I can’t breathe.
I let myself sink down to sit on the edge of the chair and put my head down between my legs even though it’s not easy wearing this tight business skirt. But I fucking can’t breathe. Two weeks. Two long, exhausting weeks of negotiating and meeting with my lawyer several times a week. But today is the last day. I hope. It’s been two weeks since I met Seth at The Continental and ran out on Owen, but I’ve seen him a few times after that, though we haven’t said a word to each other. Our lawyers have been doing all the talking. I’ve tried to tell mine, that I don’t want anything from Owen. I don’t want any of his money; I don’t want the beach house or any part of the business. Honestly, I just want the divorce. She has tried reasoning with me that the law states something about needing a settlement when there is no pre-nub and for the first time ever I am a little sad that Annabelle Watson didn’t get her way. Owen’s lawyer tries to make sure I don’t get anything and I would happily agree to it, but my lawyer isn’t having any of it. Besides, I would need money to pay her with too. I do have a small savings, but after not having worked for so long – because Owen didn’t like me working – it’s not like I can brag about having a lot saved. Some, yes, but not a lot. I do however have an interview with a small publishing agency that is willing to take a chance on someone like me who only has a degree in English literature but no previous work experience in the field. Their company is a small family owned and right up my alley. I would love to work for them and I really hope I make a good impression at the interview next week. The job wouldn’t be full-time right away and I would do most of the tasks on a freelance basis, but it would suit me fine. Most of the tasks will be something I can do from home and I’m actually heading out to look at an apartment this week. Seth knew someone who knew someone who had the apartment up for sale, but was willing to rent it out first. God, it will be so nice to get out of the hotel and settle into a real home.
“Mrs. Watson, we’re ready for you now.”
I jerk my head up, suddenly pulled back into my present. Fuck. Last meeting with Owen and his lawyer and where the fuck is mine? Out of all the meetings we’ve had, she’s never been late, not even once. Why does she have to start now when it’s the last one? I hope she’s okay and nothing bad has happened. She’s probably just stuck in traffic or something. Yeah, no need to be worried. She’s fine and she’ll be here soon.
“Is Miss Ackles on her way?” the receptionist asks carefully and I nod stupidly because he can’t see me nod when I’m walking behind him.
“Yeah, yes, she’s on her way. Probably just stuck in traffic” I mumble following the young man into the meeting room. Owen and his lawyer are already seated and none of them get up to greet me when I enter.
“Mrs. Watson” his lawyer says pleasantly and I nod my greeting back. I have just sat down in the chair when the door is opened again.
“I’m sorry for being late, everyone, I had a previous meeting that ran late” my lawyer, Sarah Ackles, says as she swoops into the room. She nods to both Owen and his lawyer before sitting down next to me and squeezing my hands with a smug smile.
“Mary, how are you today?” she asks smilingly and I open my mouth to reply, when Owen’s lawyer speaks up.
“Can we skip the pleasantries? We don’t have all day and we’re already late because of you” he grunts annoyed and I suppress the urge to snap at him because that wouldn’t do any of us any good. But I can see in Sarah’s eyes that she is fighting the same urge. Only difference is that this woman is smart. Like fucking clever and sassy at the same time, and she’s one of the best divorce lawyers money can buy, which is why Seth made sure to get her for me. I wouldn’t let him pay for her either, though not for lack of trying on his part, I might add.
“Certainly” Sarah replies smoothly and pulls out a stack of papers from her briefcase. She’s dressed in a pinstriped marine blue business suit and I suddenly feel like a kid playing dress-up next to her very professional business mother. Sarah is probably not old enough to be my mother, but big sister then. Because even with my black pencil skirt and white blouse I still don’t look even half as professional as Sarah does, but I guess she has had twenty-five years of practicing more than I have, so maybe I’ll get there one day.
“I’ve reviewed your offer and it’s simply just not good enough. If we were talking about a few months of happy marriage then it would have been a different case altogether, but we’re talking about five years of marriage that ended with adultery on your client’s end. Not to mention that your client has very adamantly prevented my client from working during the last five years, leaving her with no savings and nothing to take with her going forward. Now, she has already agreed to not pursue any of the properties, including the beach house and the penthouse down town, and she has also declined any right to a share in the family business, which is directly against my advice but there are –“
“She hasn’t been part of the family business so she wouldn’t have been entitled to any part of it either” Owen’s lawyer interrupts, making Sarah give him a sharp look.
“But there are certainly circumstances that speak for her wishes in this case. And I do not appreciate being interrupted like that. If you would be so kind as to not do so again or this negotiation will not end in a settlement and our next meeting will be in front of a judge. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”
Holy shit. She’s tough! Owen’s lawyer is usually a ripe bastard, smug and arrogant as fuck, but he actually looks a bit intimidated right now. Owen looks sweaty, but I guess that’s the mentioning of taking his divorce to a court house. Because that would mean massive media coverage and The Watsons do not want this divorce to be public gossip, which is the only reason why they’ve agreed to a divorce settlement at all.
“Perfectly, Miss Ackles” Owen’s lawyer replies smoothly and she nods her thanks.
“As I was saying” she begins, looking sternly at the other lawyer as if to challenge him to interrupt her again, “Mrs. Watson has been a dutiful and loyal wife over the last five years and that should be reflected in this settlement. And as she has declined her right to any of the physical things, such as inventory and properties as well as any share of the business, it would be more than fair to let the financial compensation reflect her humility. Your offer as it stands right now, does not.”
I haven’t even seen the offer so I couldn’t say if I agree or not, but like I said, Sarah Ackles is the best divorce lawyer money can buy, so if she says it doesn’t; it doesn’t. Owen’s lawyer looks positively puffed with annoyance; he clearly doesn’t like Sarah. Maybe it’s because she’s a better lawyer than him? Or maybe just because she’s a woman? He seems like the type of man Owen is, the type who doesn’t believe in women needing to work when their husband does and probably thinks women are better off taking care of the house while having babies barefooted in the bloody kitchen.
“Your demands are preposterous, Miss Ackles” he says with an arrogant shake of his head as if she was a child demanding too much form their parents. God, this negotiation is dragging out and I just want to run out of this room and never come back. To Hell with Owen and his money. He can keep them all, for all I care. But Sarah does have a point about me not having been able to work during our marriage which has left me in a shitty financial situation and it would be nice to have something to start out with until I get my work situation up and running with a steady income. It’s not like I want or need millions, but a buffer would be nice. I turn my head to see Sarah smiling smug back and then she pulls out a stack of papers from the stack of papers she already has lying in front of her. She casually tosses them across the table and they scatter to reveal pictures amongst them. Holy… shit. I quickly turn my head to look away, definitely not needing to see anymore of those than what little glimpse I already have. Because that is pictures of Owen and that what’s-her-name-blonde getting it on.
“Really?” Sarah challenges her opponent while eyeing the pictures between them, “more preposterous than these on the cover of every tabloid tomorrow morning?”
The other lawyer’s face turns bright red as if he’s about to explode with anger. Seriously? Did Sarah just blackmail him into giving in to her demands? I don’t like that. It’s not right.
“Don’t look at me like that; I didn’t take them. A friend of mine sent them to me with a warning of them going to be their next big scandal story and I asked him to hold it until our negotiations are over. I can sway his spin on the story depending on what kind of agreement we come to before this meeting is done; either the story will be ‘another Watson-scandal of adultery’ or ‘heir to empire spotted with new girlfriend’. I don’t really care which but I’m pretty sure you do.”
Another Watson scandal? What does that mean? But I’m glad she’s not blackmailing them. Exactly. It’s more like a part blackmail, I guess. Owen’s lawyer doesn’t look happy though. He opens his mouth, probably to tell Sarah to go fuck herself, but someone else speaks up first.
“Give her whatever she wants.”
We all turn to look at Owen. His eyes are fixated in the pictures of himself and his secretary on the table, and his skin is paler than I’ve ever seen it before. He looks terrified. The lawyer shakes his head violently and nods towards the pictures.
“They can’t publish them, they’re taken on private property and it’s illegal to do so –“
“I don’t care. Finish this. Accept their offer. Finish this” he commands his lawyer and the man looks so defeated I almost feel bad for him. Owen turns towards Sarah, his face hard and insecure.
“You’ll make sure your friend spins the story my way?” he asks, half demandingly and she nods accepting, “not a single word of adultery or divorce?”
Sarah shakes her head again.
“You have my word, the story will be in your favour” she vows and Owen nods calmly. He finally looks at me and I cringe back in my seat under his intense stare. Not even once has he looked at me during the four meetings we’ve had over the last two weeks. But that look he’s giving me now is nothing but grief, sorrow and regret.
“I’m sorry, Marissa” he says with a heavy sigh and then he rises from his chair. He doesn’t look at anyone as he leaves the room and we all sit back, completely surmised and paralyzed from the events of the last five minutes. It’s Sarah who recovers first.
“Then that’s settled” she announces happily, gathering her papers into her briefcase while nodding down at the pictures.
“Keep them, my friend has copies. I expect your final draft for the settlement on my desk by the end of next week.”
She rises from her chair and I follow suit. A smug smile brighten she whole face and she looks like a cat that has just lipped a pint of cream all by itself.
“As always, a pleasure” she says as a final goodbye and then leaves the room. I quickly follow her out, nodding a goodbye to the receptionist on our way. It isn’t until we’re out on the parking lot that everything is starting to register with me. Like for real.
“Did we win?” I ask astonished and Sarah puts her suitcase into the backseat of her blood red Mercedes before turning towards me. Her smile is brilliant and triumphant.
“We won, Mary. Congratulations” she smiles, offering me her hand while smiling widely at me. I slowly shake her perfectly manicured hand.
“You’re about to be a very wealthy young woman, even after you’ve paid me for my services” she continues with a small wink at me and then she looks at the Gucci watch on her slender wrist.
“Oh shoot, I’m late for my next meeting. I’ll let you know as soon as I have the settlement ready for signing so you can come in and all this will be over for you.”
She opens the driver’s side door of her car but turns towards me once more before getting in.
“And Mary?” she asks, smiling friendly at me, “this is a good thing. You should go out to celebrate it. You’re divorced without a scandal and with a very nice settlement on top of it. Enjoy it, please. You deserve to be happy.”
I nod at her because my voice isn’t working right now. Her sudden change from professional to friendly is tearing down all my defences and if my nerves weren’t shot already, they would be now.
“Thanks” I finally mumble with a half smile before watching Sarah get into her car and drive off. I stand in the middle of the parking lot for a long time before I’m finally able to move again.