***Law Offices – Adam Holloway, Bryan, TX***
Adam stared at the photograph on his phone. No one would guess that Renata Esparza-Cruz would be fifty next year. His step-mother had aged well. Then again, other than politics, all the woman did was work out and trips to the spa. Not that he begrudged the woman spending his inheritance.
His inheritance? How many times had he had those words drummed into him by Thomas Walker Holloway? Even before the forty-something widow married his imminently qualified, ambitious, and pregnant summer intern, Adam knew what was expected of him. There had been a Holloway in the Statehouse since before it was even built.
Adam glanced at the family photo on the wall. At least before her death, Janice Adams Holloway had been a buffer between him and his father. His mother was an idealist. Despite her ‘privilege,’ the woman had seen politics as something more than power and hubris. It was an obligation to speak for the voiceless. That might be the problem. Adam was more like his mother than the old man.
He scanned the article. That lectern probably wasn’t even packed into whatever dusty closet it came out of, and already there were dozens of hits. Renata had called him yesterday, trying to get him to attend the swearing-in ceremony. He had told the woman he wasn’t interested. Hell, he drove almost an hour out of his way to avoid Sebida County. He had ever since…
“Sir, I’m sorry. I couldn’t stop her…”
Adam had been expecting this. If whatever they were up to had warranted a call from the old man, it must be ‘important.’ But the petite dark-blond with eyes the color of the sky on a bright West Texas day was not his conniving step-mother. Though she did look vaguely familiar. If he had not sworn off women the same night, he did booze he’d…
But this one didn’t look the type. No, this girl was all your tomorrows rolled into five feet five inches of heaven on earth. Damn, maybe he had been without sex, well, real sex, for too long. If he was thinking shit like that.
“May I help you, Miss…”
“I’m sorry…” And the waterworks began. It wasn’t that Adam hadn’t seen them before. He had litigated more than enough divorces over the last three years. If the husband was cheating on this one, the man was insane. It was for damn sure she wasn’t the cheating type.
He helped her into the armchair in front of his desk and knelt on the floor next to her. Usually, he just leaned against his desk and waited for the showers to stop, but with her, there was some insane need to remain close. In case she needed comforting. But he was not the comforting type. Not since they lowered that box into the ground and took the only soft, good thing from his ‘privileged’ world.
Adam reached for the box of tissues that he kept on his desk for just such things. At least that would give him something to do with his hands, so he did not begin to caress those bare arms. Damn, she was beautiful in that summery dress. Except for the dark circles beneath those blue skies, like storm clouds on the horizon that would destroy the calm of that West Texas prairie.
There ought to be more required counseling courses for law school. Hell, that was the most critical part of the damned job. But something stayed his hand, and he reached instead for the monogrammed handkerchief in his pocket, pressing it into her trembling hand.
The girl still would not look at him but her sobs had quieted to hiccups at least. That was progress. “So, what can I help you with? A divorce? Contesting a will? DWI?” He felt her stiffen in his arms. Had he said something wrong? Hit some nerve? Or maybe she had heard about…
Adam inhaled and stood back, leaning as he usually did against his desk. It was probably the safest option. He knew how duplicitous women could be. If he had not been smart enough to learn that from Renata, then the trouble he had found himself in had taught him the lesson all too well. “Look, I’m sort of busy right now. If you want to schedule an appointment with Stella, maybe come back at a better time for you.”
She shook her head and finally looked up at him, and Adam swore he forgot how to breathe. “No, that won’t be necessary, Mr. Holloway. I just came here to apologize.”
Adam’s face scrunched into a frown that probably made him look far older than his thirty-seven years. “I don’t understand. Apologize? For what? Have we met before?”
When the girl shook her head, those waist-length waves danced about her shoulders and arms. Was it as soft as it looked? What would it feel like to wrap his fingers through it… Except he had sworn off women. All women.
“No, we never met. But I’m the one that destroyed your career.”
Adam stared at her in puzzlement for a moment. Then the pieces began to fall into place. Of course, that was why she had looked so familiar. That photograph. In the newspaper. In front of the diner, she owned, standing next to her brother, scarred and in a wheelchair.
So, she felt guilty. Three years too late. Back then, she was right. He did blame her for everything. For costing him the career in politics that was his destiny according to Thomas Holloway and his obligation endowed by the universe according to his dead mother. But now… If he hadn’t sworn off alcohol, he’d buy her a drink.
“Look, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything except write a letter to the editor. Hell, I can’t even blame Kerr. I might have honestly only had that one beer that night. But I should have known better…” And he should have. But he had been young and as idealistic and self-righteous as his mother. That was the past, though.
“But if I hadn’t written that letter…”
“I’m sorry, Sir. I…” His personal assistant and paralegal in training shook her head. “I’m fired, aren’t I?”
Adam laughed as the woman he had been expecting sashayed into his office in her designer suit. Renata looked the girl up and down as he spoke to Stella, “Not fired. But we’re gonna have a long talk about assertiveness training. If you want to go to law school, you need to learn to stand up for yourself more.”
The young woman nodded, “If that will be all?”
“Coffee, a vanilla iced latte with soya milk, dear.”
Adam shook his head at the woman that had been in his life since he was fifteen years old, but he nodded to Stella. “Take it out of petty cash. Buy yourself one too.”
The other woman, Adam had long since forgotten her name, rose from the chair. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you. Like I said, I just needed to make things right. Or as much as I could. I’ll be going now.”
Before he could say or do anything, she disappeared like Cinderella. But the internet was far more accessible than some glass slipper. It would be too easy to find her. All he needed to do was google himself. That article was the top hit last time he checked. Not that he had any intention of looking the woman up.
The one who took her place in that chair was more than enough trouble for him. “What do you want, Renata?”
“Your father and I want to know why you weren’t at the courthouse today.”
More like she wanted to know. His father was probably too tired from the latest round of chemotherapy to give a damn. The old man barely made roll call in the statehouse on the issues most important to him. Then again, Renata Esparza-Cruz had spoken for the man for over twenty years. And when he was gone, Adam was certain she would step into the man’s boots. Probably before they were even cold.
“I told you I was busy.”
“With that? Adam, we all know that you’re wasting your talent here. You’re a Holloway. You were destined for bigger things. And now with Kerr dead and his schemes exposed, there is no reason you shouldn’t…”
He held up his hand, “I’m not interested. I prefer my life the way it is now, Renata. I’m sure that you and Hillary are more than capable of carrying on the ‘great Holloway legacy.’”
“Your sister is not even out of college yet. And well, the governor has concerns…”
So that was it? With his father’s illness and the new winds blowing through the party, the governor was not as loyal as this woman had counted on. Not that he blamed the man. Maybe it was time that West Texas district sent someone other than a Holloway to the statehouse. Something to be said for fresh blood.
“I’m sure that you and my half-sister will land on your feet, Renata. I have no doubt that Hillary will fulfill all your dreams. She won’t get caught driving while intoxicated because some prostitute slipped drugs into her beer.”
“That’s just it, Adam. There are rumors that it wasn’t just Kerr involved in this mess. Eyes are turning to the District Attorney’s office. The man that replaced you did drop all charges against the man after all.”
“Maybe that was out of fear and not bribery? But it doesn’t matter. That part of my life is over.”
“It doesn’t have to be. I know I can cut a deal with the governor. Thomas will show his support of the man’s choice to replace him…”
Adam would almost swear that he saw her hands tremble. Her face certainly paled even under all that makeup. Then again, the woman had been a good and faithful wife to his father. Perhaps in some ways a better choice than this mother had been. When she looked back up at him, there was no denying the moisture in her eyes. “In exchange, he’ll appoint you to your old job on the same interim basis he has Ranger.”
“What does that get you? A few months as Sebida County District Attorney? How does that benefit anyone?”
“It doesn’t. But if you won your old job back in the special election, that keeps the Holloway name in the game.”
‘The game’ – that was why he had come to hate it all. During all those months binging and feeling sorry for himself as he fought to keep his driver’s license and his law one, Adam had lots of time to think. Think about the things he was doing with his life. And what he saw turned his stomach. Without Janice Adams Holloway’s gentling effects, he had become more and more like his father. Driven, for all the wrong reasons.
And despite this woman’s pleas, he had no intention of going back to that lifestyle. He was as finished with politics as he was drinking and women. Adam felt inside his pants’ pocket, his fingers grasping the hard metal he kept with him at all times as a reminder. “Still not interested, Renata.”
“Please, Adam, if not for your father, then for Hillary. In five years, when she runs… Your sister doesn’t need those old rumors tarnishing her chances. If you do this now, while Kerr’s treachery is still fresh in everyone’s mind, then you can lay all those doubts to rest. Give your sister a clear shot at her destiny.”
His step-mother went for his soft underbelly. He was sixteen and all alone when this woman gave birth to that adorable bundle of energy and temper. But Renata Esparza-Cruz was not the motherly type. They hired nannies and were back to the statehouse even before her six weeks’ maternity leave was up. And probably in the gym before they released her from the hospital.
Hillary was this woman’s hook into his father and a photo op. That was all his sister had been until she was older and able to be molded into the woman’s likeness. This country might not have been ‘ready’ for a woman President in Renata’s prime, but the woman would settle for the title of First Mother.
But from the night that one of those nannies decided to ‘ferberize’ his sister, Adam had been addicted. That baby, then cute toddler, was his human connection, and he poured all the attention and love that he had missing from his mother into his sister. The girl was probably as close to having a kid as Adam would come. Now that he had sworn off women. They needed to give out chips for that one too.
“I’ll think about it.”
But they both knew that he would be toeing the line. Still, Adam was determined, this time would be different. If he was doing this, it would be on his terms. He was not getting back into ‘the game.’ He was doing this for Janice Adams Holloway and Hillary Esparza-Cruz-Holloway. And the good people of Sebida County.
The woman clapped her hands and smiled, “Alright, now, we just need to find you a wife. Who was that girl? She looked about right. Sweet, innocent, perfect for the job. How long have you been seeing her?”
“Wait a minute. I haven’t even agreed to this, and no one said anything about marriage. And even if they did, that girl would be the last person on this planet interested in me…”
“Why? You’re bright, handsome, rich, and back in the game. Any girl would be lucky to be your wife, Adam. Which is why we need the right one. You know as well as I do that it wasn’t just that one DWI. The press went after that whole Frat boy thing. We need the right kind of wife by your side. People eat that garbage up. Nothing like the good girl reforming the bad boy to grab headlines and votes. So, why won’t she do? You haven’t been a naughty boy again, have you?”
“Renata, enough. You know that I swore off women as well as alcohol. And that is the girl who wrote the editorial. So, even you can see how that would never work…”
“Adam Thomas Holloway, we aren’t talking ‘women.’ We are discussing the right wife. Those are different things. And she’s absolutely perfect. How much better could it get than to have your chief accuser at your side as your most loyal and ardent supporter? I couldn’t write any more perfect a byline if I chose. Why was she here anyway?”
He shook his head as Stella brought the woman’s fancy coffee drink into the office. “Go home for the night. Get that little boy to bed and then search for that assertiveness class. Put it on the card.”
The girl smiled and nodded as she backed out the door, shutting it behind her. Maybe he should sign up for the damned course, too. Then again, Renata Esparza-Cruz had always been a law unto herself. That woman got whatever she set her mind to. From his father to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, he was sure one she’d get there, too. How had his new, nice, quiet life gotten out of hand in less than an hour? “I’m still not sure why she came. Something about apologizing. But like I told her, it wasn’t her fault. I should have…”
As soon as he got this woman out of his office, he needed to find a meeting. Or call his sponsor if he couldn’t. “I want your word, Renata. If I do this, you leave that girl out of it, understood?”
The woman shrugged her shoulders as she sipped the coffee, “You know me, Adam.”
“That’s what I’m worried about.”