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I practiced corporate law in a large Minneapolis law firm for sixteen years until the fabulous day I set aside my pointy-toed shoes (well, most of them) and escaped the land of mergers and acquisitions to write novels. Novels, novels, and more novels! I'm now writing romantic comedy (sweet or sexy), young adult (funny or poignant or both), and women's fiction (filled with a heap of trouble!), so if you put them all together and throw in some sports and maybe a few pratfalls, they make up ... me.
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Minneapolis lawyer goes berserk, yells “handle your own freaking cases” at senior partners, grabs fishing pole, and runs into the seventy-five-degree sunshine known as a Minnesota summer. Last seen with a keg of beer and a pickup truck with bumper sticker, I QUIT.
Fantasies. Cooper Meredith had them.
Three o’clock. No, to be precise, it was 3:06. Another endless Friday afternoon.
Cooper leaned back in his burgundy leather chair and scowled at the antique gold clock on his desk. Seeking a second opinion, he turned to his Rolex, then to the grandfather clock in the far corner of his office. No luck. Exactly two and nine-tenths billable hours until he had a hope of slipping away without raising the eyebrows of senior partners. And then only two more working days until Monday—which was more a reality than a joke at the one-hundred-and-eighty-lawyer firm of Pemberton, Smith and Garrison.
Note to the file: Destroy all clocks.
Idly, Cooper imagined his mother’s white-gloved, horrified expression at the vision of her precious Bulova smashed beyond recognition at the hands of a crazed, hammer-wielding junior partner. Sources at the firm said Meredith took off a black wingtip and bashed a Bulova clock on his desk while shouting, “I never wanted to be a lawyer, Mom. I wanted to run a waterski shop on Lake Minnetonka!” Wincing, he admitted certain defeat once again at the hands of Mom’s elegant ambitions for him. Back to the drawing board.
A trial lawyer at Pemberton, Cooper had already argued several cases before the Supreme Court at the ripe old age of thirty-four. That level of success had come at a steep price. His personal life, this thing called a “life” in general, no longer existed, but he still remembered his old life. Leaning back, arms behind his head, legs strewn across the one bare patch of wood on his desk, Cooper drifted back to long-ago summers when the piles were of dirt, when intense negotiations meant convincing Mom that he needed a new bike, when the hardest task he faced every day was skimming barefoot behind a speedboat on Lake Minnetonka without crashing.
Flinching at the interruption, he looked up to see his best friend, Jake Weaver, slouched in the doorway. Even after all these years, Jake still claimed he could satisfy endless legal issues, women, and other pursuits with time to spare—and he somehow did. But how? By not making partner, for one thing. By settling for just good enough.
“Let’s cut out early and grab a beer at the Blue Saloon.”
“Sorry. I have to put the finishing touches on the brief for the Hadley case. One stray comma, and Garrison goes berserk. You know how he is. My weekend is toast.”
“You already made partner, Coop, and the Hadley case will still be here a year from now. Who cares? Live a little. I hear Betsy’s been asking about you. Not many guys would pass up that opportunity.”
“Tell you what. Do us both a favor and seize that opportunity for yourself.” Cooper could picture the reaction of Betsy Vickerman—a stunning brunette lawyer in a competing firm whose curves, brains, and ego were off the charts—if she heard him offer her up to Jake.
When reached for comment at Meredith’s Lake Minnetonka summer house, fellow lawyer and brunette stunner Betsy “The Bomb” Vickerman could only fan herself and stagger outside long enough to say, “Coop was worth the wait.”
Shaking his head to clear that thought, Coop caught Jake’s bemused gaze and wished he hadn’t.
“Coop, you’re killing yourself. Life isn’t about Garrison or clients or, for Pete’s sake, the latest Supreme Court opinion. Since when did an ‘all-nighter’ mean staring at a computer screen, and not having a sweet pair of legs wrapped around you until sunrise? You’ve left the old Coop behind somewhere— knowing you, probably waiting to be filed alphabetically.”
Cooper stood, turning his back on his friend as he stared out at the Minneapolis skyline from the forty-seventh floor of the Healey Building, one of the best views in downtown Minneapolis. What was wrong with him? Work. Seven days a week, twelve to twenty hours a day, killing himself over pointless cases for ungrateful clients. “I just can’t stop the flow of work. Garrison keeps dumping it on me while he runs out and plays golf. I’m so pissed off, I could wrap a golf club around his—”
As if on cue, Thomas Garrison appeared in Cooper’s doorway. Silver haired and silver tongued, his skills as a rainmaker kept the Pemberton firm rolling in clients and Cooper buried in lawsuits. Without fail, a visit from Garrison meant more unwanted work, half of it something a kid in the mail room could do. Stiffening, Cooper mourned the lack of a trapdoor underneath his desk.
Too late to run. Too late to hide.
“Good work on that petition yesterday, Meredith. Impressive. With your attention to detail, I’ve decided to let you take my place in the trial lawyers’ writing forum. As secretary, you’ll gather and edit every lawyer’s bio, but we’re only talking a couple hundred lawyers. I’ve, er, let that task slide for a year or so, and it’s due Monday, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble fitting it in with your caseload.”
Unbelievable. Cooper glanced at Jake, who rolled his eyes.
“I appreciate the honor, Tom, but I don’t have the time—”
“Excellent. Glad to hear it, Meredith.” Without waiting to hear more, Tom Garrison ambled down the hall, another load off his desk and on someone else’s.
Cooper threw his stapler at the wall, nailing his framed law-school diploma. The glass shattered and landed all over the floor.
It pretty much summed up his attitude.
Jake snorted. “The old guy hasn’t lost his touch. Speaking of which, if we can get you out in the boat next weekend, I’ll bet you haven’t lost your touch with lunker bass. You need a break, Coop. Come on.”
“You heard Garrison. I’m in a hole so deep, I won’t be able to dig myself out until next year.”
His gut clenching, Cooper stared without blinking down at his black wingtips, then at the patterns in the parquet floor. He wished a hole would appear and swallow him. Not that there was much of him left to swallow. “The senior partners here think they own me. Do this. Do that. Get my lunch. Tie my shoes. No mistakes, but if I do something great it just means more work. When I divide my salary by the hours I’m putting in, I might as well be making minimum wage.”
Not waiting for Jake’s certain comeback, Cooper kept going, raising his hands in surrender. “And why bother? Is there some real person we help? It’s always a big corporation that doesn’t know I exist, not the poor unfortunates we talked about in law school.” He felt like he’d been doing this forty years, not nine. “It’s not fun anymore.”
“When was it ever fun? The problem is you always saw practicing law as part of you. It’s just a job. Maybe it pays better than some other careers, but my life doesn’t depend on this place. Yours shouldn’t, either.”
Glancing at the Star Tribune tossed on his desk, Cooper’s eyes burned with an intensity he hadn’t allowed even Jake to glimpse in a while. He felt his spine stiffen, something it hadn’t done—at least around Tom Garrison—in way too long. “Jake, you’re absolutely right. I’m tired of being Garrison’s whipping boy, tired of doing this, tired of everything. You can have the money. I’m getting out.”
Jake sputtered, spilling the cup of coffee in his hand. “Wh-what are you talking about? I didn’t tell you to quit, just to find some balance. Take a vacation. Ask for a few weeks’ or a couple months’ sabbatical. Say you’re taking care of family issues. Health issues. Whatever. All you need is a hobby, or a new woman, or—”
Cooper, squaring his shoulders, glowered at Jake. “I’ve been unhappy here since . . . well, forever. I worked like a dog all those years to get into a top firm and make partner, and for what? More work? No, this is the best idea I’ve had in way too long.”
Jake’s eyes grew wide. “Coop, you—”
Cooper slashed a hand through the air to cut off Jake’s argument. “The classifieds are filled with jobs. I’ve got money saved, but I don’t want to blow through it if I don’t have to. I just need enough to get by until I figure out what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve wasted enough time here.”
“What are you going to do? What’s the rush?”
“It’s time. At this point, I’d take pretty much any job that pays okay, sounds easy, and gives me some semblance of a life. Maybe just for the summer. With all those degrees I have, it should be a snap.”
Leaning over his desk, Cooper opened the newspaper to the classifieds, perusing column after column. Teaching. Insurance. Marketing. Telemarketing. Sales. Domestic work. Outdoor work. Health care. Childcare. The list was endless.
Jabbing his finger at the ads, Cooper looked up at Jake. “Whatever my finger hit just now, I’m doing it. I’m going back out there and doing something that makes me happy. A job is just a job.”
“You can’t be serious.” Jake slammed the door to Coop’s office before striding over to him and grabbing him by the shoulders. “Talk to me, Coop. This is a joke, right?”
Cooper shook him off. “Whatever job my finger is on, that’s what I’m going for.”
He grinned. This was the first impulsive thing he’d done since fifth grade, when he’d eaten a spider and promptly threw up all over Mrs. Josifek, who took a leave of absence for a month.
Ignoring Jake and the look he knew was plastered all over his friend’s face, Coop glanced down at his finger—at the words printed beneath his finger—and tried not to think about whether he was making the mistake of a lifetime. He’d know soon enough.
Practically since birth, Cooper’s mom had drilled into him that the “right” life was stuffy, conservative, and focused on law and financial success. Everything else was “folly.” Until the word “folly” made him want to cover his ears and scream. Until, finally, “folly” became the exact opposite of him.
He couldn’t wait to tell Mom what he was about to do.
The law firm of Pemberton, Smith and Garrison confirms that junior partner Cooper Meredith has left the firm following recent erratic behavior including assaulting a clock, telling senior partners to perform certain physically impossible acts on themselves, and leaving for Lake Minnetonka with what Meredith referred to as beer, gear, and Betsy “The Bomb” Vickerman.
In related news, Meredith is currently reported to be seeking work as a nanny.