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“What we need is to find you a girlfriend.”
James Watson flinched as a folder dropped past his face onto the desk in front of him.
Here it was. The ever cliché, and completely misguided, attempt to get the single guy a girl. He just hadn’t seen this coming from his cousin and in the middle of the workday, no less.
“I mean, not like right now or anything.” Ryan shoved his hands in his suit pockets. “Right now, I need you to go through these files and find any texts from numbers in Colorado during the month of October.”
“So, why exactly do I need a girlfriend?” James pulled the files toward him and flipped open the folder, only a tiny bit daunted at the one-inch stack of pages.
“Well, my little cousin, you obviously need a relationship that goes beyond your right hand.”
James inwardly cringed and glanced around the bustling law office to see who might’ve overheard Ryan’s completely inappropriate comment. Fortunately, anyone close enough was either in another conversation or on the phone.
“I’m actually left-handed,” he admitted with a wry grin. “And I’m good, thanks. I was in one relationship pretty much since puberty and, now that it’s over, I think some time being single is exactly what I need.”
“Yeah, but that relationship ended, what . . . like, a year ago?”
“It’ll be a year in three months, two weeks, and four days.”
“Christ, I’m surprised you don’t know the hours and minutes.” Ryan shook his head and stared down at him pensively. “You need to move on from Anna.”
“Tomato, tomahto. Either way, she’s your ex. Move on from that shit and find another pair of thighs to keep you warm at night.”
He didn’t even flinch at his cousin’s crude words. In the year and a half that James had worked at the firm with him, he’d become accustomed to his quirks. If one could call Ryan’s lust for chasing girls a quirk. Closing deals in the courtroom and the bedroom. That was the motto he proudly touted.
Since James was a kid, he’d put his cousin—who was nine years older—on a pedestal. There was nothing Ryan couldn’t do. Top of his class in high school and college, breezed through law school and aced the bar, and then became a partner at the firm of Wright and Williams before he’d turned thirty-five. And he’d done it all with a rotation of gorgeous women on his arm.
God, how he’d envied Ryan. And he’d set out to mimic that kind of success career-wise. Making partner in the next five years was on the top of James’s five-year plan. It’d be hard as hell, probably a long shot, but not impossible if he did things right.
“I’m not wrong here,” Ryan pointed out after a moment. “When was the last time you went on a date?”
“Date? What is this word you speak of?” James shook his head. “Some of us are working sixty hours a week while getting ready to take the bar in two weeks.” Under his breath, he muttered, “Again.”
Ryan looked around and dipped his head down, like he didn’t want anyone to overhear.
“Hey, let that shit go. It was a fluke. Bad circumstances, you said it yourself. You’re going to pass with flying colors this time.”
“I know.” And he didn’t doubt for one second that he would.
Being a lawyer was his life right now. There were no distractions. No one to make plans with when he wasn’t working his butt off at the firm.
He had no girlfriend. All his guy friends were busy with their wives, or getting engaged to their girlfriends.
His breath caught and held.
For a moment, he’d almost forgotten that his ex-girlfriend had recently gotten engaged to one of his best friends.
The ultimate Bro Code violation.
How messed up is that?
There it was. The small sting of sadness that he hated to acknowledge.
Did the sadness come from the “what could have been” between him and Hannah? Or maybe it was that Eric and Hannah had fallen in love right under James’s nose? Part of it was definitely that his friendship with Eric had taken a hit because of it all.
“Anyway,” Ryan went on, “when you’re done making the bar your bitch, you’re taking that vacation, right? Where are you going again?”
His cousin’s words registered and James blinked away the memories to focus on the future. The time after the bar.
“Once I know I’ve passed, I’m going to the Oregon Coast.”
It would be, but it was a lie. He wasn’t going to the Oregon Coast. The truth was, he was flying to Idaho for the Gem State Comic Con. There wouldn’t be a beach in sight. But it would be the perfect way to decompress from the bar exam and indulge his geek side.
He’d been planning his cosplay since he’d bought a ticket months ago.
Not that he could admit any of that to his older cousin. Ryan had no interest in Marvel, DC, or any other comics or movies of the kind.
The guy was all about expensive food and cars, exclusive parties, and sporting events no one could get tickets to.
You’re not really into this kind of stuff, are you?
James had been twelve when his big cousin had laughed and uttered those words. From then on, James had kept himself from ever referencing comic books or movies again when he was around Ryan.
Who needed that kind of judgment?
“Well, I’m glad you’re taking a vacation—you haven’t taken any days off since you’ve been working here.”
Was that really true? Damn, maybe.
Ryan gave him a considering look. “I’m proud of you, James. You’ve really stepped it up and are holding your own here at the firm. People love you. You pass that bar and you’re legit. None of this unspoken probation stuff.”
“That’s my plan.”
Just imagining how it would feel to know he’d passed left a hopeful smile on his face.
It’s different this time. There are literally no distractions. You eat and breathe law.
“Oh, actually, before you start on those, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Ryan’s gaze was on a group of people gathered on the other side of the office. “We have some new hires. The new girl in HR helping out with the recruiting is . . . wow. She’s pretty hot.”
“Yeah?” Already James had lost interest.
Nothing new there. Being hot was practically a job requirement for the recruiting coordinator position.
His cousin had hooked up with more than one employee at Wright and Williams, and while it was generally frowned upon, there wasn’t really a rule that forbade it.
Still, it always left him a bit uncomfortable.
“Come on.” Ryan urged him to follow, so he reluctantly rose to his feet. “And I know I just tried to tell you to get a girlfriend and all, but stay away from this one. I’m calling dibs.”
Dibs. Right. Like they were eighth graders fighting over the last slice of pizza.
Amusement lanced through him, and James let his gaze drift out the window to Puget Sound off in the distance. The office had a fantastic view that he hadn’t tired of yet. Probably never would.
“I’m not sure you can call dibs on a human, cuz.”
“I can, and I just did.” Ryan adjusted his tie and stood up taller—which still left him a couple of inches shorter than James. “Now watch and learn, junior.”
Learn how to be a charming, confident player? Yeah, not really my thing.
He kept his mouth shut and put on a polite expression instead.
The woman’s back was to them, but it was obvious what must’ve piqued his cousin’s interest.
Legs. Gorgeous long legs beneath a tight, knee-length skirt. And those legs ended in heels that lifted her a few additional inches above her female counterparts nearby.
Add in a slim waist and long wavy brown hair, and she was already a knockout—and that was just from behind.
Ryan nudged him and silently mouthed, “So hot.”
James just shook his head and bit back a sigh.
“How’s the first day on the job?” Ryan called as they approached.
She turned, and the motion swept her hair over her shoulder to reveal her face.
“Hey, Ryan. It’s going good.” Her attention was completely on his cousin.
No fucking way. Maybe she had a twin?
“So glad to hear that.” Ryan gestured to him. “James, I’d like you to meet Vict—”
Oh, for the love of all things holy.
How was this happening?
Tori’s eyes widened slightly, but she kept the friendly smile pasted on her face.
“Hello, James. I didn’t realize you worked at Wright and Williams.”
“Wait, you two know each other?” Ryan’s brows knit as he swept his gaze between her and James.
She could practically hear James’s teeth snap together before he composed himself enough to answer.
“She’s my sister’s best friend.”
“No kidding? You know my cousin, Kris?” Ryan’s smile widened.
“Cousin?” Her gaze shot to him and then to James again. “Then that would make you—”
“Also my cousin,” Ryan quipped with that glaringly white grin. “Small world. I had no clue you were friends with my cousins during the interview.”
Neither had she. Would it have made a difference? Would she have walked away from the job offer?
This was a pretty sweet job for someone who’d only gotten her BA last year. Not to mention it would look fantastic on a resume.
And for Ryan to call whatever she had with James a friendship was laughable.
He was more of a JILF.
Jerk I’d like to fu—
“James is an associate here at the firm,” Ryan breezed on. “He’s taking the bar in a couple weeks and already making a name for himself around here.”
“Wait, are you just now taking the bar?” Unable to resist the dig, she kept her tone innocent. “I mean, for some reason, I thought you took it last summer.”
This time, there was no mistaking the hardening of his jaw or the flash of fury in his eyes.
“Last year was pretty rough. Circumstances put me in the wrong headspace and, unfortunately, it caught up with me.” His words were curt. “So I need to take it again.”
“What a cute, roundabout way of saying you failed,” she teased.
The stunned look on Ryan’s face made her quickly realize she’d gone too far.
With a light swat on James’s shoulder, she gave a small laugh. “I’m just messing with you, James.” She gave Ryan a conspiring glance. “We always give each other a hard time. It’s kind of what we do.”
Though their time together could boil down to just a handful of occurrences, it was somewhat true. When they weren’t arguing, they were . . .
Better not go there, girl.
She cleared her throat.
Why couldn’t she stop needling him?
Maybe because she was freaking pissed that he was stealing the glory of her first day at work by existing as one of the lawyers at the firm.
Though logically, she could acknowledge that this was all completely random and just a shitty coincidence.
“Well, it’s nice to see a familiar face around here.” She added the last comment in a warm, sugary tone, needing to save face a bit after that exchange. She didn’t want to come across as a savage bitch—at least not on her first day. “Wright and Williams seems like an upstanding firm and a wonderful place to work. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be here.”
“Well, you’ll fit right in.” Ryan oozed charm, and the way his gaze quickly skimmed from her head to her toes oozed sleaze. It was a bit predatory too.
But that was something she was used to. Men looking her up and down and treating her like she was some kind of expensive car they wanted to drive. To own.
Fortunately, she’d gotten really good at shutting those types down. Oh, they had their place. And every now and then, she was looking at them the same way they looked at her. But that was less often, especially lately.
Hopefully, Ryan wouldn’t let it go beyond the occasional lewd glance—that he was probably arrogant enough to assume she didn’t notice.
He was undeniably good-looking, charming, and clearly someone of importance at this firm. Which was just one of the reasons she’d stay away from him.
One, she didn’t want to date anyone at work. And two, guys who knew they were hot shit were a bit of a turnoff to her. Three, he was probably close to forty, and she was in her early twenties.
“Anyway, I need to make a phone call.” Ryan gave them both a knowing nod. “Victoria, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.”
“Thanks. Grace in HR has already been a big help.”
When he disappeared down the hall, she cast a quick look toward the office she shared with others on the HR team.
Now that they were somewhat alone in their corner, the weight of James’s gaze sank in. It sent a frisson of awareness through her and lifted the tiny hairs on her arms.
She cleared her throat. “Well, I should get back to—”
“Actually, I’d love to have a word with you, if you don’t mind? My office is just around the corner.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked away, veering off into a room a moment later.
So he expected her to just follow? Like a damn puppy?
Her teeth snapped together and she glanced around indecisively.
Don’t make waves on your first day, Tori.
Before she could move, his head popped out of the office and his gaze homed in on her. With a jerk of his head, he silently beckoned her again to follow before ducking back inside.
Yes, like a damn puppy.
She sighed and made her way to him. “What can I do for you, James?” she asked, stepping past him into the room.
He closed the door and leaned against it. “You can leave.”
End of Excerpt