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“I’ll visit you every Saturday,” Kelly Garner said as she neatly folded her blanket and set it at the end of the top bunk of the bunk-bed.
“I don’t care if you don’t,” said her cellmate, Amara Justice Dixon known simply as A.J. to everyone but the government. Without looking up from the book she was reading in bed, the slender, dark-skinned girl added, “You’ll have a lot to do on the outside anyway.”
“But I won’t be too busy to come and see you.” Unaffected by her friend’s cold attitude, Kelly continued, “And I’ll be waiting for you at the gate when you get out too.”
“You don’t have to do that either,” A.J. retorted coolly. “I can take the bus.”
Kelly smiled sadly. “But you won’t have to.”
As elated as Kelly was to finally ditch this tiny cubicle that she’d called home for slightly over a year, she was also sad for her friend. In the beginning there were three of them; Kelly, A.J. and Tamsin ‘Sin’ Jacob. Or ‘The Untouchables’ as the inmates in their block liked to call them. Sin had been released first. Now, it was Kelly’s turn. Unfortunately, A.J. still had nine months to go on her sentence. The coldness was just her way of dealing with the fact that she was now all alone in here.
“Is there anything specific you want me to bring when I come to visit?” Kelly sat at the foot of her friend’s bed. “Maybe some of that conditioner you like?”
A.J. didn’t look up from her book. “It’s hard to find. And expensive.”
“You’re worth the money.” Kelly tapped her friend’s leg. “I’ll miss you.”
Though A.J. didn’t say anything, she lowered her book. When her eyes met Kelly’s, they were almost blank. Almost. But within them was a shadow of sadness that even she couldn’t mask. She sighed. “Don’t miss me. Just forget about me and enjoy your freedom.”
“Stop saying stupid things.” Kelly slapped her friend’s leg. “How am I supposed to forget you when we already made a pact?”
“That was you and Sin.” A.J. made a face. “You know I don’t do that shit!”
“You do now.” Kelly smiled. “I’ll be waiting for you on the outsi-”
“Kelly.” A guard drew her attention to the cell’s door. “It’s time.”
“Okay.” Kelly stood up and picked up the small duffel bag that held the sum of her life in this cell. Knowing that A.J. didn’t like physical intimacy, Kelly only offered a soft, “Bye, A.J.”
She was surprised when A.J. vaulted off the bed and dragged her into her arms for a tight hug. A.J. whispered in Kelly’s ear. “Be safe.”
Kelly smiled and patted her friend’s back. “You too.”
An hour later, Kelly was on the bus headed to freedom.
It was just a yellow bus but for the women in it, it was freedom personified. That yellow bus was the ticket to a new life, free of the mistakes they’d made in their previous life. Silently, the women inside the bus watched the electric fence fly past them. Behind that electric fence, several still-caged convicts watched the passing bus with longing, praying that one day their turn would come too.
The yellow bus rumbled to a stop a few feet from the high black gates that marked the prison’s official exit. The gates swung backwards and opened. Beyond those gates, freedom beckoned. With a lurch, the bus started again and cruised past the open gates and out into the real world.
Ah, freedom! Kelly stuck her head out the window, closed her eyes and dragged in a deep gulp of air. Whoa, even the air smells different.
It smelt fresher, brighter … freer. Or was it just her? She turned to glance at her fellow ex-convicts. Most of them were also staring out the window; many were smiling. Grinning, Kelly turned back to stare out her own window.
How long had she waited and prayed for this day? She’d been incarcerated once before when she was much younger but it hadn’t been as long or even half as grueling as this round had been. Maybe if she was really here because of something she did, her stay wouldn’t have felt so unfair or so difficult to bear.
A year and a half ago, she’d gone out with her best-friend and classmate, Claire Ingram, to celebrate passing the bar and receiving an offer from one of the top firms in the city. She’d expected to enjoy her night, maybe have a drink or two with her best-friend then head back home early so she wouldn’t be late for work the next day.
She didn’t expect to end up in a VIP room with Claire’s cousin, Jonas, and his rich friends. She didn’t expect to end up passed out on one of the plush couches after just one drink. She didn’t expect to wake up with her clothes rumpled as if someone had tried to take them off. And she certainly didn’t expect to be holding a broken, bloody vodka bottle while Claire’s dead body lay draped on the couch next to hers.
Honest to God, Kelly didn’t do it. She was a lot of things, but a murderer wasn’t one of them. And besides, this was Claire. Her best-friend, the woman who’d befriended her even though she came from one of the wealthiest families in the city. The two of them had supported each other through so much stuff in the last six years; from break-ups to family deaths, financial issues to relationship troubles. Kelly would never have hurt Claire, let alone killed her. But her word wasn’t good enough for the jury, especially because she couldn’t even remember what had happened that night. Sure, drugs had been found in her system, but the prosecution had quickly dismissed it as self-administered.
Even worse, the prosecution had somehow snuck in the fact that she was the daughter of Jesse Gardner, the surgeon who’d gotten his medical license suspended because he was using his skills to illegally treat criminals. And finally to ice the cake, they’d also unsealed her juvie records. A criminal father and a history of assault? Murder was just the next step in her criminal career, the prosecution had said. The jury had agreed.
Fifteen years. She got fifteen bloody years for something she didn’t do.
Though she kept appealing the verdict, it had felt like a hopeless endeavor. Often it felt like her captivity would last forever and she was wasting her energy working and praying for release. If it wasn’t for her father, Jesse, she would’ve given up hope and this day likely would never have happened.
The thought of Jesse was enough to make Kelly’s smile fade. Jesse had worked so hard to get her out of here and yet he wasn’t even around to celebrate it with her.
No, no. She shook her head, trying to dispel her sad thoughts. Her father would want her to be happy right now. She forced a smile, but it didn’t last long. How could it?
Jesse was dead.
As the bus edged closer to their stop, Kelly spotted a crowd of people waiting for their loved ones. Even from this distance, she could see their smiles, hear their excited chatter, taste their relief. Finally, they’d get to see their loved ones without bars between them or guards watching them with hawk eyes. Kelly knew that someone would be waiting for her too – but it wouldn’t be Jesse.
The bus came to a creaky stop and the uniformed guards seated at the back and front of the bus stood up.
The heavy-set, female guard at the front announced, “Okay ladies, you know how we do this. Single file to the door, the people at the front first, no pushing or shoving. I’ll take off your chains once you’re at the door.”
The guard continued, “Jacob will hand you your stuff when you get off the bus. Once everyone’s out of the bus, you can meet your family members. If you don’t have anyone coming to meet you, wait at the side of the bus. Another bus will be coming in a couple of minutes to take you into the city. Clear?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the ex-cons answered in subdued tones.
As instructed, the ladies began to move towards the door in a line. When it was Kelly’s turn, she stood and followed the slender woman in front of her. The chains binding her wrists and ankles jangled noisily as she shuffled to the bus’s door. Once she was out of the bus, she stuck her hands out. The guard’s keys jingled as she pressed them into the lock of the chains. Seconds later, the chains fell off.
Relief like Kelly had never felt before pulsed through her. Tears in her eyes, she watched the guard unlock her ankle chains. Eventually, those fell off too.
“Jacob has your stuff.” The guard waved her off.
Kelly didn’t have much – just a duffel bag with a few clothes, her wallet that had two hundred dollars and a box containing all the legal documents she’d accumulated during her time as a guest of the state.
It was only once all the ex-cons were out of the bus and their chains were off that their family and friends were allowed to rush over. It was fascinating how varied the reactions to the ex-cons’ release were. In some cases it was excitement, smiles, happy tears and hugs. In others it was anger or embarrassment as if they still hadn’t forgiven the person for betraying them. And yet in some cases it was resignation and boredom as if this wasn’t the first time they were doing this and they didn’t expect it to be the last.
Kelly craned her neck as she scanned the faces in the crowd looking for Sin who’d promised to pick her up on her release. Unfortunately, the lady was nowhere to be seen. Frowning, Kelly searched the crowd again, hoping that she’d just missed her friend. Her gaze swept past several people, then back again, past a familiar face, then back agai-
Kelly stiffened as her gaze swung back to that familiar face. Their eyes met and held.
She was dreaming, right? This was just a nightmare, right? There was no way that man was standing just a few feet from the rest of the crowd. He wasn’t here. No way. He wasn’t callous enough to show his face here after everything he’d done. Some people saw ghosts or zombies in their nightmares. She saw him; Spencer Chambers. He was the face of her nightmares.
She closed her eyes and rubbed them hoping what she was seeing was just a mirage. When she opened her eyes, Spencer was still there.
This was no nightmare.
It’d been a couple of months since they’d last seen each other but Spencer hadn’t changed much. If he hadn’t chosen to be a lawyer, he would’ve done well as a model or an actor. He had the right height and his physique was more athletic than heavily built. As if his excellent physique wasn’t enough, he had a face that was a sobering reminder that the worst people sometimes came with the prettiest faces. His dark brown hair was tousled as if he’d run his fingers through it several times, and yet he still managed to look as sexy as ever. Heavy eyebrows shadowed dark, sharp eyes that seemed to pierce right into the heart of the person he was staring at.
The only thing that had changed about him was his expression. Even now, she still remembered his sneer as he’d watched her plead her innocence. She still remembered his derisive tone as he’d pronounced that all criminals always claim to be innocent. Smugly, he’d advised her to stop wasting the court’s time and resources, plead guilty and take his ten-years offer before he took it off the table. Even now, she could still hear his contemptuous chuckle when she’d refused his offer. And how could she forget the self-satisfied smirk he’d given her in court when the jury had declared her guilty?
His expression now was a far cry from that time. There were no smirks or sneers today. Regret shadowed his dark eyes as he watched her. His face was unsmiling, hard and etched with the guilt. His shoulders were slumped as if heavy with the weight of his sins.
Yet, it left Kelly unmoved.
She swung her gaze away from him and edged further away to increase the distance between them. This would be a good time to show up, Sin, she mentally pleaded. The last thing she wanted was to be forced into a conversation with Spencer.
Unfortunately, fate is a cruel mistress. Sin didn’t turn up, and Spencer started towards Kelly. Instinctively, she took a step back. If he had common sense, he would’ve realized that that was her way of telling him not to come closer. But common sense had never been one of Spencer’s strong suits. He kept coming.
If she wasn’t being watched by the guards, Kelly would’ve run. Her only option was to turn her back to him and hope he got the message this time. But her hopes were in vain.
“Kelly.” His deep voice echoed behind her.
She stiffened and held her breath as irritation spurted through her.
“Kelly,” he called out again.
Slowly, she turned to find him watching her with those sad, sad eyes. Her top lip lifted in an automatic sneer. “What are you doing here?”
For a moment he just stared at her as if imprinting her face in his memories then he said, “I came to give you a ride.”
Kelly blinked then blinked again. Was he serious? She gaped at him, shocked by his audacity. After everything he’d put her through, he was here to do what?
“I didn’t know if someone would come to pick you up so…” His words drifted to silence and his gaze shifted away from hers as if he was embarrassed.
Glaring at him, she bit out, “No thanks.”
He raised his gaze to meet hers. “Are you sure? I can g-”
Her voice was hard as ice as she asked, “Do you really expect me to ride in the same car as you?”
Spencer’s jaw ticked but he didn’t say anything.
“Seeing your face annoys me.” Kelly had never quite felt the urge to punch someone as she did now. She pressed her fist against her thigh to curb the instinct. “When I see you I get angry. Because of you, I was put in there.” She jabbed her finger in the general direction of the prison. “Because of you, people know me as the woman who killed her best-friend. Because of you I lost-” A sudden lump swelled in her throat and she had to swallow hard before she could finish. “- I lost my father.”
Spencer bent his head. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sure you are.” She chuckled, but that chuckle was heavily laced with hostility. “I’m sorry too.”
His eyes met hers again. “Why would you be sorry?”
Instead of answering his question, she said, “Thank you for catching the real killer and helping to clear me of the false charges.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” Spencer said softly. “It’s my job.”
Kelly’s lips crooked in a scornful smile. How ironic! When she’d really needed him to do his job, he’d been busy prancing around and flexing his Assistant District Attorney muscles. It had taken the sky falling for him to finally realize his mistakes and correct them. But it was too little, too late.
“Thank you for getting me out of prison.” Kelly paused briefly as she studied him. “But I can’t give you what you want.”
Spencer frowned. “I don’t want anything.”
“Don’t you?” She arched her eyebrows. “We both know you didn’t come here to give me a ride – it’s just an excuse. You came here hoping that I’d forgive you. That I’d help you get rid of your guilt.”
His eyes flashed and for a moment she thought he’d deny it. But he didn’t. He pulled in a deep breath and stared at the ground.
She continued, “That’s why I’m sorry.” Though there was more than an arms-length between them, it still felt like he was too damn close. Feeling suffocated, she took a step back before adding, “Because there’s only one way you can get forgiveness from me.”
His head came up swiftly and eagerness lit his gaze. “What can I do?”
She offered him a cold smile. “Turn back time.”
His shoulders slumped and disappointment clouded his expression.
“Take me back to a time when I hadn’t met you, when I was a budding attorney and not an ex-con, when my father was alive.” Bitterly, Kelly added, “If you can’t do that then don’t show your face to me again.”
Spencer sighed. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop!” she retorted sharply. “Stop saying you’re sorry. If you’re looking for pity or forgiveness, visit a priest because you won’t find it here. Your apologies are only making me angrier.”
“Kelly, I know that I don’t deserve your forgiveness and I-” His voice cracked. “-and I don’t expect to get it but-”
“But nothing!” she cut him off mid-sentence. “If you’re really sorry then remember me. Live with the guilt of what you did. The next time you meet a defendant in court, remember me.” She glared at him. “As for me, I’m going to try very, very hard to erase you from my memories. You’re a nightmare, a horrible nightmare that nobody should have to endure or remember.”
Pain crossed his features at the cruelty of her words, but she couldn’t find it in herself to care.
She continued, “I’m sorry that I ever met you. If you have any decency, then you’ll make sure that we never cross paths again. Please, please, please-”
“Kelly,” a feminine voice cut into her words.
Kelly turned only to find Sin waving at her from the edge of the crowd with a wide grin. Sin’s high-pitched voice, attractive looks and skimpy booty shorts were enough to draw most of the crowd’s attention to her, but she only had eyes for Kelly. The curvy, honey-toned, curly-haired woman was the picture of excitement as she made her way to Kelly and Spencer.
“Sorry, I’m late.” Sin beamed as she drew her friend in for a hug. “Traffic.”
“That’s okay!” Kelly smiled, feeling lighter now that her friend was here. “I’m just glad that you came.”
It was only when Sin pulled back from Kelly that she finally noticed Spencer. She reared backwards in shock. “What the hell is he doing here?”
“I don’t know either,” Kelly said.
“Why would you come here?” Anger flashing in her eyes, Sin turned to Spencer. “Are you crazy? I should just punch you, you bast-”
“Sin.” Kelly grabbed her friend’s arm to keep her from jumping Spencer. “Let’s go.”
“No, we need to teach this-”
“Let’s go.” Kelly cut her off. Without a backward glance, she dragged Sin away, leaving Spencer behind to wallow in his useless guilt.
5 MONTHS LATER
Kelly tapped her feet impatiently as she sat at the reception of Chambers & Quinn LLP. Calm down, she tried to soothe herself mentally, but it wasn’t enough to calm the apprehension pulsing through her. In the last few months, she’d been to so many of these things that one would’ve thought that she’d be used to them by now. But she wasn’t. The thought of sitting before a panel of interviewers and telling them why she was the best candidate still scared the living daylights out of her.
Many of the other interviewees seated around the lounge looked just as nervous as she did. They wrung their hands, cracked their knuckles, tapped their feet and snuck glances at each other to evaluate how competent the competition was.
The door to the interview room suddenly opened and everyone’s gaze swung to it. A second later, a pair of male interviewees came out.
“What was it like?” someone whispered to them.
“It was okay.” One interviewee shrugged confidently, but the troubled look in his eyes said that the interview hadn’t gone quite as well as he was pretending.
Fresh nervousness spurted through Kelly. However, it was nothing compared to the terror that wrung her nerves when a woman walked out of the interview room and announced, “Brian Walsh, Kelly Garner, the interviewers are waiting for you.”
On weak limbs, Kelly stood as did her co-interviewee, Brian. Brian gave her a slow once-over as if evaluating her value as an opponent then smirked before leading the way into the interview room. Obviously, he didn’t think she was any kind of competition.
And he was probably right.
The moment Kelly entered the interview room, she came to a shocked standstill. The room was just as big, cold and intimidating as she’d imagined, but that wasn’t what brought her to a screeching halt. All her attention was on the interviewers – no, on one interviewer; the beautiful, slender redhead seated at the far right end of the three-person interview panel.
The last time Kelly had seen the woman, she’d still been behind bars and Angelina had come to give her the good news about her release. After that, the only contact they’d had was over the phone.
Frankly, Kelly wasn’t surprised that Angelina had cut off contact. The woman was probably still reeling from the guilt of having lost the trial that had sent Kelly to jail. Not that Angelina had anything to feel guilty about. Though she’d tried her best, the results had been rigged from the start, which was why Kelly hadn’t contacted the woman either. She knew that she was a painful reminder to Angelina about her failure. It was only right that she allow the woman to forget her. If she’d known that Angelina now worked at Chambers & Quinn, she never would’ve come for this interview.
A sudden thought struck Kelly. Chambers & Quinn had called her out of the blue for this interview. Was it Angelina’s doing? Was this her way of making up for the past?
Angelina’s head rose at the entrance of interviewees. When her eyes settled on Kelly, they widened in obvious surprise. Her surprise was answer enough; she had nothing to do with the call to Kelly.
“Please take a seat.” One of the male interviewers gestured for Kelly and Brian to take the two seats directly across the interviews. “I’m Mark Cousins. I head the Civil Litigation Division in Chambers & Quinn.” He gestured towards the blond male interviewer beside him. “This is Roland Watson, Family Division.” He pointed to Angelina. “And this is Angelina Ward. She heads Criminal Justice. Why don’t you tell us about yourselves?”
“Hello,” Brian immediately jumped in. “I’m Brian Walsh. I graduated from…” and on he went.
Kelly only half-listened to Brian’s answers. She was too busy formulating her own answers. Maybe this interview would be different from the others. Maybe this time she’d actually get to answer one or two questions before someone recognized her and derailed the whole interview.
“…I think my strengths make me the perfect addition to Chambers & Quinn,” Brian finished.
“Excellent. Excellent.” Mark nodded approvingly before turning to Kelly. With a smile he asked, “What about you-” He glanced down at her résumé. “-Kelly Garner, Tell us about yourself.”
Kelly took a deep breath and started, “I graduated-”
“Wait a minute.” Roland cut her off mid-sentence. His lazer-sharp gaze fixed on Kelly, he asked, “You’re Kelly Garner?”
“Yes, I am.” Kelly nodded even as the muscles in her stomach knotted in immediate tension. This interview wasn’t going where she thought it was, right? Trying to forestall an impending disaster, she continued from where she’d left off, “I graduated top of my class from-”
“You’re that Kelly Garner?” Mark cut her off mid-sentence as he stared at her in bug-eyed shock. “The Kelly Garner who was charged with murder a year or so ago?”
Yup! This was going right where she expected it to go. Swallowing hard, she nodded. “I guess I am.”
“I knew I recognized that face.” Roland beamed at the other interviewers. Brian, meanwhile, turned his head to stare at Kelly. A second later, recognition lit up his blue eyes.
Great. Just great. Kelly sighed internally. Here we go.
“They released you after they found out that it was Jonas Ingram who killed Claire, right?” Roland said.
Well duh! How the hell would she have been here if they hadn’t? Restraining her instinctive response, Kelly said, “Yes, they did.”
“Now that we’ve established that she’s Kelly Garner, can we get back to the interview?” Angelina tried to herd everyone back to the matter at hand.
Unfortunately, her two male colleagues were like two dogs that had suddenly found a bone and weren’t about to let it go.
Mark peered at Kelly with unabashed interest. “I’ve seen you on TV and in the newspapers a couple of times but you look much better in person.”
“She does look good, doesn’t she?” Roland agreed. “I’ve heard that prison jumpsuits make everyone look shaggy. I guess it’s true.”
“You don’t look as violent as your juvenile record,” Mark said.
What the hell was she supposed to say to that?
“Thank you for the compliment,” Kelly said, her voice tight with annoyance. Trying to salvage the situation, she asked, “Would you like me to tell you about myself like Brian did?”
“No need,” Roland said dismissively even as a subtle sneer played on his thin lips. “You’re already famous.”
“Yeah. The papers covered everything we need to know,” Mark agreed.
“That’s a different situation. This is a professional one and we should keep it that way.” Angelina shot her fellow panel-mates a warning look before turning her attention back to Kelly. “Kelly, please tell us about yourself and your professional qualifications.”
“Sure.” Kelly sat up in her seat. “I graduated top of my class from Stetson and passed the bar exam in one tr-”
“Wait a minute.” Mark cut her off. He turned his head to face Angelina. “Weren’t you her lawyer?”
Angelina didn’t answer, but the way she bit her lip was answer enough.
“You were, weren’t you?” Roland laughed. “Oh, this is gold. This. Is. Gold.”
Brian giggled as he shot Kelly a derisive look.
It was that giggle that did it. Kelly had been in this situation so many times that she knew what would follow. First came the giggles, then the laughs, then the stupid questions about how it felt to be in prison. Someone would probably make a dumb comment about lesbians, someone else would want to know how accurate the reports on her juvenile record were, another person would want to know if all the stories about her father were true, more stupid questions would follow. End result: she wouldn’t get hired.
Kelly pushed her chair back and stood. “Thank you for your time.”
“Hey, where are you going?” Roland called out. “We’ve still got questions for you.”
Kelly didn’t even look back; she just kept walking to the door. Seconds later, she was outside the interview room.
You won’t cry. You won’t cry, she recited internally even as tears clogged her throat. This is what she’d come to. She was now a freak on display for everyone to poke and prod. She’d worked so hard and for so many years to be a lawyer and to change herself from a juvenile gangster into a productive and law-abiding citizen, yet all it had taken was one night for all her hard work to crumble. Unfair wasn’t big enough of a word to describe her situation.
Ignoring the questions that her fellow interviewees called out to her, Kelly headed towards the elevators. The doors opened, and she entered the elevator then selected ground-floor.
“Hold it for me,” someone called out. A second later, Angelina got into the elevator.
The two women were silent for a long time before Angelina finally said, “I’m sorry about what happened in there.”
“It’s not your fault,” Kelly said without looking at the woman.
“I tried to stop them but-” Angelina sighed. “Can I take you for lunch?”
“It’s eleven a.m.”
“Then a drink,” the other woman suggested. “So we can talk.”
Talking was the last thing Kelly wanted to do right now. She turned her head to meet Angelina’s eyes. “Honestly, I just want to be alone right now.”
Disappointment flashed in Angelina’s green eyes. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry.” Kelly offered, “Maybe we can set it up for another time?”
“Sure. Sure.” Angelina rifled through her jacket to come up with a business card. Handing it to Kelly, she said, “Call me when you have time.”
“Will do,” Kelly agreed even though she had no intention of calling the woman again. Too many memories. The elevator doors opened into the ground-floor of the building. Kelly started to get off but a moment later turned, “Could you do me a favor?”
Kelly asked, “Could you tell whoever set up this interview not to do it again?”
Angelina frowned. “Someone set it up?”
“Yes.” Kelly stepped out of the elevator. “Please tell them not to do it again. I don’t appreciate being toyed with.”
“I’ll find out,” Angelina said just as the doors began to close. “Call me.”
“Mm.” Kelly offered a non-committal mumble before heading towards the exit.
The chances of her calling Angelina were exactly zero. Though the woman was the best person to help Kelly out in her job-search, it would be the height of parasitism to ask her for help. She’d already done enough to help Kelly.
Perhaps if Kelly hadn’t been thinking so deeply about her relationship with Angelina, she would’ve watched her step better. One second she was walking to the exit, and the next moment she crushed into a hard, muscular chest.
“Oh!” Her hands automatically moved upwards to grab the man’s shirt so she wouldn’t fall backwards. The man gripped both her arms and dragged her forward, securing her further against him. Her purse fell to the floor as did the envelope she was carrying, spilling all its contents.
“Sorry,” the man apologized, his deep voice rumbling above her head.
“It’s ok-“ Kelly paused when her gaze finally met that of the man holding her.
You have got to be kidding me. Spencer Chambers? With more force than required, she shoved him away from her.
“Kelly?” His eyes widened in obvious shock as he took her in.
Despite her irritation, Kelly found herself giving him a quick once-over. She’d never seen him dressed this casual. In their previous meetings, he was always clean shaven and in a suit. Today, he was wearing casual khaki pants to match his simple white shirt. The shirt was open at the collar and its sleeves were folded at the elbows to show off his muscular arms and tan skin. To finish off his ‘just about to go on vacation’ look, he was spotting a faint stubble and his hair was tousled as if he’d just run his fingers through it.
The jerk looked sexier than ever.
Kissing her teeth, Kelly lowered to her haunches so she could pick her spilled documents. Spencer lowered himself next to her to help out. Immediately, his cologne lit up her sense. Oh jeez, why did he have to smell so good? Annoyed with both herself and him, Kelly snatched her documents from his grip then stood up.
He stood too. “What are-”
She didn’t stay to listen to the rest of what he wanted to say. In silence, she skirted past him and stomped towards the swivel doors. She had made it clear, hadn’t she? She wanted him out of her life.
* * * * *
STILL REELING IN shock, Spencer watched Kelly walk away. She was the last person he’d expected to see when he’d walked into this building. Five months! Five months since he’d last seen her! One would think that by now he would’ve forgotten her or at least gotten rid of some of the guilt that plagued him whenever he thought of her. One would be wrong. She was the mistake that haunted his days and nights. Even taking an extended leave to travel the world hadn’t been enough to exorcize her.
Seeing her here again and seeing the hatred in her eyes was like getting slapped in the face. Obviously, she hadn’t forgotten him either.
What was she doing here anyway? Before he could figure it out, a male voice yanked him back into reality. “Spencer?”
Spencer turned to find one of his old law-school classmates coming his way. Spencer forced a smile. “Miles.”
“As I live and breathe.” Miles, a short, pudgy man in a swanky suit, closed the distance between them to pump Spencer’s hand in a firm handshake. “I can’t believe you’re actually here. I thought you were out in South America.”
“I was and now I’m back.”
“Good to see you, man.” Miles pointed towards the opening elevators. “You headed up?”
“Yeah.” The two men stepped into the elevator. Spencer selected the fifth floor while Miles pressed the third floor button. Spencer asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Case. Opposing counsel for a suit one of Watson’s clients filed.”
Miles gave him a quick once-over, taking in his casual clothes before asking, “What are you doing here? Decided to finally work here?”
Spencer scoffed. “Not likely.”
“I wouldn’t blame you even if you decided to work here.” Miles studied him. “After the whole fiasco with the former D.A., it’s gotta be awkward to go back there.”
Awkward didn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere at Spencer’s former workplace. That’s what happened when you put your boss in prison.
Kelly’s case had had more far-reaching consequences than anyone had ever imagined. At first Spencer had steadfastly believed in Kelly’s guilt. Why? One – because all the evidence he had at the time said she’d done it. Two – because his ex, who’d cheated on him with another man, was her lawyer.
Fine, two shouldn’t have counted, but at the time it did. His acrimonious relationship with Angelina had only made him more determined to beat her in court and blinded him to any inconsistencies in the case. So what if Kelly and her father, Jesse, kept insisting that she was innocent? So what if the look in her eyes left him a little unsettled? All criminals claimed to be innocent, and all the evidence clearly pointed to Kelly being a murderer.
Little did he know that most of the evidence he had had been carefully doctored to lead to Kelly and all his witnesses had been carefully coached to point the finger at her. While Spencer was busy celebrating sending Kelly to prison and getting back at Angelina, Jesse had kept investigating and trying to find a witness who could prove his daughter’s innocence.
Unfortunately, Jesse’s investigations had taken him too far into the shadows. He’d ended up dead. It was his murder and that of one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Pick, that had spurred Spencer to take another look at the case. Further investigation had led him to Pick’s thoroughly frightened ex-girlfriend, Dominique.
And that’s when the real story had come out.
Yes, Pick had witnessed the murder in that nightclub’s VIP room. But it wasn’t Kelly he’d seen killing Claire Ingram. Nope! The real culprit was Claire’s cousin, Jonas Ingram, the now sole heir to the one of the richest families in New York. Claire and Jonas had struggled while Claire was trying to keep him and his friends from raping a drugged Kelly. Blinded by anger, Jonas had stabbed Claire with a broken bottle. After realizing what he’d done, Jonas had convinced his friends and Pick, the room’s exclusive waiter, to say that Kelly did it.
Spencer realized that he’d sent the wrong person to prison.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, his own boss, Donald Hall, had known that Jonas was the culprit and covered it up. According to Pick’s ex-girlfriend, Pick had had a change of heart after seeing Kelly in court. He’d tried to see Spencer to confess that he’d lied but had instead been directed to the D.A., Donald. Unfortunately, Donald was planning to run for governor and needed the Ingrams’ money to fund his campaign. Donald had turned Pick back with a threat to remain silent or else… What Donald didn’t know was that Pick had an inconvenient habit of sneakily filming the going-ons in the VIP room so he and his girlfriend could laugh at it later. And he had a video that clearly showed Jonas stabbing his cousin.
Pick had planned to hand over the video to Kelly’s father but Jonas’s hired gun got to him first, then came after Jesse when Pick claimed not to have the video. As it turned out, Dominique was holding the video all along. That video turned out to be the key piece of evidence in proving Kelly’s innocence. When Spencer had finally revealed the truth, the ensuing brouhaha had been of epic proportions. Jonas and Donald Hall both ended up going to prison.
Though Spencer’s colleagues praised and sided with him in public, their private whispers weren’t as supportive. Nobody likes a tattle-tale, they said.
Not that Spencer cared.
Miles was wrong. The whispers and awkwardness hadn’t driven Spencer to take a break. It was the hollow feeling in his stomach every time he walked into his office. For so long he’d thought that he was on the right side of the law, fighting for justice and that he was a damn good lawyer. However, Kelly’s case had left him reeling with doubts about the system, his beliefs and about himself. Her case had torn open wounds he didn’t even know he had and exposed all his biases.
“This is my stop.” Miles dragged Spencer from his thoughts as the doors opened on the third floor.
“I’ll see you around then.” Spencer gave the man a brief wave before he headed up to the fifth floor.
Though Chambers & Quinn occupied three floors in this building, the fifth floor was where all the big shots hung out. All the managing partners had their offices up here. In keeping with its occupants’ enormous clout, the floor’s reception area was plush and luxurious.
“Good morning, Mr. Chambers.” The middle-aged receptionist immediately recognized Spencer when he stepped off the elevator. Smiling, she said, “It’s good to see you. We’ve missed you.”
“It’s good to see you too, Rita.” He smiled. “How have things been?”
“Fine as usual. Working hard.” Rita said. “How was your trip?”
“Good. Good.” Spencer said, “I’m meeting Lawrence.”
“He’s not here yet.” Rita winced. “Do you want me to call him and let him know that you’re here?”
“Please do. I’ll wait for him in his office.” With that, Spencer headed to Lawrence’s office.
Lawrence’s office was large, spacious and opulent. Floor to ceiling bookcases lined one wall, dark furniture made of expensive wood and the finest leather filled the space, and the faint smell of cigars hovered over the room. Spencer settled on the couch with a magazine as he waited for his godfather.
Twenty minutes later, Lawrence still hadn’t arrived. He was just about to call him when he heard the man’s booming voice outside the door. Seconds later, the door opened and Lawrence walked in.
Lawrence Quinn was a man of massive girth. Though he matched Spencer’s six foot three height, he carried at least a hundred more pounds on him. Though most people noticed his weight first, it was his general demeanor that captivated them. Lawrence always seemed to be smiling. His grins, blue twinkling eyes and smooth tongue had brought in more clients for Chambers & Quinn than any other lawyer in the firm.
Spencer studied him with narrowed eyes. “You’re late.”
“Am I? Oh well, it’s not like you were doing anything important,” the older man retorted unrepentantly before his large face broke into a smile. “You look good for a man who went into hiding.”
“I didn’t go into hiding.” Spencer set aside the magazine he was reading. “I took a break.”
“Tomato, tomayto.” Lawrence dragged him in for a warm embrace before jauntily patting his back. “You’ve gotten skinnier.”
“And you’ve gotten fatter,” Spencer countered with a grin.
“This is how real men look.” Lawrence patted his protruding belly fondly before taking the armchair. Spencer settled back on the couch. For a while the two men discussed Spencer’s travels but mid-conversation, Lawrence asked, “Did you see anyone interesting when you came in?”
“Anyone interesting like who?” Spencer asked, even as Kelly’s face darted through his thoughts.
Lawrence eyed him for a moment then shrugged. “Never mind.”
“Was I supposed to see someone?” Spencer persisted.
Instead of answering the question, Lawrence changed the subject. “Now that you’re back in the city, what’s your plan? Are you going back to the D.A.’s office?”
Spencer shrugged. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Which means I still have a chance.” Lawrence grinned widely. “Come and work for me. Howey just retired and I need a good criminal defense attorney to replace him.”
“No thanks.” Spencer’s voice was firm and determined. But it wasn’t enough to deter his godfather.
“Why not?” The older man offered, “I’ll pay you a great salary and you can come in as a junior partner.”
“Not a chance.” Spencer shook his head.
Lawrence upped his offer. “I’ll make you senior partner within a year.”
“Thanks but no thanks.”
Lawrence puffed in obvious frustration. “I don’t know if you know this but you can be very annoying.”
Spencer laughed. “How could I possibly not know when you’ve told me I’m annoying so many times?”
“Why won’t you just work for me?” Lawrence whined. “You’re a talented lawyer, you know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, and the public still thinks of you as the righteous A.D.A who was brave enough to investigate his boss. Even better, this firm has your name on it and you’re both your father and my only heir. You could have it all.”
“I don’t want it all.”
Spencer just shrugged. If he’d been after money, he would’ve come into the firm straight from Law School. Instead, he’d chosen to work for the state because for him getting justice for victims of crime was more important than padding his already fat bank account.
Oh! What a naive man he’d been.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to answer any more of Lawrence’s questions because right then someone knocked on the door. A second later, the door swung inwards and Angelina Ward walked into the room. Immediate surprise shot through Spencer. What the hell was his ex-girlfriend doing here?
Angelina looked just as shocked to see him. Her gaze fixed on him, she said, “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I didn’t know you were here,” Spencer countered.
“She works here now,” Lawrence answered Spencer’s questions. He turned his gaze to Angelina. “Can I help you?”
“She works here?” Spencer cut in before Angelina could say anything. He shot his step-father a sharp look. “You didn’t tell me.”
“I didn’t think I had to.” The older man grinned. “But if you worked here, I would keep you in the loop about all my major decisions and hires.”
Crafty old man! Spencer glared at him.
Angelina spoke up. “Lawrence, are you the one who called Kelly Garner in for an interview?”
What? Shock like a thunderbolt zipped through Spencer. So that’s why Kelly had been here?
“What are you talking about? Who is Kelly Ga-” Lawrence sucked in a quick breath. “Oh, that Kelly Garner.”
“Yes, that Kelly Garner.” Irritation flashed in Angelina’s eyes. “Did you call her in for an interview?”
“No. That’s HR business. I didn’t even know she was still in the field.” Lawrence’s eyes lit up and he leaned forward. “Is she still in the field?”
“Then who called her?” Spencer asked before Angelina could.
“I don’t know,” Lawrence said, but something about his wide-eyed look of innocence sounded off alarm bells in Spencer’s psyche. The older man turned those wide eyes to Angelina. “I would’ve thought you’d be happy to see her.”
“I was – I am.” Angelina paused to take a deep breath. “I was happy to see her but not happy about how you set up the interview. How could you put her in front of Roland and Mark? You know what assholes they can be.”
“Those are your colleagues,” Lawrence reminded her even as he tried to hide his smile.
“They can be my colleagues and assholes too,” Angelina countered. “If you really wanted to hire her, you should’ve made it a private interview.”
“I told you, I’m not the one who called her in.”
Angelina gave him a distrustful look before saying, “Fine, I’ll believe you. But on one condition…”
“On one condition?” Lawrence snorted. “I think you’ve got us confused. I’m the boss here. I give the conditions here.”
Angelina ignored his correction and demanded, “Hire her.”
Lawrence’s eyebrows shot up. “What?”
“Hire her,” Angelina repeated firmly.
“Because she’s looking for a job.”
“So are plenty of other people.” Lawrence guffawed. “And I don’t hire on pity.”
“This wouldn’t be pity.” Angelina settled in the couch opposite Spencer. Her eyes on Lawrence, she said, “Kelly is the best candidate from everyone who came to the interview today. She was the top of her class, passed the bar on her first try and has experience working as a court clerk.”
“That was a lifetime ago,” Lawrence countered.
“Two years isn’t a lifetime,” Angelina shot back.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be if she was actually using her law degree, but she wasn’t.” Lawrence lifted one eyebrow. “What was she doing that whole time?”
Angelina didn’t answer but her eyes flashed in annoyance.
“You’re right!” Lawrence answered himself. “She was relaxing in prison.”
“I’m sorry,” Spencer couldn’t help butting in. “Did you just say relaxing in prison?”
“That’s what it looks like on paper,” Lawrence retorted unrepentantly. “Plus with her background, no jury will trust her. Now that her juvenile record was unsealed and she’s been revealed to be as much a criminal as the people we defend, her law degree has become useless. It would be worth more if it was toilet paper. No one wants to be defended by a crook. That’s why no firm will touch her. So why should I?”
Angelina’s lips parted as if she wanted to say something, but then she closed her mouth again as if to acknowledge that Lawrence had a point. Lawrence smirked.
It was that smirk that got to Spencer and before he knew it, he ended up saying, “You’re wrong.”
“Wrong about what?” His godfather turned his attention to him.
“About Kelly’s degree becoming useless.” Spencer pulled in a deep breath. “Sure her records were unsealed, but she’s got the public’s pity too because everyone knows she was wrongfully accused. She’s the poster child for someone working hard to change their life then getting screwed over by the system anyway. Every potential juror in this city probably already knows her and the injustice she suffered, and every time she stands in front of them, they’ll wonder if her client is being screwed over too.”
“You may be right. But she’s still a risky hire.” Lawrence’s eyes suddenly lit up as if he’d been struck by an idea. “But you know what would make her less risky?”
“What?” Spencer asked.
“If she and the lawyer who saved her teamed up.” His eyes on Spencer, Lawrence grinned. “Miss Wrongfully Convicted and Mr. Righteous; juries would fall over themselves trying to give you two ‘not guilty’ verdicts.”
It seemed like a spur-of-the-moment suggestion. But Spencer knew his godfather too well. “You old, crafty bastard! You called her in for the interview, didn’t you?”
“I told you I didn’t,” Lawrence insisted, but the smile tugging at the corner of his lips belied his words.
“That’s why you asked me if I’d seen anyone interesting.” Spencer glared at the older man. “Kelly is bait, isn’t she?”
This time Lawrence didn’t bother denying it. He just stared at Spencer with that annoying smirk playing on his lips. This was blackmail at its finest.
Spencer didn’t want to give in to his godfather. Defending criminals was the last thing he wanted to do. But then Kelly’s face flashed in his mind sending fresh guilt spurting through him. Chambers & Quinn was one of the biggest and well-respected firms in the city. Working for them would restore her reputation as a law professional and repair some of the damage he’d done to her. Surely, this was the least he could do for her.
“So what do you say?” Lawrence prodded.
“Fine.” Spencer sighed. “If you hire Kelly, I’ll come in.”
“What can I get you?” Kelly asked as she stood by Table Six with her pen poised over her notepad.
“A glass of fresh mango juice and…” The man seated at the table paused briefly to study his menu. His forehead drawn in a frown, he asked, “What dessert would you recommend to go along with it?”
“Everything here tastes really good,” she said, “but if I had to choose, I’d go with the strawberry cream-cake.”
“The strawberry cream cake it is.” With a smile, the man handed her the menu.
“It should be about ten minutes,” Kelly said before heading off to the counter to place the order.
As was usual these days, Lani’s was booming with business. Though the café wasn’t a terribly big place, it was bursting at the seams. Almost all the tables were occupied by hipsters, couples and college-age kids. They were a marked difference compared to the older crowd who’d patronized the café when Kelly’s father still owned it.
Kelly wasn’t really sure what had drawn the younger crowd in. The décor and layout was still the same. It was just ten two-top tables along the exposed brick walls, floor-to-ceiling windows that faced the busy street, and ten oversized armchairs arranged in groups and nestled into cozy corners. Maybe they liked the new owner; he was certainly hip enough to fit in with this crowd.
“One mango and cream-cake,” she said to the acne-ridden teenager behind the register. Moments later, the customer’s order was ready, and Kelly carted it to him.
“Miss, more coffee here,” a feminine voice trilled just as Kelly started back towards the counter.
Kelly turned to face the ‘customer’ a.k.a. Sin. Sin was parked at one of the tables at the corner giving herself a manicure. Seated across from Sin was a handsome bespectacled man who was engrossed with a game on his tablet. With a roll of her eyes, Kelly grabbed a jar of coffee from the counter then started towards the pair.
“You’re supposed to be working not ordering,” Kelly scolded Sin even as she poured some coffee into her friend’s mug.
“This is me working,” Sin said as she gingerly picked up her mug to sip her coffee.
“Teddy, do you need a refill too?” Kelly asked Sin’s companion.
Theodore Cole, better known as Teddy and the new owner of Lani’s, didn’t even look up from his tablet as he said, “Yes, please.”
“How is doing your nails working?” Kelly asked Sin as she filled up Teddy’s mug.
“I am working.” Sin waggled her fingers as if to dry her nails. “This is my job.”
Kelly guffawed. “Really?”
“Really.” Sin nodded. “My job is to look good. I’m the new face of Lani’s.”
“The new face of – what?” Kelly shot her friend a wide-eyed look. “Since when did the café have a position like that?”
“Since yesterday,” Sin insisted. “Ask Teddy.”
Teddy nodded. “Yes, it’s a new position that I created just for Sin.”
“Did she con you or something?” Kelly made a horrified face. “Blackmail?”
Teddy laughed. “Nothing like that.”
“I’m offended by the implication that I would con my friend.” Sin tried to look hurt but it was difficult when her eyes were twinkling with unrestrained amusement. “Even con women have ethics.”
“Mm hmm.” Kelly eyed her friend with a healthy dose of distrust. This was the same woman who’d made a career out of trying to con Kelly and A.J. out of their weekly spending money when they were in prison.
“I swear there was no conning involved in the creation of this position,” Sin insisted. “Teddy and I just did some Math while you were at your interview. We realized that since I started working here, the percentage of men coming into the shop has increased by… by what?”
“By seventeen point four percent,” Teddy answered helpfully.
“By seventeen point four percent,” Sin said firmly. “And the number of women who come along to make sure I don’t snatch their man has increased by…”
“Nine percent,” Teddy offered.
“Exactly.” Sin nodded. “Basically by just being here, I’ve increased the reve- rese- the what?”
“The revenue,” Teddy said.
“I’ve increased the revenue in this place just by showing my face.” Sin sat back in her seat with a self-satisfied smirk. “I think that’s work enough, don’t you?”
Kelly laughed. “I thought you said that you weren’t going to use your face to earn money anymore.”
“Going straight is hard, man.” Sin sighed despondently, drawing laughs from both Kelly and Teddy. When their laughter died down, she started, “Speaking of work, Teddy found another firm advertizing for law graduates. Teddy, where’s that ad?”
Teddy paused his game, but before he could bring up the advertisement, Kelly said, “I’m not doing that anymore.”
Both Sin and Teddy turned surprised gazes up to her.
“You’re not?” Sin asked. “Did you find a job when we weren’t looking?”
“No.” Kelly smiled sadly. “I just think that I’m wasting time trying to get back into law. Nobody wants to hire me.”
“You don’t know that.” Teddy frowned. “You haven’t tried all the law firms.”
“I’ve tried more than enough to get the hint.”
“But-” Sin started, but was interrupted when a client called out for Kelly. Kelly left to serve the client. When she came back to Teddy and Sin’s table, they were waiting with protests.
“You can’t quit law.” Sin’s eyes shone with concern. “It’s your dream.”
“Don’t quit.” Teddy added his voice to the clamor. “If no one will hire you, then open your own firm.”
“With what money?” Kelly guffawed.
“I’ll lend you the money,” Teddy promptly offered.
Kelly shook her head. “No, but thank you for offering.”
There were so many reasons why she couldn’t accept Teddy’s money. First, because she knew where his money came from. Before owning Lani’s, Teddy had been an accountant. Only he wasn’t the usual kind of accountant. He’d made a fortune helping the rich evade the taxman and hide their ill-gotten gains in other countries. She couldn’t take his money in good conscious.
Further sealing her resolution not to take his money was the fact that she already owed him enough. When Kelly’s father had needed money to pay Kelly’s legal fees, Teddy had been more than willing to front him the cash. Unfortunately, Jesse was just as proud as Kelly. In the end, Jesse had sold Lani’s to Teddy. Even then, Teddy had ended up paying way more than market value for the café just so Jesse and Kelly would have enough money for her defense.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kelly had continued to mooch off his generosity even after her father’s death. When Sin had been released from prison, she didn’t have anywhere to go. Teddy didn’t know Sin yet he’d allowed her to stay in the apartment atop the café rent-free just because she was Kelly’s friend. When Kelly had come out, he’d not only given her place to stay but he’d also given her a position in the café. Taking any more from him would be shameless and downright immoral.
“Seriously, you should let me help you,” Teddy insisted. “If you’re worried that you won’t have clients, you shouldn’t be. Between my connections and your father’s reputation you’ll be good.”
“That isn’t even the real problem,” Kelly said. Since she couldn’t say the truth without hurting Teddy’s feelings, she hedged, “The problem is I don’t have any real trial experience. I’d be short-changing my clients.”
“But you worked too hard to be a lawyer.” Sin frowned. “Are you just going to let it go like that?”
“Not completely.” Kelly pulled in a deep breath. “I think I might start trying out for positions as a paralegal. At least I’ll be using my law qualifications somewhere… if I get hired?”
“How much does that pay?” Sin asked. When Kelly gave her an approximate paycheck of a starting paralegal, she gasped. “What the hell? I’d make more than that working once a week as a fake girlfriend.”
Kelly laughed. “Not all of us have million-dollar faces.”
“You shouldn’t have to be a paralegal.” Teddy offered, “If you won’t let me help you open a firm, then at least let me hit up some of my contacts and see if I can get you a position in a good firm.”
“No, don’t do that, please,” Kelly protested. “You’ve already-”
Before she could finish speaking her phone rang.
“Sorry,” she apologized to her friends before she extracted the gadget from her pocket. She pressed it to her ear. “Hello.”
“Hello.” A cheery feminine voice greeted. “Is this Kelly Garner?”
“This is she.”
“Hi, I’m Marie Scott calling from Chambers & Quinn.”
Immediately, Kelly’s heart started a nervous tapping. “How can I help you, Marie?”
“You had an interview with our firm yesterday, didn’t you?”
“Congratulations,” said Marie. “You got the job.”
What? Kelly could’ve sworn that her blood stopped moving right then. Had the woman just said ‘congratulations’? Impossible. How could Kelly have gotten the job when she hadn’t even completed the interview? Kelly swept her gaze around the café to make sure there weren’t any hidden cameras around because it sure felt like she was being pranked. However, the more Marie spoke, the clearer it was that this wasn’t a prank. This was a legitimate call. When Marie finally ended the phone-call after telling her to be at the firm on Monday, Kelly was still reeling in shock.
Bloody hell! Kelly stared at the now dead phone in her hand in wide-eyed disbelief.
“What?” Sin said. “Who was that?”
“You look like you just spoke to a ghost,” Teddy said.
“Guys.” Kelly turned to her friends. “I think I just got hired.”
“What? You’re kidding.” Sin’s whoops of congratulations were enough to attract the attention of everyone in the café. Standing, she dragged a still shocked Kelly in for a boisterous hug. Slowly Kelly’s shock turned into excitement. She’d really gotten a job. She smiled.
* * * * *
BY SUNDAY KELLY’S excitement about her new job had worn off, mostly because she suspected that she hadn’t gotten it on her merit.
“So what if Angelina put in a good word for you?” Sin said as she rifled through Kelly’s closet. “That’s how most people get their jobs these days.”
“I don’t want to be most people,” Kelly said. She was lying on their shared bed watching Sin pick a dress for her to wear on her first day of work.
“What about this one?” Sin held up a short, purple, body-con dress.
“I’m going to an office not a nightclub.” Kelly shook her head. “That’s too sexy.”
Sin made a face. “So people who work real jobs are not allowed to be sexy?”
“Not unless they want to be propositioned by clients.”
“No wonder I never worked a day job.” Sin scoffed before picking out a red dress that was even shorter than the previous one. “What about this one?”
“Are you kidding me?” Laughing, Kelly got off the bed. “I think I’ll just pick out my dress myself.”
Sin settled on the bed to watch Kelly. She said, “You know for a broke girl you’re very picky.”
“I’m picky? Me?” Kelly rifled through her wardrobe for something more work-appropriate. “How?”
“You want a job but you want it on your own terms,” her friend explained. “You didn’t want Teddy to give you cash to start your own firm. Now you don’t want the job that maybe Angelina got you. If that’s not picky, I don’t know what is.”
Kelly hadn’t quite thought of it that way. “It’s not that I’m picky. I just don’t want to be a burden to other people.”
“It’s not like you’re out there begging for them to help you.” Sin said. “They offered all on their own. Plus they’re giving you a handout. You’re going to work at the firm, not sleep.”
“Yeah but nothing.” Her friend cut her off. “Your pride isn’t going to pay your student loans or have you forgotten about those?”
“No, I haven’t forgotten.” Kelly groaned. “So you think I should take the job?”
Sin rolled her eyes. “Well duh! Of course you have to take the job.”
And that’s how Kelly ended up in front of the building that hosted Chambers & Quinn on Monday morning.
She dragged in a deep breath, straightened her shoulders before making her way to the elevators. There were several people waiting for the elevator. Kelly couldn’t help studying them and wondering if they were her coworkers. When the elevators doors opened, everyone filed in. Kelly ended up right at the front.
The doors were closing when someone shouted, “Hold.”
Kelly instinctively tapped on the open button to keep the doors from closing. However, a moment later, she regretted that action.
“Thank you,” Spencer said right before his eyes met hers.
For a moment he seemed frozen by shock.
“Are you getting in?” Someone in the back called out. “Some of us have places to be.”
It was enough to unfreeze Spencer and with a murmured apology he got into the elevator. Kelly immediately shuffled as far away from him as she could in the cramped elevator and averted her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see him. Still, she remained ridiculously aware of his presence in the elevator. What made it even worse was the fact that he kept sneaking glances at her.
Stop looking at me, she wanted to scream. Her hand balled into a fist at the side of her body. Just try to greet me and see if you’ll still have a mouth, she mentally warned.
Fortunately for him, he didn’t say a word to her. What the hell was he doing here anyway? Meeting him here last week was coincidental, but this… this was just incredibly bad luck. Hopefully, he was going to a floor above or below hers and she would never have to see him again. The elevator doors opened on the second floor and several people got off. Unfortunately, Spencer wasn’t one of those.
Kelly moved further back into the elevator to create more distance between them. Spencer turned slightly to glance her way but he didn’t say anything. The doors opened at the third floor, some people got out. Spencer stayed.
Lord, I know I’m a sinner. Kelly closed her eyes. But this is not the day to punish me. Please, please tell me we’re not going to the same floor. Please let him go to a floor above the fourth floor.
The doors opened out to the fourth floor and…. Yup, Spencer got off.
Swearing to give God a piece of her mind when she had time, Kelly trudged out of the elevator a good distance behind Spencer. What was he doing here anyway? As far as she knew he was still an Assistant District Attorney. Was he here to confer with a defense attorney? If that was what he was here for, then she hoped he did it fast and left so she wouldn’t have to see his face again.
“Good morning, Mr. Chambers,” the receptionist, a petite brunette with a bright smile, immediately stood when she spotted Spencer.
“Morning, Marie.” Spencer stopped at her desk. “Do you have today’s paper?”
“I put it in your office,” Marie said. “Would you like me to bring you a cup of coffee?”
“Please.” Spencer nodded before he wandered away.
Kelly, on the other hand, remained rooted to the spot. Had she just heard the receptionist refer to Spencer’s office? Spencer had an office here? Why? And then that’s when it clicked.
Chambers & Quinn.
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