Appealed, p.6
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       Appealed, p.6

         Part #3 of The Legal Briefs series by Emma Chase
 
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  “What the fuck did you do?” Stanton growls.

  The guy’s eyes bulge “Me? She almost broke my goddamn arm!”

  Stanton pulls him a few inches from the wall and slams him back against it. “What’d you do that made her almost break your arm?”

  “I told him he was going to have to do jail time.” Sofia pushes her long, dark hair back, fanning her sweaty neck. “That there wasn’t a deal I could make that wouldn’t include two to four years, minimum. He didn’t appreciate that, and took a swing at me.”

  “You took a fucking swing at my wife?” Stanton’s fingers clench around the guy’s windpipe. “My pregnant wife!”

  Sofia becomes the voice of reason. “I’m okay, Stanton. Really. Please just get him out of here.” Then she gives the piece of shit a look that may kill him faster than Stanton’s grip. “I’m dropping your case and keeping your retainer. Whatever lawyer you end up with won’t be good enough to get you even two to four, so have fun with that, asshole. Get out.”

  “Let me help you,” Jake says, low and dangerous. Then he takes the bastard off Stanton’s hands—literally—and drags him out the door.

  Stanton’s hands run over Sofia’s stomach, her shoulders. “You sure you’re okay?”

  “Totally fine. He didn’t even touch me.”

  Stanton nods and hugs her. But by the time Jake is back in the room, he’s all fired up again. “This is it, Soph—you’re done.” His hand cuts through the air, his stubborn jaw like a block of granite.

  “Don’t start that again,” Sofia shoots back.

  You might want to grab some popcorn. Because a good lawyer could argue with himself. Two attorneys going head to head is like a verbal MMA cage match with no rules.

  “I’m finishin’ it, Sofia. Maternity leave starts now.” Stanton folds his arms—never a good sign.

  “No, it doesn’t, Stanton. I’m not going to feed into your ‘barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen’ fantasy!”

  Stanton leans forward. “You’re more than welcome to wear shoes. I’m partial to heels.”

  Yeah, that’s gonna go over real well.

  Then Stanton—displaying none of his trademark charm—loses it. “You’re my wife, this is our son! I’m not gonna stand by and let either of you get hurt—so you’re done with the violent assholes and drug addicts. You want to sit behind your desk, put your feet up with a nice tax evader or money launderer, be my fucking guest!”

  “That’s not a decision you get to make!”

  “I just did!”

  Under my breath, I tell Jake, “I hate it when Mom and Dad fight.”

  He cracks a smile.

  Sofia glares smugly at her husband. “Then it’s a good thing this is an equal partnership, and we make those kinds of firm decisions together.”

  Stanton nods, unconcerned. “Good point. We should vote on it—since it is a firm decision.”

  Sofia’s smug smile falters.

  “Jake?” Stanton asks, gaze focused on his wife.

  There’s a pause for just one beat, and Jake says, “I agree with Stanton.”

  Sofia’s face tightens, but before she can argue, he goes on. “Soldiers, firefighters, policewomen all go on restricted duty when they’re pregnant.”

  “But I’m not any of those things!” She throws up her hands. “I don’t have to carry people out of burning buildings or avoid mortar fire, goddamn it!”

  Jake’s voice is firm as steel. “Still not worth the risk of some asshole lashing out at you. And it’s got nothing to do with you being a chick—if Stanton was the incubator, I’d say the exact same fucking thing to him. Thank God that’s not the case.”

  Stanton’s self-satisfaction fills the air and echoes in his voice. “Brent? What’s your vote?”

  Sofia’s hazel eyes turn to me pleadingly.

  I look her right in the face. “You’re one of my best friends, so I can tell you that I think you’re being an idiot.”

  “But—”

  I hold up my hand. “It’s a few weeks of limited clients—not the end of the world. And it’ll give all of us peace of mind.”

  Then I channel my inner-Waldo.

  “You don’t have to prove anything to us, Sofia—though maybe you feel like you have to prove something to yourself. But it’s not worth your health. Or the health of little Becker Mason Santos Shaw.”

  Stanton chuckles. “Thank you.”

  “Not so fast—I’m not finished.” I take a breath. “Although I see your point, Sofia’s a grown woman, not a child. I’m not going to take the decision away from her. So my vote is to do whatever Sofia wants to do.”

  Stanton grinds his teeth. “Are you shittin’ me?”

  “Nope.”

  Sofia folds her arms victoriously. “Thank you, Brent.”

  But Stanton’s not done. Because even though we’re the same age, the three of them have always looked at me like a kid brother or something. Like I need to be taught or lectured. I don’t know where the fuck that comes from—I mean, there must be a ton of grown men who have a whole shelf in their office just for comic books.

  Right?

  Stanton gets that Big Daddy look on his face and tells me, “One of these days you’re gonna care about someone more than you care about yourself. And then you’ll know what this feels like—and why you just voted wrong.”

  “I’ll keep that in mind, but my vote still stands.” I check my watch. “And now I have to go get my ass handed to me in court.”

  As I turn and walk out the door, I hear Stanton threatening to call Sofia’s mother.

  Sofia’s a badass, but she’s also a bit of a drama queen.

  “You bring my mother into this, I’ll never forgive you!”

  And I can hear the wink in her husband’s voice. “Forever’s a long time, darlin’. I’ll take my chances.”

  • • •

  A couple of hours later, Kennedy has one of Justin Longhorn’s victims on the stand. She wrapped up the more technical part of her case yesterday, and while Sofia gave a strong cross-examination, damage was done.

  But not nearly as much as the damage that’s occurring right now.

  Because Kennedy—looking as delicious as a vanilla cupcake in her form-fitting cream suit—is questioning Eloise Potter. A tiny, gray-haired, soft-voiced, totally fucking adorable little old lady.

  She looks like my Gram-Gram. She looks like everyone’s Gram-Gram.

  By the time Kennedy’s done walking her through how she painstakingly pinched pennies all her life, to plan for her and Mr. Potter’s retirement—after she tearfully recounts the devastation and fear of seeing that life savings literally disappear—the jury is looking at my client like he’s the long-lost Menendez brother. They’re the monsters who blew both their parents away with shotguns just to get their hands on their inheritance, in case you weren’t sure.

  So, yeah—not good.

  “That’s all for now, Your Honor,” Kennedy tells the judge.

  She smiles deviously right at me as she walks back to her seat behind the prosecution table. And when I inhale, that sweet, fruity scent gives me an instant semi.

  Fucking great. Now I have to cross-examine Mrs. Clause at half-mast.

  I take a deep breath and stand up, buttoning my suit. Then I smile warmly. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Potter, I’m Brent Mason.”

  She nods and smiles. “Hello, young man.”

  I step out from behind the table. “Mrs. Potter, did the detectives investigating this case tell you that your funds had been recovered?”

  “Yes, they did, thank goodness. Harold and I were so relieved.”

  “I’m sure you were. And they also explained that your money would be returned to you?”

  “Yes, that’s right.”

  I gesture to Justin, sitting meekly but attentive, in his schoolboy blue blazer and tan slacks, hands folded docilely on the table. “How do you feel about my client, Mrs. Potter? Knowing he’s just seventeen years old? Do you feel he should go
to jail, that the rest of his life should be ruined because of one alleged adolescent mistake?”

  Kennedy jumps to her feet—like I knew she would. “Objection! The witness’s feelings about the defendant have no bearing on the facts of the case.”

  But this time, I’m ready for her.

  “Ms. Randolph opened the door to the witness’s feelings when she asked about them in relation to Mrs. Potter’s discovery of the funds missing from her account, Your Honor.”

  Judge Phillips takes a moment to consider, then sides with me.

  “Your objection is overruled, Ms. Randolph.”

  Satisfaction pumps so hard in my veins it escapes in a low ha.

  Things go downhill pretty quickly after that.

  “Did you just ha me?” Kennedy hisses, like a wet cat.

  I turn, facing her full frontal. “No I didn’t ha you. That would be unprofessional.”

  “I definitely heard a ha.”

  “Then you’re hearing things, honey.”

  Her eyes flare, then narrow sharply. She speaks to the judge, but her gaze stays trained on me. “I request that Mr. Mason be disciplined by the court. For referring to opposing council in a derogatory fashion—”

  I step closer to her. “There’s nothing derogatory about honey. It’s a term of endearment.”

  “It’s demeaning!”

  “It’s admiring!”

  “Which is neither appreciated or permitted.” Kennedy sneers. “As clearly ruled in Billings v. Hobbs.”

  “You’d be right, if it weren’t for Probst v. Clayton.”

  Our eyes clash. She steps toward me, breathing heavier. “Probst v. Clayton was overturned.”

  I move forward—pulse pounding—until we’re practically nose to nose. “Dwyer v. Bocci, then.” And I murmur so only she can hear, “Suck it.”

  Her eyes focus on my mouth. “Bite me,” she whispers back. Then, louder, “I’ll see your Dwyer v. Bocci and raise you an Evans v. Chase.”

  And fuck, I want to kiss her. She’s right there; it would be so easy.

  It would be so good.

  Judge Phillips clears his throat, and we break apart. The room is dead silent—all eyes on us.

  “Would you two like to be alone?” He frowns. “I could clear the courtroom.”

  My gaze drops to the floor and I can practically feel Kennedy withering with embarrassment. “No, Your Honor.”

  “Won’t be necessary, Judge.”

  “Ah, you remember I’m the judge. That’s encouraging.” He picks up his gavel. “I, however, would like a moment alone—with the two of you.” His voice projects as he addresses the court. “It’s Friday, so we’re closing up shop early. We’ll reconvene at 9 a.m., Monday morning.” He bangs the gavel. “Adjourned. Miss Randolph, Mr. Mason, my chambers.”

  Chatter and motion swamp the courtroom. Everyone stands as the judge vacates the bench, the spectators file out the door, and Mrs. Potter steps down from the witness stand—heading toward the hunched, gray-haired guy in suspenders who I assume is Harold Potter. She pauses as she passes me, with a twinkle in her eye.

  “I thought for sure you were about to ravish her. I’ve read a lot of books, and that was just like a scene that ends with the hero ravishing the maiden.”

  “I was closer to strangling her.”

  The little old lady chuckles in a knowing kind of way. “That’s a different kind of book, sonny.”

  I head to the judge’s chambers with Kennedy behind me—practically stepping on my heels. The bailiff closes the door after we enter. Judge Phillips hangs his black robe in the small closet, adjusts the cuffs of his shirt, then sits behind his massive dark-wood desk.

  “Mr. Mason, Miss Randolph, we have a problem.” He sighs like a fed-up parent.

  Kennedy jumps right in. “May I speak freely, Your Honor?”

  “This is not the military, Miss Randolph. Say what you need to say.”

  She points at me. “He’s an ass.”

  “I’m an ass?” I choke. “What about you? You’ve been busting my balls since day one!”

  Her mouth drops open in horror. “I have no interest in your balls!”

  “Protesting a little too much, aren’t you?”

  And we’re back to the nose-to-nose thing. Except even in heels, Kennedy’s really short—so I have to dip my head.

  “I’m getting the feeling you two know each other,” Judge Phillips interrupts.

  Kennedy and I answer at the same time.

  “Not really.”

  “That’s right.”

  I give her an exasperated look, then inform the judge, “We grew up next door to each other.”

  Kennedy snorts and folds her arms. “In houses that were twenty acres apart—it’s not like we were roomies.”

  “We made out once when we were teenagers,” I volunteer. “Then she broke my heart. It was brutal.”

  Kennedy’s mouth drops open again. It’s actually a nice look for her.

  If it weren’t for the murderous expression that goes along with it.

  “I broke your heart! Ha! That’s a lie!”

  I gesture with my hands and raise my voice. “You went out with William Penderghast before the saliva was dry on my lips!”

  And before the come was dry on my stomach. But I keep that particular detail to myself, because I’m a gentleman.

  Kennedy gets right in my face. “Because you were already back together with your raging bitch girlfriend!”

  And the judge clears his throat. Again.

  Oops.

  “Yeah, you two definitely know each other.” He leans back in his chair, eyes going between the two of us.

  Kennedy steps forward to his desk, so I can’t see her expression. But her voice is softer, and deliberately even. “We haven’t seen each other in almost fifteen years, Judge. So the truth is, we don’t know each other at all.” She shakes her head, just a bit. “Not anymore.”

  Maybe it’s the way she says it—monotone—without a hint of anger or annoyance or even sadness. Or maybe it’s just that the words are true. But my stomach drops. It falls in that sharp, unexpected, yearning sort of way—that feels exactly like regret.

  Judge Phillips looks at us for a moment longer. Then he spins in his chair, plucks a framed photograph from the shelf behind him, and shows it to us. “I have five boys. Even after the first three, my Alice was determined to get her daughter. After Timothy came along, she finally accepted that she’d have to be content with daughters-in-law.”

  In the picture, Judge Phillips and his aging-pretty-damn-well-looking wife stand in front of a lighthouse, flanked by five dark-haired, twenty-something-year-old guys in light blue button-downs and jeans.

  “You have a beautiful family, Judge,” I tell him.

  “They seem like fine, upstanding young men,” Kennedy adds.

  “They are. Now. When they were teenagers, they were destructive, hot-tempered bastards who loved to piss each other off.”

  I grin, because he sounds just like Jake and his wild brood of McQuaids.

  “When two of them would really get into it,” the judge continues, “I’d lock them together in a bedroom and let them duke it out. Sometimes I’d hear a crash or a thump against the wall, but for the most part they’d work out their issues. And more importantly—I didn’t have to listen to them while they did it.”

  He takes his wallet out of his pocket and tosses a couple of twenties down on the desk. He looks at the pile, joggles his head back and forth, and throws out a few more twenties.

  “That strategy worked out so well I’m going to use it with the two of you.” He gestures to the money. “Go out, sit down, get some dinner and maybe a few beverages, and work out whatever issues you have that are turning my courtroom into a circus.”

  The judge’s plan scores me court-mandated alone time with Kennedy—so I like it.

  She doesn’t.

  “Your Honor, this is highly irregular—”

  “Yes, it is, Miss Ran
dolph, but I’m ordering it anyway. Watching you two swipe and spit at each other has gotten on my last nerve.”

  “Judge Phillips, I can assure you—”

  “I don’t want your assurances, little lady, I want a smooth-running trial.” He points again to the money on the desk. “This will get me that—so don’t even think of walking back in here on Monday until your and Mr. Mason’s issues have been hashed out.”

  She stamps her foot. “We don’t have issues! You can’t—”

  “Oh, for Christ’s sake.” I take the money and grab Kennedy’s hand in an iron grip. “We’ll work it out. Have a good weekend, Judge.”

  Then I walk out of the room, pulling her behind me like a stubborn wagon.

  In the hall outside the judge’s chambers, she yanks at her hand. “Don’t drag me!”

  “Then fucking walk,” I growl back.

  When I feel her resistance lessen, I give her back her hand and she keeps in step beside me.

  “He can’t do this! He can’t order us to have dinner! What the hell kind of medieval—”

  “He’s the judge, genius—he can order anything he damn well pleases. And we’ve already ticked him off. Riling him up further won’t play out well for either one of us.”

  “But—”

  I stop short and turn to face her. I drop my voice lower, tempting and persuasive. “It’s one meal. One conversation. Then we put it all behind us and you can go back to pretending like I don’t exist. Isn’t that what you want?”

  She searches my face.

  I’m lying, of course. Because now that she’s back, here where I can see her and touch her, where I can talk to her and tease her, maybe even one day make her smile—there’s no fucking way I’m letting her go ever again.

  She doesn’t blink. And she doesn’t back down. She releases a long breath, then says, “Fine. One meal—one conversation. That’s it.”

  My smile is appeasing. Charming. “See, was that so hard? I’ll even be nice and let you pick the restaurant, Viper.”

  Her lips tighten as she turns to continue walking down the hall. “Don’t call me Viper. It sounds like a stripper’s name.”

  I walk next to her. “What’s wrong with a stripper’s name? Some of the best people I know are strippers. Besides, Viper was a badass character from the Captain America comics. She was my favorite villain—and she was hot. Most teenage boys had Playboy to inspire their fantasies. I had Marvel. You should take it as the highest compliment.”

  She snorts, shaking her head. But it almost sounds like a laugh.

 
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