Authors: Manda Collins
Copyright 2012 Amanda Collins
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It started like most things in the law firm: with a
Julie Streeter and her fellow paralegals had
gone out after work to their favorite bar, Charlie's, where, as
usual, they couldn't stop talking about the thing that bound them
“Ugh.” Cissy Turner, who was beautiful enough
to spark envy, but sweet enough to make you feel guilty about it,
winced from her position on the inside of their booth. “Did you see
Clay trying to make small talk with Alyssa? It was so pathetic.
He's got a wife and two little girls at home and he's trying to get
into the corporate counsel's pants. If he weren't from one of the
richest families in the state he wouldn't even have a job, much
less be a partner in the firm.”
“I'm just glad I can respect my boss,” Monica
Ballard, the eldest of the group, said taking a sip of her
Appletini, “David's a good guy and he'd never cheat on his wife.
Not that he has one, but if he did, I know he wouldn't do it.”
“You're not saying much tonight,” Theresa
Godwin nudged Julie with her shoulder. “Cat got your tongue?”
“More like Matt's got her tongue,” Cissy
quipped. “Those two have been thick as thieves this week.”
Julie felt a blush rising from her chest to
her cheeks. “We've been working, Cissy,” she denied. “That's
Since her law school crush had arrived in
Birmingham last week as part of RFG Enterprises corporate counsel
team, Julie had been trying and failing not to remember just how
gaga she'd been over Matthew Ellis. He'd been the top of their
class in everything. He had a mind that leapt three steps ahead of
everyone else and he could formulate a legal argument while the
rest of the class was still struggling to assimilate the basic
facts of the case.
When she'd had to drop out of law school to
take care of her younger sister, Julie hadn't had a chance to think
about the things she'd miss. And certainly her crush on her hotshot
classmate had seemed trivial when she was busy trying to keep a
roof over their heads and food on the table.
Now, five years later, her sister, Lily, was
enrolled in one of the most prestigious colleges in the country,
and had a full ride scholarship to boot. And Julie was still
working as a paralegal. She even made a pretty good living. It
wasn't what she'd be earning as a partner, or even an associate,
but she was okay with that. Being a paralegal meant that she could
do what she did best. Organize the information. Sort through
documents and scan them for pertinent information. And she didn't
have to get up in front of a courtroom full of people and argue the
Since Lily had left for school three months
ago, she'd even begun to date a little. But then, they'd gotten the
RFG Enterprises case and Matthew Ellis had sauntered back into her
His polished good looks still had the power
to stop a woman in her tracks. He must put out some heavy duty
pheromone that stupefied any woman in winking distance. Within
seconds of being re-introduced to him, her heart was beating faster
and her tongue was tied in knots.
Yep, same old Matt.
And, unfortunately, same old Julie.
She'd run into other classmates over the
years. Had learned to respond pleasantly to the questions about why
she'd dropped out and what she'd been doing with herself since
It wasn't that she was embarrassed by her
choices. Taking on the responsibility of raising her sister after
their parents' death was the right thing to do. But there was
something about those nods of understanding that grated. Like they
thought she'd used Lily as an excuse because she just couldn't cut
it in law school.
Which was why seeing Matt again had been such
“Hey, Jules,” Matthew had smiled down at her,
the single dimple in his right cheek sending a tingle of awareness
down her spine—and other places. “I didn't know you were here. How
are things going?”
Julie swallowed, grateful that she'd decided
to wash her hair that morning after all. Since they were mostly a
corporate firm, they didn't have very many clients come into the
office, and she had a tendency to dress more casually for work on
non-court day. “Hi, Matt,” she took his proffered hand as his long
lashed blue eyes surveyed her from head to toe. “Things are good.
Thanks for asking.”
“Matt,” Clay Parchman, Julie's least favorite
partner in the firm, interrupted them, “I'll take you back to the
conference room so we can go over the Furman deposition.” He turned
to Julie with a raised brow, as if he knew Matt had assumed she was
a member of the firm instead of a lowly paralegal. “Julie, will you
bring us some coffee?”
Without a backward glance for her, he ushered
Matt down the hall and toward the larger of their two conference
rooms. It was against firm policy for attorneys to request their
paralegals to wait on them in any way. Not necessarily because it
was degrading for the paralegals, but the secretaries didn't like
the idea of paralegals treading on their turf.
In the heat of a big case, of course, they'd
all work together, doing whatever it took to get the job done. But
for Clay to put Julie in her place like that—clearly making sure
that Matthew knew that she wasn't at the top of the food chain with
them, was humiliating. It wasn't unusual for Clay to be such a
tool, but for him to do it in front of corporate counsel was a
deliberate move on his part to preen in front of Matt, whom he
wanted to impress.
She'd braced herself for Matt's condescension
when she arrived with the requested coffee, but he'd been gracious
in his thanks, and had proceeded to get down to business. For the
rest of the week, their interaction had been cordial if distant.
With the first in a series of trials against RFG coming up next
week, everyone on the RFG team, both at the firm and those visiting
from the corporate legal department were focused on getting the job
done. But as she'd watched him laugh and joke, and flex the
brilliant legal muscles that had only improved in his years since
law school, Julie felt her old crush returning.
Which meant that she needed to nip her
colleague's speculation in the bud.
“Yes, we've been working together,” she told
the other women at the bar, finishing her gin and tonic, “but it's
“Yeah, sexy business,” Monica chirped. At
Julie's glare, however, she scaled it back. “Okay, okay, we're just
teasing Julie, lighten up. It's not like you to be so
“Probably has something to do with that
birthday you've got coming up, Jules.” Cissy grinned. “Are we going
to do a spa weekend like we planned?”
Julie was relieved at the change of subject
and joined in with their discussion of her birthday plans. Once
they'd all finished their drinks, they paid their tab and called it
a night. She was grateful to have such loyal friends. It was
sometimes hard for degreed and non-degreed paralegals to get along
in a firm. Those who'd made the jump from legal secretary to
paralegal resented the college-educated interlopers who hadn't paid
their dues by working in the trenches first. But at Gordon, Taylor,
Lutz and Parchman, the paralegals were a close-knit group and
though the more experienced paralegals might resent training the
new kids on the block, eventually if you proved yourself, you were
part of the club.
As she climbed into her car, back in the
parking garage of the high rise that housed the law firm, she
reached into her bag, searching for her phone. If Lily called and
didn't get a call back the same evening, she'd worry, so Julie
always tried to call her before she left for home. But, after a
thorough check of her purse she saw that her phone wasn't
Damn it. She'd left it on her desk again.
With a sigh, she unbuckled her seatbelt and
got out of the car, hiking her bag back onto her shoulder. This
late in the evening, the building was deserted. The receptionist
had locked the main entrance to the firm hours earlier, when she'd
gone for the day, so Julie dug out her key and unlocked the door.
In the distance, she could hear the hum of the janitorial staff's
She loved the quiet of the office at night.
No ringing of phones. No good old boys telling goofy jokes, and
especially no bosses hovering over her workstation while she tried
to proof their memos.
When she reached her office, she flipped on
the light, and saw her phone on her desk. Dropping her bag on the
paper-littered surface, she slid into her chair and checked to see
if there were any missed calls. But there were none.
Since she'd started school, Lily had been
busy, and as the semester progressed, she'd become less
conscientious about calling. Julie knew that pulling away was part
of the maturation process, but it still hurt. For seven years now
Lily had been the center of her world. And now, at the ripe old age
of twenty-nine she was experiencing what most mothers didn't deal
with until their forties: empty nest syndrome.
Picking up the framed photograph of her with
Lily at her own college graduation, Julie wondered what had
happened to that care-free, fun-loving girl in the picture. The
girl who'd gone on to follow her dream of attending the same law
school were their father had gone. When had she gotten
She looked down at her sensible shoes, her
tailored plaid trousers, and her sleek black turtleneck. The Julie
in the picture's favorite color had been red. She'd worn short
skirts and kitten heels. She'd been sexy.
When was the last time she'd felt sexy?
Putting the picture down, she booted up her
computer, and opened a blank word processing document. She’d write
a little to-do list, she told herself. Of things that would make
her feel sexy again. Sort of like a bucket list, but instead of
things to do before she kicked the bucket, it would be things to do
before she turned thirty in two weeks.
Matthew Ellis stifled a yawn as he jogged down the hall
toward the printer.
He'd rolled up his sleeves and gotten rid of
his tie two hours ago, when he'd assured the other lawyers on the
team that they could go home. It wasn't that he couldn't have used
their help going through the documents for the Furman case, but
he'd been sent by RFG's corporate legal department to find out who
had been leaking details about their case to the plaintiff's
lawyer, and he needed as much time alone in the office as he could
muster in order to figure it out.
He'd worked for RFG since graduating law
school six years earlier, and though most men in his shoes would
have chosen to join a large firm, he'd been happy enough to take a
position as part of the multi-national corporation's legal
department. Most big firms, especially the ones in the south,
encouraged their associates to marry before they were considered
for partnerships. And since his parent's divorce when he was in
high school, Matt had decided that marriage was an institution he'd
rather not join.
Seeing the partners in this firm with their
wives had not changed his opinion. Clay Parchman, in particular,
had made his stomach turn. By day in the office he hit on every
woman he came into contact with. He was even carrying on a not so
secret affair with a secretary in another firm in the building. But
when his wife was around he was the picture of the perfect husband.
Being a good actor was something that came with the territory of
being a lawyer. So did being persuasive. But it was the guys like
Parchman who gave lawyers a bad name. Not only because he was a
liar and a cheater, but also because he was really good at it. If
Matt hadn't seen the guy with his hand on the secretary's ass hours
earlier, even he would have had a hard time disbelieving his
heartfelt excuse to his wife about not being able to make it home