Appealed, p.3
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       Appealed, p.3
 

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase

  she walks up beside me.

  Everything about my mother is hushed, gentle, delicate. Like a rose whose petals will fall off if you blow on it. She’s never cursed, doesn’t raise her voice—not even when I was seven and they had to take me to the emergency room because I jammed popcorn kernels up my nose just to see how many would fit. (Twenty-three, in case you were curious.)

  “Hi, Mom.” I lean down and kiss her cheek.

  She runs her hand over the fabric of my light blue polo shirt. “This is a very nice color on you, dear.”

  “Thanks.”

  Her gaze drifts over me adoringly. “Walk with me, Brent.”

  Oh shit.

  My mother saying walk with me is akin to a woman you’re dating saying, “we need to talk”—it never ends well.

  She loops her arm through mine and we stroll across the grass, away from the crowd.

  “I’ve been reading a lot recently,” she begins. “And thinking. You’re thirty-two years old, darling—you’re handsome, you’re a fine dresser, you dance well—you’ve always been very clean.”

  The last comment has me looking at her funny, but I let her go on.

  “Talula Fitzgibbons’s son is about your age, and he recently told her that he’s become a homosexual.”

  Oh boy.

  “Not only that, he’s also hired a lovely surrogate and she’s expecting triplets. Isn’t that amazing, Brent? Triplets!”

  “Mom—”

  But that train has left the station.

  “So I wanted you to know, if you are a homosexual, your father and I will love you every bit as much as we do right now.” She pats my arm and amends, “As long as you have children.”

  “I’m not gay, Mom.”

  She looks disappointed. “Are you sure?”

  “Mom, I’m as not gay as a man can possibly be.”

  Her dainty finger taps her lips as she thinks it over. “Well, all right. Then I’d like you to chat with Celia Hampshire’s granddaughter. She’s here and she’s a lovely young lady.”

  “Celia Hampshire’s granddaughter is in high school.”

  “No—she graduated last month.”

  I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Okay . . . I’m gonna go to the bar. Now. Can we talk about this later?”

  “Of course, sweetie. I’m so happy you’re here.”

  And because I love her and I’m a good son, I lie, “Me too.”

  My mother glides back toward my father and I head to the bar. It really should’ve been my first stop.

  I make it three steps and then an arm coils around mine and my hip gets bumped hard. “But are you sure you’re not a homosexual? You realize you’re keeping Aunt Kit out of the in-crowd?”

  I pull my cousin Katherine into a tight hug. “Thank Christ you’re here.”

  Her dark eyes sparkle as she laughs. “Why, because I’m your only normal relative?”

  “Yes, that’s exactly why.”

  Katherine’s also my favorite cousin. Boisterous and loud—with the kind of smile you can’t help but return. When we were young and my other cousins said I was too little—too annoying—to play some stupid game, Katherine made sure I was included. When I turned twenty-one, she showed up at my college and took me out for my very first legal beer. You don’t get to choose family, but if you did—Katherine would be my first round draft pick.

  Her four-year-old son collides with my leg, followed quickly by his two-year-old sister.

  “Uncle Brent!” she squeals.

  I scoop her up. “Annie, baby.”

  I look down at Jonathon. “What’s up, dude?”

  He tilts his head back, still gripping my leg. “I go poops on the potty now.”

  “Welcome to manhood.” I give him a high five, which he jumps to return.

  Annie squirms in my arms, so I set her down and they run in circles around us. I glance behind Katherine. “Where’s Patrick?”

  She shrugs, and the sparkle in her eyes dims. “He’s in Portugal, on ‘business’ with his secretary.”

  Patrick is Katherine’s husband, whose ass I’m going to kick hard the next time I see him.

  “Come on, don’t get angry,” she soothes. “It is what it is.”

  “What it is, is fucked up. Why do you put up with that?”

  She shrugs. “Because when he’s around, he’s actually a good husband and father. Because the kids love him—and so do I.”

  “You deserve better, Kat. A lot better.”

  “He’s what I want.”

  I shake my head as Annie pulls on the leg of my jeans and points toward some bushes. “Uncle Brent, I wants da butterfly, but it won’t come.”

  “Okay, let’s you and me and Jonathon go get us a butterfly.”

  I get a grateful smile from Katherine, then I hoist the boy over my shoulders and the three of us go hunting.

  • • •

  Two hours later, I look across the yard at the crowd of chattering, monochromatic people. All of them so eager to clone each other, to not be labeled as too flashy or ostentatious. It’s a sea of beige—tan slacks, taupe summer dresses, and one pair of light brown Ray-Ban sunglasses after another.

  Until a burst of red steps out from under the white party tent.

  Maybe this afternoon won’t be a total loss, after all.

  The dress is tastefully alluring—knee-length, sleeveless, a corded neckline that loops around the collarbone and ties in the back. But the body within it is the real highlight. She’s tiny but unmistakably womanly—warm peach-hued skin, an elegant neck, delicate arms, a slight swell of cleavage, a tight waist, and toned legs with the sweetest hint of muscle. Her hair is thick, a multifaceted blond—pale, almost white strands grace her dainty jaw—but there’s shades of honey-gold and caramel leading back to a low bun.

  She’s fucking stunning. I have no idea who she is—but finding out just became my number-one priority.

  She spots me as I approach. Bright turquoise eyes, sharp and appraising, rake me over from head to toe. Enjoy the view, baby. I’ll be happy to give her the extended tour later on.

  “Hi,” I say, smiling when I reach her.

  She raises her chin, straightening her shoulders. “Hello.”

  There’s something familiar about her. It tickles the back of my brain and stirs my cock. I wonder if she’s a friend of my cousins’—possibly a bridesmaid I hooked up with at one of their weddings?

  “Enjoying the party?”

  Her gaze turns toward the crowd as she sips from the crystal flute in her hand. “Yes. I’m sure the birthday girl is ecstatic. Caviar and champagne—what every one-year-old wants.”

  Sarcasm. I like sarcasm. It suggests intelligence. Confidence.

  I like her ass even more—which I’ve discreetly checked out.

  “Word around the country club is you’ve gone into business on your own,” she comments casually. “Got yourself a law firm with your name on it.”

  Her tits are pretty phenomenal too. A little on the small side, no more than a B cup—but I just bet they’re firm and perky and magically delicious. The kind that can forego a bra, so her nipples poke against her shirt when she’s turned on. I love that look on a woman.

  “Yes, almost two years now. We’ve built quite a name for ourselves.”

  “You must be so proud.”

  “I am.”

  She lifts one shoulder. “I think it’s pretentious as hell.”

  My eyes snap to her face. “I beg your pardon?”

  “It’s a farce. The brave young defense attorney, giving up the big-paycheck firm to serve the little people.” Her voice turns derisive. “It’s easy to be brave when you have Great-Grandpa’s money behind you.”

  My brow furrows. “That’s pretty presumptuous of you.”

  “No, what’s presumptuous is thinking you can walk over here, ogle my tits and ass, and assume I won’t call you on it.”

  Guess I wasn’t as discreet as I thought.

  “Is ogleable a word? Ca
use if it is—you’re it. A lot of women would take it as a compliment.”

  She faces me head-on. “A lot of women are idiots. And not as knowledgeable as I am about what a selfish, immature little prick you can be.”

  Little? I resent that—particularly in such close proximity to the word prick.

  “Who the hell are you?”

  She stares at me for two beats. Then she throws her head back and laughs.

  “My God. Of all the ways I pictured this going, I never considered you’d totally forget me. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised—I was pretty forgettable back in the day.”

  “What does that even—”

  A woman’s voice calls “Kennedy!” cutting me off—and knocking me on my proverbial ass.

  Mitzy Randolph, one of my mother’s oldest friends and our next-door neighbor, walks up and plants two air kisses on the blond beauty at my side.

  “I’ve been waiting for you to arrive,” she tells her.

  “I’ve been here for twenty minutes, Mother.”

  Holy fuck.

  Mrs. Randolph turns to me, her arm around her daughter’s back. “Isn’t it wonderful that our Kennedy has come home, Brent?”

  And all I can do is parrot like an idiot. “Yeah . . . wonderful.”

  Mitzy steps back, takes her daughter’s hands, and holds them up at her sides—looking her over, judging and evaluating—just like the good old days. “I’m so happy to have you out of Nevada. All those nasty casinos and dust and desert.” She caresses her cheek. “That dry air has wreaked havoc on your skin. I’ll make you an appointment with my esthetician this week—she’s a miracle worker.”

  Kennedy gives a resigned sigh. “Thank you, Mother.”

  “Now I’ll let you two get reacquainted. I see the Vanderblasts are here and if I don’t spend at least ten minutes with Ellora she’ll work herself into a snit.”

  When we’re alone again, I can’t stop staring. Once upon a time she was my best friend. For a hot minute she was more. After that, she hated me. And then she was just . . . gone.

  I haven’t seen her for fourteen years, and the last time I did, she sure as shit didn’t look like this.

  “Kennedy . . . ?” I whisper, still not entirely convinced it’s her.

  She regards me with a tilted head, a cocked hip, and a disdainful smile. “Hello, Dickhead.”

  Okay. Now I’m convinced.

  4

  It takes a few seconds to recover from the shock, but when I do, I hit the ground smirking. Because if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s give as good as I get.

  “Kennedy Randy Randolph.”

  Her smile drops like a barrel over Niagara Falls.

  “My middle name is Suzanne.”

  “I know, but I never did come up with a nickname for you. Though we already considered Randy, didn’t we? It wasn’t a good fit—I’ll keep working on it.”

  I shake my head, checking her out all over again. Because now that I know who she is, we’re talking a whole other level of depraved interest.

  “Goddamn. You look—”

  “Yes, I know.” She sighs, then gazes at her manicure in that bitchy way women do. “Thank you.” There’s not a shred of sincerity in her tone—like she’s heard a million compliments before. Which, with her level of hotness, is possible. Except for one thing.

  “What’d you do to your eyes?” I lean in, frowning.

  “They’re called contact lenses.”

  “Well, take them out. I don’t like them. Your real eyes are incredible.”

  Breathtaking, actually—deep, warm brown with flecks of gold. I’d know Kennedy’s eyes anywhere.

  “What’d you do to your face?” she asks, folding her arms.

  I touch my chin. “I grew a beard.”

  “Well ungrow it. It looks like a vagina from a 1970s porn film.”

  My lips twitch—because, fuck, the things that come out of her mouth.

  That always did.

  “I’m starting to get the impression you don’t like me anymore, sweetness.”

  Challenge rises in her eyes. “You’re assuming I actually liked you to begin with. You know what they say about people who assume, ass.”

  I square off against Kennedy. Game on.

  “You definitely liked me. Remember that summer you flashed me your boobs? That has to count for something.”

  “I did not flash you my boobs.” She scowls.

  “You totally did. They were the first I’d ever seen—made an indelible impression.”

  She grinds her teeth. “I jumped in the pool and my bathing suit rode up.”

  “I think it was a Freudian Nip Slip. Subconsciously, you meant to do it, because you liked me.”

  “I think you’re a pompous bastard. Possibly a sociopath.”

  I grin. “Doesn’t mean you didn’t like me.”

  Over Kennedy’s shoulder, I catch my mother’s eager gaze on us. She’d be less obvious if she had a spotlight and binoculars aimed our way.

  “My mother’s watching us.”

  Kennedy places her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and picks up a full one. “Of course she’s watching us. For years, her greatest wish was that I’d grow up to bear your spawn.”

  I snort. “That’s ridiculous.” Then I glance sideways at Kennedy, gauging her reaction. “Isn’t it?”

  “Completely.” She looks me straight in the face. “I could never be with someone like you—you have the maturity of a twelve-year-old boy.”

  I raise my glass. “And you have the chest of one.”

  I expect her to come back with a clever, biting retort, but she just gestures to me with an open palm. “I rest my case.”

  Ironically, my first instinct is to stick my tongue out at her. But I won’t give her the satisfaction.

  “Besides,” she adds with a haughty smile. “I’m seeing someone. Maybe you’ve heard of him? David Prince.”

  David Prince is a junior senator from Illinois with his eye on the White House. He’s a rock star, the second coming of John F. Kennedy. I bet the entire Democratic Party and a good percentage of Republicans have his picture hanging on their office wall—the same way that poster of a feather-haired Jon Bon Jovi hung on the bedroom walls of all sixteen of my girl cousins’. And two of the boys.

  “You’re dating a politician?” I say it like it’s a dirty word, because in my experience politicians are rarely clean.

  She raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “You were almost a politician.”

  “Only in my father’s wet dreams,” I volley back. “Although, you always said you were going to marry a prince. Sounds like you’re on your way.”

  “My mother said that—not me.”

  I smirk. “Then she must be ecstatic. You’re finally everything she always wanted you to be.”

  Game. Set. Match.

  Something shifts in Kennedy’s eyes, and I suddenly get the feeling we’re not playing anymore. “Not everything. Mother wanted me to be a ballerina.”

  Years ago, I’d heard she was doing undergrad at Brown University. But other than that tiny detail there’s been nothing. Her father is a talker, her mother a bragger, but when Kennedy dropped off the grid after boarding school, information on her locked up like Fort Knox.

  “Is that what you were doing in Las Vegas—dancing? Kind of short for a showgirl, aren’t you?”

  Though I’d be sitting front and center for that show if I could.

  She nods slowly, smiling way too smugly.

  “Yes, too short for a showgirl . . . but just the right height for a federal prosecutor.”

  That stops me cold. And I suddenly feel a strong kinship to Ned Stark’s bastard son because: You know nothing, Jon Snow!

  And apparently neither do I.

  “You’re a . . . ?”

  “The Moriotti case, the mafia capo? That was me. I transferred to the DC office last week—and I can’t wait to start playing on your home field.”

  Over th
e last fourteen years I’ve thought a lot about what it’d be like to see Kennedy Randolph again—but I never thought it’d be on the opposite side of a courtroom.

  “You realize this makes us mortal enemies? You’re now the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Magneto to my Professor Xavier.”

  “With your comic book obsession obviously still in full effect, I’d say I’m more the Wendy to your Peter Pan complex.”

  I ignore the dig because I’m too busy connecting the dots. “Wait a second—your middle name is Suzanne.”

  “Thought we covered that, already.”

  “You’re K. S. Randolph?”

  Her smile goes wide—two rows of pearly white evil. “Yep. That’s my professional moniker.”

  “You’re the prosecutor on my Longhorn case?”

  She golf claps. “Right again.”

  “I’ve been trying to get a meeting with your office—so we can talk.”

  Her features crumple with mock confusion. “What would I want to talk to you about?”

  “Uh, pleading the charges down?”

  Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal cases end in plea bargains. If you want a real feel for jurisprudence today, forget Judge Judy—watch Let’s Make a Deal instead.

  She chuckles in a distinctly not-nice way. “Brent, Brent, Brent—I don’t make plea deals. Ever. It’s kind of what I’m known for. Oh, and I’ve never lost a case. I’m known for that too.”

  I was wrong—this match isn’t anywhere near over. It’s just getting started.

 
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