One in the Morning – Ticking Clock Series, Short Story Two

Want to read the first installment? Just click here!

 Midnight

Welcome to the second installment of the Ticking Clock Series! Happy Valentine’s Day and I hope you enjoy Jack’s and Adeline’s second story! A special thanks to the wonderful Sarah Arndt for all her help with this piece! Thank you, Sarah!

OneintheMorning

I looked down at my desk, two fingers went to my lips, remembering the one and only kiss Jack and I had shared at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was February of the following year and every day since, almost every thought was consumed by that kiss.

That unbelievable kiss.

I let my hand drop and sighed audibly. Jane, my administrative assistant, called out to me.
“You okay?”
“Fine, of course.” I shook my thoughts away and searched my desktop. “Actually, I’m missing that cell phone file from the Martinelli case.”
Mason Martinelli had been accused of murdering his longtime business partner. The prosecution had ample evidence against him. I knew he was innocent, though. I just had no way of proving it.
Jane stood up and headed toward the file room. “I put it up last night. I’ll just fetch it.”
“Thank you,” I told her, my thoughts already turning another direction.
Jack had been right. The partners put me on as the junior attorney the first week of January on the firm’s most high profile case in years and I’d been nonstop since. They’d given me a temporary office to work out of, which at the time felt like a boon, but it was isolating me from the other juniors and they were starting to treat me differently. I could see them in their wing of the firm, though, often laughing at something Jack said.
I loved that I’d been singled out, don’t get me wrong, but every advance in this firm also meant an inundation of additional social politics. It was pretty exhausting, which is why I appreciated Jack’s daily question, a reference to a promise we’d made on New Year’s.
“Are you keeping focused?” his deep voice would ask me every morning in the elevator ride up to our floor.
“Yes,” I’d always answer. “Are you?” I’d ask.
“Trying to,” he’d say.
But that’s all we’d say to each other. He’d not asked me out, he would hardly approach unless it was work related, aside from his morning question, and he’d not broached the subject of the roof a single time. If his lips hadn’t burned themselves into mine that night, I would have thought it was all in my imagination.
“Here you go,” Jane said, setting down the files with a smile.
She returned to her desk and I flipped the file open, perusing over the numbers in a call log in search of one number in particular. I’d been up until three that morning and only gotten three hours of sleep before returning right back to work. I dragged my fingers down my face.
“Jane, can you grab me a cup of joe?” I called out but she didn’t answer. “Jane?” I asked but got no answer.
I stood and approached my door. She wasn’t there. Resigned to get it myself, I stretched in my doorway, fought off the hundredth yawn that morning and booked it toward the kitchen coffee cart. I poured myself a cup and perused the creamers for a second.
“Try that one,” Jack offered, surprising me a little. In return, I gave him a small smile and picked up the suggested creamer, pouring a little into my coffee. “You look exhausted,” he added, leaning against a nearby pillar.
“What a compliment,” I teased him.
He smirked at me. “You were here awfully late.”
I picked up a stirrer and killed the bit of marbled liquid in my cup. It always makes me a little sad since the patterns are always so pretty. “How do you know how late I was?” I asked.
“I was here when you left.”
I stared up at him. “What? Why?”
“Working,” he said.
“Working on what?” I pried.
“A couple of things for one of the partners.”
“Can’t say what it is?” I asked him.
He bit his lip to keep from smiling. “Not really.”
“I see.”
He looked me up and down. “You’re not eating well.”
“Whenever I get anxious, I lose my appetite.”
“What are you anxious for?” he asked.
“This case.” I looked into his eyes. “A man’s life hangs in the balance.”
“It’s heavy,” he agreed.
“Our client didn’t do it.”
Jack nodded up and down. “It looks like he did, though.”
“I know,” I said, feeling a bit sick to my stomach. I leaned in closer to him. He held his breath when I did, though I wasn’t sure why. “Smith is starting to suggest he take the plea deal.”
Jack’s eyes blew wide. “No way.”
I stepped back again and Jack’s shoulders relaxed. “It’s true.”
His hands went to his forehead for a moment. “Why in the world would he do that? He knows what scrutiny we’re under from the media. It would make the firm look terrible.”
I nodded. Dare I suggest it? “A fresh pair of eyes might help me,” I laid out there. Jack stood so still it unnerved me. “I mean, unless you’re swamped or whatever.”
He took a deep breath. “No,” he cleared his throat, “of course. Uh, just let me delegate some stuff. Meet you in your office?” he asked.
I swallowed and tried for casual. “Uh, yeah, that would be cool. Thanks.”
“Yeah, no problem,” he said and walked toward the other juniors hovering over someone’s computer along the back of the cubicles. When they saw him coming, they scattered like school children, which made me giggle.
I scurried over to my office and wildly signaled to Jane to follow me in. She did as I directed and shut the door behind her.
“I’m a floosy,” I told Jane.
“What are you talking about?”
“I, uh, I’m stuck on the cell phone thing. I know there’s something there but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
Jane cocked her head to the side. “How does that make you a floosy?”
“Because I just asked Jack to come be a fresh pair of eyes,” I said, adding finger quotes.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Even without your crush, he’s still the most capable junior besides yourself. You’re being too hard on yourself.”
I ran to my office mirror and started fluffing my hair. “Yeah, but my motivation isn’t altruistic. Therein lies the floosy part.”
Jane rolled her eyes at me and handed me my lip gloss.
“Hey, if it gets Mason exonerated-” she let lie in the air.
I looked at Jane and nodded. “You’re right. Let’s find Mason’s innocence.”
“Damn straight,” she said, dabbing Coach perfume on my neck with my travel roll-on.
When I stood in front of her, she smiled. “You look like a femme fatale.”
I opened my mouth in approval. “Jane, you’re proving to be a very useful assistant.”
“What can I say?” she said. She studied me. “Just one more thing,” she said, reaching for my top button.
“Jane!” I said slapping at her hands.
“Just stop fighting me!” she insisted, trying to undo my button.
I kept slapping at her but she was dogged and got that puppy undone just as a knock on the door came.
We both scrambled like we’d been caught doing something and I slid into my rolling chair, the momentum of which caused me to glide away from my desk. Jane pushed me back into place and ran to open the door.
“Oh, hello, Jack,” she said. She turned toward me. “I’ll get on that right away.”
I shrugged my shoulders in question. She rolled her eyes at me once I realized it was meant to make me sound as if we were doing something important, not primping me up like the floosy I was. Jack entered and she closed the door behind us.
He cleared his throat and averted his eyes. “You, uh,” he said, throwing a hand my way.
I looked down and saw that, in our tussle, Jane had unbuttoned me past my bra. “Oh my gosh!” I said, fastening them back up again.
I’m going to kill Jane, I thought.
“Sorry about that,” I tried to play off.
“It’s fine,” he said, his neck bright red. He sat down in the chair in front of my desk and leaned over the files. “What are we looking at?”
“Yeah, so,” I began, pulling out the text scripts for the past six months on Mason’s phone, “the answer is in here somewhere. I just know it.” I tossed a date I’d been particularly agonizing over his way and flipped it to the second page. “See this,” I said, pointing at a text between Mason and his business partner Zach. “Look at how stilted and awkward the language is here.” I grabbed another page. “But then look here,” I said pointing to several earlier dates. “Completely different tone, a very casual tone. Zach doesn’t bother with grammar either.” I pointed back to the original document. “But here the grammar is perfect.
“Can we subpoena to have Zach’s phone records?” Jack asked.
“Already did.”
Jack sat back, holding both documents in hand. He read them over for at least five minutes then laid them back down on my desk. He sat and thought in that Jack way of his and I stayed quiet while perusing the documents again.
“You know what’s weird?” I asked him.
“Hmm,” he said, distracted.
“Look at the texts the day of the murder. Zach keeps using the incorrect phrase get the ball going but several weeks before that, says get the ball rolling here,” I said pointing to an earlier date.
“Could mean anything,” he said, tucking his hands behind his head.
I bit my lip. “Maybe, but I don’t think so. It’d be one thing if it was an isolated thing but every time I encounter texts to Mason where the flow feels off, there are small mistakes I don’t think Zach makes anywhere else.”
Jack looked thoughtful, shook his head and sighed. “Damn, you think someone was texting Mason using Zach’s phone?”
“I do, which is why I want Zach’s phone records. I want to see if the blocks of those awkward texts had been deleted.”
“I wonder why in the hell we haven’t gotten Zach’s records already.”
“The prosecution could care less what Zach’s phone reads. The less we know from Zach, the more solid their case against Mason. They feel like they’ve got ample evidence against him with his texts alone. It would have been up to us to subpoena Zach’s.”
“We should have gotten them over a month ago,” he added, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I, uh, I tried,” I whispered.
Jack looked at me. “You tried getting the records?”
I nodded.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Motion denied.”
He sat up a little. “Adeline.”
“Jack.”
“Motion denied?” he asked, disbelief in his tone.
“On grounds it was beyond the scope of discovery.”
He stood up slowly and began to pace the room. “That just can’t be. How did the partners react?” he asked me.
“Partner.”
“Huh?”
“Just Smith. Smith is handling this on his own. He insisted.”
“Strange,” he thought out loud. “When did this happen?”
“Last week. He wanted it very hush hush.”
“Stranger,” he sighed. “Well, what did he say?”
“That we’d just have to find another way without the records.”
He stopped in his tracks, staring down at the tops of his shoes. “No one in their right mind would accept that motion.”
I swallowed. “I knowk.”
He looked at me. “What’s going on?”
I looked through the glass wall, across the blocks of assistant desks and into Smith’s office. “I need to take a walk, get some blood into my brain. Care to come with me?” I asked him.
He studied me. “Sure,” he said, reaching for my coat on its hook and holding it out for me. I slipped it on and he grabbed his own coat before we headed down the elevator. Neither of us said a word to one another until we were out of the building and two blocks down.
“What judge?” Jack asked.

“Collins,” I told him.
He sat still for a moment. “Shit,” he whispered.
“What?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “Do you know anything about him?” he asked me.
“Only that he denied the motion.”
“Do you know who Collins eats lunch with every afternoon?”
“Please tell me not one of our guys.”
He nodded his head, looking disgusted. “Smith.”
“How do you even know this?” I asked.
He sighed. “I saw them together once at that deli off Hoyt.”
“Freaking Brooklyn?” I asked. “Why the hell all the way over there?”
“I don’t know. I thought it weird so I went back the next day and the next.”
“And?”
“And they were definitely there together.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I repeated over and over, trying to make sense of it all. “Maybe denying the subpoena was a mistake.”
He looked at me, his brows furrowed, “Adeline.”
“What are you implying? That Smith is sabotaging his own firm’s case?”
“Maybe.”
“If that’s it, we’re playing with fire.”
“Okay, well, then we have two choices. We could give them all the benefit of the doubt, hope it was a mistake, ignore it or we could do a little digging, make sure it isn’t something more than a mistake.”
“We could suggest a change of venue,” I told him.
“Claim the jury can’t be objective, I guess.”
“Should I throw it out there to the other partners?”
He watched me. “I don’t know, Adeline. I don’t want you on Smith’s radar.”
“They’ll need a reason why I want to move, though.”
“Take it to Walker,” he said. “She’s on the up and up. She’d flip her shit if something like this was actually going on.”
“Okay.”
“But do it discretely. Don’t start accusing Smith outright. At least not until we have real proof.”
“Of course.”
We started walking back, stopping at a cross walk, waiting for the light to change.
“Say it’s all true. Why would Smith do this?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
“Why make your own firm look bad?”
“That’s a great question. One that makes me think this could all be a wash.”
“I hope so.”
The sign indicated we could walk so I took a step off the curb just as a cab came at us going too fast. “Adeline!” he shouted, whipping me back so fast my head slammed into his collarbone. My heart was beating a million beats a minute as the cab came to a screeching halt a few scant inches away from me. A couple of pedestrians started screaming at the driver but I was frozen where I stood. My breaths came in pants as did Jack’s. His own heart beat so rapidly I could feel it through the skin on my back, his hands gripped at my arms.
He whipped me around toward him. “You all right?” he asked, his eyes wide, panicked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I told him, out of breath. “A little startled.”
He kept his hands on my arms as he checked me over to make sure I was telling the truth. Eventually he let me go and we started to cross the street, keeping me on his right, away from the cab driver who was screaming at the group surrounding him. He put an arm around me but pointed with his free hand at the driver.
“You could have killed her! Get your shit together, asshole!”
The guy started yelling but Jack ignored him. I looked up at him then down at his hand on my shoulder. It was shaking.
“Jack,” I quieted.
“Yes,” he said as we stepped up onto the sidewalk again.
“Why haven’t we talked about the kiss?” He audibly swallowed. “If you regret it, let me know now. If you’re second-guessing admitting your vulnerabilities, don’t worry, I’m not vindictive. I’ll take them to my grave. Just tell me now so I can move on.”
“I have very many regrets in my life, Adeline Dawson, but kissing you is definitely not one of them.”
He let go of my shoulder and pushed through our building’s doors. He held it out for me but refused to make eye contact. I followed him toward the elevators and we piled on, finding spots in the back as others filled in beside us. A haunting piano melody rang over the speakers and finally his eyes met mine. He opened his mouth but closed it. As we rode up, all the other riding passengers starting peeling off and we were the last two left.
“Are you working late?” he asked.
“Of course.”
“So am I,” he said just as the doors opened and he left me behind.
I was so confused by him I lingered too long in the elevator and the doors started to close. I shot my hand out to open them up again and slid out onto the lobby’s marble foyer. My heels clicked on the stone below as I made my way toward Walker’s office. I passed Smith in the hall and tried my best to look casual.
“Mr. Smith,” I greeted.
“Adeline,” he oozed.
I kept walking but could feel Smith’s eyes on the back of my neck. I stifled the urge to shiver.
“Karen,” I said, greeting Cory Walker’s secretary, “does Cory have a moment?”
“Of course, just a second,” she smiled.
When she got permission, I pushed open Cory Walker’s heavy office door and walked into her office.
“Miss Dawson, what can I do for you?” Cory asked. She was sitting at her desk, her face buried in paper.
“I’d like to request a change of venue for the Martinelli case.”
Her eyes whipped up. The reading glasses perched at the end of her nose went sliding off, landing on her chest and hanging from their sleek chain. “Why?”
“Well,” I said, feeling nervous, “I feel like the media coverage of this thing is just too much. Jury couldn’t possibly be objective enough.”
Cory sat back in her chair, an incredulous look on her face. “Why are you bringing this to me? Why not Smith?” she asked.
Keep it cool. “I just thought of you first.”
She cocked her head to the side. “But this is Smith’s case. He’s more senior than even I. You’ve been dealing with him daily. Why me?”
My throat went dry. “I-,” I began but she interrupted me.
“Go. Stop wasting my time. Go to Smith.”
“Yes,” I said, feeling my cheeks heat up.
“And Miss Dawson?”
“Yes, ma’am?”
“Don’t try to go above another partner’s head again. It makes you appear disloyal. Are you disloyal?”
I swallowed. “No, of course not.”
She nodded her head once, dismissing me and I practically sprinted from her office, down the hall. Jack caught my eyes but I stared down at the ground, afraid I’d cry. Although it couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds, it felt like hours when I finally reached my own office and closed the door behind me, fighting tears.
A knock rang through the room. “Adeline, are you okay?” Jane asked.
“Yes, Jane, thank you. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
“Are you sure?” she asked softly.
“Yes, thank you,” I said, breathing through my nose slowly, trying to keep my composure.
I heard Jane and a man talking through my door then suddenly Jack came through to my office. “You okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied, prying up the lid to my laptop.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It backfired,” I confessed. “I tried to have a convo about a change of venue but got called out as disloyal instead.”
Jack leaned back against the frosted glass wall in my office. “Shit.”
“Walker was not impressed that I tried to go over Smith.”
“Son of a-,“ he sighed. “I’m sorry, Adeline. It was my idea to try Walker.”
“Yes, it was.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, well, now I have to go to Smith before Walker does.”
“Tell him it was my idea.”
I snorted as I stood, straightening out my skirt and blouse. “That would only make it worse.” I met his eyes. “Listen, don’t worry about it.”
I rounded my desk and grabbed the door handle, leaving Jack behind me but not for long. He came out and stood by Jane’s desk as I crossed through over to Smith’s office. I didn’t bother talking to his receptionist and knocked on his door instead.
“Come in,” I heard on the other side.
I walked in but instead of finding him alone as I’d anticipated, I found Cory Walker in there with him.
Shit! “Ah, Miss Dawson, we were just talking about you,” Smith said, pouring himself a finger’s worth of whisky.
“I see,” I said.
He looked at me, anger seething from every pore. “I’ve decided to put another junior on in your place for the Martinelli case,” he said.
“Wait, what?” I asked, shocked.
“That little stunt you just pulled? It shows me you’re not ready so I’m replacing you. Clean out your desk and go back to the juniors, please.”
“Wait, I can’t even explain myself?”
“Absolutely not,” Smith said, eyeing me up and down. “Get out.”
I nodded, backed out of the room, and shut the door behind me. It felt like every eye in the firm was watching as I trudged back to what had just been my office.
Jack stood from where he’d propped himself at the edge of Jane’s desk. “What happened?”
“He pulled me off the case.”
“What the hell?” he said.
I ignored him, grabbed my laptop and bag, as well as all the files, thought twice about it, and left the files where they sat. I also left the stupid little plant my mom had sent me when she’d heard I’d been assigned to the case. I made the walk of shame back to the junior cubicles and sat in my old cubbyhole while the other juniors watched me, wondering what the hell just happened and what it would mean for them.
Embarrassed, I opened up my laptop again and went back to one of the firm’s pro bono cases, one I’d been working on before I’d been assigned to the Martinelli case.
“Can I talk to you for a moment?” Jack asked quietly.
“How important is it?” I asked, barely holding it together.
“I suppose not very,” he answered.
“Can we talk about it later then?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.

I went home early that day.

The next morning, I showed up at five a.m., eager to get in before everyone else and to start hiding away before they had a chance to stare me down later. By the end of the previous day, everyone had discovered what had happened and a few were already teasing me about it. It was beyond humiliating.
“Adeline,” I heard behind me.
Startled, I turned to find Jack. “What are you doing here so early?”
“I figured you’d be here already.”
“What do you want?” I asked, setting down my stuff.
“I want you know that I only suggested Walker because I thought she would have been more receptive to you than the other partners.”
“Yeah, well, it didn’t work out that way.”
“Yes, and I’m so sorry.”
“Let me guess,” I said, meeting his eyes. “They put you on the case?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“What?”
“They gave it to Rob.”
“Shut up.”
“I’m serious.”
“Did you turn them down or something?” I asked.
“No, Smith singled him out.”
“But Rob is an idiot.”
“I know,” Jack agreed.
I sat down. “Huh.”
“Yeah, huh.”
“He picked the dumbest junior. Why?”
“Adeline, I think we can all guess as to why.”
“Because he needs a yes-man. He needs someone who won’t delve too deeply.”
“Bingo.”
“Son of a gun,” I said, slapping my hand on the desk.
“We wanted proof,” Jack said, “I think we’ve just gotten a little bit closer to it.”
I shook my head. “What in the world are we going to do, Jack?”
“For starters, we’re getting some breakfast.”
“No, I can’t do that right now,” I said, pulling my computer out.
“Bull. You haven’t been eating and I don’t intend on standing by while you wither away. Come on.”
He took my hand and pulled me up, grabbing my coat and holding it out for me. We went to a nearby diner and I ordered a huge stack of pancakes.
“Let’s try to answer the most basic question,” I said. “Why does Smith want to throw this case?’
“Why would Collins help him? Out of loyalty or does he have a bigger stake in all this?” Jack added.
“Let’s start with why he took it on in the first place.”
“Let’s assume he took it on to make sure they got Mason exactly where they wanted him.”
“Tell me what you know about Mason’s company,” he said.
“It’s a simple app development company. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much, but Mason is a bit of a genius.” Jack took a sip from his coffee cup. “He’s developed this augmented reality program that will revolutionize how applications are made in the future.”
“No kidding.”
“It’s supposed to be worth several billion dollars. Zach’s share was a cool one billion, though. Zach is- was notorious in the industry for knowing the right people and getting the numbers. He was indispensable to Mason. Mason told me that himself.”
“So why would a guy on the verge of cashing it all in want to murder the guy trying to get it a buyer?”
“Exactly,” I said, swishing a bite of pancake through syrup.
“We need to get Ned on this,” he added.
“Already tried but Smith stopped me.”
Jack raised a brow my way. “Curious.”
“Maybe Ned’s got a friend?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said, picking up his phone. He looked at me and grinned, which made my stomach flip. “Ned, it’s Jack.” He looked thoughtful. “Yeah, thanks, well, uh, I need a personal favor. Do you know another investigator I could use? Someone trustworthy?” He laughed. “You don’t want this. Trust me, man.” He paused for a second, listening to Ned, before taking a pen out of his pocket and writing down a name and number on a napkin. “Thanks, Ned. I owe you one. Okay, cool. Yeah, talk to you later.”
Jack hung up and slid the napkin my way. “Shall we?”
Three days passed before we heard from Ned’s acquaintance again. We’d kept busy with much of the pro bono work we’d been assigned but that didn’t stop the knots in our stomachs from forming since the day I’d been demoted. We’d not spoken of anything other than work, no surprise there, and I was starting to forget the way Jack’s lips felt like, which added another element to my stomach I wasn’t accustomed to. An aching longing. I didn’t like it. No, I hated it.
“Hey, want to go to lunch?” Jack asked.
I looked up at him, raised both brows. He nodded once.
“Sure,” I said. I scrambled to shut down my computer and yanked my coat up. We didn’t say anything as we headed toward the elevators. I pressed the down arrow button and we waited for the doors to open. I kept tapping my toe on the marble and it echoed across the lobby.
“Nervous,” a voice asked. Startled, I looked around and saw it was Smith.
“No,” I lied, “just hungry. Excited for lunch. There’s a giant sandwich with my name on it,” I explained away, trying to seem offhand.
Smith laughed. “Careful, though, wouldn’t want someone as pretty as yourself to let yourself go.”
My mouth dropped open. I was too shocked to say anything.
“With all due respect, sir,” Jack jumped in, “Adeline’s value isn’t in her figure. It’s here,” he said, tapping the side of his head, “and here,” he added, tapping his chest. And just like that Smith was forgotten. My heart leapt into my throat.
Smith laughed. “Romantic fool,” he said, then walked away.
Jack’s neck was turning red so as soon as the elevator doors opened, I dragged him in with me.
“The nerve of that ass,” he said, his hands forming fists.
The doors closed and I pressed for the building’s main lobby.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
He faced me. “Please don’t listen to that immoral and, let’s admit it, hypocritical jerk.”
I laughed. “He’s already forgotten.”
He straightened his jacket and his breathing began to steady. “Adeline,” he said, his voice strained, “I-,” but we were interrupted by others getting on and off.
It wasn’t until we were at street level that his eyes met mine again. “Don’t give up on me yet.”
“Why?”
“Just,” he swallowed, “just don’t give up on me.”
“I won’t,” I told him.
We caught a cab and met the private investigator at a coffee shop. He introduced himself to us then proceeded to tell us everything he knew.
“Did you know there was another company touting the sale of a product identical to Mason’s?” he asked us.
I looked up at Jack then back at the P.I. “We had no clue. I don’t think even Mason knew. He would have told us, I’m sure of it. What company?”
A waitress dropped off our coffees, setting down a plate of heart-shaped cookies as well.
“We didn’t order cookies,” I said.
“They’re on the house. Tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day,” she said with a wink.
Jack glanced at me and I swallowed.
The P.I. flipped through a stack of papers in a manila folder. It felt strange knowing a man’s innocence hung within the knowledge written on those papers.
“Company called Dev Inc.” He handed a sheet of paper over to us. “It’s fairly small. Here’s a list of everyone involved there.” He scooted the folder our way. “There was an investment firm who’d made an offer.” He pointed at a number at the bottom of a copied contract. “Seven billion dollars,” he said.
Jack whistled. “Damn, I’m in the wrong business,” he said, making me laugh.
“Me too,” the P.I. added. He closed the folder and handed it over. “If I’d had more time, I could have done some digging on Dev.”
“This is a great start, though,” Jack said. “Mason goes to trial next week but at least we have a possible motive for a third party to have taken Zach out.”
The investigator nodded. “Be careful,” he said. “Even this small bit of info could get any one of us killed.” He sat up and took a swig from his coffee cup. “Which is why I think I’ll be heading out of town for a few days.”
He stood up and stretched. “Good luck,” he said and headed out the door.
Jack closed the manila folder and looked at me. “Holy shit, Adeline.”
“Let’s give Mason a call, shall we?”
Jack nodded and called to the barista for another cup of coffee for each of us, this time sans the cookies. Who knew a cookie could make your heart pound?
I dialed the prison where Mason was being held. The firm had yet to remove me from the call list so I was patched through, thank God. After a few minutes, Mason came to the phone.
“Hello,” he said.
“Mason, it’s Adeline.”
“Hey, Adeline, how goes it?”
“I think I might have something but I just want to ask you a few questions.”
Jack leaned toward me.
“Go on,” Mason said.
“Did you know there was a company here in New York who is trying to sell the same technology as yours?”
Mason was quiet for a moment. “What?
“A company called Dev. Does that sound familiar?”
“No,” he quieted. “It’s impossible, though. That’s impossible.”
“I’m going to read a few names out to you. Tell me if you recognize any of them.” I signaled for the Dev document and Jack handed it over. “David Johnson, Richard Williams, Thomas Miller, Charles Davis, Steven Wilson-“
“Wait, did you say Charles Davis?”
“Charles Davis,” I repeated and Jack started to google his name.
“That’s an old developer I would hire for a few freelance projects I’d gotten to tide me and Zach over until we could get our project up and going.”
I glanced down at the sheet in front of me. “He’s the CTO now for Dev.”
“CTO, huh? The guy could only do fairly simple coding the last time I saw him and now he’s a CTO?”
“It looks that way.”
“Oh my God,” Mason whispered. “He must have somehow broken into our secured database and stolen the project.”
“Mason thinks Charles stole the technology,” I told Jack.
“Who’s that?” Mason asked.
“Another attorney at the firm.”
“I can’t believe he’s done this,” Mason thought out loud.
“When we know more, Mason. I’ll let you know as soon as possible.”
“Thank you.”
“Of course, Mason.”
I hung up.
“We need to visit this Charles Davis,” Jack commented.
“We certainly do.”
He showed me an address on his phone. “Let’s go.”
We bolted up, leaving cash on the table, and headed outside. We caught yet another cab and landed in front of Charles’s apartment. I started to ascend the steps to the front door but Jack stopped me.
“Stay behind me.”
I nodded and we went up. Jack knocked. We could see a young guy through the milky glass on the front door approach us.
“Who is it!” he shouted.
“My name is Jack Andrews. I’m- I’m a friend of Mason’s.”
The guy threw open the door. He was short and stocky, his eyes wide, his face round. His hair stood up at angles.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“We want to know how you suddenly became the CTO of a large New York technology firm when you can barely code,” Jack demanded.
Charles eyes shot even wider and he tried to slam the door closed but Jack stuck his foot out and stopped it from closing with his shoe. His broad hand landed on the face of the door and pushed it open.
“Can we come in, Charles?”
“No, get out of here or I’ll call the cops.”
“That’s a great idea,” I jumped in. “Let’s call the cops and tell them how you stole intellectual property from a previous employer and how that employer is now suddenly in jail, accused of murdering his business partner.”
Charles swallowed. “I didn’t kill Zach,” he said.
“Now why would your thoughts go there?” Jack asked.
Charles’s hands went to his disheveled hair. There were dark circles under his eyes and his clothes were in disarray. “You’ve got to believe me. I didn’t do it. No one at Dev did. I’m scrambling.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I was in the room when a nasty argument between the CEO and the investment firm heads happened.”
Jack looked at me. “What was the argument about?” I asked Charles.
“They found out we’d sold them code that we hadn’t made viable yet and they were pissed.”
“Hadn’t made viable?” Jack asked.
“When,” he hesitated, “when I took the code from Mason it was in pieces. I thought I could put it all together myself and told my boss as much so they went out and sold the product in a race to beat Mason out.
“But you couldn’t do it, could you?” Jack asked.
“No,” Charles admitted. “And the investment firm wanted to know how long it would take for us to figure out. The CEO for Dev told them the truth hoping it would mean that everyone walked away from the deal untouched but no such luck. The investment firm demanded we finish the code and,” he swallowed, “and to tell us where we stole it from.”
Jack and I stared at one another. “Did they tell them?” I asked.
“Yes,” Charles answered. He fell into a chair but scooted to the edge, unable to get comfortable. His knee bounced up and down.
“Charles,” Jack said, “I suggest you go into hiding for a little bit.”
Charles nodded. “I was already on my way out when you two showed up.”
Jack and I practically sprinted out of Charles’s apartment and signaled for a cab. “We have to find out who’s at that investment firm,” I said as we sat inside.
We rifled through the papers we’d gotten from the P.I. and stumbled upon the copy of the contract. “Dunn Investments,” Jack said.
When we pulled up to the firm’s building, we raced inside. We’d actually somehow gotten back before a lot of the firm had from lunch.
“Smith’s office,” I said.
Jack glanced at his watch. “We’ll have to wait until tonight,” he said.
We worked side by side until we were the only two left. The sun had gone down long before and it was close to nine at night when we finally approached Smith’s office.
“Are we really doing this?” I whispered to Jack.
“For Mason,” he said.
“For Mason,” I repeated.
Quietly we entered Smith’s office and approached his desk. I opened his file cabinet searching for the Martinelli files but couldn’t find any.
“The case files aren’t here,” I said. “Could he have taken them home?”
“Not likely,” Jack answered, rummaging through his desk drawers. “Jesus, Adeline!”
“What?” I asked, meeting him at his side. I looked down at the folder Jack was holding. It was marked ‘Portfolio’.
Jack pulled out contract after contract. “Dunn Investments, Dunn Investments, Dunn Investments.”
I sucked in a breath. “Oh my God,” I whisper yelled.
We ran out of Smith’s office and I followed Jack to the copy machine. We proceeded to copy all the contracts Smith was personally invested in, including one which showed his involvement with Dev Inc.
“Let’s put these back,” he said.
“What are we going to do now?” I asked. “Talk to Walker?”
Jack shook his head. “No, we can’t risk her being possibly involved.”
“I doubt she would be,” I began but he interrupted.
“We can’t risk it. We’ll have to take this all to the DA.”
“That’s career suicide. Turning our own firm in?”
We entered Smith’s office again. “Exactly. It’s also why you won’t be doing it.”
I stopped Jack with a hand to his forearm. “No, I won’t let you do this.”
“What else are we supposed to do?” he asked, putting back the files and closing their drawer.
“I don’t know but it can’t be this way. I won’t let your career end before it’s even really begun!” I demanded.
“Adeline, it’s-,” he began but stopped when we saw a light flip on in the firm’s lobby.
He yanked me toward a small coat closet in Smith’s office, pushing me inside behind several oversized coats before following me in and shutting the door behind us. He arranged the coats so they covered us. My face was practically buried in his chest. I could smell his cologne, feel the heat of his body against mine. Our chests gulped in air.
The door to Smith’s office opened and Jack instinctively brought me closer to him. We listened intently but heard nothing but someone pouring themselves a drink then sitting down at Smith’s desk. A cell phone began to ring and our eyes blew wide until I remembered both our phones were in the library with the rest of our stuff. Jack must have remembered as well because his shoulders relaxed.
“Hello,” Smith answered. He cleared his throat. “Who called him?” Pause. “She’s not even on his case anymore.” Me, he was talking about me calling Mason. I opened my mouth in panic. Jack shook his head. “Get me a transcript of the call immediately.” Jack’s hands on my shoulders gripped tighter. “I don’t care. Get me that transcript in an hour or you’re dead.” Smith got quiet and I assumed he’d hung up. Drawers opened and shut aggressively. With each slam, I reacted, and with each reaction, Jack wrapped me tighter and tighter in his arms.
Eventually he left his office, shutting the door behind him. We dared not move until we were absolutely certain he’d left the office completely. Jack whispered I should stay put until he gave me the all clear and I obeyed him. When he came back for me, we ran out of Smith’s office and back to the library, grabbing our things and tucking all our newly acquired evidence in the manila folder from the investigator and heading toward the lobby.
“Not a word,” he whispered and motioned toward the cameras the firm had in the corners near the elevators.
We rode them down and were greeted with sheets of rain pouring down and pounding the street in front of us.
“I don’t care,” I said, “let’s book it. Time is of the essence.”
We dashed out to the street and hailed a cab. The cab was quick but it was raining so hard we were both soaked by the time we got in.
“Sixth Precinct off Tenth,” he told the cabbie. “I know someone there,” he told me.
Jack and I met up with his contact and told him everything we knew, including the importance of our anonymity, which he agreed to honor. We handed over every single piece of proof and the detective promised with the new evidence he’d be able to get Mason exonerated, if not get the charges dropped altogether once he could prove it all.
“Where can I find you two when I have a question?” the detective asked.
“We won’t be in town for a few days,” Jack promised, surprising me.
“Where?” the detective asked.
“I’d rather not say,” he added with a smile.
Jack stared at me and I studied his face. He shook his head once, a silent promise to explain later.
“Thanks for all the info,” the detective told us. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
Jack hefted me up beside him and took me to his apartment. As he unlocked the door, he said, “We’re going on a little trip, Adeline.”
“Wait, what?”
I followed him into his closet as he started dragging clothing off hangers. “Smith knows it was you and we can’t risk him or his other criminal cohorts from finding out where you are.”
“I’ll need to pack then.”
He stopped cold. “No,” he told me, “we’ll buy whatever you need as soon as we’re out of the city.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“We’re going to the house I grew up in,” he told me, tossing everything he’d grabbed into a leather travel bag.
“Were those jeans I just saw?” I asked him.
He blushed a bright red. “Shut it,” he said, fighting a smile.
We took the elevator down to his building’s garage and hopped into a shiny silver Volvo I didn’t know he owned.
“Where do your parents live?” I asked him.
“Richmond, Virginia.”
“Do they know we’re coming?” I asked.
“Not a clue,” he teased with a smile. “My mom will be mad for about two seconds but then she’ll get over it, because she’ll be overjoyed to see me.”
I snorted. “You’re a dork.”
“I know,” he grinned.
We stopped at an all night store outside of the city and I bought a few essentials and some comfortable clothing.
“I can’t believe it’s one in the morning,” Jack said.
“I can,” I told him, staring out onto the surface of the wet road, at the blurred reflection of the passing streetlights.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Adeline.”
I looked over at him and smiled. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“I- I got you something,” he said, swallowing hard. “Hold out your hand.” I did as he said and he laid a pack of conversation hearts in my palm.
I brought it in front of my face and examined the label with my fingers. I choked back a tear. “Thank you, Jack.”
“I’ve never given a girl a valentine,” he said.
I looked at him. The windshield wipers swiped back and forth. “I’ve never gotten a valentine,” I confessed.
He sat up in his seat, wiping a palm down his thigh. “What a shame,” he said after clearing his throat.
“Why have you never given a girl a valentine?” I asked him.
“School has been my main focus. I didn’t have time for girls.” He looked at me and smiled. “What about you?”
“Pretty much the same. I wanted that degree. I wanted to work at the firm we’re at right now. It was my dream firm.”
“It was mine as well. Funny.”
“Why is that funny?”
“That we would both work our tails off to get to the same exact place.”
“Great minds,” I teased.
“Yours especially.”
“I don’t know about that. Look at where we are? On the run from a firm partner whom we suspect killed another human being and framed another. Who possibly is out to get me now.”
“It’s pretty insane.”
“Do you think he did it?” I asked.
“Yes, I do,” he answered.
“Thank you for protecting me.”
“Of course.”
“More than likely we won’t have jobs when we get back.”
“It’s possible,” he said, his face devoid of emotion.
“I feel like it’s my fault.”
He looked at me and shook his head. “No way. We freed an innocent man. If that isn’t worth losing our jobs over, then I don’t know what is.”
“It does feel good.” I sighed. “Poor Mason.”
“If Mason lets me, I will help him sue the ever living crap out of that dishonest loser Charles.”
I barked out a laugh. “Greed, man. They’ll get him on criminal charges as well.”
“No doubt.” He paused a moment. “Hey, Adeline?”
“Yeah?”
“Our elevator rides this past month?”
“Yeah.”
He glanced at me and held my stare for a moment before turning back to the road. “I live for those elevator rides.”
My breaths sped up. “You do?”
“I get to see your face, smell your scent, stand in your presence, hear your voice. It gets me through the day until I get to see you again.”
“Do you like me?”
“I don’t just like you, Adeline, I idolize you.”
My right hand gripped at my seat belt and I turned toward him. “What’s been holding you back?”
“I, uh, I couldn’t tell if you regretted New Year’s Eve. I called you a couple of times New Year’s Day but you never answered.”
I sat up, leaned toward him. “I never got them. I swear, Jack, I never got any calls from you. I’d left my purse at Justin’s that night and didn’t get it back until later the next night. My phone was dead when I got it back and when I charged it, there weren’t any missed calls or texts.”
He smiled at the windshield. “Well, now I feel like an idiot.”
“Don’t,” I told him. “And I would have taken your call.”
I watched him swallow that down, the lines of his throat, the reflection of the passing headlights on his skin. My stomach dropped to my feet.

Six hours later we landed on his mom and dad’s doorstep and I found myself nervous as hell.
“Are they even going to be up?” I asked him.“Yeah, they’ll be up,” he said, tossing our bags at his feet. “Here goes nothing,” he said.
He knocked on the door and we waited.
“Who in the world could that be?” a woman’s voice echoed through the door.
“I don’t know, Loretta! Let me through here and I’ll see.”
“Be careful!” she said. “They could be thieves!”
I looked up at Jack and opened my mouth, trying not to laugh. He rolled his eyes.
“Mom! Dad! It’s me!” Jack sang out.
“Jack!” his mom exclaimed. “What in the sam hill!”
Jacks’ dad swung the door open. “Jack!” he exclaimed, his hair disheveled. “What in the world, boy? What are you doing here?”
His mom rushed him, tears in her eyes. “Jack, baby. Are you okay?”
“We’re fine,” Jack answered her. “We’ve hit a bit of a speed bump in New York and we needed to get away for awhile.”
Both his parents finally noticed me and stared for a moment. His mother remembered herself and took both our hands. “Well, come in then. No sense standing in the cold!”
Jack picked both our bags up and they led us down a short foyer into a small but well-furnished living room.
“Mom, Dad, this is Adeline Dawson. She’s another attorney at Smith, Walker, and Phillips.”
“So nice to meet you,” his mom said, holding out her hand. I shook her it and she smiled at me.
“Adeline, this is my mom Loretta and my pop David.”
“A pleasure,” David said.
“My goodness, you are a pretty thing. Come in here and sit down. You guys must be exhausted. Must have driven the entire night!”
“What in the world is going on?” David asked Jack.
Jack explained the kid safe version of things, letting them know that we just got out of town as an extreme precaution. It seemed to appease his mom, which made me feel better. She looked like a nervous little thing.
We both hopped into the shower. Her mom insisted I use her bathroom “because it was bigger.” So I did. When I got out, I felt like a teenager. I got dressed in a pair of printed leggings and a novelty t-shirt I’d found at the store that read SURELY NOT EVERYONE WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING. I ran a brush through my wet hair and brushed my teeth. I was beyond tired.
When I was done, I left Jack’s parent’s room and headed down their narrow hall toward their kitchen.
“She’s very pretty,” I heard Jack’s mom say.
“Yes, she is,” Jack told her, making my blood heat up.
“Are you dating her?” she asked.
“Let’s hope so,” David chimed in with a small laugh.
Jack snorted. “I don’t know yet, Mom. I want to. I kissed her once on New Year’s Eve.”
“Oh my goodness, that’s romantic.”
It was quiet but I imagined Jack smiling.
“She’s the smartest woman I’ve ever met,” he told his parents, making me swoon. “She’s so sweet and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”“Well, it sounds like you better fix that whole not-dating thing then,” David added.
I felt my whole body flush and tip-toed back down the hall, made a big to-do shutting his parent’s door again and emerged from the hall into the kitchen. All three turned and looked at me.
“Hello,” I said, my face going hot.
“Hello, dear,” Loretta greeted with a wide smile. “Can I get you some coffee or something?”
“That’s so kind,” I said, “thank you, but I have been up for over twenty-four hours. I was hoping I could catch some z’s?”
“Of course, love,” she said, turning to Jack. “Show her to the guest room, please?” she asked.
Jack smiled at me and took my hand, leading me upstairs to a small guest room. The bed looked antique and had a homemade patchwork quilt on top. Jack left me on one side of the bed and walked to the other side. He swung the covers back for me, his eyes never leaving mine, and I blushed, which made him smile.
“It’s so weird seeing you in track pants,” I told him.
“It’s so weird seeing you in my childhood home,” he countered.
I giggled at him. “I feel like a little kid again.”
I slid under the covers and he playfully slid them up and over my chin. When I brought them down a bit, he laughed, then pretended to tuck me in.
“You’re an idiot,” I told him.
“I know,” he said.
I wriggled around to loosen the blanket. He’d leaned over me, his eyes searching my face. “Did you put makeup on?” he asked.
“No, silly, I just got out of the shower.”
“Huh,” he said, his right thumb going to my left cheek. “So pretty, Adeline.”
“Thank you.”
“Do you mind if I lay with you for a second?”
“Of course not. Come here,” I said, holding the covers up for him.
He bent a knee on the bed then turned around toward the doorway. “Just a second,” he said. He opened the door all the way then turned back toward me. He climbed in and I scooted to the other side of the bed. He laid beside me.
“Why did you leave the door open?” I asked, blushing.
“Two reasons.”
“What’s the first?”
“Out of respect for Mom and Dad.”
“And the second?”
“So you don’t think I’m going to try anything.”
I felt my face flush. “You are such a dork.”
“I told you, I know.”
“Did you know, though,” I whispered, somehow reading the moment needed simple, “that I’m a bit of a dork as well?”
“I did know this,” he quieted. “It’s one of the things I like best about you.”
“Is it?” I asked him. “What else do you like about me?”
“Many things.”
“Give me one more then. Make it a good one.”
“A good one,” he said. His eyes met mine. “Okay, I like what a generous person you are to all of us. You never talk down to the other juniors the way some feel the need to do, you’re always including Jane in office plans for lunch when no one else includes the lower staff, and I saw you give that homeless man a gift card for food the other day when you thought no one was watching. You’re kind, Adeline, and I have so much respect for that. It seems like no one is kind anymore, especially in New York. I admire that so much.”
“Wow, Jack. Thank you.”
Jack’s phone rang, startling us both. He picked it up and hit the answer button.
“Hello,” he answered.
“Jack, it’s Cory Walker,” I heard on the other end.
I gripped Jack’s forearm.
“Hey, Cory.”
“Where are you?” she asked. “The shit has hit the fan here at the firm and we need you.”
“What’s happening?” he asked her.
“Smith was just dragged out of here in handcuffs screaming Adeline’s name. I guess she caught him in some underhanded dealings, did some digging around, and must have turned him in. Jack, brace yourself, but Smith has been implicated in Zach’s murder.”
My heart started to race. “I know all of it,” Jack admitted to her. “I’m actually here with Adeline. She told me everything that happened and I helped her get out of town until we knew Smith was safe behind bars.”
Cory was quiet for a moment. “Tell her I’m sorry for not listening to her when she tried to come to me.”
“I will,” Jack answered.
“You and Adeline take the rest of the week off while things cool off. I’ve got some damage control to do.”
“See you then,” Jack told her.
“Bye, Jack,” Cory said.
He hung the phone up and placed it on the nearby nightstand.
“Looks like Smith is done for,” Jack told me.
“I heard,” I said.
“Good riddance,” he told me, wrapping me up in his arms.
“Jack,” I called to him.
“Hmm?”
“Kiss me.”
He stared at me. “I will. Give me a minute. I need a second to process the fact that I’m holding you, in my parent’s house, in bed.” I smiled at him. He inched closer to me. “I don’t think I’ve wanted anything more than a kiss from you, Adeline Dawson.” His lips found my jaw line near my ear and followed along all the way to the corner of my mouth. “You make me reexamine my life, do you know that?” he whispered. I shook my head, afraid to speak. His hands found my face and threaded through my damp hair.
When his lips crushed into mine, I could barely breathe. He was warm and beautiful and everything I’d ever wanted in another human being and my stomach somersaulted on itself. My heart pounded, my skin tingled. My hand found his throat and laid there, my thumb brushing across his Adam’s apple. His mouth found my ear and kissed down my neck then back up until his lips found mine again.
“When we get back to New York,” he said against my lips, “would you like to have dinner with me?”
“We’re lying next to one another kissing. I believe you already have my answer.”
He smiled against my mouth. “Thank you, Adeline.”

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