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Authors: Rhonda Pollero

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BOOK: Knock 'em Dead
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Like Vain Dane, he had a decent amount of “me and the celebrity” photos as well as laminated and mounted covers featuring him in
Newsweek
and
Forbes
. Just in case a potential client was still on the fence, Quinn had framed a half dozen news clippings from his most famous trial wins.

“Thank you for seeing me on a Sunday,” I said as I primly sat on the edge of one of three chairs facing his ultramodern, chrome, and technology-embracing desk. The prim part wasn’t my way of playing the coy damsel in distress. Nope. It was the only way short me could sit in the huge chair without my feet dangling above the floor. Quinn had obviously ordered the furniture with only his comfort in mind.

“I was a little surprised when Ellen called,” he said as he took his seat. “I haven’t talked to her since she interned for me years ago.”

“Really?” I’d never thought about Ellen having a life before Dane-Lieberman. I’d always kind of pictured her emerging from some kind of pod, hairy and fully grown.

“Well, we do see each other at the occasional Bar Association function.”

When he blinked I realized he was wearing blue contact lenses over brown eyes. Vain Quinn. Nope. It didn’t have the same ring to it. “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I guess I should start with the basics.”

“Fine.”

“Jane Spencer is being arraigned sometime tomorrow morning.”

“Hang on,” he said, his fingers adeptly moving over a Lucite keyboard.

From my vantage point, I couldn’t see much of the paper-thin, state-of-the-art flat-panel screen.

“She’s scheduled to appear before Judge Benjamin Faulkner at ten thirty.”

“Okay. Good to know.”

“It isn’t a secret. I use CourtAccess software. It makes things easier since I have cases in several counties.” He leaned back in his chair.

“Anyway, Jane did not kill Mr. Martinez.”

“Irrelevant,” Quinn remarked. “It’s never about guilt or innocence, Ms. Tanner. It’s about evidence and proof.”

Thanks for that sound bite.
“Well, she needs a good criminal attorney and you are the best in the state.”

He smiled. It was a sly, kinda slimy expression that made the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end.

“True, but that aside,” he said, “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

My hopes and my heart nose-dived. “If it’s about your fee”—I paused and opened my purse—“I can give you a small retainer today and more when the banks open.”

“It isn’t about the fee, though I wouldn’t have taken the case on that basis alone.”

“Then why?” I heard my voice and it sounded like a desperate plea. Because that’s exactly what it was.

He reached around and retrieved a folded white sheet of paper that he passed to me. “Consider yourself served.”

Opening it, I stared down at the page as if it were written in Farsi. “I don’t understand.”

“I’ve been retained by the Halls. I’ll be deposing you next month.”

He got to his feet as casually and calmly as if he’d just handed me a gift basket instead of a legal document requiring me to appear at some stupid deposition. “I wish you luck finding representation for Ms. Spencer. And thanks for saving me the trouble of having to send a process server up your way.”

The numbness was fading by the time I left the building. My body was practically shaking, I was so pissed at that arrogant, self-important asshole.

It was incredible to think that a little over twelve hours ago, I’d been tucked in my comfy bed, having an explicit dream. And in the brief span of time between then and now, I’d been handcuffed; dragged to a police station in my pj’s; bonded with a transvestite prostitute; been interrogated; hit up all my friends for cash; been berated by my mother and my boss; got caught almost having sex in my office; been mocked by Liam; had my car ticketed; and now become the owner of my very own summons.

After making an illegal U-turn—what were the chances of me getting two tickets in the same day? Huge. I checked my rearview mirror and expelled the breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding. I was reaching for my cell when it rang. It was Liv.

“Hi,” I said, knowing full well my attempt at sounding positive had failed miserably.

“Bad news?”

“A lot.”

“Damn. Me too. You go first.”

I switched to hands-free and told Liv I still hadn’t found an attorney. Worse yet, because Ellen had made it sound like it was a lock, I’d pinned all my hopes on Quinn. Meaning I hadn’t even called the other names on the list. “But,” I said, “on the plus side, I’ve collected thirty-five hundred dollars. What’s your bad news?”

“Jane’s finances are a disaster.”

“How can that be? She’s a freaking accountant.”

“No,” Liv countered. “She’s a freaking financial planner. She has about seven grand in liquid assets. Almost everything else is tied up in long-term investments, muni-bonds, T-bills—”

“In English, please?”

“According to a banker friend of mine, it will take at least a week, maybe longer, to turn those things into cash.”

“The arraignment is at ten thirty tomorrow morning,” I told her, feeling panic surge though my system.

“It gets worse.”

Impossible.
“How?”

“I’ve got eleven major events between now and Labor Day.”

“More English, Liv?”

“I pay the vendors out of my operating account, then replenish it when the clients pay me. I get a deposit, but I don’t get the bulk of the payment until the day of the event. So bottom line, the best I can scrape together before the hearing is about five thousand.” There was a just the smallest quiver in Liv’s voice. She was on the verge of tears.

So was I. “So it’s almost six
PM
and between the four of us, we’ve got less than fifteen thousand dollars and no one to represent Jane.”

“Pretty much.”

“I’ll call the Bank-O-Mom. I can’t make any promises, you know how she is. Then I’ll go back to my place and see if I can get in touch with any of the other lawyers on the list.”

“No. You focus on the money. Becky and I can work on the attorney thing.”

“Isn’t she with Jane?”

“Only until seven. I talked to her about an hour ago.”

“How’s Jane holding up?”

“Becky says good, considering. She still can’t remember much about last night after getting into the limo.”

That fact was gnawing at me in the worst way. “I need the name of the limo company Paolo and Jane used last night.”

“Drive Right. We use them all the time.”

“Do you always use the same driver?”

“No. Just whoever’s available.”

“Give me the address.”

“Why?” Liv asked.

“I might have a theory.”

“Finley,” Liv warned. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.”
Yet.
“I’ll talk to you as soon as I have news.”

After I’d finished talking to Liv, I called my mother but didn’t get an answer. I cursed her for not answering the phone, then cursed her again just because I could.

Wanting and needing to hear a friendly voice, I called Patrick.

“You sound down,” he said after hearing my pitiful greeting.

“I’m not really up for going out to dinner. Is that okay?”

“How about I bring dinner to you? I’ll grab some moo shu from China Delight.”

Again guilt washed over me. Breaking up with Patrick would be just plain stupid. No more vacillating. I would definitely put more effort into this relationship. “That sounds great. I should be home in about forty-five minutes.”

“I’ll be waiting. I’ll bring your gifts and I’ll even throw in a foot massage. How does that sound?”

“Heavenly.”

“See you soon, Fin. Try not to worry. This will work itself out.”

“Thanks, I needed to hear that.”

“I’ll tell you again when I see you. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I tried my mother a few more times during the uneventful drive to my apartment; still nothing. Not even when I announced it was me just in case she was still screening.

As promised, Patrick was waiting by the door, his arms loaded with takeout, two small gift bags dangled from one wrist. One was black, the other red. He kissed me softly, then waited while I unlocked the door. There was a distinct odor of citrus cleaner with an undertone of bleach. Looking at the door handle and then the floor, I knew immediately that Sam had come down and scrubbed away the blood and the fingerprint dust. What a sweetheart.

“This place is spotless,” Patrick commented as he laid the food containers out on the countertop. “Did you get a maid or something?”

“Or something,” I mumbled as I kicked off my shoes and rolled my head around on my shoulders, trying to loosen the knotted muscles at my neck.

“Poor Fin,” Patrick said as he came up behind me to knead the tension. “You’ve had a helluva lousy day. Maybe presents will make you feel better?”

I didn’t think so, but I smiled all the same. The black bag held a teeny, tiny thong bikini from a shop in Rio de Janeiro. I smiled, wondering what local beach I could wear it to and
not
get arrested for indecent exposure.

“Thank you.” I kissed him. Twice. The second time I gently nibbled his bottom lip until I heard a satisfying, guttural groan spill from his open mouth. I slowly flicked open the buttons of his shirt, feeling his heart racing as I flattened my palms against the hardness of his chest.

“You have another present,” he said, a hitch in his voice.

“So do you,” I replied, placing my mouth against his heated skin. I drew his nipple into my mouth, teasing it with my tongue as I felt Patrick reach down and cup my tush, pulling me closer so that his erection pressed against my stomach.

I went a little wild and I’m not sure why. Maybe I needed to prove to myself that we were still capable of passion. Maybe I just wanted to feel something other than sadness and despair over Jane’s predicament. Or maybe—and I hated myself for the nanosecond I considered the possibility—I wanted to indulge my fantasies about Liam.

It didn’t matter. I just started yanking Patrick’s clothes off, tossing them on the floor while doing my best to kiss him senseless. I reached for his hand, gently tugging him in the direction of the sofa. He didn’t budge. Instead, he lifted me up and carried me to the bed.

My passion ebbed a bit; it might have been fun to do something just a little bit different. We always had sex in a bed—mine or his. Just when I was going to suggest a change of location, Patrick stripped off my tops and teased my nipple to a hard pebble. His lips burned a path down my throat and over my breasts while his fingers slipped inside the waistband of my skirt. Location didn’t matter anymore.

The knock on my door did.

In a flash, I went from aroused to concerned. Scrambling over Patrick, I grabbed my robe and knotted the belt. “It could be Becky or Liv,” I said as I checked out his lean, toned body. “Or my mother.”

Hearing the “m” word had an interesting effect on Patrick. It was like taking a pin to an inflated balloon. His erection shriveled and his eyes registered genuine fear.

“Just stay in here,” I said, kissing his furrowed brow.

I opened the door and found Liam McGarrity on my doorstep holding a large paper sack. One dark brow arched as his eyes lazily roamed from my mussed hair to my bare feet. Slowly, a broad smile curved his mouth. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No.”

He looked past the threshold and then back at me. “Either I interrupted you and the pilot or some strange man left his clothes all over your living room.”

“Do you have a point to make?”

“Always. I brought you something,” Liam said, his tone laced with the same amusement I saw flash in his eyes.

Irritation inched up my spine. “A brown paper bag from Publix?”

“A brown paper bag from Publix
with
the champagne bottle and glasses from the limo Paolo and Jane used last night. I’ll have it tested for drugs and/or prints.”

“That’s great! I was planning on doing that tomorrow.”

“I figured as much. So, that’s the good news.”

“There’s bad news?”

He nodded. “I talked to a friend at the crime lab.”

“And?”

“The knife they recovered from the scene came from Jane’s kitchen.”

“That’s bad, right?”

His expression turned solemn. “Very bad.”

 
 

The best things in life are free; the better things require a promissory note.

 
 
Six
 

I
faked it.
Sleepless in Seattle
deli scene faked it. I should have felt bad, but in the bright light of a new and important day, me feeling guilty wasn’t on the top of my list. Nor was reflecting on why I’d been unable to respond to Patrick. No, that would mean admitting that Liam’s interruption had an effect on my sex life and I so wasn’t going there.

Patrick left around midnight, none the wiser. Amazing how easy it is to fool a guy into thinking you’ve had a mind-blowing orgasm. Anyway, he still had some packing odds and ends to handle for his hiking trip before he came with me to the courthouse. We agreed it would look good if he was all decked out in full pilot uniform for the arraignment. Uniforms impress people. Hopefully, it would impress the judge enough to drop the absurd charges completely or at least consider releasing Jane ROR. If anyone deserved to be released on her own recognizance, it was Jane.

Maybe I could blame my lack of sexual spark on worry over one of my best friends in the world? But then I felt worse, knowing that, orgasm or no orgasm, I’d been home in my own bed while Jane had slept in a cell.

As I wandered into the kitchen, I noticed Patrick’s second gift, the one in the red bag, lying forgotten on the counter. While I did love a good gift, my first priority was and is coffee, so I started a pot before I looked at what he’d brought me.

My eyesight hadn’t yet reached full focus ability, so it took a minute for me to realize that Patrick’s present wasn’t the only thing I’d neglected last night. My answering machine was flashing an insistent red light. I hit the speaker button, then dialed the speed code to access my messages before reaching for my always-at-the-ready, oversized pink coffee mug. While the machine voice told me I had one message, I bypassed the carafe and shoved my mug under the spigot to catch the first thick stream of a strong arabica blend.

My whole body stiffened as the shrill, stern sound of my mother’s clipped voice filled my apartment. “A courier will deliver a cashier’s check and a promissory note to that woman who greets people at your office by nine. Please execute and properly notarize the document and return it to me via express mail. Oh, and I’ve canceled our brunch reservations for Sunday.”

Hallelujah!

“Instead, I’ve made a reservation at Willoughby Country Club in Stuart. It was the only place I could think of where I won’t run the risk of bumping into my friends. Sunday at eleven o’clock. Do try to be punctual.”

Halle-
s
hit!

Beep.
“To save this message in the archives, press—” I smacked the delete option.

“How much is the loan?” I asked the now-silent phone. Jeez, leave it to my mother to give me specific instructions on the Mandatory Brunch and completely blow past the amount of the check. It was tauntingly cruel. It was so like my mother.

My morning plans needed some rearranging. Since I’d been given the day off, sans pay I’m sure, I was supposed to meet Becky and Liv at Tommasso’s Deli at nine thirty. Patrick would hook up with us at the courthouse. Now I needed to up my departure time by at least thirty minutes so I could get the check, sign my financial life away, and hit the bank.

So much for a leisurely start to the day. I had just enough time for two very quick cups of coffee before I had to be in the shower. As I poured refill number one, I remembered the unopened gift bag.

I could and probably should wait until Patrick was here to watch me open it. But that would mean waiting two full weeks, until he returned from his guys-only, Outward Bound–ish hiking trip. I’m not that patient. As Liam has often pointed out. Usually punctuating the remark with that cocky, sensual half smile.

I gave myself a little mental slap. No Liam thoughts allowed. Specifically no remotely carnal ones. None. I am strong. I know better. I can control myself.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

The red gift bag was calling me. Being an accomplished gift recipient, I knew from the weight and size of the bag it wasn’t clothing. Not heavy enough. Nor was it jewelry. Too bulky. It was featherlight and stuffed to the top with slightly crumpled tissue. A small gold sticker with three indecipherable letters pressed into the foil topped the professionally arranged tissue. Slipping my thumbnail underneath to break the seal, I carefully lifted the whole wad of tissue from the bag.

Peeling the layers like an onion, not that I’ve peeled all that many onions, I eventually uncovered an absolutely stunning blown glass ornament. I sighed and smiled all at the same time. How incredible was Patrick? Once, in passing, I’d mentioned I might want to put up an actual Christmas tree this year but I’d never gotten around to buying ornaments. Now I was holding a lovely, six-and-a-quarter-inch-tall likeness of a Brazilian beach babe. She was holding a large pink shopping bag, dressed in funky, fun accessories. A little tag hanging from the top hook of the ornament explained that she was hand-painted by an artisan and hand-molded in the tradition of the Murano sculptors in Italy.

Thanks to Patrick’s generosity while in Rio, I had my very first holiday ornament and a killer new bikini. I tried Patrick’s number but didn’t get an answer. He could be doing his morning run or might be in the shower, which was exactly where I needed to be. The shower, not running. I don’t run. I stroll.

Following a quick shower, I dried my hair and applied makeup. Now I had to make an important decision. What to wear? Conservative, I decided, homing in on the Ann Taylor outlet section of my closet. While I wasn’t crazy about the dark cinnabar color of the pebble crepe, flounce hem, sleeveless dress, and matching cropped jacket, it screamed
subdued professional.
To quiet the screaming, I paired it with the Haircalf d’Orsay pumps in zebra print I’d picked up at Burdines’s, now Macy’s, semiannual sale. Even on sale, I couldn’t swing the matching bag, leaving me no choice but to go with my tried but true Gucci Croro black tote.

While high on cold medicine last winter, I’d purchased a silvertone link and pearl necklace and matching earrings from the Home Shopping Network and figured now was as good a time as any to give them a test drive. I’ve never worn silver-tone, and wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, beyond not real silver. Hopefully, the stuff wouldn’t turn my neck green.

Switching things from my purse to my tote, I made myself a roady of coffee, wrote Sam a quick thank-you note for cleaning my place and stuck it under his door, then headed to Dane-Lieberman.

On the way, I tried Becky’s cell, but it went directly to voice mail. Same with Liv. Where were they?

A few minutes after nine, I was parked in front of my office. Leaving my jacket in the car since the temperature was already topping eighty-five, I grabbed my tote and went inside. Margaret was at her post, Bluetooth in place, hair teased and sprayed into a helmet shape. I wondered if she looked this disapproving and nasty at home, or if she just saved her scowly face for work. But wait…

Either my mind was playing tricks on me or she was actually smiling. No trick, she was definitely grinning. Not a “gee, I’m happy to see you” grin, more of a “you’re going to hate this and I get to watch” grin.

As soon as she lifted the express mail envelope, I saw it had been opened. I didn’t bother to hide my contempt for the nosy bitch. “You opened it? When it was sent to me?”

“It wasn’t,” Margaret said, her eyes practically shimmering with delight when I narrowed my gaze on her. “It was addressed to me with instructions to have your signature witnessed and notarized before giving you the check.”

It felt like steam was shooting out of my ears as my whole body heated with a blend of intense anger and utter humiliation. Of all people, why did my mother have to make Margaret the go-between?

“I’ll buzz Mary Beth,” Margaret said.

While waiting for the peppy litigation paralegal to come down from her third-floor office, I sensed movement in the doorway that led to the foyer vending machines. Ahh, I should have known. Three or four of the homely, miserable twits from the file room were taking turns peeking around the corner. Obviously Margaret had sent out an alert. “Come one, come all! F.A.T.’s mother won’t give her a loan without making her sign a note!”

Yesterday hadn’t been a great day and today wasn’t looking a whole lot better. Unless you were Margaret or one of the file room flunkies, all of whom seemed to be delighting in this awkward moment. I really, really wanted to turn around and yell, “Bite me!” I considered the rabies shot
that
would necessitate and kept my mouth shut. My jaw ached from gritting my teeth.

I’d known when I’d asked my mother for a loan that she’d get her pound of flesh. Until this morning, I hadn’t realized the depth of her need for control coupled with her nastiness. I should have known. There’s no free lunch with my mother.

This thing with Jane had clearly clouded my normally sharp mother radar.

Mary Beth, notary stamp and seal in hand, virtually danced out of the elevator. She was smart, kind, more organized than the Dewey decimal system, and more into entertaining than Martha Stewart. Mary Beth was so kind, in fact, that she’d accepted all my lame excuses for declining to attend her home parties with a bright smile, sometimes even apologizing for planning them on dates I was unavailable.

She was our office’s version of head cheerleader, baking birthday cakes, sending sympathy cards, and often bringing in home-baked goods to share. She was a crafty woman too, not in a snarky way, but literally. Give the woman a hot glue gun, a little time, and a lot of glue sticks, she could probably construct a scale version of the Eiffel Tower out of pretzel rods.

“Hi, Finley,” she said in a chipper voice I could only achieve under the influence of a triple-shot espresso drink.

“Hi. Sorry to take you away from your desk.”

“Not a problem,” Mary Beth said. “Just happy to help.”

“I don’t want to keep you.” When I turned to take the envelope from Margaret, I realized it was too late. A single typed page dangled from her fingers. Where, I wondered, annoyed, was the freaking check?

Snatching the paper, I skimmed the terms, swallowing the groan bubbling up in my throat. My mother, my flesh and blood, was charging me 17.9 percent interest. One-tenth of a point below the usury limits allowed in the state of Florida. Obviously she didn’t feel any compulsion to offer a daughter discount.

I signed where indicated, then fumed as Margaret took her time scribbling her name and address in as a witness. Always efficient Mary Beth quickly notarized the note and wished me well at the arraignment.

Mary Beth squeezed my shoulder. “I’m sure things will work out for your friend. Let me know if there’s anything I can do for her or for you.”

Can you crochet the real killer before ten thirty?
“Thanks.” Turning to Margaret, I asked for an express envelope and label.

“Sorry,” she said, though the inflection in her tone and the glint in her eyes told me she was anything but. “This isn’t firm business, so I can’t allow you to use the Dane-Lieberman account.”

“Whatever,” I grumbled, mentally giving her and the file chicks the finger as I took the loan-shark-worthy promissory note and the check and bolted from the lobby. I stopped at the drop box outside the office, got an envelope, a blank air bill, and the last laugh. I knew the Dane-Lieberman account number by heart and since the accounting department handled the monthly bill, Margaret wouldn’t ever know I’d bested her. Besides, I was content to view the twenty-something-dollar charge partial payment for my unpaid leave day.

Before I reached my car, I got my first look at the check and nearly fell to the ground. I had a dozen reasons to loathe the woman and twenty-five thousand reasons to like her, for a few seconds. I’d been hoping for ten, praying for fifteen, but never even dreamed she’d lend me this much. Or that in accordance with the terms of the note, the repayment would nearly double the amount of the loan. I’d worry about that later.

As I stopped for traffic lights on my way to the bank, I sealed the note in the envelope and filled out the air bill, sorely tempted to address it to Mommy Dearest.

Be nice,
I told myself firmly. Mommy Dearest or not, she’d come through when I really needed her to. I had to give her props for that.

Though Tommasso’s wasn’t far, I wanted to stop at the bank for two reasons. First, I wanted to know if I needed to do anything with the cashier’s check before turning it over to a bail bondsman. No. And second, I knew the assistant manager well enough to ask her the favor of seeing that my express envelope went out with the first pickup.

I’d forgotten to put a thank-you note inside the envelope. That would cost me. I’d also neglected to put on a watch, stupid since I have several nice ones. Nice, but not my fantasy watch. That would be a pink-oyster-faced Rolex with a diamond bezel. Buying one retail was my first choice, but hardly realistic. I couldn’t even swing one on the aftermarket. However, being a resourceful and adept Internet auction person, I was building my own. To date, I’ve acquired three links, the face, and a screw-down crown. EBay is a beautiful place. Not only can I score slightly used clothing, but someday I’ll have everything I need to make my Rolex dreams come true.

Without a watch, I had no choice but to check the time on my cell phone display. Not only was I running ten minutes late, a small icon on the screen indicated I had a new text message. Hopefully it was Liv or Becky telling me they’d found an attorney. I drove the three-quarters of a mile back to Banyan Street, found a parking spot, and just to be safe, overfed the meter.

During my block-and-a-half walk to the deli, I pulled up the message.

 

Hi Fin. Last night was great.

 

For you maybe.
The thought just popped into my head, making me feel small and mean. Which just showed how freaking unworthy I was to have such a terrific guy care about me.

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