Love Proof (Laws of Attraction)
Author:Elizabeth Ruston

Six

The traffic on the way to the deposition in Pasadena the next morning wasn’t too bad, so she couldn’t blame her anger on that.

But she could easily blame it on how well-rested Joe looked, how nicely he smiled at his client, that familiar laugh of his she heard just as she opened the door to the hotel conference room.

Joe looked up, met her eye, then went back to talking to the young woman sitting next to him. She must have been in her early twenties, Sarah guessed, and whatever damage had been done to her hair had been long enough ago that it looked thick and lustrous now, covering her shoulders like a brown faux-fur throw, and Sarah had the brief thought that she would happily set it on fire again herself for the way the young woman was staring at Joe.

Hero worship. Sarah had seen it before. Not from anyone she had represented, but usually from women gazing with that same sort of stupid look, a stupid grin to go with it, at some smooth-talking lawyer who said all the right things and seemed to know all the answers.

Sarah wasn’t having any of that.

“How’s it going today, Number Eight?” she asked Burke.

He took his time shifting his eyes from the young woman to Sarah. “Just fine, Seven.” Then he went back to smiling at whatever his client was saying.

Sarah grunted in disgust.

“What’s seven and eight?” Paul Chapman wanted to know.

“I.Q.” Sarah answered. Then she went back to unpacking her laptop and files.

“You two know each other?” Chapman asked. “Before this?”

“No,” they both answered.

Chapman looked from Sarah to Joe. Then he smiled like the last kid to be let in on a joke. “I don’t get it.”

“I used to play professional ball,” Joe said. “Sarah obviously looked me up. Eight—it was my jersey.”

“What kind of ball?” Chapman asked.

Joe looked to Sarah for that one.

“Volley,” she said without missing a beat. “Shall we get to it, gentleman? And ladies,” she added, nodding to the court reporter and Joe’s attractive, worshipful client.

“Did you really play volleyball?” the young woman asked. “Me, too!”

“No kidding,” Sarah muttered.

She couldn’t help seeing the amusement on Joe’s face. She planned to wipe that off before the morning was over.

***

“Where were you born, Miss Lee?”

“Objection, relevance,” Sarah said.

Chapman turned to her. “Excuse me?”

“Just making my record.”

She waited until his next inane question—“What were your parents’ occupations?”—and objected again.

“Are you going to do that the whole deposition?” Chapman asked her.

“Yes, I am.”

“Off the record,” Chapman said to the court reporter, who promptly lifted her hands from the keyboard.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“You spent two hours on irrelevant questions yesterday,” Sarah answered, “and so I’m making my record. If the time comes when I need to bring this before a judge, I want to make sure I’ve preserved all my objections.”

“You can’t keep doing that,” Chapman said.

“Of course I can,” Sarah answered, motioning for him to continue.

Chapman scowled, then told the court reporter they were back on.

“Where did you go to high school, Miss Lee?”

“Objection.”

And so the next few hours unfolded.

After a break, it was Sarah’s turn. Rather than ask her few simple questions from the day before, she decided to expand her line of inquiry.

“Miss Lee, hi. I’m Sarah Henley, defending Mason Manufacturing, the subcontractor.” She said it all quickly, just to tax the young woman’s brain. “You’ve made a claim for emotional distress—are you aware of that?”

Joe’s client looked at him uncertainly.

“I can show you the complaint,” Sarah offered, already handing the file across the table.

Joe flipped through the pleading and pointed to where there was a separate claim for emotional distress.

“Yes,” Miss Lee said.

“Yes, what?” Sarah asked.

“Yes, I am aware I asked for that,” the young woman answered, scowling at Sarah.

Joe leaned over and whispered something to his client.

“The record will reflect that Mr. Burke is whispering to his client,” Sarah said.

Joe cast her a look of disapproval, but didn’t say anything.

“Now, Miss Lee,” Sarah continued, “can you please describe for me all of the elements of your emotional distress claim?”

“All the . . . elements?” she asked.

“Yes,” Sarah said.

Again the young woman looked to Joe. He said, “Off the record.” Then, “Sarah, where are you going with this?”

“Investigating the claim,” she said.

“Lawyers write the pleadings, their clients don’t,” he said.

“Are you saying you didn’t discuss the lawsuit with your client before filing it on her behalf? Back on,” she told the court reporter.

Joe did not look happy, Sarah thought. Good.

“Miss Lee, what kind of emotional distress did you experience as a direct result of the incident you described to Mr. Chapman here?”

“Well . . . I was . . . ” Again she looked to Joe.

“Were you scared?” he suggested. “Sad? Depressed?”

“Record will reflect plaintiff’s counsel is answering for his client,” Sarah said.

“I’m not answering for her,” Joe said, “I’m clarifying your question.”

“The record stands,” Sarah said. “Miss Lee, did you seek any psychological counseling as a result of your emotional distress?”

“Psychological?” the young woman said. “You mean like a psychiatrist?”

“Psychiatrist,” Sarah recited quickly, “psychologist, psychotherapist, therapist, trained counselor . . . ”

“Oh . . . no.” The young woman turned her eyes to Joe again, obviously hoping for some kind of help.

But he was too busy staring at Sarah.

“So, no medical expenses to support your claim of distress?” she asked.

“No, but I was really scared,” the young woman said. “Really, really scared.”

Finally Joe turned and gave his client an encouraging smile. “Remember what you told me about being afraid to use even a blow dryer for several months?” he asked.

“Off the record,” Sarah said. “Would counsel be more comfortable if he could stick his hand up his client’s backside and move her lips for her?”

“Sarah!” Joe growled, pushing his chair away from the table. “Can I speak to you outside?”

“Certainly,” she said.

Sarah casually closed the lid on her laptop, then took her time following Joe out into the hall. She felt the flush of triumph flooding through her veins. She’d gotten to him. And it was only day two.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked her.

“My job,” she answered pleasantly.

“Like hell you are,” he said. “You’re harassing my client.”

“And you’re trying to answer every question for her. She’s a big girl, Burke. Plaintiffs have to be able to back up their own claims.”

“You’re over the line, and you know it.”

“Take it up with the judge.” Sarah started to open the door again, but Joe shoved it closed.

“Is this is how it’s going to be?” he asked.

Sarah didn’t bother pretending she didn’t know what he meant. “Worried, Number Eight?”

“They only let you beat me because the chief judge liked your tits.”

Sarah’s eyes widened in surprise. “Ha! So there it is! That’s what you’ve been telling yourself all these years?”

“I don’t think about it, Sarah. Obviously you do. Whenever you’re ready to stop pouting and act like a real lawyer again, you come back in there and let’s keep working.”

He yanked open the door and left her standing alone in the hall.

Fuming.

That hadn’t gone the way she’d envisioned it—at all. And now he was sitting in there smug and superior, probably holding Miss Lee’s hand and comforting her over the terrible treatment she received from that bad lady lawyer.

Disgusting, Sarah thought. And not something she could let continue.

She pulled open the door and calmly returned to her seat. She opened her laptop again, pretended to consult her notes, then asked, “Is there any history of mental infirmity in your family?”

***

Chapman caught up to her as she waited at the stoplight outside the hotel. There were several different restaurants in the plaza across the street, and Sarah was starving.

“That was good stuff,” Chapman said, chuckling. “Have to say, thought you were being a real obstructionist bitch with all your objections to my stuff, but the way you handled that girl?” He shook his head and chuckled again. “Man.”

The fact that the worst lawyer in the room was complimenting her did nothing to make Sarah feel better. She knew she’d gone too far—she knew it the minute she asked her first question.

If only Joe hadn’t looked so good that morning in his charcoal gray suit. If only he didn’t look so much better than she remembered. If only the young woman hadn’t been so adoring . . .

Sarah shook it off. That was just one deposition, and it wouldn’t happen again. Didn’t have to—she’d made her point. She wasn’t there to make friends, least of all with Burke.

“Where you going?” Chapman asked when they reached the other side.

Sarah pointed to the salad place.

Chapman made a face. “See you later then.”

Sarah was just sitting down to a massive bowl of greens and tofu when a familiar body entered the restaurant. She almost felt him before she saw him.

She cursed under her breath.

There was no use pretending she hadn’t seen him when it was clear he was looking for her.

But he took his time about it, first standing in line, consulting the menu behind the counter, then ordering a southwestern chicken salad.

“Sarah.” He didn’t even ask, just sat down. He pushed the plastic fork out of its wrapper and took a few bites of his lunch.

Sarah continued chewing her own salad, which was now completely tasteless on her tongue.

“Shall we start again?” he asked.

A wave of cold sluiced over her skin. She narrowed her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know about you,” he said, taking another bite, “but I’m not up for five months of that. I’m too old.”

“Yeah, you’re ancient,” she said. “Buck up, Burke. Take some vitamins.”

“Sarah.”

The way he said it, she couldn’t help looking at him. “What.”

He raised his eyebrows in a way that was so familiar to her, she could have predicted the exact lines that formed on his forehead as a result. She knew every inch of that face. She’d held it in her hands, gazed into it, pressed her own soft cheek against it, lusted after it, kissed it, adored it—

“We’re already in purgatory,” he said. “Let’s not make it worse.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, wishing she could come up with a snappier line.

“You think I like this?” Joe asked. “You think this gig is a reward of some kind for a job well done?”

Sarah hadn’t considered that. She’d been so focused on what the job meant to her, she hadn’t wondered how Joe might feel about it. Or why he might be there.

“So what happened?” she asked.

“What, are we going to talk about our hopes and feelings now, Henley?” He threw her own line back at her, but with a shade of humor in his voice, obviously trying to make his point that they should treat each other better.

She softened ever so slightly. “So why are you stuck with this job? Did you make an enemy?”

“A few,” Joe said. “I won’t bore you with the details.” He spread his arms and looked around the tiny restaurant. “And now here we are, both of us hitting the big time.”

“Who’d have thought it, Number Eight?” Sarah asked, trying to make up for digging it in earlier.

“Me, sure,” he said. “But you, Number Seven? What’s the world coming to?”

“That judge was not looking at my chest.”

“He definitely was,” Joe said, spearing a chunk of chicken and popping it into his mouth. “Couldn’t blame him—we all were.”