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Playing By The Rules
By Beverly Bird
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe last time things were normal between Sam and me, we were fighting in Judge Larson's courtroom.
We're lawyers. At least, I'm a lawyer. Sam Case is more like a world-class actor with a law degree. He lulls the opposition into a false sense of security by coming off as overly polite and just a little slow-witted. He's transplanted from south Texas, land of drawling cowboys and good tequila, so he can get away with it. He cultivates an impression of bemused confusion at our East Coast aggression, and it always seems to work.
Judge Larson should have been wise to his tricks by now because he'd been appearing before her for the better part of six months. But she was a pretty blonde on her third marriage - having sacrificed her first two husbands in the interest of her career, or so rumor had it - and Sam likes blondes. Ergo, Larson likes Sam. It's virtually impossible not to like Sam once he decides that you're on his list of favorite people.
The judge gave him a dopey smile. It's my firm opinion that no one ought to be allowed to simper while seated on the bench, but she did it, anyway.
"You have a point to make, Counselor?" she asked him.
"Well, something sort of occurred to me, Your Honor." He swiveled on his heels to languidly look my way. Languid was part of the whole performance. "I believe my adversary's chief argument is that a full-time mother is preferable to a half-time father. Is that about right, Ms. Hillman?"
I stood. "A full-time mother is preferable to a twenty-five-percent father. That's my premise."
"Hey, where did my other twenty-five percent go?" He sounded genuinely injured.
I stepped around the defense table and moved closer to him, then I spoke in a hiss meant for his ears alone. "My guess would be down your client's throat." I turned my attention back to the judge with a polite smile. "Mr. Woodsen has a drinking problem, Your Honor. This has been established. Until he gets treatment, the children are better off with their mother as the custodial parent. We're willing to grant ample visitation, provided it's supervised, but Mrs. Woodsen simply isn't comfortable with her children spending overnights with Mr. Woodsen when no other responsible adult is present."
"No other responsible adult?" Sam grabbed that one quickly. "Your Honor, I do believe she just called my client responsible."
"No, I did not."
"Yes, you did."
I rolled over him before he could finish turning everything around on me, shoving a shoulder in front of him so I stood between him and the judge. "Lyle Woodsen is anything but responsible, Judge. There's every possibility that he wouldn't be coherent or capable during his parenting time."
"Pshaw," I heard Sam say in an undertone.
I wheeled on him in disbelief. "What?"
His eyes widened innocently. "I didn't say anything."
"You said pshaw. Is that a Deep-South word or something?"
"I don't know," Sam protested. "They sure don't say it in Texas."
"People, please," Larson interrupted. "This is a courtroom."
This time Sam stepped around me to speak earnestly to the judge. "Mr. Woodsen isn't comfortable with his children spending unsupervised overnights with their mother, either. She has that - how can I put this delicately? - rather complex sense of self."
A rather what? I felt tension wrap around my spine. "Be more specific," I snarled, nudging him aside again so I could see the judge, too.
"It's my understanding that Lisa Woodsen has spent a good part of the last several years undergoing vigorous psychiatric treatment," he said.
Drugs, I thought. It had to be drugs. He'd need something worse than Lyle's alcoholism, and that would do it.
I went back to my table and sat again, feeling a headache coming on. I glared at him, trying to figure out what he had up his sleeve and why I hadn't been aware that there was anything there until just this moment. Sam crossed his arms over his chest and watched me right back. If he smirked, I would have to wipe the floor with his face, I decided.
"I have no idea what he's talking about, Your Honor," I said finally. And, oh, how it rankled to have to admit it.
Judge Larson sighed gustily. "Mr. Case, I like you. I genuinely do." There's a revelation, I thought. "But I don't like you well enough to overlook your generous use of evidentiary loopholes. Even in divorce court, we have such a thing as discovery."
Then Sam turned a soulful gaze on the judge. The man had blue eyes that could charm Satan, and a crooked smile that could melt that same black soul. He'd just broken the most basic court rule in the book, and I was pretty sure he'd done it intentionally, yet he managed to look abashed and a bit confused. "Gosh, Your Honor. I'm sorry."
Gosh? I choked, and - predictably - Larson forgave him.
"Very well," she said, "but I'm still going to adjourn these proceedings until Friday to give the defense a chance to catch up."
As slaps on the wrist went, it was relatively minor, but I consoled myself with the fact that at least it was something. The judge banged her gavel and rose neatly from the bench. I waited. It took Sam no more than a minute to clear his client out of the courtroom.
I shifted in my seat to look at Lisa Woodsen. "So how right is he?" I asked her.
I felt my headache pop behind my eyes, gaining life.
"This isn't one of those gray areas in life, Lisa. Either you've had psychiatric treatment or you haven't."
"Well, then, yes. I did. Do. But I'm staying on my medication this time."
Medication. Oh, glory, I thought. "What's your problem exactly?"
"I can probably grasp it," I assured her.
"It's ... well, a form of schizophrenia."
I folded my arms on the defense table and lowered my now-throbbing forehead against them. A complex sense of self, indeed! It wasn't drugs after all, but this was definitely worse than Lyle Woodsen's nightly twelve-pack-and-shooters habit.
Lisa Woodsen began to cry, so I lifted my head and dug a tissue out of my briefcase. In family law, tissues - along with candy, coloring books and trading cards - are crucial accessories. I raided my daughter's supplies with some regularity. So far Chloe hadn't caught on.
I spent another five minutes comforting the woman before we left the courtroom. When she'd passed through the heavy oak doors of the lobby into the blinding sunlight outside - for some reason the sun always shines brightly on the rotten moments of my life - I looked around for Sam.
I knew he would have waited for me, and he had. The sad truth was that he was my upstairs neighbor and my very best friend - platonically-speaking - to boot. All in all, that made it very hard for me to hate him on any kind of regular basis.
He stood beside the water fountain, leaning one nicely broad shoulder against the wall there. I bore down on him.
"You just talked your way right out of tonight's linguine and scampi, pal," I said.
He straightened from the wall and his eyes went as soft and hopeful as a puppy's. "You were going to make me scampi?"
"No. I was going to make Chloe and me scampi. I was going to let you have the leftovers. But now I've changed my mind."
"You're a hard woman, Amanda Hillman."
"Only when I've just been played for a fool."
Excerpted from Playing By The Rules by Beverly Bird Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.