Home > Meet Cute(4)

Meet Cute(4)
Author: Helena Hunting

“You know, Kay, maybe you should pull out one of those It’s My Life Daxton Barbie dolls you have and perform some voodoo. It might make you feel better.”

I roll my eyes. “I didn’t expect to see him, like, ever again, and he was so smirky and smug and kind of flirty and just . . . gah! And he’s still hot, and he still has all his hair. I just hate him!”

“So does that mean we’re not having that It’s My Life rerun marathon this weekend?”

I shoot her a dirty look. “That show is banned for life. Oh, and thanks so much for that clip you sent me this morning. It just happened to pop up right as the Hugheses came into my office.”

“Oh my God! What are the chances of that happening at that exact moment?”

I shoot anger beams at her from my eyes. “I almost died of embarrassment.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to have a rerun marathon? It might be cathartic to yell at him, even if it’s just on a TV screen.”

“Har har, Holly, har har.” I exhale a long slow breath and run my hands over my thighs. I really need to calm down. “Okay, I think I’m done venting. Sorry. That man just riles me up in the worst way. Let’s change the subject. How’s work? How’s that adoption case you were dealing with? Is everything okay there?”

Holly smiles, but it’s sad. “Physically, Hope is thriving.”

“Uh-oh. It sounds like there’s a ‘but’ in there.” This is what I need, a distraction from Daxton Hughes and his gorgeous smirk and asshole attitude.

“Unfortunately the birth mother has had a change of heart and there’s a problem with the adoption paperwork.”

That makes me sit up straighter. Holly is a social worker and often deals with custody issues. “What kind of problem?”

“The lawyer who drew up the contracts was sloppy about it, and the adoptive parents, the Lipsons, didn’t see the loopholes. It looks like the birth mom might be able to take custody of Hope.”

My stomach sinks. Her mother is a recovering addict, and while she was clean through the pregnancy, past behavior has had her falling into old patterns when the stress gets to be too much. Sadly, retaining custody of Hope is more about the government check than being able to raise her.

I tap on the edge of the table, considering the options for the Lipsons. As someone who was adopted at the age of three and removed from a home where love was only shown to the public assistance check that came on a monthly basis, I found the travesty in this a particularly difficult pill to swallow. “What if I could take on the case pro bono?”

Holly shakes her head. “You’re working toward a partnership. You don’t have time to take on something like this. Besides, it’s so close to your own experience.”

“Which is exactly why I should take it on. Who better to fight for these parents than someone who’s experienced the flaws in the system? It might actually help me earn the partnership in the long run. I’ll talk to Beverly, but I think she’ll see the benefit.”

“Are you sure? It’s a lot to add to your caseload.” Holly’s hopeful expression fortifies my resolve. While I’ve spent the past five years working primarily in trusts, I’ve always been interested in this side of law. Enough that I’ve studied adoption contracts and cases outside of work hours. It’s sort of a hobby, which is a little sad, I realize, since it’s also related to work.

“If it keeps one little girl with a loving family, then it’s worth it. I’ll just have to cancel all my Friday night dates.” I grin cheekily, hoping to lighten the mood.

Holly rolls her eyes. “You can’t do that. I’ll be lonely.”

We both laugh.

Holly pokes at the lemon floating in her glass with the end of her straw. “But seriously, we should probably think about dating actual men one of these days.”

I snort. “Boyfriends are too much work. They want things, like time and energy.”

“And blow jobs, don’t forget those.” Holly snickers.

“Yes, all things I don’t have to spare or really don’t feel like giving freely. Besides, I have cats. They’re lower maintenance.” Linus and Shirley are my sweet tabbies. The only time they’re a problem is when I’m cooking bacon, but otherwise they’re incredibly well behaved.

She spears a fry and points it at me. “If you ever run into Daxton again, you could give hate fucking him a try. I hear it’s a good way to exorcise a grudge.”

“Since I’m not planning on running into him ever again, it looks like I just get to hold on to that grudge.”

chapter two



Six Months Later

I’m staring at a stupid meme—of myself. The image is more than a decade and a half old, but it never seems to stop circulating the internet abyss. It’s one of those I Hate Monday memes, complete with an ugly cry face.

One of my colleagues and close friends sent it early this morning, so it’s the first email I check. Felix McQueen, a defense lawyer at Freeman and Associates, does it at least once a month under the guise of an URGENT email. We’ve been tight since undergrad, so I put up with his shit.

Also, his emails often are urgent, so I rarely hesitate to open them. He thinks he’s being funny, but in reality it’s another reminder that I will never live down my years as a child TV star, no matter how far I’ve come since the days of Teen Beat magazine spreads.

The knock on my door has me closing the email. Not that it matters. Everyone in the office has seen the same damn meme at some point. Felix has a coffee mug boasting the image, and he loves to drink out of it at meetings. Because he’s an asshole. Whatever. At least my humiliation is profitable. And I’m immune to it. Mostly.

I flip Felix off as his head appears in the doorway. “Thanks for being an asshole, asshole.”

He makes a face, one I can’t really read. “Sorry about the stupid email. I wouldn’t have sent it if I’d known.”

“Known what?”

He mutters something I don’t catch, his expression somber, almost convincing in his remorse. “I gotta talk to you.”

I lean back in my chair and cross my arms over my chest, a heavy feeling I can’t explain settling in my gut. I brush it off with sarcasm. “I already know there’s a twenty-four-hour It’s My Life marathon this weekend. No, I don’t want to watch it with you and let my vagina hang out.”

He closes the door behind him and passes a hand over his tie. He seems fidgety, which is unlike him.

“What’s wrong? Did you lose the Kent case?” The jury has been deliberating for two days. It’s only a matter of time before they make a decision, but it could go either way.

Felix shakes his head, refusing to look me in the eye as he comes around the side of my desk. “It’s not about a case.”

“Well then, what’s it about? What’s with this?” I motion to his serious face.

He scrubs at his chin with his palm, expelling a long breath. “Your parents were in a car accident.”

Disbelief needles under my skin, but anger is what pushes to the surface. “Don’t fuck with me, Felix.”

He licks his lips, throat bobbing with a hard swallow. “I wish I was, but I’m not.”

My chair flies backward as I push to stand, making the glass rattle when it connects with the windowpane behind me. “Are they okay? Which hospital were they taken to? How bad was the accident?”

The answers I don’t want are already written on his face in grief. “It was fatal. I’m so sorry.”

His statement ricochets around in my head, the word fatal a blow to the heart. “They’re . . . dead? Both of them?” I have to strain to hear him over the rush of blood in my ears.

“They were on the freeway. A tractor trailer jackknifed.”

“How did you find out? How do you know this?” Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion and fast-forward at the same time. My mind spins with this new, horrifying truth.

“The police are here. I thought it would be better if the news came from someone who gives a shit. I’m so sorry, Dax. The police said they died on impact. Your parents wouldn’t have felt anything.”

I reach behind me for my chair and drop back into it, my legs suddenly watery. I drag a palm down my face, the news pinging around in my head, unwilling to settle. A crushing realization hammers into me: This loss isn’t just mine. This sudden gaping hole in my chest is echoed in another, more fragile body. “Emme?”

“She’s at school. She doesn’t know yet.”

I root around in my desk for my keys. “I have to— I need to get her. I need to be the one who tells her. I don’t want anyone else to tell her.” Poor Emme. I’m thirty and this is crushing me. How is this going to impact my kid sister? How is she going to survive without parents?

I round my desk only to have Felix step in front of the door. “Whoa, Dax, you can’t drive.”

I fist the lapels of his suit jacket, anger and grief stealing rationality. “They’re her world. I need to get her, and you need to get out of my fucking way.”

He puts his hands on my shoulders, none of my aggression echoed in him. “I know, man. I’ll take you. You have to keep it together though, okay? You’re all she has. If you need to fall apart, do it now, because you have to be in control once you get to her.”

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