Lesley walked briskly down the sidewalk. She cursed the cholesterol in her blood for the umpteenth time. Countless hours of eating junk by her reading table day and night as she labored through tons of law books during her law school with zero time for exercise had left her with a lot of cholesterol in her blood. She recalled her doctor's stern voice the last time she was in his office.
"You're slowly killing yourself, Lesley McBride. One more year of zero exercise and more junk and your heart will stop."
So she had gotten walking shoes and devoted one whole hour of her mornings to walking to work pending when, if ever, she would have time to enroll in a gym. She looked at the paper bag in her hand containing buttered biscuits and chuckled to herself wondering what her doctor would say if he saw that she wasn't implementing the strict diet he had placed her on.
Her sigh of relief when she got to the immense building where her office was located was genuine. Her heart felt like it would burst in her chest as it pounded away in an impossibly fast distorted rhythm. She placed her free hand against a pillar and leaned heavily on it as she waited for her heart rate to return to normal.
A palm on the small of her back startled her and made her jump. She whirled around to see a freckled handsome face. Royce, a lawyer 3 years at the bar.
His eyes on her were full of genuine concern. "Are you alright? You look like you're about to faint."
Lesley straightened and self consciously tugged on her black pencil skirt which stopped modestly just below her knee. She forced a smile and answered, "I'm fine thank you. I just need to get fit."
Royce's face was serious but his green eyes twinkled with laughter when he spoke. "Oh. I know a place. . ."
They walked side by side into the building while he fished for a contact card in the pocket of his immaculate suit. He found it and gave it to her. "Here. The address and phone number are written at the back. I use it too as my workout center so trust me when I say it's a standard gym."
Lesley looked at the quality of the material the contact card was made of and thought to herself that a gym that could afford to spend so much on a contact card would probably be too expensive for her. She smiled at Royce and said instead, "do you work out a lot?" Lesley regretted the words the minute they left her mouth. God, she sounded like a dumb bimbo.
Royce quickly answered her as if sensing her embarrassment. "I make it a point to go at least once a week. Keeps me from getting fat. "
Lesley eyed him from the corner of her eyes taking note of the way his perfectly tailored suit followed his lean figure. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him anywhere. Lesley started to say something then swallowed her words when she realized she was about to make another comment on his body. She was saved from further embarrassment when the elevator dinged on the second floor. She muttered some words of thanks to him and hurried off to her cubicle.
Lesley was deeply immersed in her work when a familiar voice sounded over her head. "It's 1 pm."
She jerked up from her laptop and turned her head to face him. "Oh hi, Royce." Lesley laughed uneasily. He was leaning so close she could smell his scent, it made her giddy and she avoided his eyes.
"Aren't you going to lunch? "
She nervously tucked a lock of rich brown hair behind her ear and said in a voice that shook slightly, "Uhm. . . I still have work to do and I'm not so hungry. I ate a hearty breakfast."
"You call a few biscuits and a cup of coffee hearty breakfast? I'd like to see your definition of a meager one."
Lesley laughed genuinely and felt some of her tension lighten. He finally straightened away from her and she let out a grateful breath.
"Come, " he said as he pulled out her chair with her on it, "I'll treat you to lunch and show you my definition of a hearty meal."
"Oh no," she said, even as she rose and reached for her purse, "my heart can't take it. "
Lesley caught herself laughing so hard that she had tears in her eyes. For a by-the-book lawyer, Royce was completely charming. She realized she hadn't had this much fun with a man who wasn't related to her since Jake. Jake. She felt the familiar pang in her chest and her face contorted slightly with pain.
Royce noticed the shadow pass over her eyes and quickly reached out to hold her hand. "Are you OK? "
Lesley reflexively pulled back her hand before she realized it. She cleared her throat. "I'm fine. I'm just. . . missing someone."
He squinted his eyes at her comically. "Your boyfriend?"
She laughed at him. "No. An old friend. A good old friend. He made my childhood on a farm bearable."
Royce cleared his throat. "Well, if he misses you as much as you miss him, why hasn't he found you yet?" he leaned in towards her conspiratorily, "If I were in his shoes, I would have found you a long time ago." He winked at her and she smiled shyly, lowering her gaze to her drink on the table.
She thought about what he said and then shook her head. Jake had a lot of responsibilities with running the farm and caring for four women. It would be selfish of her to think he would leave everything behind and come running to find her when she hadn't even attempted to reconnect with him herself.
She looked up at Royce and smiled. "Tell me about yourself. "
If he was surprised by the sudden change of topic, Royce didn't show it. He leaned back and theatrically posed like someone about to give a long lecture. Lesley giggled and the last of her worries floated away.
It was quarter past 2 pm when she rushed into the office and scrambled to her cubicle. Her colleague, a sassy blonde with a bosom that always threatened to spill out of her a size-too-small shirt, looked over at her indignantly. "You're late", she said in a fake British accent. "Mr. Brian was looking for you some minutes ago."
Lesley forgot all about how annoying the blonde was and quickly checked her appearance in the blank screen of her laptop before briskly walking towards her boss' office, casually saying over her shoulder, "Thanks, Meg. "
Megan snickered and Lesley rolled her eyes.
A handsome black middle-aged man sat behind a wide dark glass table in his impressive office. His head was bowed over a file in front of him and Lesley stood awkwardly for a moment indecisive as to whether to announce her presence or wait until he noticed her. She cleared her throat and Mr. Brian raised his head and smiled at her. Lesley was startled at the warmth that he exuded. She was rather expecting a query or reprimanding for being late from lunch. She opted to err on the side of caution and apologize.
"I'm sorry I was late from lunch sir. I was informed that you asked for me."
Her boss waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about that. I've noticed you skip lunch altogether more often than not. I won't penalize you for being late for one day. Sit down, I have something to discuss with you."
Lesley smiled gratefully and sat down on one of the two leather chairs across him on the front side of his desk.
"I was just going through your file now, miss McBride, and I've noticed your excellent record. You may have observed that our firm has a lot of cases lined up. But as lawyers we are not to turn people, who are seeking justice, away. Hence the need for newly called to the bar lawyers like yourself to step up and grab your robes. It is to this end that I've decided to give you this file. Study it, come up with as much possible defenses as you can and have it on my desk on Monday morning. Do you understand?"
Lesley felt like she had been transported to an alternate universe where pigs flew. Her mouth hung slightly open as she gaped at her boss.
Mr. Brian waited a beat. "Miss McBride?" he prompted.
Lesley's mouth snapped shut and she nodded her head firmly. "Yes, I understand sir."
Mr. Brian closed the file in front of him and slid it across the polished glass table to her. She caught it deftly and he smiled. "You may go now."
She rose and turned to leave then changed her mind and spun to face Mr. Brian. "I won't disappoint you, sir," she said solemnly.
Mr. Brian nodded. "I'm counting on it."
The file imprinted on her skin from her tight grip on it as she wanderedp0l to her cubicle. She was screaming in her head, my first case! Well not a full case but. . . it's a start! For the past few months she's been working with the firm she had only done paper work. If she did this right, she would get to accompany a senior lawyer to court and watch her arguments used.
She was aware of Meg's eyes on her as she slowly sat down. A while later, Meg leaned over. "You look like you've been thoroughly screwed."
Lesley barely heard her over the roaring in her ears.
She continued. "If you're gonna play with the boss then leave Royce alone. I have my eyes on him."
Lesley sighed in exasperation and lifted her eyes to give Meg the McBride women's signature death stare. As always, it had the desired effect she sought and she did an inner fist pump when Meg turned and went back to her work without saying another word. She took a deep breath and tentatively opened the file. Forgetting all about herself and her sense of accomplishment, Lesley immediately assumed her lawyer mode and delved into the file. After a while, she got up and walked with a determined stride to the firm's library. She grabbed two voluminous books from the shelf on civil law. She made a mental note to grab a bag of chips on her way home. Scratch that. No chips for her. She'll get almond or cashew nuts instead.
There was only one car in the car park when Lesley strode out of the building late that evening. She had been so absorbed in her reading that she had lost track of time. She sighed. This would be her life over the weekend; her nose buried in books while the clock ticked away.
She was walking down to the curb to hail a taxi when the car she had seen in the parking lot slowed beside her. She quickly groped blindly in her purse for her pepper spray, dropping her armful of books in the process. She cursed and dropped to her knees to gather the books and papers which were strewn across the paved floor, cursing again when she realized the folly of her action; someone could hit her on the head with her bent like that. She snatched her pepper spray from her purse and pushed herself up at the same time the occupant of the car stepped in front of her.
She instinctively moved back and slipped on a piece of paper lying on the ground beside her foot.
Royce caught her and pulled her against his chest momentarily knocking the wind out of her.
Lesley gasped immediately assaulted by his masculine scent. Was that soap, or cologne? Her lips were suddenly dry and her tongue shot out to moisten them.
Royce had intended to release her when he was sure she was OK but when her tongue touched her lips he found that he couldn't take his eyes off it.
They must have stood like that for a couple of minutes before Lesley coughed and drew away. She quickly bent and resumed gathering her books.
Royce bent too and they gathered the scattered papers in awkward silence.
When Lesley finally rose and turned to thank him, he waved her thanks away. "It's late. I don't have much to do tonight. Let me take you home."
Lesley made a halfhearted attempt to refuse but Royce was having none of it. She gave him her address and entered the car.
The interior of the car was as neat as the man himself. They drove for a while in silence and Lesley used the opportunity to take a good look at him. Even at closing hours, his tie was knotted perfectly and his hair was well combed. Lesley eyed his hands. His nails were well-manicured and trimmed. And his skin looked soft like it was specially pampered. Lesley blurted out before she could stop herself: "Do you use moisturizer?"
Royce smiled over at her. "Yes. Lavender. You?"
"I don't use moisturizer. I just use rose oil."
Again Lesley noticed he hadn't asked her why she was asking. She nodded imperceptibly, impressed. It was hard to find a man who was so attuned to a woman's feelings. Except he was. . . "Are you gay?" she gasped.
Now Royce laughed outright. She involuntarily shrank into her seat turning a deep shade of crimson. What was wrong with her? Ten years' worth of experience scaring men away from her and earning the nickname "Thatcher" from her peers fled from her the moment he had approached her this morning.
Royce recovered from his mirth and said in a slightly amused voice. "I'm not gay, Les"
Her heart lurched at his use of her pet name and she managed to mutter a small "Oh."
"That is a lot of books you have with you."
Lesley brightened. She entered her element. She told him about the case she was preparing and he gave her some insightful tips to use.
Vanessa saw the headlights in her driveway and called to her husband who was already dozing off beside her. He grabbed a metal bat beside him and got up to walk towards the door with his wife behind him. As he turned the doorknob the headlights started to retreat, still he clutched the bat tightly in his hands his muscles tense and ready to swing. He opened the door and jumped slightly when he saw his daughter. He raised his eyes to see the car round the corner and speed off into the night. Lesley took one look at her father's face and gushed out explanations