Chapter One Winning Appeal Copyright 2014/N.M. Silber

Chapter One

Beth

10:30 AM

When you wake up and find a pair of pantyhose without a run on the very first try, you know it will be a good day, but I had no idea how good, and it certainly didn’t seem that way at first. I came charging down the hall from my office at The Justice Project, reading the file in my hand, en route to the law library to find Bruce, the head researcher at our small legal nonprofit. As soon as I cleared the door, I felt an impact like I had ran run into a brick wall. Glancing up in shock, I saw smoky gray eyes, first filled with surprise, and then twinkling with amusement. Oh God, not again.

I had managed to run smack into Mark Patterson, staff attorney, one of my big brother’s closest friends and the reason I went through so many batteries every month. I felt burning heat travel up my neck and into my cheeks. Why was such an awkward klutz around this one man, when I had always been known for my poise? And why was I always having these conversations in my head these days?

“Oh God! I’m sorry,” I apologized with a shaky laugh. I took a step back, biting my lip, and fiddling with the file in my hands.

“You okay?” I heard Braden, said big brother, ask. I looked over and saw him standing on the other side of the room next to Adam Roth, also an attorney and a close friend of Braden’s. He had a trace of smirk on his face, but then, that was Adam’s natural expression.

“Yeah, I wasn’t paying attention,” I said, backing up quickly. Suddenly, I just wanted to get out of there before I embarrassed myself any more than I already had. “I was just … I was looking for …”

“Watch out,” Mark warned, and suddenly, I felt another impact, this time against my back. I had misjudged the doorway and slammed into a bookcase behind me. An avalanche of legal journals came tumbling down, and I dropped my file and threw my arms on top of my head. “Beth!” Mark rushed toward me, tripping over something in the process. He slammed into me, knocking us both over, while a mountain of paper covered us. I’m so glad I left before I embarrassed myself.

I looked up at him, and even through the chaos and confusion, I felt a powerful energy surge between us, almost like an electrical current. For one brief moment, I was intensely aware of his weight on top of me, and the feeling of his breath on my cheek, and then Braden and Adam crossed the room to help us, and the spell was broken. 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 warned after he made sure that I was okay. Mark seemed to turn me into a walking disaster area.

“She was just distracted,” Adam said, kneeling down to reassemble and collect my abandoned file. Something in his eyes told me that he knew how distracting Mark was to me. But then, this was a very tight-knit office. Everyone probably knew, including Mark. I felt myself blushing more and starting to sweat. It probably sounds immature. I mean, I was twenty-six, not sixteen, but since he had never demonstrated a romantic interest in me, and he was my co-worker and a friend of Braden’s, I tried to be as subtle as possible about my little infatuation. So much for subtlety.

“No, really guys don’t worry. I’m fine,” Mark said, brushing himself off, and straightening his shirt cuffs.

“You landed on top,” Adam reminded him.

I knelt down too and began stacking journals in an effort to clean up the mess. Braden pitched in, and I stood up and spun around, moving forward and kneeling down again to start forming a new pile. Unfortunately, Mark was moving forward to help too, which meant that I fell to my knees directly in front of him, and inertia almost brought us crashing together again – this time face to crotch. He jumped back about three feet, and then immediately began retreating around the conference table, obviously getting as far away from me as possible.

Just then, Bruce came in with Liz, our office manager. Both of them stopped in their tracks to take in the scene. I was wildly grabbing journals, probably shredding a few in the process. Braden and Adam were forming legal journal Stonehenge, and Mark looked like he wished that he had a chair and a whip.

“What’s going on?” Bruce asked, looking at us like he was watching aliens land.

“Mark and Beth were rolling around on the floor together,” Adam answered helpfully as continued to stack.

“Okay,” Liz commented, seemingly taking that information in stride. Not much seemed to throw Liz, which was probably a good thing working here.

“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 noted.

“Let’s finish talking in my office,” Braden said, picking up the last fallen edition. He got up, turned and left with Adam and Mark following close behind. As soon as they left, I let out a deep sigh.

“I came to talk to you,” I said, standing up. “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,” he said, going over to check out his new prize. Bruce wasn’t always the most sensitive guy in the world. Adam’s wife, Lily was fond of calling him “Brucie Dearest” and “The Diva,” but he loved her nicknames.

“I’ll help you set it up. Just 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 and picked up my abandoned paperwork from the table where Adam had placed it. Then, I headed toward my office, looking out the windows along the way at the view of Center City Philadelphia that I loved, and had often painted. It was a gorgeous day in May and I would have rather been outside.

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, “Beth Pierce, Director of Development.” It sounded very impressive 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, cool and confident. Adam stood beside him, smirking of course. 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 reverie. “Come in,” I called out, turning around. A warm smile greeted me as my friend, Lily entered.

“Hey, what’s this I heard about you and Mark rolling around together on the library floor?” She walked over to where I was standing.

“News travels fast in this place.”

“It’s a small office, and Brucie Dearest has a big mouth.”

“What is he, the town crier?” I asked and sat down in my desk chair.

“I love this picture,” she said, looking at Adam in much the same way I had just been looking at Mark. It wasn’t hard to tell that they were newlyweds.

“Me too,” I replied. My friends definitely knew about my infatuation, even though we hadn’t really discussed it much.

“Do you remember Adam and Mark back when they were in law school?” she asked, settling into an orange armchair across from me.

“Yeah, they visited Braden at our parents’ place over breaks a few times when I was home from college.”

“Did you drool over them because they were your big brother’s hot friends?”

“I definitely noticed them. They’re only two years-older than me though.” I shuffled some papers on my desk.

“And did you happen to notice Mark, in particular?”

“You’re such a lawyer!” I laughed, looking up at her. “I happened to like his style. How many law students wear leather jackets and Doc Martens?”

“Well, I’m sure he ‘noticed’ you too. It’s hard for most guys to miss gorgeous blondes with mile long legs,” Lily said.

“I’m not sure, but I think that I might have caught him checking me out a few times,” I admitted, a little sheepishly. It’s not like guys never found me attractive, but I got such mixed signals from him that I almost felt conceited assuming that he was interested.

“Well, I’m sure he was. It’s not exactly hard for anyone else to tell that the two of you are attracted to each other, especially since you started working together every day. I wonder why he doesn’t do anything about it,” she said, knitting her brows.

“Probably because he’s Braden’s friend, and I’m Braden’s little sister.” I sighed and gazed out my window wistfully.

“Who cares?”

“Obviously, he does, and like you said, we work together. It could get awkward if we suddenly started sleeping together too,” I noted with light-hearted tone, even though it had been weighing on my mind.

“Beth, you and Mark are among the only people in this office not sleeping together, and I think there’s more there than just physical attraction. You two seem different with each other than with other people.”

“Yeah, I’m different with him all right. I’ve never had coordination problems, or episodes of unbearable awkwardness before, but around him, I’m a nervous, lusty, filthy-minded, mess,” I joked.

“Speaking of lusty, filthy-minded messes, how was the gala Saturday night?”

“Well, I made some good contacts. I met the Director of the Disability Law Center. She was very nice. We might be able do some joint projects with them. I also got a chance to talk to the lead attorney at the Philadelphia chapter of the ACLU.”

“No creepers?”

“I didn’t say that. I ran into a local businessman who seemed to have forgotten about his wife, and a guy from the city government who seemed to have forgotten that he was an asshole. He copped a feel and tried to pretend it was an accident.”

“Ew.”

“Tell me about it.” I glanced at my watch. “Oh, I promised Bruce I would help him set up his computer.”

“Well, God forbid you keep The Diva waiting. See you later.”

11:00 AM

“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 pushed harder, and felt my hands becoming slick with sweat.

“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. I stuck a couple of more cooperative pieces together, and then went back to tackle the black wire again. I was focusing on it intently when my mind vaguely registered the sound of the door opening.

“I think if you put it in from behind it will fit,” I said, assuming that Bruce had returned from using the facilities.

“I’m sure we could make it fit lots of ways,” Mark said. “But from behind works for me.” Because we were all friends outside of work, this office was more casual than most, and he rarely passed up an opportunity to tease. My stomach flipped over and I sat up quickly, too quickly; I slammed my head on the desk. “Are you okay?” he asked, wincing, and then coming over and dropping down on the floor himself. Oh God. We were on the floor together again. Steady, Beth. Don’t injure the man.

“I’m fine. Can you help me plug this wire in? The diagram makes it look easy, but I must be doing something wrong, because it doesn’t seem to fit in the hole.” 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. Apparently, it wasn’t just me.

“Let me see that,” he said taking the diagram and furrowing his brows with concentration. In this confined space, I was surrounded by the scent of Armani Code and guy soap and guy. I had never realized how powerfully erotic the sense of smell could be. But then, he could probably smell like a plastic shower curtain and it would turn me on.

“Everything else seems to fit,” I said, giving myself a mental shake, and trying to focus on the damned wire.

“You connected part H, right?” he asked glancing up from the diagram, and pausing. His eyes widened slightly, and I think his pupils must have dilated, because they seemed to get darker within seconds. It was mesmerizing, like storm clouds gathering.

“Yes,” I answered thickly. His gaze dropped to my lips and I noticed the pulse point in his neck begin to throb. I had never noticed anything so subtle before. It was like I was hyper-aware of and attuned to his every reaction. He swallowed and looked away quickly.

“Here, hold the wire up this way while I try to get it in the port,” he instructed, handing it over to me. I 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.

“If I push harder I might damage it,” he answered, sounding as tense as I did.

“If you don’t push hard, you’ll never get it in the hole. I think it’s just 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, it felt like I might fracture a rib. I tried to breathe through my noise, so that I wouldn’t start panting. I hoped that somebody in this office knew CPR.

“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. Screw CPR; I needed an oxygen mask. He stared at my mouth again for a second, and then he looked away and renewed his efforts vigorously.

“Almost there …” he said in a low voice. “So close …”

“Like that! Push harder!” The chord slipped into place and I cried out, “Yes!”

“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.”

“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. Then both of us crawled out quickly and stood up.

“I see,” Liz replied. “I’m going to make coffee.” She turned to leave.

“I was helping her set up a computer!” Mark called out to her, sounding irritated.

“Obviously,” Braden said, looking at him like he was crazy.

“Just don’t think that I was doing anything inappropriate,” he said, sounding defensive, and giving Adam a dirty look.

“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. Giving Adam a warning glance, he began running his fingers through his hair and pacing.

“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. I saw Mark rub the back of his neck and roll his head back and forth like he was working out the tension, and I tried very hard not to picture how it would feel to give him a nice long massage. I failed.

When I reached my office, I shut my door behind me 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 creepy guys who hit on me at these fundraising events I attended without a date.

4:00 PM

We had an executive staff meeting every Friday afternoon in the library, just so everyone could touch base. Braden and his wife Gabrielle, who I adored, had started The Justice Project to represent people wrongly accused and convicted of crimes and they believed in what they did. They had hired their closest friends to work with them, and there was a strong feeling of teamwork here that everyone loved.

The attorneys had all arrived; Lily, Gabrielle, my cousin Cameron, and his girlfriend, Jess, another good friend of mine, joined Braden, Mark and Adam. Bruce and Liz were both there too. We could start the meeting.

I had planned out what I was going to say, and I knew my girls would have my back if necessary. 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. I read that the theme is Old Hollywood,” she said casually.

“Old Hollywood? Oh, that should be fun, honey, well, as long as nobody hits 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, making a sour face.

“It’s a shame there isn’t anyone you could bring with you. Don’t you have any male friends you could invite?” Lily asked, looking concerned.

“I’ll go if they let me dress like Joan Crawford,” Bruce volunteered and Lily kicked him under the table.

“Beth, are you being harassed at the events you’re attending?” Braden broke in suddenly, leaning back in his chair and plowing his fingers through his hair. Both Braden, and my younger brother Drew, could be very protective of me. Having grown up in the public eye had made us particularly close.

“There are guys who mistake these things for single’s bars, but they do usually cease and desist eventually,” I answered truthfully. I didn’t want to worry him, but I did want him to suggest that maybe someone escort me …

“Why don’t you bring a date then?” he asked, and I hesitated a beat. Okay, not quite what I was hoping for, but close.

“Because I’m not dating anyone at the moment.” I started shuffling through the papers in front me as if there were a reason for it, other than to avoid the subject of my not-very-successful dating history.

“Why not?” Braden asked crossing his arms and raising one eyebrow.

“Why not?” I gave him an appalled look. When you don’t know what say, repeat the question and look offended. It usually works.

“What happened the filmmaker?” Oh, shit here we go …

“I found out his most successful production to date was entitled Suzie Loves Gangbangs, Part II.

“Wait, there’s a sequel?” Adam asked, earning him a raised eyebrow from Lily.

“How about the Green Architect who was all into sustainable energy?” Braden went on, undeterred. He could be like the Spanish Inquisition.

“He couldn’t sustain enough energy to get off the couch.”

“The i-banker from New York?”

“I” was his very favorite word. In fact, He was a poster child for narcissism. This is an interesting approach to running a staff meeting, Braden. Whose dating history should we discuss next?”

“I’m just trying to figure out why an intelligent, attractive, single woman doesn’t have a date on a Saturday night.”

“Maybe I’ll get a cat to keep me company, or ten. Could we discuss something business related now?”

“This is business related. You represent this organization at these events and it sounds like you’re being harassed. I’m the Director here, and so, I’ll have to address that somehow, probably by making sure that you’re escorted.”

Hearing that, everyone shot a surreptitious glance at Mark at the same time. I shut up and looked down at the file in front of me, feeling my face heat up. That was what I had wanted him to say, but I could have done without the public reminder of what a loser I was when it came to romance. Why was nothing ever easy?

Afterward, they really did discuss business. Specifically, they discussed their caseloads. Whenever they got into the details my mind wandered. It usually wandered to Mark. I figured I could use a mental break, so I let myself daydream about the two of us being alone in the office one night and having sex on my desk. And his desk. And my desk again. It was a long meeting.

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