—dove headfirst straight into the jury box.

The entire courtroom gasped as J.D. flew out of his seat in horror.

Oh, my god!

Everyone was on their feet, stunned, watching as Payton quickly scrambled to pull herself to a stand, grappling, climbing past the jurors who sat in their box, mouths agape, and she managed to get to her feet, a little flustered but covering as she smoothed her skirt and—

“Sorry about that.” Payton smiled calmly at the jurors, regaining her cool. “Now, where was I . . .”

She looked for the deposition transcript she had dropped, she turned around and—

—the entire audience in the galley cried out in shock.

Unbeknownst to Payton, when she had fallen her skirt—those damn slim-fit skirts she liked so much—had torn at the seam and now gaped open, and sweet Jesus, she was wearing a thong and two tiny white butt cheeks peeked out from between the folds of her skirt—

J.D.’s jaw nearly hit the floor.

Oh god, it was horrible, horrible—well, actually it wasn’t all that horrible for him, she had a really great ass—but for Payton, this was a train wreck, a disaster—

Up front, Payton heard the ruckus coming from the audience behind her, so she turned around—

—and the peeky cheeks now faced the judge and jury. The jurors’ mouths dropped open, and a few murmured something incoherent, and they all gaped as Payton hobbled about the courtroom on uneven shoes, confused as to the source of the commotion.

At the defense table, Brandon/Brendan timidly whispered something to Payton; J.D. couldn’t hear it and apparently neither could Payton because she bent over toward Brandon/Brendan to hear better, exposed white buns up in the air for all to see, and the courtroom erupted in complete pandemonium and J.D. started to climb past the people in his row—he somehow had to put a stop to this—

But Payton finally heard Brandon/Brendan.

She stood up, her hand flew to her skirt, and she felt the rip in the seam. She instantly reacted; she unbuttoned her jacket and quickly tied it around her waist—no more peeky-cheeks—and J.D. heard a few groans of disappointment as the judge finally got things under control, banging his gavel and calling for order in the courtroom.

And as quickly as the chaos had erupted, things quieted back down. As people took their seats, the clamor settling, J.D. sat down, too, hiding, thinking now definitely was not the time to be seen by Payton.

As a silence took hold of the courtroom, all eyes were on Payton. Everyone waited to see what she would do, how she would react.

She paused for a moment. Then she turned and faced the jury.

“Raise your hand if you had no idea you’d see so much nudity in one week of jury duty.”

Twelve hands flew straight into the air.

And unbelievably, Payton laughed.

The jurors joined in with her. Then the judge raised his hand, too. With that, the entire courtroom laughed and people began to clap.

Payton held her hand up, acknowledging. “Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week.”

And it was in that moment, as J.D. sat in the galley with people laughing and applauding all around him, as he watched Payton smiling, embarrassed but undefeated, that it happened.

Something changed.

He didn’t know anyone who would’ve handled such a ridiculous situation nearly so well. Maybe he hadn’t noticed it before, but she was actually kind of . . . funny. Or maybe he had already known that, he suddenly wasn’t sure. But what he did know was that he had flipped out over a friggin’ coffee stain on his suit, and yet here Payton had done a full face-plant right into the laps of twelve jurors and then treated them to a free peep show, but nevertheless managed to remain calm and collected.

And suddenly J.D. found himself looking at Payton with quite a bit of admiration.

He grinned and joined in with the others who cheered her on, and he momentarily forgot the role he had played in the whole debacle until, right then, she glanced down at her shoe.

Uh-oh.

J.D. watched as Payton picked up the shoe and presumably noticed the clean, precise way the heel had broken, the remnants of the glue he had applied. She ran her finger over the broken heel, examining it, and in that moment J.D. knew that she knew.

A random thought occurred to him right then, about how they say that criminals always return to the scene of the crime—wasn’t that how Bundy or Berkowitz or one of those guys got caught—and actually, it was kind of funny that he was thinking about murder right then because when Payton looked up from the broken shoe and glanced across the courtroom and saw J.D. sitting there, murder is exactly what was in her eyes.

When Payton met his gaze, J.D. thought he had never seen her dark blue eyes look so cold. And he knew one thing for certain.

He was toast.

PAYTON STORMED OUT the courthouse doors—suit jacket still tied around her waist—with J.D. following closely on her heels.

“Come on, Payton—it’s not like I meant for that to happen!” he called after her. “Honestly, who could’ve planned that?”

A part of her wished she never had to come back to court. Better yet, a part of her wished the earth would just open up and swallow her, she was that mortified.

The judge had called a one-hour recess so that—as he had delicately put it—“anyone who wished to adjust his or her attire could do so.” Payton now was in a race to get back to the office, change into her spare suit, then get to the nearest department store to buy a new pair of shoes. On top of everything else, the bastard—no other name was necessary, from now on the man formerly known as J.D. would simply be called The Bastard, The Prick, or The Shithead—had ruined her best pair of shoes. But that was hardly her biggest concern.


Tags: Julie James Romance
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