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Down with Love (ebook)

Down with Love (ebook)

Laws of Attraction

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The cynical divorce lawyer and the hearts-and-flowers wedding planner could be the perfect match . . .


  • Opposites attract
  • Fling to forever
  • Playboy hero
  • Guys in suits
  • Found families
  • Cynic vs. Romantic


The cynical divorce lawyer and the hearts-and-flowers wedding planner could be the perfect match . . .

If you ever get married, remember my name: Max Henderson. In my line of work, you acquire a certain perspective on supposedly everlasting unions. . . .

1. Pre-nups are your friend. 
2. The person you married is not the person you’re divorcing. 
3. And I hope you didn’t spend much on the wedding because that was one helluva waste of hard-earned cash, wasn’t it? 

But some guys are willing to take a chance. Like my brother, who thinks he’s going to ride off into the sunset with the woman of his dreams in a haze of glitter on unicorns. And the wedding planner—the green-eyed beauty who makes a living convincing suckers to shell out thousands of dollars on centerpieces—is raking it in on this matrimonial monstrosity. 

The thing is, Charlie Love is not unlike me. We’re both cogs in the wedding-industrial complex. As the best man, I know her game—and I can play it better than her. But after one scorching, unexpected kiss, I’m thinking I might just want to get played.

Chapter One Look Inside

“Love, the quest; marriage, the conquest; divorce, the inquest.”
- Helen Rowland


“Ramen. Freakin’. Noodles.”

In case the word choice doesn’t quite convey my point, I infuse into that statement as much disdain as possible. My brother, James, is already chortling.

“Hold on, Max. I’m gonna need the top-shelf shit for this.” He flags down a server at the Gilt Bar on Kinzie, where we’ve been meeting every Thursday night for the last six years, snowpocalypse or heat wave.

The blond server is one I haven’t seen before, and she simpers over James’s coal-black hair and cool blue eyes, features we both inherited from our dad. Baby bro gets hit on constantly because he’s the Grinner-in-Chief, and that smile guarantees him more action than a boy bunny rabbit in a den full of girl bunny rabbits. But he doesn’t follow up anymore because he’s currently off the market.

I, on the other hand, also receive my fair share of female attention, and—you’ve guessed it—have no problem following up. I’m a more seasoned, rugged version of James (we argue about this but I’m older and a lawyer so I win). I know I’ll have no problem snagging the focus of our server and yep, there it is. She blinks because I’ve brought out the grande gun—a bigger, brighter, better-for-its-rarity grin—and she realizes she’s wasted fifteen seconds of her life on a pale imitation.

As it’s my turn to pay, James orders a Glenlivet 18 Year Old, though he doesn’t have a clue about scotch. I order a Laphroaig Quarter Cask because I do.

“Okay,” our server says, not sounding okay at all. But I get it. I’m wearing a Ted Baker suit, and I scream wealth, confidence, and the promise of a good time. She stumbles off in a daze.

“Fucker,” James mutters at me, making me laugh. “So. Noodles.”

“Ramen noodles,” I clarify because that’s the point of the story. “Three months I’ve been going around in circles with these two and finally he produces the statement of property.”

“Statement of property?”

“Yeah, if they can’t agree on the big stuff or well, anything, we have them do an inventory of the assets in their homes. Who wants what, that kind of thing. And this asshole”—not my client, thankyouverymuch—“lists ramen noodles on the statement. And you know what else?”

James is starting to lose it, not because of the ramen noodles but because of my delivery. As a divorce attorney, I have witnessed pretty much every shitty stunt there is, so when I devote the first part of our weekly meet-up to an office story, he knows it’s going to be good.

“What else?”

“Right beside it in the estimated value column, he puts nineteen cents. Nineteen fucking cents! There’s only one package of ramen on the list, and one of the staff must have left it in the pantry for shits and giggles because these people are not eating instant ramen.” I can’t reveal their identities, but these people are two of the wealthiest philanthropists in Chicago. Two years ago, they married in a glitzy society wedding, the cost of which could have inoculated the entire West African population against yellow fever. Charity is supposed to start at home, but tell that to the asshole listing out a package of ramen noodles as an asset.

James is holding his side, practically doubled over in the booth. “How do you do it, man?”

It’s not the first time he’s asked, and despite the laughter, I hear it. The thread of worry that witnessing the disintegration of love has somehow changed me. It hasn’t. I’ve always been the guy who doesn’t see the glass as half-empty or half-full. Instead I ask if there’s enough liquid to quench my thirst. Of the two of us, I’m the realist.

My people (as in my legal brethren, not my British-German-Swedish ancestors) have a saying: in criminal law, people are on their best behavior. In family law, they’re on their worst. I’ve had clients who once claimed undying love spit and claw at each other across a conference room table. One guy served his wife with divorce papers while she was on her hospital deathbed with cancer. Another wanted the judge to order his wife’s dog be cremated so they could split the ashes fifty-fifty. I told him His Honor was an animal lover, so he needed to figure out another way to stick it to his former lady love.

By all accounts, these were once normal, productive, sane citizens. To say people change when they get married is an understatement.

“Everyone deserves a fair shake,” I say, my stock answer. In truth, I enjoy it. I enjoy winning, especially when it’s a wife who’s been screwed over by her ex. With an eighty percent female client list, my specialty is the empty-nester demographic, women who’ve just sent their kids to college and got divorce papers as their reward. These loyal wives changed stinky diapers, hosted sparkling dinner parties, and ran the hub’s life like clockwork only to discover he had been planning his exit strategy since Kid One hit puberty.

Where the exit strategy involves a twenty-two-year-old personal trainer and an account in the Caymans.

The first thing I tell them is this is not the end, it’s their new beginning, and then I get to work ensuring they receive every last penny coming their way.

The server returns with our drinks. “Let me know if I can get you boys anything else,” she says, all come-hither, where “anything else” is open to interpretation.

As she walks away, my gaze tracks her because I don’t want to be rude. She’s made the effort so it’s incumbent on me to return the favor. The servers here dress in black, and she’s wearing a tight skirt that makes her ass look like a couple of cantaloupes fighting for supremacy. Nice hip swivel, good legs tapering to heels that must kill her arches while she’s running around all night. I’d be happy to help put her feet up later—over my shoulders.

I’m about to tear my gaze away when she walks by the end of the cherry-wood bar, her slender frame a sliver of black contrasting against a riot of bright pink in the background. Like someone slashed a knife through an oil painting. For a moment, I’m blinded, not by the pink, though that’s plenty for my eyeballs to adjust to, but by who’s wearing it: a woman.

Astounding deduction, Henderson. But . . . this woman is simply stunning.

She’s sitting at the bar, one leg crossed over the other, a black high heel locked on the foot rail of the barstool. Average height, I think, but that’s where the average ends. Honey-gold skin gleams in the semi-dusk of the bar where the daylight can’t penetrate. It’s late April, baseball season has started, and Chicago is in fine fettle, along with its female denizens. Ladies are digging out their summer wardrobes and unleashing sexy arms and killer legs on a male populace that hasn’t seen skin in months. The woman’s dress has a flirty ruffle at the hem, and it probably falls to knee-length when she’s standing, but sitting, there’s a decent flash of thigh.

Indecent, really.

I’m working my way up when I hear a cough. Sighing, I return to dickus interruptus—my brother. “Yes?”

“Jesus, Max, get the server’s number, then please grace me with your undivided attention.”

As I moved on from the server within ten seconds, following up is probably a little low class. My skin prickles with awareness because I’m dying, dying, to turn back to the bar and the woman in pink.

“So how’s Gina?” I ask instead. James falls in lust every other month but he’s stuck with Gina Torres for the last three. I like her because she’s one of the guys. She goes to Blackhawks games with us and knocks back beer like she doesn’t have a job teaching kids in a fancy prep school in Lincoln Park. Come to think of it, this is possibly why she drinks on school nights.

Another thing I like about Gina? She’s not in a hurry to tie my brother down. By now, most women would be clamoring for a spare key to the condo, a move-in date, and the dreaded “where is this going?” conversation. My brother’s still only twenty-eight, two years younger than me, and I want him to enjoy the hell out of his life before he thinks about all that.

Better he not think about it at all, my divorce lawyer brain chimes in.

A dreamy smile creases James’s face, which could be the scotch warming his belly but is more likely down to the mention of his girl. If I ever look like that when a woman’s name enters the conversation, load up the freakin’ gun.

“She’s awesome.” He twitches his lips and picks up the scotch. I’m about to press him on this odd little quirk when a movement at the bar draws my gaze.

A new player has entered the game, a guy in a Brooks Brothers suit now leaning in to kiss the goddess in pink. On the cheek, but still. I know it’s rude—both to ignore my brother when he has mouth-twitching that needs examining and to stare at this woman—but I’m compelled to finish that inventory I started earlier. She’s a Hitchcockian blonde, all Tippi Hedren cool with upswept hair and a flawless profile. Perfect slope of nose, perfect cut of cheekbone, perfect sweep of jaw. I can’t see her eyes but given her coloring, they are probably blue.

I should look away because once she turns, she’ll move into Casa Reality, and I prefer where she resides now: strictly in my fantasy. I don’t like to muscle in on another guy’s action, so it’s better I don’t know what I’m missing. My eyes and brain duke this out for a good three seconds.

Feeling oddly agitated and strangely competitive, I switch to the guy. I only want her profile but I sure as hell don’t want him to have the rest of her. (The eyes are winning, but the id is making a late charge, apparently.) He looks like an investment banker or a Board of Trade broker or the shithead with my perfect-in-profile woman.

Blinking away that slice of crazy, I redirect to James, who’s looking at me curiously.

“That’s a lot of action going on over there, Max.”

I shake my head, a tad embarrassed at my runaway thoughts, which must be playing like a movie on my face. “Got hijacked for a second.”

“By our server?” He looks around just as I say, “The woman in pink.” I may as well own it. It’s not as if anything’s going to happen as she’s clearly on a date.

James’s eyebrows rise and something like amusement flashes over his face. “Well, well, well.”

“Well, well, what?”

He waves a hand in front of my face. “She’s not the droidette you’re looking for.”

Alert to his tone, I snap to attention. Not because he’s referencing the Jedi Mind Trick, though props for changing it up there with the droidette variation, but because he’s actually trying to put me off. There’s only one reason he’d do that.

“You know her?”

“I do.” Again, with that glint of glee. “And she’s not your type.”

My curiosity rears up like a punch. If it looks like her, it’s my type.

“She’s a friend of Gina’s?”

He shrugs a negative.

“She’s married?” Evidently the fact she might be on a date is no longer an obstacle.

He throws a glance over his shoulder, taking in the scene before him. Brooks Brothers is leaning close, but her body language is different to his. She’s not recoiling exactly, but she’s not imagining going home with him, either. She’s not imagining how he would lift that skirt up past those lovely golden thighs to curl a finger in her thong. A black silky thong that would be soaked by the time I got there.

James faces me, still grinning inanely. “Nah.”

“White Sox fan?”

“Not that I know of.”

I’m getting irritated now. James has always known how to push my buttons with an artfulness beyond his years. When he was eight and I was ten, he mixed up the cataloging order of my Spider-Man comics. It took me two days to fix them, and he accepted his deserved ass beating with astonishing equanimity. He’s also a withholder of information, which pisses off the lawyer in me to no end.

All this time, I’ve been making a conscious effort not to pay attention to Pink and BB, though I have to admit a certain satisfaction that James confirmed her single status. But then I make the mistake of looking and catch BB’s hand on her thigh, the same thigh my hand was exploring a moment ago in my fantasy. My heart jerks and, as if to appease the th-thunking little bastard in my chest, she removes the offending paw and places it on the bar.

Hands where I can see them, asshole.

This would make me laugh—sometimes I crack myself up—if I wasn’t still annoyed with James for being such a withholding dick.

“You know this woman how?” It emerges sharp and lawyerly.

“She’s a business associate.”

James works in IT at Chase in the Loop because (a) he’s a nerd and (b) he’s a nerd who makes a shit ton of money for knowing his way around computer servers. Or something. I know enough to set up my wireless router but it’s not paying me 150K a year.

Pink doesn’t look like a nerd, but Chase is a big organization so she could be doing anything. I don’t care as I don’t imagine we’ll be discussing our days.

“And she’s not my type again because?”

“You’re a cynic.”

Ah, she’s one of those. A believer. Okay by me. As long as she understands the expectations—fun while it lasts but don’t get attached—then I could be a believer, too. I hold a firm belief in my ability to fuck this woman until she’s forgotten why I’m not her type.

“Cynics need blow jobs as well,” I say in my most pathetic voice.

James laughs and shakes his head. There’s that mouth-twitch again, and this time, I zero in like the good little lawyer I am.

“What’s going on, Jim-Jam?”

He blows out a breath, then another, clearly building to some great reveal. Shit, I’m worried now. Is he sick? Is something up with Mom or Dad?

“I wasn’t going to mention it, with you being such a hater and all, but you’re going to find out anyway as I’ll be telling the parental units tonight.”

Alarm bells go off in my skull, and I already know the three little words he’s going to say before they exit his mouth.

“I’m getting married.”

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