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Springtime in Halifax was not known for its warmth or sunshine. Nor was Lyons McGrath Barrett, one of Halifax's premiere boutique law firms.
Kate Lange allowed herself a one-minute break and gazed out her window on LMB's associate floor. Drizzle specked the glass, obscuring the line of cars snaking along Lower Water Street. Friday night rush hour was just beginning.
She turned back to her desk—an elegant mahogany-finished number with matching credenza—forcing her eyes to focus on the separation agreement spread out in front of her. The fourth this week. The twenty-seventh since she'd joined LMB. She grimaced. The irony was not lost on her. She'd left Marshall & Associates because of a preponderance of family law clients.
A rapid knock on the door broke through her thoughts.
Her pulse jumped in her throat.
It was Randall Barrett. Himself.
She'd never met LMB's managing partner before. He'd been in absentia during her job interview. She suspected it was because she was the former fiancée of Ethan Drake, the criminal investigations detective he believed sent an innocent man to jail. Two years before, Ethan investigated Randall Barrett's old soccer buddy, Dr. Don Clarkson, for the death of a critically ill patient. The media buzzed with the story: Had Dr. Clarkson misjudged the amount of morphine the patient could handle or had he perpetrated a mercy killing? The autopsy was inconclusive. The case hinged on the testimony of the patient's son, who claimed Dr. Clarkson had assured him his mother would not suffer any longer. Randall Barrett believed Ethan unduly influenced the teen.
Don Clarkson bankrupted himself with his defense but was convicted nonetheless. Randall Barrett stepped in to handle his appeal. But despite Randall's attempts to convince the Court of Appeal that Ethan had thrown the investigation, the appellate judges upheld the conviction two to one. Neither Randall Barrett nor Ethan Drake had gotten over it. The hostility ran deep.
Kate stood, smoothing her skirt. "Hello, Mr. Barrett." She gave him a brilliant smile, grateful she wore the new suit she'd bought with her last paycheck. It had been a toss-up between replacing her old articling clothes or the old kitchen piping, but the lure of the Jackie O-style suit had been too strong. When she heard the pipes groaning that night, she'd regretted her extravagance. But she couldn't bring herself to take the sleek cream suit back and ask for a refund. She'd learned a long time ago that there were no returns in life.
Now, eyeing Randall Barrett's exquisitely tailored gray suit, she was glad she'd kept it. He, of all people, needed to see that she belonged in this office, that her name would have a place on LMB letterhead. Because it didn' t, not yet. Not for another two months.
And only if she cut it.
He smiled, showing off his strong, white teeth. It did nothing to ease her jitters. "Please, call me Randall." He raised a brow. "May I come in?"
She straightened. Flushed. "Of course."
He walked toward her, filling her office with plain, old-fashioned male virility. Geez. Now I know why all the single women in the firm get flustered when his name is spoken.
He stopped in front of her desk. A manila folder was tucked under his arm. In her heels Kate was almost as tall as he was, but his charisma gave him the benefit of a few extra inches. His brilliant blue eyes drilled into hers.
She forced herself to hold his gaze. It gave nothing away. Which was what she supposed she could expect. But it still rankled. Known for his keen analyses and eloquent arguments, she could learn a lot from him. If he gave her a chance.
His eyes sharpened, then drifted away, lazily scanning the piles of folders on her desk, resting for a moment on the stack of Reports of Family Law. "You busy?"
Now there was a loaded question. She had no doubt that he'd used that casual inquiry on every new associate who entered the firm's hallowed corridors. If she said no, she'd surely go to billable hours hell. And if she said yes, she'd sound churlish to LMB's top dog.
"Can never be too busy," she said.
A blond brow lifted. "Good." He tossed the file on her desk. "You've got a new client. She's waiting for you in the reception area."
He'd done this on purpose, wanted to test her. She flipped open the file, knowing Randall Barrett wouldn't be giving her what she wanted—that wasn't his style—yet unable to control the small hitch of hope that maybe, finally, she'd be able to show him that she was capable of so much more than the family law cases that had been thrown her way.
The file contained only one sheet of paper. Four words had been hastily scrawled in black pen: Marian MacAdam. Custody matter.
The sight of it filled her with disappointment, resignation. Resentment, even. But not guilt. That would come later.
She closed the folder carefully. The writing was on the wall. Randall had her firmly slotted in the family law group. All the platitudes her mentor, John Lyons, had given her about the probationary period being a time to assess her strengths and see where she best fit in the firm were bull. She hadn't received a single litigation, insurance or corporate case since she'd been here. Just family law. The pink ghetto.
She met Randall's gaze. His was cool. Amused, even. Damn him. He knew she was pissed off. And he liked it.
She circled her desk, crossing her arms. "I have only two months left of my probationary period."
A small smile curved his mouth. He turned and held open her office door, waiting for her to collect her latest family law client.
His lack of response was specifically designed to intimidate her, she knew. She strode through the doorway, knowing he was too much of a gentleman to walk in front of her, no matter his natural inclination to be one step ahead. Over her shoulder, she said, "When John Lyons recruited me—" the slight lifting of Randall's brows showed he hadn't missed her meaning "—he told me I'd be working in the civil litigation group." She began walking down the hallway.
"John didn't have the authority to tell you that," Randall said matter-of-factly, falling into step beside her.
She hoped her face didn't reveal how much that casual revelation threw her. Not long after she'd arrived at LMB she'd suspected John had less power in the firm than he'd like to think, but she never expected that the managing partner would come out and say it to a first-year associate. Partners usually stuck together.
"Why did you hire me, then?"
"We brought you in for a probationary period—" His careful choice of words was deliberate. Kate's stomach clenched despite her resolve to not let him intimidate her. "—Because we need to see where your strengths lie."
"I thought you'd seen them pretty clearly on the Robertson file." She'd single-handedly won the day for her Davidlike client, resulting in an offer of employment from John Lyons, who represented the Goliath insurance company.
"Yes, there's no question that John was impressed with your work on that file. But that was one case. We deal with a multitude of clients and issues at LMB. We need to be confident of your abilities to handle both the clients and the issues." Translation: she was now swimming in a much bigger pond and needed to prove she could be a shark like all the rest.
They approached the glass door that led to the reception area. She stopped, crossing her arms. "Unless you give me some civil lit files, you'll never know."
"You'll get your chance, Kate." Randall held open the door. "Do a good job on these files and we'll see if there's something we can give you from the litigation group." His eyes met hers. Piercing. Sharp. Looked right through her.
She wasn't fooled for a minute that he was interested in her. She knew he wasn't. He just expected her to respond to his magnetism like every other female he encountered.
Well, she did, if she was honest with herself. How could she not? But he wasn't her type. Too cocky, too confident, too arrogant. And yet, there was a pull there. An awareness in her body that had everything to do with primal urges and nothing to do with self-respect. To respond physically to a man so sure of himself was humiliating.
She stepped around him and walked through the doorway into the reception area. The glass door closed behind her. Randall had not followed her.
She took a deep breath. Randall's patronizing "be a good girl" attitude had been hard to take. But he had thrown the bone she craved her way. She'd waited too long and desired it too deeply to walk away from it now. Because she knew if she forced the issue with Randall while she was still on probation he'd tell her to take a hike.
Her new client pushed herself to her feet when Kate approached.
"Mrs. MacAdam?" Kate asked, hoping she was wrong. She'd expected a middle-aged woman, but Marian MacAdam must have been well into her seventies. She wore a beautifully tailored camel overcoat that helped camouflage her stooped back. A pink-and-orange scarf was tied artfully around her neckline. Kate bet she drove either an Audi or a Mercedes. That was the car of choice for well-heeled Halifax matrons. The only thing that gave her away was her eyes. They looked anxious and tired.
"Yes," Marian MacAdam replied, her gaze sweeping over Kate. Uncertainty flashed across her face.
Kate put on a reassuring smile. "I'm Kate Lange." She held out her hand. Marian MacAdam grasped it, her fingers knobbed with arthritis but surprisingly soft and warm.
"My office is this way," Kate added briskly, holding the glass reception door open for her. They walked down the hallway, Kate forcing herself to shorten her stride, making small talk about the weather and the tulips. Marian MacAdam nodded, but said little. Her breathing came in shallow puffs by the time they reached Kate's office.
"Please, have a...