Boston to Birmingham Ch. 01byqhml1©
All right, all you lawyers, students of the law, or just plain nitpickers, listen up. I don't know shit about law, I drive a forklift for a living.
The part of writing fiction I love is just that, it's fiction. I don't know if Alabama even has a three strike law, but for the sake of this story it does. Read it as what it is, escapism.
The little girl was squirming on her lap, making it pretty hard to put her hair up in the French braid she loved so much. She had never seen a five year old with so much hair.
"Crystal Anne! Stop, right this minute, or we're going to be late for church. What in the world is wrong with you?"
"Granny, cousin Billy said you was a Yankee, That's not so, is it?"
"First of all young lady It's were, not was. Here comes Gramps, why don't you ask him."
Gwen noticed her standing in the doorway of her office, An odd expression on her face.
She was her husband's oldest friend, moving from Birmingham to Boston with him when he relocated. Gwen had never really liked her. Her name was Crystal Ann Montgomery, but everybody called her 'Dixie'. Short, stacked, a redhead with green eyes. Between her killer good looks and soft Southern drawl, she had the males at the firm completely whipped, even the married ones. All she had to do was suggest something and it became policy.
She flirted shamelessly, but was never improper. She never dated in house, but was seen on the arm of many eligible men over the years. Oddly, she had never settled down.
"Something I can help you with, Crystal Anne?"
She would be damned if she ever called her by her nickname.
"I been hearin' things, sugar, bad things. Thought I might drop by, see if there was anything to it."
Her green eyes were frosty, no friendliness at all in them.
Her comment made Gwen angry.
"What you hear and don't hear is none of my business. Now, I'm sure you have better things to do."
Crystal refused to be baited.
"Sorry sugar[she pronounced it 'shugah', her accent became more pronounced when she was pissed], when you married Hardy you became my business. Honestly, I've never liked you and don't give a rats ass what happens to you. I tried my best to talk him out of marrying you.
But love is blind, and in his case stupid, and he did it anyway. Now you've fucked over him, and for his sake I'm giving you fair warning."
She paused to clarify her thoughts.
"He's not the man he led you to believe. You actually know very little about him. He didn't tell you because he was ashamed of part of it and afraid the other parts would scare you away."
"I tell you this for your own good. He's an Old Testament kind of guy, and is a firm believer in the 'eye for an eye' school of thought. When he finds out what you've done, you better not be anywhere close to him or it could end up very badly for you. Just so we're clear here, I'm not telling you this to protect you, but him."
By now Gwen was angry. First she didn't know what she was talking about, and second her life was none of her business.
Dripping sarcasm, she spoke.
"Well, Miss Montgomery, let me thank you for your concern, however scant it appears to be. But Hardy and I are just fine, despite what you hear.
Now, I'm sure you have work to do."
If she thought that would make her scurry away she was badly mistaken.
"Oh, don't worry about me, sugar. I'm on lunch. If you're just fine with your husband, why did Allen post 'BLOND ON BLOND IS BACK!' on his corporate Facebook? I'm leaving now, I just wanted to have this talk to see if I could save Hardy some pain."
"But you're either in denial or just don't care.
I've said my piece, but I will leave you with this."
"Like I said, I did it for Hardy, not you. You need to remember, he's not one of those Ivy League Yankee boys you're used to. There won't be any counseling or exploration of feelings. He'll go straight to your ass."
"Parting shot here, what you may not know is the one thing Hardy hates above anything else is a cheater. And when he kicks you to the curb, I'm gonna be there to try and catch him on the rebound."
"I've loved him since I was fourteen years old, and I'd die before I'd cheat on him. I intend to be on him quicker than a hen on a June bug."
"Ya'll have a nice day, sugar."
With that she sauntered out the door, turning the head of every man in the hallway.
Gwen sat in shock, before accessing his Facebook account.
There it was, for every one to see.
"Man, the trip to Paris was a huge success. The negotiations went very well, and more importantly,
BLOND ON BLOND IS BACK! Things can't get much better."
Blond on blond was his pet name for them when they were intimate. He was something of a poser, and grew his hair long to give him what he mentally called his 'rebel' look. He said with both having long, beautiful locks[his description, not hers]made them a beautiful couple. Her Dad and most of the senior staff thought he looked girlish, but he was damn good at his job so they left him alone.
She reached for the phone, dialing his extension. He recognized her number.
"Hi, babes. What's up?"
"Allan, are you insane? What's with the 'blond on blond' crack on your Facebook? Are you trying to get me divorced, or both of us fired? If Dad gets wind of this you'll be fired in a heartbeat, and it won't go well for me either. I don't think he would fire his only child, but who knows."
She was practically screaming at him by the end.
"Hold on there, babe. Your Dad would never fire you, you're the second best contract lawyer he's got, right behind me. Everything will be cool, just stay calm."
Not assured, she tried to reason with him.
"Look, Paris was a mistake. If I hadn't been drunk and let you talk me into that line of coke it would never had happen. We DO NOT want my husband to find out."
Allan was not perturbed. He wanted everyone to find out, he wanted Gwen back. He almost had her until her Dad brought that hick up from Alabama.
"You sure didn't think it was a mistake when you were screaming my name. Joe Redneck doesn't scare me, remember I"m a third degree black belt. I won't go looking for him, but if he pushes he'll get more than his feelings hurt."
"Damn Allan, have the drugs scrambled your brains? Don't sell him short, he did two tours in Iraq. He's kinda used to killing people. Now, keep your mouth shut, understand?"
He had no intention of keeping his mouth shut, but he wanted to keep her calm so he agreed.
When she hung up he reclined back into his chair, smiling. He almost had her once, and this time he was going to hold on to her. He knew her weaknesses and intended to exploit them.
She was beautiful, fairly intelligent, but more importantly, she was the only child and sole heir to her fathers' estate when he passes, not to mention the massive trust fund her grandmother had left her. All told it ran into three to four hundred million, give or take. Yes, life was going to be very good to him in the near future. Smiling, he lifted the phone.
Gwen sat at her desk, fuming. How had she let herself get drawn into this mess? She hoped Allen would honor his word. Looking at the picture on her desk, she thought back to her courtship.
She had chased him, relentlessly. His Southern charm, rugged good looks, and animal magnetism drew every woman to him like a moth to a flame. He didn't appear to notice it, and treated every one of them with respect, but his habit of looking them directly into their eyes like they were the only woman on earth worthy of his gaze unnerved and aroused them. One once described his look as controlled, but with something primal and dangerous lurking just below the surface.
"Who is that?" She asked her paralegal one day, watching him walk down the hall.
Lisa laughed. "Down, girl! That's Hardy Wilkes, the new lawyer your father brought up from the Birmingham office. He handles all the pro bono work now. He's pretty, but he's a loner. I don't think he's gay, but he doesn't seem to have much interest in women. I gave him a run, and he basically ignored all the signals."
Gwen brought him up at her regular Sunday lunch with her Dad.
"I hear you brought a lawyer up from the Alabama office. Is he any good?"
She often wondered why he kept the Birmingham office open. Her great grandfather had opened the office as a favor to a steel baron who he represented. It was a good move, and eventually they had almost all the old steel magnates as clients.
But the steel business was almost completely gone now. The office was just a courtesy to the few surviving tycoons. But still, it was profitable and seemed to have a place in her Dads' heart.
Her Dad laughed.
"Leave it to you to notice when a handsome man joins the firm. His name is Hardy Wilkes. He grew up in a small county up north of Birmingham. Went to college on the GI bill. We fund a scholarship at his college and I met him there.
He'll fool you with that Good Ol' Boy charm and then destroy you before you realize there's a brilliant mind under that exterior. I saw him eat up a practicing lawyer at a mock trial when he was in his second year. I recruited him on the spot. When he got his license he went to work for me. He doesn't seem to be motivated by money, so I let him run the pro bono section in Birmingham.
He was fairly selective, only taking cases where he thought they were innocent, and has a 93% success rate."
He looked at her speculatively. She had a habit of falling in love inopportunely. She had been engaged twice, and both times they fell through when she cheated.
"Leave him alone, Gwen. You have no idea how he thinks. He has no experience with your world, and I don't think he would fit. Plus, I don't think you could control him, and I know how important that is to you."
"Daddy! Really, do you think I pursue every man I think attractive?"
He just sat back and smiled.
It was an uphill battle. He was polite, he was nice, he just wasn't interested. She was enough of a spoiled little rich girl to let that offend her greatly.
Finally, she had him trapped. It was a black tie dinner for Amnesty International, a fundraising effort on the part of her father. He supported the group privately and publicly, donating resources as well as money. He was a keynote speaker, but it had been a particular nasty winter in Boston, and he had a case of the flu bad enough to be hospitalized overnight. He was home now, but was in no shape for the event, so he asked Hardy as a personal favor to give his speech. He would represent the firm, she would represent the family. She showed up in a limo to pick him up.
Gwen spent a good deal of time and money to look her very best. Long, shimmering gray dress by a prominent designer, diamond necklace, bracelets and ear studs. Her long tawny blond hair styled to perfection. She took his breath away.
He wore a standard black tux, but she thought he was very handsome in it. His almost platinum blond hair styled very nicely, his piercing grey eyes and gleaming white teeth made him a very presentable package.
The local press was out in force, this was a big event and most all the movers and shakers in the area would be there. When they arrived, as hosts and primary donor, they had their picture taken almost the whole time they were there. They were on the front page, in the business section, as well as the social section in Sundays' paper.
The front page identified them as Gwen Canaday, contract law specialist and daughter of the principal partner and C.E.O. of Canaday and Associates, and Hardy Wilkes, recently of Birmingham, prominent defense attorney of the same firm.
The business section had a spread on the economics of pro bono defense cases for large firms, and of course the society page speculated whether they were a couple or not, and if the "Canaday wild child" was finally settling down.
The night was a success in terms of money raised and pro bono hours committed by various firms. Hardy gave an impassioned speech about the importance of the cause.
They mingled, her clinging to his arm like it was a lifeline, saying it would keep the wolves at bay. She was careful to be well behaved but occasionally flirty, with light touches and whispered observations. By the end of the night she was much more sober than usual, while he on the other hand had more wine than his norm.
The ride back was relaxed. She sat close but was careful not to smother. She had the feeling he would bolt if she came on too strong. He delivered her to her fathers' mansion instead of her townhouse, and to her surprise agreed to a coffee before he left. Forty five minutes of conversation and a gentle kiss, and he was gone.
She felt like a fifteen year old, hugging herself behind the door as he left. She had forgotten how good that felt. Then she went to check on her father before retiring into her old room. Her last thoughts were of his smile as she drifted out to sleep.
After that, she found one function or another that required him escorting her.
"Just business, you know."
Soon, they were dating.
It was a difficult courtship, mostly because she had to do the courting. He was smitten badly, but refused to act on it.
The first thing she did was end her relationship with Allan. He was smart, fun to be with, and above average in size and bedroom skills. Their occasional use of what he liked to call "recreational pharmaceuticals" enhanced the experience, but made her uneasy afterwards. Plus, she didn't love him.
He did not take it well at first, then calmed down and wished her well, reminding her if she needed someone, he was there for her.
Her Dad gave her a serious lecture after her intentions became known.
"Leave him alone, baby. He's a good man, and you could destroy him without any effort at all. He's from a different world. His values and long range plans are probably nowhere near yours, if you even have plans. You'll end up breaking his heart."
"Oh, Daddy, don't worry, it's nothing serious. I won't hurt him, he probably won't remember me in two years. I like him, he's fun."
At home, she was deciding if Gwen Canaday-Wilkes
would sound as good to others if it did to her.
After they got comfortable with each other, he spent part of every date telling her why there could never be a long term relationship between them.
"I'm almost ten years older than you. I have no money other than the generous salary your Dad gives me. I can't compete in your world, and don't really care to. I'm a simple man, you're as complicated as quantum theory physics. I want a quiet life, with a good woman and two or three children. I don't think you care for kids."
She was actually offended, and gave him his first dose of her temper.
"How would you know what I want? You've never cared to ask. Maybe I want the same thing, maybe money, travel, and power isn't as satisfying as the love of a good man. You'll never know unless you give me a chance."
"Sure, I like money and I'm used to it, but when I measure a man I don't really think of it. I've got enough money now than most people can earn in a hundred lifetimes, and that's not counting what I inherit from Daddy. Earnings potential isn't what I'm looking for, love is."
She calmed down a bit and teased him gently.
"Sorry honey, but sometimes you can be so dense. Are you sure you're a lawyer? I hope you kiss better than you argue."
Up until now, the sixth date, all she had gotten was a soft goodnight peck. She was sexually and emotionally frustrated, the longest it had taken to get a man in bed before was two dates, if she wanted.
Apparently she had gotten to him, she had never seen his eyes so intense. He looked...primal.
Grasping her firmly, he kissed her soundly, and with a good bit of passion. She stiffened at first, but soon surrendered to the feelings.
She felt overwhelmed, possessed, and loved all rolled into one. When he finally broke away, the only sound in the room was their ragged breathing.
He abruptly rose, gave her a curt goodnight, and strode out of her townhouse. By the time she had gathered herself and rushed to the door he was long gone.
She leaned against the door jamb and smiled.
Her father was not pleased. Not at all.
"Don't do this, Gwen. It will only end badly."
"Please, Daddy, be happy for me. I truly do love him. Just think, in a few years I'll turn into the grandchild factory you've been wanting."
"You know he asked me for your hand? Who does that anymore? He's the best man I've ever met, Gwen, I mean it. There's a lot potential in that man. If there's the least bit of uncertainty, let him go."
"I'll hold that man 'til the day I die. I promise you Daddy."
She conquered him on the ninth date.
It was an art benefit. To her surprise he knew quite a bit about the subject. He loved impressionists and old masters, wasn't to keen on surrealists and modern art.
"Pollack? Really? The man threw paint at canvasses, something a monkey could do."
She loved "The Scream" for what she called the raw emotionalism. But she also liked folk art, and the Wyeth family.
Their playful argument drew a crowd, and soon several others joined the debate. One woman seemed just a bit too friendly, and Gwen found herself in the unusual position of defending her property. She tried to keep between Hardy and the woman, but was unsuccessful several times. It didn't help that the woman was drop dead beautiful, even if she was a little older. Plus, the clothes, the jewelery, the general attitude of the woman screamed 'MONEY'. Hardy caught on, and teased her by paying what she thought was undue attention to the woman. She caught her in the ladies room.
"That Hardy sure is a fine looking man. I'd love to see his legal briefs sometime."
The other ladies laughed, one even said she heard they weren't brief at all.
Gwen had all she could stand.
"Back off bitch. He's mine!"
She smiled sweetly, pissing her off more.
"You don't have to convince me, darling, you have to convince him."
She practically hung on him like wallpaper the rest of the evening.
"Why did you do that?"
They were in the car headed home.
"You know what. Flirt with that bitch. Couldn't she see you were mine? She's too old for you anyway, she must be what, forty? That was mean."
"That bitch, as you so elegantly put it, is one of our clients. Old money from Birmingham. I helped her nephew in a small matter once, a few years back. She was teasing you, just to see how you'd react. And she's thirty nine, just four years older than me"
"Besides" he grinned "Who said I was yours?"
It caught her off guard.
"Well, that is, I mean to say..."
"Honey, better stick to contract law. I'd slaughter you in court."
She could see he was laughing at her. She slapped his shoulder.
"I'm just starting to see what a sneaky devil you are. And for your information, you're mine 'cause I say you are. Because I want you to be."
She could feel his eyes on her in the dark.
"Be careful what you want, little girl. It might turn out to be something totally different after you've got it."
She answered in the same serious tone.
"I always get what I want, and if it's a little different I can work with it, make it better."
His mood changed suddenly. He was grinning again.
"Why counselor, that sounds like a merger proposal. Are you willing to negotiate?"