Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Chapter 3

 

“What’s her relationship with the victim?” Allison asked, going through the police report. Sitting on the chair in Christopher’s office, she leaned forward slightly, waiting for his reply; he was briefing her on the new case he dumped on her lap.

“Half-sister,” Christopher explained. “The victim was 8 when her parents divorced, the mother remarried and had another child.”

“Our defendant…” She concluded, as Christopher nodded in agreement. Leaning back, she let out a heavy sigh. “I hate family crimes,” she confessed. “A family should be a safe place, a haven, a shelter… not a nest of vipers ready to gun you down,” she said, frustrated. At the same time, she lost count of how many times the thought of doing that to Ruth, her ex-mother-in-law, had crossed her mind. She had to push away the image of the old witch being bitten by a viper.

“What are you thinking?” Christopher asked, a curious and amused look on his face.

She swallowed her devilish smile. “Believe me, you don’t wanna know,” she said, holding back a laugh.

Christopher smiled back, one of his boyish smirks that women found so attractive. “So, are you on it?” He asked for a confirmation that she would take the case.

“Yes,” she smiled, taking the folder from his hands, giving a quick look at the cover before reverting her attention back at Christopher. With all that happened over the last two years, the only thing that remained unchanged was their friendship, a complicated one maybe, but one of the few certainties in her troubled life.

“So, how does it feel?” Christopher asked, obviously referring to her new condition as a single woman. The papers were finally signed one month before and she was still trying to get used to being called Allison Mayfield again, after so many years as Mrs. Murphy. It still sounded weird and unfamiliar, almost as if it belonged to someone else.

“Good… I think,” she replied hesitatingly. Because if she had to be honest, the moment she signed the papers she felt both relieved and overwhelmed at the same time. On one hand it was long overdue and just a mere formality, on the other hand she became more aware of her loneliness weighing down on her. Only recently she had found herself getting used to being alone, especially at night, when turning over an empty half of the bed had been excruciating in the beginning. “What about you? How are you lately?” She asked, giving her attention back at Christopher.

“Good,” he said with a slight nod. “Anything new?”

Besides the divorce? She wondered.

“Nope,” she simply replied. “How’s Liz doing?” She asked, trying to switch topics. Although Christopher was reluctant to talk about it Allison knew he’d been dating that associate from Cullen & Brightman for a few months now. Liz looked a good ten years younger, but Allison knew very well that he always had a thing for young brunettes.

Christopher gave her a soft smile.  “She’s fine… tired… overworked,” he said softly.

Allison couldn’t still say if it was love or if he had just settled in. But he seemed genuinely happy and relaxed or whatever it was, she wished she could only experience some of his happiness. “Okay,” she said, lowering her gaze. Looking back up at him, she saw his concerned look.

“Is there something… you might want to talk about?” He asked, slowly, with that sweet voice that Allison knew he reserved to her and to nobody else.

Was there? A lot of things were still crowding her mind. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to share them. “No,” she simply answered with a shy smile, “but thanks for offering,” she quickly added. Or maybe there was something indeed. She was just uncertain if he was the right person to ask about this, if she could even allow herself to do that. “I just wish… I just wish there was a way to know beforehand if the one we’re in love with is the right one indeed… or if he’s just miserably bound to break our hearts into tiny pieces,” she asked, more to herself.

Christopher’s eyes didn’t hide a hint of sadness or regret and the bittersweet smile he gave her, whenever feelings were the item on the agenda, spoke more than any word ever could.

Of course he was the just right person. She regretted asking. “I… I’m sorry, Chris.” She smiled softly. “Maybe you are not the most suitable person to talk about these matters,” she apologized.

Christopher leaned forward on his desk, reducing the distance between them with a disarming attitude. “Who is he?” He asked out of nowhere.

Okay, she wasn’t really expecting this. Not from Christopher at least. And honestly, she wanted to believe that the last two months served the purpose of forgetting. What was she supposed to say? Fake ignorance or simply admit that she obviously failed? She let out a small sigh, collecting some courage. “Todd O’Bryan,” she admitted in a whisper, looking down, unable to meet his gaze. Two months since she last saw him. Two months since the Wayne case. She found it extremely depressing that her days were marked by cases. When she finally found the inner strength to look up, she met his amused look. What was funny in that? She gave him a questioning look.

“Oh,” he said. He hesitated, probably trying to formulate a decent answer. “Okay… well… let’s just say that… working at Patrick’s employ doesn’t make him the ideal candidate,” he said, failing to hold back a laugh.

Allison gave him a disappointed and reproachful look. He was unashamedly making fun of her. She watched with faked indignity as he tried to regain some composure. She had to admit that fate was obviously trifling with her.

“This insignificant detail aside,” he said with a look of carelessness, “what does your heart say?”

What did her heart say? She crossed her arms over her chest pulling the file as close as she could. She had spent the last two months trying to ignore it, hushing its every small attempt at letting itself be heard, pretending it was some unwelcome voice of conscience that just needed being unheeded and contradicted out of mere spite. Every time it managed to let some feeling leak out, she just became more confused.

“I don’t know, it’s not very talkative these days,” she said wretched.

Christopher smiled bitterly and lowered his gaze to the floor.

Allison waited patiently for him to say something, although she couldn’t say what. Some advice, some comforting word, maybe. Her gaze was fixed on Christopher in expectation.

When he looked up, she saw a hint of irony in his smile. “Welcome to the ‘I’m-struggling-for-love’ exclusive club,” he said with a deep sigh, before looking away and back at the papers on his desk.

Not what she expected. But it was Christopher, and he was being honest as always.

She gave a last glance at the file in her hands then left, throwing herself headlong into work, so she didn’t have to think about anything else. It lasted one month. One month in which she did nothing but work late hours so she could keep her mind busy. But much to her disappointment, after all the time and effort she had spent on it, her client was reassigned to another associate.

***

“I’ll take the first witness,” Susan whispered to Allison, “this should confuse them.”

“Okay,” Allison agreed, nodding.

Susan Moore was the only female name partner. A ginger, elegant woman in her fifties, married with a former hockey champion, two kids and a past as a prosecutor, she had been an excellent mentor.

Standing outside the courtroom, the two women were discussing the last details of their defense strategy under the attentive and clearly tense stare of their client, before facing the prosecution in front of the jury. The corridor had a life of its own, which Allison had grown accustomed to. Attorneys and clients huddled in tense little groups with quick glances guarding their privacy coupled with the murmur of blended voices made Allison feel at home, her home away from home, court. She took this all in, almost without a conscious thought then looked back to Susan.

“And thanks for being my second chair by the way,” Susan said.

Allison smiled, and as Susan made her way through the double doors, Allison stepped slightly aside to let their client enter first. She watched as he strode in, his head held high. She remembered her first days at the firm and Christopher’s speech about not being able to recognize when people were guilty or innocent. Either the man in front of her was innocent, or he was confident that his connections would make him come out clean. Situations like these made her always question herself and if she was on the right side of justice.

The man they were about to defend was one of the most important clients that Moore, Collins and Hayes could ever recall. The son of the Columbian consul in Boston was accused of helping illegal immigration and they had to win this case no matter what.

As she took a few steps in Allison recognized a familiar figure, his back turned towards her. She had a head start for once. Todd. She took the remaining steps with her gaze straight in front of her, in the hope to avoid meeting his gaze. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him looking in her direction and failed at her attempt, looking back. She was expecting to get some sadness or regret in the way he looked at her. Instead she met a gentle and subtle smile, which she returned. All her previous confidence was already gone.

“Hey,” Todd said softly.

“Hey,” Allison replied with some hesitation.

She stood there, unsure if she had to go and take her seat or just wait for him to say something else. The only certain thing was that their silence was more than a little awkward.

“So, you’re the second chair?” He asked, finally breaking the screaming silence.

“Yes,” she nodded slightly.

“Okay… good luck, then,” he whispered.

“And good luck to you,” she said smiling.

As she sat at the defense table, she caught a concerned and questioning look from Susan.

“Is everything alright?” Susan asked quietly.

Was everything alright? Yes, until a couple of minutes before.

“Yes, it’s just… Patrick played his best card,” she answered, trying to keep her gaze straight.

“Make him regret it,” Susan whispered, impassive.

Allison felt a hint of envy. She wished she could count on even a small part of the confidence Susan showed on every occasion. Trapped in a situation she didn’t like, Allison gave a conflicted look at Todd. She caught him looking at her then he immediately switched his attention towards the judge as the man called the court into session giving the floor to the prosecution and their first witness.

Todd stood up and with a confident tone he spoke, “We would like to call to the stand Mr. André Ramirez, Your Honor.”

Allison stared at the jury trying to read their faces. They had worked hard to get Latin Americans on the jury, knowing by experience the importance played by the race factor. Still, as much effort the defense could put into trying and convince those few citizens of their client’s innocence, they were well aware that these people reached the jury table with a prebuilt image of the defendant in their minds and it was sometimes hard to change it.

Allison watched as Todd followed the witness to the stand, stopping short to give the jury a nod before turning back to the witness.

“Mr. Ramirez, do you know the defendant?” Todd said, looking back at the man sitting between Allison and Susan with a cold stare. Allison caught him lingering on her for a brief moment and felt herself tensing up nervously.

 “Yes, I do,” the witness said, his voice slightly quivering with anxiety. Allison had to admit that Todd was really good at his job.

“Can you state his name for the jury?” He went on, shifting his gaze between the witness and the jury, throwing a quick look at Allison. Is he trying to impress me?

The examination had barely started and the man was already in a cold sweat. Todd’s eyes were piercing and intimidating. Under Todd’s gaze, the poor man would be inclined to confess everything.

“Pablo Juarez,” the witness said, his look shifting nervously between the jury and the prosecutor standing in front of him, “the son of the Columbian consul in Boston.”

“How do you know him?” Todd went on with his questions.

Allison studied him, unnoticed and interested. His walk was upright and intimidating. She couldn’t say he was powerfully built or particularly tall, still his assertiveness made him overshadow everyone around him.

“He helped me to obtain the entry visa for the United States,” Mr. Ramirez replied, his voice barely audible. Allison didn’t envy the man at all. She remembered her conversations with Todd and how they made her cringe with discomfort.

Allison observed as Todd walked confidently, back and forth, between the witness and the jury, pursuing his questioning with decided tone and couldn’t help but notice how he kept throwing glances at her with faked indifference. She forced herself not to smile. She forced herself not to look at him as, a few questions later, he said to the judge “No further questions, Your Honor,” and walked back to his seat.

As Susan stood up for the cross-examination, Allison threw a glance at the prosecution table. Todd, probably feeling her gaze, looked back and gave her a smile, she couldn’t say if it was sincere or mocking. What she knew was that she needed to concentrate to avoid any further weird looks from Susan. And so she did.

***

“The court is adjourned. We’ll meet back in three days,” the judge declared, closing the session. Unlike both side’s expectations, the first day of the trial had gone by with modest order.

As she followed Susan outside, Allison heard her name being called and stopped. She already knew who it was and let out a small, imperceptible sigh before turning around to see Todd approaching. She couldn’t help but notice that his steps were nowhere close to the confident ones he had just showed in the courtroom. He moved forward with some hesitation.

“Hey,” he said softly.

“Hey,” Allison replied in the same soft tone, stealing a nervous glance at Susan, uncertain of what to do. Allison knew this conversation wasn’t bound to be short and would need privacy. “I’ll meet you back at the office, Susan,” she said, choosing to ignore the questioning look of her boss. Susan just nodded and turned to leave. She’d deal with that later.

Turning her attention back at the man standing in front of her, she didn’t say anything. To be honest, she had no idea what to say at all. It had been a few months since their last meeting and she still had it completely fresh in her mind; their conversation – actually her conversation, since from what she could remember, she didn’t give him much chance to talk.

“So…” Todd started with some hesitance, “how are you doing, Miss Mayfield?” He said with a smile.

Some things didn’t change over the last few months; like the way he looked at her and the way she felt under his gaze.

“I’m… fine,” she said, trying to sound calm. “You?”

“I’m fine, too,” he said. He looked around for a moment and Allison found herself doing the same.

What was she looking for exactly? Maybe unconsciously making sure that Patrick wasn’t around? She didn’t really know herself, so she looked back at Todd the moment she heard him catching his breath to talk.

“I was… I was wondering if you’d like to join me for a drink,” he said, not hiding some anxiety.

A drink. She knew by experience that drinks can be very tricky and all but innocent. Actually, last time a man offered her a drink, she found herself in the king-sized bed of his mansard penthouse a little more than one hour later. She shrugged. No, she couldn’t do that.

With apologies in her eyes, she didn’t need to say anything else; the way Todd was looking at her, it was clear he already got his answer. Still, she was sure he wasn’t going to give up like that.

“If you worry about the side effects of alcohol, we can go for a more innocent cup of coffee,” he said as if reading her mind. “Only a cup of coffee, nothing more…” There was a hint of a plea in his voice that fixed his magnetic gaze on her and just took her steadiness away.

She looked down for a moment, gathering… she didn’t know exactly what she needed. Strength? Courage? Confidence? Maybe all of these together. “Okay,” she finally said in a whisper, “a cup of coffee, nothing more,” she repeated to him, but mostly to herself.

“Okay,” Todd said with a smile, as they headed outside the building, side by side, but still keeping a comfortable distance between them. The traffic covered their silence, as they stopped for a coffee at a small cafeteria on Canal Street on their way to Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Allison kept turning the coffee cup in her hands. A bit because it was damn freezing, but mostly because she had to work off the slight discomfort in some way. Better through her hands than through her eyes, she thought.

“So,” Todd started, as they walked slowly toward the park. “How are things going?”

“Good,” Allison said with a slight smile. Were things good? Well, overall she couldn’t complain. “They are good,” she repeated, more to herself, as she took a long sip of coffee in the vain attempt to warm herself. She heard in the distance the familiar gurgling of the fountains and looked up to see that they had reached their destination.

“Have you gotten used to your new… old name yet?” Todd asked, getting a light laugh out of her, as he peeped around, probably looking for a bench.

She had to admit, that he was as good at unnerving her as he was at putting her at ease. Allison Mayfield. She had to repeat the name in her mind to catch the effect that hearing its sound had on her. “Let’s say that,” she started thoughtfully, “at least I’ve started to turn around when I hear it, instead of looking behind me to see if there’s any Miss Mayfield,” she concluded with a satisfied look. She followed his gaze and spotted a free bench beyond the sprinkling fountains.

“Wow,” Todd replied with faked wonder, “that’s noteworthy progress,” he joked.

Allison gave him an amused smile. “It is indeed,” she nodded. “And what about you?” She asked softly, shifting the attention to him.

Todd looked thoughtful for a moment. He was always so confident and never short of words that if she managed to get him hesitating, even for a brief second, she couldn’t help but feel a hint of pride, despite how childish she knew that was. A light, cold squirt of water reached her face. She instinctively stepped aside and lightly bumped Todd’s arm. She distanced herself a bit embarrassed, apologizing with her eyes. But Todd didn’t seem bothered at all by the sudden and unexpected contact.

“The same old things,” he said with indifference, as they sat on the bench. Surrounded by the bare trees, the wind felt less icy and more endurable. “You know, I don’t have time for a life outside the office, my boss keeps enslaving me with inhuman working hours and an unbearable pace,” he concluded with a serious look.

Allison sat there, looking at him for a moment between worried and amused. She wasn’t sure if he was being serious or just kidding, before catching a glimpse of fun in his eyes that made her go for the second and burst out in loud laughter.

She should feel annoyed by his joking about the boss. Yet, she couldn’t help but find his self-irony funny and intriguing. It was something she wasn’t used to. She was used to people looking at her now ex-husband as a source of contacts and business. She was pretty sure that Patrick wouldn’t find it amusing at all that his newest attorney (and, to be honest, one of the best) was sitting on the bench of a public park exchanging sheep’s eyes with his fresh-ex-wife. The thought made her stiffen in her seat, reminding her that some things didn’t change. Even divorced, she found herself in an unpleasant situation. How would Patrick react to this? After all he was Todd’s boss. He had the power to fire him whenever he wanted, if he wanted. Looking up at Todd, she caught his questioning look.

“Things… things didn’t change, Todd,” she said in a faint voice.

No, she wasn’t ready to put his career at risk. Not even if he was the one ready to take the risk in the first place.

“What didn’t change?” He asked, his smile gone, probably sensing where this was leading.

“The… complications,” she said looking down. She didn’t have to give more explanations. They both knew them well. “Not to mention,” she went on, “we are opposite counsels in a trial, anything more than a coffee would be…” How could she define it? “It would be ethically wrong,” she concluded, looking away.

“I know.” Todd simply nodded, very calmly, without flinching.

If he knew it… “Then, what are we doing here?” She said putting her thoughts into a licit question.

Todd looked away for a moment, probably searching for the reason, before directing his gaze back on her. “Sipping a coffee,” he said quietly, “enjoying each other’s company for a few minutes, far from work, negotiations, witnesses and judges,” he went on, his voice low but not showing any hesitation. “Far from all those people who expect us to be tense and wage war against each other,” he added. “Because… we are not, are we?” This time his voice showed a slight concern.

Well, she couldn’t blame him. Their last conversation wasn’t exactly a friendly and relaxed one. Certainly they weren’t waging war against each other, but as to not being tense, she wasn’t completely sure. Whenever they were together, the tension – at least from her side, was palpable. “We are not,” she said with a soft smile. It was better that way. “I should go now,” she said after checking the clock, “my boss is waiting for me,” she apologized, “and probably… your boss is waiting for you, too,” she concluded, giving him a knowing look.

“May it never be that I disappoint my boss,” he joked with a smile, getting a soft smile out of her.

They both had to go. It was a matter of fact. Still, neither of them moved a single finger or showed any intention to stand up and leave. Allison found herself looking at him, her gaze unconsciously shifting from his eyes to his mouth. She had no idea whether Todd noticed her gaze or just decided in a moment of weakness that it – she – was worth a try. All she knew was that in the next moment he was leaning close to her, his dark eyes fixed on her mouth. Bad idea. He was so close that she could feel his breath, with the strong aroma of coffee. It’s wrong. She instinctively backed down.

“Bad idea,” she whispered looking away.

“Bad idea,” he repeated, but the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes didn’t match his words.

They were both well aware that this was exactly the kind of complication they were supposed to avoid. Still, those lips were too magnetic and Allison found herself leaning forward again, searching for his mouth, meeting his lips in an attempted, shy kiss. Their lips were barely brushing against each other and she had to remind herself to breathe. She had spent months trying to forget him, trying not to think about him, pretending he was just a trick played by the feeling of loneliness that had been keeping her company over the last months. For what? Was this the result of her obviously wasted efforts? All these rambling thoughts crowded her mind, making it spin, as their kiss became deeper, making her forget for a moment that they were sitting in an open and public place. She loved the feeling of his mouth and of his tongue. His lips were soft and warm, he tasted like coffee and something she couldn’t define for sure. Mint maybe?

The moment she broke the kiss in need of air, she realized that they had just crossed the line they were never supposed to cross. She looked in his eyes, catching the same sudden sense of guilt for not being strong enough to resist something like a simple kiss. It was just a kiss. She kissed her daughter every day, she had kissed Patrick for so many years that she had lost count. It was supposed to be just a kiss. But it was in fact a huge complication.

 

The crimson stone – Preview #2

Enjoy another tiny snippet!

***

Paul shrugs, barely sparing me a glance, then calmly closes the folder before moving forward to the next one. “I can’t let the other coworkers think you get a special treatment for being friends with my wife.”

“Oh.” Well, this makes sense and doesn’t make it at the same time. My monosyllabic answer must give away all my perplexity, for Paul finally stares at me, equally confused. I suppose I should have shut up and thanked him.

“But you are free to rewrite the whole piece if it makes you feel better.”

“I think I’ll pass.” Shuddering at the idea, I duck out before my attitude can cause some irreparable damage, then dash to my workstation and jump on the incoming emails at the speed of light. I scroll the senders and subjects, until one catches my attention. It comes from Mark, the dead walker, and for the life of me I have no idea how he got my work email. Taylor, of course… Damn her… But you know the saying? Curiosity killed the cat and, albeit between muttered curses, my pointer finger is already clicking on it. ‘Got tickets for next week’s Red Sox :)’ It’s all the message says and my mind goes inevitably to the exchange I had with Hannah about my hatred for sports. I’m about to decline in the politest way when my phone starts buzzing on the desk, startling me. The number flashing on the screen is unknown, but the area code is not; Boston city. I cast a wary glance around while answering, “Hello?”

“Miss Penelope Cosgrove?” The voice is aloof and definitely unfamiliar.

“Yes, who’s speaking?”

“There’s a collect call for you from the Boston Police Department, Madam. Will you take it?”

The cold shivers assailing me at the mention of that place are icier than the forty inches of snow sitting outside the building. I remember perfectly the last time I got a call from there; it was when Hannah and her ex-boyfriend had been detained. Quickly skimming through the list of people still living in the city, my first thought goes inevitably to Dom. What on earth did he do now? Please, Lord, you can’t have dropped him in another fight with some creditor. “I… Sure, of course.” I’m so upset that my voice barely comes out as a whisper and I’m not sure the person on the phone heard me, until a loud rustle suggests a change of hands. My stomach is already twitching in anxiety as I count the deep exhales on the other end; three before someone finally talks.

Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Chapter 2

“Okay, these are the pieces of information you needed,” Chloe said, walking into Allison’s office with a folder in her hands, “and they are not good,” she concluded with a touch of disappointment. Chloe was Allison’s assistant and best friend. Reliable, passionate, enigmatic, very private about her life; with her exotic ebony beauty, her deep warm voice, her curly hair always tied in a long ponytail and her elegant walk, she never went unnoticed.

Allison, till now confident they might win the case, gave her a worried look, stretching her arms to take the folder. “What do you mean?” She asked nervously, shifting her gaze from the papers to Chloe to the papers again.

“Matt Wayne might not be as innocent as we thought,” Chloe started. “He had a fight with the victim the day of his death,” she explained.

Allison looked up at her, seriously worried now. “This is not good…” was all she could say. “This is not good at all…” she repeated to herself, as the thought of the failed negotiation crossed her mind. “Why didn’t this come up before?”

“The guy who witnessed the fight left for a business trip that same night, before we had any chance of knowing,” Chloe explained, sounding apologetic.

Allison let out a heavy sight and let herself sink onto the chair. “The negotiation is off the table,” she said, her gaze lost somewhere on the floor. “I took it off the table!” She repeated, suddenly guilty. She was given the chance to take ten years and simply let it go, certain of the innocence of a man who suddenly didn’t sound innocent at all.

“Do you think the prosecution might still be open to reconsider the offer?” Chloe asked her.

It was probably their only way out. But that depended on Mr. O’Bryan. How could she possibly ask him to reconsider the ten years offer? No. She just couldn’t do it.

“No,” she replied firmly. They needed to find another way. “We need to prove that he didn’t cause the heart attack but was indeed attempting to perform a cardiac massage…” she considered, looking defeated at the police report on her desk. It was the record that their client was supposed not to have until a couple of days before.

“Ask him,” Chloe insisted politely.

“Who?” Allison asked faking confusion, but she already knew who she was referring to.

“Ask the prosecutor to reconsider the offer,” Chloe explained, still very quietly.

“No,” Allison repeated with the same quietness, though giving away some discomfort. When she looked up, Chloe’s gaze was fixed upon her, questioningly.

“Why not?” She asked, looking bewildered.

“Because he…” She paused, words failing on her. What good reason could she have to avoid a renegotiation? One that Chloe could find believable. “Because it…” She stumbled on words, unable to find an excuse right on the spot.

“You said he…” Chloe said. But her quiet voice didn’t certainly match her curious look.

“What?” Allison stiffened in her seat. She didn’t like that look. Usually it was the prelude to an interrogation that had nothing to do with work.

“You said because he… He what?”

A blank look, mouth half open, this was her last chance to save herself from becoming food for her friend’s inquisitiveness. And she knew by experience that when Chloe started, there was no way out. “He was very clear, Chloe. No renegotiation. He took our act pretty badly,” she said, with her best poker-face. It wasn’t a complete lie in the end.

But judging from Chloe’s puzzled look, she wasn’t totally convinced. Having a best friend who was a very careful observer wasn’t always a good thing.

Truth was, she would prefer having to face him on the safe ground of a busy courtroom rather than having another embarrassing tête-à-tête.

A knock on Allison’s door made them both turn to see Timothy Hayes, the oldest of the three name partners, standing there.

Occasionally blustering, very determined and a bit arrogant in his all-now approach to life and business, the man’s notoriety came before his own name. He had spent half of his life as headhunter, recruiting the best and greediest attorneys for the most generous law firms, before finally deciding to get his head together and start his own firm.

He silently gestured for Chloe to follow him.

Saved by the boss.

“Ok, I gotta go now,” Chloe said as she stood up, “but promise me you’ll call the DA’s office,” she insisted with a pointed finger.

Allison didn’t answer, she just sighed, going through the police report in the desperate attempt to find something, although she really didn’t know what to look for.

***

Two hours later, Allison threw the folder on her desk, defeated. She had read every single line ten times, looked at every damn detail of the pictures without finding anything useful. She had wasted half morning on nothing. As she stared at her desk, lost in thought, she spotted a business card showing among the papers. She leaned out to take it and read the name.

Todd Jacob O’Bryan – Prosecutor – District’s Attorney’s Office

Damn. She really had no other choice. Bracing up and putting every discomfort aside, she slowly dialed his number.

“Hello?” Even on the phone, Mr. O’Bryan’s voice sounded confident and intimidating.

Allison hesitated for a moment, suddenly losing all the strength she hardly managed to gather.

“I… I’m Allison Murphy,” she said, her voice certainly reflecting her anxiety.

“Allison?” He sounded surprised. Of course he was, they were supposed to meet in courtroom in five days. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this unexpected call?”

What was she supposed to tell him? The plain truth or just ask him to reconsider the offer? She decided to go with the second, totally unwilling to give too many explanations.

“I was wondering… my firm actually was wondering… if there was a chance to re-debate the negotiation,” she said, her words coming out rushed.

The lack of a prompt answer on the other end didn’t sound optimistic.

“The police report made you reconsider our offer?” Mr. O’Bryan asked. He obviously already knew about the new witness. How could she ever possibly have thought that he might not know?

“Not yet, actually,” she admitted, “but we might decide to,” she concluded.

More silence on the other end. She hated when he did it. She hated when he played with her nerves. “Okay,” he finally agreed. “At lunch,” he added.

At lunch? No way. She couldn’t agree to that.

“I’d rather meet in the DA’s office, or here if it’s more convenient for you.” She hoped with every single cell that he would take one of the two options.

“I have a rather busy schedule over the next two weeks, Allison,” he explained. “It’s either lunch… or dinner, – if it’s more convenient for you,” he said, using her own words against her and almost mocking her.

She wasn’t sure if he was serious or just kidding. The dead silence on the other end lead her to think that he was damn serious.

“So… lunch it is,” she yielded.

“Okay, Johnnie’s, at 12.30. Is that fine for you?” He asked in a cold tone. This was nowhere close to their latest conversation, making her feel even more uncomfortable.

“Sure, that is fine,” she agreed, unenthusiastically and more nervous than she was supposed to be. After all, they were only going to re-discuss the negotiation. Why was she in a sweat?

“Good… see you later, then,” he said, his words immediately followed by the sound of the interrupted call. If it was his game to her to make her yield, it was working perfectly.

***

Close to both the Police Department and the DA’s offices, Johnnie’s filled with agents and lawyers. Making her way through the crowd, Allison spotted Mr. O’Bryan sitting at a small square table close to the window wall, waving at her with a light gesture.

“Allison, a pleasure to see you again,” he said, standing up to shake her hand.

“Todd,” she simply replied. Todd. She felt so uncomfortable calling him by his first name. She’d rather go back to the safer and more detached Mr. O’Bryan.

“So,” he started, leaning forward, his forearms resting on the table, looking comfortable and open – a harsh contrast with their previous phone conversation, “you want to reconsider our offer…”

She was still convinced that ten years were too much and hoped they could settle for something less. “We are open to an agreement,” she corrected him, laying the closed folder on the table.

“I thought you were sure about his innocence…” he teased her.

“No teasing, no beating around the bush,” she cut it short. “Would you be willing to drop to seven years with parole?”

He let out a small sigh, peeking outside the window for a moment. “From fifteen to seven years even including a parole… that’s a huge drop,” he commented, “I don’t think my boss would like it,” he said giving her a knowing look.

She couldn’t help but smile slightly. “Seven years with parole,” she insisted politely. “Come on, we both know it’s a good compromise,” she added, a hint of plea in her voice, “regardless of what your boss might say. She glanced at the folder.

That’s when she noticed – it… how could they have missed it before? She stiffened in her seat, simmering with anger. She didn’t say anything, just gave him an annoyed look, which he surely couldn’t pretend to avoid or ignore.

“What’s the problem?” He asked simply.

“What about the fact that you did not disclose all evidence?” She asked, anger rising. Why was she that angry anyway? It wasn’t the first time it happened and, sure enough, it wouldn’t be the last one either.

“We didn’t,” he replied quietly. “He’s a prospective witness, it’s exempt from disclosure, as it was taken down as a government-witness statement. We weren’t bound and you should know it,” he pointed out, impassive.

“It’s a police report! And it’s dated before the last courtroom session!” She erupted, pointing an accusatory finger at the file. “It’s the criminal record my client wasn’t supposed to have, you were bound indeed, Mr. O’Bryan!” She tried to contain the tone of her voice and the growing anger.

Mr. O’Bryan stood there, silent for a while, probably searching for the right answer. “I thought we were past the Mr. O’Bryan thing,” he said instead.

“We were… until a few minutes ago,” she responded, coldly. She felt betrayed and she didn’t even know why. Why was she expecting something different from this man? Why did she believe she could somewhat trust him?

“I was just doing my job, so are you. Why are you taking it personally?” He asked with a hint of disbelief.

“You were the one making it personal, throwing private questions during an official negotiation,” she reminded him, slowly regaining composure. Being surrounded by attorneys, most of them probably working under Patrick, didn’t make it easier or more comfortable. “Just to clear things up, is this something you always do or is it a preferential treatment reserved to me?” She leaned forward, defying.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” he quietly replied.

“Constantly pushing me, trying to embarrass me, unnerving me, making it personal when it’s supposed to be just professional. Shall I go on?” He was bursting with an ironic smile. “Do you think it’s funny?” She asked.

Mr. O’Bryan gave her a puzzled look. “Is that what you think? That I want to embarrass you?” He asked, slightly leaning forward, reducing the distance between them.

Allison didn’t move. She gathered all the possible strength not to withdraw. “I don’t think you want to do it. You just do it.”

Mr. O’Bryan looked away for a moment, his gaze lost outside the window, before reverting his attention to her with an ironic, slight laugh. “Do you know what I think? That you’ve probably spent too much time forcing yourself not to feel and you now stand in a place where you can’t recognize some feelings anymore,” he very slowly replied.

Allison could have sworn there was a hint of bitter disappointment in his voice and in his eyes. She didn’t dare move, or talk, she just looked away. Forcing yourself not to feel. If she had to be honest with herself, he had just perfectly summarized her last two years, maybe a bit more. She hated when people tried to probe into her. She hated even more when they succeeded. She looked up, and back at him, upon hearing him slightly shifting on his chair.

“Well,” he started again, “then I’m sorry you think like that, because you are very far out left field,” he said smiling, but his smile wasn’t really reflected in his eyes.

“Then what is it?” She asked, never breaking eye contact. Regretting the question the very moment it was spoken. Did she really want to know? Did she really want him to put into words something she certainly didn’t want to hear?

Mr. O’Bryan took a moment, searching the words in the glass of water in front of him. “I find your… inscrutability, control and secretiveness… interesting,” he said, showing a bit of hesitation, “even… fascinating from time to time…”

“Don’t make a pass at me.” She tried to sound cold and distant. She had taken their previous encounter’s light flirting for that and nothing more. An innocent, atypical way to test each other and set some limits. Because even the most professional defense/prosecutor relationship had a personal component. To know the strengths and weaknesses of the person you were opposing was often used as a weapon during trials. One could question its ethics. But when you had in front someone steadfast like Mr. O’Bryan, even the smallest advantage could prove helpful.

But his disclosing words and his look, suddenly unsure and profound, destabilized her inwardly. She had misinterpreted every word, every gesture and she didn’t know what felt worse; to have misread him, the fact that he was right or that, deep down inside, that discomfort she felt around him might mean that she couldn’t read her own feelings as well. Maybe the latter.

She forced herself to look completely uninterested, untouched and unaffected by his words. Truth was, she was scared like hell. She didn’t want any more complications in her life. She wasn’t ready for any complication. She was barely starting to settle into her own life; after the separation, after the short-lived affair with Chris, after the divorce. All she needed was time for herself.

“I’m not… You asked a question, I just gave you an honest answer,” he pointed out, very sincerely. His ability not to bat an eye even under her accusatory gaze was disturbing. Much to her displeasure, she found herself being the one yielding.

“End of negotiation,” she said, standing to leave. “See you in courtroom, Mr. O’Bryan,” she concluded, suddenly feeling a lump in her throat. Force yourself not to feel. She had to remind herself of the words that he told her only minutes before.

“Don’t worry,” he stopped her. “It won’t be necessary.”

Allison gave him a confused look.

“If your client is for it, we’ll take the seven years with parole,” he concluded.

Seven years with parole. It was what she wanted. It was more than what she was supposed to expect from the negotiation. Then why was that feeling weighing so heavily on her? She slightly nodded at him and turned to leave. Forcing herself not to feel once more.

***

Sitting at her desk, dashing off a few notes on her laptop, Allison looked up upon hearing a slight knock at her door. Chloe was there with a smile and two beers in her hands. Allison smiled back, gesturing for her friend to step in and take a seat.

“So the prosecution agreed upon the seven years?” Chloe asked as she moved to sit down.

“With parole,” Allison corrected her, “but, yes, they did,” she concluded, before tasting a fresh sip of beer. It was really what she needed.

“What about the client?” Chloe asked.

“He took them,” Allison replied, giving her a knowing look.

Chloe stared at her with a slight surprise. “Wow, way to admit your guilt.”

Yes, from pleading innocent to taking seven years, it was a pretty huge admission, Allison considered. Admission. Confession. Feelings. Suddenly reminded of the sour and unpleasant conversation which came along with lunch, she let out a heavy sigh. Staring blankly through her laptop, Todd’s words kept echoing in her mind.

“Do I force myself not to feel?” She asked, looking up at a clearly confused Chloe.

“I’m not sure I completely understand what you mean,” Chloe replied to her disconnected question.

“Do you think… that I force myself… not to feel?” Allison repeated slowly, her gaze between thoughtful and questioning.

Chloe looked at her for a moment, probably pondering what to reply. Finally, she was able to put her thoughts into words. “I think you want people to think that you force yourself not to feel… Which is different,” she concluded.

Allison stood there, looking at her friend, trying to understand what she meant exactly. “I’m a giant mess…” It was all she managed to say.

Chloe looked at her with a confused and inquiring gaze. She hesitated a moment before saying something else. “Does all of this have to do with a certain someone working for another certain someone?”

Allison raised an eyebrow. “You can be very cryptic,” she just said. She was conflicted on whether having a mind and soul reader like Chloe as friend was a good or bad thing. She would often begrudge her ability to glean bits, looks, gestures and put it all together as if it were a simple jigsaw.

“But since you know what I’m talking about, then it’s him,” Chloe concluded, very obviously.

The jigsaw was slowly starting to take shape in front of Allison too, but somewhat, she couldn’t still get the final picture off. Letting out a small sigh, she took the courage to admit what she already knew but didn’t dare wording.

“I think he feels… something… for me,” she said in a faint voice.

Chloe only gave her a quick look. “Okay,” she just said, her mind probably already working out the best thing to say.

“No, Chloe, it’s not okay. It’s not okay at all!” Allison protested in a very frustrated tone.

Chloe just gave her a concerned look.

“I don’t want anyone new to feel… something… for me. I’m still struggling with the old ones; I can’t handle any more of them!” When she was just starting to settle into her new life alone, this man appeared out of nowhere deranging her apparent newly founded calmness.

“Well, if you don’t feel anything for him then where is the problem?” Chloe shrugged. “Unless…” A Mona Lisa smile enlightened her face.

“There is no unless,” Allison promptly interrupted her with a serious tone. She didn’t want to talk, or even think, about that man anymore. He was just the umpteenth unwanted complication in her life.

“I think you like him,” Chloe said, confidently, then crossed her arms on her chest and sat comfortably against the back, as if waiting for her reaction.

Allison closed her eyes. Maybe Chloe last words would disappear. But when she opened them back, Chloe was still there with an expectant look.

“I think it doesn’t matter,” was all that Allison said. She didn’t want a man in her life. She didn’t want a new entanglement. She didn’t want to give anyone the chance, even slightest, to hurt her again. Because in the end, it was all about that; she was damned afraid to feel any kind of emotion. Todd was right. She didn’t want to feel. Then what? It was her only self-defense and he had no right to judge her.

“Did you tell him?” Chloe asked very composedly.

“Did I tell him what?” Allison asked confused.

“The things you have just told me,” Chloe explained.

It was a thought that never, even very remotely, crossed Allison’s mind. Why in the world would she share her feelings – or lack thereof – with someone who was, after all, quite a perfect stranger? Why in the world was she supposed to justify not wanting him to feel anything for her, whatever it was he felt? She felt everything spin so fast around her, confusion, anguish, conflicts, fear and anxiety.

“I can’t… and I don’t want to,” she just said. She was aware that she was forcing herself not to feel again but right now she had no intention of dealing with any emotion. Her only option was to cowardly go to ground.

“Do it, Allison,” Chloe went on with her quiet tone. “Don’t let him think your anger is at him, when it’s really just aimed at yourself,” she concluded.

Allison didn’t say anything. She didn’t need to say anything. Chloe was helping her solve that messy jigsaw that was her heart, piece by piece. She watched as her friend took her beer and left with a soft smile and a bossy look. Tell him. She couldn’t do it. The least she saw him, the best it was for her nerves. Still, those words wouldn’t leave her throughout the day and kept haunting her throughout the night. Until the morning after she woke up with a decision and an unwelcome knot at her stomach.

***

She spent a good ten minutes sitting on a bench, outside the District’s Attorney’s offices, staring at the steady stream of nondescript faces, coming and going. The unusually mild October weather would make it an enjoyable day, if it wasn’t for the anxiety consuming Allison from the inside.

She kept glancing at the stairs, unable to force herself to go up those last few steps separating her from the building, those same few steps she’d walked on, up and down, scores of times.

Truth was, she had no idea what she was doing here. The rambling and incoherent thoughts crowding her mind were the perfect mirror of her disconnected and contrasting feelings. She was a massive essence of non-sense.

With a small sigh and a resigned look, she forced herself to stand up and enter. She simply had to do it. Better eye out than always ache.

Taking advantage of the apparently very hectic day, she slipped through the disorderly crowd and towards the offices, hoping she’d pass unnoticed.

“Allison!” A way too familiar voice made her jump. – Patrick! of all the people she might run into.

“Hey…” she just answered uncomfortable and definitely guilty.

“What are you doing here? I don’t think there’s any case involving you today,” he asked curious.

Great. She was still struggling to come up with a speech idea, now she had to come up with an excuse, too. Or maybe not. Maybe the truth – part of it, at least – was the best solution, under the circumstances.

“I was looking for Mr. O’Bryan,” she said, trying to look quiet and serene.

“I thought the case was over. Didn’t you agree on seven years with parole?” He asked, between confused and questioning.

Damn.

“We did…” She admitted. “We just… there are a couple of details that still need to be settled down,” she faked a smile. Details, what a nice way to define it. “I can’t remember where his office is…”

“Round the corner, second floor, third office to the left,” Patrick said, looking totally oblivious to what happened during their previous meetings.

“Okay, thanks,” she said looking down and started to follow his directions.

“Oh… Allison,” Patrick called her back.

She froze, her blood suddenly turning cold.

“Hope wants to spend the weekend at the cottage…” he said. Allison felt a thick layer of ice melting as she took one step towards him, relieved. “Is it okay for you if I take her out of town for a couple of days?” So, that was it about. Their daughter.

Her nerves were already in possession of her ability to talk and all she was able to express was a simple “Okay… sure…”

How was she supposed to even start a speech, nervous like this? She had no idea.

She turned the corner, second floor, third office to the left. On the half-closed door, a tag with his name.

She knocked at the door, hesitatingly and so light that she wondered if it was even audible to the human hearing.

“Come in!” His voice was confident and intimidating, even beyond a door. She wondered if he’d still sound like that by the time she’d walk out of his office.

Slowly, silently, she took a few steps in, stopping right beyond the doorstep. “Hey,” she said, her voice barely perceptible.

Todd’s surprise was splattered all over his face and she couldn’t blame him. “Hey,” he replied quietly, before adding, “I thought the case was over…”

“It is,” she quickly confirmed. “I just…” Where to start? This was not going to be easy. “I just came to apologize,” she admitted, looking down.

Todd gave her a confused look and gestured for her to take a seat. His dark eyes were fixed on hers in the wait for some elucidation. He was clearly expecting neither a visit nor an apology. She suddenly felt stupid and in need of supplying a quick explanation.

“I’ve been excessively hard… and unjustifiably and unfairly crabby…” she explained, in a sincere apology.

She looked up to see him looking at her, mouth half open, searching for something to say.

“Allison,” Todd started but couldn’t finish, as Allison gestured for him to stop. She needed to get through this.

“No, please,” she said, gathering all the strength she could to keep his probing gaze at bay. “I… I don’t know what you want from me exactly,” she said, her words coming out in haste, only to correct herself right after. “Okay, maybe I do have an idea, sort of,” she said. After all, she’d been through it and knew perfectly that even the most innocent one night stand brought complications of any kind. “The point is…” What was the point? Did she even know that? Was she unprepared? Scared? Still hurting? Maybe it was a mixture of all of them, which only made it worse. “I’m just… I’m just starting to get used to being alone, to try to rediscover myself… I need time… I need time alone,” she pointed out, leaving no room for doubt. “Everything’s still so fresh, too fresh…” Patrick. Scandal. Tabloids. Separation. Press. Chris. Patrick. Divorce. She couldn’t prevent her mind from being constantly replaying the last two years of her life.

Todd was staring at her, she wasn’t sure if his eyes were hurt or just disappointed, but even then, he never looked away, not even for a single second. Even rejected, he kept his confidence and pride intact. Or at least, he faked it very well.

“Allison,” Todd started, but this time Allison didn’t stop him. She gave him her reasons, he deserved at least to make his own stand known, regarding this whole situation. “I watch the news and I read newspapers… I can imagine what you’ve been through and how painful it can be. Let alone, I’ve been through a divorce myself,” he confessed in a low voice, reminding her of their conversation of few days before, about him not being for marriage.

“Then… I beg you to understand me,” Allison asked in a pleading voice, “that I can’t give you… whatever it is that you want.” This time she couldn’t find the strength or courage to meet his gaze. She was putting the end to something that wasn’t even started in the first place and was very likely to never begin at all. “I’m sorry…” she simply concluded, quickly leaving his office before he could say something else, and before she could rethink this.

She was well aware of the inevitability of that, sooner or later, they’d end up against each other in courtroom again. Till then, till that moment she had to face him once more, she would have to force herself to put all thoughts of him aside.

The crimson stone – Preview #1

My fingers are already finding their place on the keyboard, resolute, when the sound of barefoot steps catches my attention. Hannah is approaching me, lids still heavy with sleep. “You’re up early.” My daughter has never been a morning person – and neither have I, to be honest – so it’s quite a historical event that we’re both awake before dawn.

“You too,” she observes with a raised brow, moving closer to glance at the screen and at the notes scattered on the desk.

“Working on next week’s issue.”

“Exes fighting over dog’s custody. Wow,” she mutters with her typical vein of sarcasm.

What was she hoping to read? Ever since we moved to Gardner, there hasn’t been anything exciting to consult. “Spare me your irony, please, this stuff pays your study,” I reproach her, while she’s already leaving my side. The idyll didn’t last long.

She sinks heavily onto the sofa and looks outside. “I don’t understand why dad can’t contribute.”

“Because I decided so.” My voice doesn’t grow of a decibel, but my tone is firm.

Dominique and I divorced four years ago, officially for incompatibility, after his gambling habits left us stone broke. It was my choice to never tell Hannah her father was a compulsive gambler – in the end he’s always been a decent father, why ruin that? – but as she grows and gets demanding, it becomes harder to explain why she can’t rely on her father’s financial support.

“Whatever floats your boat,” she grumbles.

Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Chapter 1

“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.

“Allison?”

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. Dont look back, she said to herself, dont 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.

Hes 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.

Trial and Tribulations of Unexpected Love – Introduction

Once upon a time there was a fanfiction, probably one of the most popular among the dozens I’ve written and with a very special place in my heart. It took quite an effort and weeks of rewriting (well, isn’t writing all about that, after all?), but I ended up with an uprooted and recast version I decided to post here. It’s a multichapter story,  so expect a lot of updates in the days to come!