Barbie dolls were sexist. (“Look at her vacant expression, Payton—Barbie doesn’t care about anything other than shopping.”) Fairy tales—in fact, most of children’s literature—were also sexist. (“Look at the message in these picture books, Payton—that beauty is the only important quality of a woman.”) Even Disney movies were the enemy. (“I know that Lisa’s mother lets her watch Cinderella, Payton. Lisa’s mother obviously has no problem teaching her daughter that women must wait passively for a man to bring meaning to their pathetically lonely lives.”)

Yes, Lex Kendall had a reason to protest just about everything.

It wasn’t that Payton didn’t agree with her mother’s principles. She did agree with some of them, just not to the same degree. For example, she was absolutely against people wearing fur coats. Which meant that she personally did not wear one. It did not mean that she stood outside Gucci on Michigan Avenue throwing buckets of red paint on exiting shoppers. (Oh, yes, her mother had, several times, in fact, and had even twice gone to jail for her renegade artistic endeavors, necessitating several of young Payton’s many overnight stays with her grandparents.)

In her mother’s eyes, Payton knew, she had sold out. In fact, when Lex had found out that Payton planned to defend Corporate America as part of her law practice, she had refused to speak to her daughter for two straight weeks.

Ah . . . Payton still recalled those two weeks fondly. It had been the most peaceful 336 hours of her life.

“Can I call you back later this evening, when I get home?” she asked her mother. “I’m pretty busy at work these days.”

“With the partnership thing,” her mother stated in a tone that was, at best, disinterested.

“Yes, the partnership thing.” Payton bit back the urge to say anything further. Was it really that difficult for people to understand what she was going through? Did no one get the amount of stress she was under?

“You don’t need to call me back,” her mother told her. “I can hear the tension in your voice. Are you keeping up with your yoga practice? You probably need to liberate your chakras.”

Payton put her head on her desk. Yes, of course—the tension in her voice had nothing to do with the fact that she hadn’t taken a vacation in nearly four years. The problem was that her chakras were unliberated.

She could hear her mother rambling on through the receiver she held in her hand.

“. . . talk more when I come into town later this month—”

At this, Payton sprung back to life. “You’re coming to Chicago?”

“Steven plans to visit Sarah and Jess in L.A. for Father’s Day,” her mother said, referring to Payton’s two stepsisters. “I thought I’d come to Chicago so we could spend the weekend together.”

Payton peered over at her calendar. She had been so busy she’d completely forgotten about the upcoming holiday. And, despite the rocky start to their conversation, she suddenly felt a rush of affection toward her mother. Lex Kendall could be a difficult woman no doubt, but she had never once let Payton spend a Father’s Day alone, not even after she and her husband Steven had married and moved to San Francisco several years ago. Though they’d never discussed it openly, Payton knew it was her mother’s attempt to compensate for the fact that Payton hadn’t heard from her father in years.

“I’d like that, Mom,” Payton said. They discussed briefly what they might do that weekend. Keeping her fingers crossed, Payton hoped she might have some good news to share by then.

After a few moments of chatting, Payton saw her other line ringing. Through the glass door of her office, she watched as Irma intercepted the call, nodded, then got up and signaled for her attention. Payton wrapped up the call with her mother, sensing it was something important.

“What is it?” she asked when Irma stepped into her doorway.

“That was Ben’s secretary, Marie. He wants to see you in his office.” Irma lowered her voice. “Marie says she heard him on the phone earlier this morning, with Tom Hillman from the Partnership Committee. She heard him tell Tom that he wanted to give you and J.D. the news early.”

Payton felt a thrill of excitement run through her.

This was it.

With a faint smile on her face, Payton got up from her desk and thanked Irma for the message.

Then she headed out the door to Ben’s office.

Eight

WHEN PAYTON GOT to Ben’s office, she found J.D., alone, sitting in front of the partner’s desk. He had his back to the door, unaware she stood there. She noticed that his leg bounced anxiously as he waited.

She cleared her throat. J.D. immediately stopped bouncing his leg and watched her take a seat in the chair next to him.

“Ben’s not here yet?” Payton asked coolly.

J.D. shook his head. “Marie said he should be in shortly.”

An awkward silence fell between them.

Payton glanced around the room. She suddenly was very aware of her hands; she tapped them against the arms of her chair, then stopped, then folded them in her lap.

More silence.

And then . . .

Still more silence.

“It’s this job, you know.”

Payton had been gazing out the window. She turned her head to J.D.

“We argue with people—that’s what we do. We strategize against them, we try to get the upper hand. Sometimes, I find it hard to break away from that.” He turned to face Payton and looked her straight in the eyes.


Tags: Julie James Romance
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