Payton heard the beep, signaling the end of Chase’s message. J.D. pulled back to see her reaction.

“And here I was worried that he might say something that would make this awkward,” she said. “Thank god we dodged that bullet.”

J.D. ignored her sarcasm. “He calls you to say good night? How serious are you two?” he demanded to know.

Payton pushed past him, slid down from the counter, and began buttoning up her shirt. “That’s the part of his message you have a problem with? That he called me to say good night?”

“Oh, am I supposed to respond to the accusations your boyfriend made against me? Fine—here’s my response: he’s f**king full of shit.”

Payton nodded as she smoothed down her skirt. “Perhaps not your most eloquent response, but I’ll give you points for directness.”

With a confused look, J.D. watched as she pulled herself together. “Wait—what’s going on here? You’re not actually buying into what Chase said, are you?”

“No.” Not really, she almost added, but stopped herself.

Should she be suspicious of J.D.? Until Chase had left his message, the possibility hadn’t even occurred to Payton that J.D. might have some hidden agenda that night. True, she was due in court very early tomorrow morning, but so what? What was she supposed to think, that this was all some elaborate seduction scheme to get into her apartment, and—what?—set her alarm clock back an hour so that she’d miss her motion call? Now that was a ridiculous thought.

Wasn’t it?

Come to think of it . . . the guy had snuck into her office, then sliced off and re-glued her heel so that she’d fall and embarrass herself in court. But they were past that now. Weren’t they?

“Well, it’s obvious that Chase’s message changed something,” J.D. said.

Payton finished buttoning her shirt and turned around. “This is all just so complicated.”

“Because of Chase?”

“Because of lots of things,” Payton said. “Because I need to be in court early tomorrow morning. Because of our history. Because of the fact that I should be focusing on work right now, and because, ironically, you are the reason I should be focusing on work right now.” She paused. “I’d just like to be alone to think things through.”

J.D. nodded, and Payton could see he was angry.

“Fine,” he said tersely. He walked over, picked his jacket up off the floor, and headed to the front door.

As confused as she was, Payton hated for them to end the evening on such a bad note. “J.D., wait,” she called after him.

He turned around in the doorway. “This is the second time you’ve thrown me out of your apartment. If you change your mind about things, you know where you can find me.”

And with that, he was gone.

Payton stood there for a moment after he left. Then she picked up her briefcase and headed off to her bedroom.

An hour later, she fell asleep with her work piled around her and alone.

Twenty

ONE WEEK LEFT.

A mere seven days.

Payton entered the final stretch of her eight-year quest to join the prestigious elite of those fortunate few Ripley & Davis lawyers who had been elevated to the rank of partner by keeping two promises she had recently made.

First, she won her trial—thereby upholding her vow to the jury during her opening statement that she was certain that after hearing all the evidence, they would find her client not liable for sexual harassment.

As was tradition whenever one of the litigation attorneys had a trial victory, when she got back to the office after court the other members of the group dropped by her office to offer her their congratulations. All except J.D., that is.

He stayed in his office the entire afternoon, with the door shut.

“What’s gotten into him?” Irma asked when she stopped by on her way out, with a nod in the direction of J.D.’s office. “Are you two fighting again?”

“I don’t think he’s talking to m—” Payton stopped, having caught the implication of Irma’s question. “What do you mean, are we fighting again?” She and J.D. had always been so careful not to air their disputes in public.

Irma threw her a look. “The administrative staff is the eyes and ears of this institution, Payton. We know everything.”

Payton sat upright in her chair. “You talk about us?”

Irma shrugged unconcernedly. “Yes.”

Payton folded her arms across her chest. “Well. And what do you say?”

“Mostly now we talk about you two battling it out for partner.”

“You know about that?”

Again, Irma shrugged unconcernedly. “Yes. We even have a betting pool on which one of you will make it.”

Payton’s mouth dropped open, shocked to find her arduous career struggles the subject of tacky, meaningless office gossip.

“I can’t believe you’re participating in this, Irma. It’s so distasteful. Who’s ahead in the pool?”

“It’s pretty much falling along gender lines.”

Payton smiled with satisfaction. “So I’m in the lead then. There’s—what—like two male secretaries in the entire firm?”

“Well, some of the junior associates are in the pool as well. And by some, I mean all of them.”

Payton rolled her eyes. “I suppose all the partners, too?”

“Strangely, no,” Irma mused. “None of the partners seem to know anything about you and J.D. not getting along.”


Tags: Julie James Romance
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