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Appealed: Chapter 4

It takes a few seconds to recover from the shock, but when I do, I hit the ground smirking. Because if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s give as good as I get.

“Kennedy Randy Randolph.”

Her smile drops like a barrel over Niagara Falls.

“My middle name is Suzanne.”

“I know, but I never did come up with a nickname for you. Though we already considered Randy, didn’t we? It wasn’t a good fit—I’ll keep working on it.”

I shake my head, checking her out all over again. Because now that I know who she is, we’re talking a whole other level of depraved interest.

“Goddamn. You look—”

“Yes, I know.” She sighs, then gazes at her manicure in that bitchy way women do. “Thank you.” There’s not a shred of sincerity in her tone—like she’s heard a million compliments before. Which, with her level of hotness, is possible. Except for one thing.

“What’d you do to your eyes?” I lean in, frowning.

“They’re called contact lenses.”

“Well, take them out. I don’t like them. Your real eyes are incredible.”

Breathtaking, actually—deep, warm brown with flecks of gold. I’d know Kennedy’s eyes anywhere.

“What’d you do to your face?” she asks, folding her arms.

I touch my chin. “I grew a beard.”

“Well ungrow it. It looks like a vagina from a 1970s porn film.”

My lips twitch—because, fuck, the things that come out of her mouth.

That always did.

“I’m starting to get the impression you don’t like me anymore, sweetness.”

Challenge rises in her eyes. “You’re assuming I actually liked you to begin with. You know what they say about people who assume, ass.”

I square off against Kennedy. Game on.

“You definitely liked me. Remember that summer you flashed me your boobs? That has to count for something.”

“I did not flash you my boobs.” She scowls.

“You totally did. They were the first I’d ever seen—made an indelible impression.”

She grinds her teeth. “I jumped in the pool and my bathing suit rode up.”

“I think it was a Freudian Nip Slip. Subconsciously, you meant to do it, because you liked me.”

“I think you’re a pompous bastard. Possibly a sociopath.”

I grin. “Doesn’t mean you didn’t like me.”

Over Kennedy’s shoulder, I catch my mother’s eager gaze on us. She’d be less obvious if she had a spotlight and binoculars aimed our way.

“My mother’s watching us.”

Kennedy places her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and picks up a full one. “Of course she’s watching us. For years, her greatest wish was that I’d grow up to bear your spawn.”

I snort. “That’s ridiculous.” Then I glance sideways at Kennedy, gauging her reaction. “Isn’t it?”

“Completely.” She looks me straight in the face. “I could never be with someone like you—you have the maturity of a twelve-year-old boy.”

I raise my glass. “And you have the chest of one.”

I expect her to come back with a clever, biting retort, but she just gestures to me with an open palm. “I rest my case.”

Ironically, my first instinct is to stick my tongue out at her. But I won’t give her the satisfaction.

“Besides,” she adds with a haughty smile. “I’m seeing someone. Maybe you’ve heard of him? David Prince.”

David Prince is a junior senator from Illinois with his eye on the White House. He’s a rock star, the second coming of John F. Kennedy. I bet the entire Democratic Party and a good percentage of Republicans have his picture hanging on their office wall—the same way that poster of a feather-haired Jon Bon Jovi hung on the bedroom walls of all sixteen of my girl cousins’. And two of the boys.

“You’re dating a politician?” I say it like it’s a dirty word, because in my experience politicians are rarely clean.

She raises a perfectly manicured eyebrow. “You were almost a politician.”

“Only in my father’s wet dreams,” I volley back. “Although, you always said you were going to marry a prince. Sounds like you’re on your way.”

“My mother said that—not me.”

I smirk. “Then she must be ecstatic. You’re finally everything she always wanted you to be.”

Game. Set. Match.

Something shifts in Kennedy’s eyes, and I suddenly get the feeling we’re not playing anymore. “Not everything. Mother wanted me to be a ballerina.”

Years ago, I’d heard she was doing undergrad at Brown University. But other than that tiny detail there’s been nothing. Her father is a talker, her mother a bragger, but when Kennedy dropped off the grid after boarding school, information on her locked up like Fort Knox.

“Is that what you were doing in Las Vegas—dancing? Kind of short for a showgirl, aren’t you?”

Though I’d be sitting front and center for that show if I could.

She nods slowly, smiling way too smugly.

“Yes, too short for a showgirl . . . but just the right height for a federal prosecutor.”

That stops me cold. And I suddenly feel a strong kinship to Ned Stark’s bastard son because: You know nothing, Jon Snow!

And apparently neither do I.

“You’re a . . . ?”

“The Moriotti case, the mafia capo? That was me. I transferred to the DC office last week—and I can’t wait to start playing on your home field.”

Over the last fourteen years I’ve thought a lot about what it’d be like to see Kennedy Randolph again—but I never thought it’d be on the opposite side of a courtroom.

“You realize this makes us mortal enemies? You’re now the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Magneto to my Professor Xavier.”

“With your comic book obsession obviously still in full effect, I’d say I’m more the Wendy to your Peter Pan complex.”

I ignore the dig because I’m too busy connecting the dots. “Wait a second—your middle name is Suzanne.”

“Thought we covered that, already.”

You’re K. S. Randolph?”

Her smile goes wide—two rows of pearly white evil. “Yep. That’s my professional moniker.”

You’re the prosecutor on my Longhorn case?”

She golf claps. “Right again.”

“I’ve been trying to get a meeting with your office—so we can talk.”

Her features crumple with mock confusion. “What would I want to talk to you about?”

“Uh, pleading the charges down?”

Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal cases end in plea bargains. If you want a real feel for jurisprudence today, forget Judge Judy—watch Let’s Make a Deal instead.

She chuckles in a distinctly not-nice way. “Brent, Brent, Brent—I don’t make plea deals. Ever. It’s kind of what I’m known for. Oh, and I’ve never lost a case. I’m known for that too.”

I was wrong—this match isn’t anywhere near over. It’s just getting started.

“Justin Longhorn is seventeen years old,” I argue.

“Exactly,” she practically spits. “More than old enough to have known better.”

“It’s his first offense.”

“And he made a hell of a debut. I’m going for the maximum. Your boy is looking at twenty years.”

When we were young, Kennedy was intelligent, funny as hell, socially oblivious—but she was never spiteful. But looking at her now, there’s a ferociousness about her that’s new. Like a sharp-toothed Chihuahua that’s been stepped on one too many times.

Part of me finds this scorchingly hot. She’s not a girl anymore—she’s a fierce, strong, fully self-possessed woman. The kind whose hair I’d love to fist tight and pull while she’s deep-throating my cock. The kind who would moan for more while I pounded into her rough and hard against a wall.

But another part of me mourns that sweetness. The brave, innocent, beautifully wild creature who sat on a bike’s handlebars and trusted me to keep her safe while I was at the pedals. The one who took my hand and told me to dance with her wearing my unpracticed fake leg, because she thought she was strong enough to catch me if I stumbled.

Then there’s the professional in me who’s just straight-up pissed off—because she’s gonna be a pain in the ass about a case that should be an easy close.

I step in closer. “What the hell, Kennedy? The money’s been returned. It was a mistake. He’s a child.”

She raises her chin and looks at me, all fire and fight. “He’s a criminal. And a bully. He screwed with the life savings of a dozen innocent people. He messed with their heads and sense of security, just because he could. He willfully and knowingly stole thousands of dollars—returned or not—and I’m going to make sure he pays for it.”

“Wow. Hello, Inspector Javert.”

Kennedy shakes her head and chuckles. “You were always clever, Brent. So adorable. I hope for your client’s sake you’re packing more than cuteness these days.”

I bend my head, leaning down, just inches away from her shiny lips. “I haven’t had any complaints about what I’m packing so far.”

She stares at my mouth for one beat too long.

Then she blinks, shaking off her stare. “Good. Then I’ll see you in court, Counselor.”

“Bet your sweet ass you will.”

Kennedy brushes past me and struts away—leaving me no choice but to watch her go.

•  •  •

We don’t talk again after that. But I discreetly keep tabs on Kennedy the rest of the afternoon—where she’s standing, who she chats with. Tension prickles my skin if she’s out of my field of vision for too long, but when I find her again, relief detonates in my chest. For a long time—years—I wondered what she was doing, where she was, wanted so fucking badly to see her—the way an alcoholic craves just one more taste.

It wasn’t easy, but eventually I went cold turkey, gave up on her completely—because wondering and wanting are lost causes. So, as good as it is to be able to watch her now, I’m not thrilled to fall off the wagon just yet.

“I don’t want to go, Mommy!” Jonathon cries, yanking at his mother’s hand, trying to dig his heels into the grass.

Because Katherine just told her kids it’s getting late—time to head home.

Annie adds her own plaintive wail. “I wants da fireworks.”

I step up beside my cousin as her children join forces against her.

“We’re gonna miss the fireworks, Mommy!” Jonathon yells.

“Settle down, little man.” I tell him. “There aren’t any fireworks tonight. We only have them on New Year’s Eve.”

Every year, my parents go all out throwing a huge, formal New Year’s Eve party—they have since before I was born. There’s tuxedos and gowns, dancing, fountains of champagne . . . and fireworks at midnight that light up the sky and bathe the Potomac River in bright, sparkling color. Young kids in the family, like Jonathon and Annie, aren’t allowed to stay at the party all night. They’re sent to bed in one of the dozens of upstairs rooms before midnight. But Jonathon and Annie obviously know about the fireworks. They probably slip out of bed and watch the show through the window. That’s what I did every year, when I was their age.

Only—I didn’t watch from the window. And I didn’t watch alone.

“I’ll go first,” I tell Kennedy at the base of the ladder. “So I can open the hatch.”

Even though we’re both nine, she’s a lot smaller than I am. This is the first time we’ve gone up to the roof—and I’m the boy, so I should definitely go first. There could be rabid birds up there, or bats.

We’re in the big attic, where trunks, old books, paintings, and plastic-wrapped dresses get stored. It’s dark and dusty, with shadowed corners that look like they’re moving if you stare too long. Kennedy loves it up here.

“Come on, it’s going to start soon,” I tell her. “We’ll come back here tomorrow.”

Her eyes are still wide behind her thick-lensed, yellow-framed glasses as she gazes around the room, but she nods. “All right.”

I head up the ladder and push open the access door in the ceiling. Then I climb through and reach down my hand. Kennedy grabs it as she climbs through and then we’re standing on the flat peak of my house. Sometimes Kennedy calls it a castle—Mason Castle—because of the ballroom. Her house is just as big. They don’t have a ballroom, but they have a home movie theater, which is a thousand times cooler.

The icy wind cuts right through my robe—it’s freezing this year, cold enough to see every breath. The sky is a black blanket above us, and the stars are so bright, it feels like I could reach up and grab one—as easily as picking an apple off a tree. Kennedy spins in quick circles, her long brown hair fanning out. “You were right—this is the best!”

She’s smiling, and the metal line of her retainer shines in the moonlight.

I grin back—until she gets too close to the edge of the roof. I grab her hand and pull her back. “Watch out!”

We sit down close to one of the five chimneys, to block the wind. When Kennedy’s teeth start to chatter, I put my arm around her. She snuggles against me, warming us both up a little. We talk while we wait for the show to start.

“. . . So they let me quit fencing and start lacrosse instead,” I tell her. “It’s awesome.”

“You’re so lucky!” Kennedy cries. “Mother said I couldn’t stop ballet even if my leg was broken. She said I’m going to marry a prince, and no prince wants a princess who doesn’t know how to dance.”

Music floats up from the band downstairs. “I wonder if Claire is dancing with your cousin Louis,” Kennedy tells me. “She said she’s going to kiss him at midnight.”

I feel my face scrunch. “Why?”

“She said that’s what you do at midnight. Kiss the boy you like.”

My face stays scrunched—because I can’t imagine anyone liking Louis—let alone kissing him.

Then a chorus of voices surge from the veranda below. “10, 9, 8 . . .”

A few seconds later, the band begins “Old Lang Syne” and the sky explodes with color. Bursts of reds and blues, slashes of silvery purples and swaths of sparkling greens light up the night and reflect on the river’s surface.

While I watch the fireworks, Kennedy turns under my arm. And then she kisses me on the cheek.

“Happy New Year, Brent,” she whispers.

I look at her and smile.

“Happy New Year, Kennedy.”

As I shake off the memory I scan the yard, searching for that red dress. But when I find her, it’s not just relief I feel—it’s something else. Something rougher, hotter, hungrier.

Because Kennedy is staring at me.

She doesn’t notice that I’ve noticed. Her gaze is too busy trailing over my chest, my arms, my ass. Her eyes are eager and her cheeks are flushed pink—and I don’t think it has anything to do with the afternoon sun. I turn her way, holding my arms out, so she can get the full viewing pleasure—and her eyes snap up to mine.

I smirk and lift an eyebrow.

Her lips part and her cheeks go from pink to red.

I lift my hand and wave.

She lifts her nose and turns away from me.

And you know something? I think this is going to be fun.


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