Sustained, p.26
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       Sustained, p.26

         Part #2 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
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  As demonstrated by the equally tall and lithe blonde asleep beside her. Marie is her lady-in-waiting. Her assistant. And her very close friend, going by last night’s festivities.

  I’m not an asshole. I’ve had girlfriends, and when I do, I’m faithful. I’ve also had lovers, one-night stands, and mutually satisfying arrangements with beautiful female acquaintances. Tatianna falls into the last category; we get together whenever she’s in town.

  Despite Harrison and my quietest efforts, Tatianna rolls over with a groan. “It’s too early. Why are you up?”

  I sip my coffee. “I have to go to work.”

  She sits up, putting her full, bronzed breasts on display. Not a single tan line to be found. Europeans are a lot better with nudity than Americans, praise the Lord.

  She pouts. “I know your family, and the only work you have to do is paying someone to manage your assets.” She waves her hand dismissively. “Why do you do this? Nine to five is not for people like us, Brent.”

  Coming into more money than one could spend in three lifetimes, at eighteen years old like I did, has its own set of dangers. Go ahead—roll your eyeballs—but I’m serious. See, most people work because they have to, for things like food, a house, clothes, a car. The result of having to work for those necessities is ambition. Drive.

  Work gives purpose to your life.

  Boredom has killed more in my social class than cancer and heart disease combined. Because when your necessities are covered, what the hell do you do with yourself?

  I’ll tell you what: you search for ways to stay occupied. To not be bored out of your fucking mind. You can buy your own plane? How about learning to fly one. You were taught to ski at four years old by an Olympian? How about playing football on the ski slopes. Got too much free time on your hands? How about going on safari to pit yourself against a man-eating tiger, or seek out an isolated tribe that still practices cannibalism.

  Boredom is a disease, and the cure is a career that gives you a reason to drag your ass out of bed in the morning.

  But I have a meeting in forty-five minutes, so I just tell her, “I do it because they need me. The firm would fall apart without me.”

  She gazes up at me and her smile turns devilish. She runs her hand up Marie’s smooth calf, pushing the sheet away as she gets to her shapely thigh and the delectable swell of her ass. “I return home tonight. I was hoping we could enjoy my last day here together. I guess Marie and I will have to play without you.”

  I give serious consideration to blowing off the meeting. “You’re diabolical.”

  And she looks like such a sweet girl.

  “Or maybe your young man can join us?” Her eyes alight on Harrison. “Do you want to play, houseboy?”

  I catch Harrison’s eye and rapidly reddening face, and tilt my head Tatianna’s way with a go-for-it grin.

  “Is that the telephone?” he squeaks. “If you’ll excuse me.” He gives a short bow, and practically runs out the door.

  Tatianna removes her hand from the sleeping beauty and giggles. “He’s too young to be so serious.”

  “Yeah, I’m working on that.” I shrug. “And you’re welcome to spend the day here. Enjoy the hot tub, enjoy . . . Harrison. Playing’s probably not in the cards, but he makes a killer omelet.” I step closer and gently run my fingers through the endless strands of her dark hair. “When’s your next trip back to the States?”

  “I don’t know. But most likely, it will be after the wedding.” She gives me a farewell smile. “The next time you see me, I’ll be a duchess.”

  My eyes skip to the obscene jewel on her hand, given to her by a duke from a small but wealthy constitutional monarchy. It’s not an old-fashioned arranged marriage, but it was orchestrated. Have to make sure those genes get mixed with the right pool, because the last real duty of today’s nobility is to make sure the wealth stays in the family, by producing offspring to inherit it.

  My finger trails along her jaw to her chin. “Do you think he’ll make you happy?”

  She considers it. “We understand each other. It could be worse.”

  After a moment, I lean down and kiss her forehead. “Bye, princess.”

  “Good-bye, Brent.”

  • • •

  Harrison waits for me at the front door, his complexion back to his everyday pallor, with a hearty dose of freckles scattered across his cheeks. They make him look younger than his twenty-two years, which I can relate to. It’s why I decided to grow the beard I keep neatly trimmed. And women definitely approve—these bristles have all kinds of creative uses.

  I take the offered briefcase and inform him, “I’ll walk to the office today. I’m feeling surprisingly energetic this morning.”

  Harrison nods and steps away from the door. “Very good, sir.”

  I raise an eyebrow reproachfully.

  Harrison’s brown eyes pinch closed, then he forces out, “I mean, very good . . . Brent.”

  The butler school he went to in England must have drilled shit into them Full Metal Jacket boot-camp style, because those habits are hard to break. But even though I was raised in a house full of servants and I’m used to the relationship between employer and personal employee, “sir” isn’t my style.

  I tap his shoulder. “Take good care of our guests. And don’t be scared of Tatianna—she only bites if you ask very nicely.”

  With a wink, I’m out the door.

  • • •

  I step up to our building at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, to the law firm of Becker, Mason, Santos and Shaw. I’ve seen my last name etched on buildings before—on libraries and hospital wings—but there’s a special thrill in seeing it stenciled on these doors. Because it’s mine, something I did on my own.

  “Good morning, Mr. Mason.”

  “Hi, Jessica.”

  Gotta love interns. Hungry, idealistic, so eager to make a good impression, and so willing to please. They take care of the grunt work, the boring research necessary to bring home a win. And when the minion looks like Jessica—cute face, great rack, fiery red hair—that’s a special kind of awesome. A few years ago, I would’ve been all over that.

  I don’t remember exactly when twenty-four became too young; I just know it is. At thirty-two, the age difference isn’t extreme, not like my Uncle Randall and his blushing bride. He’s older than dirt, and she couldn’t legally drink at her own wedding. I have no idea what they even talk about, though I suspect her oral skills are more important to him than her verbal ones. But to me, the Jessicas of the world are girls. They have the experiences of a girl, see the world through a girl’s eyes. And these days, whether it’s a casual hookup or more, I want a woman.

  She hands me a stack of messages and gestures to the closed door beside her. “They’re in the conference room.”

  “They” are my partners. The best criminal defense attorneys in the city, and my best friends. Starting up your own firm isn’t easy, despite the plethora of criminal activity in this area. You have to build up a client list; earn a reputation for being winners and hard-ass negotiators. And that’s what we’ve done. We’re the little firm that could—and business is booming.

  I walk into the conference room for our biweekly meeting. The hulk of a guy at the head of the table with the dark hair and sharp gray eyes is Jake Becker. Jake’s the straight man in our little troupe—the Abbott to my Costello. He can be a scary motherfucker when he chooses to be, which makes it all the more entertaining when the soft spot he tries so hard to pretend he doesn’t have gets revealed.

  “Does it matter?” he says into the phone, looking bewildered. “I don’t know. Whatever you want, I’m good with. Okay, I gotta go. Brent just got here. I love you, too.”

  That would be Chelsea McQuaid on the other end of that phone, the owner of the finger Jake is completely wrapped around. They’re getting married in two months. For a long time, Jake was a hard-core bachelor—a Dark Knight in a lonely Batcave without a Vicki Vale. Then Chelsea and her six orphaned niec
es and nephews came along and adopted him, kind of against his will. It was the best thing that ever happened to the grumpy son of a bitch. When he’s with Chelsea and the kids, there are moments that he’s so happy, it almost hurts to look at him.

  Jake sets his phone on the table. “Jesus Christ, why am I doing this again?”

  He doesn’t sound it, but he’s happy. Trust me.

  “Because you’re totally whipped, and you want your girl to have the wedding of her dreams,” Stanton says with his trademark smirk.

  “I thought getting a wedding planner would make things easier,” Jake says. “I mean, really, who gives a fuck what color the roses are in the table centerpieces.”

  “That’s what weddings are all about,” Sofia offers. “Stressing about details you won’t notice on the day you actually get married. Just go with it.”

  They should know; Stanton and Sofia got married nine months ago. And they didn’t waste any time in the baby-making department. Sofia’s always been a curvaceous Brazilian bombshell, but now she’s got an extra curve to her—the seven-month baby bump across her middle.

  “How’s the little guy treating you today?” I ask.

  Her hazel eyes sparkle as she caresses the bump beneath her dark blue maternity dress. “Good. With the amount of kicking he’s doing, he’s going to be one hell of a soccer player.”

  Stanton’s thick blond hair falls over his forehead as he looks down, covering her hand with his own. “Nah, he’s gonna be a football player. I’ve been telling him the finer points of the game after you pass out at six o’clock.”

  Sofia and Stanton are both sharks in the courtroom. And despite his best efforts, she hasn’t let a little thing like growing a new person inside her slow her down. She pushes herself hard, maybe too hard, judging by the dark circles under her eyes.

  I shake my head. “You’re both wrong—football and soccer are for pansies. Lacrosse is a real man’s game. The Native Americans invented it. I’m gonna buy Becker Mason Santos Shaw his very first stick.”

  Sofia rolls her eyes. “We’re not naming the baby after the firm, Brent.”

  This is an ongoing debate, and I’m determined to win it.

  “You have to! It’s a kick-ass name—and he’s our first baby.”

  “No, he’s our first baby,” Sofia argues, gesturing to her husband. “Anyway, let’s get started. I have a phone conference at ten.”

  We dive into upcoming court dates, motions, new clients, and schedule conflicts.

  “Justin Longhorn’s case has been assigned to a new prosecutor,” I tell them a while later. “K. S. Randolph. Any of you heard of him?”

  Justin Longhorn is a seventeen-year-old hacker accused of wire fraud, theft, and a whole host of federal crimes, for allegedly tapping into a major bank’s computer system and siphoning money from various retirement accounts. But he’s not a bad kid, he sort of reminds me of Matthew Broderick in WarGames—he didn’t realize he was in deep shit until he was already at Defcon 1.

  When they shake their heads, I say, “Well, I’m going to reach out to KS and plead it down. It’s the kid’s first offense and he didn’t spend a dime of the money. Shouldn’t see the inside of a courtroom with this one.”

  Then Sofia tells us, “I have a consultation with a new client on Monday.”

  Stanton’s green eyes cloud over. “That the aggravated assault?”

  “Yep, the guy who went after his sister’s boyfriend with a hammer.”

  “I don’t think so, Soph.”

  She holds up her hand. “Don’t start.”

  But start he does. “You’re seven months pregnant! I don’t want you anywhere near violent scumbags like that.”

  Can’t say I blame him there.

  Sofia doesn’t see it that way. “It’s my job to be around them. You’re being ridiculous.”

  In a mix of begging and commanding, he comes back with, “Take the deadbeat dad cases. Take all the tax evasion, money laundering, and federal corruption. Hell, I’ll even be generous and throw in a drug addict or two, as long as they—”

  Sofia stands. “Generous? No. You don’t get to—”

  She stops suddenly. Her caramel skin goes pale and her hand rises to her lips. But she tries again. “You can’t—”

  And then she’s running for the bathroom. Thankfully it’s close, connected to the conference room, and before she can get the door fully closed the sounds of wretched puking fill the room.

  We listen in silence, flinching with every scraping heave and landing splash.

  Wow. Pregnancy sucks.

  Brows furrowed, Jake asks, “I thought the morning sickness was supposed to stop after the first trimester?”

  Stanton’s mouth twists. “Apparently the baby’s unaware of that fact.”

  A few minutes later—after the toilet flushes and the sink runs—Sofia emerges, looking unsteady and ashen. But her eyes still breathe fire.

  “Not a word,” she warns Stanton. “Not a single word.”

  The southern boy lets it go for now. He brushes her hair back tenderly. “Even if the words are crackers and ginger ale? There’s some in the break room. You want me to get them for you?”

  She smiles, soft and loving. “Yes, please. Thank you.”

  With a nod, he leaves the room. Sofia doesn’t sit down, holding the back of her chair for support.

  “Okay, I’m just gonna say it,” Jake tells her. “You look like shit, Sofia.”

  She snorts. “I can always count on you to be sensitive, Jake.”

  “Screw sensitivity—you need to take it easier. You’re not doing yourself or the baby any favors here.”

  I stand and move closer to her. “He’s right, sweetheart. Get some rest, recharge. What good is having awesome partners if you don’t let us pick up the slack once in a while? You’d do it for us.”

  Before she can argue, I sweep her up into my arms.

  Upper-body strength is important, particularly for someone like me, and I use hand grips, even do chin-ups on the bar in my office to keep my muscles in prime condition. There are days when I can’t use my prosthesis, and the wheelchair hits the pavement. Times when I have to lift myself in and out of the chair, or my bed—and I’ll be damned if my arms can’t handle the load.

  “I can walk, Brent,” she only half argues as Jake opens the door.

  “Of course you can. But why should you, when you’ve got manly men like us to walk for you.”

  Despite the prime male specimen that I am, I have to say—Sofia’s not light. A grunt escapes as I adjust her in my arms and head for her office.

  And of course, she notices.

  “If you say anything about my weight, I’ll rip your beard hairs out.”

  I chuckle. “I would never comment on a woman’s weight—especially a pregnant woman’s.”

  Then, because Sofia is like a sister to me, I add, “But I think my titanium leg just bent under the strain.”

  She pinches me. My neck, my arms—it’s merciless.

  “Ow! Jesus! No pinching! Pinching is not cool.”

  By the time I get her to her office and set her on the couch, she’s smiling—so, mission accomplished.

  Stanton comes in behind us with crackers and a glass of soda . . . and a cell phone. He holds it out to his wife. “There’s a call for you.”

  Suspicion fills her features as she takes the phone. When she looks at the number, she hisses like a wet cat. “You called my mother?”

  Stanton is unrepentant. “You didn’t leave me much choice.”

  “I will never forgive you for this.”

  Stanton winks. “Never is a long time, baby. I’m willing to take my chances.”

  Hesitantly, Sofia brings the phone to her ear. “Mamãe?” And she must be getting an earful. “No, no, I’m fine. He’s crazy. But . . .”

  With our meeting adjourned, I head for my office to get to work.

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