Page 66 of Unravel Me

Meanwhile, he was effectively dodging Randall at the office with claims of casework that couldn’t be ignored, but he hadn’t accomplished a damned thing otherwise. Every time he tried, bitterness made communicating with his client impossible. The three emails Brad had started to another client who was deadlocked in a property dispute, all included biting sarcasm about not appreciating generosity. In the last, Brad even caught himself lecturing about his client’s inability to recognize the merit of his marriage. Thankfully, he’d deleted that one along with all the rest. Not exactly the best way to convince a client he was their advocate and more ammunition for Randall, should someone else become upset.

Sighing, Brad reclined in his chair and put his feet up on the desk, phone in hand once more. If Cassie would just call so he could apologize. If she’d just return one of the uncountable text messages he’d left.

Then what? They’d pretend until the Cooper case resolved, and then he’d start some long distance affair while he eased into the role of firm partner? That was laughable.

A rap on his door brought him upright in his chair, his feet thumping to the floor. “It’s open.”

Joseph Heagle ducked his head inside. “You got a minute, Brad?”

“Sure.” Brad gestured at a chair. The ever-present tightness in his chest eased a little with his friend’s inviting smile. “Pull up a seat. Hate the fact you’re pulling back, man. Are you…transitioning out?” Everyone wanted to know and gossip pegged Joseph on the fast-track to retirement. If he’d been anyone but Brad’s earliest mentor and a close friend, Brad wouldn’t have been so nosy. “I wish you’d told me yourself.”

The middle aged man grinned as he sank into the overstuffed chair. “Tried. Check your phone log. Called you right after I popped the question.” His grin broadened. “Mandy wanted to hear your reaction.”

Despite the last few days, Brad found himself chuckling. Mandy was a hoot. Joseph had met her last year, and the petite redheaded firecracker hadn’t wasted a minute on pulling Joseph into line. He’d gone from notorious skirt-chaser with too much money to spend, to a regular charitable donor who went camping on the weekends and ran three miles each morning. All with Mandy at his side. Mandy, who was convinced Brad was beyond the ability to reform.

Because Mandy didn’t understand there just weren’t too many women who could satisfy his needs.

“Hey.” Joseph’s humor faded as he gave Brad a concerned frown. “You doing okay? I know Randall contacted you. If you’ve decided partner isn’t in your plan, there’s no harm, Brad. No one’s going to think less of you if you want to stay at senior associate. Everyone loves your work.”

Brad expelled a hard breath. “I’m fine.”

“So why the closed door the last two days? That’s more what I expect out of Angela Hart, not you.”

Brad set an elbow on his desk and ran his hand over his stubbly chin. They’d talked about a lot of things in the last ten years, even the delicate balance of personal and professional responsibilities. But he phrased his question carefully, not wanting to step on a hot spot, or worse, arouse questions that might influence Joseph’s current happiness. “Don’t you find it a little odd to want to build a life with someone, when we specialize in tearing lives apart?”

Joseph leaned back in the chair and crossed an ankle over his knee. “What’s eating at you, son?”

Suddenly, Brad felt juvenile and stupid. He pushed himself out of his chair, tucked his hands in his pockets, and moved to the window. “It’s nothing. Just something I have to work through.”

“Something of the female kind?”

His gaze riveted on the tall peak of a neighboring high rise, Brad confirmed with a short, crisp nod.

“Chew on this, Brad.” Joseph rose and joined him at the window, mirroring his unfocused stare. “There’s work, and there’s life. Life depends on work, but work won’t pull you back when you’re a foot away from the grave. It would rather have you bleed.”

“How’d you know?” The question came so quietly, it took a minute for Brad to realize he’d actually freed the words. When he did, he grimaced, certain the ridiculous quandary would earn him Joseph’s hearty laughter. What thirty-five year old man asked another something so foolish?