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The city sweltered.
Alice Kendall absently curled a loose tendril of white-blonde hair behind her ear. It was unbearably hot in her small law office in the South End of town, her long skirts and petticoats even more confining than usual. But she hardly noticed.
Pulling a folded rectangle of newsprint from a file, she reread the startling headline that she hadnt been able to get out of her mind.
prominent son charged in murder
Last week she had cut the article from the paper, though she couldnt say why. In the short nine months she had been a solicitor, she had made something of a name for herself by defending small but difficult cases. Even though a murder charge was well beyond what she could reasonably expect to take on at this point in her career, it was just the kind of case she dreamed of defending one day. Big and important.
Tapping the newsprint in thought, she started to read.
Lucas Hawthorne, son of prominent citizen Bradford Hawthorne, has been charged with the murder of Lucille Rouge, a well-known courtesan found dead in Beckmans alleyway in the early hours of Sunday morning. After his arrest Tuesday afternoon, Hawthorne was set free on a five-hundred-dollar bond.
Equally well known as the owner of the infamous gentlemens club, Nightingales Gate, Lucas Hawthorne was unavailable for comment. The elder Hawthorne son, Grayson, emphatically declared his brothers innocence. Matthew, the middle Hawthorne son, is reportedly returning to Boston from Africa. It is to be expected that the three Hawthorne brothers would show such solidarity. What is unexpected, however, is that Bradford Hawthorne, the venerable patriarch of the clan, has refused to make any comment at all.
The article went on, but Alice sat back and barely felt the bite of hard wood pressing her whalebone corset against her ribs. The Hawthorne brothers were well known throughout Boston. They were born of an autocratic, demanding father; and each, in turn, had grown up to be a breed apart. It was said they were exceedingly wealthy, impossibly handsome, and supremely arrogant.
Lucas Hawthorne, Alice had heard, was the wildest of the three, and so exceptionally handsome and charming that women had taken to lining the steps of the courthouse every time the man appeared before a judge for a pretrial hearing.
Alice had heard that the throng of females called out to him as he took the granite steps, straining to touch him, and cried after he disappeared through the thick, oak doors. She couldnt understand such a response to an accused murderer.
It was no secret Lucas was the youngest son of the very fine family, someone who seemed to relish his black-sheep image. Proper Boston didnt take kindly to a man who laughed in the face of propriety. Neither did her father, Bostons highly successful district attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
No one within a hundred-mile radius dared cross Walker Kendall. During his tenure as lead prosecutor for the Commonwealth, he had won far more cases than he had lost.
Alice cringed for the poor fool who would be faced with the task of defending Lucas Hawthorne. He didnt stand a chance against her father.
While she had never met any of the Hawthorne family, she felt sure given their name and money, not to mention the fact that Grayson Hawthorne was considered one of the finest lawyers in town, that there would be a fight.
Intrigued in spite of herself, she resolved to ask her father what he knew about the case when they met at noon for lunch at Locke-Obers.
A sharp rap on the frosted window in the door shook her from her reverie. She blinked at the large, distorted form that stood behind the glass.
Instantly the article was forgotten. While she had successfully defended the few cases she had gotten, she had practically given her services away for free. As a new lawyer, not to mention as a woman lawyer, she didnt have clients banging down her door. Slowly she was developing a solid reputation. She knew that. But if Alice didnt start bringing in some sizable fees soon, shed be hard pressed to stay in business. A solid reputation alone, she was fast learning, didnt pay the bills.
“Come in,” she called out in her best professional voice, quickly dabbing the sweat from her brow before grabbing her pen and a file in hopes of looking busy just as the door swung open.
A man filled the doorway. A stranger. Her breath winged out of her at the sight.
Despite his expensively tailored suit, he looked dangerous. He was tall with broad shoulders, powerful, seemingly unfazed by the staggering heat. His hair was dark like a ravens wing. His jaw was hard and chiseled, just like the man. And his lips. Full and masterfully carved, sensuous. The effect of such a mouth on a face so masculine was blatantly sexual.
Alice felt an odd tingle race through her, then settle low.
But it was his eyes that demanded her attention. A vivid shade of blue, they flickered over the interior of her office with quick efficiency, before settling on her—and when they did, his body went still and his eyes narrowed. His gaze was unnerving, intense, unreadable.
Locked in his stare, she couldnt move. Her world seemed to shift and change. Seconds ticked by in some distorted facsimile of time passing. An empty, hungry feeling flared unexpectedly inside her—a feeling she could hardly fathom, much less explain.
His gaze drifted over her like an insolent caress, judging, assessing. An embarrassing sense of inadequacy spun through her. She had a pretty enough face, she knew that. But not the porcelain features or curvaceous body to impress such a ruggedly handsome man.
Pulling up bravado like a shield, she gave him her coolest glare. “May I help you?” she asked, forcing her voice to be steady.
At the question he smiled, a slow quirk of lips making him look like a devilish schoolboy. “I think you can.”
His tone made it clear that his words had nothing to do with the practice of law. He was making an inappropriate advance at her. Alice couldnt have been more surprised if he had fallen to his knees and begged her to marry him. Shaking the absurd thought away, she wrote her pounding heart off to outrage.
She pushed up from her seat in a stiff rustle of taffeta skirts and the scrape of chair against hardwood floor, certain he must be lost. Hoping he was lost. Or did she, she wondered when she felt a tiny flare of that odd, breathless feeling. Her gaze drifted to his lips, which just as quickly pulled into a wider smile.
Her head jerked up and she felt the instant burn in her face at his knowing look.
“Can I direct you somewhere?” she inquired crisply.
“Im looking for Alice Kendall.”
Her spine straightened in surprise. “For me?”
The mans indolent smile froze into a hard line. “You are Alice Kendall?” He glanced around the small office as if he expected to find someone else.
Her chin rose a notch, hating the fact that every time anyone met her they couldnt imagine she was old enough to practice law. This wasnt the first time someone had come into her office and assumed she was the receptionist. “Yes, I am.”
His blue eyes narrowed dangerously. “What the hell?” he muttered, more to himself than her. “I need a lawyer, not a date for an ice-cream social.”
She realized in that second that he was going to leave.
Instantly her brain raced, but not with thoughts of this massive man and what he made her feel, rather with thoughts of a client. A real, live, breathing client. And if his clothes were any indication, he could actually afford to pay her.
“Youre looking for a lawyer?” she burst out.
He hesitated, his gaze no longer sensual. He regarded her with an inexplicable flare of anger.
But Alice wasnt about to be put off. She thrust out her hand like any good businessman, fighting off the very real desire she felt to dash out the door. “Alice Kendall, attorney at law, at your service.”
He made no attempt to shake her hand, disdain shimmering around him like the waves of gauzy heat outside.
She tried to convince herself that he wasnt a hopelessly dangerous criminal. Truly, his clothes were nice. He shaved. His hair wasnt overly long. All right, so it was, she amended at the sight of dark hair brushing his collar. Even so, what did it matter. Didnt every man, woman, and thug deserve a lawyer?
Her heart did a little dance of excitement.
“Why do you need an attorney?” she asked, her mind spinning with thoughts of a breach of contract case, or a simple mistaken identity. Or given a criminals frequently short life span, shed even do a little estate planning if that was what he wanted. A client was a client.
But before he could answer, another man stepped in be-hind him.
This one was every bit as tall as the first, his hair as dark, though his eyes were black pools instead of blue. He looked familiar somehow, and she had the distinct impression that she should know him.
“Miss Kendall,” he said, his voice smooth and polite, so different from the first man. “How nice finally to meet you.”
She tilted her head in confusion as she tried to place him but couldnt. “Who are you?” she asked bluntly, forgetting all her hard-learned lessons in decorous behavior. “And why are you here?”
He didnt answer at first as he noticed the article lying forgotten on her desk. Before she knew what he was doing, he picked it up and glanced at the black print. With a sigh, he handed it to her, and said, “Everyone charged with murder needs representation.”
Her mind jerked and spun, attempting to work, like gears trying to find purchase and take hold. “Murder?”
“Youre Lucas Hawthorne?”
A brief flash of pure joy raced through her at the thought of such a client. But disappointment followed quickly on its heels. She needed a case she actually stood a chance of winning. The last thing she needed was for Lucas Hawthorne to walk into her office.
The man shook his head. “No, Im not Lucas Hawthorne.”
Relief, a resurgence of enthusiasm. Visions of solvency returned.
Alice swung around to face the man who had taken her breath. Dark hair, vivid blue eyes. She stared at him in dumbfounded accusation. This was Lucas Hawthorne. In the flesh. Despite herself, she had a fleeting understanding of why women lined up outside the courthouse doors.
With a start, she shook the thought away, replacing it with another. So much for a nice little breach of contract case.
“Why me?” she muttered.
“My question, exactly,” Lucas Hawthorne stated, his eyes flickering over her frilly blue gown. “Arent suffragettes supposed to be mannish and wear ties?”
“Lucas,” the other man warned.
“For your information, I am not a suffragette. Im a lawyer, and a good one, I might add,” Alice snapped, her temper short as she swallowed the bitter pill that this wasnt a case she could reasonably take.
Lucas raised one black brow arrogantly and looked at her in a way that was meant to intimidate.
Alice was too disappointed to care, and she glared back. “Unless rumors are mistaken—”
“Ive never been one to listen to rumors.”
Her smile was thin and caustic. “Im sure that makes your mother proud. I, on the other hand, enjoy a good rumor now and again. Im always amazed at how much information they provide. And rumor has it that you have more money than God, and a brother whos a lawyer.” She jerked around to the other man. “Youre Grayson Hawthorne!”
The older brother nodded his regal head.
Stunned that two of the most well known men in New England were seeking her help, Alice sat down in her chair and refolded the article, then carefully straightened her already straight papers, giving herself time to think.
“So,” Grayson said, “are you interested in the job?”
Her heart lurched. These werent two run-of-the-mill thugs. They werent lost, and they truly wanted her.
Okay, so only Grayson Hawthorne wanted her, but Grayson Hawthorne belonged to the pantheon of great lawyers as far as she was concerned.
Despite the fact that it was ludicrous to consider, blood drummed through her veins in exhilaration. This was what she had dreamed of for years. A big case. To be sought after and respected by the very lawyers who shaped the law.
But to defend a murder charge when she had only been practicing for less than a year? This was too big. Too soon. Any lawyer in town would know that. At least a good one would, and Grayson Hawthorne was a good one.
Disappointment flared once again, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You never answered my question,” she stated, looking at him directly. “Why me?”
Lucas Hawthorne leaned back against the wall and glanced wryly at Grayson. “Call me naïve, big brother, but shouldnt the lawyer be convincing us, rather than the other way around?”
“More than that, why arent you defending him?” Alice challenged.
Grayson glanced back and forth between her and his brother.
“First of all, I deal in civil matters, not criminal. Beyond which, no jury in the land will believe that I can be objective about my own flesh and blood. We need someone from outside my firm.”
“Then what about the slew of attorneys in this very building?” she asked, her tone acerbic.
“Not everyone here graduated number one in their class in law school, and not everyone aced the bar exam. You did.”
A brush of pride washed over her at the words. Alice felt a slight softening in her stance, despite the fact that she knew she hadnt received a single compliment from anyone except her father since shed decided to wear her hair up at eighteen. Undoubtedly she was desperate and susceptible to the most blatant forms of flattery, but still, it felt good.
“Ive also heard you were the best strategist in your class,” Grayson added. “We want someone new. Someone hungry.” He eyed her carefully. “And if my guess is correct, you have something to prove. A winning combination, as far as Im concerned.”
She almost preened, would have, no doubt, if it hadnt become exceedingly clear that Lucas Hawthorne didnt agree. In fact, he looked downright antagonistic. She bit her lip and studied him. The man was angry. Dangerous. With large hands that easily could have ended a womans life.
A shiver of something raced down her spine, but this time it had nothing to do with feeling drawn or intrigued.
“What is the charge?” she asked Grayson as if his brother werent there. “Murder in the first degree? In the second? Manslaughter?”
“Murder in the first,” Lucas answered for him, crossing his arms casually on his chest as if he didnt have a care in the world.
Her heart fluttered, and she tried to ignore him. “The Commonwealth must have some pretty solid evidence to go for such a charge.”
Deep lines etched Grayson Hawthornes face. “What they have is a very solid hatred for my brother and the way he has chosen to lead his life.”
Unable to help herself, she turned to study Lucas, took in the half-angry, half-amused smile pulling at those lips that had made her heart flutter.
“Did you do it?” she asked without thinking.
The smile evaporated into the bleak office, and his arms dropped to his sides. His look of bored indifference disappeared until only the taut line of his jaw and the tense brace of his broad shoulders remained. The small office simmered with anger.
“I thought lawyers didnt ask questions like that,” he said with harsh animosity.
“This lawyer does.”
He pushed away from the wall and walked toward her desk with the smooth grace of a panther, as if all this time he had been holding back, containing the raw, furious power of his rage. “What do you think, Miss Kendall? Do you think I did it?”
She didnt lean back, though she wanted to, and she didnt answer his question. Instead she asked, “Where were you the night of the murder?”
The air in the room seemed sparse as he stared at her. She felt the barely contained power of him, the heat of his body overpowering the small space. It was all she could do to not look away.
“I was in my room at the club. In bed. Would you like to know what I was doing there?”
His voice was a deep, seductive brush of sound, and her breath hissed out of her.
“No, thank you,” she managed. “But if indeed you were in . . . your room, how could anyone possibly think you did it?”
“They have an eyewitness.”
Alice blinked. “An eyewitness?” she repeated, incredulous. “If someone saw you do it, you dont need a lawyer, Mr. Hawthorne, you need a miracle worker.”
“Thats why we came to you.” Lucas drawled the last word with stinging contempt. “As Grayson said, youre smart, youre hungry.” His smile returned, hard and dismissive. “And while you arent at all what I expected, you are a woman.”
“Lucas,” Grayson snapped.
Her shoulders came back. “What is that supposed to mean?”
But Lucas wasnt put off. “What my dear brother has failed to mention is that he believes a woman lawyer will help my case.”
“Most men would believe that a woman lawyer would do more harm than good.”
Lucas shrugged, the gesture a lament. “I said as much myself. But Grayson feels that no woman would consider representing a guilty man. At least thats what hes counting on a jury believing.”
She began to see where he was headed, and her stomach tightened with anger.
Grayson gave his brother a quelling look before he spoke. “The fact is, Miss Kendall, if you agree to represent Lucas I dont believe he will ever be indicted by the grand jury, much less convicted in a court of law. Yes, they have an eyewitness. But she is a woman of lesser virtue, and it will be her word against his.”
“From what I hear, your brother is a man of lesser virtue.” The words were out before Alice could stop them.
Graysons countenance grew fierce. Lucass eyes darkened to a deep shade of unfathomable blue, before he threw his head back and laughed.
“At least shes honest,” he said. “Come on, big brother. Were wasting our time.”
He headed for the door, looking pleased to be leaving. She stared at his retreating back, at the smooth grace of him. But Grayson didnt budge. He stood, staring at her, and at the last second Lucas cursed and turned back.
“Are we wasting our time?” Grayson asked.
Alice couldnt seem to look away from Lucas. Moments passed in silence as she thought about this man charged with murder, trying to understand what it was about him that drew her. He was arrogant, rude, and he had trouble written all over him. But something about him made her heart beat wildly and her knees feel weak.
It was foolish, idiotic, an insipidly female reaction. And she had always prided herself on the fact that she had never been insipid.
“Im sorry,” she said finally, still looking at Lucas instead of his brother. “But I cant take the case.”
A flash of something—hurt, fear—darkened in Lucas Hawthornes blue eyes, but it was quickly covered by that wry indifference.
“Come on, lets go,” he said.
Grayson pursed his lips and stared at her hard. “Just think about it, Miss Kendall,” he said, his tone firm and exacting. “Lucas needs a lawyer who can counter the very reputation you mentioned.” He glanced around the very sparse surroundings of her office with a knowing look. “And if my guess is correct, you need a client.”
Then they were gone, the door closing with a rattle of glass in the wooden frame. Alice stared at the murky window, feeling shaken and angry. More than that, she felt a needling desire to take the case.
But to deal with a man whose disreputable lifestyle could very easily have led him to commit such a crime? And if he didnt do it, given his reputation, no court in the land would believe him.
No, she wasnt that foolish.
She pressed her hand against her heart. It raced inside her chest as Lucas Hawthornes blue eyes flashed in her mind—the way he had looked at her, really looked for those few moments when he first entered the room, seeing her as no one else ever did.
What did he see, she wondered.
Shaking her head, she scoffed at her thoughts. She wasnt going to ask Lucas Hawthorne anything, not about what he saw . . . or about what he had done. Her decision was made. She wouldnt see him again. Case closed. End of story.
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