Authors: Jenna Black
Being me, I hadn’t dressed up for the occasion. The receptionist tried to be subtle as she took inventory of my outfit—low-rise jeans, my uniform of choice, along with a sleeveless cropped sweater that left my navel and the tattoo on my back on display. No doubt about it, I was underdressed. Ask me if I cared.
Despite her thinly veiled disapproval of my attire, the receptionist told me Mr. Cook would be right
with me and asked me to take a seat in the waiting room.
Cook didn’t keep me waiting long, which was a good thing, or I might have bolted. I was relieved to see he wasn’t quite as stodgy as I expected. Yes, like everyone else in my field of vision, he was wearing a suit, but his tie was a cheery red with white polka dots instead of the ultraconservative brown, blue, and gray that everyone else wore. Then again, Cook was a partner, so he could get away with a little eccentricity.
He smiled when he saw me, holding out his hand for me to shake and greeting me without once seeming to notice my outfit. I’d guess his age at around forty-five, though he wore his years well. His salt and pepper hair was neatly cropped, and his gray-blue eyes looked disproportionately large behind his thick glasses.
“Come on back to my office,” he said, gesturing me to follow him as he headed down a long hallway to an impressive corner office.
“Nice view,” I said when I stepped inside, though I was thinking something more along the lines of “So this is the kind of office you get when you charge more than three hundred dollars for an hour of your time.”
The twinkle in his eye suggested he’d read my thought, but he refrained from commenting. I sat in one of the twin mahogany chairs that faced his desk and clasped my hands in my lap, not knowing where to begin.
“Brian has given me the basics about your case,” Cook said, “but I’d like to hear it all in your own words.”
I frowned. “So you and Brian know each other
personally? I thought he was just making a recommendation based on your reputation.”
Cook shrugged. “I can’t say we know each other well, but you’re hardly the first client he’s sent my way.”
The fact that Brian knew him personally made me feel a little better, though I don’t know why. “Before I start telling you about my case, can we talk money? As in, I haven’t got any, but according to Brian I desperately need an attorney anyway.”
It was Cook’s turn to look surprised. “Brian instructed me to send the bills to him. I suppose he neglected to mention the fact to you?”
I wasn’t sure whether to feel amused, annoyed, or absurdly grateful. I settled for a mix of all three and spent the next hour explaining my situation and answering a dizzying array of questions. At least, I tried to answer them. Sometimes, all I could say was “I don’t know,” though I felt like I was failing some kind of test every time I did.
Most of the questions I couldn’t answer had something to do with statistical averages on exorcisms— the same kinds of questions Brian had asked when he’d browbeaten me into admitting I needed a lawyer. By the end of the hour, I was exhausted and well past the point of being ready to leave.
“I took the liberty of researching some of the questions I asked you before I met with you today,” Cook said just when I was starting to hope he was planning to let me go.
“Brian told me he’d asked about exorcism statistics, so I went ahead and looked them up.”
I glared at him. “If you looked them up, then why did you bother asking me?”
“I was curious to see whether
looked them up after Brian asked you, but apparently not.”
Any suggestion of warm, fuzzy feelings I’d started to get over this guy vanished, and I seriously considered doing a Donald Trump “You’re fired!” Luckily, my temper isn’t quite that bad. And I
get the “You’re not taking this seriously enough” message.
“On average, twenty-one percent of exorcisms result positively with the host in full possession of his or her faculties,” Cook said. “Fifty-eight percent result in permanent catatonia, twenty percent result in temporary catatonia, and one percent in brain-death.”
From the tone of his voice and the expression on his face, I knew my statistics weren’t going to compare favorably. I gritted my teeth.
averages?” I asked, even though I didn’t want to.
Cook glanced down at a piece of paper. “According to the U.S. Exorcism Board, they are seventeen, sixty, twenty-one, and two.” He glanced back up at me. “I haven’t had a chance to have a statistician look at the numbers yet to tell me whether the variation is statistically significant, but even if it isn’t, it’s not going to sound very good in court.”
A depressing thought, to be sure, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it now. Maybe I should start leaning on Dom to open his own restaurant so I could get a job waiting tables for him when I lost everything.
“It’s not a cause for despair,” Cook assured me. “It just means that there could be hard times to come. I’ll contact Mr. Maguire’s attorney and see if there’s any hope of convincing them to drop the suit. Considering your financial situation, Mr. Maguire will no doubt spend far more money pursuing the case than he can ever hope to recoup by winning it.”
“Good luck with that,” I murmured. I’d have liked to believe there was an easy way out, but I thought it was about as likely as me winning the lottery without buying a ticket.
Cook was escorting me down the hall toward the front door when something struck me, and I came to a halt with a frown.
“You work fast,” I said as a suspicion took form in my head. “You found out all those statistics in the time since Brian made the appointment?”
Cook looked surprised. “Four days was more than enough time. I certainly don’t consider that to be working particularly fast.”
I bit down on my tongue to stop myself from saying something I would regret. I’d save that for when I next saw Brian. I’d been somewhat annoyed to discover he’d made the appointment for me this morning. Finding out he’d made it four days ago and only got around to telling me about it this morning did not sit well at all.
Preferring to think about being angry with Brian than about what the outcome of this lawsuit might be, I left Cook’s office and began plotting my verbal smack-down.
get home until a little after six, having run some errands and stopped for groceries along the way. I’d calmed down a bit by then, realizing that everything Brian had done, he’d done for my own good. That didn’t mean I would let him get away with it without a tongue-lashing, but there wouldn’t be a great deal of heat behind it.
I was lost in my thoughts when I stepped through the door into the lobby of my apartment building, and I walked to the elevators without looking around me. In fact, it wasn’t until I’d actually stepped into the elevator and turned to push the button for my floor that I realized Brian was there.
I jumped like a startled cat as he joined me in the elevator.
“Jesus, you scared me!” I said, putting my hand to my chest and feeling the frantic beat of my heart. “Why didn’t you say something?”
The doors slid closed, and the elevator started to rise. Brian didn’t look at me, instead staring at the lighted numbers above the door. Tension radiated from him in almost palpable waves, and though I was
pretty sure his face was supposed to be neutrally blank, he looked like he was majorly pissed off. I put a hand on his arm, and he actually jerked out of my grip.
“Brian, what’s wrong?” I asked. I’d never seen him anything like this before.
“Wait until we get into the apartment,” he said, and it sounded like he was speaking through gritted teeth.
I was mystified. It wasn’t like Brian had never been angry with me before, but I couldn’t think of a time when he’d been angry and I hadn’t known the reason why. Swallowing a lump of fear, I joined him in staring at the lighted numbers. It was one of the longest elevator rides in the history of mankind.
Eventually, the doors opened, and I made my way to my apartment, not at all sure I wanted to know what was going on. Ignorance is supposed to be bliss, but I wasn’t feeling so blissful at the moment.
I unlocked the door and stepped into my apartment, gesturing for Brian to come in. It was then that I noticed the manila envelope he held in his right hand. I gathered it was something about that envelope that had made him so mad, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea what it could be. I put the bag of groceries in the kitchen, but didn’t bother to put them away. Brian hadn’t followed, so I went back to the entryway.
“Would you like me to make some coffee?” I asked, trying to sound normal.
“No.” Brian’s voice was brusque and curt. No pretense of normalcy here.
“Then should we sit down?”
“No,” he said in that same tone of voice.
I shook my head, starting to get pissed off myself.
“Enough with the caveman grunts already! Just tell me what’s the matter.”
He met my eyes, and for the first time ever, I saw genuine coldness in his gaze. It was almost enough to make me take a step backward, but then I decided it was ridiculous to be scared of Brian, no matter how upset he was.
Still giving me that marrow-freezing look, he reached into the manila envelope and pulled out a sheet of paper. Without another word, he shoved it in my face.
With a sigh, I took the paper from Brian’s hand. It was a short letter, printed out on plain white copy paper. I started to read.
Mr. Tyndale, I thought you might be interested to know that your girlfriend has spent the night with Adam White on more than one occasion
I gasped, and the paper jerked in my hand. My jaw dropped open, and I looked at Brian in horror. But the note wasn’t finished yet, and I forced myself to read the rest.
Lest you think these overnight stays were somehow innocent, I must tell you that I have attained some concrete information about what took place while she was there. I presume Ms. Kingsley has mentioned to you Mr. White’s distasteful proclivity toward sadistic sexual practices. Would you be interested to know that in Mr. White’s house there is a bullwhip that bears traces of Ms. Kingsley’s blood?
The note was signed “An Interested Observer.”
My face lost all color, and for a moment, the room
seemed to swim before my eyes. My hands shook hard enough that I dropped the sheet of paper. I couldn’t have looked more guilty if I’d tried. Why, oh why, hadn’t I told Brian the truth when I’d had the chance? I wished he didn’t have to know at all, but at least if he’d gotten it from me, this damn note wouldn’t be so devastating—or hard to explain.
“It’s not what you think,” I stuttered, then wanted to slap myself upside the head for uttering the most guilty-sounding phrase in the English language.
“The hell it isn’t,” Brian growled at me. He wasn’t giving me the icy stare anymore. In fact, he couldn’t even bear to look at me. “This is why you were so touchy about Lugh, isn’t it? Because you already had a guilty conscience!”
I tried to reach out to him, but he jerked away before I made contact. “Don’t touch me!”
I took a deep, quavering breath. I had vowed to myself never to tell him what Adam had done to me, what I had
Adam do to me in exchange for his help rescuing Brian. If I didn’t have Lugh around to keep my dreams under control, I’d have had recurring nightmares about the hell I’d gone through in Adam’s black room. I’d never wanted Brian to find out, and, most of all, never wanted him to feel guilty about the sacrifice I’d made to save him.
I wasn’t even sure if it would be better for Brian to think I had cheated on him than to know the truth. But I couldn’t bear for him to think that.
I sucked in a deep breath, trying to calm myself, knowing that my next words were crucial to whether our relationship could survive this blow. “What happened between me and Adam wasn’t in the least bit sexual,” I said carefully.
Brian laughed bitterly, and he allowed himself to look at me once more. I almost wished he hadn’t,
because the combination of pain and fury in his eyes was more than I could bear.
“Don’t bother lying to me,” he said. “Your face is an open book, remember?”
“Yes, and I’m telling you the truth. Adam did whip me, but it wasn’t sexual. It was about as far from sexual as it’s possible to get.” For me, at least. I still remembered how the thought of what he was about to do to me had aroused Adam, though he’d told me the arousal didn’t mean he wanted to have sex with me, and I’d believed him.
“If you’d told me the truth about it from the beginning, I might have been able to find a way to forgive you. I assume it happened while we were broken up.” He shook his head. “But no, you made a point of assuring me the two of you weren’t lovers.”
“We weren’t. We
Once again, I reached for him, and once again, he evaded me.
“It’s over, Morgan. I could put up with your bitchiness and your unwillingness to open up to me, but I can’t deal with you cheating on me.”
“I didn’t cheat on you!” I cried, knowing I sounded desperate. “Just let me—”
“Stop lying!” he bellowed, and his face turned red with his rage. This time when I reached for him, he actually shoved me away. Not hard enough to hurt me, but easily hard enough to shock me into temporary silence.
He reached into the manila envelope one more time, pulled out an eight-by-ten photo, and shoved it at me. I felt like an elephant had just sat on my chest, and it was all I could do to breathe.
The photo was of a couple locked in a passionate kiss. The man’s hands were on the woman’s ass, and
her arms were wrapped around his neck, one hand buried in his black hair. Their faces were obscured because they were kissing, but the woman had my hair color and style, as well as my telltale sword tattoo on her lower back, and the man certainly had Adam’s height and build. Worse, they were standing on the doorstep of Adam’s house.