Authors: M. S. Parker
ying the clock
, I tried not to think about everything I needed to do between now and the time I could leave.
Maybe I didn’t punch in and out, but I did have to work so many hours in order to bill my clients, and since Calvin and Associates didn't actually have any associates, I did a hell of a lot of overtime.
I needed another me.
Actually, I needed another lawyer or at the very least, a paralegal.
I had an administrative assistant, and Haley was amazing, but I needed help with more than just administrative tasks. I needed a paralegal and a lot more than the intern I got on a limited basis too.
I’d been trying to find help for a while, but so far, no dice.
The past couple of weeks had been crazy, but most of that was because I’d been trying to juggle a personal life on top of business more than normal.
My heart gave a girly sigh as I remembered the wedding I attended not that long ago.
Carrie and Gavin were ridiculously perfect together, and so happy.
Seeing Krissy had sent a pang through me, too, though not a good one. She'd seemed like she was holding together okay after her miscarriage, but how was I to know? I’d never wanted kids, couldn’t even fathom the idea. Krissy, she'd been walking on cloud nine ever since she'd gotten the positive test result...and then it was just gone. She lost the baby, and she’d gone from cloud nine straight down to the lowest sort of hell.
Although we didn't talk as much as we had when we worked together, I knew how hard it'd been on her.
I missed my friends.
Which was why, in a couple of hours, I was hooking up with my closest friend.
It wouldn’t be exactly the same as before, of course. Dena was living with her boyfriend – or rather,
was living with
. Arik was a defense attorney for the rich and powerful and wasn’t
a joke. Dena had finally landed her dream job, which was usually working for the people who fought
the rich and powerful. The ADA and the defense attorney. It should've been a
But she was happy.
That meant a lot.
So far, I’d only spent a short amount of time in Arik’s presence, but Dena seemed happier than I’d ever seen her, so that was all that mattered as far as I was concerned.
The song on the radio changed and I sighed, feeling more despondent than normal.
The love song rolling out of the surround sound had a knot welling up in my throat, and all I really wanted to do was put down my pen and shut down for the day.
No, what I really wanted to do was curl my knees to my chest and listen to the song, maybe sing along for a bar or two. As the woman wailed about how love had left her behind, I had to fight not to chime in.
Sing it, sister.
I needed to push this melancholy away before I hooked up with Dena.
Not that long ago, the two of us were the ones who’d meet up and reminisce over the good old days, when it had been the four of us – Carrie, Krissy, Dena and me – hitting the town and looking to raise hell and have as much fun as we could.
Then it was Krissy, Dena and me. Then Dena and me.
Now, it was just me.
The lone wolf...
“You morose bitch,” I muttered. Throwing my pen down, I leaned back and rubbed at my temples. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
It wasn’t like I wasn’t
for my friends. Sure, I’d expected some of them – okay, I’d always expected Carrie to settle down. Find a nice guy, fall in love, and get married. She was that sort of girl. The one we'd always had to drag out, push toward the hot guy.
But then Krissy had gone and fallen in love too.
Then, it happened to Dena.
I was the last girl standing.
I’d always thought Krissy and I would be partying and living the life for…well...
Making a face, I snatched my pen. “You thought you’d be on the prowl with your BFF right up until you were fifty or something.” A mental picture settled in my mind, the two of us still running around like we’d always done, hooking up with men half my age. I hoped I aged as well in reality as I did in my daydreams.
The image shifted to just me, and I found myself wondering just what I’d be doing in five years, ten years. All my friends had fallen in love. They were getting married, talking about babies. Even Dena had a live-in boyfriend. In a couple of years, they might all be sitting around on playdates with their kids, and I’d be going out clubbing alone.
A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea, but now, it just left me feeling kind of down.
Sighing, I looked back at the paperwork in front of me.
Sadly, it hadn’t diminished at all during my bout of self-pity, and that pile still stood between me and the door.
The bad part of being self-employed…there was nobody left to pick up the slack for a vacation or illness.
I needed to get my ass in gear too.
I had less than an hour to make serious headway if I didn’t want to be late.
It was the first time we’d actually had a chance to go out in
and I wasn’t going to miss it.
ena’s boyfriend was hot
Not pretty boy hot, just plain hot.
He also looked at her like she’d hung the moon.
They sat across from me, and when he wasn’t talking to me, he was looking at her. There was a hint of possession, a hint of satisfaction, all mixed with a decidedly pleased smile.
It was like he was telling the world,
She’s mine, everybody. Mine.
Not bragging, really, just happy with it.
And that made him that much hotter.
There was something decidedly sexy about a man in love. Especially a man in love who didn't ignore everyone else.
When he looked over at me and asked how my practice was going, he seemed genuinely interested and talked about some of the cases – sans names, of course – some friends of his had worked back in Chicago. We made small talk, and Dena chatted about the move, and I wondered why in the hell I was feeling so down about the fact that my best friends were all happy.
“Man, service is so
tonight,” I said, looking longingly toward the kitchen. I wasn't one of those women who worried about her figure. When I was hungry, I ate...unless I forgot. “I never got around to eating lunch.”
“Me, either.” Dena made a face. “I’m getting the crash course from hell now. The new DA is really putting me through my paces.”
“I bet you love it after that mess you had with the last boss.”
She grinned. “Damned straight. This lawyer actually seems to care…you know…about being a lawyer.”
“So he’s not a total shark?” I said it lightly.
Dena stuck out her tongue. It was an ongoing joke between us. I hadn’t gone into law for the same reasons my friends had. I had a good brain, I liked money, and I didn’t like blood. When the time had come to start figuring out a career, a counselor in high school had said,
you know, you’re smart enough. You could be a doctor or lawyer.
Again, I didn't like blood.
I went with lawyer.
I liked helping people well enough, but that wasn't why I did it. For the most part, it didn't suck, and sometimes I even liked my job, but I doubted I found the satisfaction from it that Dena did. Maybe I was a shark, but I was a good lawyer, and my clients were typically satisfied with the job I did for them. Besides, I’d seen what happened when some people
have a shark, and it wasn’t pretty.
“We live in a world full of barracudas, babe. Sometimes we need sharks.” Arik lifted Dena’s hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. He must have been doing something else under the table, because Dena’s lids fluttered a bit, and I saw her breathing catch.
A moment later, she cleared her throat and smiled at me. “Yeah. Besides, sometimes sharks make good friends.”
“Spare me the kissing up.” I made a face at her, but was spared the chore of trying to find something else to talk about – the weather was up next – when the server appeared with our food.
I didn't know when it became so hard to talk to my best friend, but for some reason, the things we normally talked about, now just didn’t seem to fit.
And there was no way in
I was going to tell her that I was suddenly feeling the pangs of losing her and the others. Not while Arik was there, nuzzling on her knuckles and toying with her thigh – or other body parts – under the table.
I wouldn't do that to her.
ou’ve been quiet tonight
Looking over at Dena as we walked down the sidewalk, I managed a strained smile. It had been good seeing her, nice getting to know Arik a little better, but…yeah, I’d been quiet. “I’m just tired.” Managing a shrug, I added, “It’s crazy at the office. I need to hire somebody to help out so I don't get behind the next time I need to go out of town, but in the meantime, I’m dealing with all the stuff that piled up while I was gone. My admin is great for paperwork and phones, but she’s never worked with anybody in the legal area before, so I’d rather her not deal with anything important until I have time to teach her more.”
Dena seemed to accept that.
“Krissy looked…well, she looked good, didn’t she?” Dena asked after a few moments.
“Yeah.” I felt a tug in my chest as I thought about the baby she lost. “She looked good. DeVon is taking care of her.”
“I think they're both taking care of each other,” Dena said. “He was pretty broken up too.”
“Yeah.” Blowing out a breath, I lifted my face to the sky. “I can’t imagine what they went through.”
“I don’t want to.”
We reached the end of the block and stopped. Dena was heading in one direction with Arik, me in another.
I wasn’t just talking about heading home, either.
Feel sorry for yourself later,
I reminded myself.
“Pizza in a couple of weeks?” Dena asked.
“Absolutely.” I pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and nodded at Arik.
After hugging Dena, we went our separate ways, and I found myself wondering if the night out had been a good idea after all.
I’d wanted to see my friend, yet somehow, I now felt more alone than before.
he entire apartment
smelled lemony clean and the surfaces of the appliances in my miniscule kitchen sparkled.
I, however, was sweaty and dusty.
After shoving the cleaning supplies into the small space at the top of my closet, I retreated to my bathroom – the shower stall sparkled too. I would have given my right arm for a long, hot soak, but my budget hadn’t quite extended to where I could shell out the kind of cash it would take to afford an apartment that came with a tub.
At least not the kind of apartment I’d
If I’d stayed with Webster and Steinberg, I would have been able to upgrade already, but branching out on my own had taken a lot of cash. I was now seeing a slow, steady climb in my income, but it had taken cutting back on a lot of things and focusing on things that mattered.
Sadly, finding an apartment that came with a bathtub wasn’t one of the things that mattered.
But it was in the plan.
In another year or so, I thought I’d be able to get a bigger place – and not just a
I was waiting until I was secure enough to find
I was nothing if not an excellent planner. And I had no problem with waiting to get what I really wanted.
Hot water from the shower pulsed down on tight shoulders, and I sighed, relaxing a little as sweat, dust and stress washed away down the drain. In a short while, I was going to be sweaty again and hopefully, I’d get rid of a lot
I was heading to the club and the plan was to find a man and spend the night under him, over him, in front of him. I needed sex and I needed to forget about all the brooding I’d been doing.
My life was
I was beautiful, successful and I was doing exactly what I’d planned to be doing just a few short years ago.
That my friends had chosen other paths didn’t really matter. I had my
path and I was happy with it.
Yet, as I climbed out of the shower a few minutes later and dried off, a small voice in the back of my head seemed to whisper…
if you were happy, you wouldn’t have to work so hard to make yourself believe it.
lub Privé was
a study in elegant debauchery.
Sitting at the bar on the VIP level, I sipped my drink and waved at Carrie once she saw me.
I was surprised she could.
Her eyes seemed locked and focused on Gavin, as if nothing else existed.
They’d just gotten back from their honeymoon and one might think they’d be okay to go a few seconds without staring at the other, but I guess that was what love did to you.
I wouldn’t know. I just didn’t understand love.
I’d had a few boyfriends I’d
, that I'd cared about, but love?
Carrie grinned at me as she dropped down on the bar stool next to me. “Look what the cat dragged in,” she said, leaning over to hug me.
“I’m pretty sure cats can’t drag in this.” Smugly, I glanced down at myself, pleased with the vivid green of my barely-there dress. I stood out among all the black and the red, which had been the whole point.
My life motto, ironically, came from Dr. Seuss.
Why fit in when you were born to stand out
Carrie rolled her eyes at me. “One day, you just might find a guy with an ego to match yours.”
“Why would I want to?” Shrugging, I sipped my drink and studied the men on the VIP level.
Carrie’s husband, Gavin, owned the club – well, technically, they both did, I supposed. That was the only reason I had access to the VIP level. I couldn’t afford it on my own – at least not yet. Although even once my own finances allowed it, I didn’t plan on telling them I’d be happy to pay for it. If they were happy to give the membership to me, then I was happy to accommodate them. I wasn’t cheap, per se. I just enjoyed nice things, and when I had somebody nice enough to provide me with such things free of charge, then who was I to argue?
Nobody on the VIP level was catching my eye, though. At least nobody who wasn’t already paired up with somebody.
There was a sexy brunet at one table, who kept eying me, but he was with a woman, and while I might be shallow as hell, I didn’t think much of a man who made eyes at me when he was clearly with somebody else.
Loyalty was one thing I
In my opinion, it was something that was becoming more and more rare in the world. Even more so in my line of work.
“How has life been treating you?” Carrie asked.
“Busy.” Grimacing, I shifted my attention back to her. “I’m going to have to hire somebody to help in the office, and the way business is picking up, I might need to hire a partner before too long.”
“That’s fantastic! You should be on cloud nine.” She flagged down a server and asked for a drink before turning back to me. Her eyes narrowed shrewdly as she asked, “So why aren’t you?”
Since when had I become that transparent?
I didn’t know, but I wasn’t about to explain my sullen mood over the past few days. Carrie would either see too much into it, or just not get it. Then again,
didn’t get it.
She was right. I should be on cloud nine. My practice was doing fantastic, especially considering I'd barely been at it for a year. I’d splurged on a beautiful Michael Kors tote a few days ago and last month, a new pair of Jimmy Choos. I was even on target to take a trip to Europe next summer and was in the planning stages of it. It wouldn’t be too long before I could move to a bigger, nice apartment. I was right on track with my plan. I had everything I thought I wanted.
I pasted a smile on my face as Gavin suddenly appeared at our sides.
“My beautiful wife,” he said, bending to kiss Carrie.
She leaned against him for a moment, and I busied myself with my nearly empty drink. Then it was a completely empty drink, and I got busy flagging down the server to order another one. By the time I’d done that, they’d surfaced from a deep, intimate kiss. It wasn’t that public displays of affection bothered me – if they did, then Club Privé was the last
place I should be.
But there was something between people like Carrie and Gavin, Krissy and DeVon – and now Dena and Arik – that was too intimate to simply sit and watch. That deep sort of connection was more than just affection, and it made me uncomfortable to witness. Some things were
“Leslie, you’re looking lovely tonight.”
I swung my head around and smiled at Gavin, careful not to let anything I was thinking or feeling show on my face. Carrie had seen something. I could still see it in her eyes, but even if some part of me might have wanted to share with her, I wasn’t about to do it with Gavin here.
Besides, what was I going to say?
It just dawned on me that I’m feeling kinda…
I didn’t let myself finish that thought. If I didn’t finish it, then I didn’t have to deal with it.
Sometimes, the only way to deal with things was to
deal with things.
“And you’re looking very…” I paused as I slid my eyes between him and Carrie. “Married.”
He chuckled as he slid his arm around her waist. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Do that,” I said sincerely. And I did mean it that way. They looked wonderful together.
The server appeared at my side with my drink, and I accepted with a smile before looking toward the railing. Restlessness burned inside me, but I couldn’t just up and walk away.
I was saved from further questions, though, when one of the men from the club's security team appeared at Gavin's side and bent his head to murmur in Gavin’s ear. Gavin nodded and touched Carrie’s arm. “We’re needed.”
Carrie gave me an apologetic smile and I waved her off. “Go. I want to dance anyway.”
“I’ll try to find you later.”
“Please don’t.” I wagged my brows. “I’m hoping to be busy.”
She laughed as Gavin took her hand. A moment later, they were gone, and I took my drink over to the railing. From the corner of my eye, I could see the man who’d been eying me finish his drink as the woman across the table from him abruptly stood up and stormed off.
The skin between my shoulder blades crawled, letting me know he was still watching me. Shit. I really didn't want to deal with some creep tonight. I kept my gaze locked on the dancers below me. Tossing back my drink, I pushed back from the railing and saw the creep dropping a few bills on the table. He slid a look my way, followed by a slow smile. I ignored him as I gave my empty glass to the server and headed for the stairs.
Time to exit stage left.
He caught up with me just a few feet from the stairs. I couldn't say I was surprised. Irritated, yes. But not surprised. I knew his type.
“Are you heading out already? He gave me a quick, charming smile. “I was just coming to ask if I could buy you a drink.”
“I'm not thirsty.” Keeping my voice cool, I cut around him. He wasn’t so easily dissuaded, though.
I had one foot on the steps leading down to the lower level when he joined me.
“A dance, then, perhaps?”
Instead of answering right away, I continued my way down the stairs, and on the landing between the levels, I moved over to the railing and tipped my head back to look up at him. His precisely styled hair didn’t move at all as he dipped his head to meet my eyes.
“No dance,” I said levelly. “No drink. You’re not my type.”
His lids flickered a bit at that and a muscle tightened in his jaw. He hadn't liked that. He recovered quickly, though, flashing me a smile that was without a doubt one of the best I’d ever seen.
It did absolutely nothing for me.
“Oh, come on…I bet I can prove you wrong. A drink…” He traced a fingertip down my cheek. “A dance. I bet we could have a lot of…fun.”
Deliberately I stepped away from him, working to control my temper. While I didn't believe in stereotyping, my own red curls and hot-headedness didn't go far to dispelling
I made my voice icy. “Somehow, I really doubt that.”
I pushed past him, and this time, when he tried to follow, I nodded to the security guard at the foot of the stairs. “If you don’t step back now, I’m going to tell that guy down there you’re putting your hands on me without permission. Don’t be surprised if your VIP membership goes on instant probation.”
His face screwed up. “You lying bitch.”
“You touched my face.” Giving him a cat’s smile, I shrugged. “I didn’t invite your touch or give you permission. In fact, I'd told you
. I’m pretty sure that the rules clearly say when told
, you’re supposed to accept and move on.”
Sure, I was being extremely literal with the rules, but the guy was a sleaze. Chances were there were more than a few women here he’d already gotten too hands-on with. This time, he'd picked the wrong one. I didn’t
pushed around – I might push, and push hard, but nobody tried it with me.
His jaw clenched and his face flushed, but he didn’t say anything else, just cut around me, keeping a wide distance. He hesitated at the top of the steps and it didn’t take long to see why. The big guy clad in the discreet suit Gavin preferred his security team to wear was staring dead at him. The look wasn’t happy.
By the time I cleared the steps, the two of them were having a quiet conversation that he didn't appear to be enjoying.
I didn’t spare him another look as I lost myself on the dance floor.
n hour later
, I was finishing up a bottle of water when somebody bumped into me – and hard.
I crashed into the person next to me, felt my ankle giving out.
Already prepared to fall, I wind milled my arms anyway.
I didn’t fall though.
Strong forearms came around my waist and a heated body pressed against mine.
My heart skipped a beat in appreciation.
The scent of clean male sweat filled my head, and I looked up, not quite ready to get hopeful. But then I met his eyes and hope started to race alongside my pulse.
Dark brown eyes held mine.
“I…I’m sorry.” Feeling a little breathless, I smiled up at him. “Excuse me.”
“Please don’t.” He smiled and when he did, his teeth flashed white against the short, neat growth of his beard.
I had dirty images of just how that beard might feel against my girl parts and his response took a minute to process. “Um…what? Please don’t what?”
“Excuse yourself. As a matter of fact, feel free to fall into my arms anytime you want.” He helped steady me, but didn’t let go of my arms right away and I didn’t mind a bit. As a matter of fact, he could have held on a little longer.
“Well, aren't you a flirt.”
“Not much of a flirt. I just speak my mind. And if you hadn't fallen against me, I wouldn’t have gotten a hold of you.” He held out a hand, that wicked, sexy smile still on his lips. “Maybe you'll dance with me and let me hold you again?”
I put my hand in his. “Maybe I’ll do just that.”