Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 24
I’m glad to be let off the hook. And glad that neither of them called me out on my bullshit. It isn’t really conditions of release that have gotten into me. I've never been a rule follower and I'm not about to start now. Instead, it’s a lawyer named Riley, who isn’t my type, who isn’t even in my realm of possibility, but who won’t get out of my goddamned head.
I take the enchiladas out of the oven at 6:55, because my parents are due to arrive at seven. I can’t help but sneak a piece to test the flavor. I have to admit, they taste delicious.
I'm always trying to diet but carbs are my downfall. I try to exercise and eat well but I’m very busy and I often have to eat on the run. And when I do have time to cook, I like to enjoy what I make.
As I finish off the last bite and then set the table, I glance at the clock. My family is late, as usual, and I’m not surprised. Sometimes I wonder why they demand a nice home-cooked dinner once a month, if they can never be bothered to show up for it on time.
For once I have nothing to do but sit down and stew. How dare they be late. How dare Charles blow me off yet again tonight. He's supposed to be here, but he's not, of course. How dare Jensen not swoop me up on his way out of the holding room and make love to me right in front of the judge.
What the hell has gotten into me? …
The doorbell rings, interrupting my strange thought process.
“We were running so late, I didn’t have time to stop and pick up the cake,” my mom says right away, in lieu of a greeting. “Don’t be mad.”
Well, great .
Now there’s nothing for dessert. But that seems like small potatoes compared to all the other items on my list of gripes today.
“All right,” I tell her, and usher them in. “Who’s hungry?”
“Well, we know you are,” quips my sister Samantha. Her latest- in- high fashion- trend clothing hangs off her skinny frame.
“Girls, don’t fight,” my mom says cheerfully.
I bite my tongue and begin serving the enchiladas.
“These are kind of cold,” says Samantha.
“The microwave is right over there,” I tell her, in a tone that even to me sounds chillier than the food she’s complaining about.
She's right that it's cold. But it's not my fault they were so late.
“Be nice to your little sister, Riley,” my dad says.
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. He insists on acting like my sister and I are still adolescents, except when he demands to know my career achievements and accomplishments, and acts as if I should already be a Supreme Court justice by now
“Where’s Charles?” asks Samantha. “Does he have cold feet again?”
“Very funny,” I say. “He had a networking event for work.”
But she's right. I go out of my way to please Charles's dad— not just because he's my boss but also because he's my boyfriend's father— but Charles never returns the favor. He often seems annoyed to be with my family.
I can't blame him for that, because they are annoying, but it's just something that people in a relationship are supposed to put up with and do. I'm beginning to realize, however, that Charles and I don't have much of a relationship. Instead, we just have a big, fake show we're putting on for the sake of his dad, which benefits both of us but makes neither of us happy.
“That’s nice. I guess he has his priorities in order. I might bring a guy I’ve been dating to your next dinner. He’s in finance. He’s, like, a billionaire.”
You don’t say .
“And how’s work going?” Dad asks.
I swear he only comes to these dinners so he can check up on his investment of my law school tuition.
“It’s great, Dad. Mr. Holt and I are working on a really big case that’s going to trial soon. I get to handle a lot of the trial, which I’m really looking forward to, even though I’m nervous.”
“Will it make you partner?” Dad asks.
“It could definitely play a big role in it,” I tell him.
“Good. I can’t get over your luck. Engaged to the founding partner’s son. And now handling a trial with your bigshot future father-in-law.” He nods proudly as he eats the enchilada. “This is spicy.”
My parents don’t like spice and although I tend to use a lot of green chile in my cooking, I tried to tone it down for them.
"Also, we're not engaged."
I've corrected him on this so many times but he always conveniently forgets.
“It’s her hard work, dear, not her luck,” says my mom.
I smile at her gratefully.
“Her hard work in the bedroom,” snickers Samantha, prompting me to glare at her.
If she only had a clue.
And then my mom adds, “All those late nights spent studying, and now working, instead of having family time.”
I roll my eyes at one of my mom’s favorite complaints.
The rest of the dinner progresses “well,” as in, better than usual. But by the time it’s over, I’m anxious for them to leave so I say, “I need to work on a brief for a while tonight before I turn in.”
“Well, we will definitely get out of your hair,” my mom says, with a jealous pout.
“I didn’t mean it like that…” I quickly say.
“Let her work, Luanne,” my dad barks at her. “She has an important trial coming up, that she needs to do well on.”
It’s like he’s talking about my senior year AP Algebra test. And my mom wants to have family pizza and game night instead of letting me study. Some things never change.
“All I have to do tomorrow is get a pedicure,” Samantha chirps.
Some things really never change.
I walk them to the door, grateful that they’re leaving, although not looking forward to the pile of dirty dishes they left behind for me to wash.
An hour later, I sink into a tub full of bubbles and try to relax. Visions of Jensen soon return to my mind— it’s as if they never fully leave.
I imagine him walking through the front door in a military uniform, bringing the cake that my mother forgot. We feed it to each other while undressing each other. He smears it all over my body and then licks it off me.
My hand sinks underneath the bubbles to pleasure myself the way that I wish Jensen would. If only I had chosen a guy like him instead of a guy like Charles, maybe my life would be a lot different right now.
Maybe I still can choose a guy like Jensen, after all… I can't help but think. I'm sure Charles's dad would be fuming, not to mention my own dad. But I'm tired of living the life everyone else wants me to live.
I picture Jensen lifting me out of the tub and making love to me on the bathroom floor. Even just fantasizing about him makes my life seem so much more exciting.
Stop it , I tell myself. Stop thinking about Jensen when you're still with Charles .
Then I think, maybe it's time to do something to change that.
I'm thinking about getting out and grabbing the magic bullet from the drawer under the sink. But just from touching myself, and thinking forbidden thoughts about Jensen, I already feel a spark quite similar to what I'd felt while using the vibrator.
There it is again , I think. Did I just make myself come?
Maybe every time I try it, I'll get better at it. And I have to admit that thoughts about Jensen don't hurt that process, even though they do hurt my life goals.
It’s a Saturday morning, and everything is peacefully quiet at McKinnon Memorial Cemetery. I sit down next to my dad’s grave and run my hands over the inscription.
Devoted Father and Beloved Friend.
Dylan seems convinced that I’ll be acquitted for the assault charge, but I’m not so sure. I haven’t always had the best luck in life, and nothing surprises me anymore. I woke up this morning wanting to come and visit my dad, just in case I
“Hey Dad, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks since I was last here,” I tell him.
I look around, still always afraid that someone will overhear me and think I’m a nut job for talking to my dead father, but I’m relieved to see that we’re alone. It’s too early for any funerals and there are no other gravesite visitors.
“I guess my case is going all right, but Harlow thinks Mom should be supporting me more, while Ramsey’s still of the opinion that we need to help Mom because she’s really gone off the deep end lately.”
I pause and take a breath, not even having to ask Dad his opinion on the matter, because even if he were here to share it with me, I’d already know what it was. My old man was loving to a fault. At one point I kind of lost respect for him because of it because I thought he should start putting himself first for once.
But with time I’ve been able to see that mercy and justice were things that he strongly believed in. He practiced what he preached, and he was a good man. A much better man than I'll ever be.
My mind flashes back to when I was a teenager, and we’d all just found out that Mom had left Dad for some no-good vagrant.
“Boys,” Dad had said, after sitting us down on the couch.
Ramsey and I were almost bigger than he was— Ramsey was probably already taller than Dad was— but he still called us “boys.”
“I know you’ve been wondering where your mom has been. And I’m sorry to tell you this, but I don’t think she’ll be coming back any time soon.”
“How can you just put up with this?” Harlow had accused Dad, as he threw a sofa pillow across the room in frustration.
He was still practically just a kid and didn’t know any better. “We know she’s gone. She’s been gone. She’s not coming back. So why are you holding onto all her stuff like this is some sort of free storage unit instead of our house that she left ?”
“Harlow,” Ramsey had said— always protective of Dad, of any of us— “Calm down.”
“Kids at school are talking ,” Harlow had shot back, with a pout.
“Shut your mouth.” Ramsey had said, quickly and loudly.
He didn’t want to further hurt Dad by piling more dirty, ugly truths on top of the truth that Dad was just starting to face, even though it had been plain as day to the rest of us for some time.
Dad had been a prominent political figure and we’d enjoyed a rather privileged, middle class upbringing up until that point. But now kids at school were saying our mom was a slut and an alcoholic, and our dad was a “cuckold.” I’d had to look that one up.
At the time, I was convinced that life would get better. Mom would realize her mistake and come home, and Dad was obviously willing to welcome her home with open arms. We would be a family again and everything would be okay.
“You haven’t had an easy life, kiddo,” I can almost hear my dad say now.
It sure didn’t pan out like I’d wanted it to. Mom did occasionally come home but it was only to crash with us when she was completely broke, and to get more money from Dad before she moved on to the next guy.
Dad had to support us and Mom and her habits— which had progressed from alcohol to drugs, and from seedier and seedier men. We were still always the talk of the town and he didn’t run for reelection because he had slipped into a pretty deep depression and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks.
From that time on, the Bradford Brothers were on the outs. We were bad news. No good.
Our family’s reputation was toast and our parents were the laughing stocks of the town. It was our mom’s fault, but for a long time I harbored resentment towards my dad— and I know that at least Harlow did too.
“I miss you, Dad,” I tell him now. “I wish you were here to help me through this.”
Dad passed away unexpectedly a year later, when Ramsey was a senior in high school and I was a junior. Harlow was just a freshman. The autopsy revealed rampant coronary hypertension that had gone unchecked, leading to heart failure.
Mom came back into our lives then, begrudgingly. She was worried that the state would take Harlow if she left Ramsey and me to take care of him.
Ramsey went off to the military and I was left to deal with our crazy mother for Harlow and me both. Sometimes, I think Ramsey goes easier on my mom than Harlow and I do because he wasn’t around to see how awful things got.
Harlow was understandably mad at my mom but she would punish him any time he brought up what she had done to us. And she would punish me for even mentioning Dad or how much I missed him.
I stayed home for a year after graduation to help take care of Harlow— because Mom was more absent than she was present, and when she was present, she seemed bent on making our lives miserable— but Harlow was kind of off the rails himself at that point.
He was getting into trouble at school and didn’t want to be around anyone but his bad influence friends. I had gone down that path for a while but Ramsey had shown me through example that a better future existed for me.
So, I joined the SEALs because Ramsey was in it, and because it seemed like the perfect place for me to be—the only place for me to be—
and we were both surprised when Harlow got his act more or less together and joined us a couple years later. Everyone in our unit referred to each other as “brothers” at times but it was nice to be together as actual brothers. Even— no, especially , I suppose— later, when everything bad happened with Harlow.
I try to shake my head free of the bad memories and concentrate on the good ones I have of my dad, before everything went to shit. The way he made us pancakes with peanut butter for breakfast. The way he would sing as he drove us to school. The way that he and my mom used to be in love. I don’t know what happened, but the love was there once, and I had been able to see it plain as day.
“I think I’ve met someone, but it’s a complicated situation…” I start to tell my dad.
No , I tell myself. I’m not going there .
I had promised myself that I would never be like my dad. I wouldn’t get my heart and life literally ruined by a woman. Sex was one thing, but love was another. I had decided a long time ago that I would have plenty of the former, but none of the latter. I wouldn’t take a chance that my life would turn out like my dad’s.
“Well Dad, I have to get going, but I just wanted to drop by and say hello. And that I love you.”
“Take care, son.” I can almost hear my dad’s voice say the phrase he would always say in parting.
I leave the cemetery feeling slightly better but wondering if things will ever feel normal again.
Today's a big day at work for me. It's the day that I get to take the direct testimony of my firm’s client, and then the cross-examination of the most important witness of the biggest trial of my career to date. I take a deep breath and can’t help but look around to see if Charles showed up. He’s not in the courtroom.
I sigh, realizing I should have known that he wouldn’t be here. I did know this, but couldn’t resist checking anyway, just in case. Charles has been all but non-existent in my life lately, barely asking me how my day was or if I’d like to grab dinner.
When I ask him if everything’s okay, he swears it is and that he’s just distracted. But he works maybe ten hours a week and parties the rest of the time, so I don’t know what he has to be distracted about.
Nor do I know why I haven't been brave enough to break up with him, when things are obviously going so, well badly, between us. I guess I'm just stuck in fear and inertia. But I have no time to think about that now. I have a trial to win.
I stand up to begin my questioning of Jed Marks but Jack Holt hands me a sheet of paper. Even though he’s the supervising attorney for the trial, so far, he’s let me handle the entire thing on my own.
I frown, wondering if he’s going to step in to do the big cross-examination, or if his interference means he no longer thinks I’
“You’re doing great, Riley,” Mr. Holt assures me in a whisper. “But there was a sudden change in strategy and I’ve put together these questions to ask instead of the ones you prepared and we went over last week.”
Sudden change in strategy? When was there time for the managing partners to meet about this case between yesterday’s full-day trial session and this morning, and why? He put together new questions? Did he not like mine?
It makes no sense. We had painstakingly gone over my prepared questions until neither of us had any doubt that they were perfect. And now he’s handed me one sheet with questions for our witness and on the back questions for the opposing witness, and they’re completely different than those that we had planned out.
I’m not prepared; I haven’t had time to practice my direct questioning since I didn’t even have these questions until now. How could he sandbag me like this? And why?
As I quickly scan the questions, the answers become a little more clear, but not much. It appears that someone at my firm was given information about the other side’s case, and I doubt that it was done above board. There is no way we could know all of this information unless someone had discovered it unethically or had been provided the information unethically.
And the worst part is that the notes clearly indicate that our client was guilty of trading insider information. It looks to me as if someone at our firm is trying to sink our own client.
The new information completely ruins our case in the civil lawsuit and means I’m not supposed to be questioning the client on the stand. I’m not allowed to let him lie, and if I know he’s lying, I’m supposed to withdraw my representation as his lawyer.
“Go on,” says Mr. Holt, impatiently, in a hissed whisper under his breath.