LOVE SUSTAINED

Chapter 1.



Kathleen Maguire was working late in her office struggling with a defense strategy for a new client when she heard a knock on her closed door. "I'm busy," she called out.

"It's Jack."

Jack, Kathleen thought, and she smiled. Jack Ripley. Judge Augustus Merriwether – "Jack" – Ripley. "Come in," she said.

The door opened, revealing Ripley dressed in a blue button-up shirt and navy pants covered by a black trench coat. In his left hand was a white paper bag. In the right was a red rose. "I heard you were working late," he said.

"Heard from who?"

"I have my sources." He closed the door behind him and walked over to her desk, held out the rose that matched her red power suit.

"What's that for?" Kathleen asked.

"You," he said softly. He laid it on top of her papers, and her eyes were drawn to the brilliant flower. A moment later she felt him behind her, one hand gently caressing her hair. He set the bag on the left side of her desk and turned her swivel chair to face him. Then he lifted her face with both hands and bent over to kiss her, a soft touch that sent a tingling through her that momentarily banished all thoughts of her client. Damn you, Ripley, she thought through ripples of pleasure.

After several moments of liplock she broke the kiss. "I have a hearing in the morning," she said, trying to avoid looking into his intense eyes.

Ripley straightened. "Tell me the case," he said. He slid off his coat and tossed it on her guest chair, then unbuttoned another button on his shirt. Kathleen sighed and gave him the short version of the latest sob story she was wrapped up in. As she talked she watched Ripley prowl the room, stopping in front of her shelves of case law books. "Twenty-year-old Hispanic, no priors," he said barely aloud, so Kathleen didn't reply, just continued to watch as he pulled a book from her collection and paged through it. "Check this: Pennsylvania v. Gonzales, 1973," he leaned over her and moved the rose aside to set the book down. Kathleen followed her instincts and laid her left hand over his, entwining her fingers with his. He leaned close again and brought his hot breath and soft lips to the right side of her neck; Kathleen leaned back against him, her head tilted to the left. He brought his lips up to her ear. "Come home with me," he whispered, the words sending shivers through her.

Kathleen centered her head. "I can't tonight," she said.

"You must have a babysitter," Ripley said. "It's late. Call. Ask him or her to spend the night." His voice was quiet and tempting, the way the Devil would surely sound.

"My son's at Dan's," Kathleen said, referring to Patrick and her ex- husband. Ripley didn't respond, and though he had released her hand and stepped away she could feel him as though the contact were still physical. "Jack, I…" Her eyes had fallen on the words of the case – Pennsylvania v. Gonzales – and as she read it she saw how perfectly it fit her client's situation. "Jesus, Jack, this is it," she said.

Ripley laughed. "This isn't the context I hoped to hear that in," he said. She looked over at where he stood leaning against the bookshelf. "But I suppose I should take what I can get."

"Somehow I doubt you've had to do that," Kathleen said.

"I've done a few things that might surprise you," Ripley said.

Kathleen stared at him for a moment, then looked back at the book. Her client needed her to keep him out of jail. That was more important than learning Judge Ripley's dirty little secrets.

Wasn't it?

She glanced from the book to the rose to the bag on the edge of her desk that smelled suspiciously like Chinese food. Then she looked up and saw Ripley looking back at her with his intense intelligent eyes. "If you're going to stay, sit down," she said.

"Is that an invitation?" he asked.

"Do you need one?" she asked in reply.

Ripley raised an eyebrow. "I can't say I'm exactly sure where we are with this," he said. "I wouldn't want to be seen as taking liberties."

Kathleen smiled. "I'm not sure I believe that," she said.

"Do you doubt my integrity, counselor?" Ripley asked.

"Of course not, your honor," Kathleen teased. "I just think you've got a wee bit of the bullshit artist in you."

Ripley smiled. "That's how you get to be a judge," he said. He moved his coat to another chair and sat in front of her. "Let's eat the moo shi before it gets cold."

"I'm working, Jack," she said.

"And you've got the case law to make your defense," he said. He ran his fingers through his hair and leaned back against the chair. "Let's face it, Kathleen; seventy-five percent of what goes on in the courtroom is posturing. You, the ADA, the judge, the jury, the defendant, the victim…all preening for the audience, trying to one-up each other with BS and cleverness. The law is only twenty percent at the most."

"What's the other five?" she asked.

"Fear."

"Of?"

"Not being the smartest person in the room."

"Even for the judge?"

"No, he is the smartest," Ripley said, standing again and retrieving the paper bag, opening it, taking out the wonderfully scented food inside. "You'll get this kid probation," he said. "Precedent is behind it."

"You'd give it?" Kathleen said, reaching for the pancakes.

"I'd give you whatever you asked," Ripley said, opening the package of filling.

"Bullshit," she said.

"Try me," Ripley said, and she could see he was serious.

"What's with you tonight?" she asked directly.

Ripley filled a pancake and took it on a plate back to his chair. "I'm trying to figure out what's going on here," he said. He took a bite, swallowed, wiped his face with a napkin.

"You've got me," Kathleen said.

"Do I?" Ripley said.

About to take a bite Kathleen put her food down and looked into his unwavering eyes. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"What are we doing?" he asked.

Kathleen rolled her eyes. "Dating," she said.

"Really?" Ripley said. "We meet in my chambers, the stairwell, the garage. We had dinner out once. I went to your apartment once. You put me off about meeting your son…"

"The timing has to be right, Jack," she said, bristling.

"The timing is never right, Kathleen," he said. "You have to make it right. If this is about having a fling, I'm not above that. Just tell me that's all it is, so I don't go sticking my neck out for…"

"I haven't asked you to do that," she said, biting off each word. "If your precious image is at risk feel free to bail out at any time."

"I don't want to bail out," Ripley said with fire in his eyes. "Do you?"

Kathleen leaned back and looked at him for a long silent moment: She stared at this man who was smart, clever, kind, and too damn sexy. "Can you come to dinner Saturday?" she asked.

"The three of us?"

"Yes."

"What time?"

"Around 7."

"OK…what should I bring?"

"Wine…and root beer."

He smiled. "OK," he said. "Do you have mugs and ice cream?"

"Of course," Kathleen said.

Jack leaned back again. "You don't have to make dinner," he said. "I can bring something – anything you two like."

"It's OK, I can cook."

"I'm sure you can."

"I'll make dinner, Jack," Kathleen said. "It isn't a problem."

"Thank you," he said. His eyes, soft and intense, stayed on hers.

"What?" she asked.

"Come to my place tonight," he said.

"I have to…"

"Don't brush me off," he said. "Not this time."

Kathleen took a bite of food, swallowed. "Are you railroading me, your honor?" she asked.

"Yes."

"OK."

Jack finished his food and stood. "I'll have to thank Dan the next time I see him," he said.

"Please don't do that."

Jack laughed. "I think Dan and I are going to have some problems," he said, "especially the longer this goes on." His eyes returned to hers. "And I want it to be a very long time."

"We both have to work with him, Jack," Kathleen said. "And besides that, he's Patrick's father. If you and I were to…"

Ripley stopped pacing and looked at her. "If we what?" he asked.

"Became serious."

"Married?"

"That's getting a little ahead of things."

"Had children of our own?"

"Slow down, Jack."

"Would you want to have more children?" he asked.

"I wouldn't rule it out," Kathleen said, thinking of a little boy like Jack. Kathleen Ripley, she thought like a schoolgirl. Pretty soon she was going to be putting their initials in hearts on her case briefs. "But whatever happens Dan is always going to be Patrick's father, so he will always be a part of our – his and my – lives."

"I understand that, Kathleen," Jack said.

"You don't like him," she said.

"I have no particular affection for him," he said. He looked away.

"What?" Kathleen asked.

Ripley ran a hand through his hair. "Is there a possibility…"

"Jesus, Jack," Kathleen said.

He turned toward her. "You were married to him and had a child with him…"

"And I divorced him," Kathleen said. "It isn't going to happen."

Ripley was silent for a moment. "Has anything happened since the divorce?" he asked.

"I'm not going to get back together with him, Jack," she said.

"I guess that answers my question," he said.

"We kissed once," she said. "It didn't mean anything." Ripley shook his head. "Damn it, are you really this insecure? Do you really think that I can't move on because I happen to work with the man I was married to?"

"The man you're still attracted to," Ripley said.

"No," Kathleen replied. "I needed someone at one particular moment in time, and Dan was there. That was all it was. If you and I had been together then it would have been different. It would have been much different." Ripley was silent, but she could hear the thoughts churning in his brain…and the pounding of his heart. "You're the one I want to be with, Jack, not Dan," she said. "You're the man I need." He eyelids fell closed. "Damn it…"

"OK, counselor," he said.

She waited, but he didn't continue. "Maybe we should skip tonight," she said.

He opened his eyes and turned his face toward her. "Maybe we should skip this entirely," he said.

"Is that what you want?" Kathleen asked.

"No."

"I'm not going back to Dan," she said.

"OK."

Silence. "Don't shut down on me," Kathleen said. She watched him start pacing again. "Tell me what this is, Jack. This is about more than just Dan and me, isn't it?"

He sighed. "It's a little early to bring baggage into this," he said.

"We all bring baggage," Kathleen said. She stood and walked over to him, took his hand gently in hers. His skin was soft, warm. She brought his palm to her cheek, and his eyes met hers, held. "Tell me."

Ripley brought his lips to hers, probing gently. He slid his arms around her and pressed her to him, soft and warm, nice, very nice. "You're so beautiful," he whispered. "I think…I think I could love you."

Kathleen caressed his right cheek with her thumb. "I could love you," she said.

"If you tell me it's over with Dan…"

"It is," she said, "completely over."

He moved a lock of her hair. "Good," he said.

She held his hand, rubbing the palm. Ripley smiled. "What…" He pressed his finger to her lips.

"Later."

She looked in his lovely eyes. "OK," she said. "But first I need to finish up with this case and…"

"We'll work it out in bed," he said slyly. "You can see if the judge can still find his way…through the law."

Kathleen smiled and packed up her things and the remaining food. "Lead the way, your honor," she said. Jack swung the door open, and she followed him out of her office.

* * * * * * * * *

Ripley's home turned out to be a two-story penthouse in one of the nicer buildings in town. The place was very tastefully furnished and included sculptures and paintings to accent the décor. The first floor had the living room, gourmet kitchen, exercise room, and bathroom. The second floor had the huge master bedroom, office, and a large bathroom complete with a jacuzzi tub. It had to have cost a fortune just to stock the place. She couldn't imagine what it had cost to buy it.

Ripley pulled a bottle of wine from his wine rack, opened it, and filled two glasses. "What?" he asked, holding it out to her.

"This place is incredible," Kathleen said, accepting the glass. "How did you get the money for this?"

Ripley raised an eyebrow. "What are you suggesting, counselor?" he asked.

Kathleen shrugged. "Criminal court judges don't make this kind of money," she said. "At least I don't think so."

"So where do you think it came from?" he asked.

Kathleen sipped the wine and walked around the living room. Beautiful pieces, lovely furniture. Really good wine. "I'm guessing it comes from your family," she said. She looked at him. Ripley didn't respond. "Are you loaded?" she asked.

Ripley laughed out loud. "Cocked and…"

"You know what I meant," Kathleen said, smiling.

"Does it matter?" Ripley asked. Kathleen studied his face, saw the hint of worry there. She walked over to his white sofa and sank down into the cushions. Ripley stood where he was, finished his wine, and set the glass aside. He sighed. "My family has money," he said. "I have some…considerably less than I had before my divorce."

"You were married?" Kathleen heard herself say stupidly.

"A year and a half," Ripley said. "It was a bad match." He wandered for a moment and then came over to the sofa.

"I'm sorry," Kathleen said.

"It was a mistake," Ripley said. He sat on the sofa. "My mistake."

"Did you love her?" Kathleen said.

His eyes didn't waver from hers. "Yes," he said. "But I didn't really know her. She had plans for my money and her time that I wasn't aware of."

"I'm sorry," Kathleen said again.

"I'm not…anymore," Ripley said. He reached for her glass and slid it from her hand, then set it on the glossy wood table in front of him. "Do you want to work on your case? I have a few things I could work on."

Kathleen studied his intelligent face for a moment, then said, "That isn't really what I want to do."

Ripley smiled. "What then?" he asked.

She unbuttoned his shirt slowly and pushed it open, revealing his chest. He had a very nice body, well toned. She moved close and brought her lips to his neck, kissing gently, sliding her left hand inside his shirt and around to his back; she felt Ripley's hand on her chest and sliding lower. "I like you in red," he said softly. "I think I'd like you out of it even more."

"Why don't you show me that big bedroom again," Kathleen murmured.

"Request granted," Ripley whispered, taking her hand in his and leading her to the stairs.

* * * * * * * * *

"So what do you think?" Kathleen asked, lying beside Ripley, tangled in his black silk sheets, feeling the warmth of his body.

"I think I could do this every night," Ripley said. He kissed her lightly as his hand traveled over her side. "And during the day."

"About the case, Judge Ripley," Kathleen said with as much seriousness as she could muster.

Ripley grimaced. "I'd rather hear 'Augustus' than that right now," he said.

Kathleen smiled. "I don't think I could manage that one," she said. "Did your parents call you that?"

"Sometimes," Ripley said. "Or Auggie."

"Ugh," Kathleen said.

Ripley grinned. "Right," he said. He sighed and rolled onto his back. "The case," he said. "Gonzales helps, but you're still going to need to sell it. Loomis could get his claws in it."

"It sounds like you don't like him either," Kathleen said.

Ripley turned his face toward her. "Loomis has problems," he said. "He hates his job and hates himself for doing it. But he's too scared to go out on his own." His lips curled again. "He doesn't have your cajones, Kathleen."

"Or yours, Jack," she said. Before his wheels could spin on that she added: "One date, and no."

Ripley turned on his side. "You dated him?" he asked.

"One date, your honor," Kathleen said. "That isn't dating."

"Did you kiss him?" he asked.

"Would that make you jealous?" she asked.

"It would make me want to pop him," Ripley said.

"Same difference," Kathleen said. "And no."

"I can't imagine you with Loomis," Ripley said.

"I'm with you," Kathleen said.

"Right," Ripley said. "But now I have to watch Cavanaugh and Loomis." He stretched, and Kathleen surveyed his glorious body. "What about Froman?"

Kathleen was surprised to hear him mention her partner. "There's nothing between Will and me," she said. "He's into a whole different type of woman." Ripley said nothing, just seemed to study her. "I'm sure you've had your share of ladies, Jack."

"Not from around the office."

"I'm the only one?"

"The only one worth taking the risk for."

"Even with all the problems?"

Ripley moved closer. "What problems?" he asked.

"The questioning of your integrity," Kathleen said seriously.

"Is it questionable?" Ripley responded in kind.

"Jack, you know there have already been…"

Ripley sat up. "Yes, I know what has already been," he said. "I also know that no one is going to take me down for anything unless I actually do it."

"Sometimes just the implication…" She stopped speaking when Ripley got off the bed and pulled on a blue robe laying on a nearby chair.

"Where are you going with this, Kathleen?" he asked, turning back to her. "I made my decision. Do you want to talk me out of it?"

Kathleen pulled the sheet around her. "Why are you so angry?" she asked.

Ripley was pacing again. "Why?" he asked. "Because I am trying my damnedest to build something between us, and you lob this at me. It pisses me off…the whole goddamn thing pisses me off. Yes, my integrity means a lot to me – hell, I've had more than ample opportunity to compromise it. But this…this means a hell of a lot too."

"This?" Kathleen said.

"You," Ripley said. "You and me."

Kathleen kept her eyes on his. "Do you really think we can do this?" she asked. "Do you really think it can last?"

"Not if you don't think…"

"Don't put words in my mouth."

"You think this will break us, don't you, Kathleen?" he said. "You think a judge and a lawyer can't be together, not in the long term, not…" He shook his head and turned away.

"What?" she asked.

"I thought you were a fighter," he said.

"I am, Jack, but…"

"Not for me," he said. He turned toward her. "It's easy when it's about some client who's passing through on his or her way to jail or freedom. You make the case, take the shot, and play the game through. The rules are clear. This is messy and difficult."

"You can be a real bastard," Kathleen said. "That was what I thought when I first appeared before you; this guy is an arrogant prick, hot on the power of showing who's boss of the courtroom. Then I thought maybe there was something beneath that, but I might have been wrong. You may just be the ass I thought you were." She got off the bed and began picking up her clothes. The room became unbearably silent, and finally she turned back to him.

Jack Ripley was smiling. He walked over to her and pulled her to him, kissing her lips hard, parting them. Kathleen pulled open his robe.

Before long they were back between the sheets.

* * * * * * * * *

"So, you're coming for dinner Saturday?" Kathleen said as she headed for the door. She needed to get home to change her clothes and prepare for the hearing.

"Yes," Ripley said. "Six p.m. With wine and root beer."

"Is there anything special you'd like?" she asked. "For dinner," she added.

"Anything you and Patrick like is fine with me," he said. "Don't go out of your way. Something simple would be OK."

"I wouldn't go out of my way for you," Kathleen teased.

"Of course not," Ripley said.

"Thank you for having me over," she said.

"And over," Ripley said with a grin.

Kathleen rolled her eyes. "Wish me luck, your honor," she said. He walked over to her and gently kissed each cheek and then her lips.

"Good luck, counselor," he said. Kathleen smiled and squeezed his hand. "Call me…or come by. Anytime."

"I will," Kathleen said. "See you soon." She slipped outside and shut the door. Jack Ripley, she thought as she walked to her car. She smiled as she drove away.