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Jessica, our summer minion—also known as an intern—welcomes me with starry eyes and a stack of messages. “Good afternoon, Mr. Mason.”
I take the messages and avoid eye contact, keeping my face neutral. It’s a well-practiced move. Because interns are hungry, enthusiastic, willing to bend over backward.
And that’s particularly true of Jessica.
The way she stares, the way she accidentally brushes her tits against my arm, the way she walks by my office when I’m working late, says she’s willing to let me bend her any which way I want. And Jessica’s not your average-looking minion—tall, redheaded, with hips every man would imagine holding onto doggie style. She’s hot.
She’s also twenty-four.
I don’t know when twenty-four became too young—I just know it is.
“Thank you, Jessica.”
I walk up the stairs to the top floor. Dark-wood floors, original crown moldings, and bold-toned window dressings give the area a professional, historical elegance. Two desks—one occupied by our secretary, Mrs. Higgens, and one for our paralegal—are stationed along opposite walls, with two long, brown leather sofas facing each other on the remaining ones.
I nod to Mrs. Higgens and head into my office to work the rest of the afternoon.
• • •
At four o’clock I stick my head outside my office door to collect my client, Justin Longhorn. He’s a typical millennial slacker—brown messy hair, beat-up skinny jeans, a retro Nirvana T-shirt over a lanky form, his thumb busily sliding over the latest iPhone.
Before I can greet him, sixteen-year-old Riley McQuaid walks down the hallway. She’s been working here a couple of hours a week this summer. Riley is the oldest of the six McQuaid kids.
Jake’s McQuaid kids.
If you don’t understand the significance of that, you will in a second. Because what happens next feels just like watching a car crash in slow motion.
Or the mating dance of pubescent ostriches. There’s some really weird stuff on YouTube.
Their eyes drag over each other, head to matching-Converse-sneaker-covered toes.
Justin lifts his chin. “Hey.”
Riley pushes her curly brown hair behind her ear. “Hey.”
No good can come of this. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
“Heeey,” Jake says—in a low growl from his office doorway—where he looms large with crossed arms and quicksilver gray eyes.
Jake Becker is a hell of a guy, one of my closest friends. He can also be a scary overprotective motherfucker when he wants to be. The scowl he’s sending my client’s way has reduced older, larger men to tears.
But Justin doesn’t see it—because he’s too busy checking Riley out.
“I have some filing for you to do, Riley.” Jake jerks his thumb over his shoulder. “In my office.”
“Okay. Coming.” But she doesn’t—at least not right away. Not until after she bites her lip Justin’s way and utters the classic, “Later.”
Justin nods. “Definitely.”
Huh. Never would’ve pegged Justin as the suicidal type. But I guess you just never know.
After Riley slips past Jake into his office, he continues to hold Justin in the grip of his icy glare. And the kid has shit self-preservation instinct, because he nods his chin with a clueless, “S’up man.”
Jake’s face is as friendly as a rock.
I feel some responsibility for Justin. He’s my client; it’s my job to keep him out of jail and—you know—alive.
“Jake, I got this. I’ll . . . explain things.”
“I’d appreciate that,” he tells me darkly. Then, without another glance at Justin he disappears into his office.
I usher the teenager through my door and shut it behind him.
“Who was—” he starts to ask.
“Don’t,” I warn. Then I point to the chair. “Sit.”
“Stop.” My voice rumbles—grabbing his attention. Because I’m a happy guy. Carefree. Easygoing. Until I’m not. When those moments come, it gets a reaction. Justin sits.
I face him from across my desk. “Do you watch Game of Thrones, Justin?”
“Yeah, sure.” He answers, brows drawing together.
“Do you remember the episode where the one guy crushed the other guy’s head with his bare hands?”
“Yeah . . . ?”
I point toward the door. “You keep thinking about that girl the way you were thinking of her a minute ago—that’s what’s in your future.”
He sits back, considering my words—and probably imagining the terrifically brutal scene that can never be unseen by viewers all over the world.
But the boy’s persistent—gotta give him that. ’Cause he still tries, “But I—”
“You’re a seventeen-year-old hacker who’s being prosecuted for theft, wire fraud, and a host of other federal charges. And let’s be honest, Justin—you’re fucking guilty.” I point to the door again. “That girl is the daughter of my partner. His oldest daughter. You get me?” I hold my hands out over my desk, then slowly clench my fists. “Squish—just like a grape.”
Justin’s not a bad kid. He’s smart, funny. He reminds me of Matthew Broderick in WarGames—didn’t realize he was in deep shit until he was already at DEFCON 1. But Riley’s like a niece to me, so any kid who’s been “charged as an adult” at any point in his life just isn’t gonna make the cut.