Candace Gleason passed the bar, landed a great job, and is making a killer salary—basically, all of her dreams are coming true. Until she’s assigned to keep the boss’s petulant son out of trouble.
Jack Morrison is the rebellious black sheep of a mighty real estate family. He runs a nonprofit whose mission is to save poor people from evil corporations, like the one his own family owns. He is obnoxious, ridiculously charming, and insanely hot. He is the bane of Candace’s very existence.
Sparks fly from the moment they meet. Candace suddenly has more to worry about than keeping Jack out of jail. She has to keep him out of her heart.
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Present day — Berkeley
"You're a mess," my best friend says to me.
Well, at least she's honest, and maybe a little kind. Way worse than a mess, I constitute a national disaster. My apartment falls in the same category. A week's worth of dishes fills the sink. Laundry lies about in bizarre places, including on top of the fish tank and in the bathtub. My coffee table strains under the weight of dirty cups, notepads, paper plates, and romance novels.
And me, I sprawl on the couch, covered in a blanket, wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt, practically unchanged since I came home six days ago to cry my eyes out and give up on life.
"You found me," I say. I sound unhappy about it. But I'm not.
Grace picks her way through the war zone and finds a chair to delicately perch on. "Seriously? What the hell is going on? I waited for you at the airport, but you never showed. You refused to answer the phone. Meg's out of town, in LA right now, doing a show. But when I got hold of her, she freaked. She said she hasn't heard from you in days. So, I came over here. And what do I find?" She throws her hand around the room, swiveling her head from side to side. "This is crazy, Candace!" She frowns at me. "I'd hug you, but I have a feeling you smell."
"I'm glad you came. Really, I am," I say truthfully. "I ... I need help."
"How was the cruise?"
"Really? You wanna talk about the cruise?" She stares at me incredulously. "What the hell happened to you, Candace?"
"You were gone a long time," I tell her, shifting on the couch for the first time in hours. I wrench myself into a sitting position and look over at her. "You missed a lot."
Grace's husband, Eric, has a high-powered job with a high-powered company. She follows him to all these exotic places where he gets stationed on temporary assignments. Not only does the company pay for all their living expenses, he also makes a ton of money. Grace doesn't have to work at all, which leaves her free to jet set around, shop, and in general enjoy her life.
For the last six weeks, Grace has been on some exotic extended cruise trip by herself. She called it her "healthy marriage break." I was supposed to pick her up from the airport last night. She intends to stay at the condo she and Eric keep in the North Bay until he comes back from his current assignment overseas.
She invited me to join her on the cruise, but I turned her down because I'd just started an incredible new job that was supposed to provide me with a killer salary, amazing prospects, and all the happiness I could imagine. Now I sit here in front of her, just six weeks later, nearly broke, newly unemployed, and completely heartbroken.
"I'm sorry I stayed out of touch for so long," Grace says with genuine regret on her face. "When I got on that ship, everything seemed fine."
"I'm just glad you're here now." I sniff.
She makes her way over to the couch and leans down to hug me. When she stands up, she puts her hands on her hips. "Why don't we get you showered?"
As if I am an invalid, Grace gets me cleaned up, changed, and fed. We're just polishing off the grilled cheese sandwiches she made when she finally pushes me.
"You need to tell me what's going on. For starters, I'm guessing you haven't been to work." She looks around the apartment as if for emphasis.
I shake my head. "I quit," I say meekly.
"Because?" she prompts.
I let out a little sob and hang my head in my hands. "It's too pathetic. I can't say it out loud."
Grace scoots her chair around the table and puts an arm over my shoulder. "Sweetheart, you've got to tell me. What the hell happened?" "A boy. I mean, a man. My life is in ruins over a man."
Grace stays silent for a long beat. So I look up at her. Her mouth is dropped open, and she's staring at me.
"I just ... I'm just ... shocked," she admits. "I mean, Candace, you, completely wrecked over a guy. This is ... unprecedented."
"I know," I say weakly.
"He must really be something," she breathes.
I rest my head on her shoulder. "He's ... God, yes ... he's really something."
"Well, where the hell is he?"
"Gone. He's gone." I wave my hand in the air. "Just like my job. Just like all the joy in my life."
"Okay, overdramatic," she says, lifting my head off her shoulder and forcing me to look her in the eyes. "Why don't you start at the beginning. How did you meet this guy? Who is he? And what the hell did he do to get you to crawl out of your little Candace cave and fall for him? And what on earth does all of this have to do with your job?"
I take a deep breath and tell her everything ...
* * *
Five weeks ago — San Francisco
I stared up at Kent in utter disbelief. "You want me to represent John Morrison Jr.?"
"It's less of a 'representation' job and more of a 'babysitting' job," Kent said. He leaned toward me, amusement clear on his face. The jackass sat on the edge of my desk, one loafer swinging wildly. He was happy to be dumping this on me; it was written all over him.
"The son of John Morrison Sr., the freaking boss?"
Kent nodded again. "The very same asshole."
Dumbfounded, I twisted my hands together in my lap and considered that. I had only worked at the very successful real estate firm of Morrison and Sons for three weeks. They were giving the youngest and most inexperienced of our substantial legal staff an assignment involving the boss's son. It didn't make sense. So I had to ask, "Why me?"
Kent started to look uncomfortable. And I knew something was up. I was a nobody, fresh out of my bar exam. Hell, the main reason I had this job was because they wanted someone young and inexperienced, which translates to inexpensive. My excellent references and grades, combined with the fact that my heritage helped to diversify the place a little, had all been considered major bonuses when they'd hired me. Still, I might be good, but I hadn't done anything yet to distinguish myself.
So, yeah, I was suspicious. There had to be something wrong with this assignment.
Kent shrugged. "This is part of paying your dues. The newbie always gets the shitty assignments." He looked down my blouse.
I leaned back to obstruct his view while chewing that over. If this was considered a bad assignment, I needed to know why. "And?" I prompted.
"I've had to deal with this asshole for two years," he said, a scowl on his face. "But I got rewarded for it," he said, almost as an afterthought to sweeten the pot.
It was true, though. Having worked for the company for just under three years, and showing no real promise as a good attorney, Kent had just been promoted and given a giant raise and a nicer office. He also got a new secretary. I got his old office, his old salary, and his old secretary. Apparently, I was also getting his old assignment.
I decided to drop the skepticism and approach this project with enthusiasm. After all, I wanted to make a good impression here. Sure, Kent wasn't my boss, but he was senior to me, and he reported everything to my actual boss. I needed to put on my happy-to-do-whatever face. "So tell me about him. What's the scoop?" I asked, a lilt in my voice.
He dropped a thick file folder on my desk. It made a deep slapping sound. It was almost ominous. "It's a basic babysitting job. Everything you need to know is in here." And then, just like that, he stood and headed for the door.
"Wait, Kent, that's it?" I called.
He turned in the doorway and smirked at me. "Read the file. You can ask me questions. But don't expect me to spend a bunch of time helping you out. This is your burden now. I'm done with it."
Then, he walked out of my office.
* * *
Three hours, several stacks of paper, and a few phone calls later, I had figured out why no one wanted this assignment. John Morrison Jr., who went by Jack, had broken with his family, big time. The oldest child of John Sr. and Margaret Morrison had turned his back on the family business at the age of twenty.
At the time, he'd been attending Stanford, pursuing a degree in business. Everything indicated he would follow in his father's footsteps. But then Jack dropped out suddenly. He disappeared for a few years and resurfaced two years ago as the president and CEO of a nonprofit organization he started with his own trust-fund money.
Jack called his organization Homes Without Inc., as in without companies, aka incorporated entities. It was cleverly subversive, I supposed. An advocacy group for people living in poor neighborhoods that were being gentrified, the organization targeted development companies, like the one Jack's family owned, and protested against them.
"Candace, your mother is on line one." Janice's voice came through the speakerphone, crisp and clear.
I repressed my sigh and hit the button. "Hi, Mom."
"You're still coming to dinner, aren't you, sweetheart?"
I glanced at my watch. Damn, it was already six thirty.
"Yeah, Mom. I'm leaving the office now. I'll be there by seven."
"Good, and oh, honey, I don't know if I mentioned it, but I have a guest coming."
I let out my breath. Of course, she did. "Okay, Mom. I'll see you soon."
I reorganized the papers in front of me, placing Jack Morrison's arrest record on top. No stranger to the police, he had been arrested numerous times for protests, standing in the way of bulldozers, and lying down in the street to stop traffic. Each time, Kent had gotten him out of any real trouble. In addition to bailing the rebellious son out of jail, Kent had also tried to tamp down the publicity caused when Jack protested his own family's business transactions. And now this jerk was my responsibility.
Before leaving the office, I took one last look at my email. I had a new one from my boss, Tom Garrity.
I hear Kent got you up to speed on Jack. I think you'll do great with the little ingrate. Remember your main job is to keep the brat out of jail. He's indicated lately he plans to target Grover and Co. The DA's cousin owns Grover, and the DA is out for Jack's blood. My advice: keep his focus on us and off Grover. Do whatever you have to. All other assignments are secondary to this one.
Good luck and feel free to pick my brain for ideas.
Insane! My job consisted of keeping this moron focused on trying to destroy our company and prevent him from hurting the competition. Meanwhile, I had to try to keep him out of the press and out of jail. Kent was right; this really was a babysitting job.
* * *
Half an hour later, I sat at my parents' dining room table, if you could call it that. It was a handmade rectangular wooden object on legs that my grandfather put together from a kit forty-five years ago. And dining room was probably too nice a word for the small space that sat between my parents' tiny, outdated kitchen and their cramped living room.
"You look really nice, Candie," my dad said as he scooped a pile of cooked carrots onto his plate.
To say I was overdressed would be a major understatement. My father, who'd toiled away for the last thirty-two years as a public defender, wore his work clothes as well. But unlike my designer suit, his was an ugly tan color, featured no tie or double-breast, and looked like it had been purchased at Target.
"Honey, you always dress so nicely," my mother said, trying desperately to keep the criticism out of her voice.
She wore a knee-length sundress with giant flowers printed all over it and a pair of Birkenstock sandals, hardly appropriate for a woman in her fifties.
But my "date" was in the worst shape of all. He was a couple years younger than my twenty-five and good-looking. But no amount of chiseled features and doleful brown eyes could help the scraggly hair, five o'clock shadow, and dirty jeans and T-shirt ensemble.
"Yeah, Candie, you look great," Toby said, his mouth full of half-mashed green beans. I shuddered.
I still held out hope that someday my parents would wake up and realize who I was. As their only child, I knew it was hard for them. My mother's three miscarriages after having me sealed my fate as the apple of their eye and the sole focus of all their child-rearing attention. But I might as well have been adopted for all I had in common with my parents.
My father, a white upper-middle-class kid from the Peninsula, had turned his back on the stability that would have come with joining his father's law firm. Instead, he'd gone to work in the San Francisco public defender's office, lived in a shabby apartment, and joined the good fight for human rights.
That's how he'd met my mom. Young, black, angry, and idealistic, she'd come to the Bay Area from Seattle, where she'd grown up one of five kids to an activist preacher and his fiery wife. They'd collided like asteroids and lit up the sky. And they still glowed, even now, all these years later.
I may have been the result of their passion and love, but I was nothing like them. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to trade in my parents' Castro-district brownstone for a North Bay mansion. I wanted to wear designer clothes, not resale-shop specials. And I didn't want to spend my weekends being paraded around at protest rallies and demonstrations with a miniature sign and a cute slogan-bearing T-shirt.
I tuned back to the conversation as Toby said to my mother, "I'm going to be right there with you, Lily. I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of those greedy bastards."
Whatever crazy new protest they were talking about, I'd been blocking it out completely. But now my father addressed me. "What do you think about the referendum against evictions, Candie?"
Crap. I did not want to talk about this. It was a trap. So I played dumb. "Um, well, eviction referendum?"
"Come on, Candie," my dad said. "You must have heard about it."
Of course, I knew about it. My job as a corporate lawyer for a real estate company meant me and my coworkers were knee-deep in the fight against the evictions referendum, which would change the rules about when new landlords could evict existing tenants. If it passed, my company would lose a lot of time and money. And, of course, my parents, being the activists they were, supported the referendum wholeheartedly because it would help keep poor people in premium housing units in the city. So, the last thing I wanted to do was discuss it with them.
"Robert, leave her alone," my mother said in a half whisper.
I sighed. "Dad, can we talk about your disappointment in me later?"
"Candie," my father said sternly, "I am not disappointed in you."
But I knew that wasn't true.
Toby was confused. "What am I missing?" he asked.
He annoyed me just to look at him, with his purposefully messy hair, his I-just-don't-care slouch, and get a freaking razor, for crying out loud.
"Candace just started working for Morrison and Sons," my mother said casually.
"Really, Candie?" Toby said, his tone dripping with disapproval.
Oh, sorry, dude. I don't work at Starbucks like you.
"My name is Candace," I said fiercely. "And actually, I just got a new assignment today. I'm going to be representing Jack Morrison."
"No kidding?" my dad asked, dropping his fork.
"Really?" my mother added, clearly pleased.
"Wow," Toby said. "That's cool."
"Um, well, that sounds interesting," my father said. "Why would someone from Morrison and Sons be representing Jack?"
"Well, 'representing' isn't exactly the right term," I said, hedging a little. "More like working with him to keep him out of trouble."
"You mean out of the way," Toby said.
Before my fantasy of smacking him in the jaw with the wooden spoon sticking out of the roasted squash had ended, both of my parents gave him dirty looks.
"No," I said casually. "Not really. My job is to keep him out of trouble. John Morrison Sr. is paying me to keep his son out of jail, out of the sights of other companies, that sort of thing."
"I bet Jack is thrilled about that," my mother said softly.
Despite my mom's reservations, my dad had a different take on it. "Well, if anyone can keep Jack Morrison on the streets fighting the good fight, it's you, honey," my father said, beaming with pride.
In that moment, I was glad I'd been given this assignment. For once, I would be doing something that connected me and my parents on a deeper level than our basic genetics.
However, I would come to regret it all when I met Jack Morrison two days later.
Excerpted from "Don't Let Him Go"
Copyright © 2018 Kay Harris.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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