I sighed, his logic solid. “Okay, so scratch my transfer to your office. You’re saying if Broward’s replacement decides I’m gone, then poof, I’m fired?”

“Look at it from his standpoint. A new attorney, coming into a strange office, trying to retain his current clients, plus take on Broward’s, learning the staff—he is not going to want to train a new employee or bother getting to know you if you are leaving in a semester. I wouldn’t. You would be the first person on my cut list.” His face serious, he looked down at me, his brown eyes clear and straightforward.

“But...you’re a partner—the biggest one! Can’t you keep me there?”

“You mean, since you’re sleeping with me?” His voice had a hard edge to it, and I recoiled, glaring at him.

“Fuck you, Brad. This opportunity could pave my way to law school acceptance, not to mention a possible job after graduation. You understand my predicament—I’m asking you to help! I’ve never asked you for anything!” I fought to keep my voice from rising, but wanted to throw my damn fruity wine in his face.

He met my furious eyes and smiled, disarming me in an instant. The damn man had the most annoying habit of making me want to laugh when I should be choking him. “Julia, anything I do to help you will only shine light on us. As far as they are aware, I don’t even know who you are. I can’t start campaigning for you without drawing undue attention on us. You are the one so bent on keeping us a secret. I have been, and will continue, going to bat for all of Broward’s staff, including you. But I can’t make any promises. I just want you to understand that it is important to make a good impression.”

I blew out a frustrated breath and kicked off my flip-flops, watching them bounce of the bumper and land on the grass. “Okay. I’ll try to make a good impression.”

He leaned over and kissed my neck, his delicious scent making me weak. I reluctantly turned my head and we kissed, his hand coming to my chin and his mouth owning mine. I scooted a little closer and our tongues clashed in perfect contrast, his strength meeting my own fiery spirit. He moved his hand lower, played with my breast through my thin T-shirt and then slipped a hand inside the neckline, teasing my nipple with his strong fingers. There was a soft cough and we parted, my face flushed. Oh my God.

The redhead was back, this time with a teenage boy who locked his eyes on my chest and caused me to look down, seeing my neckline askew and slight cle**age showing. I hurriedly fixed my shirt and Brad cleared his throat.

“You need something?” he asked the teen, his inflection causing the boy to snap to attention and deposit three foam containers onto our hood, looking everywhere but at me. I felt the urge to laugh, and instead focused on the waitress, who placed two ice-cold bottled waters in front of us. She pulled a wine bottle from under her arm and asked if I wanted more. I held out my cup and she gave me a generous refill. Then they both made a hasty retreat.

Brad smiled and I laughed, and we dug into the containers, opening all three and sharing the contents. The food was delicious, authentic Italian, and I ate quickly, moaning every once in a while at the taste.

After ten minutes, I leaned back, stretching my stomach out, Brad still eating beside me. I hadn’t even considered the fact that Broward’s death would affect my employment status. And what if his replacement was a jerk? Or didn’t want me? I didn’t know which would be worse. Somewhere else in the lot, a car radio started, and strands of an Alabama song drifted over to us.

Brad finally leaned back also, and I leaned against him, my head on his shoulder.

“So, tell me about this new guy,” I said grudgingly.

“His name is Scott Burge. He has the same area of focus as Broward, and should bring some big clients over to CDB. He seems very intelligent, if a little boring.”

“So, basically a clone of Broward.” A clone who, hopefully, had better judgment when it came to choosing extracurricular clients.

“Maybe. You never really know what someone is like until you work with them. As I said, he’ll be introduced tomorrow, though he won’t take full office hours till next week.”

“So I’ll meet him tomorrow.”

“Yes. I’d dress to impress.”

“Is he a horn dog?”

He snorted. “Not that he mentioned in our meetings, but no, he doesn’t seem the type. Boring, yes. Sexual, no.”

Burrowing into his warmth, I didn’t feel like talking, and he seemed content, planting a soft kiss on my head. We sat there, quiet and looking at the city lights and listening to muted country music, till the candle flickered and died and the bugs came and found us.

Twenty-Nine

I stood nervously in the conference room, dressed in a black sleeveless turtleneck, tweed pencil skirt and black peep-toe heels. I had spent an extra fifteen minutes that morning making sure that my hair and makeup looked professionally perfect. The entire West Wing staff, which I still thought of as “Broward’s staff,” was assembled in the room, ready for an 11:00 a.m. meeting. There was expectant silence in the room as the wall clock clicked to 10:59 a.m.

The conference room door opened. A man in a gray suit strode up to the podium. He was traditionally handsome, the blond-haired, blue-eyed variety that fills every department store flyer in the Sunday paper. He wore glasses, which he adjusted before looking out at the room.

“Good morning. My name is Scott Burge. I would first like to extend my deepest sympathies to you for the loss of Kent Broward. I was personally acquainted with Kent, and had nothing but the utmost respect for him. I know that he has left big shoes to fill.”

I studied him carefully, trying to decide what I thought of him. His clothes hung well on his frame, and his face had just enough strength to be attractive, almost abnormally so.

He paused, clearing his throat and straightening his tie, a gesture I recognized as a nervous one. “That being said, I have come to a partnership agreement with Attorneys Clarke and De Luca, so I will be a permanent fixture in this firm, and the firm name will now be Clarke, De Luca & Burge. I will only be in the office for a few hours today, but will start full-time next week. I would appreciate all of your patience and assistance in familiarizing me with the current caseload and statuses of all ongoing litigation.” He nodded once and then closed his notebook, apparently done. There was a scattering of applause, no one knowing whether or not to clap, and Burge left the room.

Chatter started all around me and I moved, heading to the restroom and then to my office, passing Broward’s old office on my way. I paused, unsure, and then knocked lightly on the open door, waiting for Burge to look up. He did, and beckoned me in.

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