Trial of Conscience
The sound of heels hitting the marble floors echoed in the hall of the courthouse. Court was in session, and save for a few attorneys huddled in conference with their clients or each other, the hall was relatively empty. Stopping before the large double doors to Judge Keller's courtroom, Sydney turned to face Evin. A fair eyebrow raised. "You do remember your promise to let me handle this?"
"Yes, I remember," Evin shot back, giving the law student an exasperated look. "What could possibly happen?"
"You aren't serious, are you?" she asked incredulously, her voice rising slightly. "We're walking into Judge Keller's courtroom. The same man who, by your definition, hates the fact that you still breathe."
"What would you like me to do?" the tall attorney snapped irritably. "Hold my breath while we're in there?"
Sydney took a deep breath, wishing the butterflies swarming in her stomach would settle. Of all days to have a flat tire. "Look...please...you're angry because we're late. Just promise me you'll count to ten before you say anything if the urge to speak becomes irresistible."
"Look, I said I wouldn't say a word and I don't intend to. You're well prepared. What could I possibly add?"
"I appreciate the vote of confidence. It's just that you're...." Irritated? Aggravated? Frustrated? Annoyed? About to explode? All of the above? "Well, I've studied up on the Code of Civil Procedure articles and statutes as they relate to contempt...just in case. Do you know that, in certain instances, you can get up to six months in jail for contempt? If he tries to go after you, I'm going to demand a hearing and present a defense."
One corner of Evin's mouth lifted slightly in what Sydney took for a grumpy smile. "Sydney Parker, I think that might be the nicest thing anybody's ever done for me."
"Yeah, well, you terror, I figured that if I'm going to be hanging around with you, I better know all I can about this area of the law." She gave Evin a long-suffering look. "Besides, I'm doing this for purely selfish reasons. If he put you in jail overnight, I'd miss you terribly. You're as warm and cuddly as a teddy bear." Sydney flashed her a smile and pulled the door open.
"I...am...not...a...teddy...bear." Evin hissed out the whisper as she trailed the petite redhead into the courtroom.
How does she make a whisper sound so menacing? Sydney glanced sideways at the tall attorney, finding eyes glittering and as hard as diamond chips. Whoa! The cobra's back. They found an empty bench seat and Evin slid in first.
Placing her briefcase on the floor and leaning back, the blue diamonds swept the courtroom. Spotting Dorinda Pratt and Scott Harwood on the other side, closer to the front, she tapped Sydney on the leg and motioned with her head in their direction. "Pinkie and IBM," came the low whisper.
Shifting her gaze in the direction of Evin's nod, she caught sight of their opponents. Pinkie and IBM? Oh God, I hope I don't call them that when I get up there. The butterflies in her stomach took flight again. At least the butterflies aren't as bad as the last time. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to concentrate on the two attorneys presently arguing in front of Judge Keller. Good. It sounds boring. Maybe it will lull my butterflies to sleep.
Casually looking around the courtroom, Evin nodded at several attorneys that she recognized. Her attitude of bored indifference masked the adrenalin rush she always felt when she entered a courtroom. Okay, big girl. This is Sydney's show today. You will, I repeat, you will let her handle this without opening your mouth. She has more than demonstrated her competence. You can do that, can't you? 'I hope so.' Shut up. How hard could it possibly be? The little voice laughed.
This is a simple hearing. You did not file the Order timely. You are wrong. There is no getting out of that. You will be fined and rightly so. It's not like this is a surprise. You delayed that Order on purpose. That is contempt. Even if you accidentally forgot, there is no defense. It interfered with the orderly administration of justice. You are guilty. You will pay the fine. And the case will move forward. There's nothing to worry about. Sydney's basically going to stand up there and say a big 'I'm sorry' to the court. It's good practice for her. So I should have absolutely no problem keeping my mouth shut. There should be no need for any intervention on my part. 'Who are you trying to convince?' Shut up!
Judge Keller looked up from the bench and caught Evin's eye. He smiled nastily.
The tall attorney grinned...a huge grin that failed to touch the coldness in her eyes. Sydney said to be nice. Keller's eyes widened in surprise as his jaw sagged slightly. It's a good thing you can't read my mind, you lousy piece of shit. You give Sydney any grief and that gavel you're so fond of banging will go sideways up your ass. Her grin widened even more at the thought. Keller finally looked away, slightly perplexed and somewhat suspicious, focusing on the two attorneys presently arguing before him.
Sydney's eyes flashed back and forth between the two. The butterflies, momentarily lulled, returned in full force as she offered up a silent prayer. If there's anybody out there in the universe listening, don't let her get thrown in jail today, please. And how the hell does she do that? It seemed to Sydney as if the irritated and angry Evin Moran had been miraculously replaced with a relaxed, even somewhat bored, version of the tall attorney.
Evin shifted her body slightly as she crossed her legs and extended a long arm to rest on the back of the bench behind Sydney. A dull ache started in her right thigh. Fucking leg . She shifted once again, trying to find a more comfortable position. Staring at the back of Pratt and Harwood's heads, her mind growled out, the enemy. She felt the anger roll over her in a wave and she struggled to control it. Don't take it personal, Moran. It will screw with your focus.
I hate this waiting. I wonder where we are on the docket. Sydney looked down at her lap and brushed a piece of lint off her skirt then let her gaze wander around the courtroom. My God, Pinkie's got big hair. Shit, I called her Pinkie. Her eyes fell on Judge Keller. He looks like a weasel. I'll have to ask Evin what exactly happened in Landau that got him in trouble.
How can she sit so still...be so relaxed? Sydney wondered, as she bent down and pulled a file out of her briefcase. Might as well look at it one more time. She flipped through the file to their response to the Rule for Contempt. The document was short, consisting of only two legal sized pages, with the bottom half of the second page containing their signature blocks. Not much we can do here. We were wrong. We'll pay. Wow, this will be my first contempt fine. Guess I better get used to it. I wonder how many fines she's paid.
"Ms. Moran, it's so nice of you to join us today. Only an hour and twenty minutes late." Judge Keller's voice boomed through the PA system. "Not setting a very good example for your law student, um, Ms. Parker, isn't it?" He didn't wait for a response from the tall attorney as he continued, the sarcasm clearly evident in his voice. "Would it be convenient for you both if we heard the plaintiff's Rule for Contempt now?"
Sydney was up on her feet in a second, hearing Evin rise next to her. She didn't even have to look at her to know that the tall attorney was in full combat mode. She braced herself, and waited for the words to start flying back and forth. I hope she brought some signed checks. She felt a hand on her back, gently urging her into the aisle.
"Let's get up there."
Sydney looked at the face of her lover. Unreadable. The only hint that the tall woman was about to explode was the slight hoarseness of her whisper.
The low voice assured Sydney, "I said I wasn't going to say anything, and I'm not." But I never said anything about not strangling him. I don't have to talk for that. Her lips curled into a snarling smile as they moved to the front of the courtroom.
"We're ready, Your Honor," Sydney replied to Judge Keller as she laid her briefcase on the table and sat down. Evin moved behind the table and took a seat next to her. "We'd like to apologize to the Court for being late. Unfortunately, it was unavoidable as we had a flat tire. We did call and let your clerk know." She paused, and then added smoothly, "Did you not get the message?"
Judge Keller answered somewhat sheepishly. "Um, yes, Ms. Parker, my clerk did give me the message."
God, I love her, Evin thought. A childish urge to stick her tongue out at Keller popped into her mind. You were being a prick and she just let everybody in the courtroom know that you were being a prick. And she did it so smoothly, so nicely that you didn't even realize it was happening until it was over with.
Pratt and Harwood strode to the plaintiff's table as Scott Harwood called out, "Scott Harwood and Dorinda Pratt for the plaintiff, Hynes Refining."
"This is case 98-2236, Hynes Refining versus William and Emma Dolese, a hearing on a Rule for Contempt filed by the plaintiff." The judge nodded at Harwood and Pratt once they settled. "You may proceed."
"Thank you, Judge Keller." Harwood pulled a file from his briefcase as he stood. "On September 14 of this year pursuant to an Oral Motion to Recuse, Your Honor issued an order in chambers to transfer this case back to the Clerk of Court for reassignment to another docket. Since it was defendant's Motion, it was incumbent upon counsel for the defendant to prepare and file the Order for Your Honor's signature. They failed to do so until this Rule was brought. As Your Honor only signed the Order two days ago, opposing counsel's failure to file the Order timely resulted in a considerable delay in moving this case forward, not to mention the additional and unnecessary expense our client has had to incur. We respectfully request that Your Honor order counsel for the defendants to pay attorneys' fees and court costs in the amount of $1,560.00 as a sanction for forcing us to bring this Rule. Thank you."
Evin sat back in her chair, listening intently as Harwood spoke. Blue eyes flickered around the courtroom, occasionally taking a sideways glance at Sydney. She seems okay. Her nostrils flared slightly. There's something about a courtroom. Here, everyone was your enemy...or at least a potential enemy. Opposing counsel-definitely an enemy. The judge's clerk-potential enemy. The judge-potential enemy. The only one who wasn't a potential enemy was the court reporter...at least not in the courtroom. But the court reporter could make you wait for a transcript from a hearing. And without that, the best laid plans.... Yep, all enemies. Best way to look at it.
Sydney sat forward in her chair and propped her chin on her hand, memorizing each word that Harwood said. Her brows lifted slightly as she heard Harwood say that Judge Keller already signed the Order to transfer the case. But...if he already signed it, does he have the authority to hear this Rule? Doesn't an Order go into effect immediately?
The only visible reaction the tall attorney had to Harwood's revelation was a slight flaring of the nostrils. Unseen was the surge of adrenaline that coursed through her blood. Every instinct she possessed screamed for her to stand up and take charge. The Waterman pen, if it had been a pencil, would have snapped in half as she gripped it tightly, struggling to remain in her seat. Fuck! If we wouldn't have had that damn flat tire, we would have been here in plenty of time to check the file before the case was called and we'd have known about this and been prepared. God damn it!
She started to push back from the table then stopped herself. 'Sydney can handle it. Don't do this to her.' I know she can handle it, but.... 'But what? How do you expect her to learn anything if you're always going to jump in?' But...Christ, I've got to do something. She pulled a legal pad out of her briefcase and wrote three words down, then slid the pad in front of Sydney as she stood up.
Sydney felt a tap on her shoulder as she heard Evin's chair scrape the floor. The low voice whispered in her ear. "I'll be back."
Looking over her shoulder at the swiftly retreating form of the tall attorney, the law student wondered, Be back? Where the hell is she going? Damn. Now what do I do?
"Counselor, your turn." The nasty smile had returned when he saw the tall attorney leave.
Judge Keller's voice focused Sydney's attention back on the hearing before she had the chance to see what Evin had written on the pad. "Good Morning, Judge Keller." Sydney spoke in a clear voice as she stood. "Sydney Parker for the defendants, William and Emma Dolese." I think I'm going to kill my co-counsel.
"Your Honor," I either hit a home run with this or look like the law student that shouldn't have gone to law school. If I make a mistake, at least the only thing that gets hurt is my pride. Sydney took a deep breath. God, I hope I'm right. "I move to continue the Rule."
"Objection!" Scott Harwood and Dorinda Pratt called out at the same time.
What did she say? Judge Keller stared blankly at Sydney. "Continue? On what grounds, Ms. Parker?"
"Mr. Harwood stated in his argument that you already signed the Order to transfer the case back to the Clerk of Court prior to this hearing. If you did, then this case is no longer on your docket. Was Mr. Harwood's argument incorrect? Did you sign the order two days ago?"
"What?" Judge Keller looked slightly confused. "Well, yes, I mean, no, his argument wasn't incorrect. He...I did sign the order, but...."
"Your Honor," Dorinda Pratt was on her feet. "Plaintiff objects. The Rule was filed and set for hearing prior to your signing of the Order. Judges sign orders on cases that aren't assigned to their dockets. There are duty judges who do that sort of thing every day."
"That's signing orders, not hearing Rules," Sydney responded. "This is an adversarial proceeding. Judges don't hear adversarial proceedings in cases that aren't assigned to their dockets." I have no earthly idea if I'm on the right track here, but she looks kind of upset and Keller hasn't stopped me yet.
Pratt protested. "There are occasions when judges hear something ex-parte and it's not on their dockets."
"I'm sure there are some such occasions," Sydney countered. I have no idea what they are right now, but I'm sure it's happened before somewhere. "But an ex-parte hearing requires a demonstration of irreparable harm being done to the party seeking the hearing and relief if the other party's actions aren't enjoined immediately...harm that would outweigh the other party's right to being present at that hearing. Are you saying that your client would suffer irreparable harm if this Rule were continued?"
"No, Ms. Parker, I'm not." Pratt responded patronizingly. "I'm merely offering the ex-parte hearings as an example of a judge's authority to rule on a case that is not assigned to their docket."
"As I understand your argument, Ms. Pratt," she responded evenly, refusing to be baited by the other woman. "Judges have authority when extenuating circumstances exist, but you yourself state that your client has no extenuating circumstances, that there is no possibility of irreparable harm." A smile made its way across her face. "It would seem to me, Your Honor, that the exception offered by Ms. Pratt doesn't apply in this case. I renew my Motion to Continue." I hope she doesn't come up with anything else. Where the hell is Evin?
"But it was assigned to you, Judge Keller." Pratt countered.
"And when you signed the Order, you transferred the case back to the Clerk." Sydney took a breath. "Your Honor, any order you sign is immediately effective. The Order controls. You have no authority to hear this case. I move for continuance."
Keller looked back and forth between the two women. Both remained silent. "Do either of you have anything else to offer?"
"No, Your Honor." Sydney knew of no cases, laws, or statutes she could cite to bolster her argument. She had pretty much said all she could and briefly wondered at the wisdom of allowing law students to practice law before they took the course in Civil Procedure, which wasn't until the last semester of law school. It sure would have helped here. She glanced in Dorinda Pratt's direction. She seemed to be searching for something to say. I can't believe Evin left in the middle of the hearing. She glanced down at the pad, finally reading the boldly scripted words. Continuance. No authority. A small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. Yes!
"We object to the continuance," Pratt finally offered, with much less confidence.
Judge Keller sat quietly for a moment. He had been thrilled when he saw the tall attorney leave the courtroom. A faint glimmer of hope had raised its head as he thought that, for once, something she was associated with would go smoothly. I should have known better. What the hell do I do here? I have no idea what the law is in this area, or even if there is any. I've never heard of anything like this before. I need some time to think about this. "Court will take a fifteen minute recess."
Sydney sat down in her chair, watching Keller retreat into his chambers, followed closely by his law clerk. That didn't go too badly. Nobody laughed. Pinkie looked upset. Even my butterflies have disappeared. She glanced at her watch. Fifteen minutes. Where the hell did she go? It would have been nice to have a little support here.
A small buzz of conversation filled the courtroom as people started milling about. A few attorneys wandered up to the front to check the docket. Harwood and Pratt huddled in conversation at the other table. Sydney debated whether or not to pull out her Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure to see if she could find anything to support her argument, wondering again why the course wasn't taught until the last semester of law school. She glanced at her watch again. This is getting ridiculous. Where could she have gone? What is she up to?
The redhead started a bit as a warm hand squeezed her shoulder and a low voice tickled her ear.
An icy blue sparkle and one of those snarling smiles greeted her as she turned to face Evin as she sat next to her. Sydney stared at her for long seconds, then whispered, "You know, I don't know whether to kiss you or kill you right now."
The low voice whispered back. "Kill me? Why would you want to kill me?"
"Because you left me and I had no clue what I was doing."
"But I...I wrote you a note."
"Which I read after." Sydney smiled ruefully, her nose wrinkling slightly. "I had no idea what to do." At the startled look on Evin's face, she quickly added, "But I did move for continuance. I just had no idea what grounds to use or whether I was even right. It would have been nice to have some support."
"I'm...support...but I, uh, kind of did...I think." I left before I jumped in and took over.
A pale eyebrow raised as she scrutinized Evin. I knew she was up to something. "Where did you go?"
"I found out from the Clerk that Judge Dupuy had the case. I was in his court, um, talking to his clerk. We can have a hearing in twenty four hours if Keller rules against you."
Sydney felt the last little bit of irritation slip away. "That's one of the reasons why I want to kiss you."
"And the other reasons would be?"
"For having confidence in me that I could handle it."
Evin's mind breathed a sigh of relief. Good thing I left. I was about to blow that. "What did you argue?"
A proud grin broke out on her face. "That's what I would have done."
"I figured that out after," she said wryly. "I felt like I was flying blind. I didn't even know which CCP article to cite or any cases. So which article in the CCP controls?"
The tall attorney shrugged. "I have no idea."
"What?" Sydney looked around as her exclamation came out louder than she intended.
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"What do you mean 'what do you mean?'" Evin looked slightly bewildered at the expression on Sydney's face. "You seriously think I know everything? Because if you do, you're wrong."
"I...I just thought..."
"Sydney, there's no way you are ever gonna know everything. That's why they call it practicing law." Evin straightened a bit in her chair and regarded Sydney seriously. "Look, you did good. You went with your instincts. Sometimes the shit starts flying in here so fast that you don't even have time to think, nor do you have the luxury of stopping to research a point of law. And you only have one shot at arguing some point. That's when you have to rely on your gut. That's exactly what you did. As perverse as it gets sometimes, the law is generally logical, orderly and, despite the legalese, straightforward and common sense. You recognized the fact that he signed the Order to Transfer prior to this hearing and that might have an impact on his authority to hear the Rule. You went with the only argument you could have. Just because you can't cite an article or a case doesn't make the argument any less right."
The law student considered Evin's words for a long moment. "Do you think we're going to win?"
"Don't know, Syd."
She didn't miss the glint in the blue eyes. Why do I think she does know? "Is there ever a case where two judges have concurrent authority?"
"The big class actions where they may split duties," Evin chuckled. "And this definitely isn't one of those. The only other situation I can think of that would be remotely comparable is ex-parte hearings, but that's a stretch. We would argue that there is no irreparable harm, which is the basis for the exception, and I doubt seriously that Hynes could show irreparable harm. Of course, if there's no law in this area, Keller could always use the ex-parte exception and apply the reasoning by analogy. Then we'd get to appeal."
"Pratt brought up the ex-parte hearings and I argued that exact same thing. She even said there's no irreparable harm to her client."
A delighted gleam made its way into her eyes. "Seems like you might be exploring new legal territory today with your argument."
"Wow," Sydney laughed. "And I don't have a clue about what I'm doing."
Evin absorbed the soft laughter and the luster of the sparkling green eyes. It was moments like these that made her heart jump and her mind reel. The intensity of the feelings the law student stirred seemed to come from nowhere and slam into her consciousness at the oddest times, displacing any other thoughts that were there. "Neither do I...neither do I."
"You okay?" Sydney asked, concerned. She has the strangest look on her face.
"Um, yeah, fine. I'm fine." Come on, Moran. Get with the program here. Stop acting like some love struck idiot and get your mind back on your work. You're in court. The enemy is here. Their conversation was interrupted by the opening of a door as the deputy announced that Court was back in session. Judge Keller resumed his seat at the bench.
Beckoning them forward with a wave, he barked, "Counsel, approach."
Sydney stood and tried not to smile as Evin whispered, "Looks like you've got 'em on the run, Syd."
Judge Keller cleared his throat as the four attorneys stood in front of them, his hand covering the microphone. "It seems we have a bit of a problem here."
No shit, Sherlock. Evin couldn't stop a smug grin from forming. She is gonna be so very good.
Judge Keller kept his eyes fixed on Harwood and Pratt. "I've done a cursory review of what little law there is on this and have been unable to come up with anything on point. My law clerk has checked with the Clerk of Court and the case has already been reassigned to Judge Dupuy. While I might have authority at this point to hear the Rule, I would assume that both parties would appeal my ruling if it is not in their favor." His eyes moved to Sydney. "Is that correct, Ms. Parker?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Well certainly, Your Honor, we would appeal if we lost. But it was a clear violation...."
Judge Keller held up his hand, forestalling further argument from Dorinda Pratt. "I'm not sure that the ex-parte exception would apply by analogy here, and I'm...Look, Ms. Pratt, Mr. Harwood...it's my recommendation that you go to Judge Dupuy's court and reset the Rule. I can hear it, but one of you is going to appeal, and months later, Judge Dupuy will quite possibly be listening to you repeat the exact same arguments."
He glanced at the widely grinning Evin Moran and suddenly felt very tired. God knows what kind of argument she would have come up with to defend against that Contempt Rule. And I know I don't want to hear it. I think I need my blood pressure medication. "I realize it is an inconvenience for you, Ms. Pratt. But don't you think an appeal would be even more inconvenient and costly for your client?"
Sydney glanced from Judge Keller to Dorinda Pratt. She still doesn't look too happy. But as Sydney watched, a resigned look crossed the other woman's face.
"We'll reset the Rule in Judge Dupuy's court, Your Honor."
"Wise choice, Ms. Pratt." Judge Keller breathed a small sigh of relief. "Back away now."
The four attorneys left the bench and returned to their tables as Judge Keller made his pronouncement for the record that the Rule would be pursued in Judge Dupuy's court. He watched as the tall attorney picked up her briefcase and headed out of the courtroom with the law student and fervently hoped that he never saw her again.
"Hmmm?" Evin said as she turned off the faucet in the restroom sink.
"You know...that was fun."
Evin studied Sydney's reflection in the corner of the mirror as she dried her hands. "You did a good job, Sydney."
"I...thank you." A slight blush colored her face as she met the reflection of the blue eyes. "Did you know what Judge Keller was going to do?"
A slight shrug of the shoulders as she tossed the paper towel into the trash can and turned to face the small woman. "No, not really."
"Well, you pretty much pegged what Pratt and Keller said."
"There wasn't much else they could have said."
"I'm sort of surprised that he didn't extend the analogy of the ex-parte hearing."
A soft snort was her reply. "I'm not."
"Because he's a chicken shit asshole. He knew we'd appeal and he doesn't like being overturned on appeal. That's how he got the nickname "Killer," self-appointed by the way, during his last campaign. He's got an almost perfect record of his decisions standing up on appeal."
"He's that good?"
"He wishes." The tall woman laughed derisively. "He stays away from anything controversial, anything that's marginal. He doesn't like to make close calls. And there are some lawyers who will appeal anything. So Keller gets a nice record he can boast about during his campaigns."
"That's pitiful. And I guess, if you were his opponent, you'd have a hard time proving otherwise."
"Yeah, half the lawyers can't figure it out. What chance does a layman have? And they're the ones that vote. It's a shame most people don't know about rule number three."
"Let's see...number three...nothing is as it seems." Sydney looked at Evin thoughtfully. "You know, I might have to come up with a few of these rules myself. For instance, co-counsel will always give advance warning to co-counsel when leaving a hearing. There was an instant, and it was just an instant, where I wanted to kill you today."
"Mmmhmm. I kind of caught that," she agreed as she reached for her briefcase. "You really didn't need me with you today, you know. You handled it just fine."
A sweet smile formed on the law student's face. "Well, that may be so, Counselor, but I like having you with me."
"Seems to me that's a good thing, Sydney Parker." She leaned forward and a long finger reached out and lifted Sydney's chin. "Because I like being with you. Very much." Evin studied Sydney's face for a minute. "The circles are gone," she pronounced. "How are you feeling?"
"Like a human being again. I hadn't realized how tired I was." Green eyes searched Evin's face. "Yours are gone, too."
"Thanks to you." Her hand dropped to her side as she got lost in green. "Thank you...again...for the weekend. I...can I interest you in some lunch?"
Sydney smiled, her nose wrinkling slightly. "Oh yeah, I'm starving. But I do have to be back at school for a class at two."
"I'll have you back in time. This is going to be a working lunch."
Sydney pulled her briefcase down from atop the other sink as they moved to the bathroom door. "A working lunch?"
"Yep." Evin pulled the bathroom door open and Sydney walked out into the courthouse hall.
"Exactly what kind of work will we be doing at lunch?"
Evin's response was cut short as a voice called out, "Moran! Parker! There you are."
"Here we are," the low voice purred as Scott Harwood jogged up. "You come to tell us that you're dropping the case?"
"Um, no." Harwood's eyes widened slightly. "I wanted to discuss the deposition schedule with you."
The blue eyes glinted as she smiled. "What if I gave you a check right now to pay out the mortgage and your client's attorneys' fees and costs?"
What is she up to? Sydney studied Harwood's face. He doesn't look much older than I am. She took in his starched white shirt, maroon tie and blue pin striped suit. So corporate. So conservative. A company man all the way. It sent a small shiver down her spine. Dad would like him.
He shook his head. "No, my clients wouldn't accept that."
"Don't you think you should check with them first before rejecting my offer?"
"Well, of course, I'll present your offer to them. It is, after all, an ethical obligation I must fulfill." He smiled at Evin and then turned to Sydney. "But if I were you, I wouldn't get my hopes up."
"I'm curious, Mr. Harwood." Evin cocked her head to the side and studied Harwood. Let's see how much he knows. "What does Hynes plan to do with the land if they get it back?"
"Resell it, I would think." He shrugged. "It has appreciated in value, you know."
Dorinda Pratt walked up and nodded at Evin and Sydney. "Scott, have you gotten the deposition schedule straight?"
"We were just discussing settlement with Mr. Harwood." Evin leveled a charming smile at the other attorney. "But now that you're here, I'll finish my offer. Mortgage pay out, appreciated value of the land, attorneys' fees and court costs. I'll have the written offer to you before the close of business today. When can I expect a response?"
Harwood started to speak, but Pratt cut him off smoothly. "As soon as we've had an opportunity to present it to our client, I'll have a written response for you." Her eyes moved from Evin to Sydney then back again. A tight smile was offered as she continued. "Now, ladies, can we get on with arranging the deposition schedule?"
I'm with Evin on this one, Sydney thought as she saw Evin's grip on her briefcase tighten. I don't think I like her calling me "lady."
"We'll be happy to," Evin replied as she pulled out her calendar. She continued, offering offhandedly, "Although it seems like such a waste of time, after what Mr. Harwood's told us. I can't imagine why your client would reject such a generous offer...particularly when there's a possibility Hynes could lose." She glanced over at Sydney, blue eyes twinkling, calendar and pen in hand. "You ready?"
"Very," came the answer from the law student. Sydney felt like laughing as she caught the flicker of Dorinda Pratt's eyes to Scott Harwood as Evin's words registered. She is some pissed off at him. She's wondering right now what in the hell he told us. Evin's so bad.
The group spent some minutes coordinating the deposition schedule before finally breaking off.
The ride to Meredith's from the courthouse was much more pleasant than the drive up. The first thing the tall attorney did was telephone the office and dictate the settlement offer to Hynes. Then, she had settled comfortably into the leather seat of the BMW, put on a classical CD and grinned at Sydney. "Time to do some more work." She refused to tell Sydney exactly what the work was that they would be doing, but since their destination was Meredith's, the steak house that was the quintessential "power" restaurant where the famous and not so famous gathered, Sydney couldn't imagine that it would be anything too taxing.
They had talked some about the case during the drive. Sydney wanted to know exactly where Evin thought the Doleses would get all that money if, by some miracle, Hynes accepted the offer. Evin had laughed and said if the people at Hynes did lose their minds and accept the settlement offer, she'd make sure the Doleses would have the money.
Something Sydney saw triggered a memory of her childhood and they ended up sharing stories about embarrassing childhood incidents. It touched Sydney deeply when the tall attorney started speaking, hesitantly at first, about her childhood. When she finished her first story, she glanced over at Sydney, a perplexed look on her face. "I have no idea where that came from."
Y ou really don't, do you, baby? A small hand settled on a powerful thigh. "Thank you for telling me."
When they pulled up in front of the restaurant, Sydney climbed out of the car. Her jaw dropped as the tall woman strode around the front of the car. Raw power and sex. The transformation took Sydney's breath away. Oh my. Stopping next to Sydney, Evin tipped her sunglasses down and captured the startled green eyes in a laser-intense blue gaze.
"Ready to do some hunting, Syd?"
It seemed to Sydney that Evin's voice had dropped two octaves and had definitely taken on that smoky quality that was present when they made love. "Uh huh," she mumbled, having no earthly idea what Evin was talking about. And I don't care. She followed Evin into the restaurant, trying to keep her mouth closed. It proved to be a hard task as she followed the tall attorney, first through the bar, and then to their table.
Everyone looked at them. How could they not, Sydney's mind had supplied. You're walking next to six feet plus of raw power and sex personified. They were led to a corner table where they had a view of the entire room. Evin took her sunglasses off in a smooth motion and let her eyes sweep the room before sitting down.
Sydney sat down and thanked the maitre d' as he pushed her chair in. I wonder if she realizes she does that. Green eyes scanned the room as she tried to settle her thoughts before finally returning her gaze back to her companion. "Are you ever going to tell me how this qualifies as a working lunch?"
A rakish grin crossed Evin's face. "Patience, my love. All in due time."
My God, she's absolutely stunning. "I've already had lots of practice with patience since I've met you." Green eyes sparkled across the table. It seemed impossible to Sydney not to give in to the strong undertow she could feel pulling her towards Evin.
"Sydney Parker?" the low voice drawled as an eyebrow raised, blue eyes taking in the slight flush that started at the top of Sydney's white silk blouse and ended at the tips of her ears.
"Yes?" Sydney swallowed. Hard.
"What's on your mind, darling?" The words flowed like honey across the table.
"I'm surprised you have to ask," Sydney teased. The answering flicker of fire in the blue eyes across from her sent another surge of desire coursing through her body.
"I would imagine, Ms. Parker...." Evin let her words trail off as she smiled sensuously, letting her eyes wander over Sydney's body in carnal appreciation. "It's the same thing on my mind."
A list of possible places she could drag the tall attorney off to...right here, right now...ran through Sydney's mind. I wonder where the valet parked the car? The back seat would definitely work. Couldn't possibly be that much traffic in the parking lot with valet parking, right? "Would it be incredibly rude to leave right now?"
Another rakish grin. "Patience, darling, patience...this is a working lunch."
"You know," Sydney said, a hint of frustration in her voice. "There ought to be a law against you...one which I would happily violate every chance I got."
Their banter was interrupted by the waitress appearing at the table with menus and a wine list.
Probably a good thing, Sydney mused as she took the menu. I was thinking about dropping a piece of silverware under the table and taking a real long time to find it. She felt a deep blush rise. My God, Sydney Parker, what's come over you?
"Wine?" A dark eyebrow raised as Evin smiled, seeing the blush. I have got to ask what that's about.
"Um, sure." It's getting awfully hot in here.
Sydney studied the menu as Evin discussed the wine selections with the waitress.
"A bottle of the '95 Rosemount with lunch, please," Evin said. "I'll have a Stoli martini, slightly dirty. Sydney?"
What the hell...I need something to dull my senses if I'm going to make it through this lunch. "Absolut and tonic with a twist of lime and lemon."
The waitress left after telling them she'd return with their drinks and to take their lunch order shortly.
"Syd, why were you blushing before when the waitress was here?"
The blush started again. "I was contemplating dropping a piece of my silverware and wondering exactly how much cover that tablecloth would provide." The slight narrowing of Evin's eyes and the flare of her nostrils as her body reacted to Sydney's statement almost made Sydney toss every piece of silverware she could get her hands on under the table.
The image the redhead's words seared into Evin's brain sent tendrils of flames shooting to her heart and soul and that one particularly sensitive spot between her legs. Her words came out in a sensual growl, barely audible. "Do you have any idea how wet you get me?"
The air crackled with the electricity arcing between them, the world shut out as their attention was solely focused on the play between them. Unnoticed, a man seated at the opposite end of the room observed them intently.
Let's see if I can get you to crack. "Hopefully more than Carole, and in a much better way."
So that's what she and Carole were talking about in the kitchen that Sunday...the story about how she and Andrew met. A rakish grin broke out. She's going to absolutely fucking kill me before we can get out of here. "Oh yeah, baby."
A plea sprang forth from Sydney's lips. "Do we really have to stay here?"
"Evin Moran!" A man's voice boomed across the room.
Blue eyes closed as she took a deep breath. This is why you don't come here too often, remember?
Sydney looked up, startled, spotting a tall, distinguished man weaving his way through tables towards them, calling out greetings and shaking hands. She and Evin shared the same thought. I'm going to kill him, with Sydney adding a "whoever he is" to hers.
"Joseph." Evin nodded her head in recognition as the man arrived at their table.
"How's my favorite niece?"
Sydney looked at the man, her curiosity peaked. Niece? She gathered from the look the tall attorney was giving the man that he was definitely not her favorite uncle.
"I was doing fine."
The law student stood and extended her hand, hearing Evin's tone of voice holding the promise of nothing nice. "Hi, I'm Sydney Parker. And you are?"
"Joseph Moran." He bowed slightly as he shook her hand. "It's always a pleasure to meet one of Evin's associates, especially one as beautiful as you are."
"Thank you, Mr. Moran. Would you care to join us?" Sydney resumed her seat as she ignored the burning glare she could feel coming from Evin. Now I know which side of the family she gets that silver tongue from.
He smiled graciously at Sydney. "Thank you, but no. I'm expecting some business associates. I saw my pretty little niece over here and thought I'd come say hi." He turned his attention to Evin. "How are things? You doing all right?"
"As well as can be expected," came the cool answer. "And you?"
"Fine, little girl, just fine. Trying to keep busy, that's all."
Right. So that's what they're calling it these days. Keeping busy. "How is Aunt Darlene?"
"She's doing just fine. Keeping busy with that church group she belongs to at St. Dominic's. You know how that is."
No, thank God, I don't. Evin nodded in the direction of the bar. "I believe some of your associates just walked in."
He turned and looked over his shoulder. "Ah yes...I'm sure they'll stop by to tell you hello."
Great. Just fucking great. I should have taken Sydney up on her offer to leave.
"Well, Evin, it was good to see you. Try to give your Aunt Darlene a call. She misses you, you know." He turned and bowed slightly to Sydney, flashing a charming smile. "Ms. Parker, a true pleasure to meet you."
Oh yeah, she definitely gets it from her father's side of the family. "Mr. Moran, it was my pleasure." Sydney flashed a winning smile of her own. "I hope I get to see you again."
Evin watched the tall man walk away and then turned to look at Sydney. "That's not going to happen. Not if I can help it."
"Okay," Sydney said slowly as she took in the tension in the tall form. She's so angry. "I was just trying to be nice."
"You can't be nice to any of the Morans." The sharp, biting words thundered out of Evin's mouth.
Whoa! I thought I had family issues. Let's try something else here. Sydney shrugged off the statement, desperately wishing they could return to their earlier conversation. "There's only one Moran I'm interested in being nice to."
Sydney almost winced as she heard Evin's response.
"Especially not me. Remember that." Evin rose rapidly. "I'll be back. Stay here."
What the hell is going on here? The law student watched the rapidly retreating woman stop by a group of men standing outside the bar. Evin conversed with them a few minutes then the tall attorney and her uncle stepped off to the side to speak privately. I've seen her angry before, but this is something else. Sydney thought Evin was going to punch her uncle when he put a hand on her back.
Okay. Sydney took a deep breath and reached for her drink the waitress had brought. Today's one of those roller coaster days it seems. She was in a fantastic mood when we woke up. The flat tire killed that. Then we get here, the mood comes back and Uncle Joseph killed that one.
I wonder what that's all about. Andrew had revealed more information about Evin's family while they had kept vigil outside the ICU in two and a half days than the tall woman had offered in over a month. Her parents had been killed in a car crash, and her brother had died shortly thereafter. That much she knew. She thought Andrew had also mentioned a cousin that Evin liked, but that was about it. What did he say? She thought hard as she tried to recall his words that day in the surgery waiting room. Something about distant relatives...no immediate family. Hmmm...Uncle Joseph and Aunt Darlene. That doesn't seem distant to me.
Glancing back in Evin's direction, she saw Evin say something through clenched teeth to her uncle and then stalk off to the restroom. Joseph Moran. I wonder if Evin's father looked like him. Probably so, because she kind of looks like her uncle. Definitely has the charm.
Patience, Sydney. She'll tell you when she's ready. She chuckled lightly to herself. She is a lesson in patience. It had pleasantly surprised Sydney when Evin had related some childhood stories on the drive to the restaurant. There were things that her lover refused to talk about. Her family was one of them. Taking another sip of the drink, she winced slightly. Wow, they make 'em strong here. She glanced again in the direction of the restroom. Should I...no. She's such a private person.
The tall woman was so adept at controlling her expressions, at keeping the mask firmly in place. Like this morning with Scott Harwood. A settlement discussion? Harwood had no idea she was probing him for information. Sydney had almost laughed out loud. He can't be that naïve can he? To think that this case is just about a failure to pay a mortgage and a little appreciation in value of the land? She chuckled lightly, thinking of Pratt's quickly hidden expression of surprise when Evin mentioned settlement discussions. She doubted he had experienced an enjoyable ride back to the city with Dorinda Pratt.
Seeing her uncle really got to her. Evin had been unable to keep the mask firmly in place. If asked, Sydney would tell you that's how she preferred it, adding that it was one of the things about the tall woman that she loved the most. When it was just she and her lover, the mask was gone. At least most of the time. It wasn't always pleasant, but the law student preferred to deal with it head on, rather than try to guess what was going on behind the steely blue eyes. The steel curtain was still quick to go up at the slightest possibility of pain. But even that's getting better. The curtain was coming down faster and Evin had actually started initiating some conversations, like this morning's anecdotes.
Layers...that's what she's like. You uncover one and find another. The confidence, the power. That was displayed for the world to see. But underneath that...so many layers. Like the romantic side. The restaurants they had been to...small and intimate. Watching the sunset. The quiet side. Lying on the couch, snuggled up together, and reading, Sydney her casebooks and Evin whatever the latest journal or cases or research results she needed to review.
The intellectual side. That the tall woman was brilliant, Sydney didn't question. But to see her thought processes in action was something else entirely. She had been reading a case and was having trouble following the legal reasoning behind the judge's decision. When she asked Evin about it, the conversation had turned into a full-scale discourse between them about this particular area of the law. She suspected that Evin had enjoyed it as much as she did because the tall woman had started to ask her about her studies and they would often end up in debates. Sydney found that she learned more about legal reasoning from Evin Moran than she had in two plus years of law school.
What was even more interesting and exciting to Sydney is that the debates, which could get heated at times, never got personal. Playing devil's advocate to whatever position Sydney took, the tall woman made the law student think and stretch her mind. Evin didn't restrain her killer instinct and went for the jugular when Sydney's reasoning erred, but she also patiently explained to the law student where she had made the mistake in her reasoning.
Nor did Evin display any hesitancy to concede a point. She had laughed at the shocked expression on Sydney's face the first time she conceded a point. In a low drawl, she said, "Darlin', rule number eleven...you can't win every one of 'em. The only question is, how bad are you gonna lose? Minimize the extent of your loss. That's the key."
Then there were the glimpses into what Sydney suspected was the way the woman could be without all her formidable defenses up. Waking up to soft kisses and a cup of coffee. Catching her dancing around in her boxers and t-shirt when she cranked up a CD before work one morning. That was really adorable. The tall woman's reaction to running out of hot water in the shower this morning when they had been making love...Evin had stared at the inside of the closet the water heater was in for ten minutes, mumbling something about there must be a way to fit two water heaters into it as Sydney could see the wheels in her brain spinning.
Sydney blinked three times when she saw Evin finally coming back to the table. I don't know what she did in the restroom, but wow. Evin seemed to have regained her earlier mood. I am definitely not bringing up Uncle Joseph's visit. At least not now.
"Ah, good, the drinks are here." Evin flashed a grin at Sydney as she sat, then took a sip of her martini. "Have you decided what you want to eat yet?"
Do I really want to go there? Oh, yeah. "Nothing on the menu interests me."
Slightly surprised at the response, she looked at Sydney questioningly.
"You're not on there."
Hmmm...looks are deceiving. She hasn't quite gotten over Uncle Joseph's visit. "So are you going to tell me exactly what it is that we're hunting? Or am I going to have to start shooting blind?"
"You don't want to start shooting in here, Syd." Evin glanced around the room. "Half of the people in here are armed bodyguards."
"Arrrgghhh! You are so frustrating." The law student glared at Evin. "You know what I meant."
The tall attorney chuckled. "I know...I'm sorry." Her voice grew serious. "We're here to attend a Hynes board meeting."
Nodding at the large table across from them that remained empty, she said, "See that table there." She glanced at her watch. "In about seven minutes, the monthly board meeting of Hynes Refining Corporation will convene. By proxy, or I should say, proximity, we'll be attending."
How the hell did she find out about this? Sydney looked at the dark-maned woman sitting across from her. "And what will we learn from this? They wouldn't be stupid enough to talk about this case."
"You'd be surprised to know how stupid people can really be. But no, I don't expect anyone will confess." She glanced up as the waitress approached. "It's like sending the dogs out into the marsh. They go out there, rattle a few nests, the birds fly out and you shoot 'em. Simple."
Ah.... "Kind of like today, when you told Pratt we were discussing settlement...rattling the nests. We're the dogs."
"And the shooters." Evin smiled, a feral shadow touching the blue eyes.
The waitress stopped in front of the table. "Are you ready to order?"
Lunch has certainly been interesting , Sydney mused as she took the last bite of her dessert. Shortly after they ordered, the first of Hynes' board members started to arrive. As far as Sydney could tell, the main purpose of the meeting was to eat and drink at company expense. She was quite surprised at how much she could actually hear of the conversations around the table. I guess I've never tried to eavesdrop before.
There had been very little conversation about Hynes itself amongst the board members. The most exciting thing that had happened, in Sydney's opinion, was when Dorinda Pratt had arrived with some man. Sydney thought she was going to poke herself in the eye with her salad fork when she finally spotted them seated at the next table. Sydney had smiled warmly at the gaping woman, which only served to make her jaw drop even more.
The banter between them hadn't stopped during the eavesdropping session. From every appearance, the tall attorney's attention was solely focused on her. The blue eyes burned brightly and had grown increasingly darker with desire during their conversation. From the looks Sydney was getting from her lover, it was clear that her professors would have to conduct her afternoon classes without her. Life's rough sometimes, her mind chuckled wickedly.
The law student almost took it as an insult the first time Evin casually interjected into their verbal foreplay a comment about the conversation at the other table. After a moment of thought, Sydney remembered that the primary objective of the lunch was to "rattle the nests" as Evin had put it, and not an exercise in how to use the English language to arouse and stimulate. It is a working lunch, after all, she reminded herself. Yeah, definitely working. Working on my mind. Working on my body. Overtime.
"Evin?" Sydney looked up as she finished her coffee.
She glanced over at the Hynes table. Most of the people were getting up and leaving. Sydney didn't think she could sit still any longer. "Can we go now?" She was seriously considering the silverware under the table option again. "Please?"
"Come on, baby, I think I've got a tablecloth at the loft somewhere." A wicked grin crossed Evin's face as she stood. "And I know there's some silverware somewhere."
"Oh God," Sydney nearly moaned as she stood. "Promise me you'll drive fast."
A wicked chuckle answered her. "Your wish is my command."
The skylight let what little light the setting sun offered into the room. Evin lay awake, Sydney snuggled contentedly in her arms sleeping soundly, as thoughts of her budding relationship with the law student occupied her mind. The sense of peace that seemed to have invaded her heart and mind was both comforting and disturbing. So were the things that she had been doing. Talking. Sharing things from her past with Sydney. Leaving work early. 'Well, not exactly early, but at a reasonable time,' her little voice laughed. Thinking about someone else for a change. Putting someone else's wants and needs before hers for a change. Christ, I just took off an afternoon from work so we could make love. Unaware, her head shook slightly in wonder.
How their relationship had developed so far was definitely different, she had to admit. Putting aside her sexual feelings for Sydney, it struck her that there was a real friendship building. Evin had never been much for friends. She had plenty of acquaintances, but real friends? Someone you could tell anything to? It just hadn't happened. Tom and Andrew were the only two who had ever really penetrated the walls with some degree of consistency.
No playing with dolls when she was young, no girl talk about the cute little boys in school. It wasn't who she was. The restless energy that still filled her had started while she was still in her mother's womb. She recalled her mother telling her that she hadn't realized, until going through her pregnancy with Eric, how active Evin had been.
Her family spent their summers in Mississippi at the house her father had built on the Jourdan River. Situated in the middle of the woods on the river, there hadn't been another house within miles. As a child, she entertained herself engaging in solitary pursuits, or when Eric came along, dragging him along with her on her adventures.
Several months before her parents died, Evin sat in the kitchen with her mother one Saturday and listened with fascination as her mother told her about her childhood. Evin had, at the age of fifteen, shut those memories away and, even now, vague recollections were all she could manage most of the time.
If she closed her eyes tight enough and thought hard enough, even after eight years, she could still see her mother's warm smile and gentle eyes. The small lines around her eyes. The graying of her dark hair at the temples. The olive skin. Sparkling blue eyes. A beautiful, soft face that finally looked like it was recovering from the stress and strain of the previous several years. The light musical laugh that never failed to bring a smile to Evin's face. It had been so long since she had heard that laugh before that Saturday.
At the end of the conversation, her mother had said, "You know, honey, from the moment you were born...the world was yours." Her mother had blinked and remembered a baby girl being placed in her arms whose eyes seemed to regard her intently...seriously, then scan the room. "You owned that room and you weren't five minutes old yet. Doctor Gibson said he had never seen anything like it."
"You were such a confident, self-assured child...always marching to the beat of your own drummer." She had placed a warm hand over one of Evin's. "You've never needed anyone, have you?"
"I...." A long moment of silence. "I guess not."
Her arms flexed tighter around the small law student. I think we were both wrong, Mama.
Rolling onto her back, Sydney stretched then pulled the sheets up tighter. The sound of the shower running provided a background to her thoughts. On Monday, she had promised to go with Wayne, Maria and several other classmates to the environmental racism lecture that was being held tonight at 6:30 at school, to be followed by dinner and some music appreciation at a local club.
She had been having mixed feelings about attending. Part of her wanted nothing more than to stay in the bed at the loft with Evin. The other part of her felt somewhat guilty about not having spent time with her friends in over a month. Other than seeing them at school, Sydney had missed their regular Wednesday night gatherings.
The phone call Evin had received a few minutes ago made the law student's decision for her. Something told her that the snarling attorney was about to get up and head to her office. The phone slamming down, combined with the growl of "Piece of shit clients that can't follow one simple fucking piece of God damn advice that they pay through the nose for and now I have to get out of bed to go save their sorry ass" confirmed that her supposition was correct. Evin had rolled out of bed and stared down at Sydney. "I'm gonna kill 'em. That's what I'm gonna do." Then she turned and stalked off to the bathroom.
Time to get up. Her feet landed on the floor with a thump. She let out a groan. Why does that bed have to be so comfortable? Sydney wandered into the bathroom. "Honey, you do remember I'm going out with Wayne and a couple of other people from school tonight?"
"Oh, um, yeah," a voice called out from the shower. "Now I don't feel so bad about having to go into the office."
"Right. You remembered." Sydney teased. "Why on earth would you feel bad about having to go into the office?"
"Because I don't want to leave you." The sound of the running water stopped. "Could you grab a towel for me, please?"
The matter of fact statement startled Sydney. Wow. And I've been worried that she hasn't had enough time alone. "Um...yeah, sure." Fetching a towel, she felt a warm, wet body press against her back as long arms wrapped around her waist. "Mmmm, you feel so good."
"What's the lecture on tonight?" Evin nuzzled her hair.
"You better stop that," Sydney yelped as long fingers lightly stroked her sides. "Or I'm never gonna get to that lecture and you're not going to see your client." She wiggled away from the tall attorney and thrust the towel at her. "It's on environmental racism. I can't remember who's doing it. Landau's supposed to be one of the cases they discuss."
"Well, that's a guarantee for a boring lecture," the tall attorney stated as she toweled dry.
"Will you tell me about that case one day?"
"Not much to tell Syd." Evin grabbed the brush off the counter top and ran it through her wet hair. "Landau dumped chemicals illegally. They got their ass sued and lost."
Cocking her head to one side, Sydney folded her arms across her chest. Her foot tapped the floor.
"An appalling lack of detail, Counselor."
"Reader's Digest version." Evin chuckled. "You'd better get that beautiful, sweet ass in the shower if you want to make it in time for that lecture."
"I expect the War and Peace version when we have time."
"Sure, but you're gonna find it very boring. Shower, Syd. You're procrastinating."
"I'm going," Sydney grumbled as she leaned into the shower and turned the water on. "Do you want to come meet us after you're done? I think Wayne said something about eating at Lucy's Retired Surfers and then we're going to the Howlin' Wolf to hear Sugartank and...I think The Rubbermaids are playing, too.."
Lucy's I can handle, but Sugartank? The Rubbermaids? Christ, I'm getting old. "Um, I'm not sure what time I'll get finished."
"If you feel like it...." She stepped into the shower and groaned as the warm water washed over her body. "Oh, this feels so good. We'll be at Howlin' Wolf around ten. I think that's when the first set is scheduled to start."
"I'll see." The low voice called back from the bedroom.