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Appealed: Chapter 11


I wait patiently on the chaise longue in the corner, legs stretched out, watching her. Enjoying the pretty picture she makes lying in the middle of my big bed.

Without warning, Kennedy bolts straight up, so fast that her long honey-colored hair covers her face. She blows at it with a puff of breath, eyes darting around the room. She glances down at her body, covered in my black Spider-Man T-shirt—the one I had to practically put her in a headlock to get on her.

“Morning, cupcake.” I smile.

She glares.

“Did you have sex with me?”

I tap my lips with a finger, contemplating her question.

“I can’t decide if I’m more offended that you think we’d have sex while you were shitfaced—or that you actually think you wouldn’t remember it if we had.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

I roll my eyes. “Of course we didn’t have sex. Not from any lack of trying on your part, by the way. I felt so objectified. Does all alcohol turn you into a cat in heat, or just scotch specifically?”

If it’s the latter, I’m buying stock in it. Maybe a whole company.

She covers her face and lies back on the bed. “Fuck my life. Fuck it hard.”

“Let’s be careful with the imagery—not sure I can handle a hard-on right now.”

Or harder-on, if I’m being completely honest.

I check my watch. “We haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. Three, two, one—”

My phone rings on the table beside me.

I bring it to my ear. “Hi, Mom.”

News travels fast—and news of your children potentially hooking up with the person you picked out for them when they were three years old? That’s fucking warp-speed fast.

My mother dives headfirst into the interrogation.

“Yes, she’s right here.” I smile at Kennedy, who peeks out at me from behind her hands of shame, looking miserable.

“No, Mom, we didn’t elope. Sorry to disappoint.”

I cover the phone with my palm and give Kennedy the bad news. “Your mother’s looking for you.”

She fully covers her eyes.

But she groans when she hears my answer to my mother’s next question.

“No, Kennedy’s not pregnant with my child. At least—not that I know of.”

A pillow comes flying at my head.

And I respond to my mother’s next question. “She didn’t officially say no to Prince’s proposal—but the odds look pretty good it’ll go down that way the next time she sees him.” I laugh. “A picture, huh? I’ll check it out. Yeah, I think we make a handsome couple too.”

“Where’s my phone?” Kennedy moan-hisses.

“Listen, Mom, I have to go, okay? Yes, I’ll call you back later. No, we can’t put this in the family newsletter. I love you too. Bye.”

I tap the end button and watch as Kennedy drags herself to the edge of the bed. I tilt my head, trying to get another look at the paradise I glimpsed last night.

I’ve been a good, chivalrous guy. I think that deserves a reward.

“My mother says hi, by the way. Your phone is in your purse next to the bed, but it’s dead—your mother killed it last night with call after unanswered call.”

Kennedy’s feet hit the floor. She takes a deep breath, then slowly stands. “They’re going to disown me.”

“Would that really be so bad?”

She limps toward the chair where her clothes are neatly folded.

“Father always wanted a boy. Mother never liked me. This is the moment they’ve been waiting for. They’re going to disinherit me.”

I stand, walking toward her. “I’ll cover you with a loan. At very attractive interest rates—that’s what friends are for.”

Finally her eyes meet mine, and she looks so despondent my heart twists.

“My life is a mess, Brent.”

I brush her hair back. “If you want to make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. And you, my Little Lush, deserve only gourmet. Your parents will get over it. Everything’s gonna be okay—I promise.”

•  •  •

Before I drive Kennedy home, I change out of last night’s clothes into running shorts and a T-shirt. She climbs out of my car wearing my sweatpants. And even folded at the ankle and cuffed to death at her waist, they’re about twelve sizes too large.

She looks fucking adorable.

As we get to her front porch, the rear door of a black SUV with tinted windows parked at the curb opens. And out steps David Prince—dark sunglasses on his face, his brown hair perfectly sideswept and visibly hair sprayed.

Though I’m annoyed that the bastard hasn’t even given Kennedy the morning to process, I’m delighted that I’ll be around for this little exchange. ’Cause I really want to watch her tell him to screw off. And if she’s not feeling up to it, I’ll do it for her.

I follow Kennedy through her door and Prince slips in behind me. He closes the door and they square off a few feet apart in the middle of a tastefully decorated living room. I position myself next to the beige couch, far enough away to let their confrontation play out but close enough to step between them if needed.

Prince looks predictably unhappy, but far from brokenhearted. The grin that graces his campaign posters is replaced with an ugly scowl. He throws his arms up from his sides, “What the hell, Kennedy?”

Kennedy’s shoulders are back, her chin high—the same stance she takes in court, fearless and brash, ready to throw down.

“I could ask you the same thing, David.”

“You humiliated me last night!”

“You humiliated yourself. The sympathy you’ll garner will only help your polls—and we both know that’s what you’re really worried about. If you had bothered to ask me what I wanted—”

“I thought we were on the same page.” He takes a step toward her.

But she holds her ground. “No, you didn’t—otherwise you wouldn’t have ambushed me.”

“It was a surprise! A gesture of my affection.”

“It was a sound bite!” Kennedy shoots back. “We both knew what this relationship was about. I was a pretty, professional face to smile next to you in your photo ops, and you—”

“Yes,” he interrupts, stepping even closer. “What was I?”

“You were convenient. Someone I enjoyed spending time with, but didn’t care enough about to be upset about your screwing the intern.”

He pales just slightly and his eyes narrow. Then he moves to grab her arm, but I move faster. I wrap my hand around his wrist. And squeeze.

“If having a functioning wrist is important to you, you’re going to want to step back. And calm down.”

Dave drops his hand and I let him go.

He glares at me from head to toe, then he turns back to Kennedy and spits, “This is what I’ve been replaced by? A cripple?”

As Kennedy opens her mouth to tear into him, I throw my head back and laugh.

“Cripple, Dave? That’s the best you’ve got? Not even gimp or stumpy or quarter-man? If you’re going to insult someone, have the decency to make it a clever insult. Otherwise, you don’t just look like an asshole—you look like a dumb asshole. Also, go fuck yourself, you entitled, parasitic, two-faced, bloodsucking prick.”

David does his best to ignore me and looks at Kennedy with an expression that tries for persuasive, but falls short.

“We’re good together, Kennedy.”

She shakes her head. “Not good enough.”

“We could’ve gone all the way to the White House. We still could.”

How romantic. Does this douche want a girlfriend or a running mate?

“I like this house just fine. We’re done, David. Good-bye.”

And just like that, he gives up. If putting your fingers up in front of your forehead in the shape of a capital L was still a thing, I’d do it right now—’cause this guy is a loser.

He turns toward the door, but he only takes two steps before he turns back around. “I know you didn’t sign an NDA, but if you even think of speaking to the press—”

“Are you serious?” Her tone is biting. “I’m not going to be speaking to anyone. I have important matters to deal with—airing your dirty laundry isn’t one of them.” She raises her arm, pointing at the door. “Now get the hell out.”

To help him along, I open the door wide. “Bye-bye, Dave.”

I let it swing closed with a bang after he walks out.

I move toward Kennedy, stretching my arms above my head. “Well, I certainly feel better now that that’s out of the way.”

I thought she’d giggle; at least smile. But she just kind of collapses onto the couch—elbows on her knees, head in her hands.

I kneel down in front of her, rubbing my palms up her legs. “You okay, Sparkles?”

Weary eyes meet mine. “Sparkles?”

With two fingers I trace her collarbone, then show her the residual glitter from last night’s festivities. That gets me a small smile as she says, “I’m exhausted.”

I stand. “I’m sure you are. So . . . relax, take a bubble bath, take a nap, recharge—then be at my place tonight at six. I’m making you dinner.”

Kennedy’s eyes drag closed. “Brent . . .”

“I’m not as talented in the kitchen as Harrison, but I can hold my own.” Lifting her chin gently, I tilt her head up. And my voice goes soft. “I want to feed you, Kennedy. I want to talk to you—and I want to kiss you again for a long time, knowing you’ll actually remember it in the morning.”

That brings the fire back into those stunning brown eyes. “We did kiss last night!” Her finger jabs my thigh. “I knew it!”

“Technically, you kissed me. Attacked me, actually—and I’m not complaining.” I lean down and press my lips to her forehead. “I just really, really want to return the favor.”

Before she can say no, I walk to the door. Her voice stops me as I reach for the knob.

“What are we doing? I mean, what is this, Brent?” And she sounds genuinely curious.

“We’re starting over. This is a new beginning.”

“But the case—”

“We won’t talk about the case,” I reassure her. “We’ll be grown-ups. Compartmentalize—there’ll be no conflict of interest.”

“Maybe I don’t want to start over.” She sighs. “There’s so much between us, I don’t know if a new beginning is possible.”

“Then we’ll talk about that tonight too. Six o’clock, dollface. Don’t be late.”

•  •  •

I head over to the National Mall to run my favorite route. High-octane energy sparks along every nerve ending like I’ve never felt before. The adrenaline rush before a lacrosse game was similar, but this is more. Because I’m so psyched for tonight.

Two hours later, I walk through my front door to find Harrison dusting in the living room. I toss my keys onto the table. “Harrison, my good man.”

He turns, a mixture of curiosity and mild surprise in his eyes. “Yes, Brent?”

I throw an arm around his young shoulders. “You know the Swedish au pair down the street who you’ve been crushing on the last six months?”

He gulps. “Jane?”

“That’s the one. I know for a fact that tonight’s her night off.” I slap three hundred-dollar bills into his palm. “It’s time to carpe diem, buddy. Take the car, take her out, show her a good time, and if you get lucky—go to a hotel. If you don’t get lucky—spend the night at your father’s. Whatever you do, don’t come home.”

He looks at the money in his hand, brows touching. “I don’t understand.”

“I’m having company tonight.” This is the first time I’ve ever asked him to make himself scarce; usually I’m encouraging him to watch. So I spell it out.

“Kennedy’s coming over. I’m making her dinner. Though you’re always impeccably discreet, I want her to be completely comfortable, so we’re free to talk about our feelings.”

Talk.

Strip.

Break the furniture, dent the walls, and defile every surface in the house. Could be wishful thinking on my part, but like the Boy Scouts say, it’s good to be prepared.

Understanding brightens Harrison’s eyes. “Ah, now I see.” He puts his feather duster down. “I should go change into something more appropriate for a visit with Jane.”

I smack his back. “Go get her, tiger.”

Doubt falls like a gray specter across his face. “Do you . . . do you think she’ll say yes?”

I rub his head, messing with his hair the way an older brother would. “She’d be batshit crazy not to. You’re a total catch.”

Harrison smiles, looking more relaxed.

We walk toward the stairs near the kitchen.

“Would you like me to prepare dinner for you and Miss Randolph before I go?” Harrison asks.

I step into the kitchen and wave him off. “No. I want to do it myself.”

“Very good, then.”

As Harrison continues toward the stairs, I call, “There’s just one small thing. How do I turn this stove on?”

•  •  •

By five fifteen, I have a simple lemon and chicken recipe in an “oven-safe dish” like the online instructions said, ready to go. I slide it into the oven and go take a shower.

By five thirty, I’m dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved dark blue button-down.

By five forty-five, the table is set—linen napkins, crystal glasses, china plates, silver utensils—Harrison would be proud. I turn the lights down low and put a bottle of white wine in the ice bucket to chill.

By five to six, I have the cooked chicken warming on top of the stove, hoping it tastes better than it looks. I light the candles on the table, sit on the couch, and wait for Kennedy to get here.

By six fifteen, I’m still waiting—but I’ve never met a woman who was actually on time, so it’s all good.

By six thirty, I turn on the TV and use my handgrips as I walk around the room. Watching and waiting.

By six forty-five, I pour myself a glass of wine.

By seven, I risk looking completely pathetic and dial Kennedy’s number. It goes to voice mail and I don’t leave a message.

By seven thirty, I’m on glass number two. And I blow out the candles.

At eight, I thought I heard someone on the front step, but when I went to check, there was no one there.

By nine, it starts to rain hard, thunder and lightning galore. I lie on the couch, arm bent under my head, legs stretched out, shirt open.

But it’s not until ten that I actually believe Kennedy’s not going to show.


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