Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 11
I mean, it is. But I certainly wouldn’t have told anyone that, let alone Clay Tucker. Except for Larson, of course. But Wanda has always hated me, ever since I chose Mary instead of her to be my legal assistant when it was time to promote from within the firm.
"Your proposal?" I ask Clay.
“Yes, the reason that everyone dropped what they’re doing this weekend and rushed into the office to hear my plan?” he says, smirking at me to drive home his point about how important he is.
I did think it was weird that my receptionist, my assistant, and pretty much every other lawyer and staff member were called into the office today. I had fallen asleep last night under Larson’s arm but I woke just a few short hours later in a panic, remembering that work had called me earlier and I hadn’t answered. That’s grounds for firing in some situations. An associate is basically on call 24/7.
But luckily one of the partners had sent me a text, telling me to come in early in the morning for a meeting. I’d hesitated, looking at a peacefully sleeping Larson and wishing I could stay cuddled up next to him in bed, and thinking about Caleb curled up in his own toddler bed, dreaming of going to library story time with me later today.
When it came down to it, though, I had no choice. When work calls, I answer. That’s just how it is. And I figured that the sooner I arrived at the office, the sooner I’d be able to see Larson and Caleb again.
I’d left a note for Larson and snuck out, half hoping I’d be back before he even wakes up. It’s Sunday, and he’s on vacation, and it’s two hours ahead here from the time zone he’s used to. So if I play my cards right, maybe Larson and I can fit in a little early afternoon delight while Esmeralda watches Caleb a bit longer, and then we can head to the library.
Library story time is the one thing I look forward to on the weekends when I don’t have to work. Sadly there aren’t many times I can count on taking Caleb on an outing, and Sunday afternoon is one of the few times that usually works.
I was not expecting to see Clay at the office, though. His presence there surprised me even more than Steven’s surprise visit had on Friday.
It seems the douchebag guys in my life are popping up all over the place now that I’m dating Larson.
“Brynn!” Clay had said, as soon as I’d walked into the lobby, swooping in on me and leading me to a conference room.
“Clay?” I’d asked in confusion.
“Brynn,” said Paul Makens, the partner who had called and texted me last night. “So glad you could make it in. Clay is a big fan of your work.”
His voice sounded cheery but fake and his skin stretched tightly across his face as he talked, betraying the barely hidden stress and anxiety poking out from underneath. Story of every non-equity partner’s life, it seems. And a glimpse into my future.
But what else could I do? I’m $100,000 in debt from law school and I have a son as well as bills to pay. So I do as I told and come in when I’m called, and read the faces of the stressed out partners as they transmit instructions to me, despite the fact that the hottest, sweetest guy I’ve ever met is at home in my bed and will only be there for one more day.
“You are?” I asked, looking at Clay. I hadn’t worked on many of his projects in the past. We’d never had much interaction.
“Yes,” he said, winking at me. “After you were so nice to have attended my Halloween bash, I knew I needed you on my team.”
“Oh,” I’d nodded, but I was still confused.
“Brynn was happy to have made your event,” Paul said, nodding at me to look more enthused, so I did. “Here at Makens & Holstead we go above and beyond the call of duty to provide for whatever a client needs.”
He passed me a sticky note— much like the one I wrote the note to Larson on earlier and left on the bed stand— which I held in my hand until we reached the conference room.
Don’t fuck this up , the note said when I finally read it.
I’d looked up at Paul— hurt that he thought me capable of fucking it up, whatever “it” is— but his look signaled a mix of alarm and excitement. Then I realized he was as clueless about what the meeting would entail as I was, and he was just hoping everything would go smoothly and reflect well on him as one of my mentoring partners.
“Thank you all for coming in today to meet with me,” Clay had said, once everyone was gathered around the conference table. “But I’m going to need a one on one meeting.”
“A one on one…?” Jane, another of the partners who heads up the consulting and advising team, had said, looking as confused as I felt. “…with whom?”
“Why, with Ms. Elliot here,” Clay had said, putting a firm hand on my shoulder. His touch made me shiver, and not in a good way like when Larson touches me. “She’s my favorite lawyer here, and my plan involves her to a great extent.”
“It does, does it?” Jane had said, looking nervous.
Well, great. Not only was I finding out that Clay Tucker had some weird plans involving me, but I was also finding out that my superiors didn’t think I was up to the task of managing a client and whatever project he had in mind.
“You do know that Brynn is just an associate, right?” Paul had asked, narrowing his eyes at Clay as if Clay was an idiot.
“Of course I know that,” Clay said. “But what do you mean, ‘just’ an associate? She was bright enough to get hired on here at your esteemed firm, wasn’t she?”
“Well yes,” Paul had said, sitting up a bit straighter.
I didn’t know whether to cheer on Clay or boo him. I was glad he was standing up for me, but suspicious of whatever plan he had in mind and I certainly didn’t like the surprise attack manner in which he was carrying it out.
“And you bill me $350 an hour for the work of Brynn and other associates like her, don’t you?” Clay asked.
“Um. Well, yes,” Paul admitted.
“So you must think her plenty capable. I’d just like to meet one on one with her. I want to pitch my idea to her, see what she thinks and then we can come back here together and tell you all about it,” Clay had said.
Oh, great. It was beginning to sound like today’s “meeting” would last longer than expected. By that point I realized that Clay was the type of person who was always insistent on getting his way, and that I might as well get this over with. Whatever “this” might entail.
“I’d love to have a one on one meeting with you,” I’d told him, and the partners had looked at me with a mixture of relief and fear. “Where exactly were you thinking?”
“Your receptionist told me you’re a big fan of The Argonaut,” Clay had said with a grin.
And that’s how we ended up here, in this same booth that Larson and I had sat in— I swear they always like to seat me in the same place— discussing Clay’s “proposal.”
I can’t believe I’m having to spend the morning with him instead of Larson. What a huge mess today has become. I just hope it’s over quickly and that Larson doesn’t hate me for leaving. But I won’t know what will happen with Larson until I deal with Clay.
Chapter 29 – Brynn
“Okay, shoot,” I tell Clay, eating the cinnamon oatmeal I’d ordered.
I’d decided to switch thing up a bit. It’s breakfast, after all. And a part of me felt guilty for thinking of ordering the same thing I had just eaten when I’d come here with Larson, even though I know logically that makes no sense.
“What is this proposal of yours?”
“I want Makens to open a branch in Albuquerque,” he says, smiling proudly, as if he just suggested an idea worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. “And I want you to head it up.”
“Me?” I almost choke on a nut in my oatmeal.
What do I know about running a firm? Or even a branch of a firm? Absolutely nothing at all, that’s what.
“I don’t think I’d be exactly the right person…” I say, trying my best to politely turn him down.
“Don’t fuck it up, don’t fuck it up,” is all I can see in my head, writt
“Sure you are,” he says, reaching across the table to pat my hand. “Because I say you are. I want you and only you.”
His hand pat is so eerily reminiscent of what Larson did while we were here that it takes all my energy not to jump out of the booth and run away. But I don’t, because that would officially count as fucking this up. And I know I will lose my job if I do that.
“Okay,” I tell him. “Let’s just say that I am the right person. What exactly do you have in mind for this Albuquerque firm?”
“Oh you know, the usual,” he says, signaling to the waiter that he’d like our check.
This guy wastes no time. I’m sure he’s already envisioning heading back to the office to let them know I’ve agreed.
“Advise me on all my corporate transactions. Be local general counsel for my Albuquerque division. Maybe handle some court matters that come up down there. It gets expensive paying for the Albuquerque lawyers and you guys. I figure I’ll be better off if I can streamline it into all one firm. The New York branch and the New Mexico branch.”
This guy’s such a narcissist he thinks he can re-design the entire structure of the firm just for him. He thinks we’ll open a new branch in an unsustainable market based on the type of law we practice, just for him.
And he’s probably right. Because that’s how much money he brings to the firm each year in revenue. That’s how big of a profit he makes for us.
I open my mouth, but think better of it and close it. I’m about to say, I don’t like litigation. I don’t want to have to argue in court. I also like working in New York City. I don’t want to have to uproot my son.
But I keep quiet. Because I don’t want to admit anything that could be construed as a weakness in my legal skills to one of the firm’s biggest clients. And I don’t want to say anything that dissuades him from his goal.
Let him present the idea to the rest of the firm and see what the partners think, I decide. If they think it’s doable, I can’t be the one to quash the idea.
And besides, working in Albuquerque means I’d get to see Larson all the time.
Stop mixing work decisions with pleasure, I lecture myself. But it’s too late. I’m already envisioning all the things Larson was talking about doing together: Thanksgiving dinner at Riley’s house, the Santa Ride and even Christmas spent under the mistletoe— and under the covers— together.
“I think that all sounds like a great idea,” I tell Clay, as I place my credit card on the table once the waitress brings us our check.
It’s the firm’s custom to pick up the tab when we take clients out to eat. It’s the firm’s credit card, so it doesn’t come out of my pocket.
“I’ll get it,” Clay insists, placing cash on the table that covers the tag and apparently a large tip for the waitress as well. “The man should always pay for a lady’s meal.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes at that old- fashioned comment. I do what I have to do, what Paul and Jane and the other partners would want me to do. I smile sweetly and take his arm as we get up.
“I can’t wait to tell everyone else about our new venture,” he says, as we head for the door. “I wonder how they’ll take the news.”
“I’m sure they’ll think it’s… interesting,” I say, and then quickly add, “What an interesting and exciting idea!” because he looks at me as if I’d just offended him a little bit.
“Very well then,” he says, patting my hand again. “I do hope they like the idea or I might just have to find another firm and convince them to hire you as an associate. I’m sure that Makens will go along with my idea, once they realize we’re a package deal.”
My stomach churns at the way he calls us a package deal. But the rest of me is just hoping that this meeting with the firm doesn’t take very long.
If Larson’s not already awake, he will be before I know it, and I don’t want him to think I’ve forgotten about him. I just have to get Clay— and my work obligations— off my back, so that I can once again be on my back for Larson.
Chapter 30 – Larson
“Larson!” Caleb yells as I enter the house.
I’d knocked on the door and luckily they were still there and Esmeralda had let me in.
“Hey buddy,” I say, and he gives me five. “I see you’ve decided to call me by my real name now instead of just referring me to as the Motorcycle Man. I’m glad we’ve grown so close.”
Wish I could say the same about your mom , I think.
“You got any more of those Mickey Mouse pancakes left?” I ask him.
He laughs, thinking I’m joking, but I’m not. I bought a bagel on my way back but I’m still hungry.
“Yes we sure do have some pancakes for you, Mr. Larson,” Esmeralda says, reaching into the refrigerator.
“Oh no, Esmeralda, you don’t have to get them for me,” I tell her. But she’s already doing it.
“You make yourself at home here. Any friend of Miss Brynn’s is a friend of mine,” she says. “Miss Brynn is a lovely lady who deserves a nice gentleman friend.”
“Gen-tle-man friend ,” Caleb says, giggling with his hand in front of his face.
I would have agreed with Esmeralda up until this morning. Now I’m so perplexed I don’t know what to do. My first thought was to head for the airport and get an earlier flight, but I couldn’t stand the fucking thought of leaving without saying goodbye to Caleb.
“When’s your story time, Buddy?” I ask him as Esmeralda puts the microwaved pancakes in front of me.
“Don’t know.” He shrugs. “Larson coming?”
“Yes, I’ll come.”
He claps his hands and his whole face lights up, and I know I made the right decision to come back to the house. If only for little Caleb’s sake.
“It’s very soon,” Esmeralda says. “Thirty minutes.”
I look at my phone. No text from Brynn. I decide to take charge. I don’t want to sound accusatory or clingy, but I also need to know what the fuck’s going on.
Heading to story time with Caleb , I text her. Maybe we can meet you for lunch?
By the time that I’m done with my Mickey Mouse pancakes, there’s still no response text from Brynn.
“You ready for story time, Caleb?” I ask, and he nods eagerly.
“You coming with us?” I ask Esmeralda.
“You can take him,” she says, and hands me a lunch box featuring Lightening McQueen on its front.
She puts a little backpack on Caleb and it’s the cutest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.
“Besitos,” she says, and they kiss each other on each cheek. It’s a more sophisticated goodbye than I’ve ever given anyone in my life, and the kid’s a fucking toddler.
As we walk down the stairs outside the front of their brownstone, I turn towards the subway station but Caleb yanks on my hand.
“Come on,” I tell him. “Gotta ride the train.”
He laughs and points to a black limo that’s pulled over across the street.
“Driver,” he says.
“Really? You have a—”
I stop myself before I curse.
Of course the kid has a fucking driver. His mom makes a shit ton of money by having to work on Sundays and schmooze with assholes. And ditch her weekend out of town date.
But at least I have Caleb— and his fancy driver— to keep me company. I can’t help but shake my head and chuckle at myself, which is something I find myself doing a lot now, that I hadn’t done for a long time before I met Brynn or Caleb.
Life had seemed humorless for so long. But now I’m cracking up at the thought that the company of a little kid brings me so much joy.
What the hell has gotten into me? And how can I knock it off, now that I know Brynn might not be all that she seems?
Chapter 31– Larson
“Hey there,” I say to the driver of the limo as he gets ou
He just nods at me like he’s trying to be polite but also like he’s not really supposed to talk to me.
As we head downtown, Caleb sings a little song that’s almost as cute as he is.
“I’m a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout…”
He bounces around in the toddler car seat that had already been installed in the limo and that the driver had buckled him into, obviously excited.
“Larson coming story time!” He announces proudly once he’s done with his song.
“I sure am, Buddy,” I tell him.
I look out at the window at the beautifully colored falling leaves and try to enjoy the moment. Part of me is upset about Brynn but part of me is touched that Caleb is so happy I’m spending the day with him.
Another part of me feels an obvious yearning for what I’m supposed to have but don’t. I thought maybe I had regained some of that with Brynn and Caleb but now I don’t know what to think.
I’m silent— and so is Caleb, except for some quiet humming— until we arrive at the New York Public Library. And then I’m just fucking in awe of the place.
It looks like a fucking train station or house of Parliament or something. It’s so large and ornate, with more books than I would think it possible for all of humanity to read.
“This way,” Caleb says, trotting towards one of the many rooms.
I follow him to a round rug where a lot of children are already gathered. A librarian is asking them what they want to read first.
“Miss Bonnie!” he says, hugging her.
“Why hello there Mr. Caleb,” she says, returning the hug and then looking up at me. “Who did you bring with you today?”
“Larson,” Caleb says proudly. “Gen-tle-man friend.”
“Is that so?” Miss Bonnie says, trying hard not to laugh.
It’s definitely fucking funny— Caleb is always a hoot. But I’m trying hard not to die of embarrassment. What is this lady going to think of the fact that Caleb’s fancy lawyer mom is dating a scruffy, tattooed guy who walks around in a motorcycle jacket?