Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 23
He turns to walk across the parking lot and as I get onto my bike I still can’t believe it. I guess I seriously misjudged PTSD and the people who have it. And I sincerely hope Ramsey can get help. I suppose he’s been holding our dysfunctional family together for so long that even he could crack under the pressure.
I try to think positively as my bike careens around the curves and I head home. Ramsey will get better. I won’t be convicted. And I get to see Riley again soon. In fact, I have a “date” with my beautiful, fancy pants lawyer. Tomorrow evening just can’t get here quickly enough in my book.
I move my mouse wall art from beside the door to my office to right near my monitor. It’s near and dear to my heart because my grandmother bought it for me when I passed the Bar. A cute little cartoon mouse smiles out at me and underneath him is a quote from Frantz Kafka: “A lawyer is a person who writes a 10,000-word document and calls it a ‘brief.’”
It always makes me laugh. Just like memories of Gram. She’s gone now but she was the one person in my family who was sane. And she wouldn’t have cared if I was a lawyer or a cashier. She just wanted me to be happy.
I’ve been here setting up my office since five o’clock, and nervously awaiting Jensen’s arrival. I’d told Jensen I’d been working hard on his case, and that was the truth. But the rest of the truth is that I don’t really have any other choice.
His case is my only case right now, and I haven’t heard anything from my former firm. My days are pretty empty now compared to when I managed multiple complex civil litigation cases of my own, plus helped out partners on other cases.
I suppose that Jensen’s case is benefitting from all the free time I have to spend on it, as well as my personal feelings towards him. I know that he doesn’t want to use a PTSD defense, and the more I looked into his case and researched the PTSD issue, the more I began to agree with him that PTSD is not the best way to go here.
I called the expert that Dylan sent Jensen to, who doesn’t even think Jensen has PTSD— although I’m sure that his opinion could definitely be influenced or swayed. In fact, I’m beginning to think that’s what happened in the majority of the cases in which he’s been an expert. All the defense lawyers seem to think that a PTSD defense is the way to go, but I disagree on a case by case basis, for several reasons.
For one thing, if a current or former service member really has PTSD and needs treatment, of course it’s best for them to get the diagnosis. But it can carry some downsides they might not be expecting— I’ve read that a PTSD diagnosis automatically carries a 100% disability rating and that sometimes service members diagnosed with it are ineligible to continue in their military duties or even find employment outside of the military. There’s certainly an unwelcome and unfair stigma that comes with having PTSD that many would like to avoid.
And the most baffling thing, to me, is that automatically claiming PTSD doesn’t always even work out well for trial purposes. The prosecutor knows that most service members go for that defense and so they paint the defendant as all the negative characteristics of a person diagnosed with PTSD— irrational, rash, triggery, rage- fueled, etc. If not played correctly in the hands of the defense attorney, the jury might be inclined to think the defendant is guilty simply because he has PTSD. I can definitely see Jensen’s concerns, and not just because I wish he’d jump my bones.
I had also told Jensen that I don’t usually meet with clients so late, but he’s my only client, and I have nothing else to do anyway. It’s not like I’ve heard from Brian. And I told Jensen his case was moving more quickly than I was used to, which is true… but something else is moving more quickly than I’m used to as well.
I just can’t seem to put my finger on it but something is definitely happening between Jensen and me. Which is really, really, really not a good thing.
Finally, I hear a strong knock on the outside of my office door, which is already open. I look up to see Jensen wearing a tight white t-shirt under a leather motorcycle jacket. His muscles and many tattoos are visible. I almost get lost in a daze while staring at a dragon tattoo on his arm. And then there’s a color Dia de Los Muertos– Day of the Dead skull, with red, yellow, blue and green flowers around the eyes sockets and vines wrapping around the forehead.
Be still my heart.
That tacky line out of some ancient romance novel or B- rated romantic comedy movie is the only thought my brain is capable of thinking right now.
“Hey there, lawyer lady,” he says, and walks to the chair in front of my desk, which isn’t very far from the door. It’s a small office and we’re in close quarters. He look around at my sparsely decorated walls— just my diplomas, my bar license and my mouse art because all the art in my prior office was provided by Holt— and I can tell he’s thinking the same thing.
“Welcome to my temporary office,” I tell him. “It’s small, but it’ll do for now.”
He stares at me and says nothing for a moment, until I look down, feeling myself blush.
“Nice mouse picture.”
I laugh, but I’m touched that he noticed. It shows me he’s observant.
“They tell me you’re a civil lawyer at some big firm.”
“I was… or, I am. I’m on a temporary leave of absence. In the meantime I’m working for Veterans’ Legal Alliance.”
And any other clients I can bring in on my own, I think, but I don’t add that, because it hasn’t happened yet. I could have shared the small VLA office but I thought it best to have somewhere of my own to go, and maybe I’ll impress the partners at Holt by snagging a few of my own clients to bring with me when I go back.
“Well, Mr. Bradford…”
“It’s Jensen, Riley.”
“Jensen.” I start over, shivers running through my body at the casual familiarity with which he just said my name, and the way he just takes charge of the situation, even though I’m the lawyer and he’s the criminal. Accused, I correct myself. I’m the lawyer and he’s the accused. He’s my client. I’m supposed to be taking charge. “I received the police report and belt tape from the prosecution and I have a few questions to go over with you.”
I cross the desk in between us and sit down in the chair next to him. We’re now mere inches apart and it’s hard to concentrate.
“This is a picture of the man you allegedly assaulted,” I tell him, pointing to a picture of a scruffy older guy wearing disheveled clothing. “Did you know him?”
He hesitates, and then says, “No.”
“You never met him before the… incident?”
“They’ll have trouble proving motive,” I say decisively, and he looks as if he wants to say something, but doesn’t. “I just can’t figure out why they would claim you beat up someone you didn’t even know.”
Silence fills the air.
“And I just can’t figure out why I have to meet a gorgeous woman like you in this context,” Jensen finally says, and reaches over to move a piece of hair away from my eyes.
“What context is that?” I ask, stupidly.
“Oh, you know. That you’re my lawyer. Representing me in this bullshit charge. Thinking I’m a dirty no- good criminal and all.”
Now I’m the one who is silent. But then I remember that I have a job to do, and I try to get back to business.
“That’s not what I think. But Jensen. I’ve been working on the more behind- the- scenes aspect of your technical legal defense,” I tell him. “I understand that you don’t want to go with the PTSD defense—”
“Right. But it’s not because I think that people who have PTSD are bad, or crazy or anything,” he interrupts me to say. “In fact, I think my older brother Ramsey might have PTSD and he’s the best guy I know.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say.
“I just think that for me,
“Okay, Jensen, I get it,” I assure him. “But right now I just need to understand more about what happened factually. Why were you at the house where the incident occurred?”
“I knew someone else who lived there,” says Jensen. “Not him though.”
His entire appearance is stiff and tense.
“Okay. Who did you know there?”
“It’s my turn to ask you a question now,” he says, leaning in close to me.
I blink, my heart speeding up. “Okay.”
“Can I kiss you?”
I inhale, surprised yet excited. This makes no sense. Even if I wasn’t his lawyer, he’s not my type.
But I nod my head, at the same time I ask myself what the hell I’m doing.
His lips are already touching mine, or more like tearing mine apart. His tongue explores my lips and then my tongue, which eagerly reaches out to meet his.
This is… delicious. This is much better than any kind of kiss I’ve ever gotten from Brian, or anyone at all. This is…
“Wait!” I push him back, and he complies, but looks deeply into my eyes as if he’s more hurt than mad.
Stop saying my name, I want to say. It drives me crazy.
But instead I say, “I can’t do this. Ethically, I mean. It’s forbidden for lawyers and their clients to…”
“Sleep together?” he correctly guesses, raising an eyebrow at me.
I fiddle with my hands in my lap, feeling too straight- laced. But I just lost my job for being too ethical and it would make no sense to do just the opposite now. Nothing about this whole situation with Jensen makes any sense, though.
“So there’s nothing saying they can’t make out?” he asks, and his tongue is back in my mouth, exactly where I want it.
I hold onto his hair while he puts a hand on my waist, leaning me closer to him while he kisses me. I don’t think they’re supposed to be involved romantically at all, I think to myself, but my head’s a mess. I can’t think straight.
“Jensen,” I say, gently pushing him away once again. “That feels… amazing. But if I’m going to be able to help you at your hearing next week, we have to talk about your case. And you have to give me more information than vague answers followed by a kiss.”
“An amazing kiss,” he says, and winks.
“Riley. We have a week. You’re all work and no play. And how can I trust you with my innermost secrets when I don’t even know you? Why don’t you loosen up and stop thinking about work all the time? Perhaps by hanging out with me, you’ll actually be better at your job.”
I tilt my head at his “logic.” But I can tell that for some reason he’s holding back on me. And he’s right that I’m all work and no play.
“When was the last time you did something you really wanted to do? Something that wasn’t expected of you or something that would even be frowned upon?”
“Just now when I let you kiss me,” is my quick answer.
“You definitely are a lawyer,” he says with a laugh. “Good answer. But why stop there? Come have a drink with me. I’ll show you a good time. Just as a… client.”
Sure, clients and lawyers do have drinks together, I think to myself. At my old firm, it was more of a requirement than a fun thing to do. But it wasn’t exactly in this situation.
“I… um…” Usually I would think about all the things I had to do, the huge pile of work at my office and then more to catch up on when I got home. But I’m no longer at Holt. Jensen’s my only client and he wants to go get a drink with me.
“All right,” I say. “I know a place near here.”
“Can’t wait to see where lawyers hang out,” he says with a sarcastic tone and an evil grin, as he reaches out to help me up.
He holds the door open for me and swats my ass while I go through it.
“Hey now,” I say, turning back to him.
He grabs me and holds me tight.
“I can’t help myself.”
And as I turn around to kiss him, saying, “Maybe just one more time before we’re out in public…” it’s clear that I can’t either.
I’ve never felt more out of place than I feel in this swanky bar full of suits and ties. Everyone looks me up and down. But I don’t care. I just want to keep the heat on Riley. She does something to me that no one else ever has. I want her badly enough that I’ll stay in this snot-nosed bar with her.
I’m not even sure why I told her that Ramsey may have PTSD. I’m sure he wouldn’t be too happy with me for airing his dirty laundry to practical strangers. But I guess I just feel comfortable with her in a way that surprises me. And maybe Ramsey might need her help, because I know there’s a lot of discrimination against military members who have PTSD.
She’d said she “gets” that I don’t want to use PTSD as a defense myself, and once again I wasn’t sure if she was being genuine or just blowing smoke up my ass. I want to believe that I can trust her, but Dylan always gave me the same song and dance, just to turn around and do the opposite. And she always seems to brush over that part of my case, just like Dylan did.
She chooses a table in the corner and I choose the chair beside her. I immediately put my foot on top of hers under the table, and she doesn’t take hers away. I forget all about my case now, and just bask in the warmth of being next to her.
“So what’ll it be, Ms. Riley?” I ask, looking at the fancy-sounding and expensive drinks on the menu. “No wait, let me guess. An Appletini?”
“Ha.” She laughs that laugh I love, the one that made me crack that joke just so I could hear her laugh in response. “Close but no cigar. I’d like a Manhattan.”
“Oooh. Good choice. Strong drink.”
“Drink big or go home, right?”
She flashes me a grin.
“Or maybe both, if I’m lucky.”
“Very funny,” she says, her leg hitting mine under the table. “You know we can’t do that.”
“A guy can dream.”
I’m about to stand up to get our drinks from the bar but a bored- looking waiter approaches us and takes our order.
“A Manhattan for my girlfriend here, and a Whiskey and Coke for me,” I tell him, and squeeze her leg under the table.
“Jensen!” She hisses in a disapproving tone, but she puts her hand on top of mine and squeezes it.
I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’ve never wanted a girlfriend. And I’ve never joked around with a girl about being my girlfriend because then she might think I’m serious when all I wanted was a one-night stand. There’s nothing more annoying than a clingy girl who’s hard to get rid of after the fact. But here I am encouraging Riley, and I don’t think it’s just because of the hands- off- I’m- your- lawyer challenge she’s presented me with.
I decide to turn the conversation to a more serious topic, because I think I may be getting in a little bit over my head. I need to stay in charge and balanced.
“So what’s the story with that temporary rat hole— I mean, office, you have there?” I ask Riley. “And why are you suddenly representing washed- up and disgraced servicemen instead of Fortune 500 firms?”
She sighs, and looks down at the table. I didn’t know the question would cause her so much hesitation, and I begin to feel bad that I asked it. Luckily the waiter arrives with our drinks.
“Cheers,” I say, in an attempt to change the subject yet again. “To having drinks with your favorite client ever.”
“Cheers,” she says, and leans in close to clink our glasses together.
I lean in even closer for a peck on her cheek and then a quick bite of her lips.
“Jensen!” she says again, and then downs more of the Manhattan than I thought she would be able to handle at once.
“Very nice,” I compliment her as I hurry to catch up with he
“My leave of absence isn’t exactly voluntary,” she says, and I realize she’s actually answering the question I had asked.
“Oh,” I say, trying not to sound too interested.
“I was handling a big trial and my boss wanted me to do something unethical,” she continued. “I just… couldn’t. I didn’t. And so he put me on a leave of absence to get my priorities straight.”
“I see. So… you might go back?”
I want to ask her why she’d want to work for a firm like that but she’s so damn hot while she licks up her drink on the rim of her fancy glass that I don’t want to ruin the moment too much.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll like working for my new client too much.”
There’s that laugh again.
“So why the Veterans’ Legal Alliance?” I ask. “You don’t strike me as a very military- minded type of gal.”
“I didn’t strike my boss as being that either,” she says. “Everyone at the firm had a military background or connection except for me. I started looking into volunteering at the VLA before any of this happened.”
“And then you decided to jump on it to impress your old boss?”
“Something like that.”
She sighs into her drink, and I can’t help but admire her vulnerability. I’m touched that she chose to share this information with me when she didn’t have to.
“So, about the person I allegedly assaulted…” I begin, inspired to trade some of my own secrets.
“Yes?” she asks, perking up and looking around as if she needs her always- present yellow legal pad.
Just then the waiter brings us two more drinks.
“Wow Jensen, I never really drink this much,” she says, but she picks up the second drink anyway.
You don’t say, I think, but I keep it to myself.
“He was assaulting a woman,” I tell her. “Pounding into her, beating her up. So I just stepped in to…”
“Protect her?” Her eyes are looking at me as if there’s hope for my case, and also as if she thinks what I did was admirable.