- Back in the Burbs
Nick’s jaw clenches as he stares over my shoulder for a minute. Then nods. “You’re right. You’re worth more than Viola; you have more experience. I’m sorry—I just really don’t think I can afford someone as qualified as you.”
Wait, what just happened? “But I explained, I’m willing to work for less.” Shit. I really need this job.
But Nick shakes his head. “I can’t in good conscience pay you less than you deserve, Mallory. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my firm’s integrity if I did.”
I roll my eyes at him. “If you’re going to insist on paying me what I’m worth, you should help clean every day. Plus at least four hours on the weekends. And lift all the heavy stuff. Oh, and definitely find what died in the kitchen and take it out.” I’m on a roll. “Honestly, that means a lot of shared meals, too, so you should probably provide dinner at least every other night as well.” I raise one brow at him in defiance. “Or you could negotiate like a civilized person and we could—”
Nick interrupts. “Deal.” Then he leans forward and holds out his hand.
I place my hand in his, more out of habit than anything else. Hell, I’m still grappling with what just happened. I mean, I know what happened, I was a part of it, but seriously. What just happened?
As I take in his widening grin, it finally sinks in. I was outsmarted. Did he plan this all along?
“I adore Tessa, who by the way is Gina’s niece and doing us a favor, but I cannot tell you how excited I am to have a real professional as the face of this firm again. Thank you so much for volunteering, Mallory.”
Volunteer, my ass. I was bamboozled. And I am not the least bit upset about it. I have a job, at least until Viola returns from maternity leave, that pays forty dollars an hour! And on top of that, I’m getting free manual labor, too. But I still have a trump card to play.
“Well, I’m glad you’ll find my presence so valuable. Just as valuable as I believe your firm’s assistance will be with my divorce. And of course you will deduct all associated legal fees from my salary. Let’s say, fifteen an hour? I know the bill will be more, but we can work out a payment plan for the balance after Viola returns.” Ha! Take that, Mr. Smarty-Pants.
“There won’t be a balance. Employees who work here get our legal services for free,” he says, his self-satisfaction evident in the cocky grin that widens his mouth.
I narrow my eyes at him. “Did you just—”
“Make that up for you?” he asks and shakes his head. “No. We’ve done wills, custody agreements, any number of things for our employees and their families through the years—all pro bono. Of course we’ll do the same for you.”
Well, hell. I was outsmarted again. But honestly, all ego aside, I’m also relieved. I really need every dollar I can earn right now. This job is temporary—Viola will return eventually. So this one time, I’m going to graciously give in and accept that maybe, just maybe, Nick is trying to look out for me. It’s a new feeling but one I shamelessly admit isn’t unpleasant. I also have a strong feeling he wants to help settle Aunt Maggie’s things as much as I do, take care of her all the way till the end.
So I say the only thing I can in this situation. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” he says, then leans against his desk and crosses his arms. “Now, how about you tell me what’s going on with your divorce so far. Gina should be back from court in a few minutes, and she’ll join us when she gets here.”
I am barely through the “early years” of my marriage when Gina arrives a few minutes later like a hurricane in a teacup. She is short enough to make me look tall, with long, dark wavy hair, and she has a laugh we hear from half the hallway away. Once inside Nick’s office, she takes one look at the coffeepot on Nick’s credenza and lets out a heartfelt “hallelujah.” She pours herself a cup—black—as Nick takes care of introductions.
“I really appreciate your help,” I say, looking down and noticing I have a white-knuckle grip on the arms of my office chair.
I force myself to loosen my fingers.
“Nonsense,” Gina says as she struts across the office and sits down in the chair next to mine. “Anytime I get to go after one of these creeps, it’s a good day for me.”
My gut does that shimmy-shake thing at the memory of Karl standing on my driveway. “Yeah, the whole mess with him showing up at my house the other night was bad.”
“That was bad, but what he’s done to you up until then is even worse. Your soon-to-be-ex is a real piece of work, and there’s really not an insult worse than that.” She takes a long sip of coffee before launching into her report. “According to the preliminary information I was able to get from Nick and the total joke of a financial report he sent over, I have no doubt that he’s trying to hide your marital assets. The numbers just don’t add up at first glance.”
I’m not shocked, but it still isn’t what I want to hear. “How much?”
She shoots me an evil little grin and damn, am I glad to have her on my side.
“Honestly?” she asks rhetorically. “Not to get your hopes up, but his firm is worth millions alone. Half of which should belong to you.”
I swallow the lump in my throat, afraid to even hope. I mean, I knew the firm was massive. I could see the clients, was aware of the billing rates. But I’d never bothered with the accounting department. Why would I? We had a comfortable life, and I thought we were building the firm for our future. And he’d always said New York office rents were exorbitant, the cost of staff and other things outrageously high. No, I corrected. What he’d said was that the firm was our future. Our future. And I’d just completely believed him.
“I want to pay the property taxes I owe on my aunt’s house and get the tree off my front porch—that’s it.” My voice sounds shaky even to my own ears.
Gina sets her coffee cup and saucer down on Nick’s desk, pivots in her chair, and looks at me head-on. “Girl, I’m going get you that and so much more. Karl is racking up debt to make the firm look insolvent on paper and making sure your name isn’t on any paperwork, ever. Too bad he doesn’t realize that no one fights for a Jersey girl like another Jersey girl. This is real fuck-around-and-find-out shit, and Karl is about to find out.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to prove he’s trying to defraud Mallory?” Nick asks, leaning forward as if he’s as invested in the outcome as I am.
“Is rum cake delicious?” Gina asks. “You can count on it.”
If I were a better person, I wouldn’t have images of Karl chasing after ambulances for the rest of his miserable life dancing in my head, but I’m certainly not going to feel bad about it after the news I just got. And for the first time since I came back to Jersey, it seems like I finally have the world on my side.