Authors: Maureen Smith
she win his trust?
As if he’d picked up on her thoughts, Professor Thorne glanced up from the papers on his podium, his dark eyes sweeping the crowded room before coming to land on hers. Daniela’s breath hitched, her skin tingling as if he’d physically reached out and touched her.
But a second later, his gaze shifted away, leaving Daniela to wonder if he’d noticed her at all.
Her classmate April seemed to think so, seizing Daniela’s arm in excitement. “Did you see that? He looked right at you!”
“We’re seated in his direct line of vision,” Daniela said drolly.
“And yet, you’re the only one he looked at.”
Daniela felt a tiny thrill of pleasure. Maybe there was hope after all.
has enjoyed writing for as long as she can remember, and secretly suspects she was born with a pen in her hand. She received a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland and worked as a freelance writer while she penned her first novel. To her delight,
Ghosts of Fire
was nominated for a
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Reviewers’ Choice Award and an Emma Award for Favorite New Author, and won the Romance in Color Reviewers’ Choice Awards for New Author of the Year and Romantic Suspense of the Year. Her subsequent novel also garnered praise from critics and readers.
Maureen lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, two children, a cat and a miniature schnauzer. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached at [email protected]
To my sister, Juliet Morah, who was going through her own trials and tribulations while I was working on this novel. Thank you for overcoming, and for teaching me the true meaning of “survivor.”
I have enjoyed reading Harlequin romances ever since I was thirteen years old, when I used to sneak books from my mother’s endless supply and devour them in one day. Those romantic, heartwarming stories made me realize that there was something quite extraordinary about two people meeting and overcoming all odds to be together. I never dreamed that someday
would be given the opportunity to join the wonderful family of Harlequin authors!
A Legal Affair
was my first foray into writing contemporary romance without a suspense subplot, and it was an incredible experience. I learned so much about myself as a writer, and as a romance reader. For me, the hardest part about writing this story was having Daniela enter Caleb’s life under false pretenses. Just as she struggled with her duplicity, so did I—and
had the advantage of knowing everything would turn out well in the end!
Anyway, I truly hope you enjoyed following Caleb and Daniela on their roller-coaster journey to falling in love, and I hope you’ll come back for Noah Roarke’s story.
I love to hear from readers! Please e-mail me at [email protected], and visit my Web site at www.maureen-smith.com for news and updates on my upcoming releases.
Enjoy the love!
To family, of course, without whom none of this would be possible.
With warm gratitude to Nathasha Brooks, Angie Daniels, Katherine D. Jones, and Yahrah St. John—beautiful, talented authors whose friendship and support have meant the world to me.
Thanks to the following friends who welcomed me to San Antonio with open arms and have enthusiastically supported my writing—Frederick Williams, Patricia Garza, Beverly Evans, Shawn Harward, Alyssia Woolard, Paul Vallejo, Lisa McDaniel, Lynda Cruz, Renata Serafin, Jeannette Jones, and Sanjuanita “Janie” Scott who humorously allowed me to “borrow” her likeness.
A special thanks to the following folks at St. Mary’s University—Professor Jeffrey F. Addicott, who graciously allowed me to sit in on his civil procedure class; Director of Recruitment Carolyn Meegan, who kindly made the arrangements; and diva extraordinaire Noemi Garcia, who patiently answered all of my questions about being a law student.
aniela Roarke knew she was in trouble the minute she stepped through the double glass doors of Roarke Investigations and saw her older brother’s smiling face.
Kenneth Roarke never smiled before noon.
Not on a Monday morning, and definitely not on the first of the month, when the rent was due and utility bills had to be paid.
So the smile softening his features that morning was disconcerting, to say the least.
Daniela eyed him warily as she entered the single-story brick building that housed the private detective agency she owned with Kenneth and their brother, Noah. A pair of ancient ceiling fans whirred noisily overhead, circulating humid air that promised to become unbearable as the temperature outside soared, climbing toward another record-breaking June day in San Antonio, Texas. Even the potted ferns arranged around the sparsely furnished reception area had wilted in anticipation of the coming heat wave.
“’Mornin’, sis,” Kenneth greeted her cheerfully. “How was traffic? Not too bad, I hope?”
“No, not at—” Daniela’s gaze narrowed on her brother’s face, scanning the strong, rugged features cast in rich chestnut tones. “Wait a minute. What’s going on here?”
Before Kenneth could respond, the door behind him opened. Daniela’s eyes widened in surprise as a tall, gray-haired gentleman dressed in an expensively tailored navy suit emerged from Kenneth’s office, followed by Noah Roarke.
“I really must be going,” the visitor said to Kenneth in a deep bass that rang with authority. “I’m expected at a charity auction this morning, and if I’m even thirty seconds late, Tessa will have my head on a spit.”
Kenneth chuckled humorously. “I understand. My wife is the same way. Before you go, I’d like to introduce you to our sister, Daniela. El, this is—”
“I know who he is,” Daniela said, palm outstretched as she stepped forward. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mayor Philbin.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, Miss Roarke.” Former mayor Hoyt Philbin clasped Daniela’s hand and offered the relaxed, congenial smile that had served him well during twenty-five years in public office. “I regret that I can’t stay longer to visit with you. Your brothers have been singing your praises all morning.”
“Oh, is that right?” Daniela divided a suspicious look between her two older siblings. Both smiled gamely at her.
“Indeed, they have,” said Philbin. Shrewd blue eyes roamed across Daniela’s face, lingering on full lips slicked with cinnamon-spice gloss, long-lashed dark eyes and riotous black curls that tumbled to slender shoulders draped in silk. Hoyt Philbin gave an imperceptible nod, leaving Daniela with the distinct impression that her appearance had passed muster.
Carefully she withdrew her hand from his firm grasp. “What brings you to our neck of the woods, Mr. Philbin?”
Again he flashed that trademark smile. “I’ll let your brothers fill you in on the reason for my visit.” A silent look passed between the three men as Philbin moved toward the double glass doors. “Thanks for your time, gentlemen. I’ll be in touch.”
Daniela rounded on her brothers as soon as they were alone. “Will someone please tell me what’s going on?”
Kenneth gestured toward his office. “We can talk in there.” Over his shoulder he said to his brother, “Noah, why don’t you bring Daniela a cup of coffee—with cream and three sugars?”
Daniela stared at her oldest brother as if he’d suddenly grown two heads. Since when did Kenneth Roarke remember the way she took her coffee? He had a hard enough time remembering her birthday, let alone her hot-beverage preferences.
He ushered her into his large office and pulled out one of the two visitor chairs opposite his desk. Daniela sat, still eyeing him as if she’d never seen him before.
Kenneth perched his hip on a corner of the cluttered desk and folded his arms across his broad chest. “How’s Mom doing? How’d her appointment go this morning?”
“It went okay. Her blood pressure’s still a little too high. Dr. Molina asked me to keep an eye on her, make sure she sticks to the low-carb diet he prescribed. He may as well have asked me to build a flying saucer equipped with Internet access,” she grumbled, thinking of her mother’s stubborn refusal to give up the high-cholesterol, albeit scrumptious, foods she’d always prepared for her family with great pride.
Daniela pushed out a deep breath that stirred a lock of hair above her right eye. “Other than that, he says she’s doing pretty well for someone who suffered a stroke eight months ago.”
“Mom’s a survivor,” Kenneth said, and the two siblings shared a moment of quiet reflection that was interrupted by Noah Roarke’s return.
“Thanks, Noah,” Daniela murmured, accepting a steaming cup of coffee and taking a careful sip. The brew was a little weak, and nowhere near as good as hers. But then, she’d had plenty of practice. Three years of making coffee for their clients had rendered her something of an expert.
She leaned back in her seat as Noah claimed the chair beside her, stretching out long legs covered in khaki trousers. His features were the mirror image of his brother’s, the resemblance between them so striking that strangers often mistook them for twins. But the similarities ended there, for though they’d both chosen careers in law enforcement, Kenneth had opted for a desk job in Internal Affairs, while Noah had worked as a beat cop before being promoted to homicide detective.
“What did Mayor Philbin want?” Daniela asked.
“Our services,” Kenneth answered. “He wants to hire us for a big assignment.”
Daniela felt a surge of excitement, but kept her expression neutral. She knew, from past experience, that big cases were usually handled by her brothers, with little or no involvement from her. “I’m listening.”
“Have you ever heard of Crandall Thorne?”
She frowned. “Is that a trick question? Who in this town
heard of Crandall Thorne? He’s a hotshot defense attorney who specializes in helping white-collar criminals beat the rap—like that scumbag CEO three years ago who defrauded his employees of their retirement savings, but got off because the government couldn’t make the charges stick. Or the labor union boss who was charged with racketeering and money laundering, but walked away scot-free thanks to his fork-tongued attorney.” Her mouth twisted cynically. “Again I ask, Who
heard of Crandall Thorne?”
Kenneth and Noah exchanged amused glances. “Gee, El, don’t be afraid to tell us what you
think,” Noah teased.
Daniela took aim at his shin with the pointy toe of her alligator-skin sling-back pumps. He laughed, wisely moving his leg out of harm’s way.
She returned her attention to Kenneth. “What does Hoyt Philbin have to do with Crandall Thorne?”
“While in office, Philbin spent a great deal of time and resources investigating Thorne’s law firm. He believes that Thorne has ties to the Mexican mafia and is guilty of everything from bribery and witness tampering to economic espionage and public corruption. Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately for us—he hasn’t been able to prove any of it. His failure to take down Crandall Thorne has been, if you’ll pardon the pun, a thorn in his side. Now that he’s out of office and retired from politics, he’s free to use his wealth any way he sees fit.” A slow grin crawled across Kenneth’s face. “And he’s chosen to share some of that wealth with us. All we have to do is establish a link between Thorne and the Mexican mafia, or provide some incontrovertible proof of the firm’s criminal negligence. Then Philbin and his buddies at the U.S. Attorney’s Office will take care of the rest.”
Daniela frowned, taking a sip of coffee. “With all due respect, how are we supposed to get the dirt on Thorne when all the king’s men have failed? I mean, don’t get me wrong, fellas—we’re good. But if the mayor and his arsenal of investigators couldn’t get the job done, what chance do we have?”
Kenneth smiled as if at some private amusement. “What we have over ‘all the king’s men’ is a secret weapon.”
Daniela blinked, nonplussed. “I don’t understand.”
Kenneth stood and rounded the desk to claim the leather executive throne behind it. He not only had the largest office in the building, but the best furniture. “Crandall Thorne is very ill. He’s suffering from acute renal failure, according to Philbin’s sources, and there’s talk that his only son, Caleb, will soon step in to run the law firm. That’s where you come in, Daniela.”
Daniela had a sneaking suspicion she wasn’t going to like what her brother said next. So she said it for him. “You want me to befriend Caleb Thorne in order to get the goods on his father.”
“That’s the general idea.” Kenneth traded a speaking look with his brother before adding, “Of course, making him fall in love with you would almost guarantee we get the kind of dirt we really want.”
Daniela gaped first at Kenneth, then Noah. She set her cup down on the desk, sloshing hot coffee onto the mahogany surface, and lunged to her feet. “I don’t believe this! You’re asking me to
with a complete stranger?”
Noah looked stricken. “Of course not! We wouldn’t—”
might not, but I wouldn’t put anything past
” she fumed, jabbing an accusing finger toward Kenneth’s face. “For the right price, Kenneth Roarke would sell his own mother to the devil!”
“Hey, that’s not fair!” he protested, indignation propelling him forward in his chair. “For your information, the main reason I accepted this assignment
Mom! Philbin’s paying us enough money to make sure she never even thinks about working another day in her life. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the retainer he left behind.”
Daniela hesitated, then grudgingly reached for the check he’d thrust at her. She thought her eyes were deceiving her when she saw the amount made payable to Roarke Investigations.
She lifted incredulous eyes to Kenneth’s face. “This c-can’t be right.”
“Oh, it is, believe me. Hoyt Philbin is very serious about securing our services.” In the gentle, conciliatory tone he used to calm hysterical wives hell-bent on catching their husbands in the act of cheating, Kenneth said, “Sit down, Daniela. Hear us out before you make any hasty decisions. Please?”
She sat, but only because he’d asked nicely. She passed the check back to him, half-afraid it would turn to fairy dust if she clutched it a moment longer. That kind of money would not only ensure their widowed mother’s permanent retirement from nursing, but would give Pamela Roarke the down payment necessary for the Hill Country ranch she’d secretly dreamed of owning for years. Daniela would have to be a fool, or the worst kind of daughter, to turn down such a golden opportunity.
Still, it rankled that her brothers had accepted an assignment—in which she would play a crucial role—without her knowledge or consent.
“No one’s asking you to sleep with Caleb Thorne,” Noah began, with a pointed look at his brother. “What Kenny was
to say earlier is that there are other ways to make a man fall for you, ways that don’t necessarily lead to the bedroom.” He flushed, as if he couldn’t believe he was actually attempting to school his baby sister on the art of seduction.
Smothering a grin at his obvious discomfiture, Daniela reached over and squeezed his well-muscled shoulder. “It’s all right, Noah,” she said with sham gravity. “I’m twenty-seven years old. I think I’ve been around long enough to figure out how to make a boy like me without compromising my virtue.”
Kenneth roared with laughter, and Noah scowled. “All I was trying to say is—”
“You’re a very beautiful woman, Daniela,” Kenneth interjected dryly. “You’ve never had any trouble attracting members of the opposite sex—at least, not since you were a gawky preteen with a mouthful of braces and Buckwheat-wild hair.”
“Gee, thanks for the reminder,” Daniela grumbled, unable to rally a comeback because Kenneth Roarke had always been good-looking and popular with the girls. So had Noah, for that matter.
“The point is,” Kenneth continued, “you should have no problem turning Caleb Thorne’s head and lulling him into sharing confidences with you. It may take some time, though. From what I know about the man, he doesn’t trust very easily—with a father like Crandall Thorne, who can blame him?”
“What if he doesn’t know anything about his father’s business dealings?” Daniela countered, her conscience pricked with guilt at the thought of deceiving an innocent man. “Or what if he has no plans to run the law firm?”
Kenneth shook his head, dismissing both possibilities. “After graduating from law school, Caleb went to work for the old man. He was good in the courtroom—damn good. His style was completely different from his father’s, but just as effective. He was sharp, cunning and methodical, almost predatory. He kept prosecutors on their heels, many of whom were downright terrified of him.
“But after five years at the firm, he suddenly walked away. Seems he and the old man had a falling-out. Over what, God only knows. Maybe the kid developed principles and his father didn’t want to hear it. Anyway, Caleb wound up as a law professor at St. Mary’s University, and from what I’ve heard, he’s as much a natural in the classroom as in the courtroom. But I don’t doubt for one second that he misses litigating and would go back to it in a heartbeat if the right opportunity presented itself. Especially since he and his father have recently reconciled. Sounds to me like it’s only a matter of time before Junior steps in to take over the family business.”
“So,” Daniela said with a deep, resigned sigh, “just how am I supposed to meet Caleb Thorne?”
“As one of his students.” At her dumbfounded look, Kenneth chuckled. “For three years you’ve been hounding us to give you a ‘real’ assignment—something other than running background checks on new corporate employees and chasing down unfaithful spouses. Well, you’ve gotten your wish. This fall, you’re going undercover as a first-year law student at St. Mary’s University. Hoyt Philbin just happens to serve on the Board of Regents, so he’ll have no problem pulling strings to get you admitted on such short notice. We’ll take care of obtaining fake transcripts and LSAT scores, and Philbin will take care of the rest.