Authors: Kim Linwood
I’m so going to get him for this.
Surprisingly enough, Garrett and the others return to their discussion as if I’m not a horrible, red-faced liar. Letting my breath out slowly and quietly, I center myself. I’ll get through this, and then afterwards, I’m going to find an open window and throw Declan out of it.
His hand inches its way up my leg, but my skirt won’t budge unless I lift my ass off the chair, and no matter what he does, that’s not happening. No way. Still, his fingertips are tantalizingly close.
Okay, I just have to get through this. Iron will. Show no reaction.
He’ll give up eventually, and the meeting will end. I just have to save the highly inappropriate thoughts that are racing through my mind right now for when I get home. And not, you know, beg him to take me over the meeting table in front of everyone. Which would be completely wrong and inappropriate, not hot and amazing.
“Good work, team. See you again next week.”
I’ve totally zoned out. The meeting’s over and I hardly noticed. Declan pulls his hand away quickly and I glance around to see if anyone saw us. It doesn’t seem that way.
As we rise, Garrett waves us over. “Hang on a sec, I want to talk to you two.”
Oh crap. Never mind. He saw. Or he’s figured something out. Or I’ve done something else wrong. I close my eyes briefly, draw a short breath and prepare to face the music. “Yes, Sir.”
“I see you two have met. Everything alright so far? I’m a little skeptical about having you work together. Rumors of favoritism and all that, but I trust you know that means you need to work even harder than usual. Annette insisted it’d be good for you, but I don’t want to have to explain anything to your co-workers, or your clients.” He glowers at the both of us.
“N—No, Sir. Of course not.” God, I can’t even talk to him without stammering. Is this what Declan will be like in twenty-five years?
Declan doesn’t have any such problems. “What, afraid we’ll embarrass you? What could possibly happen? We’ll work great together, and bond in the process. That’s your plan, right?” Declan shrugs with his arms out, like he’s saying
“Wouldn’t want to risk me scaring away another potential wife.”
“That’s enough, Declan. I’ve already alerted Annette to your antics.”
Antics? Who says that? Garrett, apparently. And what has Declan done in the past? I look at him curiously, but he ignores me.
“Give me a little credit, I’m not fifteen anymore. Claire seems nice enough, so maybe Annette’s more alright than I give her credit for.” He’s saying the right words, but I don’t trust a single one of them.
Garrett glances back and forth between us as if he’s trying to see if there’s something going on, but I keep my face blank. No Sir, I totally haven’t had sex with your son.
He nods. “Good. I expect encouraging news about your progress next week.” Then, without another word, he walks out of the room, leaving just Declan and me.
“Yes, Sir,” Declan replies sarcastically once his dad’s out of earshot.
I smack Declan as hard as I can on the arm. “What the hell was that? In the middle of the meeting? Are you trying to ruin my career before it’s even started?”
“Oh, come on. Just a little harmless fun. These meetings get so fucking boring.” He rubs his arm. “You’ve got a mean right hook, by the way. I haven’t boxed in a while, but I can pull out my gloves. Did you fight?”
“Nah. Catholic school.”
“Jesus Christ,” he laughs.
“Come on, I’ll buy you lunch. There’s a fucking terrible cafeteria downstairs.” He puts his broad hand right at the small of my back, guiding me towards the door. I hate how much even that simple touch makes me tingle. And I’m supposed to work with him this whole summer?
I eye Declan doubtfully. “So now you’re being polite? What’s the catch? I’m not sitting next to you this time.”
“Trust me, making you eat at the cafeteria’s punishment enough. Besides, I can do my thing from across the table too.”
om, how can you even think about marrying him?”
Obviously I’m not getting something, because she doesn’t seem nearly as outraged at the prospect of marrying a man whose law firm is defending the people responsible for Dad’s suicide as I think she should be. I thought there was no way she could’ve known, but when I told her, she wasn’t surprised.
She sips her latte, weighing her words. Around us, the sidewalks are packed and the noise of traffic fills the air, but somehow we’ve got the whole outside seating area at the café to ourselves. It’s not exactly quiet or private, but there’s nobody around to listen to us talk about what needs to be said.
I called her as soon as I left work. This is a huge deal, for both of us.
“Honey.” She sighs, not meeting my gaze. “It’s complicated.”
“Which part is complicated? Tell me.” My tone’s crasser than it should be, but after a long day with Declan poring over this stupid case when all I wanted to do was scream. I’m on edge. “Neither of us should be anywhere near this. It’s wrong!”
Her lips pull into a thin line. She’s angry. “Sometimes I miss how black and white things were when I was your age. Right or wrong. Good or evil.”
I try not to lash out, and fail. “Stop patronizing me. I’m not stupid.”
My mother puts down her cup, and her expression hardens. “I never said you were. But you are young and inexperienced. Sometimes there are a lot more gray tones in a picture than it might seem at first.”
I hate this. I hate that I’m fighting with the one person who has always supported me, but how do I just shrug and accept that my mother is literally sleeping with the enemy? Garrett’s my boss, which is bad enough, but what’s her excuse?
“So explain it to me? You loved Dad. I know you did.” My voice begs for her to make this make sense.
She smiles sadly, and I can’t deny the pain I see behind her eyes. “I still do, and I always will. He gave me you, and we had many wonderful years together. He’ll always have a piece of my heart, but sweetheart, he’s gone.”
“And it was Cooper who took him away from us!” I focus on the cars driving by. It’s too hard to look at her while we talk about this.
“They played a part,” she responds quietly.
“A part? He’d still be alive if it wasn’t for that job.” I know that truth in every fiber of my being.
“You’re right. He’d probably be alive.” She pauses and picks her cup back up, but doesn’t drink. “But we’d still be divorced, and he’d still be troubled.”
I shake my head in denial, but she doesn’t let up.
“Claire, you blame them for everything, and there was never a reason to tell you differently, but if you think about it, you know your father’s problems didn’t begin and end with his job. Cooper Senior was a decent man working with tight budgets. Your father respected him or he wouldn’t have stayed on so long. His son isn’t nearly the man he was, and it showed as soon as he took over.”
She sighs. “I’ll never deny that the job pushed him over the edge, but your father was drinking even before he got sick, and nobody forced him to give up therapy, or to abandon his family. My career was taking off when it got bad. He could’ve walked away when the tremors started, but he chose to stay. He liked things the way they were, with both his department and his family depending on him. One or the other,” Mom lifts a shoulder in a sad sort of shrug, “He probably could have adjusted to, but losing both of those set him adrift.”
“He loved us.” My voice comes out small and weak. I feel like a little girl again and I don’t want to hear what she’s saying. I don’t want to remember the fights they had when I was in bed, or the nights he spent away.
She nods, and her eyes are shining with tears just like mine. “He did, and I don’t want you to ever doubt that. Something in him was broken, baby, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault.” Mom draws in a deep breath before letting it out slowly. “I disagreed with your father back then, but still loved and stayed with him as long as I could. I disagree with Garrett now, but it’s not going to stop me from loving him, or marrying him. This isn’t our fight anymore.”
For several long moments we’re both quiet. This conversation was probably years in the making. As an adult I can understand how being married to Dad would’ve been hard on her, but he was my father. He’ll always be my hero. She may have put it behind her, but I’m not sure I can so easily dismiss feeling like a traitor for defending Cooper Holdings.
“Do you really love Garrett?” I ask, changing the subject.
Mom smiles a little self-consciously. “You don’t see him like I do. I know he seems like a hard man, but yes, I love him, and he cherishes me. Don’t judge him without knowing him. We’ve both seen our share of loss. He needs someone soft to come home to, where he can let his guard down.
“If we’re being completely honest? I would rather he throw the case in their face and walk away, but he’s not his company. We’ve talked about it, he knows my feelings, and sometimes when you love someone, you have to look beyond the black and white.”
“I’m not sure I can.” Either with the case, or Declan.
“I can’t tell you what to do. You’re too big for that now.” She reaches over and grabs my hand. “But my advice, if you want to hear it, is to keep an open mind and use this as an opportunity to learn. This case isn’t yours. It’s Declan’s, and he’s going to have to live with whatever choices he makes.”
I snort. “If you know him, you know he couldn’t care less.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t believe that, and if you do, I don’t think you know him as well as you think you do. From what I’ve seen, he’s very much like his father. They aren’t easy men, but their feelings run deep.”
“I don’t think he likes us.” How can my mother defend a jerk like him?
Mom’s laugh comes out more like a snort. “Of course he doesn’t. I think it’s more me than you though, sweetie. I’m not his mother,” she says it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “But I
yours, and I know that no matter what you choose, you’ll find a way to make something good out of it. Even if that means learning the ins and outs of Cooper Holdings so you can nail them to the wall next time around.”
I give her a lopsided grin. “So that’s your angle.”
She smiles, eyes glowing with pride. “I know my girl.”
For the first time since reading the case, I start to feel like things might eventually be okay. When I invited Mom to meet me, a part of me had wanted to make her as angry as I’d been. I’d felt suckered into a situation I hadn’t been ready for, but somehow she’s managed to make me feel better. I guess that’s what mothers are for.
I want this internship. It’s not going to be easy, and I’m probably going to hate both Declan and myself more than a few times, but I’m not giving up on the job. If I can do this, I can do anything.
Mom watches me knowingly. “You look like you’re thinking hard.”
“Just thinking about work. I’ll do my job, but I won’t promise to stop trying to get Declan to drop it. We’re defending someone who doesn’t deserve it, but...” I trail off, throwing my hands out.
She hops in, “But your brother-to-be is stubborn, single-minded and dedicated to finishing what he’s started. Especially when it involves a contract. It’s possible I know someone else with similar character traits.”
“You forgot bossy and full of himself.” And sexy, and great in bed.
The way she looks at me makes me wonder if I have something on my face. Or if maybe I said that last part out loud. It’s only a moment, then she laughs. “They are quite the pair, aren’t they? But you have to admit, they make it look good.”
“Mom!” Okay, that’s officially enough soul baring for today, and this is not a conversation I’m having with my mother.
I drain the last of my mocha and push my chair back. “I should get home. I’ve got a ton to learn about this case if I have any hope of figuring it out.”
“Promise to tell me if it’s too much. I’ll have Garrett find something else for you to do. Just because you
do something doesn’t always mean you
“No.” I shake my head. “We have a meeting with Cooper tomorrow. I want to at least see his face. To look him in the eyes and see if he’s as bad as I remember.” I grit my teeth. “After that, we’ll see.”
She nods. “I think you have to figure this out for yourself. Just remember that I’m always here if you want to talk, okay? I know I’ve been busy with the wedding, but I’ll make time.”
I nod and say good-bye. Mom invites me to go shopping with her, but right now I don’t mind walking alone. There’s a lot to think about. About Cooper. About Declan.
This job would’ve been complicated enough without having had sex with my new boss. Four months ago I had the excuse of not knowing who he was. I don’t have that excuse anymore, but it still thrills me when he looks at me and I see it in his eyes that he’s remembering that night. Or when he touches me and I know we’re both wanting more.
And then he opens his mouth and I remember he’s a total jackass and about to be my step-brother.
It’s messy and confusing, and doesn’t change a thing about how much I want him.
Life is easier in black and white. This shades of gray stuff is hard.
he elevator ride seems longer today, giving me a little time to think, especially about the Cooper case. This internship is important to me, and after my talk with Mom, I’m determined not to give up. Besides, there’s no way I’ll be able to concentrate on another case while I know Declan’s working on this one.
I’ll do the best I can, and then make up for it when I’m out of school and have my own firm where I can kick ass and take names. Declan’s wrong. Law isn’t just about billable hours and contracts. It’s about making a difference in people’s lives when they need it most. Not all lawyers are the sleazeball punch-lines in Carl’s jokes.
Just some of them, like Declan.
The elevator dings and I shuffle in to find Carl looking bored as usual, at least until he sees me. Then he lights up with a big smile. “Morning, Ms. Anderson.” He pauses coyly, and I ready myself for whatever he has to throw at me. “What's the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a lawyer on a motorcycle?”