffed bear in for story time and I got to hold him. He was gray. And he had two black eyes, and two arms and two legs and a bow tie that was red and—” Regan grips my cheeks in her tiny hands and gives me the bitch brow. “Are you listening to me?”

  “Yes, yes.” I jog across the street. “Two arms, two legs, red bow tie—I’m riveted.”

  Eight months ago, Regan started talking more . . . and she hasn’t stopped since.

  “And then we read Stone Soup and in the book, someone brought carrots, and someone brought cabbage, and someone . . .”

  Ronan laughs as I run, jostling him around. A few minutes later we reach the church without a minute to spare. I set the kids down, straighten Ronan’s shirt, and retie the yellow silk bow on the back of Regan’s dress.

  “You made it. I was afraid you’d be late.” Chelsea comes walking down the church steps—and she looks mind-blowingly fantastic. Her dress is a dark blue satin that looks amazing with her creamy skin. It’s snug in all the right places and falls just below the knee, with a deep V neckline that literally has my mouth watering. Her hair is down and curled and shimmers in the sun.

  I run a hand through it as I pull her closer. “I’m never late. And you look amazing. That dress is hot.”

  She reaches up to my ear. “You should see what I have on underneath it.”

  “Oh, I plan to. Top of the to-do list.”

  I lean down and kiss her deeply for several long moments.

  “Cha-ching, cha-ching,” a smartass voice rings out. “All this kissing, I can just hear the therapy bills adding up.”

  I frown at Rory, who just smirks back.

  Chelsea rubs her lipstick off my lips with her thumb, and her engagement ring sparkles in the sun. A two-carat cushion-cut diamond, surrounded by baguettes, in a platinum setting with an antique feel. I gave it to her a few months ago, even got down on one knee. She was really enthusiastic with her yes.

  These days Chelsea is finishing up her graduate degree in art history; she went back to taking classes this year. She even has a part-time job lined up when she’s done, at a small gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian.
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  She slides her hand into mine and nods her head toward Riley, who stands on the sidewalk with a tall, skinny, dark-haired kid in a clip-on tie. “Riley would like to introduce you to her date.” She drags me over.

  “Jake,” Riley says with a smile. “This is Parker Elliot.”

  The kid holds out his hand. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.”

  I stare at his hand, then his eyes, my face hard and unforgiving. My gaze travels over him down to his shoes. I look back to his face—and shake my head with a disgusted sound.

  Then I walk away.

  “Don’t pay any attention to him, he’s like that with everyone,” I hear Riley say comfortingly.

  Chelsea giggles beside me. “That wasn’t very nice.”

  “Good. The last thing I want the little prick thinking is that I’m nice.” Then I lean down and kiss her again—because she’s so goddamn pretty. And just because I can.

  We walk midway up the stairs and I hold out my arms, gesturing for my party of seven—eight if you count fucking Parker—to gather around. “Let’s go, team—huddle up.” Their heads turn my way, their little faces attentive. I clear my throat. “This is a very special day for Stanton and Sofia and we want everything to go perfectly for them. So for the next forty-five minutes, I expect you to behave like ladies and gentlemen. That means no whispering, no pinching, no hair pulling, no teasing, no fighting, no giggling, no nose picking, no name calling, no crying . . .” I whisper to Chelsea, “Did I miss anything?”

  “No looking at each other,” she whispers back.

  “That’s right,” I say louder, “no looking at each other.”

  That’s kind of a big one.

  “Consequences will be swift and severe.”

  “Severe” to them is a weekend without TV or Wi-Fi.

  “Do we all understand?”

  They nod. I smack my hands together. “All right, let’s head inside.”

  Chelsea carries Ronan and leads the pack into the church, while I hang back and make sure no one gets left behind. Raymond brings up the rear. He’s staring at the bride’s limousine, which just pulled up, at the gorgeous bridesmaids who climb out.

  One junior bridesmaid in particular.

 
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