Off Limits(3)

By: Lola Darling

The floor drops out from under me. It’s hard, for half a second, to catch my breath. Luckily I’m quick at recovering. “Can I ask why?” You can hardly even hear the tremor in my voice, I tell myself. There’s no way he can tell that my throat is closing in on itself. Not at all.

I’ve spent the better part of three months on the Daniels’ case. I’ve done everything by the book, made all the right calls, kept everything shipshape. We’re almost ready to go to trial next month, and I might even have been able to push up the court date the way the client wanted. And now—

“Because I need you working on something bigger right now.”

I pause mid-mental-freak-out. Er . . . What? I pause to take a slow breath—at least he’s not mad at me—but even with that long pause I still can’t think of anything more poised to say. “What?” I ask, feeling stupid.

“Don’t worry,” he says with a hint of a knowing grin in his eye. Dammit. I guess my freak-out was that transparent. “It’s a good thing. This is a high-profile case. We need our best people on it. I would have taken it myself, except I’m still tied up with Murphy. This is the kind of case that can really prove to the partners how dedicated and poised some of our associates are. The kind of case that can point out who might be . . . well. Partner material, some day.”

My heart skips a full beat in my chest, I swear to god. I can practically hear the blood swimming in my ears, trying to keep up with the stutter.

Yes, I’ve suspected Paul might be grooming me before. But he never actually comes out and says it—he never says anything, really. He plays his hand close to the chest, and he’s taught me to do the same. If he’s saying this now, revealing the partner-potential card, he has a reason. I might not understand it yet, but . . .

“Sounds like I’ll love it,” I hear myself saying, before I even have time to think it over. Who cares what the case is? I’ve tackled so many in my years here, I’m confident I can handle anything he throws at me.

“I think you will.” He nods. “There’s just one small thing.”

I hardly even register the hesitation in his tone anymore. I’m too far gone. Too far ahead in mentally planning how I’m going to own this case—whatever the heck it is. I’ll pull double-time, work weekends, I don’t care. I’ll do whatever it takes to knock this one out of the park. These make-or-break career opportunities only come around a couple times in a lifetime, and at times like those, you need to just push everything else out of your way, knuckle down and work your butt off until you win.

“Due to the, ah . . . very public nature of this case, and the fact that it will likely attract at least some media attention—and due to the fact that, as I said, we won’t be able to have a partner on the case directly—we would like to really make sure that every angle is considered, every potential taken into consideration. We feel it would be best to have as many experienced, trusted eyes on this as possible, so with that in mind—oh, here we are.”

I blink, startled at the sound of the office doors clicking open again behind me. I spin around in my chair, and frown in confusion at the man standing just inside the glass doors now.

I know Max Davis, of course. Resident cocky asshole, bent on singlehandedly seducing our entire female staff. Everyone in the office knows all about Max fucking Davis, and his various sexcapades. Yes, plenty of people sneak around the non-fraternization policy we have here, but he makes a damn contest of it, I swear. If there’s a single woman in this company he hasn’t banged or tried to bang, I’ll eat my shoe. Hell, he tried to get me to fall for his shit when he first started. Thank God I make it a policy never to mix business and pleasure.

It doesn’t help that he’s ridiculously, stupidly, unfairly good-looking. Hudson Pierce good-looking. Even right now, at 9:45am on a Monday, he’s got effortlessly tousled black hair falling just far enough into his dark green eyes that it makes it seem like he doesn’t try to look this hot at all, it just sort of happens. Ugh.

I’m still staring at him in confusion as Paul keeps speaking behind me. “We would like the two of you to partner on this case.”

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