Home > The Story of Son

The Story of Son
Author: J.R. Ward

For my family,

both those of blood and choice,

with all my love.

1

Claire Stroughton palmed her travel mug without looking up from the will she'd drafted and was reviewing. "I hate when you do that."

Claire glanced across her office at her executive assistant. "Do what?"

"That heat-seeking missile routine with your coffee."

"My mug and I have a very close relationship."

Martha pushed her sleek glasses up on her nose. "Then good thing it's got a lid. You're going to be late for your five o'clock if you don't leave now."

Claire stood and pulled on her suit jacket. "How bad's the time?"

"Two twenty-nine. Drive to Caldwell is a minimum of two hours plus in this traffic and your car is waiting for you down in front. Your conference call with London is scheduled for sixteen. . . fifteen minutes from now. What kind of cleanup do you need me to do before the long weekend?"

"I've reviewed the revised merger documents for Techni-tron and I'm not impressed." Claire passed over a stack of paper big enough to be used as a doorstop. "Courier them down to 50 Wall now. I need a meeting with opposing counsel seven a.m. Tuesday morning. They come to us. Do I owe you anything before I go?"

"No, but you can tell me something. What kind of sadistic bore schedules a meeting with their lawyer for five o'clock on the Friday of Labor Day weekend?"

"Client's always right. And sadistic is in the eye of the beholder." Claire packed up the will in a document case then grabbed her Birkin bag. As she looked around her spacious office, she tried to think of the work she planned to do over the weekend. "What am I forgetting?"

"Pill."

"Right, right." Claire used what was left in her mug to polish off the prescription she'd been working her way through for the last ten days. As she pitched the orange bottle in the wastepaper basket, she realized she hadn't sneezed or coughed since Sunday. Stuff had worked evidently.

Damn airplanes. Germ pools with wings.

"Walk with me." Claire gave a couple more marching orders on the way to the elevator, all the while waving to some of the two hundred-odd attorneys and support staff that worked at Williams, Nance & Stroughton. Martha kept pace with her in spite of the load of paper in her arms, but then that was what was great about the woman. No matter what, she was always there.

At the bank of elevators, Claire punched the down button. "Okay, I think that's it. Hope you have a good weekend."

"You, too. Try and take a break, would you?"

Claire stepped into the mahogany-paneled lift. "Can't. We have Technitron on Tuesday. I'm going to spend most of my weekend here."

Four minutes later she was in her Mercedes inching forward in the Manhattan traffic, trying to get out of the city. Eleven minutes after that she was being patched into London.

The conference call lasted fifty-three minutes and it was a good thing she was basically in a parking lot because the virtual meeting didn't go well. Which was pretty common. Mergers and acquisitions of billion-dollar companies were never easy and not for the faint of heart. Her father had taught her that.

Still, it was a relief to hang up and just focus on driving. Caldwell, New York, was probably only a hundred miles from downtown, but Martha was right. Traffic was a bitch. Apparently everyone and their uncle was trying to peel out of the Big Apple and they were all using the same route as Claire.

Normally, she wouldn't be taking the time to drive to see a client in a private home, but Miss Leeds was a special case for a lot of reasons and it wasn't like the woman could come down to the office easily. She was what? Ninety-one now?

Christ, maybe she was even older. Claire's father had been the woman's lawyer forever and after he'd died two years ago, Claire had inherited Miss Leeds along with his equity in the family firm. When she'd taken his seat at the partners' table, she became the first female in the history of Williams, Nance & Stroughton to park it in the boardroom, but she'd earned that right, in spite of what Walter Strough-ton's will said. She was a fantastic M&A lawyer. Second to very, very few.

Miss Leeds was her only trusts and estates client, which had been the same for Claire's father. The elderly woman was worth close to two hundred million dollars, thanks to her family's interests in a variety of companies, all of which were represented by WN&S. These holdings were the heart of the relationship. Miss Leeds believed in sticking with what she knew and her family had been with the firm since its inception in 1911. So there you had it. An M&A rock star doing T&E for an NHC.

Or in human speak: a mergers and acquisitions specialist doing trusts and estates work for a nursing home candidate.

Believe it or not, the interaction algebra added up. The will and the trusts in it were fairly straightforward once you got familiar with them and Miss Leeds was easygoing compared to most of Claire's corporate clients. The woman was also good for business when it came to that will of hers. She approached revisions of it the way some people got into gardening, and at $650 an hour for Claire's time, the billable hours added up. Miss Leeds was constantly reworking the charitable portion of her estate, tilling that section, trimming and replanting the philanthropies as she changed her mind. The last two alterations Claire had handled over the phone, so when Miss Leeds had asked for a personal meeting this time, there was every reason to go up for a quick visit.

Hopefully it would be quick.

Claire had only been out to the Leeds estate once before, to introduce herself after her father's death. The meeting had gone well. Miss Leeds evidently had seen pictures of Claire through her father and had approved of Claire's "ladylike deportment."

Which was a joke. Although it was true that clothes could make both the man and the woman, and Claire's wardrobe was full of conservative suits with below-the-knee skirts, that was surface gloss. She had her father's head for business and his aggressive streak, too. She might look like a lady from her chignon to her sensible pumps, but on the inside she was a killer.

Most people picked up on her true nature about two minutes after meeting her and not just because she was a brunette. But it was a good thing Miss Leeds was fooled. She was from the old school and then some—part of a generation where proper women didn't work at all, much less as high-powered attorneys in Manhattan. Frankly, Claire had been surprised Miss Leeds hadn't gone with one of the other partners, but the two of them did get along for the most part. So far, the only hiccup in the relationship had occurred during that first face-to-face when the woman had asked whether Claire was married.

Claire was most definitely not married. Never had been, not interested, no thank you. Last thing she needed was some man with opinions about how late she stayed at the firm or how hard she worked or where they would live or what they would have for dinner. Eliza Leeds, however, was clearly of the you're-defined-by-what-was-sitting-next-to-you-in-pants set. So Claire had braced herself as she'd explained that, no, she had no husband.

Miss Leeds had seemed daunted, but then she'd rallied, moving swiftly on to the boyfriend question. The answer was the same. Claire did not have and didn't want one of those and no, no pets, either. There had been a long silence. Then the woman had smiled, made a brief comment along the lines of "my, how things have changed," and that was where they'd left things. At least for the moment.

Every time Miss Leeds called the office, she asked whether Claire had found a nice man. Which was fine. Whatever. Different generation. And the woman took the no's with grace—maybe because she herself had never been married. Evidently she had an unfulfilled romantic streak or something.

If Claire was honest, the whole relationship thing bored her. No, she didn't hate men. No, her parents' marriage hadn't been dysfunctional. No, in fact her father had been a very supportive male figure. There was no bad fallout from a relationship, no self-esteem issues, no pathology, no history of abuse. She was smart and she loved her work and she was grateful for the life she had. The home and hearth stuff was just made for other people. Bottom line? She totally respected women who became wives and mothers but didn't envy them their burden of caretaking. And she didn't have a hole in her heart on Christmas morning because she was alone. And she didn't need soccer games or drawings on her refrigerator or homemade gifts to feel fulfilled. And Valentine's Day and Mother's Day were just two more pages on the calendar.

What she loved was the battle in the boardroom. The negotiation. The tricky ins and outs of the law. The energizing responsibility of representing the interests of a ten-billion-dollar corporation—whether it was buying someone else or divesting assets or firing a CEO for having illicit eight-digit personal expenses.

All of that was what juiced her and, as she was at the top of her field and in her early thirties, she was in a damn good place in life. The only trouble she had was with people who didn't understand a woman like her. It was such a double standard. Men could spend their entire lives devoted to work and they were viewed as good earners, not antisocial spinster-aunts with intimacy issues. Why couldn't a woman be the same?

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