Sweet Peas in April
Adam West, a high powered lawyer gets the shock of his life when he arrives to meet a new client. She’s the wife he hasn’t seen since they separated ten years ago.
Sam Reece doesn’t need the added complication of working with the husband who abandoned her a decade ago. She’s tried hard to put her failed marriage behind her, going back to her maiden name even though they never got divorced.
The situation is bad enough as it is, but it seems Adam is the only person who can help.
Can they ever move past the tragedy of the past or will its long shadow prevent them ever working together?
Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old. Lamentations 5:21
Sweet peas in April consume all the dross
The traffic was heavy. Not unexpected at this time of day, but solicitor Adam West had purposely wanted to avoid the main road for this very reason. However, things just seemed to be conspiring against him today. Irritation filled him, as he tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and glanced at his pupil, Katy, in the passenger seat.
She was part way into her practical training and was supposed to be shadowing him on all his cases. That involved her helping with the donkey work and learning the basics of how to be a solicitor on the job. But that wasn’t going to happen.
At least, not today.
And perhaps not this case, depending how long it took her to make alternative arrangements. It would be better if she didn’t do this case at all, as he didn’t want to waste several hours waiting for her to catch up. He’d assign her to someone else for the rest of the week.
Her six-month-old baby screamed from the car seat behind him.
He gripped the wheel tighter, knuckles turning white, as the high-pitched wailing his already taut nerves to breaking point.
“I really am sorry, Mr. West.” Katy apologized. “Theo seemed fine when I dropped him off at the nursery this morning.”
“It’s fine. I understand.” What else was he meant to say? Should he just give her the whole truth and say that it wasn’t fine, and this was actually the last thing he needed? And he didn’t mean merely the disruption to his carefully planned timetable, but having a child in such close proximity?
No, Adam couldn’t tell her that.
“But you’ll be late,” Katy continued. “I should have called my mum and got her to pick Theo up. My husband is at a conference in Wales, which is why he couldn’t do it.”
“Kids want their mum when they’re sick, anyway.” The constant crying was an unwelcome reminder. He shoved the memories resurrected by the baby’s sobs back into their box and attempted to shut the lid.
He didn’t need the trip down memory lane.
He pulled up outside the small terraced house and pulled up the parking brake. He looked at Katy as she got out of the car. “Take tomorrow off, and I’ll see you Wednesday. That will give him time to get better, or for you to make other arrangements if he’s still sick.”
“Thank you. And I really am sorry.” She took the car seat out and shut the door.
Adam sighed and speed-dialed the chambers, hoping his secretary was at her desk and not running errands for someone else. “Jo, its Adam. I need two favors. First, ring my next appointment, Wyatt Finance Incorporated, and tell them I’m running about forty minutes late. Apologize profusely—grovel if you have to—but promise I’ll be there as soon as I can. Then meet me outside chambers. I’ll need you with me.”
“I thought Katy was following you this week.”
“Change of plan. She’s looking after a sick kid the next couple of days. I’ll pick you up in ten.” He hung up and pulled away.
He reached the office seven minutes later and was relieved to see Jo standing outside waiting for him. At least something had gone right. He stopped only long enough for Jo to hop in and fasten her seatbelt.
She glanced at him. “I don’t know the first thing about this case. And I’m not a pupil or a paralegal, I’m a secretary.”
“That isn’t going to matter. You know enough for what I need, plus it could give us an advantage. You might be able to swap boss-tyrant stories over the water cooler or something.”
Jo grinned. “You a tyrant? You don’t want to believe everything you hear.”
Adam smiled despite himself. “Really?”
“You’re one of the best. The pupils fight to be assigned to your cases. In fact, I heard on the grapevine that they apply to chambers purely because of you. Rumor has it you are in line for the next head of chambers.”
Adam was flattered but wasn’t going to say as much. “I’ll bring you up to speed en route, so here goes...” He glanced her way long enough to see a nod before he turned back to the road and accelerated, keeping to the speed limit as he spoke. “The contact there is the CEO, Sam Reece. It’s an embezzlement case, but the firm is also being sued for unfair dismissal.”
“That’s what we have to find out. I’ll need you to take notes. I assume you brought your laptop?”
Jo nodded. “And I can type one seventy words a minute.”
Adam smiled. “Pretty impressive—but that would be why I hired you, right?”
She chuckled. “Well, I like to think it wasn’t just my blonde hair.”
Adam laughed. “I’m not that shallow.” He pulled into the only free parking space outside the tall glass building. He eased his long frame from the car and grabbed his briefcase from the boot. He locked the car and headed up the steps to the offices.
The receptionist glanced up as he and Jo approached the desk.
“Adam West to see Sam Reece. I’m a little behind schedule I’m afraid.” He finally gave himself time to imagine what Mr. Reece would look like. Probably mid-fifties, greying, creased shirt, overweight, with a suit that needed cleaning.
Adam straightened his tie. He was glad he had Jo, typist extraordinaire, rather than Katy. This way he would have a complete record of everything said at the meeting. Transcripts were always useful, as some of his clients were less than savory and had a tendency to change their stories either in court or just before.
Adam turned with a smile. “Sorry I’m late. The traffic was horren…” The words died in his throat, and the smile froze on his face as his gaze fell on the woman in front of him.
Her black hair, once short, tightly woven plaits, was now long, sleek, and hung in waves over her shoulders. Her dark skin—as flawless as ever—glowed, and her brown eyes narrowed in recognition. “Mr. West.”
His throat constricted, and his tie threatened to choke him. His gut knotted, his belt too tight. Why hadn’t he made the connection? Sam Reece. Samantha Reece. The one woman he’d hoped and prayed never to run into again.
Forcing himself into professional mode, Adam stuck out his left hand. “Ms. Reece, I apologize for my lateness.” He didn’t want anyone to know they had a past and prayed desperately she’d be just as professional.
Her handshake was no warmer than an iceberg and lasted no more than a second. “I’m grateful you could come at such short notice.”
“This is my assistant, Jo Verso. She’ll be taking notes.”
Sam shook hands with Jo and led them down a corridor to her office.
It was sparsely furnished. A vase of sweet peas sat on the desk—their fragrance filling the air. A couple of photo frames faced her chair. A painting of a waterfall hung on the wall opposite the window. He recognized it instantly. He’d bought it for her just after she—
He broke off the thought. The past had to stay locked firmly away. And more importantly it needed to stay buried. Especially if he stood any chance of working this case.
“Would you like something to drink, Mr. West?” Sam asked.
“Coffee, please.” He paused, then added, “Black, no sugar.”
She nodded. “Miss Verso?”
“White with one, please.” Jo looked and sounded surprised. But then it wasn’t protocol for the PA’s to get coffee, too. They were just there to take notes, not to be seen and definitely not heard.
“Have a seat. I won’t be a minute.” Sam left the office.
He watched her go. Was she as fazed by this as he was?
The door shut behind her, and Adam sat down. He crossed his legs and dug his nails into the palms of his hands. If this is Your idea of a joke, Lord, it’s not funny. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in ten years. You know how things ended between us. Thirty years wouldn’t be long enough.
Sam shut the break room door and rubbed her hand over her face. Why him? Of all the lawyers in Headley Cross—or in the world—why did it have to be Adam? Weren’t things bad enough right now without this added complication? Though to give him his due, he’d looked as stunned as she felt but had done his best to conceal it.
She moved to the side and made three cups of coffee.
Esther Parks, one of the HR consultants, came in. “Who is that hunk in your office?”
Sam straightened. “Adam West, a lawyer.”
“We need a lawyer? Have I missed something?”
“It isn’t common knowledge yet, but no doubt it will be now that people know there’s a lawyer in the building. I’m simply covering all the bases and finding out where I stand from a legal point of view. If Troy persists with this unfair dismissal suit then we will need a lawyer, and it’s best to have one already up to speed.”
“Makes sense…” Esther paused. “Wait a minute. Did you say his name was Adam West?”
Sam put the cups on a tray, silently sighing, wishing Esther would stop emphasizing one word every single time she spoke. She added a plate, tossing several custard creams onto it. Adam had always liked those biscuits. “That’s what I said.”
“Isn’t that your married name? You and he could be related.”
“We could be,” she said as straight-faced as possible.
“That would be awkward. Can’t you get another lawyer?”
Sam picked up the tray, wanting to get out of there quickly before Esther put two and two together and made four. “Trust me; it couldn’t get any more awkward if it tried. He turned up forty minutes late as it is. And no, it’s Mr. West or no one. It took long enough to find a firm who’d even listen to me, never mind send someone out.”
She headed back to her office, pushed the door closed with her hip, and crossed over to the desk. She set the tray down on the polished surface and set the coffee cups on coasters in front of her guests. “Here you go.”
Adam leaned forwards, his aftershave achingly familiar. He took a cup from her, the warmth from the brief touch running rampant through her. She pulled away as he leant back in his chair and smiled that intoxicatingly lazy smile of his. “Shall we start with some background?”
Straight to business. Typical Adam. Nothing changes. “Sure.” She sat behind her desk, hoping the slight distance would protect her. She opened the file on her desk and studied the tall, blond man she’d once known so well.
He’d filled out more in the last ten years. Broad shoulders, slight thickening at the waist, but his hair still blond and parted on the right. His blue eyes seemed darker, more soulful.
His tanned fingers gripped his cup, wedding ring still very much evident on his left hand.
She had no idea why. After all, he was the one who’d walked out on her and their marriage.
Her left hand turned the pages of the file. She could feel his gaze and raised her eyes to meet it, his frown surprising her. Did he expect her to still be wearing her ring? She met his stare head on. “Is something wrong?”
“No, not at all. Just surprised no one else could help. I mean, it’s a pretty big case.”
“I guess that scared them off,” Sam said dryly. She took a deep breath, beginning from the start. “It was little things at first. We’d lose contracts. There was misappropriation of funds and paperwork going astray. Even stupid things like paper, drawing pins, and the pens off my desk going missing. It was irritating, but also worrying, as it meant someone had been in my office. Then things began to escalate. The books didn’t balance. Money started going missing from accounts all across the board. Some of it turned up in other accounts, most didn’t. We lost several big contracts because of this.”
She sighed. “Anyway, I managed to trace it to one department. All the accounts were handled by Max Holder and Troy Branning. Max died in a car accident in December, but the money didn’t stop moving. I suspended Troy in January and took over all his accounts myself. There is no doubt it was him.”
“And he’s suing you?” Adam regarded her with that look she knew so well.
She swallowed, trying to stop her body from reacting like a hormonal teenager. He wanted nothing to do with her. End of. “Yeah, he is. Wrongful dismissal, loss of income, and a couple of other things tossed in for good measure. I can’t afford this lawsuit.”
“Why not bring criminal charges?”
“I tried speaking to someone. The police say I don’t have enough evidence. They suggested handing it over to the fraud squad, but that would damage the company’s reputation even more. I built this business on trust.”
“It seems to me that trust is already gone.”
She stiffened and narrowed her eyes. “Excuse me?”
Adam held her gaze. “Your company lost the money. You just admitted that.”
“Now wait a minute.” She folded her arms defensively. “Troy Branning was not acting on behalf of my company when he embezzled those funds.”
“That’s beside the point. He worked for your company. Therefore it’s your company and your reputation down the pan. Would you trust your money with a company who diverted funds to line their own pockets?”
“Just whose side are you on?”
Adam smirked. He turned to Jo. “Go and wait by the car. I’ll be there in a few.”
She nodded as she rose. “Yes, sir.” She gathered her stuff and left.
Sam leaned against the window, keeping as much distance between her and Adam as possible. “So, that’s it. You’re not going to help me, either. Just lay the blame squarely on me.”
Adam kept his voice calm, not wishing to inflame the situation. “I didn’t say that. I’m merely stating the facts as you gave them to me. Give me a jolly good reason why I should help you.” He uncrossed his legs, not lifting his gaze from her.
“I could lose everything. Don’t you get it?”
He stood, his decision already made. “I already have lost everything, so I understand that perfectly.” He nodded to her left hand. “No wedding ring?”
“No,” she snapped. “Not that it’s any of your concern.”
“You want my help, fine, I’ll take the case.” He picked up his briefcase. “I shall need somewhere to work—read all the files, computer records, and so on.”
Confused, she frowned. “That information can’t leave my office.”
“Then your office it is.” He strode to the door.
“Adam,” she managed.
He turned, resting his hand on the door knob. “Sam, when you decide if you want my help or not, here’s my direct number.” He dropped a card on the top of the bookcase and headed out, leaving the door open.
Sam crossed the room and closed the door quietly, groaning in frustration. Oh, God, grant me the patience to deal with him just long enough to sort out this mess.
Adam sat in his office, coffee steaming on the desk. He pressed his fingers to the tip of his nose and exhaled deeply. The last time he’d seen Sam, he’d been packing.
Sam leaned on the door frame, tears falling. “You’re really going?”
“What have I got to stay for?”
“Me? Or don’t I matter either.”
“How can you say that?” He flung the last few shirts into the case.
“I gave up everything for you,” she said. “University, family…”
He scowled. “Family?” he scoffed. “They never approved of me. That’s why we eloped in the first place.”
“Well, your parents didn’t like me either,” she shot back. “Nice white bloke with big ambitions marries trashy black kid from the slums.”
Adam flung the case shut, the slam echoing in the half- empty room. “They never called you trashy, and they didn’t even think that of you. And a block of flats on a council estate is not a slum—it was your home and as good a home as anyone else I know comes from.”
“But they didn’t approve. I wasn’t good enough.”
He raised his hands, tired of the same argument going around in circles. “I’m not doing this. Not now. Not anymore.” He picked up his case.
“Where are you going?”
“That doesn’t concern you.” He strode to the door.
“It does too concern me. You’re my husband.” Sam ran after him and grabbed his arm. “Don’t you walk away from me!”
“There is nothing left.” He looked down at her hand, ignoring the shaft of pain that speared through his arm straight to his heart. That was the first time she’d touched him since Immy’s funeral.
“Immy’s gone.” Adam shook himself free. “It’s over, Sam. Just accept it and move on.” He let the door slam on his way out and didn’t look back.
Adam sucked in a deep breath, looking down at the wedding ring on his left hand. Move on? She’d done that all right. He twisted the ring and pulled it off. He let it spin on the desk, watching it turn, the vows he’d made repeating in his head.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others,’til death us do part.
The ring fell and finally stopped.
Death had parted them. But not his death or Sam’s.
Rather the death of their only, much loved daughter.