Exclusive Excerpt From Devil's Bargain – Coming May 2019!
Copyright © 2019 – Robin James
I stood at the door to my office. My heart thundered as I saw the man sitting in front of my desk in profile. That strong jaw. Straight nose. Broad shoulders beneath an impeccably tailored suit and shoes shined to a gleam. He didn’t yet see me. He straightened his sleeve, revealing a gold cufflink.
My brain short-circuited. He looked so much like his brother. For that brief instant, old feelings bubbled to the surface. My palms started to sweat. Then, he turned his head and stared at me with cold eyes that were nothing like his brother’s at all.
“Liam,” I said.
Liam Thorne gave me a devilish smile and rose from the chair. He looked me up and down, not even bothering to hide his scorn. I straightened my back. This was my turf, dammit. If I didn’t have the power suit, I’d match him with attitude.
“Cass,” he said. “Glad to see things are looking up for you.”
It was pure sarcasm. I wouldn’t rise to the bait.
The man was calm, cold, always calculating. As senior partner for one of the most powerful law firms in Chicago, Liam Thorne was used to dominating every room he entered. His tactics stopped working with me years ago. Until one fateful night when I knew my life was in his hands.
“I told you never to come here,” I said. “I’m sorry you wasted a trip.”
“Sit down, Cass,” he said, his demeanor shifting, becoming more relaxed. Whatever he wanted to talk to me about, I sensed he prepared for it for a while. I forgot to ask Miranda how long he’d been sitting here. Jeanie and I had been gone most of the morning and came through the front door. I never heard his car pull up. Liam might very well have been here a long time. There was an empty cup of coffee sitting on the desk in front of him.
I slid into the chair behind my desk, grateful for the relative protection it provided.
Liam was pure alpha dog. I knew he could smell fear. He settled back in his chair as I took mine.
“You’ve done well for yourself,” he said. I couldn’t figure if it was a question or a statement.
“I have,” I said.
“Your name keeps popping up in the local papers,” he said.
I raised a brow. “Since when have you started reading Michigan news?”
He smiled. “I like to keep tabs on my associates.”
“I’m not one of them anymore, Liam.”
I wanted to tell him we had to cut this short. What I wouldn’t give for the excuse of a court hearing to draw me away. But, as Liam sat across from my desk giving me that piercing, chilly stare, I knew damn well he’d done that homework too. He likely knew my schedule as well as Miranda did before he came.
He reached down. I noticed for the first time that he had his briefcase on the floor next to his left leg. He pulled two thin files out of the side pocket and placed one on the desk. I looked at it, but didn’t touch it.
“I have a client for you,” he said.
My heart stopped. Blood made a rushing sound in my ears. I kept my cool, folding my hands on the desk.
“Liam, I don’t work for you anymore, remember?”
His eyes went even colder. I swear, the guy was part vampire. I couldn’t even see him breathe.
I went just as cold. I’d misjudged this man one too many times. The Thorne Law Group had provided legal cover for his family business for decades. Up until a year ago, I was an integral part of that cover. On the surface, the Thorne family ran one of the most lucrative exporting businesses in the country. But, even that was a front for some of their more shady endeavors as one of the most influential families in the Irish mob. While Liam ran the law firm, his brother Killian ran the main business.
Sometimes, I forgot how much they looked alike. As I looked at Liam, that familiar set of his jaw, the way he sat rod straight and kept that laser focus on me reminded me so much of Killian. And I hated that it still stirred a part of me.
“We didn’t leave things on the best terms,” Liam said. “I’ll admit that. But, loyalty, Cass. That’s all I ever asked of you.”
Best terms. If I’d been drinking my own coffee, I might have spit it right out at that. I still had nightmares about the last time I saw Liam. He’d driven me to the docks and had me board the Thorne family yacht. With each step I took, I believed in my heart I would never see shore again.
“What do you want, Liam,” I said. “I’m not interested in rehashing old stories. I said I don’t work for you. And it’s not loyalty you want from me. It’s silence. I’ve kept up my end. Your end is you walk out of here and stay the hell out of Delphi.”
He smirked. “Aren’t you even a little bit curious?”
“No,” I lied.
“Well, let me start over. You seem to be under the impression I’m making you an offer. The terms of your separation were as clear as I could make them. You get your little life here, Cass. You get to be the hick lawyer you were born and bred to be. In exchange, yes, you keep your mouth shut. But, from time to time, it’s in my interest to make sure I can still trust you. This is one of those times. And that’s your new client. I suggest you get yourself up to speed quickly.”
“Go to hell,” Liam, I said, hating that I let myself lose that much control. I made a mistake allowing even a second of the memory from that night at the docks seep in. Liam wanted me dead that night. He caught wind of the fact that I’d had a conversation with the F.B.I. about some of the darker aspects of the Thorne family dealings. They wanted me to violate my oath and testify against my own colleagues and clients.
It had gotten too much for me. I’d sold too much of my soul. There was no way in hell I was walking any of it back. I’d lived through the most frightening moment of my life on the deck of Liam’s yacht. Bound and gagged, only a phone call from Killian had saved me. I’d lived through something just as frightening in recent months, but that was different. Liam knew me. His vendetta was personal. And now I knew he wasn’t planning to let it go.
“Go home, Liam,” I said. “Whatever it is you need, I can’t help you. You’ve wasted your time.”
He let out a weary sigh. “Fine,” he said. “So, I’ll explain it. It’s what you’re good at now anyway. Hopeless cases. Murder trials?”
The sound of waves crashing against the side of a boat filled my head. I resisted the urge to rub my wrists. Sometimes, in the quiet, I could still feel the hard plastic zip ties digging into my skin.
Damn it all to hell. I looked. I flipped open the file.
Liam was nothing if not dramatic. The top document in the stack was an 8 x 10 color photo of the murder victim. White male. Thick dark hair. Big brown eyes frozen open in a death stare. His neck was slashed open, cut straight through. He’d been garroted.
“Jesus,” I said, flipping the file shut.
“Maybe it’s you who should pay more attention to the local news,” Liam said. “This one’s practically in your backyard?”
“What’s your angle, Liam?”
“Your client is Theodore Richards. He’s been charged with first degree. Like I said, your specialty. This should be a cakewalk for you.”
“I’m not interested,” I said, sliding the file back to him.
“That’s not what I asked you. In fact I didn’t ask at all. I’m telling you. You’ll do this. You’ll see that Theodore Richards walks.”
“It’s not happening. Find someone else.”
Liam’s face changed. It was barely perceptible. But, his cheeks flamed a little red. I knew this man. His temper was volatile. I leaned back in my chair. I kept a letter opener in my top drawer. Today, I should have brought a gun.
“Don’t make me be inelegant about this Cass,” he said. “You know I don’t like it.”
“Ask me the number of fucks I give,” I said.
His eyes flashed. “And I like vulgarity even less.”
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He pressed one button and set the phone down. Sighing, he put a second thin file on my desk on top of the other.
A tremor went through me. If the first file was some type of carrot, this one was going to be the stick.
“Take a look,” he said.
This was another nightmare. I wanted to be anywhere but here at that moment. Somehow, I managed to keep my fingers from trembling as I leaned forward and opened the second file.
My breath caught. It was a picture of another man. This one, as familiar to me as my own face. My younger brother Matty was walking to his car at one of the construction sites where he worked. He was unaware of the photographer.
I flipped the picture over. Beneath it, was another picture of Matty. It was taken from a greater distance as he sat at a diner just a few blocks from here. He was with his wife, Tina. Even in the still photo, I could tell they were arguing as Matty gestured with his hands and Tina had a scowl on her face.
I turned the next picture and felt sick. It was Matty again. He was in bed, sleeping. Tina slept beside him. It was taken right outside his bedroom window.
“Keep looking,” Liam said. He sat back and crossed his legs.
I turned the next picture over and the next after that. He had pictures of my older brother Joe in much the same scenarios. One at work as he painted an office building. Another taken from inside Joe’s bedroom as he slept, just like the one of Matty. The third took the breath right from my lungs. Joe was waiting in the parking lot, picking my seventeen-year-old niece Emma up from school.
I kept going, knowing what I’d find, but praying I wouldn’t. The final photograph was of Emma. It was another shot from across the street as Emma lay on a couch in the arms of a teenage boy I didn’t recognize.
I slammed the folder shut.
“I’ll kill you,” I whispered, fighting to keep tears of rage from falling. My whole body shook. “If you dare touch my family…that wasn’t our deal.
“Our deal is what I say it is,” Liam said. “Circumstances have changed. And you needed a little reminder.”
“I’ve done nothing to you. I’ve kept your secrets. This isn’t necessary.”
“I think it is,” Liam said.
“Killian will never stand for this,” I said. The moment the words were out, new terror sparked in my heart. Did Killian know Liam was here? Had he sanctioned this invasion of my family’s privacy and bold new threat?
Liam leaned far forward. “Killian isn’t the savior you think he his, honey. And you can’t keep running to him every time you need something. Not without paying the price. This is your price. You’ll take this case. And you’ll win it.”
“Go to hell,” I said. “You’ve made your point.
He put a hand up. “You have a sister, I believe. And I believe you used my family services to locate her recently. You didn’t think that debt would go uncollected did you? So, it’s up to you. If you defend Theodore Richards, then you and your family have nothing to worry about. You have twenty-four hours to decide.”
Liam rose from his seat and straightened his jacket. “Oh, you should know. Mr. Richards has had some bad luck with his previous lawyer. The man died last week. Your trial is a month away. I look forward to hearing from you by tomorrow night. Don’t keep me waiting.”
“Get out,” I said, my voice lowering to an octave I didn’t know I had in me.
He turned and headed for the door. My head was spinning. I didn’t want to show it. I knew Liam had the power to do all the things he said and more. The echo of the waves lapping against his family yacht still haunted me.
I thought it was over. I thought we were done. But, the cold gleam in Liam Thorne’s eyes just before he turned and walked out of my office pierced through me and nearly stopped my heart.