“I’m resigning, Payton,” J.D. said firmly. “Even if they did choose me, I couldn’t accept it. Not after what I said to Ben.”
“Fine, I get it. Mea culpa. I don’t care—I’m ready to accept the firm’s decision, whatever it is. At least after today, I’ll never have to see you again. So can we get on with this?” She turned back toward her chair, but J.D. grabbed her by the elbow again.
“No. I want to talk to you.”
“Sorry—you had your chance to talk yesterday. Now I’m focused on more important things.”
“What happens between us isn’t important to you?”
“Are you kidding me with this shit?” Payton gestured to the row of partners who were staring at them in utter confusion. “Seriously, J.D.—you want to talk about this now?”
“Yes. Now,” he said.
“Oh, in that case . . . sorry—still no.” Payton pointed. “And by the way—I forgot to tell you this last night: you’re an ass**le.”
Over at his desk, Ben sat upright in his chair, obviously having at least caught that part.
“Whoa—Payton, J.D.” He looked between them, confused. “When the hell did you two start fighting?”
A thousand snide retorts came to Payton’s mind. She was quickly scrolling through the list, debating whether she could get away with any of them, when she felt J.D.’s hand on her arm.
“I want to talk to you, Payton,” he repeated. “We can either do this here or somewhere more private. You decide.”
From the determined look on his face, Payton could tell he was serious. She turned and saw seven pairs of stunned and extremely curious Partnership Committee eyes on them.
She smiled politely.
“Would you excuse us? We’ll only need a moment.”
PAYTON AND J.D. stepped out of Ben’s office and turned the corner into the main hallway. They both stopped, surprised by what they saw.
A crowd—it had to be at least half the office—had gathered in large, gossiping groups. Attorneys, secretaries, legal assistants, everyone. They all fell to a hush as soon as the two of them came around the corner.
J.D. noticed a particularly tight group huddled around Irma and Kathy’s desks that included a very sheepish-now-that-I’ve-been-busted-looking Tyler, the Brandon/Brendan kid, and what looked suspiciously like the top of Laney’s head peeking out from behind the plant on Irma’s desk.
Everyone was silent, staring at them.
J.D. felt compelled to say something. “We’re on a break.”
He heard the confused whispers.
Thinking it was best to keeping moving, J.D. guided Payton toward an empty office. Once inside, he shut the door behind them and locked it.
Payton moved away from him, toward the vacant desk. “Thanks. Do you think you could possibly draw any more attention to us?”
“I think I probably could, sure.”
She turned around. “Haven’t you pretty much lost the right to be sarcastic with me? Or maybe you think I’m supposed to just stand here while you—”
J.D. put his hand over her mouth. “Normally, Payton, I would love to do this with you. But I’ve got several things I need to say, and you’re not making this any easier. So for right now, I need you to just sit down and shut up.” With his hands on her shoulders, he pressed her down into the desk chair.
Payton stared up at him. “Well, I never,” she said in her most indignant tone.
But interestingly, J.D. noted, she said nothing further. Although she really didn’t need to—the look in her eyes said more than all the choice profane words out there.
Not particularly encouraging.
He began pacing the room. He felt Payton’s gaze on him as he moved back and forth.
“All right, let me start with the thing I told Ben. I know that was inexcusable—I regretted it the moment I said it. I panicked.” J.D. glanced over at Payton. “Apparently, I have this way of looking at you that gives it away.”
He stopped before her. “Maybe you could just nod your head yes or no if you understand what I’m saying.”
Payton shook her head no. Still with the glare.
J.D. went back to his pacing. “You drive me crazy, you know. The way you snap around here in your heels and your little skirt suits and your sassy quips and comebacks and the way you always, always have to challenge me on everything I say and do, and for eight years I have tried to get ahead of you, I’ve tried to break away from you, Payton, and I can’t.”
He stopped before her hopefully. Again. “Now do you see where I’m going with this?”
And again Payton shook her head no. But she dropped the glare at least.
J.D. nodded. Crap. He took a deep breath.
“I’m in love with you, Payton.”
Her mouth fell open. Then shut again.
J.D. figured there was no turning back. “I’ve been in love with you since the very beginning. You asked why there isn’t anyone else in my life, and the reason . . . is you.” He cleared his throat. “I know I’ve acted otherwise. I know I’ve been terrible to you at times. That’s just a defense mechanism. Because the truth is, every single day for the past eight years I’ve wanted you to look at me the way you did when we first met.”
He waited for her to say something. “If this strikes any sort of chord with you at all, feel free to jump in.”
Payton nodded. She seemed shell-shocked, and for J.D. the silence was agonizing.