“Objection, Your Honor!” Allison’s voice sounded slightly pitched in frustration.
“On which basis, if I’m allowed to ask?” Todd O’Bryan, the prosecution attorney objected. His gaze locked on hers, confident and defying with that sneering smirk. It certainly didn’t hide the hint of arrogance in his gaze. His dark eyes seemed to scan her mind, searching for any sign of weakness, doubt or hesitation that he could possibly turn against her.
Over the last two years, Allison got used to the aggressive and brash approach of most prosecutors. After all, she’d been one of them. She had learnt to put them in their place, managing to get completely rid of the unwelcome and weak image that Patrick’s scandal had spread of her. It took her two years as an associate at Moore, Collins & Hayes, but eventually she managed to rebuild that strength and self-confidence she’d lost along the way. And she totally loved the feeling of it.
Now, under the probing gaze of this man standing on the other side of the justice, Allison was suddenly feeling insecure, tense and uncomfortable. This distraction was totally unwelcome. What was happening to her?
“The defendant has no criminal record. Committal is unwarranted, Your Honor,” Allison promptly reacted by looking straight in his eyes and locking her discomfort behind her best poker face. She managed to hold his gaze only for a few seconds and quickly turned to face the judge. There was something in the way he looked at her that made her hands sweaty and she didn’t like that at all.
“He’s accused of murder, Your Honor!” The prosecutor insisted on his line of action, not showing the slightest hint of doubt or weakness. It was becoming unnerving. He was unnerving.
“I don’t remember the jury issuing any verdict yet, Your Honor!” Allison’s rising voice reflected her growing frustration and anger.
“He is a threat to society!” Mr. O’Bryan insisted.
Allison could only gape at him. It seemed so typical of all the DA’s prosecutors to be so damn annoying. How did she end up despising her old job so much?
“Sustained!” The judge had the final word in Allison’s favor, causing her to sigh with relief. Turning to face Mr. O’Bryan, she met his annoyed look, and paid him back with a smirk.
As she headed outside the courtroom, she heard a familiar voice calling her name.
Slightly turning her head, she saw Mr. O’Bryan stopping a few steps away. “Mrs. Murphy, actually,” she corrected him, her words coming out colder than she really wanted to.
“I thought you were divorced by now,” he pointed out.
Patrick had made the separation official to the press months before and in spite of the divorce not being already finalized in every single aspect – it was only a matter of a very low bureaucracy now – she had been Mrs. Murphy for so many years that she was finding hard now to adjust to her new condition of single woman. She wasn’t Allison Murphy anymore. She was back being Allison Mayfield. She just had to get used to her old name again. To be completely honest, she was more annoyed with the title regression to ‘Miss’. It made her feel like some sort of a spinster and she didn’t like it at all.
“Not yet, actually. So I’m still Mrs. Murphy if you don’t mind,” she insisted, causing him to slightly stiffen. She realized how unnecessarily malicious she sounded and quickly apologized. “I’m sorry… I didn’t…” she shook her head. She didn’t what?
“No, it’s fine… Mrs. Murphy,” Mr. O’Bryan repeated, intentionally emphasizing her name. “I was just wondering if your firm would be interested in considering a negotiation.”
She smiled, nodding to herself. So typical again. At the first wavering in the accusation, they were suddenly eager to negotiate. Not that she could blame them. They were indoctrinated as soon as they stepped into the DA’s building.
“We’ll consider the possibility, Mr. O’Bryan,” she told him politely, yet keeping her distance.
“Todd, actually,” he corrected her with a smile. Touché.
“We’ll consider the possibility… Todd,” she repeated, intentionally emphasizing his name, and she couldn’t help but smile at how they had so obviously started on the wrong foot. “My firm will contact you,” she confirmed, her smile gone and replaced by a very professional look.
As she left, she held back the growing temptation to look back. Damn. Those deep dark eyes were so distracting; the way they scanned her like X-ray made her anxious and uncomfortable. Don’t look back, she said to herself, don’t look back, don’t be that weak.
Only half an hour later, back at Moore, Collins & Hayes, she stopped in front of Christopher’s office.
Christopher was the youngest of the three name partners and an old friend of hers. Though maybe friend was a bit of an understatement. He had been her hopeless crush back in high school and her first love. He was the only person in Boston she didn’t ask for a job when everything had fallen apart because she thought that his quick and successful career, mixed with their romantic past would have made her feel inadequate and a bit uncomfortable by his side. And the light undertone of awkwardness that always accompanied their encounters – even the most innocent or professional ones – was the proof that she hadn’t been completely wrong in her initial judgment.
Needing now his advice on the possible negotiation, she patiently waited for his secretary to leave before stepping in.
“Hey,” Christopher welcomed her with a smile, “how did it go?” He asked, obviously referring to the earlier court session.
“Good. No committal so far. The prosecution wants to negotiate,” she explained, giving Christopher a knowing smile.
“That is the usual with the DA’s people,” he said, looking unsurprised, and she smiled at the fact that they thought the same. “Should we?”
“Honestly?” She asked, more to herself. “I don’t think we should,” she said, meeting Christopher’s approving look. He was clearly against a negotiation, too.
“I trust your judgment, then. But… give them the illusion we are willing to negotiate,” he suggested with a knowing smile.
Allison was sure that captivating smile had been a significant boost to both his professional and sentimental life. While she was busy playing house, he had dedicated himself heart and soul, to building his career. By the age of thirty-two, he was already one of the most contended and successful bachelors in the Boston area. Three years later, he was name partner in one of the most lucrative firms in the whole Massachusetts. He knew his stuff and very likely never agreed to a compromise. Exactly what he was doing right now.
“Arrange a meeting with the prosecution, but don’t yield, whatever they offer,” he advised, then looked down and back at the heap of papers on his desk.
Arrange a meeting with the prosecution. She hesitated at the eventuality of a rendezvous. “Sure,” she nodded with an iffy smile, then turned to leave.
“How is he by the way?” Christopher stopped her halfway through the door.
“Who?” She asked confused.
“Patrick’s new hire… your replacement,” he explained. Uh, sure. “He’s the prosecuting attorney, right?”
“Yes… yes… I… he…” she stumbled nervously upon her words. How was he? Unnerving, arrogant, bold, annoying and uncomfortable. “Smart, tough. He was well trained,” she chose to answer. It fitted him perfectly.
She caught a concerned look in Christopher’s eyes.
“Are you ok?” He asked, a slight worry in his voice. “You seem… nervous…”
Was it so evident? “I just want to close this quickly,” she explained, trying to disguise her anxiety with a more easy-to-handle tiredness. With that, she left.
On the way to her office, she called Vanessa. “Can you please call the District’s Attorney’s office and tell that we are ready to discuss the negotiation? Thank you.” She was thankful for having a secretary. At least she could avoid having to do with that man, Todd, directly. Till the meeting, at least.
She couldn’t help but feeling anxious every time she had something to do with him and, for the life of her, she had no idea why.
All Allison knew was that, sitting in front of him now, that pang was biting her again.
“Fifteen years, second degree.” Comfortably seated on his office chair, resting against the back, Mr. O’Bryan looked very determined, his voice decided and confident.
“No way, that is not cutting it!” Allison promptly questioned, keeping a straight face. “Involuntary manslaughter,” she replicated, remembering Christopher’s advice of not giving into any offer. She smiled confidently, her gaze defiantly fixed on his made it clear that she had no intentions to yield at all.
Out of the corner of her eye, she instinctively peeked at the surroundings. No pictures, no trophies, not a single painting or engraving hanging on the walls; his office was cold and bare, standing in sharp contrast with what was seemingly his taste. His dark hair, his deep gaze, his way of facing both people and problems gave a general idea of a strong, passionate and dedicated man. She couldn’t help but find all of this disturbing and intriguing at the same time.
“Twelve years with parole,” he insisted, not moving a single finger from his stance.
With a raised eyebrow, Allison leaned slightly forward, resting her forearms on his desk. “He’s innocent,” she replied with her most relaxed tone.
Repeating her own gesture, Mr. O’Bryan slowly leaned forward, crossing his arms on the desk, stopping few inches from her.
Feeling herself slightly blushing at the sudden closeness, Allison quickly pulled back. Her heart raced with sudden discomfort. One thing was sure about this man, he perfectly fit the principle of contentiousness typical of the DA’s office, managing to make people in front of him feel small and insecure. It was something she hated. It was something she never wanted to become.
“Are you sure?” The tone of his voice would make someone question their own thoughts. “Ten years, this is my last offer,” he insisted.
Allison stood still and silent for a moment, considering his offer. “No,” she replied dryly, smiling as she noted for the first time a hint of uncertainty in his eyes.
Mr. O’Bryan looked away, toying nervously with his pen, probably realizing that the negotiation was heading nowhere close to his expectations.
Allison waited patiently, smiling in pleasure at his hesitation.
As he looked back, his eyes locked on hers. He finally let out a small sigh, failing to suffocate a laugh. “What kind of a negotiation is this if nobody’s giving in?” He said between laughter.
Allison didn’t move. Keeping a pleased smile on her face, she quickly replied. “You asked to debate the negotiation, that’s what we are doing.” Patrick had surely trained him well, but he clearly forgot to train him against his own soon-to-be ex-wife. “We never said we were willing to give up,” she concluded, a mocking smile on her face.
“I guess this means a failure on the negotiation,” he concluded, resting back on his chair, looking defeated. His former smile turned into a hinted look of disappointment. “You’re tougher to crack than what I thought you would be,” he said with his gaze fixed on her.
He’s doing it again. That deep and probing gaze was hard to sustain and Allison found herself looking away, anxious, a faux interest in the bare surroundings.
“So why did you really divorce?” His words came out hasty and Allison had to look back, not sure she heard it right, meeting his expectant look.
“It’s none of your business,” she responded with a slightly pitched voice, not hiding a certain resentment at the sudden intrusion into her private life. “And don’t ever try to do that again,” she concluded cold, as she unleashed her discomfort on a poor rebellious curly wisp of her long dark hair.
“Do what?” He asked, obviously pretending not to understand.
“Making it personal in the middle of a negotiation,” she explained with a harsh tone.
Mr. O’Bryan looked down, nodding. Allison noticed he had gone back to toying with his pen and couldn’t help but read it as his own sign of nervousness.
“I thought the negotiation was over,” he commented with a smile, “and you didn’t answer by the way,” he added, trying again to get an answer out of her.
Allison didn’t say anything, she simply leaned forward, slightly shaking her head. “Why aren’t you married?” She suddenly asked, and smiled as she noticed him looking clearly caught off guard by her unexpected question.
“Who says?” he asked with a curious look.
“Your left ring-finger says,” she said, pointing at the lack of any kind of ring on his toying hands. For once, she was the one making him feel nervous and felt a hint of pride at how she managed to reverse his own attempt of questioning against him.
Mr. O’Bryan took a moment to formulate the answer in his mind. “It’s not for me,” he answered, his gaze on her, but all the previous arrogance was now completely gone.
“Why?” She insisted, her look defiantly fixed on him.
He looked down at her ring-finger. Her wedding band was gone so recently that the mark left by wearing it every single day for nearly eighteen years of her life was still clearly visible.
“You are separated with a kid, I think you might already have your answer,” he said, not really replying but giving a remarkable hint as to what he was referring to. “So why?” He asked again.
Allison gave him a confused look. She thought she managed to switch the conversation on him, but she was obviously wrong. “Why? What do you mean?”
“Why did you divorce? Was it really all about the scandal?” He had just managed to throw it back again at her.
Allison smiled in disbelief. “You know you’re persistent, don’t you?” She faked annoyance, but couldn’t help but smiling at how he was tough to crack personally as much as she was professionally.
“That’s my secret strategy to break the defences down,” he said, his voice low, in a confidence manner.
Allison couldn’t help but laugh. His strategy was more than obviously winning not only in court, but in private too. Holding back the laughter, she regained some composure as she started to search for the best answer. Since he wasn’t going to give up anytime soon, she might as well give him a good, although harmless reply that wouldn’t give him the pretext for more questions. “I wasn’t in love anymore,” she said calmly. It was way more complicated than this, but it wasn’t something she was willing to confide to a perfect stranger.
Mr. O’Bryan looked at her with some blank look that she couldn’t really identify. Disappointed? She couldn’t say for sure.
“That’s all?” He asked, confirming Allison’s suspect that he was expecting something different.
She smiled before asking, curious now, “What were you expecting?”
He looked at her thoughtful. “I don’t know… some turbid and spicy story, I think…” he said, giving her a provocative look that she smartly chose to ignore. “What a pity…”
Allison smiled amused, faking an indignity that she really didn’t feel. “Now I have to go and tell my boss that the negotiation failed,” she said, breaking the silence before it could turn awkward.
“He’ll be proud of how you managed to make it fail,” he joked. “See you in courtroom, Mrs. Murphy?” He emphasized her name, reminding her of their earlier discussion.
As she stood to leave, Allison stopped and corrected him, “Allison, actually.”
Mr. O’Bryan smiled, “See you in courtroom, Allison.”
Walking down the corridors of the DA’s offices, she realized she was smiling like an idiot and blushed. Damn. He really was damn cute.