***Jo & Donovan – Los Angeles – a month ago***
Jolene Monroe entered the shimmering glass high rise that housed the prestigious firm of Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP. The rat-a-tat-tat of her heels against the green marble tile of the foyer announced her presence to the world. Jo was the type of woman whose presence was always announced. At forty-three, she was a full partner at TT&T. A feat that was her greatest accomplishment. And considering her lowly beginnings a rather remarkable one.
Despite Jo’s calm and regal platinum blonde appearance, she had worked hard for everything she had. The Monroes might be one of Sebida, Texas’s reigning families, but she had never benefitted from that. Her father and grandfather had made damned sure of that. All for the simple reason that her mother’s blood wasn’t blue enough for the great Monroes.
Why her Mama had ever married the bastard was beyond her. But it wasn’t really. She knew why. Her mother had never let her forget it. Barbara Farmer had been a scholarship student with big plans. Determined to get ahead, whether through her blond good looks or above-average IQ, did not matter much to the woman. And when she met small-town boy Joshua Monroe, Jr. in college, Babs saw her meal ticket to easy street.
Except Josh Jr. was anything but good husband and father material. Last Jo heard, he was working on wife number five, and the woman was several years younger than she was. Jo had long since lost count of the number of half-siblings she had. In the end, the man had been more of a dead-end street for Babs Farmer-Monroe, who ended up a single mother of two, living in a rundown trailer on the wrong side of the tracks.
If she had a dollar for every time she heard the words, ‘if I hadn’t gotten pregnant with you, Jolene.’ Not that she needed the money. Not anymore. Her mother and no-account brother, on the other hand, were another matter. The only time Babs ever called her oldest child was to ask for more money. Usually to bail her brother Josh III out of jail – again.
Jo had done the ‘good’ daughter thing and upgraded their trailer. She even had money deposited in her mother’s account every month. But she was under no illusion; Babs saw her as nothing more than that meal ticket. The woman probably even believed it was her due for raising her. But Jo had raised herself. From that shitty trailer to a penthouse office in one of Los Angeles’s top law firms.
And while Jo gloried in her accomplishments, she felt her isolation deeply. She would never, could never, truly fit with the blue bloods from her Vassar and Harvard alumni. But she also could never go home again. Even if she wanted to. And who would want to?
So instead, Jolene Monroe did one thing. And one thing only, she worked. Ninety maybe a hundred hours a week. Even as a partner, especially as a partner. Her latest negotiations in Vegas had been a complete success…
Well almost. But the other didn’t count. That was personal. All that mattered was business. And that, as always, went precisely like Jo planned. Without a single hitch.
Jo pressed the up button on the elevator. Pounded it would be more accurate. Patience was not a virtue that she possessed in any abundance. So she saved it for negotiations. The important stuff. And everything else…well, she wanted it when she wanted it.
Would that damned elevator never arrive? It was 6:55 already. She needed to get to the office. She had messages to check. Emails to read. And notes to prepare. Before the office started to fill up with people. The doors opened wide as she stepped into the elevator. Pressing P for penthouse.
Jo breathed deeply, inhaling the sweetness of that word – penthouse. How far the little girl from Sebida, Texas had come. She had conquered the big city. Los Angeles. The City of Angeles. Hell, she had conquered the country. Her labor law and discrimination expertise made her one of the most sought-after negotiators in the country. Not bad, Jo girl.
The elevator door opened wide once more. The office suite of Tyson, Turner, and Tyson LLP was everything she ever imagined, watching her favorite TV show while Mama was passed out drunk on the couch again. All of her dreams had been born during those eight seasons of this city and the legal profession. By the time it went off the air when she was fifteen, Jo knew what she wanted to be and where she wanted to live. If the reality of her profession and this city was less than that television program, well, she had learned to handle disappointment early.
Jo stepped from the elevator and headed straight to her office. Gena, her always efficient assistant, had turned the timer on the coffee pot for 6:45. Fresh coffee, thank god. Pouring herself a cup, Jo took her place behind that glass desk and powered up her laptop. Eighty-seven new messages. Damn. Since yesterday. She used her usual A, B, and fuck it priorities to sift through them quickly.
One of the Bs caught her attention. A reminder. Their spring law interns began today. An attachment included the rather impressive resume of the new law student assigned to her for the next twelve weeks…Donavan Something the other. UNLV School of Law…top of his class…yada-yada-yada. Shit, she hated giving lessons.
Her mind strayed then to the last lesson she had given. Her hand rubbed the tight muscles of her shoulders at that thought. But damn, the kid had been good. But it wasn’t the lesson plan she had imagined. Which was why she hated teaching.
Shit! Maybe she could talk Jack Tyson out of this one? He owed her big time after the Vegas trip. Reassign the kid to someone with the patience to handle it. She had work to do. She always had work to do. It was all she ever did.
Jo focused on clearing her emails. On prioritizing her calls. Three from her mother. Damn, the woman must need money again. Probably her fucking good-for-nothing brother. In trouble again. Not how she wanted to begin her day.
Gena should be at her desk by now as Jo pressed the intercom. “Gena, call my mother. See how much this time, please.” Crumbling that note, she tossed it in the garbage at her feet. Then she turned back to her laptop. Putting the finishing touches on her notes for the Vegas trip. Jack Tyson should kiss her lily-white, trailer-trash ass for the finesse she’d used on this one.
Donavan Bradshaw walked into the TT&T building with nothing but business on his mind. The only sound about him was his Oxfords that seemed to thunder along the hallway as he strutted towards the elevator. He felt the eyes on him as he moved smoothly across the marble-tiled floor.
But then again, he had become accustomed to that. Being a black male in this country was never easy. He wondered for a moment if the black guard would have the courage to question his presence in the obviously upscale office complex – this time. If not, he was guaranteed to eventually be blessed with the experience. He always was.
Casually he stepped to the bank of elevators at the end of the hall. He glanced from the tall metal doors to the guard at the reception desk as he pressed the up button. Then at the paper which he held in his right hand. The word “Penthouse” clearly printed on the top of the page in big, bold print let him know that he was close.
He owed her. That night got to him as most other things never could. He was accustomed to women, all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes, adoring him. It had not been something he consciously tried to manipulate in a very long time. It just sort of happened now. But this, Jo, she was something different.
The doors parted for him, and he passed without hesitation into the elevator. His fingers searched the buttons lightly as a smile crept across his face. “Penthouse, huh. Sounds just like you, Jo,” as the doors closed behind him with a ‘ding.’ The elevator began to move. Soon he would have his chance to confront the very person that had been on his mind for the past week.
This internship thing was going to prove to be most interesting indeed. Donovan opened his portfolio, looking at a simple sheet of paper. A very well-written contract, if he did say so himself. He had drawn it up that morning when he awoke, alone in his bed. His charming companion from the night before gone. He had planned on telling the alluring Miss Jolene Monroe who he was that morning. But he had never gotten the chance. This document did it for him.
The elevator slowed, finally coming to a stop on the top floor. His cocky attitude belied any nervousness about the situation. He supposed that’s what happened when you strip for hundreds, even thousands of women a week. The doors parted, and the crisp early morning light shone the elegant office to its best advantage. The scent of coffee filled his nostrils, letting him know that he was in the right place.
Silently, he walked right past the secretary, ignoring her attempts to get his attention, not bothering to answer her inquiry about what he was doing there. This was none of her business. Besides, he had learned early to deal only with the ones in charge. It was one of the first lessons Margot Bradshaw had taught her youngest grandson.
Hearing her sultry southern voice over the intercom, its warm caress ignited the same need deep in his gut. Donavan’s lips curled lightly at each end as he ran his thumb and pointer finger over his well-groomed goatee that was evenly shaved along his jaw line and around his lips.
Finally, he stood before her door. Waiting just a moment, he steeled his resolve. “Now is the best time.” The dark-skinned woman with the shaved head looked up, her mouth opened. Before she could say anything, his hand was on that brass door-knob.
Without bothering to knock, he turned the knob and stepped in, closing the door soundly behind him to draw her attention. With a smile on his face that was as wide as it was the night they first met, he stepped forward. Donavan placed both hands on her desk and gently spoke, “Good morning, Miss Monroe. Or should I say, Jolene?”
Some might call him overly confident, but it had gotten him from Compton’s gang-infested streets to a fancy magnet academy through undergraduate studies at UCLA to a full-ride scholarship to UNLV law school. And now here, the first step to his ultimate dream. Becoming the best in the field. As this woman was. And if po’ white, trailer trash from Bumfuck, Texas could do it, why couldn’t a kid from Compton?
Jo looked up from the computer screen at the sound of the door closing. What she saw only made a bad day worse. One word ran through her mind…blackmail. “Son of a bitch.” She hit her intercom button once more to Gena, “Take ALL my calls. And no one enters this office, not even Jack.” Especially not Jack Tyson. Breathing harder, she gathered her reserves.
She calmed her breathing and plastered that same cool poker face that always won at the negotiations tables back in place. She had come too far for one minor indiscretion to fuck it all up. “Get your hands off my desk.” Her steely blue gaze met his, letting the man know that he was on her turf now. “I’d offer you a seat, but you won’t be staying that long. How much now?”
“Oh, I beg to differ,” his voice was calm, reserved, and calculated. He pressed a black folder forward with his right hand. Jo had never seen it before. Obviously, something he brought in with him. “You should take a look.” He slid the folder closer with a simple flick of his wrist. Then stood straight and turned.
Jo tried to remember his name, even that ridiculous stage one, as he walked over to the very chair that she had so casually referred to and sat down, crossing his hands in front of him. “I’m certain I don’t have to remind you to read the whole document thoroughly before signing it.” His final words sounded more like a command than a request. Not that she intended on giving the damned man anything he wanted. Any more than she had that night.
Not a single platinum blonde strand fell from her tight bun as she shook her head. Rule number one of negotiations: don’t let them see you sweat. “I’m kinda busy here,” she motioned to the stacks of papers about her. “How about you just summarize it for me? So I can get back to the real world.” Her gaze was cold and steely, “You can pick up a personal check from Gena on your way out the door.”
Her eyes took in his stunning body, sheathed now in a crisp linen business suit. Damn, the kid looked almost as good in a suit as he looked in his birthday suit. Almost. But not quite. “I don’t have time for your games. What was the price again? Ten-thousand? A bit steep…but hell, you were almost worth it.” She turned back to the computer screen. “Goodbye, because this is the last of the gravy train, pumpkin.”
A grin slid across his face as he leaned forward and shook his head lightly. It sent chills down Jolene’s spine even before he spoke. “Is that any way to treat your new intern, Miss Monroe? Because I was under the impression that all interns were treated with the utmost respect.”
He paused to allow the significance of his words to sink in. Jo had faced enough legal opponents to recognize when someone was trying to game her. She had to give it to the kid; he was better than most of the litigators she had faced.
“My what?” Jo opened the folder. More to have something to do while she collected herself than anything else. While she plotted her next point of attack. Rule number two: look like you’re in charge…even when you aren’t.
If what he said was true, and Jo had no reason to doubt him, this man would make a damned fine attorney one day. Shit, if it weren’t for that slight misstep in Vegas, she might have actually enjoyed taking this one under her wings. But then she remembered just how hard it was to control him.
“As far as a ‘Gravy Train’ goes, it isn’t your money I’m interested in. Now, if you will, please read the documents and sign them.” His voice was calm and still. It had been the whole entire time he spoke to her.
Her eyes began to scan the document. Her golden brows soon knitted together as she found herself caught up in the document. The style was good, even if the content made her cringe. The idea that another person was privy to this information, even if that person was protected by attorney-client privilege, was disturbing.
She looked up again, “Who wrote this?”
“Does it matter who wrote it? But since you asked nicely and I am in a generous mood, I did. I want to be certain we both are on equal footing. After all, as they say, ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ And whatever happens in our personal lives, stay that way. That piece of paper ensures that anything that happened and will happen between us will stay that way. Between us.”
This one broke Jo’s personal rules: you don’t shit where you eat. Not that she had known where she had been shitting at the time. But that was beside the point. The current situation was unworkable. She was a discrimination attorney. And this was trouble…big trouble. Sexual harassment.
He stood and walked back to her desk. This time with a little more authority than the last. “In here, you are the boss. I grant you that. But outside, where the office separates from our professional lives, that’s another matter.” Donavan’s eyes were locked onto hers. That teasing smile that had first caught her attention and a hundred dollar tip stuffed in the business end of that gold g-string was just as unsettling in the bright sunlight of a penthouse office.
Jo arched her golden brows and met his stare. Determined to get this situation under her control as much as she could anyway. This would teach her to think with her clitty. “Let me make a few things clear. Mr. Bradshaw. If you wish to continue your internship at Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, I will arrange for you to be transferred to another associate…without prejudice, of course.”
She heavily emphasized the term associate. Quite a step down from interning for a full-partner. But anyone who dared to blackmail her didn’t deserve anything else. “Secondly, there is no ‘us.’”
Her eyes raked once more across that tall and built body encased now in the traditional blue linen suit and white shirt. Her face pinked slightly at the memory of exactly what this man looked like without that suit. And what it felt like, those hard muscles beneath that dark skin moving over her. “I thought you would have learned that in Vegas.”
“I am a labor attorney, Mr. Bradshaw. One of the best. I know sexual harassment. My golden rule: don’t shit where you eat. Applies here.” Pushing the folder back across the desk. “I will speak with Mr. Tyson about that transfer.”
Her blue eyes met his in challenge. “Assuming, of course, that you do not feel my presence will constitute an unfriendly work environment.” She needed to let this man know she was in charge, that this was her turf.
Jo rubbed her finely manicured fingernails across her temples. Fuck! This wasn’t good. Although she was a powerful labor lawyer, she knew the real truth. The double standard was alive and well in corporate America. Especially at Tyson, Turner, and Tyson. And that kid was big trouble…for her.
“That’s all well and good, Miss Monroe. But what you seem to fail to realize is no one is blackmailing anyone here. And furthermore, I don’t want to intern with anyone else. You fit the bill quite nicely.”
Donavan allowed his gaze to travel her entire body, lingering on the bit of cleavage that peeked out of her white silk blouse. He had memorized everything beneath that non-descript business suit. Damn, the woman was hot. His body instinctively remembered the feel of her moving with abandon over him those many nights ago in Las Vegas. Reluctantly Donovan silently acceded with his eyes and a slight tilt of his head that he had no intentions of crossing that line here.
“No, your presence won’t constitute anything like that. In fact, I look forward to working with you in the future. And there’s definitely no need to ask Mr. Tyson to look for a transfer. I spoke with him personally to solidify this internship with you.” A slightly smug grin played at his lips as he stated that last. Donavan was no one’s fool. He knew the game and knew it well.
She crossed her hand over the closed folder on her desk. Donovan knew that she was carefully considering her next move. But they both recognized that he had trumped her. Perhaps if she were one of the good ole’ boys, she could march right into Tyson’s office and plop down on a chair, laughingly explaining how this ‘little’ indiscretion had come back to haunt her and request the transfer. Not only would it not be held against her, but she would also become the office stud.
Except she wasn’t one of the good ole’ boys. She never would be. In this world, misogyny was every bit as strong as racial prejudice. They were both outsiders. And they always would be. But perhaps that was one place where he had an advantage this woman did not. He had known that since he was five and watched his best friend’s father be murdered in a drive-by. The man was only playing ball with his kids. But bullets did not know innocent victims from gang bangers.
Donavan had soon learned that even that white-privileged monologue on ‘black crime’ and gangs was as prejudiced as the cops in his hood. Had his cousins ever had any ‘choice’? Growing up in Compton, the Bloods and the Crips were the only chance you had to do anything other than feeding the white man’s greed.
It was gangs, welfare, or working for some rich white man to make him richer while you worried about the rent, health insurance, keeping the power on, and having something, anything to eat. Even his grandmother, the stalwart Margot Bradshaw, recognized that, accepting both protection and ‘dirty’ money from both his cousins to give him this shot out of there. It was the only shot that any of them would get. And it was all on his shoulders.
And on this white woman’s decision. The document at her fingertips was a carefully worded admission of the consensual nature of the relationship. It definitely covered her ass. That was for sure. Opening the folder, she picked up a pen. “If I sign this, I want to make one thing clear. It was just that once. Nothing will happen from this point on. Is that understood?”
With a smirk, Donovan slowly nodded his head. He had said all he needed to say. For now. He knew that nothing was finished between them, just as well as she did. This was just the beginning. And this would be one hell of an internship. He just had to make sure this was not one of those times his attitude got in his way. Sometimes discretion truly was the better part of valor.
“You have my word.” He could wait. Wait for this woman to come to him.
Jolene Monroe picked up a pen from the fancy stand on her desk corner and signed both copies of the document. Neatly tucking one in her desk drawer, she passed the other across the desk to him, still in its folder.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Your internship doesn’t officially begin until the partners meeting at nine. So until then, I’d find some coffee if I were you. I’ll make certain that Gena has an assignment for you for this afternoon.” Looking him in the eyes once more, she added, “I am certain given the circumstances that we can forego the traditional welcoming luncheon.”
“I am sure I will find something around here to keep me occupied for the time being.”
With a shake of that tightly wound knot at the back of her, she turned back to the computer screen. “That will be all. I will see you this afternoon.”
He much preferred her waist-length bleached blond curls loose as they had been that night. He has been surprised at how soft and supple they were. Then again, he was sure this woman hadn’t gotten that color from an over-the-counter box in close to two decades.
The situation was almost comical, but Donovan knew better than to let his woman see the grin on his face as he walked towards her office door. “So, I will see you at nine then. Wear something revealing.”
Without bothering to look back to her, he turned the knob of the door, stepped out, and quietly closed the door behind him. His first task was done as he looked at the signed paper within the folder.
Jolene Monroe would fight him…and herself…every single moment for the next twelve weeks. But that was easily overcome as he thought about the naked woman who had writhed above him that night. Her blue eyes glazed with passion. Her breathe hot against his skin with each tiny moan. The thought of her alone would be enough until then.