Katherine sat at her desk the next morning reviewing the briefs before her. She just simply couldn’t concentrate, no matter how hard she tried. She was due in court for a preliminary hearing in less than two hours, and unless she pulled it together, she was going to be in trouble. Using all her will, she focused all her attention on the brief.
The door opened, and Beth walked in. Without disturbing her concentration, she placed a double-shot mocha latté in her hand. She didn’t speak a word, nor did Katherine acknowledge her presence as she left the room again, closing the door behind her.
Beth knew better than to disturb Katherine when she was so deep in concentration. She also knew Katherine was pouring her heart into this case. Brenda Cooper was under her skin. The ravages of the beatings Katherine had seen were ruthless. Even worse was the fact that her politically connected husband—a man that all of San Francisco seemed intent on sending to the Senate race—had administered them.
Beth had just sat back down at her desk when her father glided into the room, kissed her quickly on the cheek, and headed straight for Katherine’s door. She jumped up, beating him to the door, age and agility in her favor, and blocked it with her body.
Chandler Reynolds stepped back and eyed his rebellious daughter. He found the sight of her standing there spread-eagled in the doorway in her business suit, hands and feet symmetrically placed on all four corners of the doorway, hysterical, and he began to laugh.
“You can’t go in there, Daddy,” she protested.
The term “Daddy” seemed oddly misplaced, and she corrected herself. She pulled her form together, placing her hands firmly on her hips this time. Determination played at the corners of her mouth, and she struggled to separate her familial relationship from her responsibility of protecting Katherine.
“You can’t go in there, Mr. Reynolds,” she tried again, with a bit more authority this time. “Miss Winters is working and doesn’t wish to be disturbed.”
Chandler Reynolds stood back and regarded his daughter. She was tall and thin, like him, but received her raven hair and stormy eyes from her Italian mother. Unlike Austin, who liked to play all day, Beth was responsible and caring. An unwed mother at a young age, she was determined to be successful. Accepting only tuition and room and board from her family, she put herself through graduate school, earning herself a Master’s degree as a paralegal.
While most fathers would have been proud of their child’s accomplishments, Chandler Reynolds berated his daughter for not going all the way to law school. Despite Beth’s insistence that she did not want a separation from her son for such long periods, Chandler never let up.
In addition to this lack of ambition on Beth’s part, she couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble. No matter how hard she tried, trouble followed her like a magnet. It was, for this reason, she had to put up with her father’s demanding ways.
Chandler picked up his daughter, moved her aside, and threw open Katherine’s door. As the door burst open, Katherine snapped her head up and sighed.
“I’ve been expecting you,” she said in exasperation. “I’m rather busy right now, Mr. Reynolds. I don’t have time for your overprotective meddling.”
She looked past Chandler and frowned. Beth stood behind him, red in the face and mouthing an apology. Katherine waved it away.
“It’s obvious you’re not going to leave until you’ve had your say, so continue.”
Chandler approached the desk. “It’s not too late. We can have this foolish thing annulled.”
“No, Mr. Reynolds. We cannot have the marriage annulled.” She stood up in an attempt to put herself on the same level with him. Given his height, she was unsuccessful. “Look, Mr. Reynolds. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but your children are adults. They make their own mistakes, and they make their own decisions. You can’t control everything they do.”
“Austin is merely a boy. He doesn’t know how to live his life. He needs me to tell him what to do.”
“He’s not a boy. He’s a grown man. You just won’t let him show it. That’s the only reason he still needs you to tell him what to do. This marriage may or may not be a bad choice, but it’s his choice. If it’s wrong, you’ll soon know, and he’ll need your support. If it’s right, then only good things can come of it. And, considering the alternative of sixty thousand dollars a month, I’d say you’re getting the best deal.”
When she had finished, Chandler stood there staring at her for what seemed like an hour. Without comment, he turned to leave. As he passed Beth, he stopped and hugged her.
“May I come for Timmy this weekend?”
She nodded, choking back tears. The sight of her father, the mighty Chandler Reynolds, looking as if he’d lost something precious, tore at her heart. She supposed he had in his mind. The love and control of his family were the most important things in his life. Admitting his children were grown, and didn’t quite need him as much as they used to, made him feel small. “He’ll be excited.”
When the door closed behind him, Katherine sighed with relief, collapsing back in her chair. “I can’t believe I stood up to him like that.”
Beth grabbed a tissue from the box on the corner of Katherine’s desk, sat in one of the guest chairs on the opposite side of her desk, and wiped the tears from the corners of her eyes.
“I was shaking. Nobody has ever stood up to Daddy like that.”
They both burst out laughing.
“It felt good!” Katherine exclaimed, her eyes widening at the delayed shock of it.
“It felt good watching,” Beth said.
Katherine grimaced. “Do you think he’ll do anything about it?”
Beth shook her head. “No. I think he was just blowing off steam. Daddy isn’t used to resistance, but he’s not a vengeful person. He’ll drop it.”
Katherine shook her head. “Have you had much of a chance to get to know her?”
“Yes. I’m curious. What’s she like?”
Beth pondered the question for a moment. “She’s nice. A little flirty, somewhat stupid on an intellectual level, but she has basic common sense. I don’t think she’ll ever go anywhere on a professional level, but I think she’ll make a good mother. Honestly, I think they suit each other.”
They both laughed, and Katherine nodded. “Good. Now, let’s just hope Austin can muster enough maturity and put all that education to use.”
“Daddy will insist. Now that he’s supporting a family, Daddy will expect him to work like a real man.” Beth stood to leave. “I’ll let you get back to your work. Is that the Cooper case?”
“Yes. I just can’t shake the feeling I’m being played. What do you know about Brenda Cooper?”
Beth shrugged. “Not much. Our sons go to the same school but don’t have the same teacher. Timmy’s in the preschool class. Her boy’s a couple grades ahead of him. We’re both in the PTA, but I don’t get much of a chance to interact with her. I’m at work when most of the functions take place. The other members seem to respect her. She’s often acknowledged for her community service.”
Katherine clicked her tongue. “I still can’t help but wonder if it’s not just an act. Do you think it’s possible she’s using the children to get what she wants?”
“I think it’s very possible. I’ve learned the hard way people aren’t always what they seem.”
She thought about Jack Cole. A melancholy look crossed her features, and Katherine, suspecting where her thoughts had wandered, left her alone.
“You’re thinking about Jack?” she asked when a few moments passed.
A sudden memory invaded her head. It was June 2004, and Jack pulled the car into Cue’s Alley. Lizzie jumped eagerly in her seat. She waved her college diploma in her hand and whooped it up. She kissed it and held it up for the world to see.
“Look at this, Jack. I’ve graduated. Can you believe it? Come on, let’s go and celebrate.”
Jack pushed the gearshift into park and smiled at Lizzie. He didn’t care about her graduation. He just liked watching her radiant exuberance. Jack Cole did not see what the big hoopla about graduation was all about. So what if Lizzie had a piece of paper that said she could read and write better than him. Jack was street smart, and in his book, that’s what counted most.
He leaned over and gave Lizzie a passionate kiss. “I’m proud of you, Baby.” She flashed a momentary grin, which quickly faded. He sat back up and frowned at her. “Aw, what’s wrong, Baby?”
“I was just thinking about the hurt look on my father’s face when I told him I wanted to celebrate with you, instead of the family.”
Jack felt anger rise to his face. “That’s his problem, not yours. It’s your graduation. You should be able to celebrate any way you want.”
She shrugged. “I know, but he paid for college. Don’t you think he deserves to share in the final victory?”
She looked out the window at the sign announcing Cue’s Alley. Every five seconds fluorescent lights would alternate lighting up a pool cue and a beer can. She sighed. “I don’t know, Jack. Maybe I didn’t make the right decision choosing this place over the five-star restaurant at which Daddy made reservations.”
He flashed a look of annoyance at her. “You know damn well I wouldn’t have been invited to that table.”
She lowered her head. Her parents’ dislike for Jack was a sore subject between them, and a huge battle in the household. “They think they know what’s best for me,” she said, not wanting to seem as if she were defending them.
Pulling Elizabeth Chandler away from her parents’ protective grasp was the hardest challenge Jack had ever endured. Their dislike of him was evident from the start, and they tried everything in their power to disengage him from Elizabeth’s life.
From the moment he and Lizzie first met, he was in love with her. He had been working as a busboy at the country club when her delicate laughter had caught his attention. She had been dining with her parents and her brother. When she laughed at some joke her brother told, he spun around, captured by the angelic tinkling.
They hadn’t been sitting at one of his tables, but he went there anyway and asked if he could take some of their used plates away. Elizabeth picked up her plate and handed it to him, their hands brushing as she did. The spark the touch created was mutual. She had smiled demurely, making his heart melt.
His friend, Rocky, laughed at him when he saw the smitten look on his face and slapped him on the back. “Fat chance, lover boy,” he said, “her dad’s not going to let you within ten feet of her.”
Jack smiled confidently. “Who cares what her dad thinks. It’s her I want.”
It wasn’t long before they were dating.
He started to get out of the car, but she held him back. “Jack, do you think we could at least try to show up for dinner?” She gestured toward the bar with a wave of her hand. “We can come back here later and have some real fun.”
His face grew stern, his jaw tensing, a muscle twitching rapidly. She put a hand on his arm. “Please don’t be angry, Jack.” His jaw twitched some more.
He looked at her pleading eyes, sparkling flecks of green, compliments of the fluorescent lighting. “Come on, Lizzie, you know how uncomfortable that would make me.”
“If they won’t accept you, I’ll leave, too.” She could sense the hesitation. “Skipping out on dinner will only give them more cause to hate you. If you take me to this dinner, it will make you look better.”
“I don’t need to look better for them. I’m the one who matters. It’s what I think of me that concerns me.”
Beth pulled back from him. Wasn’t it supposed to be her day? “Please, Jack,” she tried again.
“Oh the hell with it,” he said, as he put the car into reverse and screeched out of the parking lot.
On the drive to the restaurant, he stole frequent glances her way. She kept her eyes straight ahead. After a while, he reached over, picked up her hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed her knuckles. She grinned.
“Aw, Lizzie, I can’t stay mad at you.”
Her grin spread to a huge smile. She was relieved the fight had ended so quickly. Anger was a big issue with Jack. She supposed it had a lot to do with the fact that he grew up poor and without a father. His mother, an alcoholic, only seemed to care about her bottle, and paid little attention to what her son was doing.
Of course, it would seem likely Jack wouldn’t put a high emphasis on education—but she did. She was proud of this moment and wanted to share it with her entire family. What was wrong with that?
She squeezed Jack’s hand. “Thank you.”
He smiled at her. “Anything for you, baby.”
Beth looked up at Katherine and nodded. “He really pulled one on me.” She bit her lower lip to keep from crying. “It’s true, I got Timmy out of it, but I lost a lot of self-respect in the process, and almost ended up in prison. I got lucky.”
“Have you heard from him?”
Beth shook her head. “He stopped writing. I guess he finally gave up after so many years without a response.” She sat in silence again, and then continued, “I guess it’s about time for his parole.”
“Do you think he’ll attempt to contact you?”
“I’m counting on it. If I know Jack Cole, he will not stay away from his son. He’s very possessive.”
“Do you need some protection?”
She shook her head again. “He’s not dangerous.” She chuckled. “He’s just persuasive with those totally hot looks and charming smile.”
Katherine raised an eyebrow as she stared at Beth. “Are you sure you’re up to the temptation?”
She shook her head. “Don’t worry, Katherine. I’ve worked too hard for what I have. I’m not risking any of it, nor would I jeopardize Timmy’s welfare for a tryst with that snake.”
“Yes, I’m sure. Please don’t insult me. I can handle Jack.” She stood to leave. “Do you mind if I take off now? I’m finished, and it’s past quitting time.”
“Sorry, yes, go on. Give Timmy my love and tell him we’ll do the zoo thing soon.”
“He’ll hold you to it.”
Katherine smiled. “I look forward to it.”
Beth collected her things and left the office, locking the door behind her. She knew Katherine would be here awhile, and she didn’t want anyone disturbing her. Holding her keys tightly in hand, she made her way to the parking garage, walking briskly to her parked car. She was just inserting her key in the lock when someone spoke. She spun wildly and came face-to-face with Jack Cole, who stood leaning against the car next to hers.
Jack eased forward, put his hands on Beth’s shoulders, and started laughing at the look of panic in her eyes.
“Did I startle you, Baby?” He leaned close, bringing his mouth inches away from hers.
Beth tried to slow her heartbeat and breathe, but both attempts were unsuccessful. Jack sensed her despair, watched, and waited, as her breathing finally slowed.
“You okay, Lizzie?”
Jack was the only person who ever called her Lizzie. It was his pet name for her and she cringed now hearing it.
“I don’t go by Lizzie anymore,” she said. “What are you doing here, Jack?” It was a pointless question, but she had to ask it.
“I’ve been paroled.”
“That’s obvious, but what are you doing here—with me?”
He placed his hands on her shoulders, running them down her sleeves in a suggestive caress. She pulled back.
He took a step backward. “I was hoping it wouldn’t be so awkward with us.”
“What did you expect? It’s been nearly five years. Did you think I would throw myself into your arms and welcome you with a big passionate kiss?” She tapped the hood of the car. “Perhaps you thought I’d jump on the hood and spread my legs for you.” She watched the smile play at the corners of his mouth and knew he was fantasizing that, and much more. “I hate you, Jack Cole. You left me heartbroken, and in deep trouble.” She hated the smug look on his face. “I almost went to prison because of you!” she screamed.
He grabbed her against him, kissed her mouth hard. She bit his lip. He pulled back his head but did not release her. His nostrils flared, and his pupils enlarged. “Don’t you think I know that? Not a day goes by that I haven’t thought about you, and what I did to you.” He grabbed her arm, squeezing it. “I did a bad thing to you, Lizzie, but I can’t take it back. I can only try to make it up to you.”
She looked down at her arm, grimacing. “Ouch, you’re hurting me. Let go.”
A man walked by, stopping to check out the scene. Jack let go of Beth’s arm and stepped away from her.
“Do you need help, Miss?”
Beth shook her head, and the man continued along, stopping every few steps to see if all was well. Jack, encouraged by her rejection of the man’s offered help, said, “Please, Lizzie!” He tried to bring his anger under control. “All I want is a chance to talk to you. I’ve worked so hard on trying to improve myself. Won’t you just hear me out?”
Elizabeth Chandler looked into his baby-blue eyes. They had always been her weakness, a feature her son, much to her dismay, had inherited. She melted. The reckless, compassionate, fun-loving Lizzie began to emerge.
Forgetting the words she had said to Katherine only moments before, she closed her hand over Jack’s and pushed the button that would open the passenger side door of his car. Jack kissed her hard on the lips, and she parted them. She felt his tongue dip inside her mouth and passion surged through her. He broke the kiss and opened the door for her.
Elizabeth stood for a moment, thinking about what she was doing. Then Lizzie stepped inside and drove off with Jack Cole.