Shut Out (Just This Once #2) (9 page)

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
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Just when I was thinking I was completely alone, Henderson emerged from around the corner, his shoes drumming the floor in an ominous sound.

“Blaire, great, you’re still here. Do you have a minute?”

“Yes.”

Henderson stood over me without making eye contact. In the silence, I garnered he didn’t want to have the conversation out there, next to the elevator, where anyone could hear us. So I stood up, waiting for him to lead the way to his office. I wasn’t used to this sign of hesitancy or indecision from Henderson. It wasn’t like him. He was most often bold, succinct, to the point in almost an Asperger kind
of way. Henderson
turned and headed back to his office without even giving me a second glance, and instead of thinking about all of the things that I still needed to get done, I was starting to feel somewhat nervous. It wasn’t unusual to be called back to his office, but something about the way no one was around on a Friday evening felt very eerie.

The door to his office was open, and he stepped to the side, allowing me to enter first. I moved to the seat opposite his desk while he turned to shut the door.

“Mr.
Henderson, is
there something wrong?” My impatience was getting the better of me. If it was bad news, I would have rather him just get it out and over with. There was nothing worse than delay.

He didn’t answer me until he took his seat across a desk that up until that point had never made me feel intimidated or ostracized, but at that very moment that’s exactly what I felt. Maybe it was the amount of guilt that had been weighing heavily on me. Maybe it was disappointment for the things I had given up for the strides I made. Joel wasn’t the first one I’d let slip by in lieu of a stellar career, and he wouldn’t be the last.


Ms. Banks,
you know we would never wrongfully accuse any of our employees of misconduct or unprofessional behavior without merit.”

“I’m sorry, ‘unprofessional behavior’? I don’t understand.”

He blinked a few times, nodding his head as if to settle my excitement. “Yes, we have reason to believe that you may have a non-professional relationship with the defense,
E.J. Trevaunt, of the
Farrows case—”

“Yes, but—”

“Now, you’re an amazing asset to our team, and this case was really only supposed to—”

“Wait, you’re not firing me, are you?”

My mind was scrambling for purchase while I thought over every fear that assaulted me from the moment I learned of Joel’s identity. Why did it surprise me that they would learn the truth? That Lara wouldn’t move forward with whatever evidence she had garnered. It wasn’t that I didn’t take her seriously. I expected she would do this, but maybe I just hoped that it wouldn’t come to this—being let go with no one around to say good luck, or—
who
was I kidding? If anything, most of the office probably had already known what I had done and why I was being let go by the time I was seated in
Henderson’s
office chair.
Had anyone from the office still been there, I wouldn’t be leaving with uneasy smiles and a quiet send-off. They’d
probably stand to the side in silence with smug looks of disdain
.

“As of right now, we’re putting you on administrative leave while we figure out how to proceed. You understand we can’t have you working on or around this case. As I said, we really enjoy you working here, and we don’t want to make any hasty decisions.”

“I understand. I apologize for any behavior that may have tarnished the firm’s reputation. Should I take my things or—”

“Take whatever you feel you may need, but this in no way means we are firing you. I want to make that clear. You can leave whatever here that you won’t have immediate need of, and it will be here when you return.”

“Thank you, Mr. Henderson.”

“I really am sorry about this, Blaire.”

“I understand. I’ll just grab my purse, and I’ll…” I didn’t know how to end the sentence, so I scrambled out of the chair, eager to remove myself from his office and from the building. Not ten minutes before I was begging for a break and now it was being handed to me on a silver platter, but I felt like an island floating in the middle of the ocean with nothing to anchor me and no reprieve in sight.

I had neither seen nor spoken with Joel since the day I received the box, but I should have expected Lara wasn’t done. I could have called her bluff and told my bosses everything before she had a chance to, but maybe that was her intention all along. Maybe I would still be on leave whether or not the truth came from my mouth or hers.

I made my way back to my desk, my eyes wandering over the empty halls to ensure that they were in fact empty. It was the quietest it’d ever been on a Friday, and I was sure that my suspension had something to do with it. Whoever was responsible for my lonely walk back to my desk, I was thankful for. The truth was, I wasn’t sure what would be more embarrassing—being fired or having people watch me leave, knowing I’d committed career suicide by becoming involved with the opposition. If that
wasn’t
the worst, the fact that he was accused of beating his ex-girlfriend would surely cause a few stares.

Without missing a beat, I quickly logged off my computer and snatched my purse, not so much as sitting in my seat, fearful some alarm would go off warning Henderson that I hadn’t immediately left the premises.

Approaching the glass doors to the parking lot, I stuttered in my steps as I looked up to find Joel’s white Mercedes just outside the doors. Seeing as how it was after 5:30 p.m., the doors were locked, which would explain why he was pacing out front with phone in hand. I looked over my shoulder to double-check I wasn’t quietly being escorted out and, if so, that they hadn’t seen the physical proof of my being involved with Joel. Confusion and anger now drove me to exit the building. I pushed through the doors, and Joel rushed to meet me.

“Are you OK? I’ve been calling your cell and desk phone for the last half hour.”

“What are you doing here? What part of our meeting didn’t you understand, Joel?”

“Lara sent me a message. Please tell me you weren’t fired.”

My shoulders slumped with his confession. I looked up from Joel to the surrounding parking lot and streets, wondering if Lara was waiting in the distance somewhere to gloat her success. It was pointless; aside from knowing what she looked like, I had no idea what she drove, and that was assuming she didn’t pay someone else to watch me. Joel’s hand on my elbow drew my attention back to the man standing in front of me, looking more stressed and worse for wear than I did, and I was the one who was without a job indefinitely.

“Not exactly, not yet anyway. I was put on leave.”

“What? I’m so sorry, Blaire. I have no idea how she even found out about you. She must be following me.”

“I assumed that when she sent a box to my house.”

“When was that? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was after our lunch earlier this week. I came home, and I thought it was another gift from you. When I opened it, there was something that looked like blood and these pictures of her face beat up. Basically, it was meant to make me feel like shit for even being associated with you.”

“You should have said something. I don’t know what her angle is, but she’s clearly unhinged. The last thing I want is for you to get caught up in the middle of this.”

“What did she say in the message she sent you?”

“Dating the opposition is frowned upon; just ask Henderson & Fitz,” he read from the phone in his hand. “I put two and two together, and then when I couldn’t get ahold of you, I may have freaked just a little.”

“You think? It’s OK. I appreciate the concern.”

“Will you let me take you home?” Where I expected to see a wicked smile and bright eyes, I saw eyes fixated on my feet and a face flush with worry.

“Sure. I mean
,
it’s not like it’s going to hurt now.”

He smiled politely and opened the door for me to take a seat. My eyes followed the movement of his legs as he rounded the hood of the car. When he got in the driver’s side, he started the car, but instead of immediately taking off, he sat back against the leather seat, and I watched his chest deflate as if he’d been holding his breath up until the moment he realized I was safe.
There was something about that simple act that made me feel like everything would be OK.

“I read you went back to work,” I said as soon as he pulled out onto Lake Mead.

“I’m working from home for the time being, but yeah, I’ve been keeping busy.”

“Not that it means anything, but I’m proud of you. It’ll only get easier the more time that goes by.”

“I appreciate the gentle kick in the ass you gave me the other day. I don’t have too many friends that are
that
honest. It was…nice.”

“I have plenty more where that came from.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“Well, stop dating psychos for one.”

“That’s legit advice. I think I have someone in mind, but the jury’s still out on her mental aptitude. What else would explain her reason for turning me down?” He looked at me and winked, ignoring the annoyed expression on my face.

“I would say my mental aptitude is just fine. In fact, it’s superior. You’re just not used to women saying no to you.”

“Maybe not, but imagine the victory when you finally give in.”

Joel smiled, and I felt the stirrings of that victory between my legs.
What would happen now that I didn’t have the threat of losing my job hanging over my head?
For weeks it was the excuse I used at every turn. I was sure that Joel wouldn’t let that hold him up anymore.

I was reaching a crossroads, and I needed to make a quick decision as to which route I planned on taking. Would I take a risk with Joel and see if what we had
was
stronger than mere chemistry, or would I stick to my initial reaction and cut off all ties with him? I knew what I wanted in my heart of hearts, but there were so many things that could go wrong that I knew whatever route I took was sure to be met with some stumbling blocks.

“Wait. Where are you going? That was my street,” I said, frantically looking out the window as Joel sped past my turn-off, which I knew he was familiar with. After the day I had, I wanted nothing more than to get working on exactly what I had planned only minutes before getting suspended—wine and
sweats
.

“Oh, did you think I was taking you home? That’s cute.”

“Joel, this isn’t funny. Please just take me home.”

“I’m sorry. No can do. I don’t trust Lara, and until all of this is over, I think you should stay with me. She doesn’t know about this place, and the security there is top notch so you’ll be a lot safer with me than where you live.”

“OK, maybe I should explain social norms to you, such as how to ask people for their input. FYI, I’m not OK with this. You’re essentially
kidnapping me.”

“That’s just semantics. I’d prefer to call it taking care of you. There’s that mental inaptitude again.”

“Stop the car.”

“Blaire. Don’t be like that,” he looked over at me again and must have seen how on edge I was. Wiping the smile from his face, he adjusted his argument. “OK, compromise?”

I crossed my arms over my chest while waiting for his “compromise.”

“Come home with me tonight, and if you still want to leave tomorrow, I promise I’ll take you back myself.”

“I don’t know if I trust you,” I said, still questioning his true intentions. Was I just an itch that Joel needed to scratch, a conquest of his—seeing as how I very well may have been the only woman in Vegas to ever say no to anything Joel desired, or were his intentions pure? Did he really just want to ensure I was safe, seeing as how his ex had a few loose screws? Was I willing to trust him? It wasn’t like I really expected him to force me to stay with him if I insisted he take me home, but I also didn’t trust that if we had sex, we wouldn’t be stuck in the same cycle as when we were riding out the storm together—days lost as our bodies united over and over again. And chances were
,
if I stayed the night, I wouldn’t be able to resist the lure of that mouth, the temptation of his skin against mine.

“Well, that’ll have to be the first thing I fix then, won’t it?”

I huffed out a skeptical sound but said nothing further as he drove farther west toward Red Rock. We approached the gate of The Ridges community, and I looked at Joel, somewhat surprised he owned a home in one of the most exclusive areas in Las Vegas. He didn’t really strike me as the type to own a home off a golf course, especially considering it seemed like a world away from all of the action of the strip—hunting grounds for a man like Joel.

The man stationed at the gate tipped his head, Joel returned the sentiment, and the gates drew back. I looked out of the window with slight wonder at the beautiful landscape and even more beautiful, multimillion-dollar homes that could be considered small communities in and of
themselves
. The Ridges was home to some of the largest and most extravagant homes in Las Vegas. I’d never met anyone who even knew someone who lived in the development, so I’d never had a chance to see behind the curtain, but my eyes didn’t miss a thing as Joel navigated the streets high up to a hill that seemed to overlook the rest of Vegas.

BOOK: Shut Out (Just This Once #2)
12.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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