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Odd Woman Out (Book 4 of The Triad Series)

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2. Blueberry Scones

After some retail therapy a couple days before, Emily was wearing a new pair of shoes to go with a knee-length navy blue skirt and creamy-beige blouse. The silk slithered along her skin, making her think of hard, cut chests on certain surfers of the caffeine-mongering type.

She shook her head, getting back to filing away some legal briefs that had been left from a few court cases that had been resolved the week before. Sanders, Clay & Nimowitz mostly tried to resolve any issues they had behind the scenes, but many clients were not so easy to budge and refused to buckle under without having their day in court. It was mostly dry, legal jargon and dull family courtroom drama, but SCAN had a reputation for coming up with victories in their favor, even if the ‘stuff’ being fought over came up even. Even or more, and they called it a victory.

Get taken to the cleaners? A veritable loss.

Emily’s direct boss was a man named Beckett Palmer, an overly friendly man of about thirty-three years old who wasn’t yet a partner in the law group, though he had high hopes of becoming one once Nimowitz retired in a few years.

Then we’ll have to call it ‘SCAP’ instead, Em thought with a smile. Rhymes with crap.

While that thought amused her for all of about three seconds, she watched as her boss, who preferred to have everyone call him Beck, took a phone call. He always kept the blinds to his office open unless in a meeting with one of his clients. No one liked having to dig deep in their skull-littered closets while sitting in a fishbowl, it seemed. Emily could hardly blame them.

Beck made her nervous—and not in that, he’s-my-boss-but-seriously-bangable way, but because not only was he a good-looking man, he knew it and took frequent breaks in his day to hit on Emily, even if she was his legal secretary. Even though there was no actual rule in the employee handbook about intra-office dating, there were many reasons why one wouldn’t want to start one in a law office.

First and foremost, you were in a setting where everyone knew the law to some extent, and the sexual harassment lawsuits that could evolve if one took a compliment the wrong way would be sky-high. Saying you liked what someone was wearing could be easily misinterpreted and cause friction in an already fractured and tense environment.

Saying you look pretty today, was even worse. Not just for the fact that it could be misconstrued, but because of the back-handed way it was said—like you looked like a hag or a ragamuffin in whatever your last few outfits were.

It was safer just to say something like, are those new shoes? when it came down to proper office etiquette. It didn’t reek of any judgment on whether or not the look suited you. It was like saying, hope you have a pleasant day or, I hear it’s gonna be a hot one this weekend! Devoid of any underlying tones that could be confused with something else.

In essence, someone just noticed that you bought new clothing. Nothing admiring or derogative, plain and simple.

Nothing too telling, either.

Some people lived to find an easy payout so that they could waste away their existence sitting in front of TV and watch crappy reality melodrama.

Beckett didn’t work that way, and it made Emily aware of his every word, every look she got from him, every undertone of something more when the man opened his mouth.

And he wasn’t shy with his words, either.

That dress looks fantastic on you, Em.

Green really suits your complexion well.

Not many women can pull off a look like that…

If it was Kiara saying any of those things, it would have been followed up with, where did you get it?

On Beck’s lips, it held all sorts of sinful promises under his husky lilt. Emily didn’t want to mix business and pleasure, and had shot down numerous come-ons from her boss with a smile and a joke. She felt that if he could be so bold as to ask her out, she could be brazen enough to tease him about their age difference. He had eight years on her, which really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but he had something else on her as well…

He could fire her if he wanted to, and it would be he-said, she said on why he felt the need to end her employment with Sanders, Clay and Nimowitz.

Emily didn’t want that. Beck had been with the company since graduating law school, whereas she was only a year deep in her employment. Not enough time to become an invaluable asset in her mind. She tried to keep a low profile when Beck was around, putting enough distance between them when they weren’t interacting, but that didn’t matter. Once she felt his eyes on her, she slowed her movements, glancing back to catch his eyes moving quickly away and back to staring at his desk or his MacBook’s screen.

At first, she’d thought she was mistaken—that he just happened to be looking her way or at the nearby desk that was situated next to her ass or at the locket she wore that dangled between her breasts. But after a while, a fuck-ton of coincidence just didn’t cut it.

And it was creeping Emily out.

Not only was Beckett good-looking enough to turn heads, but he was built as well. Whereas some of the other lawyers had definitive dad-bods or had gone slightly to seed, Beck obviously hit the gym regularly, and the way his expensive suits were cut just proved it.

With his expensive haircuts, his long, aquiline nose and seriously dreamy green eyes, he was a catch, but he’d made it very clear on quite a few occasions that he was still single. He sometimes even brought her on lunch meetings with prospective high-profile clients, and got a bit too friendly on the rare occasion. He’d apologized when a hand brushed against her here, or his Versace-covered thigh bumped into hers. Emily tried to reconcile it with the knowledge that some people were just clumsy, but she couldn’t really make sense of his eyes lingering on her cleavage or ass, or that the fact he felt the need to escort her out the door of the restaurant with the gentle press of his hand on her lower back ,just above the swell of her bottom.

Emily actually hoped Nimowitz retired sooner than expected just so her all-too-handsome boss could get an office with a better view—and a new secretary to go with it.

She hoped he didn’t request her in lieu of the old battle ax legal secretary that was almost as old as Nimowitz himself. It made her wonder that if when he left, would his secretary follow him out to pasture to graze peacefully in their twilight years.

“Hey, you! I bring delicious treats for the sweet.” Kiara barged into the space like a tornado, even displacing a few documents from Emily’s desk with her swift entry into the room. Her hands slapped the desk so the papers wouldn’t fly away, then stuck a spare paperweight onto the large of the two files. She hadn’t had a chance to staple them together quite as of yet.

“What did you bring me?” Emily opened up the top of the pastry box and found two blueberry muffins and two scones, also of the blueberry variety. “Ah, awesome. And coffee? Are you vying for sainthood, or do you just love me to your last dying breath? No judgment, but I don’t know the Pope and can’t get you in good with any cardinals either. Sorry not sorry.” She lifted a scone, still warm, and took an appreciative sniff. “Oh, my God. These smell awesome. How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing.” Kiara grinned when Emily looked at her funny. They always exchanged cash when they bought the other something. Neither believed in anything other than paying their debts quickly and painlessly. Nothing tore apart friendships quicker than a squabble over money, even if it was only a few bucks. “Seriously. Leo gave them to me on the house. When I said that I was bringing you your afternoon sugar fix, he insisted. He was looking mighty tasty too. You sure you—”

“Jesus, Kia—not here. I don’t need you making my face light up like the damn 4th of July.”

“Unclench, girl. One of these days that stick up your tight derierre is gonna break off a piece and you’ll be pulling splinters out of your ass for weeks.” Kia leveled her with a stare. “We’re sisters, but even I won’t be plucking wood from your bruised little fanny an—”

“I smell blueberries.”

Both Kiara’s and Emily’s heads whipped around to see Beckett standing in the door to his office. His hair was a little disheveled, as if he’d run his hands through it several times over the course of the afternoon, but he still had the complacent, all-too-knowing, devastatingly handsome smile that spoke of naughty nights between the sheets and his ever-present devil-may-care attitude.

“Muffins and scones,” Emily offered up willingly. Anything to get him back to his desk and back to work. She had no idea how much of Kia’s comments the man had heard. If she went by the look on his face, probably more than she cared for.

“Scones? Never had one before. Care if I try?”

He started to walk toward them both, weaving through the room and a couple of empty desks that were unused and only cluttered the space. Emily really wanted to ask what they were there for but to make the room look busier than it was. Normally, it was just her and Beckett, with Nimowitz or Sanders occasionally stopping by. Clay was a bit of a hermit, and he never spoke out in the meetings she’d seen him in. He seemed to take everything in like a sponge, though, if memory of some of his dictation was indicative.

“Sure, munch away!”

The words sounded ridiculous in her ears, and she could tell Kia was biting back laughter at her friend’s expense. The man made her nervous, and with Kia’s teasing and his nearness, she’d about had enough.

Kiara handed him a spare napkin, and Beck popped the scone onto it, wrapping it like a burrito before taking a small bite. The two women watched the change in his expression, how his eyes widened slightly before he took another bite.

“Where did you get these?” he asked after he’d swallowed half the scone down.

“Bean There, Done That,” Kiara informed him. “A little café near where Em here lives.” She leaned in as if imparting some great secret. “The co-owner totally has the hots for Emily here an—”

“Hush! Oh, my God, Kia. Quiet!”

Beck’s gaze flickered quickly over to Emily’s flushed face. “That true? Am I eating a pastry version of love letters?”

Kia snorted, laughing her fool face off while Emily rolled her eyes at her friend.

“No, not true at all.” Her deep violet eyes honed in on her best friend. “The guy has a live-in girlfriend. Kia here obviously misunderstands a quantifiably professional flirter with someone who’s looking to cheat on hi—”

“Not cheat,” Kia cut in. “His girlfriend is bisexual, so maybe he’s thinking that Emily here would be interested in a naughty threesome, a bona fide ménage à—”

“Oh Lord, just stop.” It almost came out as a humiliated whimper, and Emily felt her cheeks heat up faster than the boiler room in locomotive. “He flirts with everyone, and so does she. So does Tucker, for that matter, and—”

“Who’s Tucker?” For once, Beck looked lost, resembling something like a tourist in a far-off land and being made to watch a sport he’s never heard of. His eyes bounced back and forth between the two younger women as the words were volleyed to and fro.

“Just another worker at the coffee shop,” Emily stated. “The whole bunch of them are coffee-slinging, come-on-wielding—”

“He came onto you?” Beckett’s eyes grew wide.

“Well, no—I mean, at least I don’t think so.” She was floundering. Treading shark-infested waters with not so much as a floatie in sight. “They just…it’s how they all act. They’re all so…so…”

“Hot?” Kiara interjected. “Because let me tell you, if I was into chicks, that Sophia could turn me out. She’s gorgeous!”

This had gone from bad to worse. Kiara was fun, but sometimes Emily wished her fun consisted of after-hours limitations—as in limited to only after business had been completed for the day. Kia’s idea of fun was half teasing her best friend, and half-humiliating her while teasing, it seemed.

“Never mind, what did you bring me to drink? A latte?”

She probably didn’t need the extra caffeine with how overwrought her nerves were, but it was something to do with her hands that didn’t put her in handcuffs after she strangled her best friend to death.

“Coming right at ya.” Kiara handed her a large to-go cup with a flourish before walking away with the rest of the pastries.

“Sorry about her,” Emily sighed. “Her brain must still be on the weekend, or my suspicions are right and she has no filter.”

Beck’s warm laugh at that relaxed her a bit. It was obvious he found her friend as amusing as Kia herself did. As her footsteps faded away, Emily placed her latte down next to her muffin, and then moved over to the filing cabinet that took up most of the wall. It was one of those huge six-foot-high monstrosities you could sometimes find in warehouses where stacks of invoices decayed away for years in their solitary proper places, waiting for the minimal number of days to pass so they could be carefully shredded once their expiration date had come. Since the law varied between state and for different types of legal documents, one would have to look up the particular requirements for that type of matter.

“No worries. I can see she’s the opposite in every way to Clay.”

“Complete,” Em said, rolling her eyes. “And entirely too mouthy. I can’t believe Counselor Clay hasn’t raked her over the coals a time or two since she’s been his legal assistant.”

“Probably has at some point—hey, Em? I was thinking that I’m needing a plus one to go to a client’s wedding this weekend. Was wondering if you could join me. It’s on Saturday.”

Saturday…Saturday. What can I think of to do on Saturday that will get me out of this one?

“Sorry, but I can’t. I promised Kiara I’d help her clean out the basement, and I’ve already bailed on her the past two weekends. Her landlord has an housing inspection coming up, and if they don’t cull that mess they’ll probably get an eviction notice in the mail.”

At least that was true enough. They were going on drinking and dancing on Friday night, but they’d have all day Saturday to poke and prod through the piles of crap that had accumulated, but none of Kia or her four other roommates actually used any more.

She swore they had at least three older fake Christmas trees down there, too, if not more.

“Oh, not to worry then. I’m sure they won’t turn me away if I show up on my own. I’m just going as a courtesy, after all. I was the one that helped her with her divorce with her last husband. The bastard had cheated and she got a pretty nice settlement out of it. He had to pay all her attorneys fees as well, which was nice since the divorce was entirely his fault.”

Emily’s rapid heartbeat pumped slower as she overcame the not-so-mild discomfort she felt when he’d asked her to be his date for the wedding. That was something you went to if you’d been dating someone for a while and felt comfortable enough already with the family, not an event you asked your employee to attend with you.

She listened as Beckett rambled on about his client meeting her private investigator/fiancé who’d gotten the proof that her hubby was stepping out with only minimal interest.

Most of her attention was on filing and thinking up any more ways to let Beckett down if he decided to ask her out again.

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