Jolene Monroe’s usually brilliant mind was finding it difficult to focus. Part of it was the headlines about her old friend Laura Reynolds. The woman had been one of the people instrumental in breaking up two drug cartels, as well as a human trafficking ring. The events had been the culmination of the ongoing federal investigation into McBride Industries, her friend’s former employer.
But it was the other bit of that news that was disconcerting her most. Sebida County sheriff Earl Kerr, who had been wanted in connection with the scandal, was dead. The fact that the man was dead at last should have been a relief. It should have brought her closure, right? Instead, it was dragging up old memories and reopening wounds that might never heal. Just as her body never had.
She did not have the time or energy to go down that old road. And the penthouse office of Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP was not the place to do it. If she did, she knew well that she might lose her shit. The carefully crafted mask that was Jolene Monroe, top employment and discrimination litigator, might crack. And when that happened, she had no fucking idea how to handle the shit that could destroy everything she had built.
Better to focus her attention on the damned file that was on her computer screen. Even in the air-conditioned comfort of her office, she could feel the hot Southern California sunshine pounding on the back of her neck. And this summer was just getting started. It really was not the unseasonably hot and dry even for Los Angeles weather that was getting to her.
But the other thing on her mind that was distracting her from work was him. Donavan Bradshaw. How would she make it to the end of his internship at Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP? At least, without acting on these feelings. Over two more months of this kind of sexual tension? Before things could return to normal. She could return to normal. Her libido could return to normal.
Not that Jo was not a sexual woman. Despite what had happened and the other, she had managed to regain some semblance of function as a woman. It was just that she carefully controlled her sex drive and the men she allowed in her life.
Except that once. That night was as close as she had ever come to ceding that control to a man. But she thought she had left all that behind in Vegas. Instead, it had followed her here. To her world. Now she had to battle some over-blown wet dream controlling her mind, if not her body.
She sighed and gave serious consideration to slipping into her private bathroom with the bullet she always kept in her purse for emergencies. The problem was that no matter how much she seemed to feed this demon, no matter how many times a day she took off the edge with a Happy O, she could not keep that damned man out of her head.
It did not help that she actually knew just how great the sex was. That she could remember just how well his tongue felt, how well he used the damned thing. It helped even less that every time she closed her eyes, she watched the giant screen version of his hands caressing every inch of her skin. “Fuck,” she cursed as she gave up in desperation and reached for her bottom drawer, her purse, and her little purple ‘friend’ in the side pocket.
But before she could grab it, her intercom rung. Gena’s voice stopped her. “Mr. Tyson would like to see you in his office asap.”
Jo frowned, “Jack or Junior?” She was not in the mood for either, but she could way more tolerate Jack’s arrogance than Junior’s sense of entitlement.
“Jack’s office, but I think I heard Junior in the background.”
Fuck, fuck, and double fuck. This was rarely a good thing. Usually, it meant that Jack wanted her to save his precious baby boy’s bacon…again. Hell, sometimes she felt more like one of their ‘fixers,’ the private detectives and public relations gurus that they hired for such bullshit, than a partner in this firm. But what choice did she have?
Being a partner in a law firm should come with wedding vows of its own…for better or worse, for richer or poorer. Of course, the reality for someone like her was that no matter how good or rich, she knew that the part about sickness or health and forsaking all others until death do you part, did not apply. You were only as good or necessary as your last case, and there was always a string of junior partners waiting for you to trip and fall, snipping at your heels.
She stood and straightened her suit. She tried to smile at Gena as she walked past her desk, but both women knew the score when called before their royal highnesses. She was so distracted that she almost ran straight into Donavan just outside of Jack’s office.
His hands came up to grasp her arms and steady her. Her blouse was so thin she could feel the heat of his skin through the damned thing. And she could not stop her body from responding. Her nipples hardened inside her bra. She wished she had thought to grab her jacket off the back of her chair before coming. She did not want to even think about how the girls must look through her blouse, straining against the confines of her bra.
Damn this man! He was the last person she needed to see before facing old man Jack or snotty-nosed whiny Junior.
As if on cue, the smug bastard stuck his head out of his father’s office door, “Oh, there you are. I was just coming to see what was taking you so long.” Junior’s smile broadened as he took in the too-familiar scene before him, “Work before pleasure, I am afraid, Jo. I am sure it will keep for later.”
Jo threw Junior one of her nastiest looks. Sometimes life really was not fair. If he had not been Jack Tyson’s son, the man would not have merited even an internship at this firm. Let alone that coveted final named partnership that should have been hers or a half dozen other senior partners, all of whom worked harder, billed more hours, and brought way more money and prestige to the firm than this pathetic little man.
She had little doubt what this meeting was about either. Jack needed her to ‘handle’ another of Junior’s minor indiscretions with a secretary or paralegal. He would write the fat check. She would draw up the confidentiality agreement. And they would make another little problem go away. But damn, was she tired of paying out company funds to cover this man’s ‘little’ problem.
Perhaps she was self-righteous, considering her own ‘little indiscretion’ still had his hands on her and had actually moved to stand almost between them. She wanted to laugh at the idea. Like she was some fucking damsel in distress who needed saving from Junior? She could and had handled this schmuck for more years than she could count…and way too many ‘little indiscretions.’
“I’m coming,” she moved past Donavan.
“I doubt that, Ice Queen,” replied her nemesis, all too smugly.
Donavan wanted to punch the man. Who the fuck did he think he was? The problem was that Donavan knew the answer to that one – too well. He had just been heading to Jo’s office to enlist her help with the matter. But it looked like she was playing for the other side on this one. Too damned bad, he thought.
Because he was already on Selena’s case. He was determined to make this man pay too. What he had done to the girl was more than just sexual harassment. It was rape. And Donavan was going to see him prosecuted for it too. Then when the weak, whiny bastard was rotting in state prison, he just might have a little talk with one of his cousins. Bloods or Crips, it did not matter. Make sure the man was not too lonely behind bars. Better yet, just have them spread the word to the Latino gangs about what this man did to the little chica.
And if Miss Monroe thought she could save the man’s ass this time, well, she had never gone up against him. She had no idea how vicious he could and would be. His weapons might be words, but that did not mean he was one bit less malicious than his gun tooting cousins. He had already won one round with the woman, and he was determined to win this one as well.
He was just glad that he had convinced Selena to tell him what was wrong that night when he found her crying alone in the office they shared with the other interns. He really did not know what the young woman would have done without his friendship, advice, and help. But he always had been a sucker for tears.
But it was cries of a different kind he wanted to tear out of Jo. That might have to wait, though. Especially if she was aiding and abetting the enemy on this one.
Jo pushed past Junior and plastered one of her best poker smiles on as Jack waved for her to take a seat across from his desk. There was little doubt about it now. If she was being put in the ‘naughty’ chair across from the stern captain of this ship, they needed her skills once more. And from the somber look on Jack’s face, this one was bad.
She took the seat he offered though she noted that Junior choose to pace off to the side. And when Jack did open his mouth, she felt a deep sense of foreboding. “I just want to thank you again for the brilliant as always work you did in Vegas. You have over the years done this firm proud, Jo.”
Jo, was it now? Something rose instead of her. She was not even sure what it was, but she knew one thing. It felt right. “Listen, Jack.” If she was Jo, then the old man could be Jack to his face…for the first time. “Cut the crap. You and I both know I am damned good at my job. The best. So, just cut to the chase. What now?”
She looked pointedly at Junior. She did not even bother to hide how she felt about the man from his father. “Is it a secretary? Another paralegal? Or maybe you went slumming this time. One of the night maids that clean up the offices?”
The man turned red. His hands tightened into fists at his side as he puffed out his chest. “Oh, don’t give me that high and mighty shit, Ice Queen. You think I didn’t see how hard those little titties got out there in the hall? If anyone is slumming it, it is you. Maybe that is the problem? You can’t get off with a white man? Is that it? Maybe you ain’t come so damned far from that trailer park after all, huh?”
On some level, this felt good. So damned good. To just let it all out. No more hiding behind polite conventionality. Besides, she knew the truth. Junior was still pissed because when he had tried his shit with her when she was just an associate, she had shot him down. And made damned sure the man knew better than to ever try again. He had responded by throwing her a nasty case – a real sexual harassment one. She had taken his challenge and beat him at his game. Earning his father’s attention and a start down the long road to partner in the process.
Although at the moment, she was not so sure that was a good thing. She pointedly ignored the man and turned back to her boss, “Whatever it is, I’ll do it, Jack. But let me make this perfectly clear to you and Junior. This is the last time. The last time I shaft some poor victim of your son’s over-inflated ego and tiny…” She simply smiled.
The man blanched at her forthright words, but she was not to be stopped now. “I am tired of company funds being used to pay off the victims of your son’s abuse. A portion of the proceeds from my partnership package and the others. So let me make this abundantly clear to you both. If this ever happens again, handle it yourselves, quietly and out of your own damned money. If I find out you haven’t, then I will take the issue to the partnership committee. Your names might be on the door, but there are still enough votes around that table to back me on this one. Am I understood?”
The man tented his fingers underneath his chin and stared at her as if seeing her for the first time ever. He studied for a long moment. The silence might have made anyone else uncomfortable, but Jo was too good a negotiator to be fooled. She knew what silence like this one meant -victory.
In the end, the man nodded his almost entirely white head. “Agreed. And yet again, young woman, you make me glad that you are on our side of the table and not the other.” The sorry bastard. Junior came by his misogyny naturally. Jack knew that her sex has nothing to do with it. She was the best. Period.
She wondered for a moment, why? Besides the money? Ironic that a woman who had herself been the victim of sexual abuse should defend the abusers? Hell, her abuser especially. She could have been one of his victims. If…
Jo reminded herself then that she had a lot of vacation time banked. Maybe it was time she thought about using some of it? Perhaps a lovely tropical beach, a few coconut cups with funny umbrellas, and a nice pool boy to rub out all her tensions. Stella was not the only one that needed to get her groove back. If she did not want to look closer to examine her mysterious pool boy’s facial features or the dark hands spreading sunscreen on her flat tummy, well, maybe Junior had a point about some things.
Donavan had almost expected it, but that did not lessen his disappointment when Jo entered the tiny inner cubicle that was the sanctum sanctorum of the lowly summer interns. He seriously doubted that the woman had been inside this room in over fifteen years since she was an intern herself. He was almost surprised she could even find her way here in the labyrinth of offices at Turner, Tyson, and Turner LLP.
But one thing he was not going to do was show his hand just yet. Always the sly one, she had waited until the other interns had left for the bars. It was Friday evening, so she did not need to wait long. They were still more college student than an attorney. Except for people like herself, him, and Selena with something to prove to themselves more than the others for whom all of it had been so easy. She had nodded to the young woman and then focused upon him. The errand that she sent him on was ridiculously easy. So it was easy to see it for what it was…a ruse to get him out of the office and speak to the girl alone.
Of course, he was not going to stand up and taut attorney-client privilege, demanding to be included in whatever negotiations she had in mind. Instead, he nodded and slipped just outside the door. Far away enough, she could not see him, but close enough to get the gist of what was said. He could get all the details from Selena later.
Jo asked herself again what she was doing here? Only a little more than fifteen years ago, she was this girl. That she should now be using her power to betray a comrade seemed so incredibly wrong. For a moment, she thought about turning and leaving, keeping the check and documents she held in the folder to herself and simply lying to Jack that the woman had turned down his settlement and terms.
But she reasoned not only would that be disloyal to the firm and its other partners who did not deserve to have their reputations sullied by a scandal, but it was also not in the girl’s best interest. Because this time, she had done her best. She had fought for the largest possible settlement, especially when she heard the whole story…not that she was deluded enough to think that she had yet. Oh no, but then again, if she knew Junior, she did not want to know either.
No, this had to be done. And she just had to trust that if she could get past the fear and pain that she had been through, then this woman was strong enough to do so too. Although she had never slept with the man, let alone carried his baby. A baby that was doomed by the terms of this agreement. That had been the most challenging part for Jo. But Jack and Junior had been adamant…the pregnancy must be terminated.
“Selena, I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time to discuss an important matter for Tyson, Turner, and Tyson?” She began with her most sympathetic smile. The first step was always to win the opponent’s trust.
Donavan could not hear exactly what was being said, and that made him uncomfortable. But what made him even more concerned was the look of utter horror on Selena’s face. He could see she was fighting back the tears and the protective curve of her hand over her lower abdomen. He had not dared go too far or leave her alone with the woman.
The woman he was fast coming to believe he loved was the villain here. Maybe not the villain. That role was securely sewn up by that smug prick Junior, but Jo was being used by him. What did he expect? The woman was a full partner at this firm. She had to protect her interests, financial and otherwise. What’s more, she had made a career and built a reputation on that side of the table, defending the Juniors of this world and throwing the Selenas of it under the bus.
He stepped into the office, smiling like nothing was happening. “I am sorry, Miss Monroe, but I cannot find that file you wanted. I was just about to walk Selena down to her car. Once I do that, I will be happy to come back up and keep searching until I do.”
Jo shook her head, “No, Mr. Bradshaw, that won’t be necessary. I will look around my desk one more time before I go home. I’m sure I saw it somewhere.” She turned to his friend and placed her hand on Selena’s shoulder, “Please just promise me you will think about what I said. This does not have to be the end of the world for you. You are too smart for this.” Then she turned and brushed past him.
For a moment, he would have sworn he saw tears in the corner of those cold blue eyes too. But he could not be two places at once, and Jo was barely out the door when Selena burst into tears. It took him close to half an hour to calm her down. When he finally did, it was only to be forced to share an elevator down with Jo.
It did not help that he could see how tense the whole thing made her too. It helped even less that all he could think about was if Selena was not there, he would pull the emergency stop button and push her against the elevator car’s glass wall. He probably did not even have the patience to push her panties aside. He would rip them off her…and plunge his tongue so deep inside of her. Until she cried out his name, and her taste overpowered all this shit. And they could both forget this whole horrid fucking mess.
That was his final thought as the elevator came to a halt in the basement parking garage. The doors opened, and he heard an engine start-up. There was nothing unusual about that, but the next sounds he knew all too well.
The rapid pops of a semi-automatic weapon. Donovan had heard it so often growing up in Compton that his reaction was hard-wired into him. He used his body to push both women to the ground, shielding them as much as he could with his own. He barely caught sight of the black SUV as it sped past them. Even at ground level, he could only make out two letters on the license plate. He knew that would be no help.
Besides, right now, there were much more important things. “Jo? Selena?” He rolled to the side away from them after the sound of the car’s engine died down.