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Before the Judge took me under his wing, I had a nasty temper. With his help, I learned to lock it down. But that’s the thing about rage—it never really goes away; it just sleeps. Mine’s wide awake at the moment, pounding against the bars of its cold cage, begging to be set loose.
Just for a few minutes. That’s all it needs.
Gavin’s face starts to redden and his fingers claw pathetically at my hand as I lean in close and tell him, “I’m going to ask you some questions—you’ll nod or shake your head to respond. If you lie, I’ll know, and I’ll hurt you.”
His struggle lessens and I take that to mean he understands.
“Have you ever touched Chelsea?”
He shakes his head frantically.
“Have you ever scared her?”
Another shake in the negative.
“Have you ever made her feel uncomfortable?”
There’s an infinitesimal pause—then he gives me another shake of his head. I release his throat, but before he can draw a breath, my fist drives up deep into his diaphragm. Because that last answer was a fucking lie.
He doubles over, gagging on air and retching bile. I yank him back up, eye to eye. “Here’s what’s going to happen, Gavin. Chelsea’s not coming back here—she quits—consider this her resignation. From now on, you don’t think about her, you sure as shit don’t talk about her. If you glimpse her on the street, you run the other way and make damn certain she doesn’t see you. You’re going to write her a reference letter, so she can get another job that doesn’t include a sniveling scumbag like yourself. And that reference better be radiant, Gavin—every word of glowing praise we both know she’s earned. Put it in an envelope, tape it to the outside of your office door, and don’t be here when she picks it up.”
He nods, still wheezing.
My voice is low, deadly. “You fuck with my wife, you fuck with me. And in case you haven’t realized it yet, I’ll spell it out for you: you do not want to fuck with me.”
The rage inside, the one with my father’s voice, clamors for at least one broken bone—his arm, his jaw, his fucking spine.
But the image of six sweet, smiling faces who need me, holds me back, gives me the strength to walk out the door, and leave Gavin Debralty bruised but not broken.
I use the walk from the museum to the law firm to pull my shit together. By the time I walk into the conference room for our weekly meeting, I assume I look normal again.
And . . . I’d be wrong about that.
Stanton, Sofia, and Brent stare at me with wide eyes as I sit down. For several long seconds, no one speaks. Then Stanton ventures, “You all right, man?”
I glare at the file on the table in front of me. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Sofia tucks her long dark hair behind one ear. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look kind of . . . murderous, Jake.”
“That makes sense.” I grind my jaw. “Almost just killed a guy. I didn’t—but I could have.”
Brent’s eyebrows lift high. “Well, there’s something you don’t hear every day—even in this business.”
Stanton leans forward. “Maybe you should elaborate . . . just in case.”
That’s probably a good idea.
After I tell them the whole story, Brent and Stanton are firmly on my side. They get it.
Sofia? Not so much.
“Wait a second. You quit her job for her? And you think Chelsea is going to be okay with that?”
In retrospect—probably not. And yet, I can’t make myself give even a single fuck.
Because I’m pissed that she didn’t tell me the cocksucker she works for was making her uncomfortable. That she’s likely been dealing with his looks and suggestions—and Christ that better be all she’s been dealing with—on her own.
“What other choice did he have, Soph?” Stanton asks. “I sure as shit wouldn’t want you working for a dickhead like that.”
Sofia’s eyes narrow—because she is woman, and she’s never been shy with the roaring.
“Why does Chelsea have to leave a job she loves and the dickhead gets to stay?”
Brent adds his two cents. “She’s got a point, Jake. I learned the hard way not to mess with my girl’s career—remember? On the other hand, Chelsea will be going on maternity leave soon.”
“And she had the option of going back after the baby’s born,” Sofia counters. “But now that option is gone.”
On that note, my phone alarm chirps. Because my ass needs to be in court in twenty minutes.
On the way over, Sofia’s comments start to sink in and I decide to at least give Chelsea a heads-up about what I’ve done. I try to call her, but she doesn’t pick up. If Gavin has half a brain cell, he’ll do what I told him . . . and Chelsea and I will be discussing the aftermath face-to-face.
Court adjourns early, so I make it home by four. Early enough to send home the babysitter, who’s usually there when the kids get off the bus. Chelsea typically works until six on Wednesdays, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised that she’s not home earlier today.
There’s a din of chatter around the dining room table as the kids bustle around, simultaneously unpacking backpacks, talking about homework, asking to go to friends’ houses, wondering what’s for dinner, and seeking permission to have a snack. I sit in a chair at the end of the table, legs stretched out, arms folded—eyes glued to the doorway.