Shut Out (Just This Once #2) (3 page)

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
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Before I knew it, the show I had been staring at for the last hour was ending, and if anyone would have asked me what it was about, or who was in it for that matter, I wouldn't have been able to say. The bag that I'd been dipping my hand into without thought as to what I was putting in my mouth was now empty, and I sat all alone on my couch in work clothes that now looked as strained as I felt.

“Please call me,”
he wrote, but I wondered if he was actually waiting for my call.
Is his night just as shitty as mine while he waits by the phone for me to call him? What did he expect? To pick up where we’d left off? Thank him for the flowers and the help with my house?
Who was I kidding? If things were different, I’d be inviting him over to show him how thankful I really was. I doubted he was waiting around for my call anyway—not Playboy Joel who probably had a phone full of numbers for women waiting and eager to fill in the new vacancy. Now that things were back to normal, we both could return to reality, where he wouldn’t spend a second night with me and I wouldn’t have the time of day for him. Except, the memories of him were too intense, his image circulating through my body like blood in my veins, only pulsing faster with each thought.

I needed sleep. Needed a break from that house.
From work.
From green eyes and conjured smiles. I needed a break from reality.

Even in my sleep I dreamed of him, of a night that felt endless, with warm air that lapped at my skin like rushing waves and writhing bodies that seemed to evoke a need in me that couldn’t be relieved. It was just like that
night
in the club—I seemed to be stuck in a liquor haze where everything was euphoric, but none of it was real. I watched the words unfurl from his lips, how they looked soft and plump, how the words made his mouth pinch together and purse. It looked like he was
inadvertently blowing air kisses
. I mentally grabbed hold of those kisses, pocketing them for later while taking note of what he actually said.

“Do you come here often?”

Real Joel wouldn’t use a line as tired as that, but I went along anyway.

“No. You?” I asked, already knowing the truth. Joel looked too comfortable there. How he sat at the bar like a king on his thrown, while everyone seemed to move around him like court jesters, there for his amusement.

“Only when I’m looking for a luscious piece of ass. I think it’s safe to say I found her.”

And like every other night, just when I was getting to the good part, my alarm went off.

 

Chapter Three

 

Kerri wandered over to my desk just before noon, an occurrence not uncommon. It was her expression that gave me pause. She looked pensive, with her perfectly drawn-on eyebrows furrowed, showcasing the lines creasing her forehead. A web of primed and concealed lines danced out from the edges of her eyes—revealing her true age.

“Did you already hear?”

“Hear what?” I asked, now pushing aside all the work that had accumulated over the last week. It wasn’t often Kerri came to my desk without that sparkle of exuberance that made her light up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

“Sarah just penciled in an appointment for Lara to come down to the office today. Henderson is going
to council her over the next steps. Have you heard anything from Joel?”

“He sent me flowers and repaired my house.”

She looked hopeful, filled with a glee that I just couldn’t muster. The look vanished from her face when I continued, “Oh, and he gave me his card.”

“What do you mean, he gave you his card? Like his business card?
Ew
.”

“I know. He told me to call him, but what’s there to say?”

“Are you
still going to help Henderson with the case
?”

“Yeah. I need this. This could be the one that seals the deal. Will Sarah be taking notes in the meeting?”

“She or Darcy. Why? Do you want me to have them send over a copy?”

“If you don’t mind,” I said, batting my eyelashes and widening my smile.

“Quit your flirting. It’s wasted on me…unless you’ve got something in your pants I don’t know about.”


Ew
.
Gross, Kerri.
Get out of here.” I shooed her away from my desk, and she gave me a wink over her shoulder as she sauntered away. On the outside I may have been all smiles and giggles, but on the inside I was cringing. This would be the first time I would find myself possibly face to face with Joel’s ex, Lara, and this wouldn’t be a typical run-in of exes. Partly because she had no idea who I was, but more so because if Joel didn’t agree to paying damages out of court, we would be helping her nail him to the wall. And during the six months I’d been at the firm, we’d rarely lost a case.

This wouldn’t be the first time I would see Lara without the bruises marring her face. I couldn’t stop myself from looking her up after the blow-up with Joel and my phone call with Kerri. From what I knew about her, her life seemed to have turned around the moment she started dating Joel a year ago. The earlier images of her spanned from cut-off shorts and spaghetti-strapped shirts to Gucci dresses and
Louboutin
shoes.
I watched Lara transform from trailer-park peasant to couture queen as I clicked through photo after photo. With each click I wondered
if
the evolution of Lara was precipitated by Joel
or if he was responsible for the change.

My desk was located on the second floor adjacent to the elevators, so anyone exiting the elevator would only be able to see me if they glanced back or if they were specifically looking for me.

Luckily, when Lara exited, she didn’t glance back, which gave me the opportunity to look at her without feeling awkward that I’d been staring at her petite 5'4" frame. Her hair was glossy black, like patent leather, cut just above the collar of her blouse in an inverted bob, without so much as a hair out of place. She was polished in every sense of the word. Her blouse and skirt were unwrinkled—a feat that seemed impossible if she’d driven anywhere in this Vegas heat. The seams of her stockings weren’t askew in any way, and her shoes looked like she popped them out of the box just before exiting the elevator. She was everything I imagined one of Joel’s girlfriends to look like. Manicured—in a way that I could never, nor would ever want to be.

The marble floors echoed her arrival, and it could have been a figment of my imagination, but it felt unusually quiet the moment the elevator dinged her arrival. There was no flurry of activity,
no
papers rustling or keyboards being pounded by acrylic nails. The room was perfectly vacant. The quiet was confining, stifling, distracting. It drew more attention to her presence than I cared for. I wanted to be lost in my work so much so that I didn’t notice her arrival or departure. There was no apparent reason for my discomfort, but her being there brought out the guilt like a sinner at church. Would she be able to see what I’d done? Would she know I was with Joel? She could get me fired. Blackballed from practicing law not only in Vegas but maybe all of Nevada. I’d have to take the Bar wherever I ended up because I’d be forced to move. Lara may not have known my secret, but my precarious future was in her hands.

With my nerves on high-alert, feeling like they’d combust from the tension, I got back to work—the work that I was actually being paid to do, not the work that I’d been obsessing over ever since Henderson & Fitz took Lara on as a client.

Twenty minutes later, I was just settling into a groove of
fact-checking
when my desk phone rang.

“Don’t hang up.”

It was the voice I’d been missing for days, and the one I least expected to hear on the other end of my work phone.

“Are you crazy? Are you
trying
to get me fired?” My eyes swung around the room as if anyone walking by would know
who
I was speaking to just by how panicked my voice sounded.
But I have to admit, it is nice to hear from him, especially after that impersonal card he left
. I banished those thoughts as Joel stammered on with words that flitted through my ears like bees whipping through a garden. I should have hung up. I shouldn’t have cared why he was calling or what he had to say.
They could be tracing this call.
At the time, I didn’t really know who
they
were, but it was enough to snap my mind into thinking straight—something that was obviously hard to do when it came to Joel. It seemed I only needed to hear his voice for my brain to check out, flipping the closed sign to alert all other thoughts that my brain would no longer be servicing them for the time being.

“I’ll call you back. Let me call you right back.” My words rushed out over his.
I hung up, ignoring the frantic
sound of his voice and his desperation to keep me on the phone. His words were gibberish in my tunnel vision to hang up. I breathed a sigh of relief that I was able to actually cut ties with him, and also because I hadn’t been caught with my hand in the cookie jar.

I stared at the phone log on my receiver for minutes while I thought about calling him back. If I didn’t call him back, I was sure he’d just hit redial. Whatever he had to say, I was going to hear it, one way or another. So I figured I’d get it over with and call him; at least there was a fail-safe in place. If I didn’t like where the conversation was going, I could just say I had to go for some work emergency or another, and he would be none-the-wiser.

My feet danced against the marble floor beneath my chair, releasing the nervous energy like raindrops beating against metal roofs. The phone only rang once before he answered.

“What do you want, Joel?” I whispered his name before continuing at my normal level, “I thought I was pretty clear that we had nothing left to say.”

“I don’t want to get you in any trouble, but I wanted to hear your voice. You don’t miss me?” The desperate plea I’d heard only moments before had been replaced with a voice I was used to, familiar with.
One that whispered words between my thighs late at night.
Just thinking about that voice stirred up a different kind of desperation.

An exhausted breath left my lips, but I didn’t get a chance to respond before he was cutting me off again.

“You don’t really need to answer that. I know the truth. Did you get my flowers?”

“Yes, I got your flowers. Thank you.”

“Did you see the card?”

“You mean your business card? Yes, Joel, I got the card. What do you want? Some of us actually have work to do. Not everyone can skip work to hide away in their mansions.”

“I thought you liked your job. Would you rather be hiding in my mansion with me? I can make arrangements.” He chuckled as if he hadn’t a care in the world, as if his ex weren’t in our offices right now going over a plan to destroy him—or at the very least, leave him destitute—as if he hadn’t just buried the last member of his immediate family only three weeks ago. I couldn’t decide whether he was delusional or just genuinely that lighthearted. Whatever it was, I could use some of that, especially if anyone were to catch me on the phone with him.

“Joel…”

“OK, OK. I want to see you.”

“We’ve already been over this.”

“No. You talked, I listened, and now it’s my turn to talk and you to listen. In person.”

“We’re on the phone now. Can’t you say whatever it is you need to say now?”

“I know, but phone calls are so impersonal these days, aren’t they?”

“No, text messages and social media posts are impersonal. Phone calls are ideal, especially where we’re concerned.”

“I like when you say that, ‘we.’”

Who else but Lara would come click-clacking down the hall at that exact moment.

She moved at a fast-paced clip, her heels tapping out, marching sounds on a snare drum against the marble floor.
Fear sprouted up from my belly like ivy, leaving me constrained in my chair.
My pulse
thumped wildly, and my blood rushed fast against my ears, creating a wind-tunnel effect.

“I g-
gotta
go…”

“Blaire, Blaire
wa
—”

I hung up the phone, the clatter of the phone sliding into the receiver loud enough to compete with those heels echoing through the halls and reverberating through my mind like an ominous pendulum ticking down the remaining minutes of my career.

“Hi. Blaire, is it?” she questioned the name she read on the front of my desk. It wasn’t meant to sound condescending, but even in her faux bubbly voice, it came across that way. Perhaps she knew a Blaire, and maybe I didn’t live up to what she imagined a Blaire to look like? It wasn’t the first time I’d had snooty bitches utter my name with a look like they’d just got done licking pennies and couldn’t quite get that metallic tang off their tongues. Though, most of those women were comfortable in their status of looking down on the help, and Lara was still considered lower than me on the socio-economical ladder.
Hence, my confusion over the slight.

“Yes?”

She stood directly in front of my desk, looking at the scattered papers.

“I was just looking for the restroom. Could you show me where the restroom is?”

“Sure,” I said through clenched teeth, biting back my annoyance.

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
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