Love The Way You Kiss Me - Willow Winters Page 0,2

being held because of a temporary lapse of judgment. We believe this is an appropriate transition out of institutionalized care.”

The judge turns over a sheet of paper, the mundane sound carrying through the quiet room. “There’s mutual agreement between the parties, yes?”

“That’s correct,” answers the representative for the Rockford Center. His name is Aiden and from what our lawyer tells us, he’s more than happy to comply. He stands a few inches shorter than the lawyer, his thick head of hair at odds with the crew cut the lawyer wears. I’ve met our lawyer a few times now. He’s a good guy, which is rare to find in that profession; at least it seems to be that way since we’ve come to New York. We’ve been working with him on this transition for at least a year now. In our line of work, it’s beneficial to have a lawyer on retainer. In our case, it’s a whole team of hotshot lawyers, given the profile of the clients we take on. Cade is well versed in the law and has kept up with his license to practice, even though he graduated with his JD and passed the bar ages ago. Still, we rely on the best to represent us and Cade is more than willing to admit the legal team we have is better at what we need than he’ll ever be.

“The Rockford Center is prepared to relinquish custody to The Firm.” My spine stiffens and I sit straighter as the judge scans us in turn.

I’m certain the judge is aware this is a first for us. The Firm started as a high-end protection service. Given the team’s background and expertise, we’ve pivoted recently in our niche. It’s not something I agreed with, and this situation … this isn’t what I signed up to do years ago. But here I am.

From my experience, some judges have piss-poor poker faces, but not this one. I can never tell what he’s thinking. That uncertainty is only reinforced as Judge Martel scans the documents in front of him. “The Firm has representatives present, I see.”

“We do, Your Honor,” answers Cade as he half rises. His tone is professional but his deep baritone still gets the attention of the judge as if he’s caught off guard. My brother, and boss, continues, “We are more than happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have in order to help make your decision.”

“Mr. Thompson, the Rockford Center is prepared to relinquish custody. Have you been made aware of the requirements for this transition?”

“Yes, we have, Your Honor.”

“Are you prepared to present your plan for the client’s home modifications?”

“Absolutely, Your Honor.” Cade stands fully and passes a stapled stack of papers to our lawyer. He takes them up to the judge, but the client—Eleanor—doesn’t move. She’s so still, her chest barely rising and falling with each breath. I search for subtle movements in the curve of her neck, in her shoulders. Her hair is twisted into a prim bun at the nape of her neck. She appears quite polished, but also as if she’s scared for any bit of her presentation to go astray. That’s exactly what it is, a presentation. If I had to guess, she’s been in this position before. Maybe not in front of a judge, but in some other way.

This is why I don’t read client files before I meet them. What you see on paper doesn’t tell you what they need. Half the time it clouds your assessment. The black letters on white paper don’t do justice to the grays of morality. Every shade matters because they all come with a story. A reason. A thread that makes up the fabric of who they really are when no one else is looking.

I trace a path down the loose, white shirt she wears to her slim-fitting black dress pants. The shirt has a keyhole detail at the very top on the back of her blouse, a few inches below the dark twist of her hair.

Before I can stop myself, before I can swing my attention back to the judge where it belongs, I think of touching her there. My fingertips on soft skin. Would she shiver? Would she lean back into it?

As if she can hear my thoughts, she turns her head and her somber gaze meets mine.

Oh, shit.

I yank my eyes away from her. Back to the judge. Outwardly, I’m wearing a professionally neutral face. Inwardly, I feel the hum