Makenna was up to her elbows in paperwork. Any time she took off work, she was faced with the same thing. Sad thing was, she had taken off more time here lately than she had in her career. Perhaps you should get used to it, kid. She shook the thought away. She didn't need to focus so much time on that. Her life was just a bit more complicated. No big deal. She attacked her mail and meticulously began to file it. She hated filing, so she always did it first to get it over with and out of the way. After that, she had a dozen or more case plans to do. Today, she decided, would be an office day.
Hearing voices in the hallway, Makenna stood and approached her open door. She was intent on closing it to shut out the noise, but she stopped when she noticed two people moving toward her. One of them was a co-worker. The other was Niko Milionis. Apparently, he wanted to sink his teeth into someone else. She noticed that he was dressed down again and looked more like a client than an attorney. Uninterested in pursuing a conversation with him right now, Makenna turned to go back into her office, but not soon enough to miss his knowing smile. You tried to trap me before, but it won't happen today. I won't give you a chance, buddy.
Putting aside her brief encounter with Niko, Makenna returned to her pile of paperwork and unfinished case plans. Although work was in a plentiful supply, it didn't take long for her to lose her focus and become distracted. For about the millionth time, she wanted to blame Sirri for her lack of concentration. He was an easy and convenient target, but she had realized in the past few days that not everything was his fault. She still didn't make light of his decision to sleep with Melissa, but certain thoughts had crept into her mind, seemingly screwing her up. When she saw him last at court, she had been more than tempted to have coffee with him, to let him talk. She was afraid. Plain and simple. Now more than ever, she had to be able to trust him. If she allowed him to ease his way back into her life, would he only betray her again? Not once in the duration of their two-year relationship had she ever doubted his honesty. Even after catching him at his most vulnerable had she doubted his honesty when he told her he had never cheated before. This time, it's different. It was different. Did one mistake completely ruin him?
The night Sirri had proposed and she accepted, she was completely convinced that he was the last man she would ever love. In the back of her mind now, she was stunned to realize that those feelings had not changed one iota. Did his bad judgment call automatically deem him totally undeserving of her love? She didn't have a clue as to why she was torturing herself like this. Sirri had messed up. Was she wrong in believing it was her job to be the scorned ex-lover? The hurt one? Was there no room for him to hurt? Was there no room in her heart to allow him to simply talk to her?
Sirri had not been the only one to notice her use of the word 'yet.' Like him, she knew what it meant and what it implied. Already, she was half convinced to see him, to hear him out, finally giving him a chance to explain his actions and motivation. She no longer cared if he deserved the opportunity or not. Right now, at this moment, her life was such that she really had no choice but to hear him out. There were variables involved that hadn't been a part of their relationship before this happened, and it was one thing that he needed to know…deserved to know. It was one thing that could not be buried or hidden. Despite what would eventually happen between them, Sirri would have to know. There was no way around it no matter what she told herself.
"Hey. You got a minute?"
Makenna's daze broke the moment she heard the words. Niko. She wanted to tell him to leave her alone. She really didn't have a minute. What the hell? She had just wasted a good twenty minutes focusing on her ruined relationship. "Sure," she said. "You can come in and sit down if you want."
Niko casually sauntered into the room and lowered himself down into one of her vacant visitor's chairs. He could clearly see that she was in the middle of organizing her files, but she had accommodated him, so he didn't feel as if he was intruding. "I thought I would drop by to once again apologize for my tactics. From what I've seen and heard, you do your job exceptionally well."
She stared at him incredulously. She wondered how often he apologized to the other workers. Not much, from what she heard. Was he human after all? Funny. She had often assumed he was a demon from the blackest pits of hell. "Thanks," she mumbled. It was dumb, but what else could she say to a man who had tried to make her look like an incompetent fool?
"Despite what you all think or believe, I don't enjoy attacking you."
Did she believe that? Suspiciously, she eyed him. For once, there was no mirth in his eyes. He was either sincere or a very good liar. "If you hate it so much, why do it?"
He smiled. It was sloppy and sideways. "Good question, but a complicated answer." He glanced down at his watch, noting the time. "It's almost time for lunch. Why don't you extract yourself from your paperwork and allow me to answer your question over some fine local cuisine?"
Earlier, she hadn't been able to stomach the thought of eating. However, she was presently pretty damn hungry. But she didn't know if she was hungry enough to go to lunch with Jaws Milionis. Oh the sick ironies of life. "I don't know if I can make time to eat. I have a lot of work to do."
He nodded. "I know you do. So do I, but you have to eat. I promise not to grill you for information. Lunch with me has to be better than staying here losing your life blood to paper cuts."
Would it really? "I'll go under one condition." She waited to see if he was going to say anything, but he didn't. "I can't be gone more than an hour, not if I want to go home tonight."
Louanne's was located no more than a mile from the building that housed the CPS office. It was a small diner owned and operated by a family from Tennessee. Louanne's was the favored eatery in town amongst court personnel and Makenna's co-workers. But then again, there wasn't much to choose from. Although Perrisburg was the county seat, the town boasted a fairly small population, with one locally owned drive-in type place, two gas stations, and a chain sandwich shop. This restaurant was the last resort for twenty miles or more. Makenna had visited the other places on occasion when she was in a hurry, but Louanne's made a mean hamburger steak platter. It was completely hard to resist.
Niko and Makenna entered the diner, choosing a table in the non-smoking section. Makenna nodded toward a few people she recognized, one of whom was Barb. She immediately noticed the look on Barb's face. Don't worry, Barb, I'm not eloping with him, she thought as Niko exchanged banter with the only server in the place. Makenna was certain that Barb would grill her after she returned to the office. Yes, she was having lunch with the enemy. It didn't mean she wanted to date him. She wasn't in the proper condition to date anyone.
"So, to answer your question," Niko began out of the blue. "I do what I do because I love the legal profession. I just don't like what I have to do to achieve my goals."
She nodded. "I understand that. I love the children, but I can do without the red tape. I'm glad we have policy to guide us, but sometimes, it hinders more than it helps."
"You've been doing this for a while, haven't you," Niko asked. He knew the answer to that question. Amandurre had somehow dug that up, but he thought asking her about her job would help her lose her cold edge toward him.
"Yes," she answered. "Ten years. It was my first real job when I finished college. I find myself reevaluating my career choice every so often, but I wind up realizing I have few regrets."
They were momentarily interrupted by the server when she brought their drinks and took their lunch orders. As Niko began to give the server his complicated order, Makenna found herself watching him. Part of it had to do with the server. Niko was giving her an abbreviated version of the riot act while dictating his food choices. The server never carried an order pad. She seemed to remember everything a person told her. Not once since Makenna began to eat here had she messed up an order. The other part, the part that consumed her soul, had to do with how easily she had given Niko a peek inside her mind. Why in the world would she give Niko so much information about her love/hate relationship with her job? She honestly didn't know what to make of Niko, couldn't begin to understand what went through his mind on a daily basis. However, unlike most attorneys she knew, he was a good listener. In that span of time between his ordering and haggling with the server over how to prepare his hamburger steak, Makenna realized she was lonely.
When she and Sirri began seeing each other exclusively, they spent a lot of time together. He was her greatest, most supportive sounding board. He would tell her whenever she was off center with one of her rants or would vehemently defend her if she had been wronged. He was often the only person she could rely on when her world fell apart around her. With a pang, a startling realization dawned on her. She hadn't simply lost her lover. She had lost her best friend. It was the main reason it hurt so damned bad. Sirri's betrayal was two-fold. He was no longer there just to make her laugh when she had had a bad day. There were no more silly emails from him to help her start her day on the right track. There was nothing, and she was empty.
"Are you okay?"
Makenna smiled and nodded vaguely. No. She wasn't okay. She certainly couldn't tell him that. Her family didn't even know about the break up. If she couldn't bring herself to tell them, she definitely couldn't mention it to the enemy, especially when Sirri worked in the same office. How awkward would that be? "I'm fine. Just daydreaming, I suppose."
Like many attorneys, Niko was nosy. He knew when someone was ready to confess about something. It seemed as if Makenna wanted to spill the beans, but she hesitated before opening her mouth. If this had happened in court, he would have pounced, badgering the hell out of her until she told him what she was hiding. He didn't use any of those tactics today. If he wanted to pursue his infatuation, he would definitely have to earn her trust. He certainly wouldn't if he pressed for too much too soon.
Sirri sat at the huge conference table. He wasn't working on anything specific. Instead, he had his textbooks laid out before him. There wasn't much going on today. Sandra was out sick and Niko was off doing whatever he did that would keep him out of the office for a few hours. Both Sandra and Niko had told him he could study on slow days. He had lugged his books into the office, but he couldn't really concentrate.
Although Niko had been tight lipped about today's project, he did mention he was going to drop by the CPS office. Instantly, he thought of Makenna. Another instant after that, he thought of Niko's attraction to her. He hadn't said anything outright, but the signals were all there, and it wasn't like he was trying to hide it. The moment he picked up on it, he had been tempted to tell Niko that Makenna was taken, that she was more out of Niko's league than his. What stopped him was the simple fact that Makenna was not taken anymore. She was out of his league. He had made sure of that, hadn't he? He had no right to interfere with her life, to keep her from seeing another man if she wanted. Sirri wasn't selfish or manipulative. It was just that the thought of Niko with Makenna was something he couldn't fathom. Some of it was jealousy and some was arrogance on his part, especially when she said 'yet.' It was enough to convince him that she still loved him and there was really no room for Niko in her life. Heartbreakingly so, it seemed as if there was no room for him in Makenna's life, either.
A few days ago, after work, he had gone back to his apartment, taking his customary spot on the couch. His roommate had substituted for another cop on the day shift, so he was home as well. Sirri had grown accustomed to having the place all to himself. Reese's presence disturbed him, irritating him to no end. Sirri had two exams to study for, but he had no energy to pick up his books. Reese took it as an open invitation to preach at his roommate, telling him to 'get over it and move on.' Sirri hadn't said a dozen words to his roommate about the break up, but Reese often berated him about it. When Sirri shot back that Reese simply didn't understand, Reese told Sirri he was obsessed. Perhaps he was, but his roommate didn't understand. He loved Makenna, and he was going to do anything he could to fix it. He didn't want to move on, didn't want to date another woman. It just didn't feel right. The woman, his woman, was Makenna. There was no one else. There never could be. When Reese refused to shut up about it, even going so far as to suggesting he set him up with one of his female cop friends, Sirri had walked out, opting to spend the night at a hotel. The next day, he had begun searching for a dirt cheap place to live.
To his good fortune, Sandra owned an apartment building. When she noticed that Sirri was looking for a place to live, she told him about a vacancy at her building. She also told him it was nothing fancy, but it was rent controlled, perfect for him and his meager salary. It would give Sirri the perfect opportunity to get out of Reese's hair, to get out of the room where he had betrayed his lover. The new place gave him the solace and privacy he desired, but he still had trouble sleeping at night. He had it in him to let go, but he wouldn't. Sirri Amandurre would not rest until he won Makenna's heart again.
He glanced down at his watch. It was well past noon. Niko should have been back by now…unless he stopped for lunch. What was the name of the place they all went? Louanne's? For five minutes or more, he sat and debated with himself. What type of excuse would he have if Makenna happened to be there? Sooner or later, she would call the police and have his ass picked up for stalking. But he had a legitimate reason to go. His boss often dined there. It was perfectly natural for him to waltz in. There was a chance that she wouldn't be at the diner. When busy, Makenna often skipped meals. What would it hurt? Nothing. That's what.
Louanne's was quite busy today, so it took Sirri a long time to find a place to park. He saw Niko's snazzy BMW convertible, so at least he wouldn't look like an idiot as he casually strolled into the place. He made it about five steps inside before he saw Makenna sitting with Niko. Although he had no right to feel it, he was suddenly spurned. What was she doing with him? Hadn't she made it clear that she didn't like him? Had it been an act? Before they could see him, he quickly exited the building. If he didn't, he thought he might have words with Niko.
Sirri slid behind the wheel of his vehicle, not hesitating to slam his fists against the steering wheel. He had no right to be so angry. Makenna owed him nothing. He had known Niko was attracted to her. Apparently, Niko didn't want to wait to make his move. Sirri was jealous and more than pissed off. To him, it didn't matter if he had done the spurning first. He loved her. Frustrated, he slammed his fists against the steering wheel again.
Makenna entered her office, immediately seeing that Barb was awaiting her. "Before you say a word, Barb, I just went to lunch with him. No big deal," she said.
Barb would say nothing, but she had seen Sirri. He just hadn't been aware of her presence. From the look of him, he wouldn't have noticed an elephant in the room. "It was weird seeing you together like that. I didn't think you liked him enough to even eat with him."
Makenna shrugged nonchalantly. "It was lunch, Barb. I don't intend to let him see me naked or anything."
It was on the top of her tongue to tell her about seeing Sirri at Louanne's, but she hesitated. "I don't mean to be busting your chops, but I was sort of hoping that you and Sirri would eventually work it out."
Why did everything have to lead back to Sirri Amandurre? "There is a lot Sirri and I have to discuss and work out, but I don't know if we could get back together like we were." She sighed heavily. She had yet to disclose the details of their break up. Few people knew. Barb wasn't one of them. "He cheated on me, Barb. He cheated on me with his ex-wife. It wasn't hearsay or rumor. I caught them together. We will eventually have to sit down and talk, but I don't know I have it in my heart to allow him to come back. I just don't know."
Barb was shocked. Never in a million years would she have thought Sirri would do something like that. "Makenna, I'm sorry. I…I didn't have a clue."
She nodded. "I know. You're no sorrier than I am," she whispered.
Makenna was on her way to bed when the doorbell rang. What the hell? She was dog tired, had absolutely no desire to see any visitors. What idiot would bother her at this time of night? She looked out the peephole, immediately noticing the idiot was Sirri.
"What are you doing here," she asked indignantly once the door was open.
"I don't know," he answered stupidly. "I was out driving around and I wound up here."
Had he been drinking? She could have stepped up closer to him to take a whiff, but she kept her distance. "What do you want?"
He drank her in. She was well covered by a bulky robe, but she was still so very beautiful. "You're dating Niko now?"
What the fuck? "That's hardly your business, Sirri. I told you not to call Barb anymore."
"I didn't speak to her. I saw you together. I know I have no right to be here saying this, but I don't trust him. I don't trust him to do right by you."
The bastard had balls of steel. Oh yes he did. "Who are you to judge? You couldn't even do right by me. You have a lot of nerve, Sirri. More than I ever expected. Who I see or don't is of no concern to you any longer. Please leave. I would like to go to bed."
She had begun making moves to slam the door, but he quickly inserted his body between it and its frame. He was inside before she knew it. Defeated for now, Makenna dropped her arms to her side in a fruitless gesture. Sirri didn't approach her. He stayed close to the door.
"Your life is yours," he began. "You may have closed your heart to me, but I still love you. I have no right to say a word to you. I can't stay silent, Makenna. I can't. Niko is not good for you. I'm not saying this out of jealousy or hurt feelings. I want the best for you. I want you to be happy, even if I'm not in the picture."
You will always be in the picture in some form or another. You just don't know… "You're overstepping the bounds, Sirri. But I appreciate your words. For the record, I'm not dating Niko."
There seemed to be an unspoken 'yet' at the end of her statement, but he wouldn't push it. "I'm sorry I came like this." He swallowed hard. This last bit would probably alienate her further. "Will you ever consent to hear me out?"
Makenna thought of many things Sirri needed to be told, to prepare for. He needed to talk, she needed to listen, and he needed to know so much more. "Yes, Sirri. I will. Just not tonight."
Relief washed over him in waves. He felt almost drunk with it. "Thank you." Taking a bold move, he stepped closer to her, close enough for him to place his hand on the side of her cheek. She didn't flinch away from his touch. "You still don't look well."
His hand was warm against her skin. She was more than tempted to turn in to his touch, but she couldn't fall victim to him, not after what he had done. She had agreed to hear him out, not take him back. Yet, she didn't move one inch away from his hand. "I'm better," she said softly.
He nodded before reluctantly drawing his hand away. "Okay." He moved back toward the door again. "I'll call you." He opened the door to make his exit, but he hesitated. Looking back at her, he said, "I miss you." He left without giving her a chance to respond.
Sirri wasn't the only person who walked into Louanne's and laid eyes on Niko Milionis. Another individual, a nervous sort, saw him dining with a young woman. The one who observed Niko and Makenna was an ex-girlfriend of Niko's. She noticed that his lunch partner was similar in coloring, build, and age as she. The moment she recognized Niko's obvious attraction to the woman, she felt ill. It wasn't jealousy at seeing an ex-lover with another woman. It was something else. Fear. Dread. This woman had no idea who she was dealing with. No idea at all.