Harlow: A Military Bad Boy Romance: The Bradford Brothers, page 24
I can’t tell her the rest. It’s just too embarrassing. I never talk to anyone about my family or my past, and I’m certainly not going to spill my guts to this hot girl I want to date. I mean fuck. I just want to fuck her, I remind myself.
“Yes. I had to get him off of her. It was the right thing to do.”
“Definitely. And it helps your case. I don’t know why you didn’t mention this earlier, Jensen.”
Because there’s more to the story and I’d rather go to jail than air my family’s soiled laundry to the world… and especially to you, I think. But I just shrug and say, “A man’s gotta keep a little mystery about him, or else how does he get a pretty lawyer lady to kiss him?”
I put my hand on her inner thigh and squeeze tightly. She doesn’t shake me off. And when I lean in to kiss her, she meets me halfway. I chew on those delicious lips of hers, gently sucking on them. And then I grab her ass with my other hand while I plunge my tongue deep inside her inviting mouth.
I’m so fucking lucky. I never knew my ridiculous criminal charge would bring me face to face— and tongue to tongue— with the most beautiful, smart, and successful woman I’d ever met.
When Jensen kisses me, it’s like I’m swimming in pleasure. I’m just letting myself float, with my head laying back looking straight up at the shining sun with no thoughts except for summertime lemonade and suntan lotion…
And then he grabs my ass. And I jump. Not because I don’t like it. But because I like it a little too much. I want his hands there, and all over me, right here, right now, and I can’t do that.
I gently push him off me and compose myself. I look around the bar and see that a couple people had been looking at us but more out of curiosity than disgust.
Why did I bring him to a local lawyer hang- out? It’s bad enough that I’m aiding and abetting him in breaking one of his conditions of release. As soon as he’s mentioned grabbing a drink I had thought “we can’t— you’re not allowed in establishments that serve liquor,” but for once in my life I told my “moral self” to shut up. I’m not the one with conditions of release; I’m just hanging out with someone who happens to be breaking them, as apparently he breaks a lot of rules.
And I like that about him. It makes me feel more rebellious just to be near him. And by bringing him here, of all places, it’s as if I wanted to flaunt my new rebellion to the entire world. No one in here looks like him, dresses like him, talks like him, acts like him.
No one else in here would grab my ass and stick his tongue down my throat so skillfully. As if I was already his. As if it didn’t matter that he’s an outlaw ex military type and I’m an up and coming successful lawyer type— or at least I was. What am I now? I don’t even know. Who do I want to be?
I have to admit I’m much happier representing Jensen— and hanging out with Jensen— than I ever was while I was working at Holt and engaged to Brian. I think this is one of those times in life when it becomes clear that I was never doing what I really wanted to do, without ever realizing it.
I take a sip of my drink and then mentally chide myself. I’ve let the alcohol flow too freely, and I’ve probably said too much to Jensen about my recent past. I’ve definitely done too much with Jensen. But then again, he’s opened up to me too, and now I have some good information that’s helpful to his defense.
His hand begins wandering back down to my leg and I shake it off nervously. I need some cooling off time before I do something that I will really regret— in public, no less.
“Excuse me, I have to go to the restroom,” I tell him, trying my best to stand up straight and proper without looking tipsy.
“Hurry back,” he says, with one of his trademark handsome winks.
I blush as I head to the bathroom. I don’t really have to pee, so I take a small brush from my purse and try to calm my disheveled hair. All I can think about is how Jensen pulled on it, and combed his fingers through it. I want him to do that to me in bed. I want him to run his hands all over my body.
Stop it, I tell myself, as shivers run down my spine. I run a fresh coat of lip gloss over my lips and stare at my abnormally rouge complexion.
This isn’t like me at all. I don’t look like me. I don’t feel like me.
But then, I have to admit: I look better. I feel better. I like the new me. The me- with- Jensen.
I wash my hands with cold water simply because they feel hot. Hot from Jensen’s touch. Hot from desire and attraction and excitement. All things that I’ve never really experienced with a guy before.
I finally leave the bathroom, determined to stop any and all hanky- panky with Jensen for the moment. At least until we leave this bar. No, at least until his case is over and he’s no longer a client.
At that time, I just might give in and let him take me. I want to live on the wild side for just a little bit, and it seems he’s been doing that his whole life. I want to try it out with him.
And then as I walk resolutely yet a bit dizzily back to my table, I see something incredible and stop in my tracks.
It’s Brian. And Kristen Taggert, that tart from Coleman and Williams, the opposing law firm in the Marks Capital case. They’re standing at the bar and he’s ordering drinks. What are they doing here?
This is the local lawyer hangout, I tell myself, to try to calm myself down. Maybe they just got done with trial and they’re trying to patch up any wounds, or they’re discussing settlement.
But then I notice that his arm’s around her waist, right before he moves it to retrieve the drinks the bar tender is handing him. He hands one to her and then they kiss, deeply and passionately, in a way that Brian had never, ever kissed me during our entire relationship.
And I make another bad decision to top off the series of bad decisions I’ve been making lately.
“Brian!” I screech, and then cover my hand with my mouth, not even recognizing the shrill sound that came out as my own voice.
The old me would have run away and hid. But the new me is two strong martinis in and realizes that all hope of decency is gone. I just want him to know that I know. I’m not the dummy he thinks I am.
“Riley,” he says, letting go of his death hold on Kristin and trying to act nonchalant. “What are you doing here?”
Because of course I no longer have a right to be here. I’m ostracized from normal lawyer society ever since your dad canned me.
“What are you doing here?” I demand.
“How are you, Riley?” He asks, looking at me strangely, as if he doesn’t really recognize me, or as if he’s afraid of me. “Kristin and I were just…”
“Kissing,” I finish for him, and his face registers a look of surprise.
Rarely have I called him out on anything. But that was the old Riley. The pre- firing and pre- dumping Riley. The pre- Jensen Riley.
“Kissing?” he asks, putting on his best court/ poker face and trying to look dumb. “Riley, I’m not sure what you thought you saw, but…”
“I know exactly what I saw, and don’t think I’m going to just forget about it easily, and go away and leave you alone like you want me to. Suddenly things make a lot more sense now,” I hiss, at both Brian and Kristin, who is looking at me with a mortified expression on her face.
“Riley, honey,” Brian says, approaching me and putting his arms up as if he wants to comfort me. But I put my own hand up to block him.
“Don’t honey me,” I say, nearly yelling now. “I know what type of person you are now. You’re the type of person who cheats on your fiancé with opposing counsel, and then trades confidential information with her and tries to set up your fiancé to take the fall, and has your dad fire her before you dump her and waltz off into the sunset with the enemy.”
I see it all too clearly now: his plan that is a little too brilliant for Brian to have come up with himself. I’m sure that Kristin had a part in masterminding it. He had undoubtedly given his dad information he’s procu
Either way I’d get all the blame and none of the credit. And I’d be out of his hair, so that he would be free to live his lifetime of bliss with Kristin. She’d probably done the same thing at her firm. And whoever won would convince their firm to hire the other as the more worthy adversary— and then they could work together, because Brian couldn’t last two minutes without riding someone else’s coattails at work.
“Riley, calm down, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’d be awfully careful swinging accusations around…”
“I should be careful?” Now I explode, and I don’t even care who’s watching. “You’re the one who can face disciplinary board charges! You’re the one who would have had to trade information about our case and our client too in order to get such goodies from the other side, and how do you think it’s going to look when our client finds out just how loyal of an attorney you really are?”
I’m up in his face now, practically spitting on him, and he lunges towards me.
“You wouldn’t dare!”
I don’t back down, and I think this surprises Brian. He realizes how serious I am, and how I’m not going to just roll over and play nice like I always used to. He grabs me by my arms and shoves me down into the stool in front of the bar.
This scares me. He’s never done anything like this to me before. He has my full attention now.
“You listen here, Riley. You think you’re important, that you have some influence, but you don’t. Not anymore. You know who the big players are, and you’re not one of them.”
He’s squeezing my arms, and it hurts. I try hard not to cry but I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
“You don’t matter. You were just a lowly associate and now you’re nothing. You’re finished at Holt. Even if my dad wanted to take you back, I’ll tell him not do it. And if you run your mouth about this you’ll be blackballed from every firm in town and you know it.”
“Just let me go.”
I try to stand up and walk away from him but he pushes me back down onto the chair. He’s raising a fist at me and I wouldn’t put it past him to hit me. I never thought he’d do something like that, but then again I never thought he’d do anything like this.
“Brian!” I cry out, feeling trapped and humiliated. But then I hear a loud popping sound, and the next thing I know he falls over onto the floor.
I gasp, along with everyone else, as I realize who hit him.
“Jensen! Thank you.”
But I don’t think it’s victory or acknowledgement staring back at me through Jensen’s attractive brown eyes. More like disappointment, or pity.
“Let’s get out of here,” he says, throwing money onto our table as we rush out of the bar.
There goes that little douchebag, falling down to the floor of the bar like the piece of crap that he is. I can’t believe I fell for a girl who’s still hung up on this loser.
When I first noticed them fighting, I couldn’t believe it. Why would beautiful, successful Riley be with this obvious daddy’s boy? But then I heard her say that they’re engaged and that she still wanted to go back to the firm and I gave up trying to understand her. It didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy punching him though.
It’s dark by the time we get outside, and chilly, too.
“Thank you so much for doing that,” Riley starts to say, and tries to take my hand, but I don’t let her.
“There’s no time to talk. Hurry up.”
We walk back to her office, which isn’t far away. I want to tell her to have a nice life. But I look at her, shaking and crying, and realize that even though I’ve become completely disillusioned by her, I can’t just leave her to walk to her office and drive home in her state.
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride home. And you’ll need this. It’s freezing and it looks like it’s going to rain.”
I hand her my leather jacket and helmet and urge her mentally to hurry up. The last thing I need right now is another arrest.
She jumps on behind me and I turn around to ask, “What’s your address?”
She yells it into my ear and I take her to her house in the Northeast Heights, a swanky part of town.
Stepping off the bike, I ask her, “Are you going to be okay getting your car tomorrow?”
She shivers. “Yeah, I have a neighbor who also works downtown and sometimes we car pool. But… do you want to come in?”
She looks at me shyly, as if it was difficult to ask a guy into her house. She obviously doesn’t understand that we’re no longer on the same page.
“Look Riley, you’re a sweet girl and all, and I’m glad you’re helping me on my case. But this will just never work. We’re just too… different.”
“Too different?” She explodes.
“Woah. There’s no need to use the same tone of voice with me that you were just using with your douchebag fiancé.”
I shrug, looking at her earnest face. I wish she weren’t so good looking because it makes all of this that much harder. But no matter what her status is with that jerk, she’s the one who clearly wants to be with him, and back at that sleazy firm.
“What the hell, Jensen? You just now realize we’re two different people? Just because I don’t go around solving all my problems with bar fights, like you do?”
Ouch. That was a low blow.
“You looked like you needed some help,” I say, returning the jab. “Excuse me for stepping in.”
She glares at me.
“And for the record,” I continue, “the assault I was charged with wasn’t a bar fight. I told you, I was defending someone.”
She still looks defensive, but curious now, too. I figure what the hell. I don’t even care what she thinks about me anymore.
“Just like I was defending you right now. Except that time was worse. It was… my mother.”
“I went to check in on her and she had her boyfriend over—” one of her boyfriends, I want to add, but I don’t— “and he was drunk and belligerent. He just had her up against the counter, pounding into her face with his fists. Obviously I had to step in. Just like with you. I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. That’s not my way. So I got him off of her.”
There’s only understanding in her voice, not the judgment I feared.
“Sure, maybe I used a little more force than… an average person would use but I’m not an average person. And she’s my mom.”
“I get it, Jensen. I just don’t know why you didn’t tell me sooner.”
“Because my family has already had enough negative talk thrown around about us. I didn’t want to air their dirty laundry in court. Especially not for my dad’s sake.”
Because it’s embarrassing to have a mom who left your dad when you were young, and who has had a rotating door of much worse partner choices ever since, I want to add. And because I cared what you thought about me and didn’t want to have to tell you my deepest, darkest secrets. But none of that matters anymore because I’m no longer interested.
She doesn’t say anything, so I decide to give the death blow to whatever budding “relationship” we might have had going.
“It’s not like you told me everything either,” I accuse her.
“What? I told you why I’m working for Veterans’ Legal Alliance. And why I’m not at the firm anymore right now.”
“Yeah but you conveniently left out the part where you were engaged to the son of the boss who wanted you to do the wrong thing.”
“Well I didn’t need to tell you that!” she huffs, crossing her arms ov
“…in a relationship,” I finish for her. “I know. Fine. That’s good.”
“Yes it is!” she says, having to shout now over the rain that’s beginning to pour down. Or maybe because she’s that angry. She takes off my coat and hands it to me, along with my helmet.
“Goodbye, Jensen. I’ll see you at your hearing in a week. Thank you for the additional information as it’s very helpful to me in preparing your defense.”
Pfffft. She’s trying to act so professional and untouched, and I can do the same. I doubt I’ll even be seeing her in a week.
I think another call to Tim is in order. Or maybe to a private attorney. I’ve had nothing but bad luck with these Veterans’ Legal Alliance lawyers. And I don’t think I can bear to see Riley again.
Sometimes life takes a strange turn of events. And then it just keeps going down a winding path of stranger and stranger turns. Today is my fourth year anniversary of being a lawyer. I remember how proud I was when I was sworn into the State Bar, with my parents at my side and Jack Holt moving for my recommendation into the Bar.
Now I know why Jensen Bradford came into my life. It wasn’t to sweep me off my feet and make me fall madly in love with him, as I’d initially thought. It wasn’t even to help save his career, which is what we’d both initially thought. It was for him to help save my career, which had been barreling down the wrong track without my even knowing it.
I think about the oath I took when I was sworn into the State Bar. And how that means nothing to Brian, or to his dad, or apparently to anyone at Holt. Jensen’s right. Why would I have even wanted to work there? Why did I want to be with Brian?
I’m at my old office at the Holt firm, hurrying to do what I need to do before anyone gets suspicious. They think I’m here to retrieve some personal documents from my office computer— which they’ve already wiped clean of firm documents— and to talk to Jack Holt. That’s only half of what I’m here to do.