Ramsey: A Military Bad Boy Secret Baby Pregnancy Romance (The Bradford Brothers Book 3), page 18
Little Mason does his best to tug James’ wagon on his own, while everyone in the audience laughs. “Daddy!” James cries out, with his arms up, when he sees me, but Becky holds his hand and says, “Your daddy’s busy getting married! You have to stay here with me.”
Everyone laughs again, and I have to admit it’s definitely one of the cutest sights I’ve ever seen.
It’s Whitney’s turn to walk down the aisle, so I wait respectfully after cuing Cannon in D over the speaker system. Harlow starts to cry when he sees her, and she definitely looks stunning.
She joins him in front, and he takes her hand and mouths, “I love you.”
Then I move front and center and begin playing and singing my song for Monica as she walks down the aisle.
I… I am your king
And you… you are my queen
And nothing will drive us away
We can beat fate, day after day
I’ll be your hero
Just for one lifetime….
She smiles at the way I changed the lyrics to our song to match the occasion, but then tears spring to her eyes. I can’t help but start to cry myself, although I do my best to hold it back, so as to not mess up the song.
Monica is wearing a knee- length off- white dress and red heels. The frame dangling from her bouquet shows a photo of her father. Although he is still alive, he’s bedbound from his stroke and he suffers from a lot of cognitive problems. He’s here in spirit though, just like her brother Mark.
Monica’s face is radiant— she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.
When she joins me in front of the arch, I pick up James from the wagon and hand him to her. As the officiant begins the ceremony, I’ve never been more certain of my lines.
I do, I do, I do. A thousand times over, I do.
Mid- reception, my brothers and I step outside to smoke a cigar.
“Congratulations, my brothers,” Jensen says, as he hands them out. “And this one’s for Dad.” He holds up a fourth cigar. “We’ll pass it around among us so that he can share it.”
“I think old Dad would be pretty proud of us,” Harlow says.
“If he’d even believe it!” I agree. “Can you imagine how many times he would have heard us say we’re never getting married, never settling down.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if he really would have believed us,” Jensen says. “He knew that us Bradford boys put on a tough act, but once we met the right women, we turned into total softies.”
“Hey! Speak for yourself,” Harlow says. “I’m the only one of us still planning to stay in the military. That’s one area of my life that I’ve managed to keep for myself.”
“You might not find civilian life too bad,” says Jensen. “Maybe you should think about joining us.”
“I have to admit I’ve thought about it,” Harlow says, with an unabashed shrug. “That card is probably in my future, but I’m just putting up a good fight for a while first.”
We all laugh.
“Seriously, though,” Harlow adds. “Dad would be proud, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more proud of Dad, and what he taught us. I know he’d love to be here today, to see all three of his sons married and happy, and his first grandson growing up right before his eyes.”
“On that note, there’s something I should tell you guys,” Jensen says, and Harlow and I look at each other in shock, and then at him. “Riley doesn’t want to take the limelight off of you guys and your wedding, so we were supposed to wait to announce this, but I want you two to be the first to know, and right now feels like the best time to tell you.”
“Oh my god,” says Harlow. “I’m going to be the last one. I guess that’s fitting, since I’m the youngest.”
“That’s right,” says Jensen. “Riley’s pregnant. James is going to have his first cousin on the Bradford side in about seven months.”
He looks so proud and happy that I have to hug him. Harlow does too.
“Congratulations! That’s awesome,” we say.
“Can you guys please let me out of this bear hug so I can light this other cigar?” Jensen complains. “The least you could do is not smother me so that we can have a celebratory cigar in honor of my baby- to- be, and in honor of both of your weddings.”
“To your baby- to- be,” I say, and step back to take a drag of my cigar.
I imagine James and Jensen’s child playing together. Family picnics. Birthday celebrations.
I can’t believe the life I never knew I wanted is turning out so wonderfully. All thanks to Monica, to my dad, and to these two guys right here.
“And to us,” Harlow adds, as if reading my mind. “Brothers through thick and thin.”
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JENSEN: Book # 1 in the Bradford Brothers Series
Book # 1 in the Bradford Brothers Series
Cover design by Kasmit Covers.
Día de Los Muertos/ Day of the Dead image from Hubpages.com.
To Matt, my partner in this crazy thing we call life.
To Quinn, my eternal muse and Sawyer, my earthly joy.
And to the memory of Whiskey Greg. Ride on, party on, and give a kiss to Quinn if your paths should ever cross as you’re both out there making more stars for our beautiful and adventure-filled Universe.
“Hey pretty lady, what are you doing here?”
A man in an orange jumpsuit presses up against the gate of his jail cell as he spits this question at me. Then he spreads his index and middle fingers across his mouth and wags his tongue at me through them.
I try not to grimace as I look at his leering gaze. Then I quickly turn my head away so as not to display my disgust and fear to the man’s face.
But the prisoner’s question is valid, and one that I’m asking myself right now in fact.
What am I doing here?
I’m not the kind of lawyer who works in a jail. Correction: I wasn’t that type of lawyer. Yet the fact remains that here I am walking into a gritty jail instead of a fancy high rise like I have for the past four years of my legal career.
I’m supposedly an up and coming lawyer at the Law Firm of Holt, Mason and Davis. My goal has been to become a partner there within the next couple of years. And I think I’ve achieved my goal so far, since I’m not only on the partnership track but according to my bi-annual evaluations, I’m doing sprints around all my fellow associates.
Except for my fiancé Brian, of course. But he doesn’t have to make much of an effort, considering that he’s the son of the firm’s founding partner Jack Holt. He doesn’t think I should be volunteering here, but he doesn’t understand what’s at stake if I don’t.
He must know that I’m strongly considering turning around and leaving. Maybe Brian was right— I don’t need to go to these lengths to impress the firm. There has to be something I can do that doesn’t involve trips to the local jail where I’m accosted by lecherous criminals.
But ever since my latest performance evaluation at the firm, Jack Holt’s words have been ringing in my memory.
“Your billables are great, your work is solid, your networking is as expected,” he’d told me. “But your pro bono hours are not on track with the other associates’, and the only misgivings expressed by any partner have been your fit here with the firm.”
“My fit?” I’d asked, squirming in the oversized leather chair in the large conference room that held only Mr. Holt and myself.
I’d wanted to ask how I was supposed to find time to do pro bono hours— volunteering to represent clients for free— when I already billed more hours than any other associate, year after year. But I assumed he expected me to figure that out on my own.
And I was intrigued— if not dismayed— by his use of the word “fit.” I needed to fit in at the firm; I needed to make it work. My parents had spent a lot of money on law school and would be furious at me if they knew I didn’t make partner because I didn’t “fit in.”
“As you know, Riley, this firm has a strong and proud military tradition,” Mr. Holt had continued. “And you’re the only associate who doesn’t have some tie with the military.”
I thought about it and realized he was right: many of the partners had served in the military before going to law school, and many of the associates were in the Reserves. There were lawyers who had gone to West Point, the Air Force Academy, who had been in JAG before transferring to Holt, Mason and Davis, and who regularly volunteered at the VA, helping with disability cases or access to health care.
Except for your son, I wanted to point out to Mr. Holt, because Brian was the only other associate with absolutely no connection to the military. But he didn’t count. Mr. Holt rarely spoke of my relationship with Brian at work, but when he did, it was to tell me that he’s glad his son hooked himself to a rising star: that I was good for Brian and could keep him on track.
The unspoken assumption was that the normal rules of associate standards did not apply to Brian. He was expected to go to happy hours and golf tournaments with the partners, not slave away as a billable hour drone like the rest of us. And apparently he didn’t have to have any military connection, although everyone else, including me, had to meet that requirement.
So it’s no wonder Brian doesn’t understand. When I began calling around to military legal service organizations where I could volunteer, the Veterans’ Legal Alliance was the only one that responded immediately.
Tim had explained to me that the VLA organization provides all types of legal services and representation to military veterans, and that usually means representing them in criminal trials. It’s a totally different world than I’m used to, but I’m open to anything that will help me become partner at the firm.
Now, Tim leads me to an open meeting room or visiting room of some type. There are a handful of men speaking in hushed tones to each other, or sitting quietly by themselves.
“These are some of the men in our program, who are waiting to meet with their lawyers or be transported to the hearing room for their cases to be called,” Tim explains, as he sits down on a bench at one of the tables a few feet away from the men. I follow his lead and sit down at the bench on the other side of the table.
One of the prisoners catches my eye and I can’t help but stare. While the rest of the men have short, buzzed, military style haircuts, this man has a gruff, outdoorsy look: long hair and a long beard.
His short-sleeved jumpsuit reveals muscular pecs covered in tattoos. I can’t take my eyes off of a Día de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead tattoo on his right arm: it’s a colorful skull full of flowers and a cross.
The stranger returns my stare, his eyes the color of dark coal. I feel them burning into my pale blue eyes as if I’m Lot’s wife looking back on Sodom in a rebellious, forbidden act. I tear my eyes away from him and force myself to look at Tim, hoping that I won’t turn into a pillar of salt.
What in the world was that? I wonder, as a scourge of electricity curses through my veins. I cannot possibly have felt attracted to that… criminal. He’s not even my type.
I like nerdy, intellectual guys, not long-haired convicts covered in tattoos. And I’m engaged, I remind myself, as an after- thought. But I can’t seem to stop staring at his brown hair, brown eyes, and constantly flexed muscles.
“It’s amazing how many military personnel are arrested while serving or shortly thereafter,” Tim is explaining, handing me a thick binder full of information.
Veterans’ Legal Alliance, Inc., it reads on the front cover, and then: How to represent a service member or veteran charged with a crime in state criminal court.
“I’m not really knowledgeable about…” I begin, but Tim holds up his hand and smiles kindly at me.
“We know you don’t have criminal law experience,” he says, easing my fears. “But since you routinely handle complex commercial litigation and white collar crime- type fraud suits between business partners and the like, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it quickly. These kinds of cases are more difficult in some ways but the basic procedures will be a cakewalk for you. And we are here to train you and provide you with all the support and resources you need.”
“‘We’ being…?” I ask, looking around the room and noting the lack of any other lawyers.
I suddenly feel a presence immediately behind my right shoulder and jump, realizing that Mr. Not My Type is standing directly behind me. I’m not sure how long he’s been there. I feel goosebumps spring up all over my body, and it’s not because I’m afraid, or cold.
“Myself, as director of the organization,” Tim continues, “and all other staff and attorneys. I must admit we run a slim ship, just due to the lack of willing personnel, but those that do help are incredibly passionate and talented at what they do.”
“I see,” I say, trying not to blush and hoping that Mr. Not My Type can’t tell what an inexplicitly powerful effect his presence has on me.
He clears his throat and says, “Mr. McDonald?” in a polite yet bold tone of voice.
I can literally feel the hair standing up on the back of my neck, as if he had whispered his question right there in public, in one of my most intimate spots.
“Yes, Jensen?” Tim responds, with a smile. “Call me Tim. And this is Riley Morrell. She might be volunteering temporarily with our organization. Riley, this is Jensen Bradford.”
“Hello, Riley,” says Jensen, extending a well-built forearm in my direction. There’s something about the way he says my name that sounds so foreign and new, as if I’ve never been called it before in my life. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too,” I say, reaching out to meet his grasp.
He shakes my hand like a lumberjack and I wonder how tall he is. Definitely quite tall. But his eyes remain focused on Tim’s.
“Mr. McDonald,” he continues, dropping my hand and leaving it to feel suddenly completely empty. “I’m wondering if Dylan is here? He said he’d talk to me about my arraignment hearing before it starts, and that’s relatively soon.”
“I believe he was held over in court,” Tim answers. “He has a busy docket today. But I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”
“All right, thank you sir,” Jensen says. “I’m glad to hear it because I’d really like to talk to him.”
He returns to the table on the far side of the room without so much as glancing back at me, and I feel slighted, even though I have no idea why I want this prisoner to talk to me, as eloquent and polite of a prisoner as he may be.
Sure, he’s tall,
I’m engaged, even if that fact is easy to forget these days. After protesting against my choice of pro bono work, Brian didn’t even bat an eye this morning when I told him I’d be late to the office because I was meeting Tim McDonald in the jail first.
In fact, I don’t know if he even heard me, even though I’d repeated myself. I have to admit that ours has always been a relationship built on politics and convenience more so than on passion or romance, but lately Brian has become more distant than ever.
I try to focus on Tim’s explanation of the process for representing veterans. But I can’t help sneaking glances at Jensen. And a couple times, he meets my gaze and stares back at me unabashedly. It’s enough to cause my heart to race just as fast as when I’m delivering a closing argument in trial.
“Many of our veterans aren’t used to life after the military,” Tim explains. “They’ve been taught different ways of handling conflict than the rest of society. Sometimes they experience flashbacks or fight- or- flight reactions due to PTSD, either already diagnosed or as yet undiscovered.”
“I see,” I say, nodding my head but wondering how I could represent a client that seems unpredictable if not dangerous.
I’m really not sure this pro bono gig is for me. I guess Brian will be happy to hear that, if he’s listening when I tell him.
“Much of our work involves educating the judge on the effects of war and the symptoms of PTSD,” Tim continues. “It’s our most common defense and applies to most situations.”
“I see,” I say again, distracted as Jensen— all six foot six inches of him, if I had to guess— stands up and nods towards the doorway.
Someone— I’m assuming the lawyer named Dylan— approaches and shakes his hand. Then they head over to a small lawyer/ client meeting room. Just before heading into the room, Jensen turns around and winks at me. And I feel like a Disney princess starring on Broadway.