All ideas were good ideas after two shots of tequila. The thought skimmed the surface of Campbell Clark’s mind as she rolled the full shot glass between her fingers. She was seated at a table, tucked away in the corner of Azul, the rooftop bar of the Westin in downtown Austin, with her two best friends from law school, Abby Keane and Grace Maldonado. Seemingly a safe, private place to reveal the grand plan that had just popped into her head, but until today’s five-year law school reunion, she hadn’t seen Grace and Abby in over a year, and she wasn’t sure if they would fist-bump her idea or tell the waitress to cut her off.
Rewind to earlier in the day when she’d been standing in her closet trying to decide if the dressy casual dress code was more dressy or casual, and wanting to throttle whoever had come up with the term. For tonight’s reunion mixer, she’d settled on dark blue, slim fit jeans, a royal blue top, her favorite cognac moto jacket, and the brand new pair of peep toe booties she’d splurged on at Neiman’s last week, using the excuse that a class reunion was the perfect reason to buy something new. Plus she was celebrating seeing Grace and Abby for the first time in way too long. During their three years in law school, they’d been inseparable, but after graduation, they’d scattered to separate cities—Grace in Houston, Abby in Dallas, while Campbell stayed in Austin—each of them lured by the prospect of big firms, big paychecks, big opportunities. They’d sworn they would stay in touch.
And they had. Kind of. They talked at least once a quarter and Skyped when they could, more often than not each of them sitting at their desks with piles of files in the background, but the actually getting together part had consisted of exactly two occasions in the past five years, both of which were at annual meetings of the state bar where they’d shared stories about their jobs but hadn’t discussed anything personal because who had time for a personal life when you were trying to make partner?
When she’d arrived at the hotel an hour earlier, Campbell had scoured the ballroom packed with several hundred UT law school alumni, but neither Grace nor Abby were in sight, and she made her way to the bar to grab a drink while she waited for them to arrive. She stopped along the way to catch up with several of her acquaintances from school, all the while scanning the room to keep an eye out for her friends. After almost an hour, she finally made it to the crowd at the bar, but before she could join the long line, she was distracted by a bellowing voice, yelling her name.
She turned at the sound of her name, and hid a frown when she saw who it was. Ronald Burch had graduated number one in their class and was walking, talking proof that book smarts only had limited value. “Hi, Ron,” she said, using the shortened version of his name because she knew it drove him crazy. “What’s shakin’?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard I am on the short list for a Supreme Court clerkship for the upcoming term.”
“That’s great news.” Campbell resisted asking him what had taken so long, but silently prayed that whichever justice interviewed him for the position would see past his sharp legal mind and realize Ron possessed very little ability to connect with actual humans, a skill she deemed necessary for anyone who either was a judge or worked for them.
“It is great news, indeed,” Ron said, giving no indication he detected her enthusiasm for his news was feigned. “I’m already looking at apartments in DC. Affordable housing is difficult to come by.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something, and if you’re hired, they’ll probably be able to connect you with some resources.”
Ron leaned toward her, so closely invading her space that she could smell the garlic from the bruschetta he’d stuffed in his mouth right after he’d called out to her. “I don’t think there’s any ifabout it. My sources tell me I’m exactly the type of scholar Justice Cohen is looking for.”
His upraised eyebrows signaled he was waiting for her to agree, but even though she didn’t want to be mean to him, she wouldn’t inflate his super ego. Thankfully, at that moment, she heard someone calling her name again, and this time she was certain it was someone she wanted to talk to. Make that two someones. “Grace, Abby!” she yelled to her friends who were walking toward her. She stepped toward them and whispered, “I can’t even tell you how happy I am to see you.”
“Are you sure?” Abby said, wearing a playful smile. “Because if you’re busy, we can catch up with you later.”
“Stop it,” Campbell said, pulling both Abby and Grace into a hug. She leaned back to drink in the sight of them and, keeping her voice low, she said.“Can we find another bar in this hotel, because I’ve been trying to get to this one for the last hour and that’s too long to settle for whatever house brands they’re pouring.”
“Deal,” said Grace. “Lead the way.”
Campbell told Ron they had a super important privileged legal matter to discuss, hooked a friend on each arm, and led them out of the ballroom to the elevators. On the way up to the rooftop bar, she gave them a hard time about being late. “Especially you, Grace. I’ve never known you to show up late for anything.”
“I tried to leave in time to avoid crazy traffic, but one of the partners caught me heading out and fobbed off research he needs for a motion due on Monday. I’ll probably have to head back tonight to get it done on time.”
“What about the dinner tomorrow night?” Campbell asked.
Grace shook her head. “Not in the cards.”
“I may have to miss too,” Abby said. “We’ve got jury selection starting on Monday. I was barely able to make it at all.”
The elevator dinged, and they walked out into the rooftop bar and snagged a table overlooking the city of Austin. In direct contrast to the long line downstairs, a server approached them within seconds and they ordered drinks. Campbell smiled when she saw nothing about that had changed. Tequila for her, an extra dirty martini for Abby, and Grace ordered a Manhattan. They spent a few minutes dishing about the rest of their class, but when the waiter arrived with their cocktails, Campbell raised her glass and toasted their success. “Okay, so spill,” she said. “What’ve you all been up to?” She reached for the bar snacks and started munching while she waited for them to respond.
“I’ve been working on a class action pharmaceutical case,” Abby said. “It’s a nightmare because the witnesses are all over the country. I haven’t slept in my own bed more than one night a week for the last six months.”
Campbell nudged her shoulder. “Let me guess, you’ve got a girl on call in every city.” She was surprised by Abby’s scowl. “What?”
“As if I had the time or energy for sex. The senior partner of our division always insists on traveling with us, and his motto is if you’re not traveling on the client’s dime, then you will work every freaking minute of the day. Besides, he likes to put on a show of being frugal, and I’m not about to bring some one-night stand back to whatever version of Motel 6 exists in anywhere USA.”
Grace jumped in. “Ouch. I hear you. I’m not traveling, but we’ve got this crazy product liability case and it’s an all hands on deck affair. I’m thinking about ordering a sleeper sofa for my office.”
Campbell sipped her Casamigos, and shook her head. Their talk of pending cases had her mind spinning about the six deposition transcripts piled on her desk that needed to be reviewed by Monday, and her angst level was on the rise. “Let’s talk about something besides work. I want to hear what else has been going on. Fun, family, love. Grace, you start. Spill.”
Grace took a big swallow of her drink, set the thick glass on the table, and folded her hands like she was about to give a presentation. “Well, I saw Hamiltonon Broadway last month.” She grinned. “Box seats, and Lin Manuel-Miranda was on hand for the show.”
Campbell nodded with approval. Grace was a total history buff, and Hamiltonwas a perfect fit for her, but she wanted to know more. “Now that’s what I’m talking about. How long were you in the city? Where did you stay? Where did you eat? Out with it.”
“I was there a week, but most of it was for client meetings. The hotel restaurant was pretty good.”
Grace shrugged. “I’ll go back again and do the town after I’ve made partner, but this time was strictly a work trip. Hell, I snuck out of the evening prep sessions to make it to the show. I don’t think it hurt me to miss, but you never know…”
Her voice trailed off into a sad little sigh, and Campbell felt her own angst level rising again. She turned to Abby. “Your turn. Name at least two fun things you’ve done since I’ve seen you last.”
Abby munched on an olive. “Two huh? Well, I bought a new car. A BMW M5. She’s beautiful and fast as blazes. Although she doesn’t get a lot of action since I live so close to the office I usually walk to work. One day I’m going to take her on a road trip. Top down, pushing one twenty, daring some hot woman in a uniform to chase me down.”
Campbell snapped her fingers to shake Abby out of her dreams. “I’m not sure buying a car qualifies as a fun thing. What’s the other thing?”
“Other thing what?”
“Try to keep up. Fun thing since I last saw you—go!”
“Hmm, let me think.” Abby fiddled with the toothpick. She speared another olive and chewed on it with a thoughtful expression while Campbell tapped her fingers on the table. “Yeah, I’m going to have to get back to you on that.”
Campbell folded her arms. “Are you telling me that neither one of you can come up with a legit example of the fruits of your success?”
“Now wait a minute,” Grace said. “I’ve got plenty of fruit. It just happens to be in a high-yield investment account with my broker.”
“Every girl’s dream.” Campbell rolled her eyes.
“What am I supposed to do? I don’t have time to go on vacation. The only clothes I ever wear are business suits. I barely spend any time at home so there’s no point in buying a house.” Grace held up her Manhattan. “I buy bourbon by the case. Really good bourbon. From distilleries I plan to visit someday when I have a life. That’s something, right?”
“Can you hear yourself? That’s pathetic.”
“Oh really,” Abby chimed in. “I bet you’re raking it in on your fifth-year associate salary. Campbell, what do you do with your big bucks?”
Campbell was saved from answering when the waiter showed up with their second round of drinks. He set their glasses on the table and Grace raised hers. “A toast to three soon-to-be law partners. One more year of blood, sweat, and tears, and we’ll come into our own.”
Campbell clinked her shot glass to Abby’s and Grace’s drinks, barely suppressing a sigh, but before she could take a drink, Abby reached for her hand.
“Before we toast to success, tell us about yours. What have you done for fun lately?”
Campbell hesitated while she cast about for something to say. Shopping at Neiman’s wasn’t the kind of answer Abby was looking for, but admitting the truth made her feel empty inside, like she’d worked really hard and for what? But the thing that had kept them all friends through the years was the ability to be completely honest with each other, so she took the plunge.
“Nothing.” She stared at them and their expectant expressions. Before she could change her mind, she shot nearly the entire glass of expensive extra añejo and clunked her glass back on the table. “I have to confess that my life is about as lame as the two of yours. I spent an hour in my closet this morning looking for something to wear that wasn’t a black or navy suit with stylish, but sensible heels. I used to love to shop for clothes, but,” she stretched out her leg, “these shoes are the first fun, new thing I’ve bought in almost a year. When did my life become so boring?”
“When you stopped having one, like the rest of us.” Abby fished an olive out of her glass. “I remember the day I got the offer letter from this firm. The very first thing I did was make a list of all the things I was going to do with my newfound wealth.” She sighed. “It’s on my refrigerator, you know that big box in my kitchen that’s empty because I never have time to shop or cook, and I’m never home for meals anyway. And it’s not like I have time to meet anyone to cook for.”
“Exactly!” Grace slapped her hand on the table. “I’ve managed to pad my investment accounts and purchase tons of equity in sweet real estate ventures, but for what? If I make it to retirement, I’m going to be an old maid. Nobody wants to be with an old maid. I’ll get a cat for company and feed them the finest cat food. Maybe one day someone will find us, cuddled up together, having shared a can of the good stuff, drifting off to a better life where billable hours aren’t the be-all end-all of our existence.” She sighed and took another drink of her Manhattan.
And that’s when the big idea burst into Campbell’s brain. She looked down at the last sip in her glass, and then glanced around, contemplating ordering another round of drinks to warm Abby and Grace up to what she was about to say, but the waiter was working a big table across the room, and she knew if she didn’t blurt it out soon, she’d lose her nerve. She started to raise her glass, but Abby beat her to it.
“For real this time,” Abby said, “We are not, I repeat not, waiting another year before getting together. Get out your calendars. We’re making a plan right now.”
Grace tipped her glass into the mix. “Deal. And nothing, including demanding partners or billable hours, will get in our way.”
Campbell clutched her own shot glass, taking their words as a sign. This was it. Time to say the big idea out loud. She clinked her glass against theirs and tossed back the last swallow of tequila. “I have a plan.” She waited a dramatic second until Abby’s and Grace’s eyes were locked on hers. “Let’s start our own firm.”
Later that evening, Campbell hugged Grace and Abby good-bye, and then ducked into the restroom at the hotel one last time before making the trek home. The ladies’ room was one of those posh digs with a fancy sitting room, and she paused for a second to look in the mirror to assess her post tequila appearance. Her eyes looked tired, but it was late, so that was to be expected, but she noticed a glimmer in her expression that had been missing for a while, and she chalked it up to the big idea. It had to be. While the idea of starting a new firm was a bit daunting, Grace’s and Abby’s buy-in, even if tentative, lifted a weight off her shoulders, a weight she hadn’t even realized she’d been carrying. The biggest revelation this evening was discovering their lives were as miserable as her own. She’d never stopped to think that the outward trappings of success only covered up a gaping hole of suckage for all of them.
Her mind started racing with more ideas. They would need to rent office space, hire staff, and come up with a marketing campaign. They’d need a website, a logo, branding. That was Abby’s thing. Business plans and all that were Grace’s strength. Her strength was networking, and they’d agreed that she’d be the firm ambassador of sorts, making the rounds in the business and legal community to drum up new business.
But even divvying up the duties there was a ton to do, and timing was everything. The flood of ideas buffeted her mind back and forth, and Campbell felt dizzy with all the to-dos now on her list. The tequila probably hadn’t helped. Some people drunk dialed when they’d had too much to drink, but apparently, she drunk opened a new law firm. The realization that starting a new firm with Grace and Abby meant she was quitting her job with her current firm did nothing to help her fuzzy state, and she decided it was time to get home. She turned away from the mirror, intent on striding outside to get some fresh air and a cab home, but instead, her heel caught on the fancy rug, and she pitched headlong into the arms of a stranger.
Campbell struggled to right herself, but the tall stranger in the form-fitting little black cocktail dress held on. Except she wasn’t quite a stranger. Campbell looked up into semi-familiar gray-blue eyes, trying to place where she’d seen this beauty before, but her fuzzy brain couldn’t come up with the answer.
“Are you okay?”
The silky voice, the smoldering eyes—the name was on the tip of Campbell’s tongue, but even through the haze of her tequila and embarrassment, she knew she’d stared too long. She steadied back into a fully upright position, but kept her hand on the woman’s arm more because it felt nice than because she needed the help. “I’m good.” She stuck out a hand. “Campbell Clark. I don’t usually fall into the arms of women I barely know.” She winced at the words, hoping the woman didn’t take offense, but also hoping she would respond with an introduction of her own.
The woman gave her a wry smile and reached out to grasp her hand. “Wynne Garrity. And I don’t usually stand around in ladies’ rooms hoping that women fall into my arms.”
Wynne Garrity. The name was familiar, and Campbell was certain if her mind wasn’t so muddled, she’d be able to place it. “Me neither,” Campbell mumbled, placing her hand over her mouth. “I mean I don’t usually fall into women’s arms. In restrooms. Or anywhere else for that matter.” Stop talking, stop talking, stop talking. Campbell straightened her clothes. “Thanks for your help. I’m going to leave now before I say or do any other embarrassing things.” She started to walk away, but Wynne’s voice stopped her in place.
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed.”
Campbell turned back around. “Easy for you to say.”
Wynne pointed at the corner of the rug which was turned up on itself. “That’s an accident waiting to happen. Definitely a dangerous condition.” She cocked her head and offered that smile again. “I should think any lawyer would be able to see that.”
Thoughts swam through Campbell’s head. This woman knew she was a lawyer. Was she at the hotel for the reunion? Campbell struggled to make the connection, mentally flipping through the photos of her graduating class, but before she could place her, Wynne headed to the door.
“If you think you can make it the rest of the way, I’ve got to go.”
Campbell wanted to say “don’t,” but she couldn’t think of a rational reason to ask Wynne to stay. Besides, no matter how much she wanted to, she was in no condition to close the deal on any flirting. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Wynne tossed the comment over her shoulder as she walked out the door. Campbell stayed in place for a couple of minutes, wondering when she’d lost her finesse. She was going to have to get a lot better at closing deals if she wanted to make her big idea work.
A little while later in the cab, Campbell shot upright, suddenly remembering where she knew Wynne Garrity. She pulled out her phone and opened the Facebook event page for the reunion. The reunion organizers had posted pictures of each of them from their first year in law school. Some of her classmates looked exactly the same now as they had five years ago, but others were now unrecognizable. Campbell scrolled down until she got to the Gs and stilled over a single picture from five years ago. Wynne Garrity fell in the latter group.
Wynne had been the girl in her Con Law class who sat in the front row, prepared to step in whenever whoever was getting the daily grilling couldn’t come up with a suitable answer to Professor Lowe’s tortuous Socratic method. But unlike the woman she’d just seen, that Wynne hadn’t been glamorous. She’d actually been kind of mousy—never one to stand out for anything other than her brain. Campbell had only had the one class with Wynne, which wasn’t unusual at a large school like UT, and she didn’t remember ever running into her on campus or at the law library where most of their class hung out. They’d never even had a one-on-one conversation. The Wynne she’d just met wasn’t anything like the Wynne from law school, but she was intrigued by both versions, and her intrigue almost eclipsed her newfound focus on the fact she was about to quit her job.
Wynne slid behind the wheel of her Honda Accord and leaned back against the seat to catch her breath before starting the engine. She could hardly believe that just a few minutes before she’d been helping the most popular girl in their law school class up off the bathroom floor. But it was true. Campbell Clark, voted by their class as Most Likely to be Everything, had sprawled at her feet in the hotel bathroom.
She shook her head and started the car, wondering if Campbell recognized her. Doubtful. She’d changed a lot in the past five years, and it wasn’t like they’d spent any time together over the three years of torture. Wynne had seen Campbell greet her friends across the ballroom this evening, and she’d experienced a tinge of envy that their camaraderie had extended beyond the bounds of their time in law school. Her best friend from school had skipped out on tonight’s mixer, and she’d spent most of the night chatting with several of her professors, which wasn’t much different from how it had been when she’d been in school. Her law school experience had been very different from Campbell and her friends, and she had nothing in common with them beyond a diploma from UT that said they’d all earned their Juris Doctorate.
The loud ring of her phone startled her out of her musings. She glanced over and smiled at the familiar name displayed on the screen, and then put it on speaker. “Mobile law unit,” she said.
“Please send all available units to Worth, Ingram, Nash, and Reed. Stat.”
Wynne laughed at the sound of her best friend Seth Greer’s voice. “Stat? Uh, I think you’re taking the doctor part of Juris Doctor a little too seriously.”
“Hell, I need a doctor after the day I’ve had. Mr. Worth had us working on the Dansen case until five minutes ago. He was drafting anyone in sight to comb through discovery. You missed the perfect opportunity to rack up some hours.”
“And you missed watered down drinks and hotel food.”
“I’ve eaten a package of raisins that I found in your desk, so don’t even talk about food right now. Or wait, maybe we could dish over pizza. What time should I be at your place?”
Wynne hesitated. Her plan had been to go straight home and get a good night’s sleep so she could work tomorrow, but she could use some time to decompress, and the few bites she’d managed to eat tonight were long gone. “Fine, but make the pizza extra crispy. And make my half veggie.”
A few minutes later, when she walked through the door of her house, she looked around, but as usual nothing was out of place. Hell, she was barely ever there to mess things up. In the kitchen, she pulled a couple of wine glasses from the cabinet and opened a bottle of red wine to let it breathe or whatever it was that wine did. By the time Seth arrived, she’d changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and felt much more comfortable than she had all evening.
Seth set the pizza on the kitchen counter and reached for the glass she handed to him and took a sip. “This is nice,” he said before taking another sip. “Cab?”
She picked up the bottle and read the label. “Blend. A client sent it to Stoltz,” she said, referring to her boss. “He prefers Scotch so I wound up with it. His pickiness is your gain.”
Seth took another drink. “It’s really good. I wish my boss was this generous.”
“Generous is probably a strong word,” she said with a smile, raising her glass. “He left it in the break room and I snagged it because it looked fancy and I know how you like your expensive wines.” She topped off their glasses and they carried the pizza box into the living room and ate directly from it. She raised a slice. “Thanks for this. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
“Try working eighteen hours straight for Mr. Worth, who stayed at the office the entire time to make sure we did everything exactly the way he wanted it. I was all like hey, you’ve already got your name on the door, who are you trying to impress?”
“You should’ve come to the reunion,” Wynne said. “You could have pitched it as networking.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I do enough fake networking with people I don’t know. Besides, I already keep in touch with all the people from school that I want to. No need to wander through a big crowd of assholes I don’t remember and who likely don’t remember me.”
“As if.” She wasn’t kidding. Seth had been pretty popular in school—not quite as popular as Campbell and her pals—but other students were always seeking him out to be part of their study groups and moot court teams. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him what he remembered about Campbell, but he interrupted her thoughts with a question of his own.
“Just because I didn’t go doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear all about it. Give me the skinny. Who changed the most and who hasn’t changed at all?”
“I ran into Campbell Clark. Do you remember her?”
He munched on his pizza. “Uh-huh. One of the Charlie’s Angels.”
“She and Grace and Abby were inseparable. Just like the Angels, they were always solving cases together, except their mysteries were the cases in law books, unlike the life-and-death cases on the show.” He laughed loudly, obviously very amused with himself. When he settled down, he added, “Campbell was the hot one.”
“They were all hot,” Wynne mused.
“Are we talking movie version or show?”
He nodded his approval. “You’re right. All the angels were hot. Anyway, she’s smart too. I think she works for Hart and Dunn now. How’s she doing?”
Wynne had posed her original question to find out what he knew about Campbell, not the other way around. She stalled by gulping the rest of her wine and cycling through potential responses. She’s doing great. Fell right into my arms. Looks like a million bucks. Why do I keep obsessing about this?She finally settled on, “Good. She’s good.”
“I always wondered why she went into big law. She’s loaded and could do anything she wants.”
Loaded, huh? Now there was a piece of gossip about Campbell Clark she didn’t know. Figured. Wynne’s newfound obsession with Campbell started to recede at learning there was one more thing they didn’t have in common. That’s okay. She didn’t have time to daydream about the Campbell Clarks of the world, or any woman for that matter. Not when she was focused on making partner this year. She pushed away any final thoughts about Campbell’s deep red, kissable lips and asked Seth all about his day.