I tap the top of the taxi hard, frustrated because this isn’t a battle I can win tonight. “Yep. See you tomorrow, Kennedy.”
• • •
Only later that night, around 2 a.m., I’m awakened by the sensation of electricity shooting from the end of my stump up my thigh. I break out in a cold sweat, my entire body locked up, every muscle contracted in agony. It happens occasionally.
In the beginning it was phantom limb pain, the feeling of an ache in a limb that no longer exists. Back then, it was just a cramping in my foot. I wanted to rub it, wiggle and twist it until I got comfortable, but of course that wasn’t possible.
Nowadays it’s different. Nerve pain.
It’s the reason your uncle’s knee aches when it rains, even years after the replacement surgery from that old football injury. Some nerves just don’t know when to quit—they want to fire, and they’re fucking pissed off that they can’t.
My thigh spasms when another jolt comes—this one burning and sharp. I grunt and call for Harrison to get my wheelchair. Wearing my prosthetic is out of the question, and so is going back to sleep.
I’ve been to many specialists and they all have explanations—weather, stress—but no definitive answers. One wanted me to go back under the knife, but he couldn’t guarantee it would cure the flare-ups, so I declined. Instead, I try medical massage, acupuncture, and just plain old sucking it up.
After I wheel myself out to the living room and tell Harrison to go back to bed, I send a text to Sofia, telling her to count me out at the office tomorrow. And at court.
• • •
In the morning, my masseuse comes to the house—an aging Asian woman with sure, strong hands who curses like a sailor. The pain is less after she leaves, but only slightly. I spend the day in my wheelchair, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.
Later in the day, I get a surprise. There’s a loud knock on the door and Harrison goes to answer it. He comes back into the living room with Kennedy right behind him, looking fantastic in a white skirt, fitted black blazer, and shiny high heels, her hair down, thick and wavy.
She also looks mighty ticked off.
“Miss Kennedy Randolph,” Harrison announces.
She pulls up short. “You have a butler?”
I shrug. “My mother worries. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Kennedy unleashes her pointed finger. “If you think you’re going to pass this case off to your partner like a chickenshit, you’re out of your mind!”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about the fact that you weren’t in court today. But your barracuda of a partner was!”
I chuckle, even as razor-sharp pain slices across my leg. “Barracuda—Sofia will like that. I’ll be sure to pass along your compliment.”
“Don’t even try to bait and switch this, Brent. I’ll file a complaint with the court, I’ll contact the bar association, I’ll—”
As entertaining as her tirade is to watch, I cut her off. “The case is mine, Kennedy—the client is mine. I wasn’t up to making it into court today and Sofia was free. That’s all.” My eyes drag over her and I force a wink. “Though it’s good to know you missed me.”
Her mouth snaps shut, and her brows draw together as she regards me. “You don’t look sick.”
“I’m not sick,” I counter.
She glances at the wheels of my chair, then my face—and I know she’s noting the circles under my eyes, the clenched jaw, the perspiration on my forehead.
“Is it your leg?” she asks quietly.
I force a grin, but it feels bitter. “I’m one of the lucky few who experience chronic pain years after amputation. It makes wearing my prosthetic leg pretty fucking unbearable, and I don’t like to use the wheelchair in court. It distracts the jury.”
She takes that in, then her voice goes even softer. “A year and a half after your accident, my parents and I went to your house for dinner. I snuck upstairs because I wanted to see you; I needed to know if you were okay. I made it halfway down the hall to your room—and then I heard you crying. Henderson was with you, but it sounded . . . horrible.”
I duck my head. “It was worse then. And I was young—didn’t know how to deal with it. Now I do.”
I take my time raising my eyes to hers. There’s a difference between pity and compassion, and I’ve had twenty-two years of practice in noting the distinction. Pity is feeling sorry for someone, while being glad you’re not them. Compassion is a shared pain—you hurt with them; their pain becomes your own.
I can accept curiosity, unease about my leg—they come with the territory. But I can’t handle pity.
Not from her.
When I drag my gaze to her face, relief loosens my chest. Because her eyes crinkle with hurt—mine and hers.
“Is there anything I can do?”
I smirk. “Now that you mention it, blow jobs always make me feel better. Don’t suppose you’re interested?”
She actually laughs—it’s low and sweet and beautiful. And it makes the pain just a little bit easier to ignore.
“Sorry, not interested.”
“Damn it.” I snap my fingers. “How about a drink, then? Drinking alone sucks.” I jerk my thumb to my butler. “And Harrison here is straight edge.”
I push my wheelchair forward and gesture to the couch. “Sit down. Harrison, get the good bottle of brandy, please—top shelf in the liquor cabinet, on the left.”