May – Philadelphia
Offices of the Justice Project
I came charging down the hall, reading the file in my hand, en route to the law library to find Bruce, our head researcher. As soon as I cleared the door, I felt an impact like I had ran run into a brick wall. Looking up, I saw Mark Patterson, the regular star of my sexual fantasies. Heat burned my cheeks and slowly spread throughout my body, as embarrassment and excitement mixed together.
“Oh God! I’m sorry,” I apologized with a nervous laugh.
“You okay?” I heard my brother Braden, ask. I glanced over and saw him standing next to Adam Roth, who was looking rather amused. Braden, Adam, and Mark were fellow attorneys and close friends.
“Yeah, I wasn’t paying attention,” I said, backing up quickly. “I was just … I was looking for …”
“Watch out!” Mark warned, and suddenly, I felt another impact, this time against my back. I had slammed into a bookcase behind me and a mountain of legal journals came tumbling down on my head. “Beth!” He rushed toward me, tripping over something in the process. Knocking me over, he fell on top of me while an avalanche of glossy paper covered us.
He looked down at me and I felt a powerful energy surge between us. It was like an electrical current. I almost expected the air around us to crackle. Braden and Adam crossed the room to help us, and the spell was broken. It had only been a brief moment, but it had felt much longer. Mark quickly got up, and Braden took my hand and helped me to my feet.
“Be careful or you’re going to kill somebody,” my brother admonished when he had established that I was okay. “You’re getting just like Gabrielle.” His wife was smart and funny, but she wasn’t known for her coordination.
“She was just distracted,” Adam said giving me a look that suggested he knew how distracting Mark was to me.
“No, really guys don’t worry. I’m fine,” Mark said, brushing himself off.
“You landed on top,” Adam replied with a smirk, giving him a similarly knowing look. This thing that had been developing lately between Mark and me wasn’t lost on our friends.
“I was looking for Bruce, anyway, so I’ll just pick these journals up while I wait.” I said and spun around, moving forward and kneeling down to start cleaning up the mess. Unfortunately, Mark was moving forward too, which meant that I fell to my knees directly in front of him and inertia almost brought us together face to crotch.
He must have jumped back about three feet, and then he immediately began backing up around the conference table, obviously getting as far away from me as possible. I started grabbing some legal journals from the floor, as I felt my face get even hotter. Just then, Bruce came in with Liz, our office manager.
“What’s going on?” he asked, giving me a raised eyebrow.
“Mark and Beth were rolling around on the floor together,” Adam answered helpfully.
“Okay,” Liz commented, seemingly taking that information in stride.
“It was an accident,” Mark said quickly.
“I backed up into the bookcase and he tried to help me.”
“By rolling around on the floor with you in a pile of legal journals?” Bruce asked.
“Some people are into that,” Adam said with a smile.
“Let’s finish talking in my office,” Braden said, rolling his eyes. He turned and left with Adam and Mark following close behind. Mark threw me one last glance as he left, and I tried not to look like I wanted him. Too much.
“I’ve got that, Beth,” Bruce said with a wave of his hand.
“I came to talk to you. I wanted to let you know your new computer arrived. I signed for it and it’s sitting there in the middle of the floor. In fact, I think that’s what Mark tripped over.” I pointed to a pile of boxes.
“Oh, yay! I hope he didn’t damage it.”Bruce wasn’t always the most sensitive guy in the world.
“I’ll help you set it up. Let me just go put this file away and take care of a couple of things. I’ll be back in a few.”
I smoothed down my skirt, collected my abandoned paperwork, and tried to refocus. Then, I headed toward my office, letting the urban scene on the street below the windows along the way distract me. We occupied the fifteenth floor of a new steel and glass office building in Center City Philadelphia and I loved the view.
When I reached my door, I couldn’t help smiling a little as usual. Even after three months, I still felt a surge of pride whenever I saw the gold plaque, “Elizabeth Pierce, Director of Development.” It sounded very impressive for a twenty-six year-old, but then, I was capable of handling the job. My degree may have been in Art History, but my dad was a U.S. Senator, and my mom had always supported lots of charities, so I had grown up attending fundraisers.
I went in and closed the door behind me, leaning against it for a moment to compose myself and calm my racing thoughts. Then, I crossed my office, tossed the file on my desk, and my eyes traveled automatically to a photo hanging on my wall. It was of the three of them, back when they had been roommates in law school at Georgetown.
Braden was leaning against a building, blonde, blue eyed, and confident, like everyone in my family. Adam stood beside him, looking cocky, but very handsome too, with his dark brown eyes and hair. And there on Adam’s left, stood Mark, with that sexy smile of his that made him look like you just caught him doing something naughty. He was gorgeous, with his thick brown hair and those smoky gray eyes. A knock on my door startled me out of my lusty reverie.
“Come in,” I called out, turning around. Lily Roth entered my office and greeted me with a friendly smile. “Coming to visit me?”
“I heard you and Mark were rolling around together on the library floor.”
“News travels fast in this place.”
“It’s a small office and Bruce has a big mouth.” She walked over to where I was standing. Lily was a good friend and another attorney who worked with me. She and Adam were newlyweds. “I love this picture,” she said, looking at her husband in much the same way I had just been looking at Mark.
“The three lady-killers back before two of them were off the market,” I joked and went and sat down behind my desk.
“So, do you remember Mark back when he was in law school?” she asked, glancing back up at the picture as she walked around my desk, and took a seat on the other side.
“Yeah, they visited our parents’ place over breaks when I was home from college.”
“And did you have a crush on him?”
“I’ll admit that I noticed how hot he was.” I laughed, feeling a little embarrassed. “I’ve always loved that edgy style he has. And those eyes.”
“I’m sure those eyes were on you too, Ms. Tall Blonde and Gorgeous,” Lily said. “Artsy and edgy go well together.”
“I caught him checking me out a few times,” I admitted. “And whenever I did, he would give me that flirty smile.”
“Well, since you two started working together in February, the attraction has become more and more noticeable. One of you is going to have to make a move.”
“We both know that his friendship with Braden, and the fact that we work together, would make it complicated.”
“I think you’ll both just get to the point where you want each other so much that you don’t care how complicated it is.”
“I may be there now,” I confessed.
“That black wire doesn’t seem to fit anywhere,” Bruce said. We were both on our hands and knees, side-by-side, under a desk trying to assemble a computer that was probably more advanced technology-wise than NORAD.
“According to the diagram, it’s supposed to plug in the back of the CPU, under the hole for the printer cable, but I can’t get it in,” I told him, trying in vain to insert part J into part K.
“I have to run to the little law librarian’s room. I’ll help you in a second,” he said crawling out and then getting up and leaving. A couple of minutes later, I heard the door open and figured Bruce was back.
“I think if you put it in from behind it will fit.”
“I’m sure we could make it fit lots of ways,” Mark said. “But from behind works for me.” My stomach flipped over and I sat up quickly, slamming my head on the desk. “Are you okay?” he asked, coming over and dropping down on the floor himself. Oh God. We were on the floor together again. Steady, Beth.
“I’m fine. Can you help me plug this wire in?” I showed him the wire and where it was supposed to go. He crawled under the desk next to me, took the wire, and did his best to get it. I tried to concentrate on the diagram again, even though I was becoming highly distracted by the smell of guy soap and aftershave in the close quarters.
“Here, hold the wire up this way while I try to get it in the port,” he instructed. I put the instructions down, grabbed on like he showed me and tried to help. After another minute of struggling I got impatient. This was ridiculous. It couldn’t be this difficult.
“Push harder,” I told him, with a note of nervous tension in my voice. The word “harder” brought images other than computers to mind.
“If I push harder I might damage it.” He paused and when he looked up at me, I saw his eyes get darker and his breathing quicken.
“If you don’t push hard, you’ll never get it in the hole. It’s a really tight fit.” Even I noticed how husky I sounded. In my agitated state, I tugged on the wire.
“Don’t yank on it,” he admonished, grabbing my hand. My heart slammed against my chest wall so hard, I nearly fractured a rib. He pulled back like he had touched a hot surface, and I tried to breathe through my noise, so that I wouldn’t start panting. Nobody else made me feel like this.
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to help you get it in.” Nose breathing wasn’t working. It felt like there was no air left. I needed an oxygen mask. He stared at my mouth for a second and then he looked away and renewed his efforts vigorously.
“Wait, I think …” he said thickly. “So close … almost there.”
“Yes! Like that!” The chord slipped into place and I cried out excitedly.
“What are you two doing down there?” Braden asked from somewhere behind us. This time both of us sat up too quickly and banged our heads into the desk. I was clearly headed for the hospital at this rate.
“I’m assuming that this is probably not what it sounds like,” Adam added. “But if it is, then for Christ’s sake, Mark, be a gentleman and give it to her however she wants it.”
“What’s going on now?” I heard Liz say.
“Beth and Mark are on the floor together again, and she wants him to push harder, but he’s afraid he might damage her hole,” Adam answered. Mark sighed and rolled his eyes and then both of us crawled out quickly and stood up.
“I see,” Liz replied. “I’m going to make coffee.”
“I was helping her set up a computer!” Mark explained, sounding irritated.
“Obviously,” Braden said, looking at him like he was crazy.
“I just didn’t want you to think that I was doing anything inappropriate,” Mark said, sounding defensive, and giving Adam a dirty look. He rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his head back and forth like he was working out the tension. I wanted to give him a massage. A nice long massage. A nice long naked massage.
“In the law library in the middle of the day?” Braden asked.
“He’s hard up,” Adam chimed in. “It’s been a while.” The look Mark gave him that time, bordered on homicidal. Adam might be the one headed for the hospital.
“So it’s set up now?” Braden asked. The look on my brother’s face, in turn, was part guilt and part resignation. He ran his fingers through his hair and started to pace.
“It should be fine,” I answered. “I’ll be in my office if you need me for anything else, Bruce,” I said walking toward the door.
“Don’t forget the meeting later,” Braden reminded me.
“Right,” I called over my shoulder. Back in my office I shut the door and sat back in my desk chair thinking again. I couldn’t go on like this. Maybe the meeting that afternoon would be a good time to mention all the jerks who hit on me at these fundraising events I attended without a date.
We had an executive staff meeting every Friday afternoon in the library, just so everyone could touch base. Braden and Gabrielle had started The Justice Project with their closest friends, and while they ran a very professional practice, there was a warm feeling here that I loved. I knew that my brother didn’t want anything to change. This non-profit was incredibly important to him.
The attorneys were all there, Braden, Mark and Adam, were joined by Lily, my sister-in-law, Gabrielle, and Jessica Albright, who handled appeals. Bruce and Liz were both there, along with my cousin Cameron Clay. Cameron was a finical whiz who handled all of our accounting and tax matters. It hadn’t been easy to woo him away from his family’s law firm, but we had a really great incentive to offer him, Jessica. The two of them were in love and lived together.
I had planned out what I was going to say, and I knew my girls would have my back if necessary. Gab, Lily and Jess, were my closest friends, and I knew that they all wanted to see Mark and me get together. In fact, as it turned out, I didn’t even have to say anything; toward the end of the meeting, Lily brought up exactly the subject I had been planning to discuss.
“So, Beth, there’s that fundraiser tomorrow night at the art museum?” she asked casually, perusing a paper in front of her.
“The art museum! You should enjoy that one, honey, as long as no creepy guys hit on you,” Jess jumped in.
“I can’t even imagine having to fight off those jerks every time you go to one of those things,” Gab added. “Ugh, remember that horrible Cole Stevenson, who hit on me at your family’s fundraiser?” Braden tugged at the collar of his shirt, and looked distinctly unhappy at the mention of Cole’s name.
“I heard he’s done with his probation and actually thinking about running for office again,” Lily offered. “Maybe he’ll be there.”
“It’s a shame there isn’t anyone you could bring with you. Don’t you have any single male friends you could invite?” Jess asked, looking very concerned, and I wondered if they had planned this or if they were winging it.
“Okay!” Braden said suddenly, leaning back in his chair and plowing his fingers through his hair. “Mark, are you busy tomorrow night? If not, would you mind going with Beth to her fundraiser?” Everyone turned to Mark in unison. He was quiet for a second, and seemed to be considering his response carefully.
“Uh, no, I’m not busy, and I wouldn’t mind,” He gave Braden a questioning look.
“Just remember, it’s a society event, and there’ll be photographers and journalists there,” Braden said, sitting forward again and looking at Mark intently.
“Okay,” Mark answered evenly.
“And some of those journalists will be gossip columnists, and some of those photographers will be paparazzi,” Braden went on.
“Braden, who cares what gossip columnists say?” I asked, starting to get aggravated. I knew he was right, but this was my life, and my concern.
“I care, as your brother and as his friend.” He looked at Mark again and some unspoken communication seemed to pass between them.
“Just for the record, nobody has actually asked Beth if she wants me to go with her,” Mark pointed out, looking up at me, and my anger dissipated.
“That would be great, Mark, thanks,” I answered, resolved to be on my best behavior, even though I was really tempted to be bad.
A few people from the office were headed over to O’Malley’s, a pub that was close to our building that was a popular hangout for local attorneys, especially on a Friday evening. I didn’t have anything else to do, and there were much worse things than hanging out with my friends, and ogling Mark for a while.
I had just finished up my work and shut off my lights. I stepped behind my door to grab my purse just as I heard Mark and Adam pass by my office on their way out. I was about to step out and join them when their conversation stopped me. They obviously hadn’t realized that I was still here.
“I’m going to die.”
“You’re not going to die,” Adam replied with a laugh. “Just give up and date her. You won. You were the last man standing.”
“I’ve thought about it, but what if it doesn’t work out? She’s Braden’s sister. Think of all the expectations.”
“So, don’t tell anybody at first.”
“Oh yeah. That’ll work.”
“It’ll work better than your current strategy. Dude, let’s face it, you’re not going make it much longer.” I heard the door close behind them. Well, at least, I had confirmation that the feeling was mutual, but it seemed that Mark might need a little nudge.
When I got to the pub, I saw that the others had found a couple of tables in a corner and pushed them together. I walked over and settled into a seat across from Mark. At least I would have a nice view.
“About the art museum thing,” Braden said as I sat down.
“He’s escorting me to a fundraiser, Braden. That’s all.”
“Hey, Braden escorted Gabrielle to a fundraiser, and they were engaged a month later. Just sayin’,” Cameron chimed in, smiling as he took a sip of his beer. Mark looked distinctly unnerved by that little reminder.
“I was just going to say, that I’m sure it will be no big deal,” Braden replied, giving Cam a raised eyebrow.
“You were right to remind them about the paparazzi and the gossip columnists,” Gab pointed out, patting her husband in the arm. “But they can just say they’re friends and colleagues and leave it at that.”
“Yeah, after all, it’s not like they’ll be rolling around on the floor together. Oh wait …” Adam joked. “Try to stay vertical, at least until you get to the parking lot.” Mark glared at him malevolently.
“Okay,” Gabrielle broke in with a laugh. “You’d better work out the details.”
We did as she suggested, and traded cell numbers, and then the conversation turned to other things. Not long after, I went home alone as usual. Well, not completely alone. I was doggie sitting, so that Braden and Gabrielle could go out together. Later that night, I fell asleep next to a Chihuahua. Something had to change.