Friday, April 27, 5:00 p.m.
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 seat, Mrs. MacAdam." Before you collapse.
Marian MacAdam sank onto the blue upholstered chair. She glanced around, her gaze taking in Kate's stacks of legal books, the degrees mounted on the wall behind her, the picture of Kate's dog. Her eyes lingered on Alaska's goofy grin.
Kate sat down behind her desk. "I understand you have a custody issue you need some advice about?" She hoped maybe Randall had been wrong. Because if this lady did have a custody issue, it must be for a grandchild. And that was sure to be messy.
"Yes," Marian MacAdam said with an air of defiance. "I am seeking custody of my granddaughter."
Damn Randall Barrett. He really had it in for her. "I see. Does she live with one or both parents?"
Marian MacAdam hesitated. "She lives with my daughter-in-law. My son moved out two years ago, and they divorced a year later."
Kate began jotting notes. "How old is your granddaughter?"
"Fifteen?" Kate stopped writing and looked at her client. "What does she want to do?"
"She wants to stay with her mother."
Kate put her pen down. "Then why do you want custody?"
Marian MacAdam leaned forward. "Because her mother completely ignores her. She's always working. She has no idea where Lisa is most of the time." Disapproval tightened her mouth, puckering the loose flesh of her jaw. She was the picture of indignant outrage.
What Marian MacAdam didn't realize was that she wore the same expression as three out of four of Kate's clients. The anger, the blame—each side in a custody battle nursed their grievances. Kate listened to the diatribes, defused the pain, steered them back to the legal issues and dreaded the next client.
Maybe Lisa's mother needed to work to keep them going. Nova Scotia had a lot of deadbeat dads. Maybe Marian MacAdam's son was one of them—and she didn't want to admit it.
Kate knew how hard it was to swallow that truth. It had almost killed her twelve-year-old self to admit that her own dad had joined those ranks.
Kate knew her next words would not be welcome. "Mrs. MacAdam, the law does not like to take children from their parents. The parent has a prima facie right to custody unless you can prove the child is being neglected or emotionally harmed." She practically had those words memorized. Now came the clincher. She held Marian MacAdam's gaze. "Is Lisa being neglected or emotionally harmed?"
Marian MacAdam looked away. "She hasn't been physically neglected. But you might say she has suffered emotional harm."
"Mrs. MacAdam, there is a specific definition to that term. You would need to demonstrate that Lisa has severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or self-destructive behavior—" And yet, as Kate knew only too well, emotional harm could be something far more insidious, far less obvious, something that spurred a teenage girl to ignore every warning her stressed-out mother ever gave her and allow the unthinkable to happen.
"I think she is using drugs," Marian MacAdam said softly.
Kate leaned back in her chair. "Are you sure?"
Marian MacAdam shook her head. "I don't have any proof… it's just a suspicion. She's unreliable, won't come to supper when she says she will, that kind of thing."
"Have you spoken to her parents about it?"
"Her mother keeps saying that Lisa doesn't have a problem, and, of course, Lisa won't admit to a thing." Marian MacAdam's voice hardened. "Which suits her mother just fine."
Kate felt a sneaking sympathy for Marian MacAdam's former daughter-in-law. It wouldn't be easy facing a mother-in-law's disapproval while trying to handle being a single parent.
"Have you tried speaking to your son about it? Maybe he can help."
Marian MacAdam's lip curled. "My son has no influence over his ex-wife. And besides, he travels all over the place. He's a partner in one of those big consulting firms."
"So Lisa lives with her mother?"
Marian MacAdam nodded. "Yes. Her mother works even more than my son." That sounded familiar. Kate's mother had worked two jobs to keep them going after her father's downfall.
"What does she do?"
Then Marian MacAdam dropped the bomb.
"She's a judge."
"A judge?" Kate tried to keep the shock from her voice. She'd created a picture in her mind of a down-at-heel single mother. Not a judge. "Which court?"