Nodding, still with the Cheshire-cat grin, Irma followed Payton into her office. She kept her hand over her mouth as if fearing what might come tumbling out.
Payton closed the door behind them and turned to face Irma. “Whatever you think you just learned, I need to ask you to keep that information to yourself.”
Irma took her hand away from her mouth. “At least I know what’s gotten into you lately. Literally.”
“All righty then,” Payton said in response to the not-at-all-subtle innuendo. “Wow, I really don’t know where to go from there.”
“You and J.D. did the deed.” Irma lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Oooh . . . was it angry sex?”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“Does that mean it’s serious between you two?” Irma asked.
But Payton remained firm on this. “Irma, I need you to do this favor for me. Please—don’t ask me any more questions, because you know I can’t answer them. And please don’t say anything to anyone about what you heard. You know how bad office gossip can get.”
Seeing how important this was to Payton, Irma sighed. “Fine.”
Payton smiled. “Thank you.” She knew how difficult it was for her secretary to bite her tongue about anything, let alone something as juicy as this.
Irma nodded, sizing Payton up with a look. “Boy, you two really decided to go out with a bang, didn’t you?”
“Sorry. It was just too easy to pass up.”
AT THE END of the day, Irma dropped by Payton’s office on her way out. She held a midsized box in her hands.
“The mail room sent this up while you were on your conference call,” she said. “They needed someone to sign for it, so I went ahead and took care of that.” She set the box on Payton’s desk. “Can I see them?”
Distracted, Payton glanced over from her computer. “Can you see who?”
Irma gestured to the box. “The shoes you ordered.”
“I didn’t order any shoes.”
Irma pointed to the return address label. “Tell that to Jimmy Choo.”
Payton picked up the box and opened it. She sifted through about twenty pounds of tissue paper, which of course led to another, smaller box. When she opened that, she discovered a new pair of black heels.
Irma leaned over to inspect them. “Don’t you already have a pair like that?”
“I used to. I broke one of the heels,” Payton said.
“Oh, right . . . when you ripped your skirt in court. A friend of mine works in the clerk’s office, and she said everyone talked about that for weeks.” Irma looked Payton over. “That must’ve been really embarrassing.”
“Yes, thank you, Irma, it was.”
“She also said that the thing they talked about most was how well you handled it. She called you a true professional.”
Irma’s expression turned proud. “Whatever they tell you tomorrow, Payton, you can walk out of here with your head held high. I couldn’t have asked to work with a better lawyer these past eight years.”
Payton found herself a little misty-eyed. Everyone was getting so damn mushy these days. “Thanks, Irma.”
“Of course, if you could somehow manage to walk out of here with your buns still in your skirt, that probably would be best.”
Payton laughed. With a quick wave good-bye, Irma turned and headed out the door.
Once alone in her office, Payton picked up the box and pulled out the small envelope that had been tucked inside with the shoes. She opened the card and smiled when she read it.
You already know who they’re from.
PAYTON WAITED UNTIL the secretarial staff had left for the evening before she made her way to the office across from hers.
She knocked on J.D.’s door and was surprised to find him packing up his briefcase for the evening.
“You’re leaving?” she asked.
J.D. nodded. “I’m done. For once, I want to leave this place while it’s still light outside.”
Payton pulled the door shut behind her. “I got the shoes. I can’t accept them, J.D.”
He grabbed his briefcase. “Of course you can.” He peered down at her on his way out the door. “Besides, they were my favorites.”
“There’s nothing you need to say. Really.” He reached around, and at first Payton thought he was going to kiss her, but instead he opened the door. He stepped out into the hallway.
“Good luck tomorrow, Payton.” His eyes met hers, then he turned and left.
Payton stood in J.D.’s office, alone. Message received. Loud and clear. It brought to mind another time, not all that long ago, when he had left her apartment on a similar note. She hadn’t gone after him then.
But this time she would.
Among other things, she’d be damned if she was going to let J. D. Jameson get in the last word.
AS J.D. REACHED for the handle on the driver’s door of the Bentley, he heard a slightly pissed-off voice call out from behind him.
“You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?”
He turned and saw Payton striding across the parking garage, coming from the direction of the elevators and heading straight for him. She carried her purse and jacket over one arm.
“Is that what you came down here to say?” he called back.
“Yes, that is one of the things I came down here to say.” Payton stopped before him and folded her arms across her chest. “I also came here to say that, contrary to your belief, I don’t need to be chased.”