Practice Makes Perfect

Page 24


She was being mean, really mean, and she knew it. But Payton couldn’t seem to stop herself—the floodgates had opened and all the emotions of the last twenty minutes were pouring out.
She saw J.D.’s eyes flash with anger. “Oh, but what about what you can give them, Payton?”
“This should be good. Enlighten me.”
“Diversity. If they chose you, the Partnership Committee can pat themselves on the back for hiring the right demographic.”
With a loud slam, Payton threw the book she had been holding onto the shelf next to her. Dust flew everywhere, including onto the sleeve of J.D.’s jacket. “Diversity?” she repeated incredulously. “Why don’t you look around this firm sometime—everyone here is just like you, J.D. White with a penis.”
Ignoring this, J.D. pointed to the dust on his sleeve. “Take it easy on the suit, cupcake. This was hand-tailored in London.”
“Oh—I’m sorry. I guess you’ll just have to pick up another one the next time you visit Her Majesty for tea. Isn’t she another friend of the family?” Angrily, Payton shoved J.D. out of her way and stormed through the stacks.
J.D. followed after her. “Are you saying I don’t deserve this?” he demanded. “I’ve billed over twenty-nine hundred hours for the past eight years!”
Payton whipped around. “So have I! And the only difference between you and me is that statistics say you’re more likely to keep it up. The firm doesn’t worry that one day you’ll decide you want to leave at five to kiss your kids good night.”
J.D. stepped closer to her. Then closer again, literally trapping her against the bookshelves.
“Spare me the feminist rant, Payton. It’s getting a little tired. I’ve had to work my ass off to get where I am, while you had your ticket written from the minute you stepped into this firm.”
Payton felt her face flush with anger. “Really? Well, you know what I think, J.D.?” She jabbed his chest with one of her fingers. “I think that you are an uptight, pony-owning, trickle-down-economics-loving, Scotch-on-the-rocks-drinking, my-wife-better-take-my-last-name sexist jerk!”
J.D. grabbed her hand and pulled it away. “Well, at least I’m not a stubborn, button-pushing, Prius-driving, chip-on-your-shoulder-holding, ‘stay-at-home-mom’-is-the-eighth-dirty-word-thinking feminazi!”
He had her pressed against the bookshelves, his body against hers, her hand pinned to her side as he glared down at her. She glared up at him right back.
He was furious. So was she.
Neither of them moved. And in that moment, the strangest thought popped into Payton’s head.
She had the feeling that J.D. was going to kiss her.
And—even stranger—she had a feeling that she just might let him.
J.D. must have read the look on her face. Payton saw his eyes flash—but not with anger this time—and she felt his hand suddenly reach for the nape of her neck, the strength of his arms pulling her in, his head bending down to hers, and even as she cursed him for thinking she would ever, ever allow it, she closed her eyes and parted her lips and—
“Excuse me.”
The shock of the voice hit Payton like a cold bucket of ice.
She blinked as if coming out of a fog, and both she and J.D. turned their heads to see Agnes standing at the end of the aisle, waving at them. Payton could only imagine how it looked, the two of them wild-eyed and pressed up against each other.
But the amiable librarian was either extremely discreet or more likely—given the Coke-bottle-sized glasses perched high atop her nose—extremely blind. She smiled at them as they stood there, frozen.
“I just wanted to remind you that we close in ten minutes,” she said pleasantly.
“Thank you, Agnes,” Payton said, her breath ragged. Perhaps if they didn’t move, the octogenarian couldn’t see them. Like T. rex.
“We’ll be just a moment longer,” J.D. said. His voice sounded husky. Sexy.
Payton had no idea why she just thought that.
Agnes nodded, then left. As soon as she was out of sight, Payton angrily shoved J.D. off her.
“Stay away from me, Jameson,” she said, her voice still a little shaky. She cleared her throat and hoped she wasn’t blushing.
J.D. straightened up and adjusted his suit indifferently. “Not a problem. In fact, it’s my pleasure.” With a nod, he stepped out of her way.
Payton moved past him, eyes facing forward. But when she got to the end of the aisle, she couldn’t help it—she turned and looked back.
“Oh, and by the way”—she flung her hair back confidently—“that partnership spot is mine.”
J.D. looked her over. “Don’t bet your Prius on that.” With a haughty wink, he brushed past her and coolly walked out of the library.
That was her defense.
The stress of finding out she might not make partner had momentarily made her lose it, all the marbles, gone.
Not to mention the high-altitude sickness. Her body simply wasn’t used to the lower oxygen levels of the fifty-fifth floor.
But all that had now passed.
Payton thankfully was once again clearheaded and focused. She had come this far, she would not lose now, she would not let these last eight years all have been for nothing. In other words—
This was war.
She called Laney during the cab ride home from work. She told her best friend everything. Everything about her meeting with Ben that is, about the Partnership Committee’s decision to name only one litigation partner. She did not, however, see any point in discussing her argument with J.D. Whatever that little blowout was, it was over. She had a career, one potentially in jeopardy, to focus on.