Tempting fate, p.9
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       Tempting Fate, p.9

         Part #2 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “If I plead guilty …”

  Diana swooped the pad into her briefcase. “If you want to play hero because your girlfriend’s afraid of her father, get yourself another lawyer. I don’t defend idiots.”

  She started to rise, but Chad’s hand shot out to take her arm. “I just don’t want to hurt her. She’s awful scared.”

  “She’s been hurt,” Diana said flatly. “And she’ll keep right on being scared until she tells the truth. Or maybe you don’t believe she really loves you.”

  His fingers tightened on her arm, but Diana didn’t flinch. After a moment they relaxed. “Tell me what I have to do.”

  A portion of the tension in her shoulders eased. “All right.”

  * * *

  When Diana walked into the office an hour later, she was drained. Lucy glanced up, took one long look, then stopped typing. “You look like you could use some coffee.”

  Diana gave her a weary smile. “It shows?”

  “Yep. Why don’t I put some on and—” Before she could finish the sentence, the phone rang.

  “That’s all right, Lucy, take care of the phone. I’ll go fix some.” As she walked back toward the kitchen, Diana slipped out of her coat. She could still see Chad’s pale, frightened face, see his hand reach to his pocket for a cigarette after he had no more left.

  And what was Beth Howard feeling? Diana wondered, tossing her coat aside as she turned to the stove. If I could get to her, she began, then let out a frustrated breath. That was the last thing the DA or her father would permit. Chad was going to have to wait for his day in court.

  Rubbing at the ache at the back of her neck, Diana stared out the window over the sink, the coffee forgotten. With any luck, she could get the truth out of Beth Howard during the preliminaries. But if the girl was that frightened of her father … if she wasn’t in love with Chad but merely playing games … With a sigh, Diana watched a bird peck at the lawn in search of food. So many ifs when a boy’s life was at stake.

  “Rough morning?” Caine asked from the doorway.

  Diana turned. “Yeah.” God, she was glad to see him, she realized. Glad to know here was someone she could talk to who would understand some of what she was feeling. “Busy?”

  Caine thought of the brief upstairs on his desk but shook his head. “I could use some coffee.” He slipped two mugs from their hooks and poured. “You saw Chad Rutledge this morning.”

  “Oh, Caine, that poor kid.” Diana dropped into a chair at the small table while he added milk to one of the mugs. “He walked in doing an imitation of early Brando—some tough street hood—with fingers that trembled,” she added in a murmur.

  “Give you a hard time?” Caine set her coffee down as he sat across from her.

  “He tried at first.” With a sigh, she dragged her hair back from her face, holding it there a moment before she let her hand fall again. “Then he told me he’d raped Beth Howard.”

  Caine’s mug paused on its way to his lips. “What?”

  “He gave me a full confession,” she began, warming both her hands on the side of the mug. “Very casual, like it was something he’d decided to do because he was a little bored. The more he talked, the more his hands trembled.”

  Sipping slowly, Caine shook his head. “It doesn’t follow.”

  “I didn’t think so, either.” Diana tried to drink but found her stomach was still tied in knots. “I pressed him for details, and that’s where he fell apart. He tried to convince me he’d lured her to the garage where he works, then knocked her around and raped her.”

  Caine’s frown deepened. “That jibes with the girl’s story.”

  “Chad said he’d ripped her clothes off … torn them.”

  “Her clothes weren’t torn.”

  Diana gave him a thin smile. “Exactly. It was all some smoke screen he’d dreamed up so that he could protect her.”

  Caine leaned back and drew out a cigarette. “Tell me.”

  Diana began, relaying the conversation exactly, point by point. As she spoke, Caine said nothing but watched the play of emotion on her face. She was fighting not to get personally involved, he concluded, but it was already too late.

  “If everything Chad says is true,” he mused when she’d finished, “the girl’ll fall apart on the stand.”

  “I believe him. He wanted to plead guilty and keep her out of it.”

  Caine’s look sharpened. “What did you do?”

  “I bullied him out of it.” Diana allowed her eyes to close for a moment. “I don’t know how the trial will affect him or the girl—if it gets that far. I’ve got a list of their close friends. Chad seems to think he and Beth kept their relationship secret, but the chances are something slipped to someone over the last six months. They’re so young.” Pushing back her hair, Diana rose to pace to the window again. “Oh, God, Caine, I was so hard on him.”

  The princess had stepped beyond the castle walls, he thought. He’d wanted her to—even pushed her to. Yet now, seeing the raw emotion in her eyes, he had conflicting needs to draw her further out and to urge her back to safety. When the shell cracked and opened, there was always pain. He spoke carefully, trying to fit back into the role of colleague.

  “Diana, you know we can’t always treat clients with kid gloves. It’s no less than his life at stake.”

  “I know.” She laid her forehead on the glass a moment. “It isn’t easy to realize all at once that you can be cruel, that you can calmly sit there and whip somebody down with words. He was pale, sweating, shaking—I didn’t give him a dram of sympathy.”

  “You gave him exactly what he needed.” Caine had risen without her hearing, but he didn’t approach her. This time, he wasn’t completely sure how. “Now you’re tearing yourself apart because you did what you had to do. His mother’ll give him sympathy. You have to give him the best defense, whatever it takes.”

  “I know.” The bird was still there, bobbing along the grass determined to find what it was looking for. “Even if it means ripping up that girl on the stand. It’s her father I’d like to get a hold of,” she muttered. “Even when it all comes out—falsifying a police report—he’s not likely to get much more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended sentence. And that nineteen-year-old boy’s sitting in a cell, terrified.”

  Firmly, Caine suppressed the need to soothe and comfort. “He’s not Justin, Diana.”

  She let out a long, shaky breath. “I’m that transparent?”

  “At the moment.”

  “It was hard not to make the comparison.” Lifting her hands, she hugged her arms as if seeking something solid. “He had that same tough, oddly attractive insolence that I remember in Justin as a teenager. And when I thought about him waiting in that cell, it was too easy to see how it had been for Justin. And I wondered …” She gave a small laugh. “I wondered if this could be another quirk of that fate of yours.”

  “You’re going to lose your objectivity, Diana.” His voice was tough and unsympathetic as the struggle went on inside him to be brother, lover, friend. “You’ve got no business in a courtroom without it.”

  “I know that.” The words snapped out of her. She turned away with her jaw tensed and one hand balled into a fist. Objectivity, she thought, still unable to take those deep, cleansing breaths that always kept her calm. She had no objectivity at the moment, but too many comparisons and too many regrets. She wanted to be held, soothed, and didn’t dare ask because she needed to stand on her own. “I have to get it out of my system before I go back and see Chad again.”

  The words were low and tense, but they were the words he’d wanted to hear. Automatically Caine placed a hand on her shoulder. When the muscles there only tightened more, he increased his grip. He would have dealt with his sister the same way. That’s what he told himself as he turned her around.

  Wordlessly, he gathered her close, and though her arms came around him, she didn’t cling. He knew she was looking for support, but not for answers. The answers she would fin
d for herself.

  In that moment, he discovered he’d never wanted her more—not just a warm, soft body against his, not just a mouth for tasting. He wanted her thoughts, feelings. He wanted to share what she was and feed back to her himself, so that there were no more boundaries and barriers. No more doubts. And while the tenderness enveloped him, his hands were gentle on her hair. Sensing something, Diana lifted her head.

  His eyes met hers briefly, but she couldn’t read them. He’d never looked at her that way before. Was there a question in them? she wondered. What was he asking her? Then his lips touched hers.

  This had nothing to do with the other kisses they had shared. It might have been the first. His mouth was so soft. And careful, she thought dimly. Careful, as though he weren’t so sure of himself. It ran through her head that he was kissing her as though he’d never kissed anyone before, this man who had known so many women.

  His hands didn’t press her closer but rested lightly on her back as though he would release her at the least movement. Diana was very still. Whatever magic this was, whatever reasons there were for it, she wanted it to go on. Yet it wasn’t desire she felt; it was nothing so simple.

  When he drew her away, they stared at each other—each as perplexed, each as moved as the other.

  “What was that for?” Diana managed after a moment.

  Caine dropped his arms slowly and stepped away from her. “I’m not sure,” he murmured. Shaken, he walked back to the table and lifted his coffee. What the hell’s going on? he asked himself, then drained the mug.

  “Are you all right now?” he asked her as he turned back around.

  “Yes.” No, she said silently, but nearly managed a smile. “I think I’ll go up and try to work out Chad’s defense. Mrs. Walker’s coming in tomorrow morning.” When he gave her a blank look, she added, “The divorce case you referred to me.”

  “Oh, yeah.” Caine stared into his empty mug and wondered what was happening to his mind. “They’ve hooked up your phone.”

  “Good.” Diana remained at the window, not certain what she should do. “Well, I’ll go on up, then,” she said, but still didn’t move.

  “Diana …” Caine looked over at her, not sure what he was going to say. Feeling ridiculous, he gave a half laugh and shook his head. “Must be something in the coffee,” he muttered. “Listen, do you have anything else tomorrow besides Walker?”

  “Ah—no, no appointments. I have paperwork.”

  “I’ve got to drive up to Salem and see someone about the Day case. Why don’t you come with me?” He continued before she’d worked out an answer. “It’s a nice drive. You can clear your head and draft out your work while I’m tied up.”

  “Yes, I suppose I could,” she considered. “All right,” she agreed on impulse. “I’d like that. I might not have too many free afternoons.”

  “Good. We’ll leave as soon as you’re done with Mrs. Walker.”

  They stood for a moment in a silence Diana found unaccountably awkward. It was strange, she thought, that two people who had no trouble with words should suddenly have such a strained conversation. “I should be done by ten thirty or eleven.” She searched for something else to say but found her mind a blank. “Well, I’ll go up, then.”

  Caine nodded as he walked back to the coffeepot. When he heard her footsteps drift away, he set his filled mug back down, untasted.

  What the hell is all this? he wondered again, passing a frustrated hand through his hair. When he’d asked her to accompany him the following day, he’d felt like a gangly teenager asking for a date. With a half laugh, Caine went back to the table. No, he’d never felt that lack of confidence as a teenager. He’d never felt it at all—not with women.

  After lighting a cigarette, he stared at the glowing tip for several minutes. He’d always been sure of his ground when it came to the opposite sex. Enjoying women was part of it, not just as bed partners, but as companions. That part of his life had always run smoothly. It was his firm intention that it continue to run smoothly. He knew, without conceit, that he didn’t have to spend an evening alone unless he chose to.

  Then why had he been spending so many alone lately? And when, he added thoughtfully, was the last time he had thought of any other woman but Diana?

  Letting out a long breath, Caine began to sift the problem around in his mind—pull it apart, dissect it. He owed part of his success in his field to a synthesis of intellect and emotion. It had been that way since he’d been a boy: the quick, unexpected bursts of temper or passion; the long, quiet contemplations. He enjoyed puzzles—or the slow, meticulous solving of them. At the moment, however, he wasn’t enjoying this one.

  Uncomfortable. That was the first feeling he was able to clearly define. Thinking about Diana was making him uncomfortable, but why? He found her good company, enjoyed the flavor of their sparring matches. And he wanted her.

  Caine drew hard on the cigarette, thinking of the sharp, turbulent passion he felt from her when he held her, when her mouth was avid on his. Desire didn’t make him uncomfortable. He’d promised himself he’d be her lover sooner or later—and he always kept his promises.

  It hadn’t been desire moments ago, he reflected. Caine knew all the angles of that emotion. Neither had it been the brotherly type of affection he’d swung back to from time to time. It was Diana who didn’t fit into any category, he told himself. She wasn’t the easy sophisticate he was normally attracted to, nor was she the younger cousin he could show a good time.

  Annoyed with himself, he rose and paced to the window. The light was thin—winter white. If she was making him uncomfortable, why had he asked her to drive to Salem with him? Because he needed to be with her?

  Even as the answer ran through his mind, Caine made his thoughts back up and play again. Need? he repeated slowly. Now that was a dangerous word. Want was safer, and more understandable, but that hadn’t been the answer that had sprung into his mind.

  Very slowly, Caine walked back to the stove and lifted his cooling coffee. He drank, forcing himself to keep his mind blank for a moment. He thought of nothing but the faintly bitter taste of the coffee, saw nothing but the aged, exposed brick along the west wall. In the distance he heard the phone ring on Lucy’s desk, then the quick rattle of the wind against the window behind him.

  Good God, he thought, still staring straight ahead. Was he in love with her? No, that was ridiculous. Love wasn’t a word he used, because love had repercussions. In an angry gesture, he dumped the remaining coffee down the sink. A man didn’t go for over thirty years, then suddenly, without giving it a second thought, jump off a bridge. Unless … unless he’d woken one morning and discovered he’d lost his mind.

  He’d been working too hard, Caine decided. Too many late nights poring over other people’s problems, searching for answers. What he needed was an evening with a compatible woman, then eight hours’ sleep. Tomorrow, he promised himself, he’d be thinking clearly again.

  Tomorrow, he remembered as he headed out of the kitchen, Diana would still be there. Swearing quietly, Caine walked up the stairs.

  Chapter 7

  Diana would have enjoyed the ride more if she hadn’t had the feeling something wasn’t quite right. Caine was friendly enough—the conversation didn’t lag or fall into awkward silences—yet she would have sworn there was something just under the surface of the camaraderie. Because it wasn’t something she could define, Diana told herself she was imagining it—perhaps allowing herself to assign to Caine an echo of her own feelings.

  There had been a tension in her since the previous day; one she attributed, at least in part, to her meeting with Chad Rutledge. It worried Diana that she couldn’t shake it. An attorney—a good one—had to find that balance between callousness and emotional entanglement. The balance was as crucial for the client as it was for the attorney. Diana knew it intellectually but realized that the scales in this case were already tilting to one side. She could only comfort herself that the more involved she bec
ame in the technical points of the case, the less tendency she would have to compare Chad with Justin. For now, she would do exactly as Caine had suggested—clear her head and enjoy the ride.

  “You didn’t mention whom you’re going to see in Salem,” Diana began.

  He had to force himself to gather his thoughts, to control the tension he was feeling. Like Diana, he told himself it was the case that had him tight, nothing personal. Personal relationships never made his stomach knot. He’d been telling himself that since the previous evening.

  “Great-Aunt Agatha.”

  Diana let out an irrepressible sound of mirth. “You don’t have to make something up,” she said dryly. “You could simply tell me to mind my own business.”

  “Virginia Day’s great-aunt Agatha,” Caine said specifically, tossing her a grin. Discuss the case, he told himself. It might help him shake the feeling that he’d pried open a door for Diana, then stepped into quicksand. “She’s reputed to be a very formidable lady and one who knows Ginnie better than anyone else. Unfortunately, she was ice-skating a couple of weeks ago and broke her hip. I’m going to see her at the hospital.”

  “Great-Aunt Agatha ice-skates?’

  “Apparently.”

  “How old is she?”

  “Sixty-eight.”

  “Hmmm. What are you looking for?”

  Caine pushed the Jaguar forward in a burst of speed, passing a pickup before he answered. What was he looking for? he wondered. Even a few days before he would’ve been able to answer that with a shrug and a glib remark. The case, he thought with an annoyed shake of his head. Keep your mind on the case.

  “The prosecution’s going for murder one. The first thing I want to establish is that Ginnie carried that pistol with her habitually. If I’m going to prove self-defense, I have to get it into the jury’s head early that Ginnie went to Laura Simmons’s apartment to confront her husband with his current mistress, but not to kill.”

  “His current mistress,” Diana repeated. “Apparently he had quite a number.”

  “The detective report Ginnie paid for a few months back indicates that Dr. Francis Day was a very busy man. He didn’t do all his operating at Boston General.” Caine punched in the car lighter. “If I can get the report into evidence, it should make the jury more sympathetic … Then again, it gives Ginnie even more of a motive.”

  “So you’re right back to the gun.”

  Caine nodded as he touched the lighter to the end of his cigarette. The conversation was easing the tightness at the base of his neck. Not quicksand, he thought now. He might’ve stepped into a puddle and gotten his feet wet, but he wasn’t being sucked in. “According to Ginnie, she never left the house without it. She has a fixation about being robbed—not surprising, as she also has a penchant for wearing several thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry at a time.”

  “Yes, and Ginnie Day hasn’t endeared herself to the press or the public over the last few years,” Diana remembered.

  “She comes across as a spoiled, selfish child with more money than class.”

  “True enough,” Caine agreed. “But I can be grateful you won’t be on the jury.”

  “I suppose I’m feeling a bit impatient with her type at the moment,” Diana mused, shifting in her seat to face him. “Irene Walker,” she said flatly. “She’d be the antithesis of Virginia Day.”

  “How’d it go this morning?”

  “The bruises on her face haven’t faded yet,” Diana began, frowning at his profile. “I’ve never met a woman with less of a conception of her own worth. It’s as if she felt she deserved to be beaten.” With an impatient sound, Diana tried to push away the frustration she felt. “At least the friend she’s staying with has convinced her to press formal charges against her husband, but …” Trailing off, Diana gave a quick shake of her head. “I have a feeling Irene Walker is like a sponge, simply soaking up the emotions of the people she’s with. She’s convinced herself—or her husband’s convinced her—that she’s a nonentity without him. I’ve recommended that she go into counseling. The divorce, and her husband’s trial, aren’t going to be easy for her.” She let out a huff of breath that was as much astonishment as bewilderment. “She still wears her wedding ring.”

  “Taking it off would be the final break, wouldn’t it?” he countered. “For a woman like Irene Walker.”

  “Do you know, they’ve only been married four years, and she can’t remember the number of times he’s beaten her?” Diana’s eyes were hard and sharp for a moment. “I’m going to love getting him on the stand.”

  “As I recall, there were two witnesses to the last beating. You’d have him cold.”

  “That’s exactly the way I want it. I’m hoping to get on the docket quickly, while Mrs. Walker still sees the bruises when she looks in the mirror. I think she’s a woman who forgets too easily.”

  Caine glanced down at the briefcase next to her feet. “Is that what you’re going to work on today?”

  “I’m going to draft out interrogatories. I want to slap them on him right away. Between the divorce and the battery trial, I’m going to see that he gets nothing but trouble.”

  “Going for the jugular?”

  She smiled then. “Someone told me once it was cleaner. Tell me …” Diana ran a fingertip over the back of the leather seat. “How long have you had this car?”

  “The car?” He shot her a questioning look at the abrupt change of subject.

  “Yes, I’d love to buy a new one myself.”

  The questioning look became a grin. Oh, she was definitely opening up, he mused. Breaking out. “A Jag?”

  “One day.” Diana arched a brow. “Or do you think they’re reserved only for former state’s attorneys?”

  “I suppose I pictured you in a Mercedes—stately and elegant.”

  Diana narrowed her eyes. “Are you trying to insult me?”

  “Certainly not,” Caine replied gravely. “Can you drive a stick shift?”

 
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