Excerpt #2 Darrin meets Kristina
Kristina Rivera walked in the door with a pleasant smile, noticing his masculine office. She thought it reflected a seacoast-like theme, but she didn’t dwell on it right away.
“Mr. Banning, I presume?” She held out her hand for a shake, clutching her briefcase in the other. Immediately, she noticed how he was dressed. He wore a sharp suit and no tie, his button undone on his collar as if he were struggling to find some comfort. His hair was a bit messed up, but it was windy outside, so she chalked it up to that. He was tall, blond, and he had the bluest eyes she’d ever seen on a man. She swallowed after drinking in his physical presence. He was a very handsome man.
Almost immediately, Darrin felt his pulse accelerate. She was different from the usual women in town. He ran his eyes over her gorgeous long, thick brown hair. She had chiseled cheekbones, distinct Hispanic features, and he thought she had very exotic, beautiful looks. Her eyes were deep, inviting, and warm. She was a very attractive woman, he thought.
Nervously, he clapped his hands together before extending one for a handshake. To his surprise, she gave him a hard, stiff handshake. He was impressed. Then it dawned on him that he thought she was a beautiful woman.
“Ms. Rivera,” he finally said, returning a nervous smile.
There was silence for a moment as they looked at each other, and Kristina didn’t know what to make of the awkward, shy man in front of her. Certainly he was attractive in his own way. He was different from the other men she’d dated. He was tall, white, and athletic, had light, sandy-blond hair, and yet seemed uncomfortable in his own skin.
“I need a lawyer,” he finally said.
“I’m a lawyer,” she confirmed with a playful grin. “What can I do for you?”
He motioned to the loveseat in his office and she sat down. Nervously, he paced in front of her.
“Smitty says you’re a family lawyer?” said Darrin, pausing to sit on the edge of his desk facing her. He wanted to act composed and confident in front of her.
“Yes, I am.”
Darrin had to know something about her before he decided on her. That seemed reasonable enough to him. “Why family law? Why didn’t you go into contracts or criminal law or even property law. There’s more money in that.”
Kristina bit her lip. “Well, it’s personal.”
“Tell me,” said Darrin gently.
Kristina cocked her head. Why? she thought. Then she realized that he was the employer and that she was his client, and this was a job interview. She would have to give something to get something.
“Well, I believe that children should be with their parents,” she said simply.
“What if the parent is a bum? By that I mean…a druggie? An alcoholic? What if it’s in the best interest of the child not to be with that parent?” quizzed Darrin, truly interested in her answer.
Kristina tried hard not to sit on her hands. His question had struck a chord in her—after all, her father had been an alcoholic, and it definitely wasn’t in her best interests, or Luis’s, to be with him.
“Well, if I’m representing the interests of the child, I do my best to prove the child is in a loving home with adults who will genuinely care for that child. If I’m representing the interests of the parent, I do my best to show that the parent loves their child, but if I know the parent is in any way negligent, I push hard for counseling or some other type of help so that the parent can show they are truly interested in bettering themselves for the child.” She tried to say this without emotion, but the question unnerved her.
Darrin was impressed. She was smart!
“One more question, Ms. Rivera, if you don’t mind,” said Darrin, placing his hands into his pockets.
“Why should I hire you and not the family law lawyers in the phone book? What makes you special?” he asked.
Kristina flashed him another playful grin. “I’m on your time, Mr. Banning. You have my full, personal, undivided attention. You need me in the middle of the night? Call. I’ll answer. You won’t get an answering machine,” she assured him.
“Really,” she confirmed.
“Don’t you have a job? More clients?” She was so friendly and personable, he thought that she must.
She bit her lip. “Well, no. I’m…I’m walking away from the biggest case in my life and I don’t know if the firm I was working for will have me back. I have to be honest and tell you that.”
Darrin’s eyes grew wide, and Kristina stood up as if to leave. He knew that feeling! He’d been there before, with Andie. He wanted her to know it was okay. He understood.
“Wait! Don’t go!” he cried a bit prematurely, as Kristina looked at the door. He didn’t want her to leave. He had been impressed with her honesty and, just now, her vulnerability.
“Why not? Geez, I can’t believe I blew this…” she muttered, loud enough for Darrin to hear. Quickly, he walked into her personal space and lightly touched her arm. “No, don’t go. I appreciate your honesty. I like the fact you’re candid and…” he stumbled for words.
“You do?” she said, her eyes growing wide. She realized she had let her emotions get the better of her. After all, she had walked out for good on Miguel today.
“You talk to me like a human being. How many lawyers would have been so forthright with that answer?”
“Not many,” She replied with a slight smile. She gathered her composure, realizing she might not have lost the job. “So, Mr. Banning, why are your in-laws suing you for custody?”
Darrin stiffened a bit. “My turn for honesty, huh?”
“Fair enough. And they’re my ex-in-laws, by the way. Andie’s father, John St. George, he’s crazy. He blames me for Andie’s death, and every time they come over to see Katie, I just slam the door in their face. They treated Andie poorly after she married me. I’ll be damned if he’ll spread his brand of cheer to my daughter!” cried Darrin, feeling anew the grief his father-in-law had caused him.
“How did your wife die?” asked Kristina gently.
“She was a pediatric resident. Her shift was over and she was walking out to the parking lot. A drunk driver hit her. She was thirty-four weeks pregnant. Katie made it, but Andie didn’t. But Andie’s father can’t see past his own contempt for me and accept the accident for what it was,” explained Darrin. He kept his posture open. Kristina found herself oddly moved to give him a hug to make him feel better.
“I can’t see why he’d blame you for her death.”
“How much do you know about me?”
“Not much,” replied Kristina. “You’re a widower, you own a TV station…”
He turned away and wrinkled his brow, unsure if he could trust her with such personal information so soon. Something inside him was telling him he could be a little more open with her. He didn’t have to be so guarded.
“I went to jail. I spent a year there and did six months on work release. In college, I gained a reputation for being a ‘player.’ Anyone who knows the Bannings knows I’m a bastard—literally,” he explained, using a harsh tone of voice to see what her reaction would be.
Kristina raised the corner of her mouth. It was her only physical betrayal of his confession.
“Hmm,” she said.
“Hmm? That’s all? No shock? Believe me, even if I wanted to get a date right now, ninety-five percent of the available women in town would tell me no!” he added.
“Obviously there’s more to you than meets the eye, Mr. Banning, but you can’t be that bad. After all, you were married. Straight up? I’m not the judge or the jury. I’m the lawyer. I take care of the case. You take care of everything else.”
He had to have her! That reply sealed it. Only Andie was ever willing to take him as he was. He liked the feeling that came from talking to a lawyer, spilling out his insecurities and secrets and not feeling uncomfortable doing so, since she was bound to confidentiality. He was somewhat anxious about revealing himself to Kristina the woman, however.
“My foul, nasty ways don’t bother you?” he added, a bit perplexed. He wanted to be sure she was comfortable too.
“Can I be frank with you, Mr. Banning?”
“Please do,” he said, leaning against his desk for support.
“I see a man standing in front of me who is successful. He owns a TV station; he’s not in jail. Your crimes and your deeds are in the past, Mr. Banning. Leave it there with all your other baggage.”
“I want you,” he said abruptly.
She raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“I want you to be my lawyer!” he finished, pleased with Smitty’s choice.