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Sustained (Page 63)

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• • •

A few hours later I’m in the firm’s library, looking for several volumes among the long, crowded stacks. I feel Stanton watching me as he pulls his own book off the shelf.

“How are you doin’, man?”

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“How do you think I’m doing?” I reply without looking up.

“I think you’re all twisted up inside about his. Can’t decide who you want to kill first. That’s how I’d be—if it was Presley.” He pauses, waiting for my response. I pull a book from the shelf and scan its pages. “I just want you to know I’m here for you, Jake. Whatever you need.”

I slam the book closed with a bang, and I glare at him—not because he’s done anything, but just because he’s there. “A kid’s house is like their fortress. It protects them from the boogeyman, or whoever the fuck kids are afraid of nowadays.” My teeth grind. “And they came into their house and they took them, Stanton. You know what that does to a kid?”

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He nods. “Yeah, I do.”

I don’t want to talk about this. I just . . . can’t . . . go there right now. “You want to make me feel better?” I push the book in my hands against his chest. “Find me something I can use to walk in there on Monday and nail this fucker to the wall.”

• • •

A few hours after that, I’m at my desk, working on our response to CFSA’s motion for custody. Chelsea’s moved a chair closer to me. She sits, curled up like a kitten, watching me.

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“What’s that?” she asks, pointing to a huge mother of a text open on my desk.

“Those are statutes. The laws about child custody.”

She rests her head against her hand. “Why are they written like that?”

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“Well, the classic answer is so there’s no room for interpretation. So someone can’t argue it means anything other than exactly what it says. But I think they’re written like that just so lawyers can earn a shitload of money telling everyone else what they mean.”

My answer makes her smile softly. “And what’s that?” She points to another volume on my desk.

“That’s relevant case law. Decisions other judges have made in cases similar to yours. I use that to back up my argument. Judges like to follow the crowd—they’re real all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it kinds of people.”

She smiles again, blinking slowly, looking totally worn out. I brush her hair back. “Close your eyes, Chelsea. Get some rest.”

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And she doesn’t even argue with me.

• • •

It’s dark by the time Chelsea and I get into my car. I bring some files home with me—stuff I’ll work on later—but it seemed like she was done. Couldn’t stand being cooped up in the office for another minute. In contrast to her exhausted demeanor earlier, she seems wired now. Practically vibrating with unspent energy. Desperate.

Her foot taps on the floor of the car. “Can we pick up the dog and stay at your place tonight?”

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I don’t have to ask why she’s asking. Without the kids, the house feels like a tomb.

“Sure.”

She nods. “Hey—stop here real quick.” She points at a liquor store up ahead, its sign glowing green neon against the darkness. I pull up to the curb and Chelsea gets out. She returns a few minutes later, a large brown paper bag in tow. When we get to her house, she stays in the car while I grab Cousin It, then we head to my place.

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Chelsea sets the dog on the floor in my living room and walks straight into the kitchen. I stand in the doorway, watching her, as she takes two shot glasses out of the cabinet and fills both from the bottle of vodka she pulled out of the bag. Her movements are sharp, angry. She downs one shot like a pro and goes back for a second. She breathes out hard after the second shot, then fixes her gaze on me.

She picks up one of the glasses and stalks toward me; a little of the clear liquid sloshes onto the floor as she moves. Her face is serious, hard, and those crystal eyes glow with an almost predatory light. And fuck me if my cock doesn’t respond to the frantic energy pouring from her. I take the glass from her offered hand, and keeping my eyes trained on hers, I swallow the burning liquid down.

Chelsea licks her lips and backs up a step. Then she unbuttons her shirt slowly . . . like a challenge. The shirt hits the floor and her jeans smoothly follow.

“I can’t stop thinking.” Her usually sweet voice is lower, rougher—almost a growl. “I can’t turn my brain off, you know?” Her eyes fall to the shot glass as she pours herself another, but she doesn’t drink it yet. “It’s making me fucking crazy. I don’t want to think at all—about any of this.” Then she looks up at me through long lashes. “Think you can help me out with that?”

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I move fast, surprising her. My hand lashes out, gripping the back of her neck. It’s a harsh grasp, forceful, and I drag her closer until her bare skin is pressed right up against me. I pick up the shot glass.

“Open.”

Chelsea’s lips part and I raise the glass to them, pouring the liquid down. As soon as she swallows, my mouth is on hers, crashing and clashing, tasting the sting of vodka and her pain.

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I pull back and she’s panting. My other hand skims up her stomach, covering her breast. Her nipple hardens under my palm and I rasp, “Yeah. I know just how to help you with that.”

And neither one of us gets the chance to think the rest of the night.

• • •

Sunday morning, Chelsea wakes up before I do. I feel her move around the room, gathering her clothes, getting dressed, taking care of the dog. She comes back into the room and sits on the edge of the bed, waiting for me to open my eyes. When I do, there’s more life to her features. More . . . determination. And the knot that has been my stomach for the last two days loosens just a little.