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Friction (E-Book)

Friction (E-Book)

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Leary Michaels has no problem using her feminine charms to daze her legal opponents so they don’t see her coming in for the kill. On her most personal case yet, she finds herself battling an attorney who’s just as skilled, seductive and shamelessly determined to beat her at her own game.

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As a partner at Knight & Payne, I know what it takes to succeed—hard work, long hours and occasionally turning up my female powers of persuasion. I’m not afraid to show a little skin if it’s going to get me what I want and I’ve been known to ignore the ethics rules a time or two.

The opponent on my current case is nothing but a sleazy corporate lawyer willing to sell his soul to the devil to help his rich clients get richer by sticking it to innocent people like my client. No matter how devastatingly handsome Reeve Holloway is, I have zero qualms messing with his head… both above and below his belt. I’ve deviously planned out our first meeting and one excruciatingly long elevator ride at the courthouse leaves me with my stockings down, Reeve begging for more and the two of us on a decidedly unethical path to the bedroom.

As the case and our dalliance go on, I find that my initial impression of Reeve couldn’t be further from reality. What starts as a couple of workaholics blowing off steam turns into something deeper than we ever wanted. But pillow talk can be dangerous when you’re walking a moral line and Reeve’s law firm has made it clear they’ll stop at nothing to win.

When the gavel comes down on our case, I can’t help but feel as if I’m losing everything I’ve worked so hard to attain. As our hearts become more entwined, can we find a way to battle in the courtroom or will the friction cause our love to burn to ashes?

NOTE: Friction: Reeve and Leary’s Story was originally released as Friction by Montlake in 2015. This tale of two attorneys battling it out in the courtroom received a fresh polish but the story remains the same—smart, sassy and smoking hot.

Read Chapter One

Leary

Five Years Ago

I can’t control the way my legs are shaking so I sit back in my chair and cross one leg over the other, hoping the weight and position might still the trembling.

You’ve got the job, Leary. Nothing to be nervous about.

Glancing out the lobby window to my left, I see the sun breaking high over the downtown Raleigh cityscape with hazy blue skies and diaphanous clouds smeared in the distance. It’s shaping up to be a pretty day and as the sun rises higher the skies will become that particular shade of Carolina blue. A vision made for smiling and yet I’m filled with oily dread.

Today is my first day of work with the law firm of Knight & Payne and I don’t know why in the hell I thought I would be cut out for a job like this. I’m waiting in their massive lobby on the twenty-seventh floor of the Watts Building. The firm is so big it actually has two lobbies: one on this floor for the civil litigation department and another on the twenty-eighth floor for the criminal defense department. Exposed black iron beams above and rough-hewn wooden floors below speak to strength. The raw nature of the industrial design is tempered with sleek leather furnishings in shades of cream and taupe, which screams money and power—two words that would never be used to describe Leary Michaels.

As one of only two incoming associate attorneys for the year, I’m still convinced they made a mistake in offering me a so highly prized and coveted position. I didn’t think my interview six months ago was anything special and while I graduated in the top ten percent of my law class at Stanford, firms like Knight & Payne usually only accept the top one percent.

Still . . . I wanted this position badly. It was something I had set my sights on early.

Even though I went to law school on the West Coast, I always knew I would come home to North Carolina to practice. More importantly, I wanted to be the type of lawyer who made a difference in an ordinary person’s life and in my mind, the best place to accomplish that was with Knight & Payne.

It’s a massive organization, employing sixty-three lawyers, twenty-nine paralegals, thirty-six secretaries and two receptionists, one for each floor. It’s an institution in North Carolina, sought after by every top-ranked law school graduate because the pay is legendary, the benefits are beyond belief and the work environment is cutting-edge. But that’s not why I wanted to come here.

I wanted to be a Knight & Payne attorney because the firm’s entire practice was built upon helping individuals. You won’t find any corporate lawyers here representing banks insistent on foreclosing on poor, unfortunate fools. You won’t find a single insurance company represented in these halls. Big business is the devil within this institution.

No, the founding attorney, Midge Payne, has it clearly written on her website for all to see that she only represents the downtrodden.

Come any poor soul needing help.

That’s her freakin’ tagline.

It’s like an open-door policy for every miscreant and shiftless bum to seek help from the best attorneys in the state. We’re talking the dregs of society . . . drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, homeless people, deviants, assholes and various other scum. Some of these people are so vile most people would shun them. Many attorneys would refuse to help them, forgetting the fundamental concepts that everyone is presumed innocent and everyone deserves a fair shot at justice.

Don’t get me wrong—the firm represents ordinary citizens who need legal help too but the point is Midge Payne doesn’t discriminate, other than she’ll only represent people not corporations. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and that’s what I want in my law practice. I want to help those folks who need help lifting themselves out of the filth and grime of unfairness.

“Miss Michaels”

Turning my head, I see Danny Payne walking toward me. He conducted my interview all those months ago and still looks as sleazy as ever. Oh, he’s dressed impeccably enough, in a custom-tailored suit that perfectly fits his five-foot, six-inch frame. I tower over him by four inches, thanks to having a tad more height and three-inch heels.

While Danny is dressed to the nines, he still looks like slime oozes out of his pores. It’s the way his eyes appraise you . . . like he’s trying to figure out how he can best use you or one-up you. It’s a calculating look, which makes me uncomfortable but it in no way turns me off from working here. I was coming for the reputation of the great Midge Payne, not her lackey cousin who manages the firm.

Danny Payne is a conundrum and not much is known about him publicly. He graduated from some law school I’d never heard of out in Idaho and rumor has it he didn’t really pass the bar exam. The dirtiest of rumors say that his degree is forged but I don’t buy it for a second. I doubt that Midge would let that occur in her firm. What I do know is that Danny doesn’t actually practice law but runs the firm for Midge. He handles all the glorious duties of the day-to-day operations such as human resources, marketing, growth and development, yada, yada, yada. Sounds boring to me actually. I went to law school so I could change the world not sit behind some desk and figure out payroll.

Standing from my chair, I wipe my moist palms on my skirt and hold out my hand. “Mr. Payne, it’s a pleasure to see you again.”

He gives me a look that could be a leer or maybe it’s just a conspiratorial gesture of welcome, but he shakes my hand enthusiastically. “Come . . . Midge wants to talk to you.”

My breath hitches in my throat and my nervousness ramps up tenfold. “Ms. Payne wants to see me?”

“It’s Midge,” he says with a smarmy grin. “We’re all on a first-name basis here. So it’s Danny…not Mr. Payne.”

“Um… okay. So, Midge wants to see me?”

This is unheard of. No one—and I mean no one—gets to see Midge Payne. She’s like the great and powerful Oz, hidden in a bejeweled tower, protected by the fiercest of dragons. It’s rumored that she comes in to work at 4:00 a.m. and doesn’t leave until after 9:00 p.m. She supposedly has a private elevator that takes her to the parking garage and you only get admittance to her office by papal decree or something.

If Danny Payne is a conundrum, Midge Payne is an absolute enigma, perhaps slightly less mysterious and elusive than Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. While she was a powerhouse in in her day, she hasn’t seen the inside of a courthouse in over two decades preferring to work behind the scenes. She still handles cases and does consultations with other law firms but she does it all from behind her desk and is considered a virtual recluse. There isn’t even a picture of her on the firm’s website although I’ve seen an old photograph. When I was researching this firm before sending my résumé, I went to the library and looked at old newspaper articles. Midge was a pioneering civil rights attorney in the late seventies, early eighties, championing women’s and gay rights in rural, southern North Carolina where said groups were considered third-class citizens. In one photo she was walking out of the court of appeals building after having argued a discrimination case. She was beautiful with her shoulder-length pale blonde hair, her face regal and determined.

Looking at her, I saw greatness. She’s what I aspire to be and I hope I don’t let her down.

Danny turns to walk through monstrous double doors, which I know from my prior interview visit lead from the lobby into the main work area. “Yes. She’s looking forward to meeting you . . . to talk to you about your role in our firm.”

My head is spinning. I’m getting ready to meet Midge Payne, my legal hero, and suddenly I feel like ten times the fool for even applying to a firm like this. The cheap black suit I bought at a discount store—because that’s all I can afford with the law school debt I accumulated—is made of polyester and swishes against my taupe nylon stockings that suddenly look too dark against my pale skin.

She’s going to see me for the fraud that I am.

Danny leads me through the Pit, an open work area that takes up the entire interior of the twenty-seventh floor, so called because that’s where a lot of the “dark and dirty work” takes place. Most of the attorneys and staff work here, with no walls or offices to separate them. Client meetings are held in conference rooms bordering the exterior of the work area along with the partner offices. All of the exterior rooms are walled with glass so every office is open to the eye. There’s no privacy to the outward gaze but I happen to know the exterior offices and conference room have double-paned glass and if one wants a measure of concealment, they simply push a button on their desk and a thick, dark gray smoke filters in between the dual panes, coating the glass walls and giving the people within absolute confidentiality. When you’re done, you simply push the button and a vacuum sucks the smoke out, leaving clear glass once again.

I want one of those offices one day.

As we walk across the Pit, I get several smiles and nods from my new colleagues. Everyone is dressed differently. Some wear high-powered suits while others wear jeans and T-shirts. It’s one of the perks of working here—absolute autonomy in how you dress . . . how you look. I don’t bat an eye at one woman with pale white hair streaked with blue and her face covered in piercings. Dressed in a low-cut shredded T-shirt and black leather pants with knee-high boots, she smacks her bubble gum loudly. She’s talking to a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit who I assume is an attorney, but you never know. Hell, for all I know, she’s the attorney and he’s the secretary, which is what makes this firm so unique. Maybe my cheap suit won’t be so out of place since we’re allowed to wear whatever we want unless we’re going to court or meeting with a client. Regardless, Danny leaves it up to everyone’s smarts and discretion and he told me during my interview he only had to reprimand someone once for what they chose to wear. It was apparently a guy who showed up to work one morning after a hard night of partying and still had vomit on his Mötley Crüe T-shirt. Danny told me it wasn’t the Mötley Crüe T-shirt he had a problem with.

Only the vomit.

We reach the southwest portion of the Pit and Danny takes me to the corner office. With its dark-paneled mahogany walls and thick wooden door, this is the only office that varies from the open transparency of the Pit.

Midge Payne’s domain.

A middle-aged woman sits out front at a small desk with a tiny laptop on it. She has a wireless earpiece and is stunningly attractive and elegantly dressed.

“She’s expecting you,” the woman says to Danny and gives me a warm smile. “Welcome, Leary.”

“Thank you,” I reply with a backward glance as Danny leads me into the inner sanctum of Midge’s kingdom. He ushers me inside and promptly leaves. When the door shuts behind me, I turn to face my hero.

Words can’t describe my first look at Midge and I only hope she can’t hear the frantic beating of my heart. I’m shocked to see she doesn’t look that much different than that old picture I had seen circa 1985, twenty-five years ago. The woman has to be in her sixties yet could easily pass for early forties. She has the same pale blonde hair that is now styled in a sleek, shoulder-length bob and her skin is creamy, nearly flawless except for tiny lines around her eyes and the corners of her mouth. Blue eyes stare at me in cool appraisal as she sits behind her desk, elbows resting on the arms of her chair and her hands steepled in front of her chin.

“Sit down, Leary,” she says, her voice oddly warm in contrast to the aloofness of her body language as she doesn’t rise to greet me or offer me a hand to shake.

When I take one of the chairs opposite her desk, I look up at her with a nervous smile.

“Welcome,” she says softly. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you ever since your impressive interview.”

Impressive interview? She wasn’t even there.

“Thank you,” I say, lamely squeaking out my words.

She chuckles and puts her hands down on the armrests, leaning back farther in her chair and kicking her feet up on her desk. She’s casually dressed in a low-cut, purple cotton T-shirt and dark denim jeans. Her feet are encased in olive-green patent leather pumps with a square toe that have to be at least five inches tall and make my feet hurt looking at them.

I take a quick peek around her office, surprised by how barren it is. No degrees on the walls, no photographs on her desk. Her bookshelves are stacked with law books and periodicals. Her desk is crammed with documents, manila files and three-ring binders. She has three computer screens sitting on one corner of her desk and a large-screen TV mounted to the wall that is tuned to a news channel with the volume muted. Soft tones of music play in the background and when I listen closely, I’m surprised to hear Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch.”

This woman is strange and utterly fascinating.

“I watched your interview on video,” she says with amusement. “Overall, you weren’t anything special . . . not compared to the other applicants.”

My jaw drops and my face flushes red. What could I possibly say to that? She doesn’t expect me to respond, as she continues. “However, you answered one question better than any of the other twenty-three applicants and for that reason alone you got the job.”

I wait for her to tell me what amazing piece of wisdom popped out of my mouth, but she doesn’t enlighten me and unfortunately, I’m so nervous I don’t have the guts to question her.

“I expect great things from you,” Midge says firmly.

Swallowing hard, I say, “I’ll work very hard, Ms. Payne.”

Her eyebrows furrow inward and I can see she’s displeased. “I’m sure Danny told you we go by first names here.”

I nod. “I’m sorry. Just nervous.”

Her gaze warms up a bit and she swings her legs off the desk, surging out of her chair. She’s really tall, maybe five-ten in those heels. Her presence is magnetic and my eyes are pinned to her.

“I understand,” she says as she walks around her desk to sit in the chair beside me. She stares at me thoughtfully and I’m entranced. She reaches toward me and I’m powerless to even flinch away from her.

Deft fingers go to the back of my head, where she pulls at a pin helping to hold up the severe bun in which I’d wrapped my long hair. I’m stunned to inaction at such an intimate move and make no attempt to stop her when she pulls at the others.

When her hand clears, my hair falls down to the middle of my back in a cascade of chocolate. She takes one of my locks and rubs it between her fingers, staring at it thoughtfully. “You need to change, though.”

I jerk in offense and she drops my hair, bringing her gaze to my confused eyes. “I don’t understand.”

“You will,” she says confidently. “I have great plans for you. Your interview intrigued me and I know you’ll be one of my top stars. But this meek, trailer-trash image you’re carting around has got to go.”

Her words hypnotize me even as distasteful as they are. Besides, it’s true. I was raised in a trailer park and my clothes are cheap, as are my perfume and makeup.

“You’re a brilliant woman. Your law school grades and interview prove that. But you have other qualities that you need to play up.”

“Other qualities?” I ask, dumbfounded. Because past my intellect and work ethic, what more could she want?

Leaning forward, she rests her elbows on her knees and clasps her hands together. I couldn’t look away if I wanted to.

“I’m talking about using all of your skills. You are a woman in a man’s profession. You’re on the bottom of the ladder and it will be ten times harder for you to climb just one rung while a man skips up ten. Now… you’re smart but no smarter than any other man I’ve employed here. So you need more. You need to work your other talents.”

“Talents?”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Leary. You hide it though, and I’m guessing it’s because the last thing you want is to rely on your beauty for anything. I assume there’s a sordid little story there that makes it so… maybe coming straight from the dusty front yard of the little trailer you were raised in.”

I flinch, because she has hit too close to home but there’s no way she could know about my past. I raise my chin, daring her to continue and oddly fascinated with where she is going.

“You see, Leary, in order to succeed in this world, you need to work it and work it hard. Your brain, your wit, your determination, your confidence, your sex appeal. Lose the baggy, bargain clothes and show off your body. Get a good haircut, leave your hair down and get someone to teach you how to wear makeup properly. Make men notice you and when you’ve fogged their senses with lust, slap them with your brains. Make women want to be like you but be so confident in your abilities that they’ll inevitably fall flat on their faces. When you finish with your opponents, don’t let them have a moment’s doubt that they’ve met their match.” She leans in closer. “I’m talking about winning at any cost. Doing whatever is necessary to get the victory and as a woman, you need to use every weapon in your arsenal. It’s how I succeeded and it’s how you’ll succeed too.”

I know I should be offended, maybe feel let down over this revelation that Midge Payne seems to be interested in my physical attributes as much as my mental, yet I’m not. I’m strangely titillated by it and feel a sense of power flushing through me. It’s a power I imagine my mother employed on more than one occasion and while I have the utmost love and respect for my momma, I never once wanted to use the same charms she had to use to make sure we survived in a harsh world.

But oddly, the way Midge is advising me to work my assets doesn’t seem as seedy as when my momma lay on her back and spread her legs for money to put food on the table.

Midge stands up and walks back behind her desk. “Danny’s waiting for you outside and will show you to your work area.”

I stand up, smoothing down my polyester skirt and having an insane urge to run to the mall right now and spend my meager savings on a new wardrobe. “Thank you,” I say, feeling a little bit lost.

“Great things,” Midge reminds me with a hard look. “It’s what I expect.”

I stare at her a moment, not sure whether I can truly subscribe to her philosophy.

Whether or not I can meet those expectations.

She’s asking me to completely change my way of thinking and I need just a moment to see which direction my logic will tell me to take.

My logic doesn’t wait around, apparently knowing what I need to do.

My spine straightens. Determination and excitement fill me.

“It’s what you’ll get,” I tell her as I turn away from her and walk out of her office.

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Product Release Date: June 20, 2023

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