With this thought in mind, instead of arguing with her mother, Payton smiled amiably. “Maybe—since we have so little remaining time together this weekend—we could save the debate over the virtues of a vegan diet for another time. Let’s just have a pleasant meal, shall we, Mom?” She gestured with her glass to the restaurant. “When I asked around at the firm, people said this was the best brunch in the city on Father’s Day.”

While it might seem odd to some people, the fact that she celebrated Father’s Day with her mother gave Payton little pause anymore. It was something the two of them did every year, alone, even continuing the tradition after Lex and her husband had moved out to San Francisco when Payton started college.

Payton had virtually no memory of her father—he and her mother had split up shortly after she was born and he had come to visit her sporadically for only a couple of years after that. And while her father’s lack of interest in maintaining a relationship was something that had upset her earlier in life, at thirty-two years old she was pretty much over it. Her mother rarely spoke about Shane—as even Payton referred to him—and as a result she felt wholly disconnected from him. She didn’t even share a last name with her father, since he and her mother had never married.

Apparently, however, they had one thing in common: she had her father’s eyes. At least that’s what her mother used to tell her, in sort of a wistful way, when she was younger.

In response to Payton’s comment about the restaurant, Lex looked around with a critical eye. Per Payton’s request, they had a table by the window overlooking Michigan Avenue. As one of the few parties of two that morning, it had been an easy request to accommodate.

“Sure, it’s a nice place. If you’re into the whole brunch scene.” She turned her scrutinizing eye to Payton. “You fit in here.”

Payton sighed. “Mom—”

Lex held up her hand. “It’s not an accusation, Sis. I’m just having one of those ‘mom’ moments where I wonder what happened to the little girl who used to dress up in my old clothes as a gypsy for Halloween.” She smiled fondly. “Do you remember that? You did it five years in a row.”

Payton didn’t have the heart to tell her mother that the reason she had dressed up as a “gypsy” was because she had known even as a little girl that they couldn’t afford to waste money on store-bought costumes.

“Now you look like you should be on a runway in Paris or something,” Lex continued, gesturing to Payton’s outfit.

Payton laughed. Hardly.

“They’re just work clothes,” she said. She wore tailored black pants, heels, and a V-neck sweater. It was unseasonably cool for June that day, even by Chicago standards.

“Well, normally I would point out that your ‘just work clothes’ could probably feed ten of my girls for a week,” Lex said, referring to the women who temporarily lived at the crisis shelter at which she worked in San Francisco. “But since we have so little time together—and in the spirit of having a pleasant meal, of course—I will bite my tongue and say only that you look very stylish. Very fancy, big-time lawyer-y.” With that, Lex tipped her mimosa to Payton and took a sip. Cheers.

If Payton had ever wondered how she’d gotten to be so sarcastic, well, consider that question answered.

Lex looked up from her drink at Payton’s silence. “What?”

“Sorry. Now I’m having one of those ‘daughter’ moments, wondering when, exactly, I turned into my mother.”

Lex smiled. “Aw, Sis, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me. Because of that, I won’t point out that a cow had to die in order to make your purse.”

Payton glanced up at the ceiling. The woman went through eighteen hours of labor to give her life, she reminded herself. Drug-free.

“Let’s talk about something else,” she told her mother. She inquired about Steven and his daughters, who were around the same age as Payton and lived in Los Angeles with their husbands. Her mother talked about her work at the shelter, the circumstances that had brought in some of her newer residents, and then—in a rare expression of interest—actually asked Payton a question or two about how things were going with the firm. Payton answered in generalities, seeing no reason to go into the whole partnership issue since there wasn’t any news yet on that front. Instead, she talked about her cases, even getting a laugh out of her mother when she told her about the six-foot penis photo that was Exhibit A of her current trial.

“A six-foot penis, huh? That puts to shame any I’ve ever seen.” Lex threw Payton a sneaky look. “Although, did I ever tell you about this guy I met at Woodstock—”

Payton cut her off with a hand. “No. And you never will.” Her mother’s “free-spirit” open-door discussion policy was something she could do just fine without when sex was the topic at hand.

Lex sat back, disappointed in being unable to tell her story. “Wow—when did you get to be such a prude?”

With a shock, Payton realized what had just happened.

She had become Laney.

“I don’t think it makes me a prude just because I don’t want to hear about my mother’s back-in-the-day free-love sexual antics,” she retorted.

“Fine, we’ll talk about you instead,” Lex threw right back at her. “Are you seeing anyone these days?”

Payton had debated all weekend whether to tell her mother about the Perfect Chase. He was out of town, visiting his parents in Boston, and when he got back in that evening, he had plans with his friends, so whether to introduce him to her mother had not been an issue.


Tags: Julie James Romance
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