“If you want any shot at being made a partner you will take the case like you should have done this afternoon. You will tell your little playmate good-bye, send her an invoice, and get on with finding a proper”—the sneer on his face was so ugly that if I hadn’t spent years perfecting a stone-cold poker face for jury trials I would have recoiled from him— “and suitable companion to bring with you to the company party. I don’t know where your head or your priorities are at, Quaid, but this behavior is not becoming of the young man I hired. I’m starting to wonder if your ex took more than half your bank account with her when she left. Your common sense seems to have gone missing.”
With another disparaging look he turned on his heel and stormed out of the office with as much bluster as he’d entered.
I ran a rough hand over my face and turned to look at Avett. She was staring at the place where Orsen had left with wide eyes and her lower lip was trembling.
“I’m sorry about that.” The apology seemed so minimal for what my boss had said to her. “Orsen is kind of old school when it comes to things. He isn’t very … progressive.”
She cleared her throat and I could see how shaken the encounter had left her. I put a hand on her arm when she refused to look up at me and meet my eyes.
“Asa sent me a text. He’s done looking at the space and he’s waiting for me out front.”
I bit back a bunch of dirty words and slid my hand up to her shoulder. “Avett, don’t let what Orsen said get to you. You are different and your case was different, but it didn’t have anything to do with me wanting to get you naked.”
She finally lifted her eyes up to mine and I could see it so clearly. Disaster and destruction clashing bright and hot in the swirling depths. My hurricane had reached the shore and it was about to lay waste to this fragile thing that was starting to grow roots and take shape between us.
“Avett.” Just her name but it was a plea, a promise that I didn’t think like Orsen, a pledge that I would never discount her or devalue her the way my boss had done.
She shook her head at me and took a step to the side. A lopsided grin twisted her pretty mouth and it made me want to break every single thing in my office.
“Send me the bill, Quaid. I’ll get it paid somehow. I know you mentioned not wanting checks and balances between us but they were always there.”
I growled at her and took a step towards her but she held her hands up in front of her like she was trying to ward me off. “I don’t care about the fucking bill, Avett. I care about you and keeping you safe and that you stop trying to destroy everything good in your life to make something up to a dead girl.” I motioned between us with an angry sweep of my arm. “This is good between us, better than good, and you can’t abide by it. You’ve been looking for a way to twist it into something else from the inception.”
My words were harsh, accusatory, and I knew better than to go after someone feeling vulnerable that way. I’d seen too many witnesses shut completely down after similar tactics used by the prosecution.
“Maybe I have been waiting for it to go bad because—let’s be honest with each other, Quaid—how many good things really come from the bad decisions we make?” She blinked at me and her eyes narrowed. “I’m never going to be proper or suitable. I’m never going to be the kind of girl you can take with you to some fancy office party … a party you never mentioned to me.” I cringed because she had a point. I’d never mentioned the event because it was still a month away and her current situation with the loss of her house and the unknown bad guys after her seemed more pressing than some snotty shindig I didn’t even want to attend.
She shrugged at me and headed for the open door. “I grew up in the back of a bar. My dad’s half biker and half saint. My mom is a short-order cook with almost as many issues as I have, and I look supercute with pink hair, so I’m not planning on changing it, or me, anytime soon. I like where I come from and I’m finally starting to like who I’m coming to be.” She cleared her throat and if I hadn’t been watching her like a hawk I would have missed the sheen of tears that covered her eyes as she tossed over her shoulder, “I’m not trying to atone to a dead girl anymore, mostly because of you, but there are still a lot of people in my life that I do owe apologies and repentance to. I’m not interested in adding you to that list, Counselor.”
She moved to the door and shut it behind her with a soft click as I stalked back to my desk and picked up the lunch she brought me and tossed it in the trash with more force than necessary. I kicked the side of my desk, which only led to my wingtip getting scuffed and my mood getting sourer. I threw my big body into my leather chair and glared at the crooked achievements that looked like they were barely hanging on to their place on my office wall. I’d worked so hard for all of those pieces of paper. I was so sure that they were going to ensure me the life I wanted and guarantee me everything that I thought would make me happy.
I saw them for exactly what they were, pieces of paper that meant nothing unless the man that possessed them did something worthwhile with his time and his talent.
It wasn’t until I left for the day after ignoring more than one email from Orsen demanding that I take on his friend’s case that it occurred to me that Avett hadn’t left because she was hurt about what Orsen said to her; she left because she was hurt about what he said to me. She would weather blow after blow that landed on her because that’s how she operated, but she couldn’t stand to see someone she cared about, maybe even loved, in the line of fire. She didn’t want me to put my job and possible promotion in jeopardy because of our relationship. I’d made no secret about how important my career was to me. She was protecting me the only way she knew how … by destroying the good and forgoing her own happiness. She would blame herself if my position at the firm was threatened because we were together and she was cutting off that culpability at the pass.
I called myself every kind of idiot I could think of for not recognizing her motivations sooner. I was too busy formulating my counterargument and dialing in my cross-examination that I fully planned to level at her that I’d forgotten that the girl I was falling for was equal parts whirlwind and martyr.
It took a few days of moping around my mom’s house and refusing to take Quaid’s calls for my parents to ask what had happened with the handsome attorney. My mom didn’t ask so much as give me pleading looks every time our eyes met that indicated she thought I should do whatever it took to fix the situation. I wanted to tell her for once I broke things for the right reasons and not because I purposely wanted to feel like I had ripped my heart out and left it resting at Quaid’s feet. I wounded myself but I did it so that the man I was pretty sure I was in love with didn’t have to hurt, and hurt he would if we stayed on the course we were on. Quaid deserved more than being caught circling a ceaseless dead end because he wanted to be with me.