“Julia, tell her.”

I died a little, right there, on the kitchen floor. My distress grew when I heard a click and looked up to see the kitchen door, once again, closed. Sheila now matched Beverly, her hands on her hips, her iron gaze drilled into mine. Beverly had a smug look on her face that I wanted to smack right off.

Chapter 4

“Julia? What’s this about?” Sheila’s voice was kinder, but firm. She probably thought I had forgotten to order copy paper again.

“Nothing.” I smiled brightly, my face beginning to hurt from all of the fakeness. “Beverly had noticed my engagement ring, and I was just sharing with her the good news. That is all.”

“Yes. Julia is engaged. Wahoo. Guess to who, Sheila?” Beverly’s voice had lost its anger and was now evil in intent, almost gleeful at my upcoming demise.

“This is what you are standing here yammering about? Yelling about!” Sheila threw up her hands in disgust. “Julia, congratulations on your engagement. But we have a business to run, and can’t stand here gossiping all day. Beverly, you should know better.” She turned, wiping her hands on her pants, and reached for the doorknob.

“Brad. De. Luca,” Beverly’s voice crowed in the small kitchen, causing Sheila to pause in her exit. She turned, eyes sharp.

“What? What about Brad De Luca?”

“He is who Julia is engaged to. Brad De Luca.” Beverly gestured to me with the motion someone might use to display a flat tire. Disappointed, irritated. What are we going to do about this damn Julia?

Sheila brought a hand to her forehead, squared her shoulders, and stood even straighter. “Beverly, please leave us. There are clients in the lobby, please attend to them. Also, let Mr. Burge know that I have Julia, so that he does not wonder where she is. And don’t ever raise your voice in this office again. I don’t care what the reason.” She spoke quietly, which scared me even more than Beverly had.

Beverly, somewhat subdued, left the kitchen, and we were alone. I backed up in nervous anticipation.

“Is this correct, what Beverly said? You are engaged to Brad De Luca?”

“Yes.”

“This is a new event?”

“Yes. As of last night.” The situation felt eerily similar to being questioned by police.

She blew out a breath and looked sharply at me, her wrinkles enhanced by her stern expression. “I may be confused, but I feel like you and I had a conversation about Brad. A conversation where I told you his reputation, and warned you not to fall victim to him. You don’t want to be like that other intern, Julia. This will ruin your reputation, both with this firm and any other.”

I bristled slightly. “I’m not sleeping with a firm partner, Sheila. I’m marrying him. I think there is a big difference.”

Her brows knitted together. “Are you pregnant?”

I physically gasped at that. “What? No!”

She scoffed. “Well, Brad De Luca is not the marrying sort. Not to anyone, much less an intern who he has known less than ... well, I don’t know how long you two have been carrying on this secret. But less than two months. If you’re not pregnant, then why? Why would he settle down?” Her steely gaze left no possibility of evasion.

I shrugged my shoulders. “We’re in love.” Even to my ears, it sounded weak and pathetic.

She actually laughed at the statement. Then she shook her head and stepped forward, clasping my hands in hers, her tone turning condescending. “Julia. That man doesn’t love anyone but himself. I don’t know what is going on, or why he would toy with you, but you do not want to marry Brad De Luca. Find a sweet, caring boy who will treat you like the prize you are, and let men like Brad grow old, alone and miserable.” She patted my hand, her palm brushing against my ring, and she recoiled at the contact. She dropped my hand and stepped back, opening the door and leaving me alone in the kitchen.

Behind me the coffee pot dinged.

Coffee. That hateful liquid that had certainly not been worth the last five minutes of hell. I looked back at the open door, my mind going through the other inhabitants of our wing, envisioning the next eight hours and the additional hell they would bring. It was even worse than I had imagined, an assault of disapproval mixed with a side of haughtiness. It soured whatever good feeling I had, and I hated them for marring my excitement.

I poured Burge a cup and carried it to his office, bringing it on a tray with cream and sugar. I knocked on the door gently, and then pushed it open. He was typing, and looked up at my approach, a smile crossing his face.

“Good morning,” I said. “How do you take your coffee?”

“Just black. Thank you.” He stood, taking the coffee from the tray and straightened his glasses. “This is your first week of the fall semester, is that correct?”

“Yes, sir. Classes start this Wednesday, so I’ll only work on Tuesdays and Thursdays after today.”

“What are your plans after graduation?” He sat, gesturing to an empty seat.

“Law school, sir.” I sat, clasping my damp hands in front of me, covering my ring with the palm of my other hand.

“Will you go to law school here?”

“Yes. Assuming I am admitted,” I said with a smile. It was a decision that Brad and I hadn’t discussed. But my plan, all along, had been to stay here. To maintain the roots I had put down and keep my alma mater.

“Right. One of the things on Broward’s desks was a form to complete for your professor. It asks about your conduct and work product, and asks for a recommendation letter.” He moved the form underneath the desk lamp and squinted at it.

“Yes. That will be crucial to my law school application.” My leg shook nervously, and I stilled it, pushing down on the floor with my toe.

“The problem is, I haven’t been here. I’ll have Sheila complete it and type up something for me to sign.” He moved the paper dismissively and was on the verge of saying something else when I shot to my feet.

“Sir. I would really prefer Sheila not complete the form for me.” My conduct?

He frowned at me over the desk. “Why not?”

Yes, Julia. Why not? “Sheila and I recently had a ... disagreement. I worry that she won’t be impartial.”

His frown remained, etched into his face with the staying power of stone. “I doubt that. Sheila seems very capable, and not one to hold grudges.” His blue eyes hardened behind his glasses. “But, I will let you know that I have very little patience for office drama.”

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