Brad set his suitcase on the floor by the end table and went to the fireplace he’d used exactly twice. He flipped the switch on the wall, stared unseeing as the flames curled around glass logs. No comfort, no warmth…no peace.
Absently, he checked the accumulated messages on his answering machine. Two feminine voices he didn’t exactly remember hoped they’d hear from him this weekend. He searched his memory bank, pulling up pictures of purchasing a scotch and tonic for a blonde at Culvert’s Pub, leaving his card on the table before he left. The other had made it to his doorway, where her shy smiles disappeared when she backed him against the heavy door and wrapped her fingers around his dick before he’d even fished out his keys. He’d quickly realized demure had all been an act, and sent her home, suddenly remembering a deposition he needed to plan.
Brad deleted both before their messages concluded. The third message, from a young woman he dabbled with when the urge for something more than his hand became too great, he saved. The fourth voice mail, however, made his shoulders straighten. Randall Blackson wanted to see him Tuesday morning, stressing he looked forward to talking more at the dinner party for Joseph Heagle, on Saturday night. It seemed Joseph had gotten engaged on Valentine’s Day and, in a shocking revelation, decided to decrease his caseload by over half for the next year or two.
As a result, the seven partners of Blackson and Goodwell had decided it would be in the firm’s best interest to make a decision about Brad’s partnership before the end of the month. A decision they couldn’t make with Miles’s concerns on the table, though Randall was certain they amounted to nothing. “Matter of procedure, Brad. That’s all.”
Brad’s hand hovered over the play button. He should be grinning from ear to ear—he’d escaped before disaster fully struck. Yet his smile barely possessed the strength to lift one corner of his mouth. Yeah, the hollow feeling behind his ribs filled with something, but he couldn’t say it was exactly joy. He dropped a heavy hand onto the delete button, then erased the young woman’s message as well.
Unsettled by his complete lack of reaction, Brad moved to the window and stared out at the Manhattan evening sky. Grey clouds had finally yielded to their low-hanging purpose of a forecasted four inches. Fat snowflakes drifted through the multi-colored lights, already gathering on the sidewalks below. Finally, something moved inside him. Something bitterly sharp and uncomfortable that began with the realization his doorstep would be spotless in the morning, the snow shoveled away by someone else.
Brad leaned his forehead on the cold glass pane and reached into his pocket for his cell phone. Before he could realize what he was doing and stop his fingers, Cassie’s log of text messages during his stay in Colorado stared him in the face. His thumbs hovered over the keys. Then he let out a quiet oath and gave into the need to connect with her once more.
You gave me the best week of my life. I’m sorry, Cassie.
Long moments passed as he held his breath, willing her to respond. Dim light gave way to the glow of streetlamps and billboards and bright nighttime colors. Minute by minute, he began to realized she never would. He set his silent phone on a nearby table and sank into an uncomfortable chair, staring at the unproductive fire.
It was for the best, what he’d intended when he’d left without a word. He just hadn’t realized it would hurt so damned bad.
Two days later, Brad pushed away from the veritable mountain of work his desk had become and frowned at his cell phone. He still couldn’t get it through his head that he’d destroyed things with Cassie. Every time the damn thing chimed, vibrated, or beeped, he snatched it up, only to choke down disappointment when someone else’s name showed on the screen. The only word he’d heard from her was a cold, impersonal response to the email he’d been required to send, formally detailing his report of Miles’ concerns and notifying her of an immediate hearing the judge had set for tomorrow afternoon. She confirmed her schedule would allow. Nothing more, nothing less. He would have to stand beside her in the courtroom, this mountain of terribleness between them.