Jensen:: A Military Bad Boy Romance (The Bradford Brothers Book 1), page 5
The normally comfortable conference room chair feels like a block of cold, unwelcoming ice under me. Mr. Holt clears his throat, breaking the awkward silence.
“Ms. Morrell, I believe you and I both know why we’re here.”
I nod, too upset to say anything. I still can’t believe my dismal performance during trial has cost me the Marks case and apparently my job.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” he continues. “I think it would be wise of you to take a leave of absence, to figure out if you have what it takes to work at this firm. And for the firm to figure out if you’re the type of lawyer we want to continue to employ.”
Leave of absence. My heart speeds up upon hearing that phrase. That means a break. Not a permanent firing. Perhaps I still have a chance. I’m not sure whether this is a victory or a defeat. I guess it’s something in the middle.
But yet. Even being told to take a mandatory leave of absence is embarrassing. What will my parents think? I try desperately, stupidly, to save my once- lofty position at the firm.
“Mr. Holt, I’ve always received exemplary evaluations,” I begin, half knowing it’s foolish to think I can persuade him— that his mind isn’t already made up— but half not caring in my desperation. “My billable hours are off the charts, and I’ve been handling all my own cases for some time now.”
I stop, realizing I’ve opened the door to the perfect opportunity for him to point out that he entrusted me with a top client only for me to blow everything. But luckily he doesn’t say that. He says something arguably worse than that.
“Your evaluations also repeatedly say that you have trouble… shall we say… fitting in with the firm. That this may not be the right… culture… for you. And that your connections and outside activities leave something to be desired in terms of the firm’s interests and goals.”
“But I met with the director of the Veterans’ Legal Alliance, to volunteer to represent their clients and bolster my ties with the military community,” I protest.
“Riley,” he says, with a frown, dropping all pretense of formality. “That’s nice that you went and spoke with the guy. But nothing ever came of it. And sometimes there are situations where the term ‘too little, too late’ applies.”
I resist the urge to hang my head. I don’t know why I even bothered trying to dissuade him.
“And anyway,” he says, waving a hand at the expansive window view of the Sandia mountains as if none of this is very important to him. I remember when I was a clerk during law school, how big and important I felt to be working at such a fancy firm. And now I just feel like a loser who couldn’t cut it. “The networking and community involvement stuff is neither here nor there. Sure, we like well- rounded associates and we do like to preserve our military and government work by flaunting our associates’ involvement in those matters. But you would have been saved by the fact that you’re a stupendous lawyer, the crème of the crop. However, there are certain values we need Holt associates to possess, that I’m just doubting whether or not you have, after the Marks trial.”
“Values?” I try not to sound too sarcastic. But I can’t help thinking that he means the opposite of values.
“Such as zealous and overly loyal reputation of our clients. And a desire to win…”
…No matter what the cost, I finish the sentence for him in my mind, as his words trail off. I realize the irony— that my fiancé’s father is sounding a lot like my father. I know for sure that my parents would want me to do whatever necessary to “win” and to keep advancing up the law firm’s corporate ladder. They’re not going to believe I was let go for being too “ethical.” They wouldn’t even know or care what they meant. And maybe if my leave of absence is a short one, they won’t have to find out.
“I do understand, Mr. Holt,” I tell him, standing up and extending my hand for a parting handshake. I have to realize that the war is over— I’ve lost, or at least I’ve lost for now— and all I can do is salvage what little dignity I have left, and hope that after a leave of absence I’ll be welcomed back without too much damage to repair. “And I can assure you that I do have what it takes to remain employed here and to hopefully become partner as I was slated to do.”
“We’ll see,” he says with a shrug, halfheartedly returning my handshake. I’ve obviously been dismissed. I just have no idea for how long.
The walk to Brian’s office feels like the longest of my life. I have no idea how he’ll react to the news. Unlike my own parents, he’s never had to fear his, so I have no reason to think he’ll be disappointed in me just because his father is.
But then again, there are certain obvious things he has to do to keep his father happy. Work at the firm, although not very hard. Date a respectful girl, and until recently his father has been perfectly happy with it being me, but I’m not sure that that won’t change. And don’t get too drunk in front of clients or colleagues. Wait until he’s out with his old fraternity brothers for that.
He’s in his office, which is rare at 4 pm– happy hour at the bar downstairs started an hour ago— and it looks like he’s actually working on a case again for once. His back is to me and he’s staring at a computer screen full of emails with Kristin Taggert, an associate at our rival firm of Coleman and Williams, and one of my opposing counsel in the Marks Capital case.
My mouth drops open. What I want to say is “You really are working on the Marks Capital case now, aren’t you?” but the answer to my question is obvious. It’s puzzling, because Brian is not the caliber of associate that Mr. Holt would normally put on such a big, important case. But maybe with me off the case, he’s giving Brian a shot.
I have a hunch that Brian wouldn’t appreciate being startled with such a brazen, obvious question. So instead, I just say “Hey there,” and lightly rap on the window part of his already-open door, which admittedly I should have done when I first approached, except that he’s my fiancé, and I’m upset at just being placed on a leave of absence. And I’m upset that he’s been ignoring me, apparently opting instead to steal my big case.
He jumps, and then quickly hits “X” on his browser. He swivels around in his computer chair to face me.
“Brian. I… I just came from a meeting with your dad. I’ve been…”
“Canned. I know.”
He half frowns, but doesn’t seem to think it’s nearly as big of a deal as I do.
“Oh Brian,” I shut his office door and begin to cry. I can’t help myself, and I figure if there’s one place I can feel safe to be vulnerable, it’s with my fiancé, even if it is in his office at the firm his dad owns, from where I’ve just been “canned,” apparently.
“He didn’t say it like that. He said ‘leave of absence.’ Do you really think it’s permanent?”
He shrugs, his facial features softening a bit. He always hates it when I cry, which is rare, but it does happen.
“It’s all because of the Marks case. I know you and I have been… distant… lately, but I was trying to talk to you about it last night, and…” and you weren’t listening, I want to say. You were staring off into space as usual, and barely acknowledging my existence. “…anyway, I don’t know what happened but your dad is somehow caught up in something… bigger than him.”
I choose my words carefully, not wanting to accuse his dad of what I know to be true: ethical misconduct.
“Somehow someone gave him information that we really shouldn’t have had,” I continue, “and I just couldn’t… you should know, if you’re going to be on the case now…”
I decide to warn him, because I don’t want him to be met with the same fate I’ve been dealt, although I doubt that’s possible, as the son of the firm’s founding partner. “Something is really off about that case. I wouldn’t trust Kristin Taggert. Something is not right and it’s going to end up biting everyone in the ass.”
I really should tell the client, I think. He has the right to know. But that would def
“Riley, I don’t know what’s been up with you lately, or what happened in the Marks Capital case,” Brian begins, and I can’t resist interrupting him.
“What’s been up with me lately? You’ve been completely checked out for a long time now, despite my attempts to find out what’s wrong…”
“It’s clear to see that we’ve just drifted apart,” Brian continues with another nonchalant shrug, the coldness back in his voice. “I think we could use some time apart.”
Some time apart? He’s putting me on a leave of absence from our relationship right after I’ve been put on a leave of absence from the firm? What a cold- hearted asshole!
But I can’t seem to do anything but sob. I start wiping at my eyes, trying to calm down because obviously Brian isn’t here to comfort me but instead only plans to add on to my misery.
He gets out of his chair and walks around to my side of the desk. I begin to think it’s to give me a hug but instead he puts his arm around me and walks me to the door of his office.
“There, there. It’ll be okay. You’re always a fighter. You always come up on top.”
He opens the door, ready to deposit me and our relationship on the street just like his father had done with my job.
“When will we talk again?” I ask, like an idiot.
“Let’s just give it a cooling off period and see what happens,” he says, with a smile, as if he’s being kind to me.
I turn around and walk out to the elevators— shoulders back, head up, as cool and collected as I can possibly act— before anyone at the firm can see me in this sorry state. I’ll come back later to collect my things. Mr. Holt hadn’t told me what to do with them but I’m assuming they’re not going to let my office sit occupied by my things while I’m not here.
As I leave the building, my shock soon turns to anger. Just like that, I’m single and unemployed. But I’m determined to save both my relationship and my career, and Brian’s right that I always come out on top. I always get what I want.
I hear the wise version of myself whisper: It’s just that for the first time in a long time, the only reason I want it so badly is because I’ve been deprived of it. Shut up, I tell that voice. I do want this and I will get it back. You just watch.
Do it. Just do it.
I’m at home, and I figure what do I have to lose? I’m in need of a salary, and I know that this position could help my chances of getting back to the firm. I’m just not that excited about representing criminals.
But what if it’s that Jensen dude?
A chill runs down my spine. I still can’t figure out why I hate him yet feel strangely attracted to him. And I need to keep thoughts of him out of this. I have to worry seriously about saving my career, not have wistful, conflicting thoughts about some loser criminal with tattoos and a beard that’s way too long. He’s not even my type, at all, in any way, shape or form.
“Tim McDonald,” says Tim’s voice after I’m put on hold for a few minutes.
“Hello Mr. McDonald.” I clear my throat, hoping I didn’t just croak out his name. “This is Riley Morrell.”
“Oh yes, Riley!” His tone sounds instantly more cheerful. “I was beginning to think I’d never hear from you again. I know the prison setting can be scary, but that’s really how you had to be thrown into the organization…”
“I understand, Mr. McDonald.”
“Call me Tim. Please.”
“All right. Tim. I was thinking about what you said before about there possibly being a paid position available?”
“Oh.” There’s silence, and I feel rejected for the third time today. “Well this is a bit of a surprise. I meant maybe later, down the road, if you decided you preferred working for us over… your current firm…”
“How about a trial run?” I ask him. I force myself to choke the words out, knowing I’m being a bit deceptive, but feeling that I’m faced with no other choice. “A temporary, even part-time if necessary, job? If I like it, I’ll stay there. If not, there’s always Holt.”
“Well. I’ll certainly see what I can do.” There’s a long pause, and I can tell he’s seriously considering it. It feels good to be wanted again, even if it is by a non-profit organization. “We have a shoestring budget and I didn’t anticipate such an addition to the payroll… and we certainly couldn’t pay you anything close to what I’m sure you’re used to…”
I don’t even want to know how low the salary will be. I just want to know I have something in place… some kind of job lined up. Something to do with all my seemingly endless free time that’s suddenly been bestowed upon me.
I hate uncertainty more than anything else. I would feel like such a loser without any kind of job at all, and I feel I must do everything I can to continue forward momentum, until I’m back at Holt where I belong. Don’t I?
“Budget issues aside— and those are only for me to worry about— your call really couldn’t have come at a better time,” Tim continues, slightly changing the subject. “We have a former military client who wants to change lawyers. He’s a rather… difficult… client but I’m sure you can handle him. In fact, if you can’t, I don’t know who could. But he has a pre- trial conference tomorrow morning. If I can clear some room in our budget, can you be at court at nine o’clock tomorrow morning?”
“Ummm…” I stammer in disbelief.
I’m not used to cases moving so quickly. And I didn’t know I’d be thrown into court— a criminal court with which I’m completely unfamiliar—so soon.
But then again, there’s something exciting about a sink or swim challenge. Hadn’t I always begged for more court opportunities at Holt? I’m sure the partners will be glad to hear that during my break from their employment I’ve gotten in a lot of trial time and courtroom experience.
“Sure,” I tell him, throwing caution to the wind. “I can be there tomorrow at nine.”
And this ex military guy better not be as hot as that Jensen guy, I can’t help but add, to myself, as I hang up. The last thing I need right now is a distraction.
When I walk into court for my pre-trial conference, Dylan isn’t there. I’m not expecting him to be, since I fired him. But I’m still taken a bit off guard, feeling out of sorts. If Dylan’s no longer my lawyer, then who is?
“You’re in luck,” says Tim, as he strolls into the courtroom, looking peppier than I’ve ever seen him. “I told you there was no attorney in our organization that rivals Dylan, but now he’s got some competition. A very talented lawyer has just joined us… temporarily, at least.”
And just like that, Riley Morrell enters the courtroom, looking as wide-eyed and out of place as a baby doe. She’s all dressed up as if she’s about to argue my case to the United States Supreme Court. So prim and proper and stuffy. But there’s a small amount of cleavage protruding from her silk blouse under her black blazer. Just enough to make me think she has a wild side, or maybe she will after I find it and bring it out…
Back to reality, I chide myself. This is my lawyer we’re talking about here, not some girl at a party. And I don’t want her to be my lawyer.
“Her? You’ve gotta be kidding me. You’ve assigned me some temporary lawyer?”
She can’t even take this gig seriously enough to commit to it?
“Jensen, calm down,” Tim says, patting my arm as he says a phrase I’ve heard way too much in my lifetime. But it’s easier said than done, to calm down about my case and my defense.
“I heard you say she doesn’t even have criminal law experience.” I glare at him accusingly.
“But she is one of the best young civil lawyers there is, and that’s what matters,” Tim says. “She’ll learn her way around the criminal court, don’t worry.”
“Yeah, I’m the lucky first client who gets to be her guinea pig…” I mutter, as Riley approaches.
Her uniquely colored eyes flash shock— or is s
“Everything will turn out as it should, Jensen,” says Tim, as he stands up to leave. He hands Riley a file that has my name typed up on a label. “We here at Veterans Legal Alliance are very happy to have Riley on board. And I repeat my assertion that you are very lucky to have her on your case. I’ll let you two discuss that in further detail now, since you don’t have much time before the judge calls your case.”
“Hello again,” says Riley, as she sits down in the spot that Tim just vacated. “Jensen, right?”
“Right.” I nod at the file in her hand.
“Oh yes, of course,” she says, and blushing, begins opening the file. I realize that she had remembered my name without being reminded by the file.
Hmmm. Maybe this attorney/ client relationship will work out better than I thought.
“Now let me see here… I just got your file right now. I mean, obviously. Now let me see…”
She begins grabbing at various papers in the file, obviously flustered. It appears I have quite an effect on this otherwise put- together lawyer.
“…your other lawyer, Dylan, was in the process of securing an expert to testify as to your PTSD,” she notes.
“Forget about that,” I snap at her, fuming mad now and not even caring whether or not she’s as attracted to me as I am to her. I just want to get my point across. Leave it to Dylan to paper my file with the defense I didn’t want him to pursue.
“That’s why he’s not my lawyer anymore. I don’t want to pursue the PTSD defense. I don’t have PTSD.”