Katherine looked across her desk at the woman seated there. She was young, pretty, and covered with bruises. She held a handkerchief in her hand, and every once in a while she would dab at her eyes, which seemed to be leaking tears at a rapid rate. Katherine’s heart went out to her.
“I recommend a restraining order, Mrs. Cooper,” she advised. Her face showed the empathy she felt for her.
The woman heaved a heavy sigh. “It won’t stop him.” The voice was soft and hovered on the edge of panic. “He is one of the most powerful men in San Francisco,” she whined.
“It doesn’t give him the right to beat you,” Katherine said. She reached for a pitcher of water sitting next to her and poured Mrs. Cooper a glass. She accepted it gratefully.
Mrs. Cooper took a long drink of the water before continuing. “Trust me, Ms. Winters. He is unstoppable,” she cried through gritted teeth.
Katherine took out a camera and started photographing the beast’s colorful handiwork. After a moment, she peered over the camera and replied, “Nobody is unstoppable.” She put the camera back to her eye and snapped more pictures.
The woman pondered the comment. “Can you get me some protection?”
“I can refer you to some private security firms, or I can refer you to a battered women’s shelter.”
“I’ll take the security firm. I don’t want to put anyone in danger.”
She stopped photographing and stared at her. “Do you really think he might hurt someone?”
She pointed at her face. “Anyone who can do this to someone he supposedly loves…well, you can just imagine what he might do to a stranger who gets in his way.”
“I see your point, but they are equipped to deal with this sort of thing. I’m sure they know how to protect themselves.”
She shook her head.
Katherine sighed. “Okay then.” She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a card. “This guy is the best in town. Make sure you give him my name. We’ve known each other a long time. And tell him I said to get out there right away.” She handed the card to her.
“I’ll file the restraining order and the petition for divorce. It would probably be best if you had another place to stay for a few days.” Katherine watched her shake her head.
“I’ll think about it after the judge approves the restraining order.”
“You won’t have a choice once the order is in place. You have to be willing to leave him. Until then, if there’s nothing I can do to change your mind, I will just say be careful.”
Katherine walked her out and paused to admire her as she waited for the elevator. It took a lot of courage to stand up to a man as powerful as Allen Cooper.
She turned to her legal assistant. “Beth, we’re going to start divorce proceedings. We’ll also need to file a restraining order.”
Beth rose and was halfway to the file cabinet before Katherine even finished the statement. By the time she had spoken the entire sentence, Beth was handing her the necessary forms.
“Fill them out. I’ll type them and get them signed by the judge. I’ll have them filed by the close of business tomorrow.”
Katherine grinned at her. “Have I told you lately how much I appreciate you?”
“You told me yesterday. And you sent me flowers the day before.”
“Well, I can’t tell you enough. How’s Timmy?”
Beth beamed radiantly. Her eyes spilled over with maternal pride. “Precocious and precious. He’s running circles around all the other preschoolers in his class. His teacher thinks he should be an early admit to kindergarten.”
“What do you think?”
“I don’t know. My father thinks I should go with the teacher’s recommendation, but you know Daddy.” She fisted her hand and pumped it in the air. “Go, go, go,” she said in sarcastic mimicry of Chandler Reynolds. “I’m hesitant, though. I think he’s a little immature.”
“You could have him tested by a psychologist.”
Beth thought about this for a moment. “That’s a good idea. I’ll look into that.”
“I’m assuming you’re looking at private schools?”
Beth shook her head and frowned, mimicking, “Daddy wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“He’s not your daddy’s child.”
“No, but you know my father,” Beth whined. Katherine looked at her with a look she had given her many times. When are you going to stand up to him? The look conveyed. “It’s much easier to give in. Besides, I kind of agree with him, and he is willing to pay the tuition.”
Katherine shook her head, as she usually did at the end of a conversation concerning Chandler Reynolds. “Suit yourself. Just remember public school does offer some advantages.”
“I know, and I’ve weighed them all. I think I would feel safer with him at a private school. There’s a little more control. Most of the kids actually have to behave to remain in the school.”
“I see your point.”
Katherine stood in thought for a moment. “Beth, may I ask you a personal question?”
“How hard is it, really? Raising a child on your own, I mean.”
Beth started to answer, then stopped and grinned at Katherine. “Are you pregnant?”
“No!” Katherine exclaimed.
“Okay,” Beth said, holding up her hands. “I was just wondering.”
“Well, you are blunt, aren’t you?”
“We’re friends. Friends have a right to ask personal questions. You asked me about Timmy.”
“Fair enough,” she conceded. “Lately I’ve been wondering about my life. I’m thirty-two years old, and I haven’t even thought of having a family—until now that is. Now it seems everywhere I go women are either pregnant or carrying infants. I feel as if I’m missing something. It’s almost as if I’m not fulfilling an obligation to God or something.”
“That’s the bio-clock syndrome.”
“The bio what syndrome?”
“You said it yourself. You’re thirty-two and you don’t have a baby. Your biological clock is screaming at you to hurry up. You’re simply running out of time. Sometimes it even happens to women who already have children. They think they might want more but aren’t emotionally ready yet.”
“So what do you think? How hard is it to be a single mother?”
“Very hard—you have double, everything duty. Solo feedings, diapers, walking the baby, rocking the baby, playing with the baby….well, you get the picture. However, I wouldn’t trade him for the world, and I do have my parents to help out.”
“And the fact that your father hired a full-time nanny when Timmy was born,” Katherine added.
“That definitely helped. Linda’s only part-time now. She went back to school. Timmy goes to daycare most of the time now. You’d have all the same privileges. Your dad’s just as rich as my dad.”
“So…do you recommend it?”
Beth dropped into her chair as if just the mere conversation of single parenting had worn her out. “I recommend getting a husband first.”
Katherine laughed. “It’s probably easier raising a baby than putting up with a husband.” She waved the forms she held in her hands. “Okay, enough fantasizing. I’d better get started on these.”
Katherine couldn’t concentrate on the forms. Her mind kept wandering. She kept daydreaming of children. She visualized herself round and heavy standing in front of a jury trying to make a point. The jury kept staring at her belly while her opposing counsel made crude remarks about raging hormones. She couldn’t actually visualize what her child would look like, though, because she couldn’t visualize a father for her child.
At three o’clock Beth knocked on her door but didn’t wait for an answer. She opened the door and flowed into the room, arms laden with the afternoon mail. “How’s it coming?” she asked.
Katherine looked down at the mostly-blank forms laid out in front of her and sighed. “Not well I’m afraid.”
“You’re thinking about that baby, aren’t you?”
Katherine blushed. “I’m afraid so.”
“Uh, oh, you’ve got the bug. Just give it up, Katherine. You may as well sleep with the first guy that walks by your door because you won’t get any peace until you’re shopping in the maternity section.”
“Am I interrupting?” John asked, sticking his head in the door.
Beth laughed and bit her lower lip.
Katherine’s mouth flew open. “Oh no, Beth, that’s just….oh, ew.”
“What?” John asked.
“I’ll order some wine and send in the Victoria’s Secret catalog,” Beth joked.
John looked from one woman to the next. “What?”
Beth walked to the door, turning as she reached it. “I’ll just leave you two alone. Don’t worry, I’ll knock hard if I need anything,” she said and closed the door behind her.
John looked puzzled. “Am I missing something?”
“It’s just a private joke, John, a female thing. What’s up?”
“My seven o’clock meeting got canceled and I find myself in one of those rare situations where my time is my own. Do you want to catch a movie and order pizza?”
She moaned. “Absolutely nothing appeals to me more, but I can’t. I have a dinner thing that my dad set up with spoiled rotten wonder boy. Why don’t you call someone and join us? We’ll make it a double date?”
“Not on your life. You can push the bonds of friendship only so far, you know.”
Beth scurried into the room and took the papers from Katherine’s desk. “I’ll just finish these up myself if you don’t mind.” She reached over and switched off the intercom. “I’ve told you a million times about leaving the intercom on, and that is my spoiled rotten brother you’re talking about.”
“Gee, I’m sorry, Beth. I know I’m dragging my feet, and I’m sorry for insulting Austin. But you have to admit it is hard to believe you two came from the same gene pool.”
“It’s hard to believe Austin and I came from the same planet,” she concurred. “I can get you out of the date if you want.”
Katherine sighed. “No, that’s okay. I have to do it sometime. I may as well get it over with, but thanks for the offer.”
Beth shrugged. “You never know, Katherine. This could be the daddy.”
Katherine roared with laughter. “Fat chance of that happening.”
“Not even to please your father?”
“Not even to please my father.”
“What?” John pleaded. “I feel left out.” He slouched and pretended to pout.
Katherine patted him on the back in mock comfort. “You need some guy friends,” she teased.
John straightened. “Aw, but females are much more interesting.”
“I’m free, John,” Beth said. “I wouldn’t mind catching a movie. I haven’t been to one in ages. What are we seeing?”
“Who cares? I only go for the popcorn. You pick, only no chick flicks and no horrors. They have no class.”
“Gee, I think the Cineplex is doing an encore showing of Snow White,” Beth teased. “How does that sound?”
“I don’t know. That part near the end is pretty scary. You know, when she’s up on the rocks and the lightning is flashing all around.” He shuddered. “Ooh.”
“But the ending is so sweet, a typical fairy-tale ending, you know, happily ever after, and all that.”
They continued their debate as they walked out the door and closed it behind them. Neither of them said goodbye. Katherine stared after them, envious of their evening that lay before them while she had to dine with egotism.
“Forgive me, Lord, but would it be too awful to ask for Austin to be stricken with a case of the flu tonight?”
She waited, but no answer came.
She shrugged. “Okay. I was just asking.”
She picked up the stack of magazines Beth had inadvertently left on her desk. Parenting happened to be the one on top and she wondered if Beth was trying subtly to push in that direction.
She threw aside the stack and picked up the file on Brian Campbell. Brian was suing for custody of his four-year-old daughter. His wife, Brittney, a habitual drug user, had countersued. She claimed Brian’s neglect of her drove her to use the drugs. Katherine shook her head in disgust. It was bad enough to use the drugs, worse to blame someone else for it, but unforgivable to drag your child into the middle of it.
Katherine sighed. Even with the drug use, it was going to be difficult to get Brian custody. The child currently resided with her mother, a fact Katherine had frowned at, but Brian had innocently walked out without the child. She hadn’t let him back into the house since.
Taylor Randall, who was sharp as a pin, represented the mother. He undoubtedly had instructed his client to maintain custody at all cost. It didn’t help Brian’s case that his wife was currently living with her mother, who was a well-respected, intelligent doctor.
She jotted down a few notes regarding questions she wanted to ask Brian before the hearing and closed the file. Her eyes wandered to the Parenting magazine. She picked it up and scanned the titles.
Training your toddler. “Clever title,” she mused. How old is too old to be a mother? “Now that’s just plain spooky.” She threw aside the magazine.
Beth knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Katherine called.
“I think Austin’s going to be jealous,” Beth said, placing a large vase of roses on the corner of Katherine’s desk.
“What in the world….” Katherine said.
“Who in the world is what I’m interested in,” Beth said. “Go on, open the card.”
“You really do push the bonds of employer relations,” Katherine scolded.
“You’re not my employer. The firm pays my salary. Now go on and open it,” she demanded.
“Even still,” Katherine said, “one word from me and they’d can you.”
“Yeah, yeah, hurry up,” she urged, “or I’ll tell Austin you want to have his baby.”
Katherine knew when she was beaten. She opened it quickly. She couldn’t help but smile. The roses were beautiful. Maybe her first impression of Chad had been all wrong.
Beth read over her shoulder. “Who the hell is Chad?”
“Aside from this really cute, but somewhat odd man I met in the elevator, I haven’t a clue.”
“Well, whoever he is, you made an impression on him. These are gorgeous,” Beth said, stroking the velvety petals. “If you don’t want them, I’ll take them.”
Katherine smacked her hand away. “Get out of here. I may not know much about him, but maybe it would be in my best interest to find out more.”
“Okay, I’m going then. I don’t want to be late for my date with John. Enjoy your flowers and your date with Austin.” She began to laugh.
The telephone rang. They both stared at it. “Well....” Katherine gestured at the phone. “Aren’t you going to get that?”
“Not me. I’m off the clock.” She reached for the doorknob.
Katherine sighed. “Hello, Katherine Winters speaking.”
As soon as she picked up the receiver and heard his voice, a face flashed in front of her. “Hello, Chad. Yes, I received the flowers. They are beautiful, but it really wasn’t necessary. I didn’t even get burned.”
Beth ran back to Katherine’s desk, placing her ear as close to Katherine’s as she could, an excited, expectant look on her face. Katherine covered the mouthpiece with her hand and pulled away from Beth.
“Excuse me just a moment, Chad.” She pushed the hold button. “I believe you were on your way out,” she said, waving her hand, shooing Beth away.
Beth didn’t move and Katherine drummed her fingers on the desk, impatiently waiting.
“Oh all right. But tomorrow I want to hear all about this Chad.”
When she left, Katherine released her call again. “I’m sorry about that. I was just saying goodbye to my assistant. Thank you for the roses. They really are beautiful, but really, it wasn’t necessary. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I already have dinner plans.” She smiled. “All right, perhaps a rain check could be worked out.”
She hung up the phone, the smile still lingering on her face. She inhaled the sweet fragrance. Perhaps this wasn’t turning out to be such a bad day after all.
Later that evening, seated across from Austin at The Grill Steakhouse, she watched in fascination as he alternated between chewing and talking. His handsome, pretty mouth had been talking non-stop for thirty minutes. Barely pausing for air, he droned on about his recent trip to Australia.
Austin was tall and dark and had a luscious mouth meant for kissing. When Katherine was a young girl, she fantasized about kissing his mouth. Then she’d grown up and realized that was all Austin had going for him.
Katherine closed her eyes as a heavy buzzing feeling came to her head. Was it the wine? Or was it Austin’s constant chatter causing it?
She shook her head in an attempt to ward off the cobwebs. Austin picked up the wine bottle and attempted to fill her glass again. She placed her hand over it.
“No, thank you, Austin. I’ve had enough.”
Austin cocked a grin at her. “Are you sure? It’s superb wine. The best money can buy.”
Katherine rolled her eyes. “I’m sure it is,” she said, “but no, really.”
“Well, where was I?”
“I believe you were about to ask for the check.”
He laughed as if she had just told the best joke of the year. “Oh, Katherine, you really are entertaining. I don’t know why I fought Father so long on this date. You really have turned out to be quite lovely.”
She rolled her eyes. “Did you visit any museums or art galleries while you were in Australia?”
“There are art galleries in Australia?”
She gaped in awe. “You really are amazing.”
He beamed. “Thank you.”
“Tell me again. What was the purpose of your trip?”
“Father sent me.”
“For what purpose?”
“To attend the opening banquet for the new foundation,” he said, incredulous, as if her not knowing was a grave insult.
“And did you attend the banquet? Perhaps we could talk about that.”
“Of course I attended the banquet. It was on the Andersons’ yacht. That thing is humongous. Everybody was there. I don’t mind admitting I was the most sought-after male on board that night.” He laughed. “Even Misty Carlton couldn’t keep her eyes off me. I wore a black tuxedo with a dark green cummerbund that complimented my eyes perfectly.” He gave a model’s pose, jutting his chin high. “I think I saw People Magazine there. I’ll bet they were scouting me out for next year’s fifty most eligible bachelors.”
Katherine sighed. He hadn’t changed a bit. She tried to imagine herself married to him. They would make beautiful children together, with his dark features and brilliant, green eyes, and her fair features, but that was about all she could see coming out of a relationship with him. She might as well go to a sperm bank if all she was interested in was good looks.
She tuned him out and let her mind wander. She was curious about who this Chad Simon was. She didn’t know a thing about him. Where had he come from? She hadn’t seen him in the building before yesterday and then she saw him again this morning. He had a sort of casual look to him, so she doubted he was a banker or lawyer. Perhaps he did something with his hands. She supposed she could look up his lease and see what his occupation was.
She thought she might do just that when the waiter came to the table and gave Katherine a sympathetic look. “Will there be anything else, Miss Winters?”
“No, thank you. Just bring the check, please—and hurry.”
As the waiter turned to leave, Katherine spotted Belinda Wright hovering just past the door. She was staring at them. Katherine looked first from Belinda and then to Austin. Belinda definitely was staring at Austin.
“Oh boy,” Katherine muttered.
“What?” Austin asked, perturbed at the interruption in his story. Had he even seen the waiter approaching the table?
The waiter came back and laid the bill on the table. Austin reached for it, but Katherine snatched it up. “You’d better let me take care of this.”
“Why? My father would flip if he were to find out I let you pay for dinner. This is supposed to be a date, remember?”
“Yes, well, this date is about to turn into an attorney-client meeting and I can write this off on my expense account.”
Katherine gestured over her shoulder. “You see that woman standing over near the corner?”
Austin turned and looked in the direction Katherine gestured. “What about her?” Belinda, noting they had spotted her, began to cross the room, headed directly for their table.
“Her name is Belinda Wright. She works as a paralegal for Lionel Whittaker. She serves summons.”
“So, Lionel Whittaker handles only paternity cases, and Belinda has her eye on you. Shall I congratulate you now, or wait until the hearing.”
“Oh, shit!” Austin exclaimed, his eyes growing wide and panicky.
Katherine stood and placed herself between Belinda and Austin.
“I’ve got to hand it to him directly, Ms. Winters. You know that.”
Austin cowered behind Katherine, like a child hiding behind his mother’s skirts.
“Do it outside, Belinda, don’t embarrass him or me.”
“Have it your way, but I’m not leaving until this is in his hands.”
The three of them got up and walked to the balcony.
“Austin Reynolds?” Belinda asked in confirmation.
Austin looked at Katherine, who nodded. “Yes, I’m Austin,” he replied.
“You’ve been served.” She slapped the order in his hands and stalked off. “This part of my job sucks,” she muttered, as a parting comment.
Katherine snatched the papers from Austin’s hands and tore them open. After perusing the contents, she looked at Austin. “Do you know a Betty Lee?”
Austin thought for a moment and shook his head. “Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Austin...” She thrust the papers at him. “It says here you slept with Betty Lee, whom you met at a party on August fifteenth of last year, and that the union led to the conception of a baby. She’s suing you for paternity and sixty grand a month in child support.”
“What? Sixty grand! I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Maybe not, but your family does.”
“Dad would never give me that kind of money.”
“You may not have a choice. If the test comes back positive… well, your family’s wealthy and a judge could grant her what she’s asking.”
“No way. It’s not my kid.”
“Then the blood test will determine that. In the meantime, you had better prepare yourself for the worst.”
“Will you go with me to tell my dad?”
“What are you, ten?” she asked. She snatched the summons from him. “Meet me in my office Monday morning at nine a.m. This date is over.”
Austin collapsed on a nearby bench. “Shit,” he said. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”
Katherine walked away, a small smile spreading across her face. It was probably mean, but she couldn’t help it. Perhaps now her father would get off her back about Austin. Her mind immediately wandered to Chad. She hoped he’d call soon.