Love Proof (Laws of Attraction)
Author:Elizabeth Ruston

Seven

It was actually worse this way, Sarah thought. She gazed across the table to where Joe sat with his afternoon client, a woman in her fifties who seemed just as worshipful as the young woman had been that morning, and all Sarah could think was that she got it—she completely understood.

She’d felt that way herself at one time.

Not at first—at first she thought he was a cocky, overconfident, over-privileged frat boy type who was too good looking for his own good. The fact that he turned out to be a serious student who had never stepped foot into a frat house—let alone participated in any of that kind of drunken, idiotic college boy behavior Sarah resented so much because it meant they could afford to blow off school while she’d worked for years to afford every single credit—meant that Joe had at least a shot at her not hating him. In those days, that was something.

She came to law school with a chip on her shoulder. She knew that. She had a lot to prove to herself and everyone around her, and she spent night and day proving it.

Which was why she’d joined Moot Court in both her second and third years. It was an extra-credit class for students who wanted to learn appellate lawyer skills and compete in mock appellate arguments around the country.

Some students signed up just for the extra credits, some to pad their résumés, but Sarah was in it for the fight. She wanted to show everyone how fast she was on her feet, how articulate, how unbeatable in an open-court battle.

And it didn’t hurt that the major law firms she hoped would notice her had partners who served as Moot Court advisors and who often sat in on their practices to act as judges.

It was how she’d gotten her summer internship in her second year, and how she ended up working for the same firm once she graduated. Because she had a quick, smart mouth, and a quick, smart brain to back it up.

That was where the Number Seven and Number Eight came in: at their final national competition, in the fall of their third year, Sarah and Joe competed on opposite sides of the same case. And while neither of their teams won, Sarah and Joe had been awarded individual honors for their own performances. Sarah won spot number seven, Joe the slot behind her.

She never once rubbed that in when they were still dating. In fact, Joe liked to tease her about it in a way that made her think he was actually proud of her.

But they weren’t dating the morning they competed in that small, chilly town in southern Illinois—not yet, anyway. Their relationship didn’t begin for a few more hours.

And it lasted only a month and a half after that.

Too short, Sarah mourned at the time.

But once she understood what kind of man he really was, she realized she had gotten in too deep, too fast, and for far too long. She should have kept things the way they were in the beginning, with just some harmless flirting and a curiosity about what he might really be like if she got to know him.

Well, she got to know him, all right.

Sarah let Chapman drone on in his regular way. She didn’t bother objecting as he fleshed out the plaintiff’s entire childhood scholastic career from grade school on. She didn’t complain when Chapman asked follow-up questions about the woman’s waitressing jobs twenty years ago, or about when she and her husband divorced, or about what college her son now attended.

Instead, Sarah wrote sarcastic notes to herself throughout the entire testimony.

That’s a great question—I’m stealing that. Oh, did she really work at Target two years ago? That’s fascinating, Paul. I wish I were as good a lawyer as you are. I could be a partner and drive a fancy car and fly first class—oh, wait, you were in the back of the bus last night, weren’t you? What happened, Paul? Are you in purgatory, too?

Sarah wondered what the story was there—not about Chapman, who cared about him?—but about Joe. If he really was being punished by making him be the road lawyer for this case, what was his standing at his firm? And what had it been before he made whatever enemies he did? What exactly had gone down?

“Sarah?” Joe asked, checking his watch. “Do you have a lot of questions, or should we keep going without a break? I know we all have to drive back to the airport—”

“I’ll be fast,” Sarah said, holding back the sigh that almost accompanied the statement. It was only day two, and already she was bored out of her mind with the actual work. The idea of making life hard for Burke had added some fun to it at the beginning, but Sarah was already realizing that what he said at lunch was right: five months of this was going to be brutal.

Maybe Burke was right—they were too old. Even though she still had a few more months before she’d turn thirty. This past year of hers could have aged anyone.

It was one of the reasons she insisted on taking such good care of herself. Once she knew how good she could feel with proper food and sleep and exercise, she wanted to stay that way. She’d seen colleagues give in to the pressures of the job and walk around perpetually sleep-deprived, on the brink of some illness, their eyes always red and raw as they tried to pump themselves up with yet another cup of coffee. Or harder stimulants, in some people’s cases.

Until a year ago, Sarah had been one of those people constantly fighting off or giving in to a cold. It didn’t help her image to always be sniffling into a tissue—she already looked delicate enough. But ever since her trainer Angie had pushed her to make the necessary changes, Sarah started feeling too well to ever give it up.

“Hello, Ms. Jordan,” she said, introducing herself to Joe’s client. “Thank you for coming in today. I just have a few questions.” She asked her eight best ones, then the deposition was over.

The traffic that time of day from Pasadena back to Los Angeles was going to be horrendous. But her flight—and, she assumed, the others’—was less than three hours away, so she knew she had better get to it.

Her new best friend Paul Chapman took it upon himself to walk with her to the parking garage near the hotel. Sarah remembered where she’d parked, but pretended she didn’t.

“You go ahead,” she told Chapman. “I’ll see you later.”

He lumbered off toward an enormous black SUV that looked almost new.

Sarah forced back the bitterness in her mouth.

Then she saw Joe, walking at the opposite side of her row, clicking the remote for his shiny silver Audi and throwing his luggage and briefcase in the back.

He must have slept in his own bed the night before, too, Sarah thought. The driver who met him at the airport had taken him home, then Joe drove to the deposition that morning just like she did.

She wondered where he lived. Someplace expensive, no doubt, from the look of his car. He always had more money than she did. His parents were a lot better off than hers.

Joe looked up just then and saw her watching him. Sarah quickly pretended to search for her keys. Lunch with him had been all right, but she wasn’t in the mood for any more interaction. Especially since now she needed him to drive away before he saw the twenty-year-old Saturn she was about to climb into.

She moved against the concrete wall of the garage and waited for him to swing past her. When he did, he gave her a nod of acknowledgment.

It wasn’t fair, Sarah thought, none of it was fair.

But she knew she could tell herself that as much as she wanted, and it wouldn’t change a thing. Better to swallow whatever last little bit of pride she still had, and be grateful she had a car at all. Be grateful she had work. Be grateful Mickey had recommended her for the job.

Although she couldn’t help wondering now if the fact that Burke was on the other side of it might have been the reason why Mickey had suggested her in the first place. Did he think that would make Sarah more effective, more aggressive?

Or was it just one more move in the long-running game the three of them had been playing since that night in Illinois?





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