Appealed, p.4
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       Appealed, p.4

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  “Justin Longhorn is seventeen years old,” I argue.

  “Exactly,” she practically spits. “More than old enough to have known better.”

  “It’s his first offense.”

  “And he made a hell of a debut. I’m going for the maximum. Your boy is looking at twenty years.”

  When we were young, Kennedy was intelligent, funny as hell, socially oblivious—but she was never spiteful. But looking at her now, there’s a ferociousness about her that’s new. Like a sharp-toothed Chihuahua that’s been stepped on one too many times.

  Part of me finds this scorchingly hot. She’s not a girl anymore—she’s a fierce, strong, fully self-possessed woman. The kind whose hair I’d love to fist tight and pull while she’s deep-throating my cock. The kind who would moan for more while I pounded into her rough and hard against a wall.

  But another part of me mourns that sweetness. The brave, innocent, beautifully wild creature who sat on a bike’s handlebars and trusted me to keep her safe while I was at the pedals. The one who took my hand and told me to dance with her wearing my unpracticed fake leg, because she thought she was strong enough to catch me if I stumbled.

  Then there’s the professional in me who’s just straight-up pissed off—because she’s gonna be a pain in the ass about a case that should be an easy close.

  I step in closer. “What the hell, Kennedy? The money’s been returned. It was a mistake. He’s a child.”

  She raises her chin and looks at me, all fire and fight. “He’s a criminal. And a bully. He screwed with the life savings of a dozen innocent people. He messed with their heads and sense of security, just because he could. He willfully and knowingly stole thousands of dollars—returned or not—and I’m going to make sure he pays for it.”

  “Wow. Hello, Inspector Javert.”

  Kennedy shakes her head and chuckles. “You were always clever, Brent. So adorable. I hope for your client’s sake you’re packing more than cuteness these days.”

  I bend my head, leaning down, just inches away from her shiny lips. “I haven’t had any complaints about what I’m packing so far.”

  She stares at my mouth for one beat too long.

  Then she blinks, shaking off her stare. “Good. Then I’ll see you in court, Counselor.”

  “Bet your sweet ass you will.”

  Kennedy brushes past me and struts away—leaving me no choice but to watch her go.

  • • •

  We don’t talk again after that. But I discreetly keep tabs on Kennedy the rest of the afternoon—where she’s standing, who she chats with. Tension prickles my skin if she’s out of my field of vision for too long, but when I find her again, relief detonates in my chest. For a long time—years—I wondered what she was doing, where she was, wanted so fucking badly to see her—the way an alcoholic craves just one more taste.

  It wasn’t easy, but eventually I went cold turkey, gave up on her completely—because wondering and wanting are lost causes. So, as good as it is to be able to watch her now, I’m not thrilled to fall off the wagon just yet.

  “I don’t want to go, Mommy!” Jonathon cries, yanking at his mother’s hand, trying to dig his heels into the grass.

  Because Katherine just told her kids it’s getting late—time to head home.

  Annie adds her own plaintive wail. “I wants da fireworks.”

  I step up beside my cousin as her children join forces against her.

  “We’re gonna miss the fireworks, Mommy!” Jonathon yells.

  “Settle down, little man.” I tell him. “There aren’t any fireworks tonight. We only have them on New Year’s Eve.”

  Every year, my parents go all out throwing a huge, formal New Year’s Eve party—they have since before I was born. There’s tuxedos and gowns, dancing, fountains of champagne . . . and fireworks at midnight that light up the sky and bathe the Potomac River in bright, sparkling color. Young kids in the family, like Jonathon and Annie, aren’t allowed to stay at the party all night. They’re sent to bed in one of the dozens of upstairs rooms before midnight. But Jonathon and Annie obviously know about the fireworks. They probably slip out of bed and watch the show through the window. That’s what I did every year, when I was their age.

  Only—I didn’t watch from the window. And I didn’t watch alone.

  “I’ll go first,” I tell Kennedy at the base of the ladder. “So I can open the hatch.”

  Even though we’re both nine, she’s a lot smaller than I am. This is the first time we’ve gone up to the roof—and I’m the boy, so I should definitely go first. There could be rabid birds up there, or bats.

  We’re in the big attic, where trunks, old books, paintings, and plastic-wrapped dresses get stored. It’s dark and dusty, with shadowed corners that look like they’re moving if you stare too long. Kennedy loves it up here.

  “Come on, it’s going to start soon,” I tell her. “We’ll come back here tomorrow.”

  Her eyes are still wide behind her thick-lensed, yellow-framed glasses as she gazes around the room, but she nods. “All right.”

  I head up the ladder and push open the access door in the ceiling. Then I climb through and reach down my hand. Kennedy grabs it as she climbs through and then we’re standing on the flat peak of my house. Sometimes Kennedy calls it a castle—Mason Castle—because of the ballroom. Her house is just as big. They don’t have a ballroom, but they have a home movie theater, which is a thousand times cooler.

  The icy wind cuts right through my robe—it’s freezing this year, cold enough to see every breath. The sky is a black blanket above us, and the stars are so bright, it feels like I could reach up and grab one—as easily as picking an apple off a tree. Kennedy spins in quick circles, her long brown hair fanning out. “You were right—this is the best!”

  She’s smiling, and the metal line of her retainer shines in the moonlight.

  I grin back—until she gets too close to the edge of the roof. I grab her hand and pull her back. “Watch out!”

  We sit down close to one of the five chimneys, to block the wind. When Kennedy’s teeth start to chatter, I put my arm around her. She snuggles against me, warming us both up a little. We talk while we wait for the show to start.

  “. . . So they let me quit fencing and start lacrosse instead,” I tell her. “It’s awesome.”

  “You’re so lucky!” Kennedy cries. “Mother said I couldn’t stop ballet even if my leg was broken. She said I’m going to marry a prince, and no prince wants a princess who doesn’t know how to dance.”

  Music floats up from the band downstairs. “I wonder if Claire is dancing with your cousin Louis,” Kennedy tells me. “She said she’s going to kiss him at midnight.”

  I feel my face scrunch. “Why?”

  “She said that’s what you do at midnight. Kiss the boy you like.”

  My face stays scrunched—because I can’t imagine anyone liking Louis—let alone kissing him.

  Then a chorus of voices surge from the veranda below. “10, 9, 8 . . .”

  A few seconds later, the band begins “Old Lang Syne” and the sky explodes with color. Bursts of reds and blues, slashes of silvery purples and swaths of sparkling greens light up the night and reflect on the river’s surface.

  While I watch the fireworks, Kennedy turns under my arm. And then she kisses me on the cheek.

  “Happy New Year, Brent,” she whispers.

  I look at her and smile.

  “Happy New Year, Kennedy.”

  As I shake off the memory I scan the yard, searching for that red dress. But when I find her, it’s not just relief I feel—it’s something else. Something rougher, hotter, hungrier.

  Because Kennedy is staring at me.

  She doesn’t notice that I’ve noticed. Her gaze is too busy trailing over my chest, my arms, my ass. Her eyes are eager and her cheeks are flushed pink—and I don’t think it has anything to do with the afternoon sun. I turn her way, holding my arms out, so she can get the full viewing pleasure
—and her eyes snap up to mine.

  I smirk and lift an eyebrow.

  Her lips part and her cheeks go from pink to red.

  I lift my hand and wave.

  She lifts her nose and turns away from me.

  And you know something? I think this is going to be fun.

  5

  A week and a half later, I walk into court for the first day of the Longhorn trial, wearing my best navy suit and lucky silver cuff links. Ready to rumble.

  Little Miss I-don’t-make-plea-deals-ever made it pretty clear she’s looking for a fight. And if that’s how she wants it, that’s how I’ll give it to her. But when I fight in court, I fight to win. If she’s not going to play nice—I’m down for playing dirty. That applies to outside the courtroom too.

  I set my briefcase on the defense table. Justin is already here, looking very young and respectable in a gray jacket and burgundy tie. He was understandably freaked when I told him there’d been a change in plans—that he was going to be seeing the inside of a courtroom. His father’s here today, sitting behind his son in the front row of the galley, staring at his phone, barely sparing his kid a glance. We’ve worked out an attendance plan for his parents with alternating days. I just hope they stick to it, because the last thing I need to worry about is the two of them keeping their shit together.

  Kennedy strolls in, dressed to kill.

  Literally—she looks like a smoking-hot, badass businesswoman assassin straight out of one of my comic books. A black leather, knee-length pencil skirt, a shiny silk black blouse that clings to her torso in all the right ways, open at the neck, showing off an onyx necklace set in silver. Her hair is pulled back into a high bun and her makeup is subtle, accentuating the beauty of her features.

  She takes her place at the prosecution table, turns deliberately my way—and smiles. And my cock reacts like she’s a snake charmer, stirring and thickening, rising in the presence of that breath-stealing smile.

  It’s the perfect combination of sweet and evil. Delicious but deadly. A smile that says I’m going to destroy you—and you’re going to love every fucking second of it.

  She’s still wearing the turquoise contact lenses, and I’m kind of relieved. Because her natural eyes would do me in—and I’d be drooling.

  She turns slightly to place some files on the table and my eyes drift down over her exquisite form. Fuck me, she’s got that line up the back of her stockings—that sexy dark thread that glides over her calf, up the soft skin of her thighs, beneath her skirt to the promised land. I run my knuckle over my chin, just in case.

  Nope, no drool. We’re good.

  The bailiff instructs us to rise and the Honorable Judge Phillips enters the courtroom, taking his place behind his bench. He checks to make sure all the primary parties are here and accounted for. I expect him to call the jury in next, so we can begin our opening statements—and I admit, I’m looking forward to seeing Kennedy in action.

  But that’s not what happens.

  Because Kennedy stands up. “Your Honor, we’d like to submit a motion to disqualify the defense’s forensic computer expert from testifying.”

  A forensic computer technician examines data left behind after cybercrimes. My expert is the best in the business and he’s going to testify that the evidence of the bank hack and theft that the prosecution says traces back to Justin’s computer is faulty. That, sure, Justin’s computer may have been used in the crimes—but there’s a slim chance it wasn’t. And slim is all you need for reasonable doubt.

  If this were chess, my computer expert would be my rook—not the most powerful part of my defense, but still an essential piece in the grand strategy.

  I stand up. “On what grounds?”

  Kennedy’s eyes cut to me. “Because he’s not permitted to testify or be currently employed. A hearing will bear that out.”

  The judge agrees to a hearing on the motion, and two hours later the judge disqualifies my witness. On a technicality. Because he’s based out of London and didn’t bother to update his work visa—which is now expired.

  Looks like Kennedy came ready to rumble too. And she’s damn good at it.

  • • •

  After the hearing, once our opening statements are given to the jury, Kennedy starts with a forensic computer expert of her own. Her questions are quick, to the point, and emit a heady scent of confidence. The tech’s answers are detailed and boring, as most technical aspects tend to be—but he’s polished. He breaks things down for the jury to a level they’ll understand.

  Which doesn’t bode well for Justin.

  In a short time, the judge calls me to pose my cross-examination questions. Which would be great except—Kennedy barely lets me ask one.

  It goes something like this:

  “Can you explain—”

  “Objection!”

  And this:

  “How can you be sure—”

  “Objection!”

  And then:

  “When you determined—”

  “Objection!”

  Most of her objections are overruled, but that’s not the point. It’s a strategy. She wants to break my rhythm, keep me from finding the zone where I can bait the witness into saying what I want him to, and then throw his answer back in his face.

  She’s trying to annoy the fuck out of me—and it’s working. Did I actually say this was going to be fun? I was wrong. I start envisioning what my hands would look like wrapped around her pretty little neck—and not even in a hot way.

  So when I ask, “What are the odds—”

  And Kennedy pops to her feet with, “Objection!”

  I shout back, “Objection!”

  The judge peers down at me through his glasses. “You’re objecting to your own question?”

  “No . . . Judge.” I stammer. “I’m objecting to her objecting.”

  He raises an eyebrow. “That’s new.”

  “Am I going to be allowed to question the witness? At this rate, my client will be collecting social security by the time this trial is concluded.”

  “If Mr. Mason framed his questions correctly, I wouldn’t be forced to object, Your Honor,” Kennedy says serenely.

  “There’s nothing wrong with how my questions are framed,” I growl.

  The judge chides us, “Let’s keep the arguments directed my way. And Miss Randolph, let’s refrain from any frivolous objections going forward.”

  “Certainly, sir.”

  “And on that note, let’s call it a day. Court will reconvene tomorrow, 9 a.m. Adjourned.”

  After the judge exits, I reassure Justin with a back pat and a pep talk. Then I pack up my briefcase and turn to head out the door. And who should end up walking out at the exact same time, beside me, but the Hot Bitch herself.

  “Certainly, sir,” I mimic in a high-pitched voice. Then lower, “Kiss-ass.”

  “I’d rather be a kiss-ass than a dumbass. I didn’t realize you got your law degree from a Cracker Jack box Daddy paid for.”

  “Hey.” I swing around in front of her, pointing to my chest. “I buy my own Cracker Jacks.”

  She lifts one unimpressed shoulder. “If you say so.”

  I let her go ahead of me, because that’s the gentlemanly thing to do—and so I can watch the sway of her tight ass as she walks. It makes me feel a little better.

  Halfway down the hall, Tom Caldwell calls Kennedy’s name and she stops to talk to him. Tom’s a straight-laced prosecutor who has faced off against our firm before. He’s not a bad guy, just irksomely upstanding—like overly sweet apple pie. I heard he got engaged recently, to a pretty schoolteacher named Sally.

  Stealthily, I crouch down to tie my shoe a few feet away from them—listening. Don’t judge me.

  “A group of us are walking over to the Red Barron for happy hour,” Caldwell tells her. “You should come.”

  “Sounds like fun! Thanks, Tom—I’m in.” Her voice is cheerful, friendly. She hasn’t spoken to me with that voice in years. Spiky jeal
ousy claws at my gut like a horny porcupine. I watch them walk out together. Fucking Caldwell.

  Then I take my cell phone out of my pocket. And call Stanton.

  “Goose.” I tell him when he answers. “Suit up—I need a wingman. You, me—happy hour. Like the old days . . . last year.”

  His voice is thick with sleep. “Sorry, man, I can’t. We’re nappin’.”

  “Napping?” I check my watch. “It’s fucking five o’clock!”

  “Sofia’s heavily pregnant if you haven’t noticed.”

  “Yeah, but she’s not eighty! And she’s pregnant—what’s your excuse?”

  He yawns. “We headed home early. She’ll only rest if I lie down with her, and then we both end up fallin’ asleep. Then I’m wide awake all goddamn night catching up on work. This kid is turning me into a vampire.”

  I shake my head. “Feel ashamed, dude. You’re letting the team down.”

  “Where’s Jake?”

  “Regan’s ballet recital dress-rehearsal. He was bitching about it this morning. That’s punishment enough.”

  “Sorry, Brent.”

  “Yeah, yeah—go back to your nap, grandpa. Don’t forget to take your teeth out.”

  He chuckles. “Fuck you.”

  I hang up and blow out a breath. Looks like I’m flying solo on this mission.

  • • •

  I don’t go straight over to the Red Barron; that would be too obvious. I loiter for forty-five minutes or so—then I walk into the small, one-room bar. It’s old school—beer, wine, and whiskey. There’s a dartboard in the back corner, a small television behind the bar, and a couple of tables and chairs that have seen better days squeezed along the mirrored wall. Even though it’s run-down, the place is packed. I weave between a few patrons, and spot Tom Caldwell’s tall frame among a group of suit-clad men and women clustered at the bar.

  Tom turns when I tap his shoulder and his eyes register surprise, but he smiles. “Hey, Mason.”

  I shake his hand. “How’s it going, Caldwell?”

  “Good. Just stopping in for a drink after court.”

  “Yeah, me too.”

  Over Tom’s shoulder, I spot Kennedy. Those thick-lashed turquoise eyes narrow for a moment—like she’s preparing to tear me a new one—but then she snorts to herself and shakes her head. A sign that just maybe, she’s prepared to throw in the towel on giving me a hard time. At least for the time being.

  I step through the group, nodding to a few familiar faces, until I’m standing in front of her. So close she has to look up to keep eye contact. One corner of her mouth quirks. “You realize stalking is a crime?”

  “Stalking?” I scoff. “Someone has a pretty high opinion of herself. I come here all the time.”

  “You come here? To this bar?”

  “Yeah.” I shrug. “Don’t be paranoid.”

  She stretches up, her breath tickling my ear. “It’s not paranoia if it’s true. Look around.”

  I do. And that’s when I realize why she doesn’t believe me. Because the place is filled with police officers—some in uniform, some plain-clothed with their guns and badges still visible. It’s a cop bar. Cops and prosecutors flock together—because they’re generally on the same side.

  You know who’s not on their side? Criminal defense attorneys.

  Kennedy’s eyebrows lift. “Care to rephrase your statement?”

 
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