Jessie wearily removed her glasses, closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples. She glanced at the clock and groaned. Eight o'clock, and she still wasn't done with the proposal. She reluctantly picked up the phone. Connor would not be pleased. This was the third day in a row she'd worked late.
She hadn't even dialed yet when she dropped the phone back into the cradle. She sighed deeply and turned back to her computer. No sense starting another fight. They'd been having too many of those lately, and maybe, she thought sadly, it was time to just admit it was over before they hurt each other any more.
She shook the disturbing thought from her head. "I just want to get this done and go home," she muttered.
"Jessie! What are you still doing here?!"
Mike Hudson was preceded into the room by a bulging briefcase. But he was dressed casually, indicating that he'd gone home for dinner and a change. Lucky devil. "I thought I'd be alone at this hour," he said.
"No such luck, Mike," Jessie smiled.
Mike ignored the comment and said softly, "Jess, you look like hell. You've been working too much. Please go home and get some sleep."
"I can't," said Jessie. "I have this proposal to finish, and after that..." she trailed off, indicating to the stacks on her desk.
Mike surveyed the piles of paperwork, nonplused. His eyes met hers and he saw the exhaustion. Concern swept over him and he motioned for her to follow him. "Come into my office," he demanded gently.
"Mike, I..." she started to protest. But he held a finger to his lips, and something about his look made her stop. She couldn't say no to Mike Hudson. Her life would be so much easier if she could.
His pace was brisk and business-like as he marched down the hall to his office, a step ahead of Jessie. "What does Connor think of the hours you've been putting in?" he asked as he reached for his keys and inserted one into the door of his office.
"Well..." Jessie hesitated. How much should she tell him? "Not a lot, actually. But we don't agree on anything anymore. I think we're on the outs." That should suffice.
"Sorry to hear that," Mike said. The door to his office swung open. "I always did like Connor, but he didn't seem to support your career goals. And I know how important a partnership is to you." He stepped aside to let Jessie into the office.
"Yeah," she admitted, really too tired to share much else.
"Well listen, if you need anything, just remember that Karen and I are here for you."
Karen. Why did he have to remind her? Boss or not, Mike Hudson had become a great friend. So had Karen, but Jessie wished, on a daily basis, that she didn't have such high morals; that Mike wasn't so devoted to his wife; that he wasn't so damn sexy. Keeping herself from falling in love with him had taken an iron will and hours of therapy, but she was past all that. Hours more of therapy, however, could not quell the urge to rip off his three-piece suit and fuck that man in ways his prim and conservative Karen couldn't even imagine.
"Thanks, but I'll be fine," she said. "I'm pretty well over it already, we just... well, we fizzled out a while ago. I think we're hanging on now out of habit."
"Just the same," said Mike. "Let me know if there's anything I can do. It's a damn cliché, I know, but if you need to talk or anything..."
Jessie nodded, impatient with the small talk. She brightened for a moment, hearing the refrigerator behind the wet bar. "Do you have any Coke?" she asked.
"I do," he nodded. "No, no, let me get it," he said, rising from the leather chair behind his desk, before Jessie could take more than two steps toward the corner of the huge office. She followed, and perched on a stool, resting her chin in her hand. She watched him withdraw two cans of Coke and a tray of ice from the small refrigerator. He retrieved two heavy glass tumblers from a shelf under the bar and dropped some ice into them, then cracked open the sodas.
After pouring, he looked up and cocked an eyebrow, an expression that served to soak Jessie's panties immediately. "A little of the hard stuff?" he offered innocently.
"Yes, please," she sighed distractedly, not really wanting the Crown Royal he was pouring into her glass, but not wanting to give away what she'd REALLY been thinking when the words "hard stuff" crossed those luscious lips of his.
He handed her the glass and she took a tentative sip. He hadn't added much Crown. That was good; she still had work to do. Nodding toward the plush seating area near the windowed outside wall of the office, he took his own drink and said, "Let's chat for a minute."
"That'd be nice," she admitted. "But only a minute, I'd like to finish the Bennington proposal tonight."
"Oh, I won't take long. I have work to do too," he assured her. He sank into an overstuffed chair, his back to the window, and casually propped his feet on the table at the center of the arrangement.
Jessie opted for the end of the sofa opposite him and took a moment to admire the view of the city just outside. The lights below simmered with vitality and life. Above, the night sky was clear and the first stars were just beginning to appear. One day, if she played her cards right, she'd have an office with a view like this.
Mike sipped his drink and smiled at her. "How are things going, Jessie? I hardly see you outside your office these days. You've been working very hard."
"Yes, it seems like the more I work, the more behind I get. But you know that doesn't bother me. All of my cases are very diverse, and I'm really enjoying them."
"It worries me though," he said. "That we've been putting too much on your plate. Fact is, you're the most able attorney on staff, and I wouldn't trust half those cases to anyone else."
She blushed at the high compliment. "Thank you, that means a lot."
"And you know, of course, that your partnership is in the bag. We'll be seeing your name on the wall very soon."
"I didn't know that," she replied, carefully keeping a cool note in her voice. Meanwhile, her heart was pumping double-time. This was what she'd worked for since she came to the firm right out of law school! "I'm very honored."
He drained the last of his Coke and swirled the ice cubes around the glass, looking thoughtful. "Can I get you another?" he offered.
"Thanks, no," she demurred.
She noticed as he rose to pour himself another drink, how well his jeans fit, and the sight of his incredible bulge slicked her panties with a fresh layer of juice. Deciding not to finish her drink, she set it carefully on one of the coasters on the table. She hadn't eaten anything since lunch, and had a slight buzz. After what he'd just told her, she could not afford for the alcohol to induce her to say anything that might jeopardize her position.
He returned a moment later with a fresh drink, minus the Coke. "I have to go over the Davis file," he told her, as if reading her thoughts. "Might need something a little stronger."
"Well thanks for the drink, Mike," Jessie said uncomfortably. She didn't want to leave him drinking alone, but she did have work to do.
"Leaving already?" he looked disappointed. "You didn't finish your drink."
"I didn't have much for lunch," she shrugged.
"Well at least sit with me while I finish mine," he invited. "I'd still like to talk to you."
She sat down again and tried very hard to keep her eyes raised to his, rather than let them stray to the fly of his jeans, the fit of which she marveled again. He worked out regularly, and it showed. "How's Karen doing?" Jessie asked. "I haven't seen her in a while."
"Oh, fine," Mike said blandly.
"You don't sound too sure. I don't mean to pry, Mike, but is something wrong?"
"No, not wrong," he said, then thought again. "Okay, yeah, something's wrong, but I don't know quite how to put it."
"Just tell me what you're thinking. We're friends, right? You can trust me that nothing leaves this office."
He looked gratefully at her, and ran a hand through his hair. Weeks of therapy went right out the window, and Jessie swallowed hard, wanting nothing more than to jump him right then and there. He gulped the last of his drink, and set the glass down on the floor next to him. "It's probably the alcohol making me say this. I haven't told anyone, Jess, not even Karen, but there is something I need to get off my chest."
"Go ahead," she whispered carefully. "It's not good to hold things inside."
He grimaced, looking for a place to start, and ran his hand through his hair again. Oh, God. Vulnerable and slightly drunk, it would be so easy. She'd call her therapist in the morning. If she was lucky, she could get in right away.
"See, I don't know if you knew this, but we were trying to have a baby. We tried for a really long time and it just didn't happen. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with either of us right away so they did some pretty extensive tests, which revealed that Karen is infertile.
"I love my wife, Jessie, and I know there are other options available, so it doesn't matter so much to me that we can't make a baby ourselves. Sure, I'd love for it to happen, but it can't, so hey... there's always adoption. Or we could use a surrogate. Whatever.
"But Karen's closed herself off to anything else. She thinks that if we adopt, she couldn't love that child as her own. And she's got a serious problem with another woman carrying a baby that is genetically mine, which I admit, is a little bit strange to me too.
"So here's the real problem... Since it's Karen who is unable to conceive, she's built this wall between us. Says she doesn't feel... worthy... of me anymore. I know she still loves me, but she's not letting me help her deal with this. All I can do is watch as she goes through it alone, and try to be there as much as I can. She won't even let me... we don't even... oh hell," he cried helplessly.
Against her better judgement, Jessie stood and went to him, sitting on the arm of the chair. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her. He gulped, then relaxed into her comforting embrace, encircling her waist with one arm.
"We don't make love anymore, Jessie. She shrinks away whenever I touch her. It's like she doesn't see the point anymore, if we're not going to be able to make a baby. She doesn't get that I love her anyway, and all I want is to show her, make her feel like she's still worth something to me."
This was probably going to take a year of therapy, thought Jessie. But she didn't allow the thought complete itself. Mike was her friend, and he'd come to her in his time of need. She couldn't take advantage of that.
He looked up at her, his eyes glistening with tears. "What do I do?" he asked pitifully.
Momentarily, Jessie was at a loss for words. "How long has it been like this?"
"Six months. Since the last doctor's appointment. She crawled into a hole right after that. I haven't made love to my wife in six months." Then he laughed sardonically. "Not only do I feel powerless where her emotions are concerned, but my balls ache something fierce."
"I'm so sorry Mike, I had no idea you two were going through all this. Have you thought about therapy?"
"I've suggested it, but she won't go. She says it won't change the fact that she's barren."
"Maybe not, but it might help her come to terms with it."
"Yeah," he sighed, then shrugged. "I just... I don't know... I wish... Damn. I don't know what I wish. Maybe I wish I didn't love her so much, and I could take a mistress. God, that sounds so selfish, doesn't it?"