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Whenever the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, Finn knew something was about to happen. It was a cliché he found to be true on every mission he’d ever served on as a SEAL.
Being summoned up to the senior partner’s conference room on the fifth floor of the law firm where he worked was his first indication. But now, as he stepped off the elevator into the plush lobby with gleaming slate marble floors and platinum frames wrapped around graphic photos of Lady Justice, he caught the scent of mint. Which could only mean that Hailey Adams was also included in this meeting. His heart skipped a beat, and he could feel a flush of warmth move up his back. Like a childish schoolyard crush, Finn couldn’t stop his body’s reaction to his colleague—no matter how hard he tried.
Stepping beyond the doorway into the conference room, Finn was rewarded with the sight of her, the most alluring woman he knew—and the most standoffish. She was seated alone on one side of the table, across from two of the managing partners who owned the firm, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Stewart. They also oversaw the selection of two rookie lawyers to compete for the coveted junior partner position each year.
“Finn, have a seat, and we’ll get started,” Mr. Baxter said, gesturing to Hailey’s side of the long conference table.
Hailey’s back was to him, and her body visibly stiffened before she turned her icy-blue eyes on him, then offered him a curt nod. It was the closest thing to acknowledgement he’d ever received from her. For the two years he’d worked at Baxter and Stewart, Hailey had remained an enigma. Always working, quiet, and by all accounts, the partners’ favorite junior lawyer.
“As you may have guessed, this meeting is in regard to the junior partnership,” Mr. Baxter announced.
Finn took his seat next to Hailey, careful not to brush her arm draped in a black blazer. Sitting poised with her shoulders back and dainty hands in her lap. The only indication she might be nervous was the light flush that rose along her creamy complexion.
“This year we’ve decided to try a new model for choosing the junior partner. Instead of giving you each a difficult case, we’re pairing you together on a big case.” Mrs. Stewart said.
Hailey’s breath caught, and he fought the urge to smile. While he didn’t have as much time at the firm as several of the other junior associates in the rookie bullpen, since passing the bar, he was by far the more mature option. So this was why Mr. Baxter had been prompting him to be certain about the kind of law Finn wanted to practice long term.
“What is the case?” Hailey asked when neither partner offered any additional information.
“Good question. We think this has all the markings of a real disaster—a million-dollar empire, marriage in ruins, and child custody,” Mrs. Stewart said.
“Child custody? Is this the Tovar v. Tovar divorce?” Hailey asked.
“Finn, you better pay attention. Hailey has an uncanny ability to know everything that goes on in this firm. She’s already one step ahead of you,” Mr. Baxter said.
“Sir, no doubt she is several steps ahead of me, but I run fast, so I’m not worried.”
In truth, if he was being put up against Hailey for the junior partnership, it was only a fig leaf to show the other junior associates everyone had to work hard for a coveted partnership. Hailey was dedicated to the law and brilliant. Everyone expected her to be the next rookie elevated to junior partner, but it looked like the partners had one last lesson to teach her.
They each accepted a black file folder Baxter slid across the table to them.
Then the partners stood. “Your first meeting with Mrs. Tovar is in an hour, so you’ll need to develop a game plan quickly, as a team. Decide if you’ll proceed in court with presenting a united front or allowing one lawyer to take the lead at different junctures,” Mr. Baxter said.
Hailey took a deep breath. “To be clear, we’ll be judged collectively on the outcome, and one of us will win the junior partnership?”
Mrs. Stewart grinned. Although she’d brought Hailey into the firm, she seemed to push Hailey as much as she pushed herself.
“That’s right, Hailey, only one lawyer standing between you and this victory, but you’ll have to work with him, not against him. As partners in this firm, we all benefit when we all win, but there is a natural tendency for the junior lawyers to compete or even sabotage each other. The firm can’t risk reputation over poor sportsmanship, so we’re teaming you together.”
“We’ll be thick as thieves,” Finn offered, but Baxter looked unsure if they could pull it off.
“Good luck to you both.”
Once the partners exited, Hailey studied the information in the folder. Internally, Finn was doing his happy dance over the fact that the partners handed him the perfect opportunity to spend time with her. Something he had been unable to accomplish in the two years he’d worked for the firm.
“Finn Maguire. Nice to meet you,” he said, facing her profile and perfect posture.
“I know who you are,” she said with an exhale while continuing to stare at the documents in the folder. “We have one hour to prep for this, so save the attempts to handle me.”
His mouth ached to smile at her seriousness, but he didn’t dare. Instead he opened his own folder and began to read. A minute later, he found her flawless forehead scrunched and a frown pulling on her full pink lips.
“Am I missing something? This seems like a cut-and-dried divorce. There is a prenup in place, so Mr. Tovar keeps the majority of his wealth. The custody in the state of Virginia generally favors the mother, but if pressed and able, the father will get 50 percent time,” Finn said.
“I agree, but on page three with the full list of assets, it notes that Mrs. Tovar’s online retail shop falls under Tovar Enterprises. However, there is no documentation to support that. Mrs. Tovar is specifically seeking counsel on how to extricate her business from the divorce proceedings, but Mr. Tovar is fighting her, claiming a breach of the prenup.”
“So the questions are, is the retail shop incorporated under Tovar Enterprises, and who funded it?” Finn said.
Hailey stood. “We need to set up one of the conference rooms on the fourth floor before Mrs. Tovar arrives. Don’t forget this is an interview as much as it is a chance for us to figure out what is wrong with this case.”
“Not my first year.”
She huffed and walked away, leaving him no choice but to follow. She was already in the elevator when he started down the hall. Shoving his hand between the elevator doors before they closed, he stepped inside and took a deep breath. His day just got way more interesting, and the partners had handed him two golden opportunities: a shot at junior partner and the perfect excuse to get to know more about Hailey Adams. But she wasn’t going to make it easy.
On the elevator ride down, they were both quiet. No doubt she was considering their case while he was wondering if she was dating someone, but even if she was, it wasn’t going to stop him from wanting her. Before arriving at Baxter and Stewart, he never would have believed in the notion of soulmates or love at first sight—he still wasn’t convinced. Mainly because Hailey couldn’t care less about getting to know him, and he assumed both of those instances required mutual infatuation. But he knew there was something between them, a current of interest that pulsed whenever they were in a room together. Or in the rare instances they accidentally came into physical contact, there was a tidal wave of awareness he’d never experienced, and a blush would spill into Hailey’s cheeks, proving she felt it too.
Average height, lean with curves that seemed to defy the loose-fitting suits she always wore. As if she wanted to downplay her figure. Thick blonde hair that looked almost white, which she meticulously kept pulled back. Hailey wasn’t a classic beauty but rather a unique compilation of features. A round face, high cheekbones, defined full lips, and unique large icy-blue eyes with one flaw. There was a small facet of brown in her left iris, like ink that spilled into the blue.
He doubted she wore much makeup beyond Chapstick. And if he had to guess, he would bet she’d been a dancer in her early life—the way she carried herself reminded him of a ballerina, each step measured, taking great care to move with purpose. Her eyes were always taking in details, but she rarely offered up opinions. In the rookie bullpen, she was all business.
She was the one woman who had instantly captivated him the moment he saw her. Maybe, that was true for most people who met Hailey. The other men at the firm always attempted to get her attention, but she made it clear she was not interested in mixing work with a personal relationship—especially with one of the other rookie lawyers.
Rookie lawyers were any junior associates at the firm vying for a chance to be invited into the junior partner ranks. There were always six to ten rookie lawyers in the bullpen, assisting the partners, learning the ropes, and competing against each other. Rookies sat on the third floor with conference rooms on the fourth between them and the managing partners’ floor, which was on the fifth floor. There was an extensive law library on the sixth floor where Hailey seemed to prefer to work. The firm sat along the Potomac River in downtown Alexandria, Virginia, only a few blocks from the courthouse. It was a prestigious firm, and Finn knew the only reason he’d been given a position here was because Baxter was a Naval Academy grad and former SEAL, just like Finn. It also didn’t hurt that his mother was a local judge.
Following Hailey off the elevator, he didn’t miss a few interested looks from the other rookies, pretending to be busy. Her office was at the end of the hall, while his was midway. Before he could grab his laptop, favorite notepad, and pen, Hailey was walking back from her office toward the stairs.
“I’ll see you in the conference room in five minutes. Don’t expect me to play waitress and lawyer today. We need coffee, water, and something to offer Mrs. Tovar.”
“I’ll place an order downstairs for some pastries,” he said. There was a café on the first floor of their building with a few signature sweets. He just hoped they had a few left.
Ten minutes later, the smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the conference room at the end of the long hallway, which Hailey had selected—it had the best view of the river.
“Assuming she doesn’t fire us, we have court tomorrow. Just a simple presentation of our case and request for discovery,” Hailey said, not bothering to meet his eyes or acknowledge the platter of croissants, cookies, and chocolates he’d managed to get the café to make during the height of the morning rush.
“Listen, can we at least pretend to be cordial? I’m not your enemy. I’m your partner for the duration of this case.”
Hailey stood from her seat, exhaled a big breath, and met his eyes. “I don’t like being paired up, and I’m aware that Mr. Baxter favors you.”
“And I’m aware Mrs. Stewart favors you, so we’re even there.”
He wasn’t about to admit to her that he knew she was a better lawyer with more years under her belt as a rookie. Or the fact that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of practicing private law.
“The partners said we need to work as a team, and I’m pretty sure we have to win. The easiest way to do both is by getting on the same page,” he said.
“Fine, I have more experience debriefing clients, and you can prepare the discovery request, then we can flip a coin for lead in court tomorrow,” she offered.
“Deal.” Finn held out his hand to shake hers, and for a moment, thought she would reject it. But she gripped his palm with more strength than he would have expected and a jolt of something passed between them. He had a feeling he was going to enjoy this case far more than he should.
An hour later, Finn was less sure about how enjoyable working with Hailey was going to be. Although they’d easily convinced Mrs. Tovar they were the perfect duo to represent her best interests. As soon as they were alone, it was like being in a combat zone and he was taking random fire from the opposing side nonstop.
“We aren’t going to use the ‘she was the homemaker’ defense. For one, it doesn’t matter. Per their prenup, Mrs. Tovar isn’t entitled to any alimony. But for two, she created her business during their marriage. If we say she wasn’t working, then we undermine the creation of her empire,” Hailey said.
“I’m just saying we could attempt to stack the deck and throw in the lack of equitable shared duties in running their household and raising their child. Mrs. Tovar should be compensated for that time invested in the building of their family.”
“I don’t disagree. I just think it will undermine our defense that she isn’t asking to circumvent the prenup. She just wants to retain her own, lucrative business and have custody of her son,” Hailey said.
Finn stood and took a deep breath. “And if the court disagrees, we’ll have missed our chance to argue she is actually owed what amounts to severance pay.”
“The courts in Virginia rarely take the side of the spouse that set their careers on hold to raise the family, like it or not. And our client was clear, she doesn’t want anything from Mr. Tovar, just her business and her son.”
“Alright, we’ll play it your way,” Finn agreed.
Now it was Hailey’s turn to stand, and she checked her watch.
“I have court in an hour. Should we flip a coin to see who takes point tomorrow?”
“Very diplomatic. I was expecting you to offer statistics and case study on why leading with a pit bull female attorney in a contested divorce case is best,” he said, trying to lighten her mood.
“I could, but I feel like a coin toss will take less time and has more luck in convincing you I’m the better choice.”
Finn laughed and dug a quarter out of his pocket.
“Call it,” he said, then flipped the coin up in the air.
“Heads I take point,” Hailey said just as he caught the coin and flipped it onto his hand.
She took a step closer and the sun shining through the windows made her blonde hair glow, like an ethereal angel.
He lifted his hand to reveal the tails side of the coin staring up at them.
“Perfect. See you in court tomorrow at eight a.m.” She didn’t hide the annoyance in her tone and collected her things with vigor.
“Maybe we should discuss the case more this evening,” Finn suggested. “We can order food and review our tactics? Then you can make sure I won’t embarrass you.”
“No need, it will be a short and sweet hearing. We’ll declare our plan to fight the plaintiff’s claim to Pleasure Inc and request discovery on any and all documentation they have on the business dealings. Then file Mrs. Tovar’s request for full-time custody of their son with a fifty-fifty split on all of his educational expenses. Easy day.”
“Alright, but I think they are going to make tomorrow more complicated than you expect.”
Finally, she met his gaze, and the full power of her sparkling blue eyes were on him. “I agree, they will fight us at every turn, but no amount of prep tonight will change that. So get a good night’s sleep and be ready not to blow our case before it even gets started.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, partner,” Finn said to her back as she headed for the door.
The next day in court, Finn took point as planned, and as expected, the plaintiff disagreed with the ownership of Pleasure Inc and the request for full custody of their son. But Finn made one huge error in his request for evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims with the inaccurate phrase “full disclosure” when they addressed the judge. The moment the words left his mouth, he knew he’d made a misstep. Disclosure was common and needed, but in the absence of not providing a narrower scope in the request for material, they ran the risk of the plaintiff bombarding them with mind-numbing amounts of paperwork. And that was exactly what had been happening since they returned to the office. Mr. Tovar’s lawyers were couriering over every document they had seized or had access to, pertaining to Mrs. Tovar’s business and the marriage of eighteen years. The conference room was filled with legal boxes.
“Another box of random documents and knickknacks were just delivered in response to your overboard request for discovery,” Hailey said, setting down a huge box on the already-covered conference room table.
If he didn’t know better, he’d say there was a smirk on her mouth, but she didn’t smile, ever.
“Look, I realized the mistake as soon as it left my mouth in court this morning. I’m sorry. Why don’t you take a break while I sift through everything and try to determine what we really need to see?”
Lifting the top off the box, Hailey peered inside. “The problem with that idea is I’d have to trust you to know what will pertain to this case and what won’t.”
“Ouch, do you ever give anyone a break?” he asked.
“You’re still my competition for the partnership, remember? There are no breaks here. For all I know, you requested full discovery with no boundaries to overwhelm me.”
“That doesn’t make sense. I’m at the same disadvantage, and neither of us will get the partnership if we blow this case.”
“Exactly why I plan to go through the contents of every box before moving forward with the plan to argue Mrs. Tovar started this company on her own, with no funds from Mr. Tovar.”
“The ‘he said, she said’ approach is weak. We need proof.”
“I know,” she said through gritted teeth.
Clenching his mouth shut, he knew there was no arguing his way out of her logic. She was too driven to take a chance on letting him help her with the case. Her plan was to work the case how she wanted and try to sideline him as much as possible. Glaring at her back, he bent forward to lift a surprisingly heavy box off the floor, and his glasses slipped out of his pocket. But the box was too heavy for him to retrieve the glasses without setting down the box on the conference table first. In the moment his back was turned, Hailey moved while holding another box, and the crunching sound of his frames filled the room.
“Oops,” she said, shifting the box in her hands to look down under her foot where his now smashed glasses lay. “Do you always keep those on the floor?”
With a deep sigh, all he could do was laugh. His frustration and broken frames were his own fault, and it wasn’t fair to blame her. Even if her snarky tone begged him to. The laugh started out sarcastic, but when he found her eyes grow wide with surprise and a faint smile spread on her perfectly pink lips, it turned into an authentic fit of humor. Like when one of his siblings did something idiotic, and they all ended up in gut-busting laughter.
“My brothers would love to see me now,” he said as he leaned against the conference room table and wiped his hand over his face.
“They enjoy laughing at your misfortune?”
He nodded and watched as she set her box down then retrieved the broken glasses for him. Handing the once square tortoiseshell frames to him, her delicate finger brushed his palm, and an immediate spark between them had him fighting the urge to hold onto her hand.
“I’m sorry I stepped on them.”
“It’s my fault. I think I have a backup pair in my office.”
She nodded. “Good. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on looking through Mrs. Tovar’s extensive magazine collection,” she said, eyeing the contents of the box he’d set on the table.
He turned to face the table. His heavy box was filled to the brim with magazines, and hers was filled with feathers in every shade.
“What in the world?” he asked.
“Maybe an almost fifty-year-old woman has a hobby of reading younger women’s magazines while making feather boas?” Hailey proposed.
“Or maybe this case is going to be more interesting than we thought,” Finn said.
End of Excerpt