Leslie

Eying the clock, I tried not to think about everything I needed to do between now and the time I could leave.

Maybe I didn’t punch in and out, but I did have to work so many hours in order to bill my clients, and since Calvin and Associates didn’t actually have any associates, I did a hell of a lot of overtime.

I needed another me.

Actually, I needed another lawyer or at the very least, a paralegal.

I had an administrative assistant, and Haley was amazing, but I needed help with more than just administrative tasks. I needed a paralegal and a lot more than the intern I got on a limited basis too.

I’d been trying to find help for a while, but so far, no dice.

The past couple of weeks had been crazy, but most of that was because I’d been trying to juggle a personal life on top of business more than normal.

My heart gave a girly sigh as I remembered the wedding I attended not that long ago.

Carrie and Gavin were ridiculously perfect together, and so happy.

Seeing Krissy had sent a pang through me, too, though not a good one. She’d seemed like she was holding together okay after her miscarriage, but how was I to know? I’d never wanted kids, couldn’t even fathom the idea. Krissy, she’d been walking on cloud nine ever since she’d gotten the positive test result…and then it was just gone. She lost the baby, and she’d gone from cloud nine straight down to the lowest sort of hell.

Although we didn’t talk as much as we had when we worked together, I knew how hard it’d been on her.

I missed my friends.

Which was why, in a couple of hours, I was hooking up with my closest friend.

It wouldn’t be exactly the same as before, of course. Dena was living with her boyfriend – or rather, he was living with her. Arik was a defense attorney for the rich and powerful and wasn’t that a joke. Dena had finally landed her dream job, which was usually working for the people who fought against the rich and powerful. The ADA and the defense attorney. It should’ve been a Lifetime movie.

But she was happy.

That meant a lot.

So far, I’d only spent a short amount of time in Arik’s presence, but Dena seemed happier than I’d ever seen her, so that was all that mattered as far as I was concerned.

The song on the radio changed and I sighed, feeling more despondent than normal.

The love song rolling out of the surround sound had a knot welling up in my throat, and all I really wanted to do was put down my pen and shut down for the day.

No, what I really wanted to do was curl my knees to my chest and listen to the song, maybe sing along for a bar or two. As the woman wailed about how love had left her behind, I had to fight not to chime in.

Sing it, sister.

I needed to push this melancholy away before I hooked up with Dena.

Not that long ago, the two of us were the ones who’d meet up and reminisce over the good old days, when it had been the four of us – Carrie, Krissy, Dena and me – hitting the town and looking to raise hell and have as much fun as we could.

Then it was Krissy, Dena and me. Then Dena and me.

Now, it was just me.

The lone wolf…

“You morose bitch,” I muttered. Throwing my pen down, I leaned back and rubbed at my temples. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

It wasn’t like I wasn’t happy for my friends. Sure, I’d expected some of them – okay, I’d always expected Carrie to settle down. Find a nice guy, fall in love, and get married. She was that sort of girl. The one we’d always had to drag out, push toward the hot guy.

But then Krissy had gone and fallen in love too.

Then, it happened to Dena.

I was the last girl standing.

I’d always thought Krissy and I would be partying and living the life for…well…

Making a face, I snatched my pen. “You thought you’d be on the prowl with your BFF right up until you were fifty or something.” A mental picture settled in my mind, the two of us still running around like we’d always done, hooking up with men half my age. I hoped I aged as well in reality as I did in my daydreams.

The image shifted to just me, and I found myself wondering just what I’d be doing in five years, ten years. All my friends had fallen in love. They were getting married, talking about babies. Even Dena had a live-in boyfriend. In a couple of years, they might all be sitting around on playdates with their kids, and I’d be going out clubbing alone.

A year ago, I would have laughed at the idea, but now, it just left me feeling kind of down.

Sighing, I looked back at the paperwork in front of me.

Sadly, it hadn’t diminished at all during my bout of self-pity, and that pile still stood between me and the door.

The bad part of being self-employed…there was nobody left to pick up the slack for a vacation or illness.

I needed to get my ass in gear too.

I had less than an hour to make serious headway if I didn’t want to be late.

It was the first time we’d actually had a chance to go out in forever and I wasn’t going to miss it.

 

***

 

Dena’s boyfriend was hot.

Not pretty boy hot, just plain hot.

He also looked at her like she’d hung the moon.

They sat across from me, and when he wasn’t talking to me, he was looking at her. There was a hint of possession, a hint of satisfaction, all mixed with a decidedly pleased smile.

It was like he was telling the world, She’s mine, everybody. Mine.

Not bragging, really, just happy with it.

And that made him that much hotter.

There was something decidedly sexy about a man in love. Especially a man in love who didn’t ignore everyone else.

When he looked over at me and asked how my practice was going, he seemed genuinely interested and talked about some of the cases – sans names, of course – some friends of his had worked back in Chicago. We made small talk, and Dena chatted about the move, and I wondered why in the hell I was feeling so down about the fact that my best friends were all happy.

“Man, service is so slow tonight,” I said, looking longingly toward the kitchen. I wasn’t one of those women who worried about her figure. When I was hungry, I ate…unless I forgot. “I never got around to eating lunch.”

“Me, either.” Dena made a face. “I’m getting the crash course from hell now. The new DA is really putting me through my paces.”

“I bet you love it after that mess you had with the last boss.”

She grinned. “Damned straight. This lawyer actually seems to care…you know…about being a lawyer.”

“So he’s not a total shark?” I said it lightly.

Dena stuck out her tongue. It was an ongoing joke between us. I hadn’t gone into law for the same reasons my friends had. I had a good brain, I liked money, and I didn’t like blood. When the time had come to start figuring out a career, a counselor in high school had said, you know, you’re smart enough. You could be a doctor or lawyer.

Again, I didn’t like blood.

I went with lawyer.

I liked helping people well enough, but that wasn’t why I did it. For the most part, it didn’t suck, and sometimes I even liked my job, but I doubted I found the satisfaction from it that Dena did. Maybe I was a shark, but I was a good lawyer, and my clients were typically satisfied with the job I did for them. Besides, I’d seen what happened when some people didn’t have a shark, and it wasn’t pretty.

“We live in a world full of barracudas, babe. Sometimes we need sharks.” Arik lifted Dena’s hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. He must have been doing something else under the table, because Dena’s lids fluttered a bit, and I saw her breathing catch.

A moment later, she cleared her throat and smiled at me. “Yeah. Besides, sometimes sharks make good friends.”

“Spare me the kissing up.” I made a face at her, but was spared the chore of trying to find something else to talk about – the weather was up next – when the server appeared with our food.

I didn’t know when it became so hard to talk to my best friend, but for some reason, the things we normally talked about, now just didn’t seem to fit.

And there was no way in hell I was going to tell her that I was suddenly feeling the pangs of losing her and the others. Not while Arik was there, nuzzling on her knuckles and toying with her thigh – or other body parts – under the table.

I wouldn’t do that to her.

 

***

“You’ve been quiet tonight.”

Looking over at Dena as we walked down the sidewalk, I managed a strained smile. It had been good seeing her, nice getting to know Arik a little better, but…yeah, I’d been quiet. “I’m just tired.” Managing a shrug, I added, “It’s crazy at the office. I need to hire somebody to help out so I don’t get behind the next time I need to go out of town, but in the meantime, I’m dealing with all the stuff that piled up while I was gone. My admin is great for paperwork and phones, but she’s never worked with anybody in the legal area before, so I’d rather her not deal with anything important until I have time to teach her more.”

Dena seemed to accept that.

“Krissy looked…well, she looked good, didn’t she?” Dena asked after a few moments.

“Yeah.” I felt a tug in my chest as I thought about the baby she lost. “She looked good. DeVon is taking care of her.”

“I think they’re both taking care of each other,” Dena said. “He was pretty broken up too.”

“Yeah.” Blowing out a breath, I lifted my face to the sky. “I can’t imagine what they went through.”

“I don’t want to.”

We reached the end of the block and stopped. Dena was heading in one direction with Arik, me in another.

I wasn’t just talking about heading home, either.

Feel sorry for yourself later, I reminded myself.

“Pizza in a couple of weeks?” Dena asked.

“Absolutely.” I pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and nodded at Arik.

After hugging Dena, we went our separate ways, and I found myself wondering if the night out had been a good idea after all.

I’d wanted to see my friend, yet somehow, I now felt more alone than before.