The Newest Release by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Vi Keeland.
Age Rating: 18+
The Spark by Vi Keeland is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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Before I even met Donovan Decker, I knew his shoe size. You see, I’d gone away for a few days, and in my haste to get out of the airport, I’d grabbed the wrong suitcase. After checking out the expensive footwear and tailored clothes, I dialed the number on the luggage tag hoping maybe Mister Big Spender might have my bag. A deep, velvety voice answered, and as luck would have it, he had my suitcase, too.
Donovan and I met at a coffee shop to do the exchange.
Turned out, it wasn’t just his voice that was sexy. The man holding my luggage was absolutely gorgeous, and we had an immediate spark.
He got me to admit that I’d snooped in his bag and then convinced me to make it up to him by letting him buy me coffee. Coffee led to dinner, dinner led to dessert, and dessert led to spending an entire weekend together.
He got me to admit that I’d snooped in his bag and then convinced me to make it up to him by letting him buy me coffee. Coffee led to dinner, dinner led to dessert, and dessert led to spending an entire weekend together. Donovan wasn’t just handsome with a panty-dropping voice. He was also funny, smart, and surprisingly down to earth for a man who wore seven-hundred-dollar shoes.
Did I mention he also did my laundry while I slept? Definitely too good to be true.
So what did I do to repay him for his kindness? I waited until he was in the shower, then ghosted him.
My life was too complicated for such a great guy. In the months that passed, I thought about Donovan often.
But New York City had eight-million people, so what were the chances I’d run into him?
Then again, what were the chances I’d run into him a year later…when I’d just started dating his boss?
The Newest Release by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Vi Keeland.
Age Rating: 18+
I’m definitely getting too old for this.
I tossed a pile of mail on the couch and plopped down beside it. It was barely six o’clock, and I wouldn’t have minded climbing into bed and calling it a day. I needed a vacation from my four-day mini vacation. Thank goodness I’d scheduled myself a weekend to recover. My girls’ trip/early bachelorette party in Vegas for my friend Anna—the one where we were all going to relax by the pool and get spa treatments—had turned into all-night clubbing and almost missing my flight home earlier today because I’d overslept. It had definitely been a while since I drank more than two glasses of wine in the span of a week, and I was feeling my ripe old age of twenty-eight before the sun had even set this Friday night. Thank God I didn’t have to work tomorrow.
I briefly considered going the hair-of-the-dog route and sucking back a vodka cran while zoning out on Netflix, but then my phone rang, crashing me back to reality.
Dad flashed on the screen. I should’ve just gotten it over with and spoken to him, but I didn’t have the energy. Nonetheless, allowing myself to avoid the stress speaking to my father would inevitably cause reminded me of the other thing I needed to do that I’d been avoiding all afternoon. Laundry. One of my least-favorite tasks—mostly because it required me to sit downstairs in my building’s dingy basement laundry room. Up until a few months ago, I would start my laundry and come back forty-five minutes later to make the switch to the dryer. But that practice had come to a halt after one of my loads went missing—an entire load of wet bras and underwear. Who the hell stole wet clothes? At least nab dry ones. Nevertheless, it was an expensive lesson, and now I didn’t leave the basement until my clothes were washed and dried.
Sighing, I begrudgingly went to the bedroom, where my suitcase still sat on the bed, and unzipped it. I’d packed a linen skirt on top that I hadn’t wound up wearing, and I figured I’d hang it in the bathroom and hope the wrinkles worked themselves out over the course of a couple of steamy showers. I hated ironing almost as much as I hated doing laundry downstairs.
But when I flipped open the top of the suitcase, my linen skirt wasn’t on top. At first I thought my bag must’ve been selected for search, and things hadn’t been put back in order… Though the wingtip shoe I lifted was most definitely not mine.
I rummaged through the suitcase in a panic.
Slacks, running clothes, a men’s dress shirt… A sickening feeling washed over me, and I scrambled to look at the luggage tag. I’d never filled out the identification card inside, but the leather had my initials embossed on the outside.
And this one…had no initials.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I’d grabbed the wrong bag off the luggage carousel. I started to sweat. All of my makeup was in that bag! Not to mention a week’s worth of my best outfits and shoes. I needed to get it back. Rushing to the kitchen, I grabbed my cell from the charger on the counter and Googled the number for the airline. After wading through a half-dozen prompts, I reached a recording.
“Thank you for calling American Airlines. Due to unprecedented call volume, your estimated wait time is approximately forty-one minutes.”
Forty-one minutes! I blew out a rush of air. Great. Just great.
In the meantime, while I waited on hold on speakerphone, listening to staticky music, it hit me that whoever’s luggage I had might very well have mine. I hadn’t even checked the luggage tag to see if, unlike mine, the identification information was filled in.
I zipped back down the hall to my bedroom.
Donovan Decker—kind of a cool name. And he lived here in the city! Thankfully, Donovan even had his phone number listed. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? I doubted it, but considering I still had forty minutes before I could speak to someone at the airline, I wasn’t losing much for trying. So I swiped to end my call. I started to punch in the numbers on the tag, and then decided to hit *67 first to make my number private. With my luck, the guy wouldn’t have my luggage, but he’d be a total creeper.
I was caught off guard when a man’s deep voice answered on the first ring. I hadn’t yet figured out what I was going to say.
“Uhhh. Hi. My name is Autumn, and I think I might have your luggage.”
“That was quick. I just hung up with you guys two minutes ago.”
He must’ve thought I was calling from the airline. “Oh, no. I don’t work for American. I traveled home this morning and must’ve grabbed the wrong bag at JFK.”
“What are your initials?”
“Yeah, you know, the first letter of your first name and the first letter of your last name.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know what initials are. I just don’t understand why you would ask—Oh! Does that mean you have my luggage? I have my initials embossed on the luggage tag.”
“That depends on what your initials are, Autumn. The first letter matches.”
“My initials are AW.”
“Well, then it seems you are indeed the thief who clipped my luggage.”
Sure, I hadn’t checked my luggage tag, but it offended me that he was calling me a thief. “Wouldn’t we both be thieves? Since you’re in possession of my luggage?”
“I only took yours because it was the last one left rotating around the carousel. You see, unlike you, I checked the luggage tag the first time it passed, and when I saw it wasn’t mine, I left it for the rightful owner to claim. But the line at baggage customer service was twenty deep, and I had a meeting I was already late for. So I took the one I have hostage until the airline could sort it out.”
My shoulders slumped. “Oh. Sorry.”
“It’s fine. Are you here in the City?”
“I am. Could we possibly meet to swap bags?”
“Sure. When and where? I’m out now, but I’ll be back in an hour or two.”
The tag had an address on the Upper East Side, but I lived on the West Side, farther downtown. “Could we meet at the Starbucks on 80th and Lex?” That was closer to him, but at least I’d only have to drag the suitcase onto one subway.
“I can’t think of any excuse not to. What time?”
That was sort of a weird way to phrase a yes, and the way he emphasized the word excuse seemed odd. But hey, I was getting my bag back. So what if he turned out to be a little strange? At least I’d hidden my phone number, and we were meeting in a public place.
“How about eight?”
“I’ll see you then.”
It sounded like he was about to hang up. “Wait…” I said. “How will I know it’s you?”
“I’ll be the one holding your luggage, Autumn W.”
I chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Sorry…long week in Vegas.”
I bent and lifted the shoe from the top of the bag. Ferragamo. Expensive. And big, too. A quick peek revealed it was a size thirteen. The inner teenager in me couldn’t help but think big feet, big…. Plus, the guy had a deep, sexy voice. I would definitely be exploring more of the dude’s luggage after we hung up.
“I’ll meet you at eight,” he said.
“See you then.” I was just about to swipe my phone off when something hit me. Oh God! “Hello? Wait…are you still there?”
It took a heartbeat or two, but the sexy voice came back on the line. “What’s up?”
“Ummm… Did you…open my bag?”
“I unzipped it at the airport to make sure it wasn’t mine when I noticed the luggage tag initials.”
“Did you…see anything?”
“There was a pink thong on top, so that pretty much sealed the deal that it didn’t belong to me. But I didn’t rummage through, if that’s what you’re asking.”
I forgot I’d shoved that thong in at the last minute. It had been at the back of a drawer when I’d checked the hotel room one last time on my way out. But I’d take him seeing my underwear over the other stuff inside my bag. I blew out a sigh of relief. “Okay, that’s great. Thank you. I’ll see you at eight at Starbucks.”
“Whoa. Hang on a second—not so fast. You sounded pretty nervous that I might’ve gone through your bag. Are you hiding something sinister in there? I’m not going to be walking around with a suitcase full of drugs or something, am I?”
I cracked a smile. “No, definitely not. I just…I’d prefer if you didn’t go through it.”
“Did you rummage through mine?”
I glanced at the shoe in my hand. Taking out one measly piece of footwear wouldn’t be considered rummaging, right? Nah. “No, I didn’t.”
“Are you planning on it?” he asked.
I had no idea what the man looked like, yet I could tell by his voice that he was smiling now.
“Nope,” I lied.
“Alright. Then we have a deal. I won’t go through your bag, and you won’t go through mine.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Do I have your word on that, Autumn W? I might have some things I’d prefer you didn’t see in there.”
He chuckled. “See you at eight.”
After we hung up, I tossed the shoe back into the suitcase and bent to close it. But as I reached for the zipper, my curiosity got the best of me. Was he just screwing with me, or did he really have something in here he didn’t want me to see? Of course, I knew what I had in mine, which made me extra curious.
I shook my head and started to pull the zipper closed. About halfway, I laughed out loud. Who was I kidding? Now that I didn’t have laundry to do, I had almost a full two hours to kill before I met Mr. Bigfoot. This suitcase would taunt me all that time. I’d most certainly give in eventually, so why not put myself out of that misery and just take a little look-see inside now? Then I’d be able to relax. He’d never know I hadn’t lived up to my end of the bargain. Not to mention, for all I knew, he was elbow deep in my suitcase right now. In that case, it would only be fair that I got to go through his, right?
I nibbled my lip for a few seconds as a wave of guilt washed over me. But I quickly forced that out of my mind. Of course I’m right.
Feeling justified now, I unzipped the suitcase and took a minute to mentally note how everything was packed: a white dress shirt was folded on top, and two shoes were set on either side, heels facing up. I carefully unpacked those and placed them on the bed next to the suitcase in the same order. The next layer had more folded clothes: two expensive dress shirts, a pair of sweats, boxer briefs, and a few T-shirts, one of which had something emblazoned on the front—familiar lettering that began HA—so I unfolded it to see what it said. Harvard Law.
Ugh. One of those. No wonder he could afford Ferragamo shoes.
Underneath the pile of clothes was a white laundry bag—the kind a hotel gives you to put your dry cleaning in, but most people used it to separate their dirty clothes. With no desire to sort through smelly socks, I started to fold the clothes back into the suitcase, feeling a twinge of disappointment. But when I smoothed out the layers of the pile, I felt something lumpy and hard underneath in the plastic laundry bag. So I took the clothes back out and looked inside, hoping to find…I’m not sure what. Though what I found was definitely not what I expected.
The bag was filled with at least twenty or thirty of those little shampoo bottles hotels give out. Actually, a closer inspection revealed some were conditioner and a few were moisturizer. Buried on the very bottom were also three little sewing kits and half-a-dozen toothbrushes wrapped in plastic—the kind you could get at the front desk of a hotel when you forgot yours.
What the heck had Mr. Bigfoot done? Rob a housekeeping cart? This kind of stuff, though a lesser quantity, is what you’d usually find in my suitcase since I was broke all the time. But it wasn’t the type of thing you’d expect in the suitcase of a man who had gone to Harvard and wore seven-hundred-dollar dress shoes.
Now I was even more curious to meet Donovan Decker.
I arrived at Starbucks almost twenty minutes early, so I went online to treat myself to a flat white with honey almond milk. Even ordering it had me salivating, thinking about the sweet, creamy drink. Expensive coffee was my indulgence, but it didn’t happen too often with the five-dollar price tag and my skimpy budget.
I stood at the end of the counter, waiting for my drink and mindlessly scrolling on my phone, when a man walking through the front door caught my attention.
Now that was one good-looking man. Describing him as merely tall, dark, and handsome didn’t cut it, not by a mile. Jet-black hair framed a magnificent face with a chiseled, masculine bone structure, full lips, and a Romanesque nose. I wasn’t the only one to notice, either. I watched as the Adonis took a step back outside to hold the door open for a woman exiting the store, and the poor lady caught one glimpse of him and literally tripped over her own feet.
Seemingly oblivious that he’d caused the incident, he extended a hand to help her up, flashed a killer smile, and strolled inside. His bright blue eyes scanned the room, stopping right on my ogling ones. Embarrassed at being caught, I quickly diverted my attention back to my phone. A few seconds later, I was still pretending to be enraptured by my screen when footsteps came to a halt in front of me. I glanced up and blinked a few times. The guy from the door flashed a crooked smile.
“Were you able to control yourself?”
My forehead wrinkled. “Excuse me?”
His eyes danced with mirth, and his voice lowered. “I bet you couldn’t.”
I stared at him for an awkward moment before finally shaking my head. “What on Earth are you talking about?”
The man’s brows furrowed. “We made a deal, remember? I wouldn’t go through yours, if you didn’t touch mine?”
I’d watched the man walk in, stood right in front of him staring for at least a solid minute, and it took until now for me to notice he had something in his hand.
“Oh my God. You have my suitcase!”
He laughed but still looked perplexed. “What did you think I was talking about?”
“I…I don’t know. I was thoroughly confused.”
“I thought you saw me walk in.”
I did. But I hadn’t made it past your face. “No, I hadn’t noticed. Sorry. I guess I was just zoning out.”
The barista behind the counter yelled my name. I was glad for an excuse to put some distance between this guy and me. I needed a moment to gather my wits. Though when I returned, I still felt a little off-kilter.
“Thank you for meeting me to swap suitcases,” I said. “I’m really sorry I took the wrong one.”
I rolled his case forward and released the handle. But the Adonis didn’t do the same. In fact, he pulled my bag closer to his side.
“Before we switch…” He tilted his head and studied my face. “I’m curious to know if you kept your word.”
I mimicked his pose and tilted my head. “What if I say I didn’t?”
“Well, then you’d have to pay a penalty for violating the terms of our deal.”
I raised a brow, intrigued. “A penalty?”
He nodded. “That’s right. There’s a penalty.”
I laughed as I lifted my coffee for a sip. “I just got back from a girls’ weekend in Vegas. Pretty sure this overpriced drink just used up the last five dollars in my bank account.”
“I wasn’t referring to a monetary penalty.”
“What kind of a penalty, then?”
He stroked the stubble on his chin for a moment. “You’d have to have coffee with me.”
Did this guy really think that would be a hardship? I debated how to answer. If I told the truth, it would be embarrassing. I mean, I went through the man’s personal belongings. But the flipside was I’d get to check him out some more over coffee. Then again, I’d be agreeing to spend time with a complete stranger. Though…whenever I met a guy online, I usually met him at a coffeehouse, and I probably knew more about this guy after going through his suitcase than I would from an online chat. Not to mention, none of my online dates had looked like Donovan Decker lately. In fact, none had made it further than coffee in a while.
Adonis had been watching my face as I debated my answer. His smirk made me think he already knew I’d checked out his bag. So, what the hell?
I stood tall and met his stare. “Was the lady from housekeeping harmed in the robbery?”
His eyes narrowed for a heartbeat, but then a giant smile spread across his face. He held his hand out toward the seating area. “After you, Autumn W.”
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“This is ludicrous. They searched my home—turned it upside down and didn’t even clean up before they left. And they took my property with them. What are you doing about it?”
“I warned you I thought this was imminent,” I said. “Did you do what I instructed you to do last week?”
My client’s right eyelid twitched. This fucker would never be able to take the stand. I’d met him three times before today, for the sum total of maybe six hours, and I already knew his right eyelid had a tic when he lied. Not to mention, he was about thirty seconds away from taking a dirty hanky out of his pocket and wiping the sweat beading up on his ruddy forehead.
I sighed and looked over at the woman sitting next to him. She smiled with a twinkle in her eye. What a joke. I bet I could tell Warren Alfred Bentley’s twenty-five-year-old fiancée that I needed to discuss my strategy with her in private and bend her over my desk. Not that I had any interest in that shit. Gold-diggers were definitely not my thing.
“Warren…” I glanced between the spoiled, sixty-year-old money manager and his platinum-haired princess once more and nodded toward the door. “Perhaps you and I should speak privately.”
“Anything you have to say to me, you can say in front of Ginger.”
“Actually, that’s not exactly the way it works. Ginger isn’t your wife, and—”
He interrupted me. “She’s my fiancée. What’s the difference?”
Didn’t he at least watch Law & Order, for fuck’s sake? “A fiancée can be compelled to testify; a wife cannot.”
He shook his head. “Ginger would never do that.”
Sure she wouldn’t. It would take the prosecutor ten minutes of threatening to charge her as an accomplice before she rolled on your saggy old ass. But I had to play along with the game—at least in front of this woman.
“I’m sure she wouldn’t. But attorney-client privilege not only protects you, it also protects Ginger. You want to make sure the DA can’t come sniffing around the future Mrs. Bentley, don’t you?”
“Then why don’t I have my assistant make Ginger a cappuccino from the new machine we just put in the guest lounge. Everyone’s been raving about it.” For the dumb twenty-grand price tag I heard they paid for a machine that makes coffee with some frothed milk, the thing better make a decent cup of Joe.
Warren looked to Ginger, who nodded, and he grumbled, “Fine.”
“I’ll just be a minute.” I stood and walked around my desk, extending my hand for Ginger to go ahead of me. “Right this way.”
My assistant wasn’t at her desk, so I showed the trophy fiancée to the lounge and promised to send Amelia in as soon as she returned. As I turned away, Ginger grabbed my elbow. She wrapped her arms around my neck and moved in for a hug before I could stop her.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Decker. I’m so worried about Warren.”
Her hard tits pressed against my chest. They must’ve been a new purchase and hadn’t had time to soften.
I politely disentangled myself and backed away. “No thank you needed. I’m just doing what I’m paid to do.”
Back in my office, I figured it was time to get real with my client. I took off my suit jacket and tossed it on the guest chair next to Warren before settling back in at my desk and rolling up my shirtsleeves—something I rarely did because it exposed more ink on my forearms than most of my rich, hobnob clients were comfortable with.
“So…Mr. Bentley. We don’t know each other that well yet, but there are two things you should know about me. One, when you ask me for advice, you’re going to get it. Often that means you won’t like what I have to say, but I’m not paid to tell you what you want to hear. I’m not your friend or your lackey. I’m your lawyer—and the best one you’re going to find. Since you’re sitting on the other side of my desk and not somewhere else, I’m going to assume you already know that because you’ve asked around. So don’t ask me a question and expect a tiptoe answer. You pay me by the hour. Therefore, I won’t be wasting any of your time blowing smoke up your ass. You’ll get the answer you need—but like I said, it won’t always be the answer you want.”
I took a breath. I could see he was about to interrupt me, so I put my hand up. “Please excuse me, but I’m going to keep going here, so we can get on the same page. The second thing you need to know about me is that I’m very good at reading people. In fact, that’s the biggest reason I’m able to charge twelve-hundred dollars an hour. Often this skill I have works to your advantage. I know when a prosecutor is bluffing and when a jury is or isn’t working in my favor and it’s time to cut a deal. But often that same skill can be a disadvantage for you—because I also will usually know when you’re lying. And I won’t work with a client who isn’t truthful with me. If I can’t trust you, how do you expect me to get a jury to trust you? So if I catch you lying to me on a frequent basis, I will fire you as a client.”
Warren’s face bloomed crimson. “Now wait a minute. I’ll have you know—”
I cut him off. “I’m aware you’re a member of the same country club as one of the senior partners. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a client who runs in the same social circle as members of this firm. And it also wouldn’t be the first time I’ve fired a client who has those types of connections. Yes, Dale or Rupert will be unhappy with me, but at the end of the day, I make them millions a year, and you don’t. So they’ll get over it. You, on the other hand, will not. Because the government’s case against you is all but airtight. And when you have to go down the street to another firm and another attorney, you’ll be doing twenty-five years, because I’m the only shot you have at beating this, Mr. Bentley. Some may call me arrogant for saying that, but I don’t really give a flying fuck. Because while I may be that…it’s also the God’s honest truth.”
I sat back in my chair and had a little staring contest with Mr. Bentley. He was pissed—I’m sure it had been decades since anyone spoke to him that way. And right this moment, he was currently mulling over firing me. But in the end, the people who find themselves sitting on the other side of my desk, the people who get involved in complicated, crooked schemes that get them in hot water? They aren’t dumb. They’re intelligent. Very much so. And they love their freedom. So most have done their homework before they step one foot through my door, and they know I’m their best shot at keeping said freedom.
From here, now that I’d given my little speech, we’d play a game of chicken. The first man who spoke lost.
Three or four minutes ticked by—which is a long-ass time to sit and stare at a man in silence—but eventually Warren caved.
He leaned forward and rested his hands on his knees. “Fine. What’s our next move?”
I spent the next forty-five minutes going over strategy. He wasn’t happy when I told him he likely wouldn’t be able to post bail once the feds froze his assets. But we were still early in the game, so he was at least partially in denial—thinking his friends and business associates would come to the rescue.
Maybe they’d show for fifty-grand bail, but his was going to be seven figures.
When we were done and had a game plan, my client blew out a deep breath.
“How long do I have before they arrest me?”
“A day—two, tops.”
“What do I do until then?”
I held his eyes. “You sure you want my advice on that?”
He frowned, but nodded.
“Go home, Mr. Bentley. Call in a private chef to make your favorite meal and then fuck your hot fiancée. Because your assets will be frozen by morning, and once that happens? She’ll be hocking that rock on her finger to pay for a first-class ticket back to wherever she came from.”
“May I see your ID, please?”
I leaned back in my chair and smirked at my friend across the table.
“Fuck off,” Trent grumbled while pulling his license out of his wallet. He hadn’t even looked up to see my face, yet he knew I was enjoying the moment.
The waitress perused his ID and handed it back to him. This routine was a pretty frequent occurrence. Trent Fuller was thirty but didn’t look a day over eighteen. I’d never seen him with facial hair, and we’d gone to bachelor-party benders that lasted four days in New Orleans.
I smiled at our server. “He’s late hitting puberty. You want to see mine?”
“It’s okay. You look over twenty-one.”
“You sure? Not even to take a peek at my address, in case you’re in the neighborhood?”
The waitress blushed. I was teasing, though she was pretty, albeit a little young for me.
“I’ll be back with your drinks in a minute.”
Trent grabbed a breadstick from the middle of the table and crunched into it.
“Who was the hot blonde I saw you walk out to reception with her father this afternoon?”
“The old dude is her fiancé, not her father. But if you’re interested, I’m pretty sure she’s going to be in the market for another sucker pretty soon. My client is about to lose a bunch of the assets that make him so handsome.”
“Damn. We never get women who look like that in the intellectual property division.”
“You want to run with the big dogs, you gotta learn to pee in the tall grass.”
Trent’s face wrinkled. “What the hell does that even mean?”
I chuckled. “No idea. How’d things go with the woman you managed not to scare off a few weeks ago?”
My buddy and I went out for happy hour or dinner once or twice a month. We both worked eighty hours a week at the firm, so free time wasn’t something we had in droves.
Trent frowned. “I took her out to dinner at a really nice restaurant. Left her a message the next day to say I had a good time, and she’s not returning my calls.”
“Did you entertain her during the meal with your usual riveting conversation about copyrights and patents?”
I laughed. I was kidding, of course. Trent was actually a pretty funny guy. He was witty and smart. It was totally her loss, but I’d never admit that to him.
“How about you?” he said. “How did things go with the brunette you met? She seemed really nice.”
“Gone. Failed test two.”
He shook his head. “You and your ridiculous tests. When was the last time someone made it past two?”
The waitress came and delivered Trent’s wine and my beer before disappearing again. I knew exactly the last time a woman had made it past my so-called ridiculous tests. Though I didn’t need to mention it had been a while, just to help prove my friend’s point.
He prodded. “Seriously, how long?”
“I don’t know…”
“You do too know. You remember shit you heard in the womb, Decker.” He shook his head. “It was the luggage woman, wasn’t it? The redhead you spent the weekend with who pulled the disappearing act on Monday morning. What was her name again? Summer?”
I took a long draw from my beer. “Autumn.”
It had been ten months since I walked into that coffee shop to swap luggage, and three days less than that since I’d last seen her. We’d met to exchange luggage and wound up sitting in Starbucks until it closed. After, we went out to dinner, then back to my place later when we shut down the restaurant. Autumn W. I’d even blown off a day of work after she ditched me, the first time I’d done that since I started at Kravitz, Polk and Hastings seven years ago.
We’d barely slept the entire weekend, even though we hadn’t had actual sex. Another first for me—spending three nights with a woman I wasn’t sleeping with. Yet I’d never been so wired about meeting someone in my life, and I’d thought the feeling was mutual. Which was why I’d been shocked as shit when I got out of the shower Monday morning and found an empty apartment. No note. No number. I’d never even gotten her last name. The only thing I had to go on was a folded-up piece of paper, an odd list I’d forgotten to stick back into her luggage when I’d rummaged through it. I still had it folded in my wallet at this very moment. Yet another thing I wouldn’t be mentioning to Trent.
“You do know why you couldn’t find anything wrong with that one, right?” Trent sipped his wine. “Because she blew you off. If she hadn’t, you would’ve found some test for her to fail. Maybe what you need to do is add not blowing me off to your list of tests. That way you aren’t pining after a woman who ghosted you. What happened with the one you met at McGuire’s last week, anyway?”
“We went out to dinner the next night…no red flags. So I asked her if she liked hockey. She said she was a big fan and came over to watch the game the next day. Played with her phone the entire first period. She didn’t even know how many quarters were in the game.”
“You know, you think it’s a problem that she stretched the truth a little. But I think her telling you she liked hockey was a good thing. It shows she’s willing to compromise and sit around while you watch a game just to spend some time with you. Does she have to love sports and watch every minute?”
“No, not at all. But when I asked her if she liked hockey, her response was, ‘I love it. Watch it all the time.’ That’s a consistency problem right there. If what she says and what she does are inconsistent off the bat, that’s a red flag.” I sucked back my beer. “Plus, the next day, she sent me a picture of her tits.”
Trent shook his head. “Only you would count that as a strike against a woman.”
No naked selfies for at least a month. Even if I ask for them. Now, I realize that asking for something and then holding that against a woman who gives it to me might make me an asshole, but it is what it is.
I shook my head. “I like naked selfies as much as the next guy. But if a woman is sending you one when you’ve known her less than a week—that’s a big red flag.”
“Whatever. I’ll take a naked selfie whenever a woman wants to send it.”
I smirked. “The problem with that is the only women you attract are ones who look your age, so it’s considered child pornography.”
As usual, our conversation shifted from our pathetic social life to sports before it eventually landed back on the firm. We could talk shit about that place for days. But lately our focus had been on whether I’d make partner.
“So how’s the vote tally going?” Trent asked.
I was up against some stiff competition. Once every five years, our firm opened the partnership doors to two of its best-performing associates. The average time on the partnership track was ten to twelve years. I’d been with Kravitz, Polk and Hastings for just shy of seven when old man Kravitz told me I was up for consideration a few months ago. If I made the cut this year, I’d be the youngest person to make partner in the firm’s history—something I really wanted. Being the first to break that record meant more to me than the extra money I’d be pulling in. I already didn’t have enough time to spend all the cash I made.
“I think I only need Rotterdam and Dickson to get the two-thirds I need.”
“The Dick should be easy to bag. He’s in your division.”
“I know. But he hasn’t presented his bare ass for me to kiss lately. I also just found out that if he votes for me and I make partner, I’d be breaking his record. He made partner in eight years.”
“Shit. Well, you better hope his ego is smaller than yours, then.”
“Don’t remind me.”
It was almost eleven o’clock by the time we left the restaurant. On our way out, my phone buzzed. I looked at the caller ID and shook my head. “Speak of the devil.”
“Who is it?”
“It’s pretty late for him to be calling, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, no shit. Guess puckering up doesn’t have a quitting time.” I swiped to answer. “Donovan Decker.”
“Decker. I need a favor.”
“Of course. What’s up, boss?” I pumped my closed fist up and down in the universal whacking off motion as Trent looked my way.
“I need you to pick up another pro bono case.”
Fuck. I’d already done my annual allotment. What I needed was to bill every last hour I could before the partners’ vote, not spend hours on an unbillable case. Yet…I needed Dickson, so I sucked it up. “No problem. Send me the file, and I’ll look at it first thing in the morning.”
“I need you to jump on it right now.”
“Can you get down to the seventy-fifth precinct?”
That was the last place I wanted to go at any time of the day. I frowned, but answered, “Yeah, sure.”
“The kid’s name is Storm. He’s a minor.”
“First or last name?”
“Pretty sure it’s his last name. He goes by Storm, so I’m not sure what his first name is. His social worker is on her way and will meet you there.”
“Okay. No, problem.”
“Thanks, Decker. I owe you one.”
I swiped my phone off. The fucker better remember that in two months.
I hadn’t stepped foot in this place in more than thirteen years, yet the minute I walked in, I recognized the familiar smell. Trying to ignore the memory, I headed right to the desk sergeant.
“How you doing? Do you have a kid named Storm here? I’m not sure if it’s his last name or first.”
“I’m his legal counsel.”
The old timer looked me up and down. “I’m guessing this is pro bono for some fancy firm.”
“Good guess. I take it he’s here?”
The cop picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers. “I got a pretty boy out here for Storm. Looks more expensive per hour than my ex-wife’s asshole divorce attorney I had to shell out for, so…no rush.”
The police weren’t exactly fans of defense attorneys. I shook my head. “You should try a more original hobby. Being miserable to all lawyers is pretty cliché. But regardless, I shouldn’t have to remind you that all questioning stops now. And I assume you’ve made the requisite good-faith attempt to contact the kid’s parent or guardian before asking him anything.”
“Are you sure you’re not related to the kid? You have the same winning disposition.” He motioned toward the other side of the room and went back to staring at his computer. “Make yourself comfortable on the nice wooden bench. I’ll call you whenever we get around to it.”
I sighed, but I knew arguing at a police station was generally pointless. So I did as told and parked my ass on the bench. A half hour later, I was engrossed in answering emails when I heard the station door open and close. I didn’t bother to look up until I heard the sergeant say Augustus Storm. He was talking on the phone again, while a woman stood in front of him at the desk.
Augustus, huh? I smirked. No wonder the kid stuck with Storm. It was hard enough to gain respect in this neighborhood without being saddled with a name like Augustus. I straightened my tie and stood, intending to walk over to the woman I assumed was the kid’s social worker. But one look at her profile and my step faltered.
The side of her face looked awfully familiar…
As I stared, she again spoke to the desk sergeant, so I leaned in and paid close attention.
I knew that sweet, feathery sound—the kind that could tell a person to fuck off without them even knowing it.
But it wasn’t until the sergeant pointed in my direction, and the woman turned, that I realized this woman had told me to fuck off—not in so many words but with her actions. Our eyes met and I smiled, though the sentiment wasn’t reciprocated. Instead, the woman’s eyes widened as I approached.
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