They had been sitting in the same room for the last two hours and it was beginning to wear on everyone, from their client to the opposing counsel and everyone else in-between. Taking a deep breath, Scott flicked another quick gaze toward the phone in his hand, silently wishing he’d received a response to the text message he’d sent halfway through this debacle. Whether or not it looked good to be exchanging messages with your roommate like an adult version of pass the note, something needed to change about the moment.
Gaze lifting, he allowed himself to look at the woman seated opposite him, trying to figure out how much she shared the sentiment.
She wore her hair gathered at the top of her head, twisted in a tight nest of blonde. Her hazel eyes remained fixed on the tablet in front of her, her long fingers making the occasional swipe across the touch screen while she held every other card besides how bored she was close to her chest. Scott raised an eyebrow and she looked up, her ruby lips registering a slight curl in recognition of the look. Mirroring the expression, he looked away again, toward the senior partner seated beside him as he cleared his throat.
“The terms of this are still unacceptable,” Renault Moyer said through what was still a thick French accent despite nearly a decade spent in the States. Handing the document he held back to the lawyer across the table, he then sat back in his chair and adjusted his suit jacket. “You are trying to bribe our client with a smaller contract to keep them from filing a lawsuit.”
“Not bribing,” the other man corrected. “Offering support to a smaller company. Devlin Biosystems realizes that local industry fears we’ll form a monopoly when we move into an area. This is our way of proving otherwise.” Placing the papers onto the table in front of him, he kept them within reach of Moyer and flashed a polite smile at the opposing counsel. While Moyer’s salt-and-pepper hair had receded nearly to the top of his head, Francis Spacey resembled a modern incarnation of Patrick Bateman. Everything about him suggested paleo diets and manicures and if Scott hadn’t been used to that sort of life, he might have found it intimidating.
As it was, he was simply hoping Spacey might shut up sometime soon.
“Be that as it may,” Moyer countered, “It’s still bribery. Our clients have had reason to believe the technology Devlin offered to the Jefferson Hospital System in its recent contract bid violates several patents filed by Franklin Pharmaceuticals.”
“You think it does. Honestly, I think Devlin could have sued them by now for their similarity to patents we’ve had on the books for years longer.”
“So Devlin thinks.” Moyer glanced at his client, seated at his left with Scott on the right. The older man nodded at Moyer, prompting the lawyer to look back in the direction of the opposing counsel while flipping open a manila file folder. Moyer shifted his focus to the papers in front of him just long enough to pick out the correct set and toss them in front of Spacey. “Here are the specifications for a respirator Franklin has had patented since 1996. Does it bear any similarities to something Devlin manufactures?”
The level of bored annoyance on Spacey’s face proved only to be a precursor to the way he rolled his eyes before picking up the packet of papers. Flipping to the second page, he turned them horizontally and studied the photocopy of a schematic. “Sir, I don’t have every device Devlin has patented memorized,” he finally said.
“No, no you don’t, but this should look familiar.” Moyer’s smile broadened. Scott felt the weight of the senior partner’s gaze settle on him, startled back into the moment by it. Glancing away from the pretty blonde, he made eye contact and raised an eyebrow as Moyer nodded toward the opposing counsel. “Would you tell Monsieur Spacey which of their products should be coming to mind?”
Scott straightened in his chair and set his phone down, in favor of reaching for the tablet at his right. Sliding it over, he unlocked it and, in a few seconds, had the Devlin website up on the screen. “You produce a heart valve, effective 2008, and have sold it across the country since 2010,” Scott said. “We have the paperwork in place to file an injunction against you for the production of this product and several other devices which contain parts Franklin has held patents for longer.” A few extra selections brought an image up of the heart valve in question.
The smile on his face broadened as he turned the tablet screen to face Devlin’s lawyers.
Spacey leaned closer, reaching for his glasses and slipping them on while regarding the screen. The associate beside him – the aforementioned blonde – leaned closer as well and the two exchanged a glance before Spacey looked back toward Scott and Moyer. “I think Miss Thompson and I both agree that if Franklin had a leg to stand on in court, there would have been an injunction filed already.”
Scott shrugged. “Surely you’ve heard of holding some cards close to your chest, Mr. Spacey.”
“And we were the ones accused of having ulterior motives.” A thin smile traveled the length of his lips, his gaze settling on the younger attorney and staying there. “My apologies, sir, did you say your name was Mr. Reilly?”
“Yes, I did.” Scott held his posture steady. The question bore more to it than the words presented. “Do you need that spelled?”
Spacey breathed a chuckle. “I don’t think anybody from this area needs that name spelled, I only wanted to be sure.” Reclining back in his chair, he settled both hands on his stomach, their fingers intertwining. “Considering your family’s reputation, I should like to think you don’t need basic concepts like product similarities explained to you. You have your schematics and our picture, but we don’t have any paperwork yet requesting our patent applications. What would that say to you?”
“That would say our clients hoped they might have a more amiable discussion with Devlin Biosystems, despite being rebuffed by your company several times.”
“Aren’t you essentially wasting your time then?” the female lawyer asked, interjecting. Brow arched, she made eye contact with Scott and held tight to a cordial smile. “If Franklin wanted to play ball, they should have come prepared.”
“With all due respect, Miss Thompson, even Franklin knows Devlin wields a larger bat.” Scott glanced from her back to her senior partner. “What Franklin wants at this point is something more than scraps while Devlin gets Jefferson Hospital. Their ultimatum is to file a list of injunctions for patent violation. If you wanted requests for your applications, then I can have them prepared for Renault by Monday.”
“We’ll have lawsuits already filed against Franklin by tomorrow afternoon,” Francis Spacey countered. The look he shot his associate came with a sigh, the sound more fatigued than troubled. He shook his head and collected the original proposal which had been laid on the table. “Mr. Lawrence,” he said, addressing the client seated beside Renault Moyer, “I highly recommend talking to your CEO again about our offer. The last thing Franklin Pharmaceuticals needs is to be tied up in court with frivolous lawsuits while these gentlemen siphon your profit margin into extinction. There are several other companies in the Philadelphia metro area who would step all over each other for this proposal.”
“Go and feed your crumbs to the birds,” Lawrence said, entering the discussion for the first time. A slim, older gentleman – early seventies at his youngest, Scott reckoned – he bore the stubbornness of a person who had long since forgotten how to surrender. “We refuse to roll over like the others have.”
“Did the others roll over, or did they learn the proper way to ‘play ball’ as Miss Thompson worded it? I’ll trust you all to have a decision for us before we leave for Bethesda on Friday.”
Spacey stood, as did Thompson and a silent member of the Devlin team who had accompanied them into the meeting room. Scott glanced first at the Devlin employee before allowing his gaze to settle on Miss Thompson. Whatever words Renault Moyer had to offer the opposing counsel when he and Scott came to their feet got lost in the background. Scott focused on his female counterpart and mouthed one word.
She nodded and turned to face her senior partner, ignoring Scott for the remainder of the discussion. Sliding his hands in his pockets, Scott focused on the parting exchange as much as he felt apt to. He had done his part for the time being. Renault Moyer bore a frightening level of intelligence, making him one of the best assets the firm had in their employ, but a bulldog he was not. Scott never had to wonder why his resume floated to the top of the pile out of law school. The founders might have claimed it was Scott’s steel nerve and his ability to cut through the bullshit, but the Reilly name had given him more than just a sense of the business world.
It had also come replete with its own list of connections.
Scott nodded at Francis Spacey when the other man bid him farewell and watched with Moyer and Walter Lawrence throughout the opposing team’s egress. Each man remained silent, even after the glass door swung shut and left the remaining three standing exactly in the same place. Moyer took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, pivoting to line the other two in his sights. “Mr. Lawrence, I’d be prepared to tell your board of directors that Devlin means business,” he said. “I’ll have Scott sort out the paperwork in case we determine filing suit against Devlin is our best course of action, but they should be prepared to have this tied up in court for quite a while.”
Walter Lawrence drew in a deep breath and held onto it for an extra moment before releasing it. “If that’s how it’s got to be, that’s how it’ll be,” he said. Lifting a hand, he scratched at the back of his neck. “We’ve lost our contract with Jefferson and we’re floating by on borrowed time now. If we go down, I think the board wants it to be with a chunk of Devlin stock knocked away in the process.”
“I doubt your board wants to go down, period,” Scott interjected. He offered the older man a polite smile. “But if they play their cards right, the publicity could earn them different contracts. Renault and I will do our best to shore up your case before anything gets filed.”
“Can always count on the Reillys for that.” Lawrence flashed a wry grin at Scott. He offered his hand to the young attorney, but as they shook, Scott read so many things in the space between them. The Reilly name stood for a lot. Quality was one thing. Ruthlessness, another. By the time Scott released his hold on the older man, he’d come no closer to determining what impression had been left with their client.
“If it’s alright with you, Renault, I’ll collect my things and get started at home?” Scott asked, his gaze shifting to his senior partner.
Renault waved Scott away with a flick of his hand and a few words muttered in French. Shooting the other lawyer a much less strained smile, Scott added a mock salute and left the conference room, waiting until the door shut behind him before exhaling the sigh of relief he’d been holding. Everything about the polish of his exterior remained intact, from his stride to the straightness of his posture and crispness of his suit. Scott nodded to the lingering remnant of paralegals and associates who remained in the office, noting to himself just how much later life had become ever since the firm had taken on immortals as clientele.
“And kids are being born that won’t know any differently,” he mused aloud, rounding a corner and slowing to a stop in front of one of the elevators. Reaching out to press the down arrow, he collected himself once again while waiting for the doors to part and kept his remaining thoughts to himself throughout the trek to his desk. The lawyers still diligent at work ignored him and he, them, while gathering up his things. Slipping on a wool coat, he secured his briefcase strap over his shoulder and departed just as quickly as he had arrived.
Outside, the air had gained more of a bite than it bore that morning, when he had arrived at work. The bustling thoroughfare of 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard seemed to have only picked up in pace and a quick glance at his watch revealed the hour to be a barely-tolerable nine o’clock. Gathering his coat close to his body, he buried both hands in the pockets and took a deep breath. With one last look spared toward the skyline, he strode toward the intersection, heading south on 17th.
The name of the establishment was rumored to have familiar significance to its owner – one of those cases of being a favored aunt’s maiden name or something of the like. The important part to Scott was that it had been rated high when Zagat’s made their pass through the restaurant, and that it put enough of a dent on his credit card to make taking dates there impressive. It required a short walk from the office, nestled deep within the heart of Rittenhouse, but it also brought Scott a few blocks away from home in the process.
On a Wednesday night, reservations at Benet’s were a moot point. It wasn’t one of those establishments the politicians took their mistresses to, or where players from the Eagles brought their wives for a place that was both private and opulent at the same time. When Scott walked up to the hostess, he asked for a table for two and was seated immediately, his coat hung properly on a hook and work pushed out of sight directly before he settled into his chair. “My date should be here shortly,” he said, “But can I start with a glass of your house red?”
The hostess nodded and rushed off to find his server. Scott’s shoulders relaxed, the relief of being away from the corporate world washing over him like a wave lapping up from the ocean. It took until the first glass of wine had been consumed, refilled and partly depleted for Scott Reilly, attorney-at-law to transform back into the Scott who lay underneath. By the time a familiar face appeared at the door, he felt much more at ease.
She spotted him first and made her way to him with no further ceremony.
Scott stood once she had reached within a few paces and pulled out the chair opposite him. The tight bun had been pulled out, allowing her blonde hair to hang free in ringlets, her business suit still her armor, but a much more relaxed manner to her demeanor as well. She smirked when she looked up at him; Melissa Thompson remained the perfect picture of amusement throughout the duration of his movements. “Whoever said chivalry was dead had yet to meet you,” she quipped as he sat back in his chair.
He laughed. “I’m not so sure about that,” Scott said. “After all, if my fiancée knew I was seeing you, she wouldn’t be calling me chivalrous.”
“Oh really?” Melissa’s smile broadened. “And what would she be calling you?”
“Probably something like a homewrecker.”
Melissa blurted out a laugh, prompting Scott’s smile to broaden. Their conversation paused as their server wandered over, but only until the formality of drink orders could be ironed out. As the humor surrounding them dissipated, Melissa sat back in her chair and crossed her legs, studying Scott in silence for a few moments before speaking again. “I’ve missed you. Bethesda is too far away sometimes.”
Warmth radiated from Scott’s expression. Reaching forward for one of her hands, he took it in his and lifted it up to his lips. “I’ve missed you, too, Mellie.” The admission preceded a small kiss, pressed against the back of her palm before he released his hold on her hand. The diamond in her ring setting glimmered when the light hit it, the white gold bearing an added shine, as though being worn by her made it more beautiful than it had been when he first bought it. He waited for the bittersweet to dissipate from the air before speaking again. “Let’s not dwell on Bethesda,” he said. A small measure of the mask he wore returned, if just for the moment. “How have you been?”
“Oh, busy,” she said. “Just like you.” A playful smile danced across her lips, in open defiance of the melancholy still lingering. “But really, Scott? Franklin Pharmaceuticals? They haven’t been on the cutting edge of anything since the 1970s.”
Scott laughed and Melissa’s smile broadened. “One day, when I’m in control of our client list, I’ll make sure we don’t take on anything but the cutting edge, regardless of how deep their pockets are.”
“I think that’s the only thing they have going for them.”
“The Viagra business keeps them afloat.”
Melissa snorted and Scott chuckled, his eyes dancing with mischief. She waved a hand in front of her face as though chasing away an invisible batch of flies buzzing in the space in front of her, barely able to compose herself in time for the server to appear again with a glass of Riesling. The same hand hovered over her bottom lip while the waiter addressed them both. “Are we ready to order?” he asked.
“Give us a few moments,” Scott said, the words spoken through a haze of laughter.
“We’ll order some calamari to start,” Melissa added, promptly cupping her mouth after managing that, nodding as the server nodded and watching him walk away. She and Scott made eye contact once the waiter had departed. Lifting up in her seat enough to reach for Scott, Melissa slapped his shoulder, forcing him to draw up into himself, using his arm to block the attack. The action only caused his laughter to escalate.
Melissa settled herself back into her chair and adjusted her suit jacket. “Andy’s been a bad influence on you,” she said, the sparkle of playfulness in her eyes defying the accusation of her words.
“I’ve always been this bad,” Scott countered. He cleared his throat and glanced around, straightening his posture on reflex. “Though he’d be happy to hear someone say he’s forced me to lighten up.”
“I’ll bet he would.” The smile lingered on her face. “The Viagra business?”
“Actually, he’d accuse me of needing new material. That joke’s almost as old as we are.” Scott ran a hand through his hair, pushing back the locks of auburn that had started to fall in his face. He raised an eyebrow at Melissa through the gesture. “Are you able to come over tonight?”
“We’ll see. You didn’t hear it from me, but Devlin has us working like mad trying to shore up the new contracts in this area.”
“Taking over a city does probably create a lot of work.”
Melissa lifted an eyebrow back at her fiancé. “Oh, are you going to get on this particular bandwagon? Especially after what Delaware Valley Industries has been getting its hands into lately?”
The comment stung more than he let on. Scott glanced away, taking a deep breath inward and releasing it slowly. “I have no control over what DVI does with its operations. My father does.” He looked back at Melissa, a tired expression developing on his face in the process. “If I had a say, the merger with Cochran would’ve ended up a lot civiler.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t want any control over what DVI does. That’s the point.”
“I wish it wasn’t.” His fingers settled on the handle of a fork and ran along the length of it, ending at the tongs before shifting back to the tablecloth. Scott’s eyes remained fixed on the cream-colored fabric. “DVI and Devlin are two totally different creatures, though. It’s apples and oranges.”
“It’s not if we’re comparing business practices.”
“I really think you and I should know better than to discuss work over dinner by now.” Scott’s gaze flicked back up to meet hers.
Melissa frowned and rolled her eyes. Silence settled between them, uncomfortable, marked by either person taking small sips from their wine and setting their glasses back down on the table. They both paged through the menu and when the server arrived again, took turns ordering while avoiding eye contact. As the tense quiet returned, Melissa shook her head and played idly with the rim of her glass. “You could do better than them,” she said, glancing up at Scott once more. The pad of her finger traced circles around the circumference while her eyes remained fixed on him.
He shrugged noncommittally. “Than my brother, maybe, but not my father,” he said. “And that’s assuming I have any aspirations toward working for them one day.”
“They would make a much better client than Franklin Pharmaceuticals.”
“Even if that wasn’t potentially a conflict of interest, I’d rather not sell my soul that much.” He lifted his wine glass again. “It’s bad enough reading about it on the internet than staring at the bottom line.”
“Somebody forgot to leave his soul behind in law school.” A playful grin curled the corners of her lips.
Scott huffed, the sound sardonic, but not devoid of amusement. Pausing to finish off his wine, he continued holding the empty glass, peering into it like it had become a focus. “I was sick the day the crossroads demon showed up.” He reciprocated the smile as he looked back up at Melissa.
She reached forward, prompting him to lower the glass again. Taking his hand in hers, she interlaced their fingers, her smile broadening. “You get so touchy about your family, Scott. Nobody’s going to forget the Reilly name any time soon. You might as well figure out a way to use it to your advantage.”
“I thought I was saving that for when you run for political office.”
“Already planning my first fundraising dinner. That’s almost as sweet as the day you proposed to me.” Her thumb brushed over his fingers. Melissa tightened her hold on him and leaned forward, a conspiratorial way to her movements that brought her closer to Scott’s personal space. Her voice lowered to a whisper, eyes slyly darting one way, and then the other before she spoke again. “I think we should take dinner back to your place.”
Scott tensed a little as the sensation of her foot touching his leg preempted his response. The look in her eyes conveyed a story all in its own right, daring him to turn the page and uncover what laid inside her mind. Scott licked his lips, making up some of the distance between them himself. “I still have that bottle of Glenlivet my parents gave me for my birthday,” he said.
Melissa hummed. “Scotch, steak, and considerably less clothing than we’re currently wearing?”
“Much, much better than corporate negotiations.”
“You’re such a smooth talker, Mr. Reilly.” They both looked up as the server approached, holding the plate of calamari in hand. Melissa released her hold on Scott, sitting back against her chair and sighing up at the waiter. “I’m tired and I think the wine’s going to my head. Do you think you could wrap everything up for us, please?”
The server, in turn, studied her and frowned, opening his mouth to issue something that had all of the earmarks of being an objection. She nodded in Scott’s direction, however, her eyes never leaving the tall, slim man in front of them. “He tips very well when I’m being difficult,” she added.
The server glanced at Scott, who nodded in assent. Reaching into his back pocket, Scott pulled out his wallet, producing a credit card and placing it on the table. “Our dinner and the check, if you could,” he said.
“I’ll be right back with all of that,” the server responded. Turning his back to them, he marched away, leaving Scott and Melissa to exchange another conspiratorial look in his absence. It took a matter of minutes for the server to reappear and only a scant amount of time before the bill was paid and both lawyers found themselves out in the cold, November night. As they disappeared inside Scott’s room, though – two glasses and two sets of utensils in hand – they wasted no time setting the food aside and lighting a fire in the hearth.
The logs had barely any chance to catch before she snuck up behind him.
Both of her arms looped around him from behind, hands settling on his chest. Her fingers fanned out against the smooth fabric of his shirt, one nail toying with a button before sliding underneath to unfasten it. Scott remained still until her trek ventured northward, obediently lifting a hand to undo the tie knotted around his neck and pull it out from around his collar. As she reached the top, her teeth toyed with his earlobe and a shiver ran the length of his spine. His lids threatened to flutter shut as she chuckled.
“Are we alone?” she whispered.
Scott nodded. “Andy doesn’t go to bed this early,” he said. “He would’ve been out in the living room.”
“Then I want to see how loud you can make me scream.”
“Challenge accepted.” He turned in her grip and pressed their bodies flush, the action forceful and enough to prompt her to loop her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. As he carried her to bed, his lips crashed into hers, the kiss long and decadent, lasting the full journey and parting only as they toppled onto the bed. Melissa worked on the buttons of her blouse while Scott pulled his shirt and suit jacket from his body. The first pieces of clothing fell to the ground, forgotten just as soon as they were discarded.
Whatever time passed between them became lost to the throes of lust, and after gathering blankets and consuming food, they curled together beneath the sheets. Neither of them budged when they heard the door open and shut, the other occupant of the condo sneaking into his room without any further ceremony. It took until Scott jolted awake from a dream for him to finally slip out from the cocoon of tangled limbs and comforters, one leg sliding after the other into his boxer shorts so he could pad through the apartment for his briefcase.
Melissa remained sleeping when he returned. He lay in bed, glancing through court orders and patent reports, making notes concerning what paperwork he would need to prepare when he returned to the office. Sounds of the city filtered into the bedroom, and the haze of the metropolis prevented either stars or the moon from shining past the clouds. Still, he read by the scant light of the city, reminding himself it was either excel at this, or someday be pulled back into his parents’ world.