Appealed, p.5
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       Appealed, p.5

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  “Nope. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

  She chuckles.

  “Hey, Brent. I haven’t seen you in forever!”

  Michelle Lawson—a delectable brunette prosecutor I dated briefly a few years back—wiggles up to my side and kisses me hello on the cheek. She’s a nice girl, we had a few good times—and I mean that exactly like you think I do—and then it ran its course. No hard feelings.

  “Hey, Michelle. How are you?”

  “Same old, same old. You look good, Brent.”

  “Thanks.” I wink. “You too.”

  An unhappy shadow falls over Kennedy’s face as she watches our exchange.

  Interesting.

  “What are you drinking?” I ask her, after Michelle moves on.

  Kennedy’s tongue peeks out, wetting her plump bottom lip. “Pinot grigio.” She puts her hand on my bicep—deliberately—almost possessively. And she leans in so close I can smell the sweet wine on her breath. “Get me another, please?”

  I don’t really know what’s going on here. I’m not sure how we got from her calling me a dumbass in court an hour ago, to her flirting with me now. But hell if I’m going to question it—I get the lady her drink.

  • • •

  We spend the next half hour talking, teasing, laughing—about absolutely nothing that matters. Sometimes with the people around us, but mostly each other. Kennedy looks me up and down. Boldly. Seductively. She touches my arm, my chest. She leans in close and speaks softly into my ear.

  I’m hard as a rock the entire fucking time—but I’m not complaining.

  I just want to know what her game is. Why the sudden change in attitude? I plan to ask her as soon as we’re alone, but she beats me to the punch.

  “You want to get out of here?” she asks, with one hand on her hip, the other rubbing up and down my chest. Driving me insane.

  “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

  Her smile is slow, secretive. “Then maybe you’ll have to put something in mine—to make it an even trade.”

  Did she just really say that? Holy shit, if this is a dream—put me in a goddamn coma.

  My heart pounds a little harder. “Sounds like a plan.”

  She hooks her thumb behind her. “I’m just going to hit the ladies room first.”

  As she turns I down the rest of my beer, wishing it was something stronger. I have to play this just right. I have lots of questions, there’s so many things I want to know—and so many positions I want to screw her in.

  A mug crashes off a table in the back, drawing my head in that direction. Toward two big, drunk, numbnuts talking shit and shoving each other, ready to brawl. There’s a narrow hallway to the bathroom, and Kennedy doesn’t have a lot of room to make it past them.

  I know exactly what’s going to happen—and there’s no fucking way I’m going to let it.

  A second later I have my arm around Kennedy’s waist, lifting and turning her, putting her safely behind me. Then I shove the back of the dickhead who would’ve collided with her.

  “You want to beat the shit out of someone, do it outside,” I growl.

  The jerk-off forgets about the original guy he wanted to pound on and turns on me. “Who the fuck are you?”

  I get in his face, my voice low and lethal. “You almost knocked into my girl. If you had, you’d be in a world of fucking hurt right now. So I’m the guy who’s telling you to stop being an asshole. If that’s gonna be a problem, I can step outside too.”

  He stares at my face—probably trying to figure out if I’m serious. I have a few inches on him, my jaw is rigid, and my eyes are hard—I’m totally fucking serious. After a moment, he senses that and backs down.

  “I don’t have a problem with you.” He shrugs, swaying unsteadily.

  “Good.”

  After he walks away I turn around to Kennedy. I slip my hand behind her neck, gently cradling the back of her head, searching her face. “You okay?” I don’t like her color. She’s pale, her eyes hollow looking. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

  She blinks, looking away from me, shaking her head. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just . . . I’m gonna get a cab home instead. Alone.”

  “What? Why?”

  “Because I can’t . . .” She stops herself and she goes stiff in my arms. Defensive. “Because I changed my mind.”

  Kennedy slips out of my arms and slides between the patrons toward the front door.

  She’s a lot tinier than I am, so she gets through faster than I can keep up. By the time I get out the front door, she’s got a cab hailed.

  She opens the door—but I push it closed. “Where are you going?”

  “I’m going home, Brent.”

  She tries the door again—but I push it closed—harder this time. “Not until you tell me what spooked you in there.”

  She doesn’t look startled or scared or confused now. She just looks pissed. At me.

  “Don’t tell me what to do! You don’t get to tell me what to do!” she yells.

  “Everything okay, guys?” Tom Caldwell asks from nearby. His voice is friendly enough, genuinely concerned. “We, ah, called a car service. They’ll be here in a minute. Are you riding with us, Kennedy?”

  She brushes back her hair, composing herself. “Yes, thanks, Tom. I’ll ride with you.” Her expression is chilly when she turns to me. “I’ll see you in court tomorrow, Brent.”

  I tap the top of the taxi hard, frustrated because this isn’t a battle I can win tonight. “Yep. See you tomorrow, Kennedy.”

  • • •

  Only later that night, around 2 a.m., I’m awakened by the sensation of electricity shooting from the end of my stump up my thigh. I break out in a cold sweat, my entire body locked up, every muscle contracted in agony. It happens occasionally.

  In the beginning it was phantom limb pain, the feeling of an ache in a limb that no longer exists. Back then, it was just a cramping in my foot. I wanted to rub it, wiggle and twist it until I got comfortable, but of course that wasn’t possible.

  Nowadays it’s different. Nerve pain.

  It’s the reason your uncle’s knee aches when it rains, even years after the replacement surgery from that old football injury. Some nerves just don’t know when to quit—they want to fire, and they’re fucking pissed off that they can’t.

  My thigh spasms when another jolt comes—this one burning and sharp. I grunt and call for Harrison to get my wheelchair. Wearing my prosthetic is out of the question, and so is going back to sleep.

  I’ve been to many specialists and they all have explanations—weather, stress—but no definitive answers. One wanted me to go back under the knife, but he couldn’t guarantee it would cure the flare-ups, so I declined. Instead, I try medical massage, acupuncture, and just plain old sucking it up.

  After I wheel myself out to the living room and tell Harrison to go back to bed, I send a text to Sofia, telling her to count me out at the office tomorrow. And at court.

  • • •

  In the morning, my masseuse comes to the house—an aging Asian woman with sure, strong hands who curses like a sailor. The pain is less after she leaves, but only slightly. I spend the day in my wheelchair, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.

  Later in the day, I get a surprise. There’s a loud knock on the door and Harrison goes to answer it. He comes back into the living room with Kennedy right behind him, looking fantastic in a white skirt, fitted black blazer, and shiny high heels, her hair down, thick and wavy.

  She also looks mighty ticked off.

  “Miss Kennedy Randolph,” Harrison announces.

  She pulls up short. “You have a butler?”

  I shrug. “My mother worries. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

  Kennedy unleashes her pointed finger. “If you think you’re going to pass this case off to your partner like a chickenshit, you’re out of your mind!”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “I’m talking about
the fact that you weren’t in court today. But your barracuda of a partner was!”

  I chuckle, even as razor-sharp pain slices across my leg. “Barracuda—Sofia will like that. I’ll be sure to pass along your compliment.”

  “Don’t even try to bait and switch this, Brent. I’ll file a complaint with the court, I’ll contact the bar association, I’ll—”

  As entertaining as her tirade is to watch, I cut her off. “The case is mine, Kennedy—the client is mine. I wasn’t up to making it into court today and Sofia was free. That’s all.” My eyes drag over her and I force a wink. “Though it’s good to know you missed me.”

  Her mouth snaps shut, and her brows draw together as she regards me. “You don’t look sick.”

  “I’m not sick,” I counter.

  She glances at the wheels of my chair, then my face—and I know she’s noting the circles under my eyes, the clenched jaw, the perspiration on my forehead.

  “Is it your leg?” she asks quietly.

  I force a grin, but it feels bitter. “I’m one of the lucky few who experience chronic pain years after amputation. It makes wearing my prosthetic leg pretty fucking unbearable, and I don’t like to use the wheelchair in court. It distracts the jury.”

  She takes that in, then her voice goes even softer. “A year and a half after your accident, my parents and I went to your house for dinner. I snuck upstairs because I wanted to see you; I needed to know if you were okay. I made it halfway down the hall to your room—and then I heard you crying. Henderson was with you, but it sounded . . . horrible.”

  I duck my head. “It was worse then. And I was young—didn’t know how to deal with it. Now I do.”

  I take my time raising my eyes to hers. There’s a difference between pity and compassion, and I’ve had twenty-two years of practice in noting the distinction. Pity is feeling sorry for someone, while being glad you’re not them. Compassion is a shared pain—you hurt with them; their pain becomes your own.

  I can accept curiosity, unease about my leg—they come with the territory. But I can’t handle pity.

  Not from her.

  When I drag my gaze to her face, relief loosens my chest. Because her eyes crinkle with hurt—mine and hers.

  “Is there anything I can do?”

  I smirk. “Now that you mention it, blow jobs always make me feel better. Don’t suppose you’re interested?”

  She actually laughs—it’s low and sweet and beautiful. And it makes the pain just a little bit easier to ignore.

  “Sorry, not interested.”

  “Damn it.” I snap my fingers. “How about a drink, then? Drinking alone sucks.” I jerk my thumb to my butler. “And Harrison here is straight edge.”

  I push my wheelchair forward and gesture to the couch. “Sit down. Harrison, get the good bottle of brandy, please—top shelf in the liquor cabinet, on the left.”

  “Your medication . . .” he warns, but I wave him off.

  “One drink will be fine.”

  Kennedy sits on the brown leather sofa, close enough that our knees almost touch. Harrison hands us each a rounded, bottom-heavy glass half filled with amber liquid, then quietly leaves the room.

  I look at her. Where to start? So many questions—and even more land mines.

  “Where did you go after boarding school? I went to your house that summer, but—”

  “I don’t want to talk about that, Brent.” She stares straight ahead, her voice dead-end final.

  I back off. “Okay. Then . . . how did this happen? The hair, the clothes, the contact lenses—your mother and your sister Claire wanted to make you their Barbie doll for years. What finally made you let them?”

  A smile curves her lips. “I didn’t let them.” She leans my way, her shoulders relaxing a little. “Eventually the rebellious stage got old; watching my mother shit bricks over the way I dressed was less satisfying. But the summer after my first year in law school, I had an internship with the appellate court—”

  “Where did you go to school?” I interrupt, hungry for every morsel.

  “Yale.” She takes a sip of her brandy, then goes on. “So . . . I was working under Justice Bradshaw, who was not only a phenomenal judge but a stunning woman. About a month into my internship, she called me into her office and said she was impressed with my work, but if I didn’t do something about my appearance I wouldn’t be interning with her for long.”

  “She actually said that to you?” I choke out. “Shit—that would’ve made for an interesting sexual harassment suit.”

  Kennedy nods. “I told her I wanted to be judged on my work, not my looks. And she said, ‘That’s fine for La-La Land, honey, but this is the real world.’ ”

  Her tone grows more easy as she goes on. The icy mask melts away and her face turns softer, more open. And I can’t take my eyes off her—because this is the girl I grew up with. The girl I know.

  “She told me that banker or gangbanger, we’re all judged on how we look. And if I looked sloppy, people would think everything I did was sloppy. But if I looked impeccable, they’d give me the benefit of the doubt that my work could be impeccable too.

  “So I started making an effort to look more polished. Within a few weeks, I was dyed, plucked, and tailored within an inch of my life.” Her hand skims down her front. “It was my Devil Wears Prada moment.”

  I nod, even though I have no fucking idea what she’s talking about.

  And she calls me on it. “You don’t know what that means, do you?”

  “Not a clue.”

  Kennedy smiles. “It means Justice Bradshaw was my fashion mentor. And that was the summer I turned pretty.”

  I stare at her—at the soft curve of the cheekbone, her smooth skin, the thick long lashes and full pink mouth she always had.

  “No—it really wasn’t.”

  Her eyes flash to mine for a long moment, then she looks away. Swallowing some brandy, she coughs.

  “Goes down kind of rough, doesn’t it?” I say.

  “Yes. Not to be rude, but if this is your good stuff, I’m afraid to find out what your cheap liquor tastes like.”

  I smile. “It’s not the good brandy because of the taste.” I crook my finger, drawing her closer until our arms brush, and I’m able to detect the scent of peaches on her skin. Then I hold up my glass, swirling it gently. “Do you see the light brown color—how soft it looks, like crushed velvet?”

  Kennedy peers at the glass and nods.

  “But there’s a deeper brown in there too, giving it more complexity. A richness.”

  “Uh-huh.”

  “And then there’s the golden hue over the whole thing that makes it almost ethereal. Like it’s lit from the inside.”

  “Yes.” She nods again.

  I stop swirling the glass. And say softly, “That is the exact shade of Kennedy Randolph’s eyes.”

  Her breath hitches—almost a gasp.

  “That’s what I thought the first time I drank it, and it’s what I’ve thought every time I drank it since.” I turn to face her, my voice dropping lower. “I’ve never forgotten you, sweetheart. Not even close.”

  She wasn’t expecting that. She looks surprised; small and suddenly vulnerable. Then she shuts it down and her face goes blank. And hard.

  “That pisses you off.” I try to catch her eyes again. “Why does that piss you off?”

  “You know why.” She moves to stand.

  I grasp her hand. “No, Kennedy, I don’t. I never did.”

  She jerks away and sets her glass on the coffee table. Then she backs up a step—putting space between us. “I’m not doing this with you again, Brent. You’re not sucking me back in.”

  My jaw tightens. “Okay. How about you explain what that means?”

  “How about you go fuck yourself with a lacrosse stick?”

  Hello, Square One—long time, no see.

  I tilt my head, like I’m thinking it over. “Sports equipment is a hard limit for me. But if you want to play with t
oys, count me in.”

  She doesn’t appreciate my humor. “I’m leaving.”

  “You’re running.”

  Her lips pinch and her eyes glare—and goddamn if she isn’t cute when she’s fired up. I can’t wait to see what full-out furious looks like, and something tells me I’m gonna have my chance pretty soon.

  One hand braces on her hip, the other stabs the air in front of me. “Chair or no chair, your ass better be in court tomorrow or I’ll make your life hell.”

  “As opposed to the delight you’re making it right now.”

  She throws up her hands and moves to the doorway.

  “See you tomorrow, angel,” I call to her back.

  A minute later, Harrison steps sedately into the room after seeing her to the front door.

  “Angel?” he wonders.

  “Sure.” I raise my glass to my lips. “It was an angel who brought the plagues down on Egypt.”

  “Ah, I see.” He nods. “But something tells me the frogs and locusts were easier to handle.”

  And I don’t disagree.

  6

  The next morning, I get to the office early to make up for being sidelined yesterday. I get lost in motions and appeals and before I know it, the building comes alive around me—midmorning sunshine streaming through the windows, the sound of Mrs. Higgens’s footsteps, the smell of coffee in the air . . . the resounding thump that comes through the wall, rattling my desktop dart game in its box.

  What the hell?

  Before I reach my door, the thump comes again, this time accompanied by a muffled yell—shocked, pained, and distinctly male.

  What the fuck?

  I jump up and run into the hallway, and realize the sound came from behind Sofia’s office door. Jake and Stanton come out of their offices at the same time, their concerned expressions matching mine. When another thump sounds, Stanton’s mouth presses into a hard line and his eyes look like two nukes about to detonate. He takes the lead as we burst through Sofia’s office door.

  Sofia’s always had the Brazilian bombshell thing going on, but now she’s sporting an extra curve—the seven-month baby bump across her middle. Which makes the fact that she’s holding a guy facedown across her desk, his arm pulled unnaturally far behind his back, even more disturbing. And . . . kind of awesome.

  “Aaaarrrgh, you’re gonna break my arm!” the guy moans.

  “Are you all right?” Stanton asks her.

  “Dandy.” She actually smiles.

  He steps up just as Sofia steps back—then Stanton grabs the guy and pins him to the wall, his big hand wrapped around the guy’s throat.

 
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