photo Jonnie Jacobs
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[cover]From Chapter 1

In eight years of practicing law, I'd never had a client who gave me the creeps. I'd had clients I didn't particularly like, of course, ranging from the overly brash to the downright sleazy, but never one who caused goose bumps to rise along the back of my neck. And I saw no reason to start now with the likes of Wes Harding.

"Sorry," I told Sam Morrison, shaking my head in apology. We were having lunch together, something we did a couple of times a month. He'd waited until we'd finished our burgers and fries before raising the matter. "I appreciate the offer, but I don't think I'm interested."

"And why the hell not?" Sam leaned forward with both elbows on the table, oblivious of the catsup spill his shirt sleeves mopped up in the process. "Wasn't it only a couple of weeks ago you were complaining about how slow things were?"

He had me there. Solo practice is attractive as a concept, but the reality falls somewhat short. In the year since I'd gone out on my own, my cases had been few in number and all rather pedestrian. Divorces, wills, a couple of DUIs and an occasional commercial dispute. Hardly life on the cutting edge of the law. Besides which, I was barely making a living.

"I'm offering you a piece of something big, Kali. Something that will jump-start those atrophied brain cells of yours and make you feel like you're practicing law again."

Sam can talk like that and get away with it—the prerogatives of age and experience. He's semi-retired now, slowed by the death of his wife three years ago and a more recent string of minor heart attacks. But Sam is still the best lawyer in Silver Creek, and one of the big names in California legal circles. You wouldn't know it to look at him, though. He's overweight, ruddy in the face, and habitually, if charmingly, disheveled in appearance. His white hair stands in tufts over his temples, and the clean, freshly starched shirt he takes from the hanger each morning is rumpled and stained under the arms half an hour after he's put it on. Today, one of the lower buttons was missing, causing the shirt to gap around his middle.

"It's a high profile case," he said, "a once in a lifetime opportunity."

I nodded, although I wasn't sure I viewed high profile cases in quite the same light Sam did.

"There's a tidy sum of money in it for you," he added. "I'm not asking you to work for nothing, you know."

Handing him a napkin, I gestured to the spot of catsup on his sleeve. "Money's not the issue."

"What is it then? Are you like these folks in town who forget that accused and guilty aren't one in the same?"

I knew they weren't, still I couldn't help asking. "Do you think he's innocent?"

"He says he is."

"And you believe him?"

"I'm inclined to." Sam ran a thumb around his bottle of Bud, then looked up and caught my eye. "In any event, what I think doesn't really matter. Neither, I might add, do your own thoughts on the subject. The law says a man is innocent until proven guilty. And that means in a court of law, not over backyard fences and mugs of beer at the local tavern."

I couldn't have agreed with Sam more—in theory. But I'd known Lisa Cornell, at least well enough to say hello to, and I knew Wes. What's more, I'd seen pictures of Lisa and her daughter. Not the ones published in the paper, but the photos taken at the scene. It wasn't a case I could easily relegate to theory. Even here in the cafe, amidst the lively bustle of the lunch crowd and the clatter of dishes, the memory of those pictures sent a shiver down my spine.

Sam was silent a moment, then finished off what was left of his beer. "You and Wes were in school together, weren't you?" he asked finally.

"For a while."

Wes was with us through junior high and part of high school. I can't remember when he was sent away exactly, because we continued to talk about him long after. I don't even know why he was sent away, really. There were stories that he'd molested a ten-year-old girl, that he'd gotten another girl pregnant, that he'd broken into the school at night and left a headless and disemboweled cat on Mrs. Heafy's desk. There were so many stories they've run together in my mind. And of course, I never did know how many were true. Parents and teachers may have talked among themselves, but they never shared any of it with us.

What I do remember clearly is the way Wes would stare at you. Not mean like the Armstrong boys, and not loony like old Mr. Wilks, but with eyes that would get under your skin and seek out the dark, uncomfortable places you tried to ignore. He was bad news, we knew that. And in case we didn't, our parents never failed to point it out.

But there was an undeniable fascination there as well. Wes was good-looking—dark hair, dark eyes, a full mouth that curled at the edges in an almost feminine manner. There was more to it than that, though. Wes had a way about him, something that pulled at you even when you tried to ignore it.

Can a fifteen-year-old feel lust and loathing at the same time? Because that's the closest I can come to describing the effect he had on me. At night he would work his way into my dreams and leave me breathless with anticipation. By day, I couldn't bear to look at him.

And now, all these years laters, Kali is about to discover the truth about Wes Harding... and Lisa Cornell.


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