“I know. I want to kiss you in ways you’ve never imagined and love away every ounce of anxiety you’re feeling right now. But I won’t do that. Not tonight, when you’re worried and vulnerable, seeking relief from those feelings.” He placed a gentle hand under her chin. “When we make love, it will be because you want me to give you something to remember, not because of problems that you’re trying to forget.”
Monique stood. “Now it’s my turn to apologize. Kissing you—no matter how good it felt—was inappropriate. Worrying about Devante has obviously got me acting out of character. Especially since…”
“Never mind.” She stood. “This wasn’t a good idea. I should go home, try to get some sleep if I can.”
“Do you really think that’s possible? Sleep, that is?”
“I don’t know, but I need to be where I can think.”
“And that can’t happen around me?”
She eyed him closely and noted his question was genuine; no superciliousness or sarcasm anywhere.
“No, quite frankly. You’re right. I’m vulnerable and in this state capable of making mistakes based on bad judgment.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
“Want to talk about it? We can move to the living room or dining room. I’ll sit on my side and promise to behave.”
She sat back at the island. He reheated the water. His ordinary actions soothed her. She was still worried, but more relaxed. After fixing their cups of tea, the two moved to the living room. Silence descended as each sipped tea and scanned thoughts. The quiet could have been awkward, but it wasn’t. For Monique it was comforting. She was glad she’d stayed when moments ago she’d wanted to run, not only away from Niko, but from uncomfortable memories.
This situation with Devante brought back an unfortunate incident that she’d managed to put behind her. Images flashed and feelings resurfaced. Another time when she’d tried to help a client and things hadn’t gone so well. She’d lost control and made an unfortunate decision. Right intention. Wrong execution. Could what she tried to do with Devante prove another bad move?
“Have you ever dated a client?” She looked up, surprised that the words she’d been thinking had actually been spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant for them to be; only a handful of people knew why she’d ask.
“Interesting question. I did, once. Have you?”
She looked at him. “I did, once.”
Maybe it was the cushy chair, maybe the tea; maybe it was her worry about Devante, the fire and all that had happened tonight. Then again, maybe it was the kiss, and the innate knowledge that what had gotten started tonight would one day be finished. But Monique found herself opening up to the man who was her adversary and sharing something that she swore would never be told again.
“I was fresh out of law school,” Monique began, tracing the rim of the teacup with her thumb, “working in my first firm. He was our client, facing ten years for money laundering. It was the first time I’d been around…someone like him. I thought I’d be repulsed, thought I’d have to work to find compassion for a man I’d assumed was just a no-good lowlife out for who he could con. I was wrong. He was intelligent and funny with tons of charm. He loved reading and current events. He told me that he was innocent. I believed him. We’d talk about what was going on in the world, about his dreams and aspirations, which I was surprised to even find out he had. One thing led to another and…”
His eyes widened.
“No. It didn’t go that far. We didn’t have sex. But during this revealing conversation there was inappropriate touching.” She shrugged her shoulders and looked in Niko’s eyes for signs of judgment. She saw none.
“He was convicted and is doing five to ten years in prison. As his attorney, I could speak with him privately. During one of these visits is when things got carried away. Hugging mostly, and we kissed. It shouldn’t have happened.
“My boss found out. Because of this inappropriate conduct, I lost my job. Of course that was the right consequence, though it’s still painful to recall those dark, early days of my career. My godfather advised me to end all contact. So I wrote him a letter. Short, to the point, about my being fired and therefore being unable to continue to represent him. I’m sure he was devastated to read its contents. After what he’d endured, he believed I was the one person who would never leave him. But I knew it was best to end all contact and walk out of his life.”