Sure enough, she stood on her toes, using Joseph’s shoulder to gain leverage and frantically waving for them to join the party. Compared to the perfectly put together, mannerly wives that surrounded her, her exuberance made Brad laugh. Somehow, she fit Joseph. Brad was still looking for the how, but the way Joseph’s arm looped possessively around her waist made their opposite pairings natural.
“Thanks for the heads up, Randall.” Brad shook the senior partner’s hand. “I’ll have everything together Monday at eight. I’m looking forward to it.”
Brad crossed to Mandy and spun her in a tight hug. “Hey, good lookin’.”
She let out a laugh as he set her down. Leaning in close, she whispered, “Did I hear right? Cupid hit you?”
Narrowing his gaze at the back of Joseph’s head, Brad pretended to be offended. He waited until Mandy’s face paled, like she’d realized she wasn’t supposed to know, until he let her off with a smirk. “I’d say he bit me in the ass.”
She gave him an affronted scoff and pushed at his chest. “I have to hear more about this later. I’m pretty certain I didn’t miss the apocalypse.”
“Nope. No apocalypse.” He lifted his glass to hers. “I think I owe you a congrats.”
As they toasted, Joseph withdrew from his conversation and placed a kiss on Mandy’s cheek. He glanced at Brad. “Good flight?”
The warm glow that infused Brad’s bloodstream caught him by surprise, but he managed to keep the stiffening of his body to a minimum. His grin, however, defied him. “Worth every penny. You got a minute, Joseph?” He inclined his head toward the other two partners within earshot.
“Sure. Want to join me on the balcony? I’m in the mood for a cigar.”
Brad followed his mentor, glad for a bit of breathing room. Outside, Joseph lit a fat Cuban, offered Brad another. Brad shook his head. “You know I hate those.”
“Chew on it. I swear you’ll change your mind.”
He made a disgusted face. “Maybe later.”
Joseph leaned his elbows on the iron balcony railing. “What’s going on?”
“It’s imperative I offload a case before Monday. Can you help me out?”
Surprise widened Joseph’s eyes. “Now that’s a first. Any particular reason why?”
Hesitating, Brad downed the last of his scotch in one long swallow and fixed his gaze on the neighboring apartment complex. The alcohol rushed through his veins, tempering a bitter gust of wintry wind. Quietly, he confessed, “It’s her.”
Distinct spluttering gave way to a cough as Joseph choked on his inhaled smoke. Though shock laced his words, he kept his exclamation to a hushed whisper. “Shit, you’re sleeping with the client?”
“No.” He took a deep breath, and words rushed out with his exhale. “I’m in love with opposing counsel.”
Joseph’s long low whistle rang out in a beat of city silence. “I’ll see what I can do, but I won’t know anything until I can get into the office on Monday. I don’t take anything home anymore.” Straightening, he pushed away from the rail and stubbed his cigar out. “Call me tomorrow evening. You’re still going to have to explain why you’re stepping aside. I’ll help you come up with something.”
Relief rushed through Brad like a swift wind on a barren plane. He closed his eyes, never imagining he could value a friendship so much. He’d found a way to make this right.
But as he entered Randall’s luxurious apartment and glanced around at the guests, longing struck like someone jabbed a javelin into his side. He was surrounded by couples. Husbands and wives who laughed at shared secrets, exchanged intimate glances, and touched as if they were extensions of the other’s body. In ten years at Blackson and Goodwell, he’d never noticed the overwhelming sense of family among the partners. Never thought he’d crave the same.
His heart twisted. God, he missed Cassie. They would love her wit, her charm, her intellect. Mandy especially—he suspected the two of them might get along like sisters. At least, Mandy would do her best to forge that bond.