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Lawyer Anita Hunt scrolled through the lengthy legal document on her laptop searching for typos and wording mistakes. She was so tired it was difficult to tell what was written correctly and what wasn't, but the contract was due to be presented to the parties involved in a few days so it had to get done. The document pertained to the Bentley file, a merger between two of the largest banks in Orange County, and for the past six weeks, she'd been burning the candle at both ends in an effort to tie it up. The project was a big one and, if she did well, she hoped her firm, Sheridan Law, would reward her with the partner status she'd been working so hard to attain.
Confident she'd dotted all her i's and crossed all her t's she took one last look at the final agreement's signatory page, and clicked Save. While the computer did its thing, she sighed wearily. Goodness, I'll be glad when this is done. She couldn't remember the last time she had gotten a full night's sleep.
Her boss, firm founder, Jane Sheridan, stuck her graying blond head in the open doorway. "I thought you'd be gone by now, Anita."
A confused Anita paused. "Gone?"
"Your fiance?" Jane replied, eyebrow raised.
"Oh, damn! Greg!"
Jumping to her feet, she quickly powered off the computer, stuffed it into its leather carrier and grabbed her handbag. Greg had flown in earlier in the day from D.C. specifically to see her on his way to Tokyo, and she'd been so deep into the merger documents, she'd forgotten their dinner date. "Jane, I know I promised you'd have this in the morning"
"Don't worry about that. Just go. I can't believe you forgot."
The chagrined Anita couldn't, either. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Anita hurried past her on her way to exit the building.
In her car, Anita peeled out of the garage and headed for the freeway. She felt terrible. Getting across L.A. quickly at this time of the day was going to be next to impossible. Sending up a prayer to the Traffic Gods for grace, she hit the sync on the dash tied to her phone. "Hey, honey."
Greg's voice came on. "Where are you?"
"Caught in traffic," she lied. "Be there in about twenty minutes."
"Okay. Drive safely."
She sighed. He was such a gem.
She made it to Zola's Restaurant in record time. Wrangling a reservation on half-a-day's notice from such a premier establishment would've been impossible had she not known the Zola family, but luckily her father first introduced her to Mr. Zola and his fine food back when she was a teen.
Turning her car over to the valet, she hurried inside. Hector Zola, the owner, met her at the maitre d' station. "Good evening, Anita."
"Hi, Uncle Hector. I'm sorry I'm late."
"No problem. We're taking real good care of him. This way, please."
"Thank you," she gushed.
"Sorry I'm late," she said again, this time to Greg. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek before settling into the chair Mr. Zola held out for her on the opposite side of the table. Greg didn't care for public displays of affection and neither did she. She offered Mr. Zola a silent thank-you and he withdrew soundlessly.
As always, Greg was impeccably dressed. Expensive suit and tie, and handsome enough to draw the discreet interest of some of the women seated around the dining room.
"It's good to see you," he said to her. The genuine pleasure he radiated melted her guilt-filled stress.
"Good to see you, too, and thanks for the surprise."
"When the travel office offered me the choice of flying out of Washington or L.A.no-brainer. Glad it worked out. Been missing you."
"Same here." He was so sweet.
"Any word on making partner yet?" he asked.
"No." She took a small sip from her waterPerrier, ice and a twist of lemon.
"You should consider looking at other firms, Anita."
"I like where I am."
"You should be partner by now." He picked up his linen napkin and placed it on his lap.
"Maybe, but I'm going to hang with Sheridan for now."
His features showed he didn't agree with the strategy but he didn't press. They'd had this discussion before. Greg was a topflight lawyer for the Justice Department, and he'd made it clear that he wanted his future wife to be just as prestigious. She wanted to please him but lately, and she had no idea why, the more status she acquired for herself within Sheridan Law, the less comfortable fitting into his box became.
Hector sent over one of the waiters, and their conversation paused in order to give the young woman their orders.
After her departure, Anita relayed nonchalantly, "My mother wants to know when we're setting the date for the wedding. She's getting pretty antsy."
Pushy was more the word. Her mother, Circuit Court Judge Diane Whitehall Hunt, considered Greg a perfect example of what a son-in-law should be. Harvard Law, financially sound, up-and-coming career. He was steady, honorable and the son of one of her dearest sorority sisters. Both mothers were ecstatic at the idea of uniting the families.
His phone sounded. "Hold on a minute." He lowered his eyes to the display. "It's a text from Marie. She's the other lawyer going to Tokyo ."
As his thumbs worked the keypad, she saw him smile. Anita knew how busy he was, hell, she was busy, too, but a part of her resented the interruption.
"Okay. I'm done." He set aside the phone. "You were saying?"
"Aah. My mom's giving me flack, too, so how about we deal with it next week after I get back? That way we can check our calendars and see what's what."
"That's fine, so how are you?"
"What's going on in Tokyo?"
"Bribery investigation. Heading there to interview a few people. Shouldn't be more than three or four days. You look tired," he added.
"I'm dead on my feet. I'm finishing up the Bentley merger and haven't been getting much sleepstrike that, any sleep."
"Why're you letting Sheridan work you to death?"
"Because I love the challenge. I love the pace. I love the no sleep, too, most of the time. This is the firm I want to be a part of, and if I slack off, somebody else's name will be on the partner list."
He shook his head as if still not agreeing. "You could make twice the money somewhere else."
She raised her water glass in agreement. "True, but it's not always about the money." Sheridan Law specialized in corporate mergers. It was a small firm but so well respected it could afford to pick and choose its clients. The staff was predominantly female and, although Jane Sheridan was a demanding boss, she was fair, treated everyone equally and never took credit for the work done by her associates.
Dinner arrived. He had the sirloin. She had what she always ordered at Hector's: the grilled chicken wrap and the baby spinach salad topped with the house vinaigrette.
While they ate, Greg did most of the talking. Nothing new there. They'd been together since her senior year in high school. Back then, and all through college, she hadn't minded deferring to him because she'd lacked the confidence to do otherwise and she loved him. Tonight though, as she listened to him to drone on about how this Tokyo investigation might help him move up in the department, she found herself contemplating spending the rest of her life sitting quietly and listening to him while her accomplishments played second fiddle. It came to her that she was being far more introspective and critical than usual. She chalked it up to being bone tired and set aside the disquieting thoughts. She loved Greg. He treated her well and would be a good provider for the two kids they both wanted down the line. As her mother constantly pointed out, a girl couldn't do much better than Greg Ford.
"Are you listening, babe?"
His voice brought her to the present. "Sorry. I was back at the office. What did I miss?"
"Me talking about having to go right to my hotel room after we're done here. That text from Marie was to let me know that the report we've been waiting on just downloaded and we need to review it before we take off in the morning."
"You can't review it on the ten-hour flight to Japan?"
"Too many confidential details. Discussing it on the plane won't work."
"I see. At least we did get to spend time with each other." Due to their crazy and alwaysfull schedules, this was their first face-to-face in three months. Living on separate coasts didn't help, either. Once they married, everyone assumed she'd move East and she, during the early days of their relationship, had, as well. Now? Once again, she pushed the thoughts away because she was too tired to deal with the inner turmoil.
When they finished dinner, he paid the check and walked her to the door. Outside, the night air felt good after being cooped up in air-conditioning all day. She looked up at the sky. Stars rarely showed themselves in L.A. due to all the pollution and tonight was no exception.
While they waited for the valets to bring their vehicles, he gave her a quick kiss. "Been great seeing you. Sorry I can't stay longer."
"Me, too, but it's okay. We both love our work." His having to rush off meant no intimate interlude, either; not that she cared that much for sex, but it might've been nice to share some quiet time together afterward. "Text me, when you get to Tokyo."
His car arrived. "I will. Try and get some rest and think about changing firms, okay? Somewhere near Washington."
She didn't reply to that. "Be safe," she called back instead.
He gave her a wave and drove off. That he hadn't waited around, to make sure she got into her own car safely, made her sigh.
"A gentlemen never leaves his lady standing alone on the curb."
Smiling, she turned to see Mr. Zola beside her. The disapproval on his face was plain.
"Are you standing in for Daddy tonight?" Her father was in Peru on a movie shoot with one of his marquee clients.
"I am. Just like he would stand in for me."
"I'm not upset with Greg for taking off," she lied. "He had work to do back at his hotel."
"No man who cares for you should be too busy to close you into your car."
Mr. Zola had five daughters and he was hell on the guys who came calling. Three of his daughters were now married, leaving the sixteen-year-old twins and their boyfriends as targets of his old-school parenting.
"You're making a big deal out of nothing, Uncle Hector."
He kept further comments to himself.
Her car finally arrived. He escorted her around to the driver side, saying, "Now this is how it's done."
Chuckling, she got in. "Thank you."
He closed the door and she drove away.
A weary Anita trudged zombielike through the door of her condo and dropped her bag onto the sofa. The small reserve of energy she'd conjured up in order to be with Greg was gone. Her body screamed for sleep but she walked into her small home office and booted up her laptop instead. Her disquiet over Greg continued to play in the back of her tired mind and, for a moment, she allowed herself to admit she'd been feeling out of sorts with the relationship for some time. She liked her job and wanted to make partner. Marrying Greg meant she'd have to give that up and she thought enough of herself and her abilities to find that problematic.
She sat on her office sofa and removed her pumps. Weariness washed over her like the Pacific hitting the rocks at Malibu and she rested her head on the sofa's back. Her plan was to close her eyes for just a moment, then start on the Bentley file, but as soon as her lids lowered, she was asleep.