photo Jonnie Jacobs
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[cover]From Chapter 2

Kali is back in the Bay Area filling in for her law school friend, Nina Barrett, who is pregnant and fighting cancer. Kali and Marc, Nina's law partner, have just learned that Nina's husband has been accused of rape.

Grady Barrett leaned forward, drumming his manicured fingers on the polished granite of the conference room table. His metal watchband knocked intermittently against the hard surface, producing a beat of its own.

Grady looked up. "We can keep this from Nina, can't we?"

It wasn't so much a question as a statement.

Marc nodded. "We'll do our best. For her own good."

I shifted position and the chair squeaked, echoing the protest in my mind. I wasn't entirely comfortable withholding information from Nina, although I could understand the argument that we should. In any case, I wasn't at all certain we'd be able to keep it quiet.

"That's the most important thing right now." Grady's soft, southern drawl was more pronounced than usual, giving his words an edge of urgency.

"Absolutely." Marc nodded in agreement. "I'd feel the same way in your position."

Neither man looked at me. Irritation prickled my skin like a heat rash.

"You got anything to drink around here?" Grady asked, with an abrupt halt to his drumming.

"Bourbon and water?" Marc was already out of his seat. He poured a glass for Grady and one for himself. "Kali?"

"No thanks."

Grady took a long swallow, and sighed. He was a big man, over six feet in height, with a build that had helped earn him a football scholarship during his years at Stanford. Now, twenty-three years later, some of the muscle had turned soft. But Grady Barrett was still an attractive man. He had a full head of hair, streaked by just the right amount of silver, and skin that was bronzed without being weathered. He was successful, smooth and, I suppose, sexy, but I sometimes got the feeling that none of it went very deep.

Grady crinked his neck, then offered us a strained smile born of disbelief. "I gotta tell you, this is one headache I never thought I'd have."

"Why don't you tell us what's going on," I suggested, since no one else seemed inclined to broach the subject.

He frowned into his glass. "First I knew about it was earlier today. A couple of policemen came by the office, wanted to talk to me about last Saturday. Seems there's a woman claims I... raped her." He stumbled slightly over the last few words.

"Who is she?"

"Her name is Deirdre. I didn't rape her," he said, raising his gaze and his voice. "No way, no how. You've got to believe that."

Marc nodded.

I rubbed a finger across my chin and tried again. "Who is the woman?"

"Do I look like a rapist?" Grady was looking at Marc, not at me. "Why would I do something like that? Doesn't even make sense."

"So why is she claiming that you did?" I asked.

"How the hell should I know? Maybe she's feeling guilty or something."

"Guilty?" Now we were getting somewhere.

Grady's brow furrowed. "She wanted it. She was all over me from the start."

"And hard as you tried, you couldn't resist."

Marc shot me a warning glance, but Grady missed my point entirely.

"Maybe she set the whole thing up," Grady said. "For the publicity. She'll go on Oprah, write a book full of lies and walk away a millionaire."

Marc cleared his throat. "Is she someone you're seeing?"

"Not exactly seeing."

There was a sour feeling in my stomach I didn't much like.

It wasn't that I rode a moral high-horse, or was insensitive to human frailty, but Nina was my friend. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the details.

Grady drew a hand through the hair at his temples. "Christ this is stupid. She's no one. Some woman I met at Caesar's."

"What were you doing at Caesar's?"

He ignored the question. "She was wearing a tight dress. The kind that doesn't go much below the crotch." This, too, was addressed to Marc. "We had a couple of drinks, danced some. I mean, it was that kind of party. People out to have some fun."

Never mind that one of those people had a wife who no longer knew the meaning of the word.

"Do they have anything else against you? Bruises, signs that you used force?"

Grady gave me a look of disgust. Marc's expression wasn't much different.

"I told you, she was hot for it. I didn't force her to do anything." He pressed his fingertips to his temples, his brawny face suddenly slack. His eyes closed for a moment. "I screwed up," he said morosely. "I know that. I'm not saying I'm above reproach here. But I didn't rape her for, God's sake. If that's what she says, she's lying."

The distress in his voice was genuine. I felt the hard edge of anger soften.

"We've got to keep this from Nina. I never meant to hurt her." Grady lifted his head, leaving faint pink imprints on his face where his fingers had been. "Do you think the police will go ahead with this?"

"Depends on whether they believe the woman's story," I told him.

"And whether the DA thinks a jury will believe it," Marc added. "It's your word against hers. It comes down to a question of credibility."

And that was where Grady might be in luck, I thought. He was good-looking, successful, and polished—with just a trace of vulnerability. No doubt he'd make a convincing witness.

But then I hadn't met Deirdre yet.


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