These Eight Authors are presenting their Boxed Sets with Excerpts, Character Bios, and Prizes
And now.. I present
The Sasha McCandless Series: Volume 1 ~ Purchase Now: Amazon
Now available in one volume, the three fast-paced, suspense-packed, bestselling legal thrillers that introduce attorney Sasha McCandless. Each of the books in this set is an Amazon Top 100 Book!
Irreparable Harm (Book 1)
After eight long years, Sasha McCandless is about to make partner at a prestigious law firm. When a plane operated by her client slams into the side of a mountain, killing everyone aboard, Sasha gears up to defend the inevitable civil lawsuits. She soon realizes the crash was no accident: a developer has created an application that can control a commercial plane’s onboard computer from a smartphone. Sasha joins forces with a federal air marshal, and they race to prevent another airline disaster. But when people close to the matter start to die, Sasha must rely on both her legal skills and her Krav Maga training to stop the madman before he kills her.Inadvertent Disclosure (Book 2)
Six months after an airplane crash altered the course of Sasha’s professional and personal life, she’s focused on building her solo law practice and tending her budding relationship with federal air marshal Leo Connelly. When she drives from Pittsburgh to rural Clear Brook County to argue a discovery motion, she finds a town bitterly divided over the issue of hydrofracking the Marcellus Shale. Outsiders from the oil and gas industry and environmental activists threaten to rip apart the community’s fabric. Then the town’s only judge is murdered, and Sasha can’t just walk away. As she works to find the killer, she must race to save the town before it fractures beyond repair.
Irretrievably Broken (Book 3)
The venerable law firm of Prescott & Talbott is reeling from the murder of partner Ellen Mortenson — purportedly at the hands of her estranged husband — when a photograph of the dead woman arrives, her face Xed out and “ONE DOWN” scrawled across the bottom. Within days, a second partner is murdered, her husband also accused. Sasha doesn’t practice criminal defense, so she’s suspicious when her former firm asks her to represent Ellen’s husband. Owing Prescott a favor, she takes the case and soon finds herself representing not one, but both, of the so-called Lady Lawyer Killers. The long hours jeopardize her relationship with Leo Connelly when he needs her most. That’s the least of Sasha’s troubles, though, because what she doesn’t know is that the real killer is waging a vendetta for a past case gone wrong. And there’s one more lawyer on his list.
About Sasha McCandless
Sasha versus Melissa
Sasha and Melissa were both born in Pittsburgh, PA.
Sasha and Melissa are both litigators.
Sasha and Melissa both drink entirely too much coffee.
Sasha is single, childless, under five feet tall, under one hundred pounds, and could kill you with her bare hands.
Melissa is married, a mother of three, over five feet tall, over one hundred pounds, and isn’t telling.
Sasha has no pets.
Melissa has a dog, two cats, and three goldfish.
Sasha drives a Passat.
Melissa drives a Volvo.
Sasha thinks Pamela’s has the best breakfast in Pittsburgh.
Melissa thinks Pamela’s does indeed serve a very good breakfast but suggests Sasha try DeLuca’s in the Strip
About Melissa F. Miller
I’m Melissa F. Miller, author of the Sasha McCandless legal thriller series and a practicing attorney. When I’m not in court or on the playground with my three delightful children, I’m hard at work on my next novel.
Please visit me at my Website and sign up for my e-mail newsletter to find out when new books are published.
Find the entire Sasha McCandless Series here.
Follow Melissa: Website § Blog § Facebook § Twitter
Excerpt from Irreparable Harm (Book 1)
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Somewhere in the air over Blacksburg, VirginiaThe old man checked his new gold watch, given in appreciation for his fifty years’ of service to the City of Pittsburgh. He lifted the window screen and pressed his head against the oval window in the side of the plane. The glass was cold against his papery skin. Somewhere out in the darkness the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia rose up from the land. He looked hard but couldn’t see them.
He pulled the screen back down, more sharply than he’d intended, and glanced over at his seatmates. They didn’t react to the noise. Next to him, sat a thin, college-aged girl who had squeezed herself into the middle seat, jammed her earbuds into her ears, and closed her eyes, lost in her music; beside her, a businessman, mid-level management, no higher, judging by the wrinkled suit and battered briefcase. Like a good business traveler, he used the flight to catch up on his sleep. His head lolled back on the headrest and his leg dangled into the aisle.
The man coughed into his fist and remembered the last time he had flown. It had been almost ten years. His youngest daughter and her husband, the struggling actor, had flown him and his wife out to Los Angeles to be there for the birth of their first child—his fourth grandchild, but the first girl. Maya had entered the world squealing, and, at least based on the weekly phone calls he had with her mother, it seemed she hadn’t ever stopped. He chuckled to himself at the thought and immediately felt his eyes well up. He blinked and twisted the thin gold band on his ring finger. His mind turned to his Rosa. Fifty-two years together.
He hacked again and dug a handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his mouth. After folding the white cloth back into a careful square, he checked his watch again, fumbled with the smartphone on his lap, squinted at it to confirm the coordinates were correct, and hit SEND. Then Angelo Calvaruso sat back, closed his eyes, and relaxed—completely relaxed—for the first time in weeks.
Two minutes later, Hemisphere Air Flight No. 1667, a Boeing 737 en route from Washington National to Dallas-Fort Worth International, slammed into the side of a mountain at full speed and exploded in a fiery wave of metal and burning flesh.* * * * * * * * * *The offices of Prescott & Talbott
Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaSasha McCandless blew the eyeshadow residue off the tiny mirror of the makeup palette she kept in the top left drawer of her desk and checked her reflection. The drawer was her home away from home. It held a travel toothbrush and toothpaste, a tin of mints, an unopened box of condoms, makeup, a spare pair of contact lenses, a pair of glasses, and a brush. She smiled at herself and opened the drawer again, tore open the box, and popped a condom into her beaded handbag.
She shrugged out of the gray cashmere cardigan she’d worn over her black sheath dress all day and kicked off her pumps. She dug around in the credenza behind her desk until she found her fun shoes under a pile of discarded draft briefs, destined for the shredder. She pushed the papers aside and pulled out her shoes. She was wrestling with the tiny red strap on her left stiletto when she heard the ping of an e-mail hitting her in-box.
“No, no, no,” she moaned, as she slowly straightened. She had not had a proper date in weeks. She hoped against hope that the e-mail would reveal no emergency motions, no ranting clients, no last-minute calls to substitute for a deposition in Omaha, or Detroit, or New Orleans.
She needed a steak, a bottle of overpriced red wine, and candlelight. She did not need another night of lukewarm Chinese takeout at her desk.
Almost afraid to look, she clicked on the envelope icon and breathed out, smiling. It was just a Google news alert about a client. She had set up news alerts for all the clients she worked for. It always impressed the partners when she knew what was going on with their clients before they did. Scared them a little, too.
Hemisphere Air was Peterson’s biggest client. She opened the e-mail to see why it was in the news. Maybe a merger? It was one of the healthier airlines and had been looking to pick off a smaller competitor, especially after Sasha and Peterson had gotten it out of that little antitrust mess.
Sasha’s green eyes widened and then fell as she scanned the e-mail. Flight 1667, three-quarters full, en route from D.C. to Dallas, had just crashed in Virginia, killing all 156 people onboard.
She wriggled out of the party shoes and picked up the phone to ruin her date’s night. Then she dialed Peterson’s mobile number to ruin his.
Excerpt from Irreparable Harm (Book 1)
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The lobby was faded with time. Its gray-veined white marble, ornate gold-framed paintings, and vases of fresh flowers were leftovers from a more glamorous past.
Sasha boarded the ancient elevator and pressed the button for the eight floor. The only sound was its groaning.
She stepped out into a narrow hallway. Her approach to Warner’s door was silent, thanks to the thick, wine-colored carpet. She could feel her heart thumping as she approached the apartment.
She raised her fist to rap on the door. As soon as she touched it, it swung inward slightly. Not locked. She pushed it halfway open and tilted her head to see around it. The entryway was dark. Streetlights shining through the French doors that led to the balcony cast some light, but all she saw was the outlines of furniture.
“Tim? Mr. Warner? It’s Sasha McCandless. Hello?”
She hadn’t come all this way to stand in the hallway. She walked in and reached down to turn on a small lamp sitting on an antique, or at least old, telephone stand.
As she straightened to standing, she turned and found herself staring at the barrel of a gun. She estimated it was eight inches from her face. Maybe closer.
“Don’t move,” said its owner in a soft voice. He looked to be about six feet tall, solidly built, but not bulky. He had a lean, fit runner’s frame. Part Asian, maybe? Definitely big for an Asian guy. He wore neat, close-cropped dark hair, a clean shave, and a decent suit. He assessed her with a calm and serious look.
Her brain clicked off and her training kicked in.
She stood completely still, her hands at her side, and waited for the man to tell her to put her hands up.
“Put your hands up.”
As instructed, Sasha raised her hands up and also moved them forward, pushing the gun to the side and away from her face. Redirect.
At the same time, she wrapped her left hand around the barrel and pointed it down toward the man’s hip. Control.
She drove the blade of her sharp, bony right elbow into his sternum and used that momentum to hammer his nose with her right fist. As his head bobbled back from the blow, she brought her right hand down to the base of the gun’s grip. With both hands now tight around the gun, she twisted them sharply, rotating the gun 180 degrees. Attack.
His bone made a sickening crack as his trigger finger broke, and she turned her hands back, and pulled the gun from him. Take.
She held the gun with both hands. With a deliberate motion she pointed it at the center of his chest and hoped he couldn’t tell she’d never handled a gun before.
The entire sequence had taken less than a second.
He stared at her, blood pouring from his nose, his right hand dangling awkwardly by his side. Then he started to laugh.
“You could have just returned my call, Ms. McCandless.”
She didn’t speak.
He started to extend his hand, as though to offer her a handshake with his mangled, swollen finger.
“Don’t.” She raised the gun and aimed it at his head.
He stopped mid-gesture. “I’m Agent Leo Connelly, Department of Homeland, with the Federal Air Marshal Service. I wish I could say it’s nice to meet you.”
She kept the gun trained on him. “ID. Slowly.”
He reached into his jacket pocket with his good hand and retrieved a worn, brown leather wallet. One handed, he fumbled with it until it flipped open to display his credentials.
She leaned in to look at his identification, keeping one eye on him and the gun raised.
“May I have my gun back now?”
“Not yet. Why didn’t you identify yourself when I came in?”
“No time, Ms. McCandless. You were too quick for me.”
“I said my name. Why did you draw your gun?”
“I may know who you are, Ms. McCandless. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a threat.”
“You can call me Sasha. What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing. Do we really need to have this conversation at gunpoint?”
Sasha lowered the gun to her side. “No signs of Warner?”
“No. The place is empty.” Connelly was speaking through a continuous stream of blood from his nose.
“Sit down. I’ll get you a towel.” She headed for the kitchen, following the glow from the stovetop light.
“And some ice.” Connelly yelled, “I think you broke my finger.”
Sasha returned with two striped dishtowels. One for his nose, the other wrapped around a cold pack she found in the freezer.
“I’m sure I broke your finger,” she told him. “That was the goal, at least.”
He shook his head, spraying blood on his shirt.
“Either Warner is a total slob or someone trashed this place pretty thoroughly,” Sasha said, finally looking around.
The couch had been overturned, its cushions sliced open with foam spilling out of them. The desk chair was upside down. Its leather seat had also been slashed. Warner’s unopened mail and piles of magazines cascaded across the floor. The drawers had been pulled out from the desk, their contents scattered. Two cheap art prints were leaning against a wall, their glass cracked.
“Someone was looking for something,” Connelly agreed. “Any idea what?”
“How should I know?” She wasn’t about to tell a federal air marshal they were looking for files Warner had removed from Patriotech at her request.
“What are you doing here?”
She answered truthfully, if incompletely. “Warner left me a voicemail message tonight. Not long after you did, actually. It was interrupted when his doorbell rang. And I heard some kind of altercation, it sounded bad.”
“So you just hopped on a plane and flew down here to see if he was okay?”
She shrugged. “That’s the kind of girl I am.”
“Huh.” Connelly examined the bloodied dish towel, then leaned forward and pinched his nose. “I think you might have broken my nose, too.”‘
Sasha wasn’t sure how to respond, so she didn’t. She walked through the dining room into a short hallway that led to Warner’s bedroom. She flipped the light switch and stuck her head in.
The bedroom had been torn to pieces, too. Dresser drawers emptied. Boxes, bags, and entire shelves pulled from the closet. Another framed print—this one of waves breaking against a lighthouse—was propped against one wall, its glass splintered. The king bed had no pillows or linens, just a bare mattress.
She turned out the light and returned to the living room. Connelly was perched on the edge of an armchair that had been cut open. Stuffing and springs stuck out all around him.
“Did you notice his bed has been stripped?”
“That’s not good,” Connelly told her.
Sasha had already surmised as much.
She didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, she asked him, “Did you find a cell phone? Or hear one ringing?”
“No.” He stood up. “Gun, please.” He held out his left hand, palm up. Sasha placed the gun in it, glad to be rid of it.
“He engaged the safety and slipped it into his jacket pocket. “Let’s go.”
“The alley.” He inclined his head toward the French doors.
Warner’s balcony overlooked a long alley. It was dark except for a single light, which was positioned over a dumpster.
“Wipe your prints off the freezer and the lamp,” Connelly said.
She rubbed the surfaces with the sleeve of her jacket.
He balled up both dish towels. “Put these in your backpack. We were never here.”
She took the towels and stuffed them in the bag, and they walked out of Apartment 840, leaving the door ajar.
Excerpt from Inadvertent Disclosure (Book 2)
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Judge Paulson glared down from the bench at the attorney opposing Sasha McCandless’s motion to compel discovery.
“The Court will not tolerate such behavior going forward, Mr. Showalter. Your client will produce the electronic messages it has withheld by the end of this week in digital format or face monetary sanctions for discovery abuses. Are we clear?”
Drew Showalter bobbed his head but didn’t meet the judge’s eyes. “Crystal, your honor.”
The judge turned to Sasha. “Anything else, Ms. McCandless?”
She glanced down at her legal pad. She’d made and won all of her points. But, she saw no reason to squander an opportunity. She drew herself to her full four feet, eleven and three-quarters inches in height and said, “Your honor, VitaMight requests that this Court award it its attorneys’ fees and costs in preparing and arguing this motion.”
Maybe she could get VitaMight’s commercial landlord to foot the bill for her prep work, not to mention the seven-plus hours round-trip travel time they’d have to pay her for driving all the way up to northern Pennsylvania to argue the motion. VitaMight would be impressed.
Judge Paulson, however, was not.
“Let’s not get greedy, Ms. McCandless. Denied. We’re done here, counsel.”
He made no move to leave the bench, though.
Showalter ducked his head, tucked his lone folder under his arm, and hurried past Sasha, mumbling that he’d forward her the files.
Sasha smiled, savoring her victory, while she crammed her binders and legal pads back into her leather bag.
She paused long enough to think that, just maybe, if Showalter had placed as much importance on preparation as he apparently did on traveling light, his argument might not have been so laughably bad. His claim that his client, a commercial properties investment trust with diverse holdings, lacked the ability to search its e-mails was a pretty pathetic defense. Almost as pathetic as his client’s abrupt decision to terminate VitaMight’s long-term lease of a distribution warehouse for no apparent reason.
And that uncharitable thought, she later decided, was her undoing.
If she had just shoved her papers into the bag and gotten out of the courtroom a few minutes sooner, she wouldn’t have been at counsel table when the red-faced old man came shuffling through the wide oak doors. But she hadn’t, and she was.
So, when he banged through the bar separating the gallery from the well of the courtroom, she had the bad luck to be directly in Judge Paulson’s line of sight.
“Harry, you old bastard! What do you think you’re doing?” The elderly man crossed the well, waving a fistful of papers at the bench.
The deputy leaning against the wall next to the American flag made a halfhearted motion toward his gun, but the judge waved him off.
“Mr. Craybill! Step back!” Judge Paulson leaned forward and warned him, but the old man didn’t stop.
“I’m no more incompetent than you are. Who’s responsible for this?”
Judge Paulson caught Sasha’s eye and motioned for the man to stop talking.
“Mr. Craybill, do you have counsel?”
“An attorney to represent you in your incapacitation hearing, Jed.”
“You know damn well, I can’t afford an attorney, you no-good . . .”
Judge Paulson spoke right over the tirade. “Ms. McCandless, congratulations. The court hereby appoints you counsel to represent Mr. Craybill in the hearing on the county’s motion to have him declared incompetent and have a guardian appointed to handle his affairs.”
She opened her mouth to protest, and Craybill wheeled around and glared at her.
He turned back to the bench and said, “Her? She can’t be old enough to be a lawyer, for crissake, look at her.”
Sasha’s cheeks burned, but she saw her opening and took it.
“Your honor, it sounds like Mr. Craybill here isn’t pleased with the appointment. And, frankly, your honor, I have no experience in elder law. That, coupled with the fact that my office is nearly four hours away in Pittsburgh, leads me to regretfully decline your kind offer.”
“It’s not an offer, Ms. McCandless. It’s an order. Old Jed here’ll come around. He might even say sorry for insulting you.” The judge stared at her over his half-moon glasses.
She caught herself before a sigh escaped. “Yes, your honor.”
The judge turned to the old man and said, “Now, tell your new lawyer you’re sorry, Jed.”
The man muttered something that may have been an apology, although Sasha was sure she heard “featherweight” and “child” in there somewhere.
Looking pleased with himself, the Honorable Harrison Paulson unfolded his legs and stood to his full height of nearly six and a half feet. He headed toward the door to his chambers.
“Your honor,” Sasha said, as he walked away, “when do I need to return for the hearing?”
She figured she could get that information from her new client, but she hoped if the hearing were less than two weeks away, the judge would grant her a continuance right then and there.
Instead, he checked his watch, turned back to her, and said, “In about an hour.” He pushed through the door and disappeared into his chambers while she struggled to keep her mouth from hanging open.
Sasha’s new client lowered himself in the empty chair at counsel’s table and tossed the petition seeking to have him declared incompetent on the table in front of her, while Sasha stood staring at the space the judge had just vacated.
An hour? How was she supposed to get ready for an incapacitation hearing in one hour? Sasha prided herself on her composure in the courtroom. But her calm demeanor came because she over-prepared. In the sort of cases she handled, the victor almost always was whichever party’s attorney was more prepared. So her rule was to prepare her case until she was sure she could handle every foreseeable issue, answer every question the judge could conceivably ask, and remove any doubt about her client’s argument and then prepare some more. An hour was barely enough time to read and digest the petition and whatever exhibits came with it. She checked the clock. Make that fifty-nine minutes.
She flung herself into the empty chair and skimmed the petition’s opening paragraph to find the statute under which the county was acting and then thumbed the citation into her Blackberry. She scanned the statute, reading as fast as dared to take in the gist of the act without getting bogged down in the details. Once she had an understanding of the requirements the county would have to meet to have Craybill declared incompetent and a guardian appointed, she powered off her phone and looked at the man sitting next to her.
“Let’s grab a bite and you can fill me in on what’s going on,” she said as she gathered her papers and headed out of the courtroom. She’d left Pittsburgh before five a.m. and was going on nothing but black coffee.
Craybill eyed her. “We don’t have any health food places in town.”
“How about a diner that serves breakfast all day?”
He managed a small grin, like it was a struggle to remember how to smile. “Yeah, we got a diner.”
He followed her out of the courtroom.
Excerpt from Inadvertent Disclosure (Book 2)
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Sasha left her misanthropic client’s home feeling good about her case. She thought she’d made it clear to Jed that he’d have to tone down the swearing and the anger some at his upcoming hearing if he wanted to testify. Truth be told, though, she thought a little righteous indignation would be fitting the circumstances. She’d just have to keep him on a tight leash.
April in Pennsylvania was rarely balmy, but the afternoon sun was warm enough that she cracked the windows and let the air in as she drove back toward Springport. She even hummed along to the radio, which seemed to be limited to country music at the moment. Country singers told the best stories, she thought, as she listened to the Dixie Chicks sing about a traveling soldier.
As she hummed, a name popped into her head: Heather Price. The commissioner Jed had mentioned. She’d encountered that name before. But where? She searched her memory but before she could make a connection, her cell phone rang. She glanced down at the display. It was Connelly.
She turned down the volume on the radio and activated the hands-free setup through the car. She hated the delay that the Bluetooth caused but not as much as she would have hated running over someone because she was on her phone.
“Hi, beautiful. How’d your meeting go with your new boyfriend?”
She laughed. “As well as could be expected, I think. I just left. Should be back home by seven or so.”
“Excellent. Do you want fish tacos or my Thai chicken and noodles for dinner?”
“The chicken and noodles with the peanut sauce?”
“That’s the one.”
It was too hard to pick, what with the belly full of pie.
“Chef’s choice,” she told him.
He groaned, as she knew he would. Connelly didn’t like it when she punted on the decision making.
“Listen,” she cut him off. “Does the name Heather Price mean anything to you?”
There was a pause while he considered it. “No. Should it?”
“I don’t know.”
A beeping sound filled the car through the speakers.
“Shoot,” Sasha said, “I have another call. I’ll call you back.”
“Okay. I love you.”
She depressed the button to switch over to the other call and hoped he’d think she hadn’t heard the profession of love.
Recently, Connelly had started randomly telling her he loved her. She wasn’t sure what to do about it. For now, it was another decision to punt on.
Because she had swapped calls, her phone didn’t display the caller.
“Ms. McCandless, this is Gavin Russell.”
“What can I do for you, Deputy Russell?”
She wondered if he had located Jay.
He cleared his throat. “Are you still out at Jed’s?”
“No, I just left.”
“Could you stop by the courthouse on your way through town? It’s important.”
“Is this about Jay and Danny Trees?”
“No, ma’am, it’s not.”
She worked to keep the irritation out of her voice. “Well, I’m fresh out of gobs, deputy, so—”
“Judge Paulson’s been shot.”
“Shot? Is he okay?”
“No, ma’am. He’s dead.”
Excerpt from Irretrievably Broken (Book 3)
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The photograph arrived in a white Tyvek mailing envelope bordered by green triangles. It was addressed in elegant script to Charles Anderson Prescott, V. Across the bottom half of the envelope, block letters advised that the contents were PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL. It bore no return address.
Caroline Masters, personal secretary to Charles Anderson Prescott, V (better known as Cinco, but always Mr. Prescott in her mind), looked up at the courier. He leaned on her credenza, with his head bent over an iPhone, texting away.
As she scrawled her name on the clipboard he proffered, Caroline asked, “Do you know who sent this?”
He looked up and shook his head.
“There’s no return address,” he said.
“I see that. That’s why I’m asking if you know.”
Surely, he had a record of the sender. How else would his company bill the person?
He shrugged. “I just deliver the packages.”
He tucked the phone into one of the many pockets of his frayed cargo pants, jammed his earbuds into his ears, and returned the clipboard to his black canvas bag.
As he let himself out, Caroline considered the envelope. Her practice was to open and prioritize Mr. Prescott’s business correspondence for him. She did not open his personal mail.
She wasn’t quite sure what to make of this package. A good ninety-five percent of the mail addressed to the attorneys who worked at Prescott & Talbott—including hand deliveries—was delivered to the firm’s mailroom to be logged and then distributed internally by the mailroom staff.
On rare occasions, a courier would hand deliver a package directly to an attorney if its contents were urgent or otherwise very sensitive. But that sort of delivery was usually prearranged; she couldn’t recall ever having received one without a return address.
No one touched Mr. Prescott’s phone or calendar except for her, so Caroline knew he was not expecting this package. And it was marked confidential. This was the sort of package she should take, unopened, into her boss’s office and let him open personally.
And, normally, she would have.
But, as the chairman of the largest law firm in Pittsburgh, Mr. Prescott was having a particularly difficult day. For the second time in less than a year, one of the firm’s partners had been murdered.
Mr. Prescott was hunkered down with his inner circle, trying to craft a public statement. It would have to convey sadness and regret at the loss of Ellen Mortenson, for both her warm personality and exceptional legal skill. At the same time, it would need to reassure Ellen’s clients that, as special as she had been, she was sufficiently fungible that any one of her talented colleagues in Prescott & Talbott’s estates and trusts department could step in to take over her matters in a seamless manner. Caroline knew striking the right balance was no easy task. It had taken Mr. Prescott the better part of a day to come up with a statement when Noah Peterson had been killed.
In the meantime, the press, clients, and friends of the firm had been calling nonstop. Caroline’s strong but polite offers to place callers in Mr. Prescott’s voicemail had become stronger and less polite as the afternoon had worn on.
And, if her patience was thinning, then she assumed his was, too. The last thing she wanted to do was to interrupt him with a package that was probably unimportant while he was dealing with a crisis.
So, she plucked her letter opener out of the crystal vase on her desk, slit open the thin envelope, and shook its contents onto her desk.
A five-by-seven print of three young women in formal gowns, smiling at the bright future ahead of them, fluttered out. She recognized them immediately, even though the picture was sixteen years old: Ellen Mortenson, Clarissa Costopolous, and Martine Landry, the first-year associates of the class of 1996. She even remembered the function. It was the firm’s holiday party, black tie that year, and the three new attorneys had exuded glamour, excitement, and possibilities.
The photograph had been defaced.
A thick red X covered Ellen’s face. Across the bottom of the photo, someone had printed in large, red, block letters “ONE DOWN.”
Excerpt from Irretrievably Broken (Book 3)
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Sasha looked around the table, not quite believing she was sitting in the Carnegie Conference Room with Prescott & Talbott’s five most powerful partners. And Will.
Marco DeAngeles, Fred Jennings, Kevin Marcus, John Porter, and Cinco. Their combined net worth had to have eight digits. Maybe nine. And each of them was usually more than ready to seize control of any conversation. They were assertive. Confident. Decisive.
Except they were none of those things right now. Right now, they were all looking at Will with varying degrees of hope and desperation in their eyes.
Will straightened his tie and swallowed, then he said, “Sasha, thank you for coming in on such short notice. As you know, the firm would like you to represent Mr. Lang, and we’re willing to discuss the contours of that representation with you.”
Jennings nodded along as Will spoke.
Don’t let them intimidate you. Be cool. She thought of what Noah used to tell her: fake it if you have to.
Sasha arched a brow. “As it happens, Mr. Lang would also like me to represent him. And I spoke to him about an hour ago to tell him I would do so, subject to the firm’s agreement not to interfere with our attorney-client relationship. Those are the contours.”
She sat back and watched the heavy hitters defer to Will.
“As a criminal defense attorney myself,” Will began, “I understand your concerns. You rightly don’t want the firm to second-guess your advice or whisper in Mr. Lang’s ear. But you have to understand, too. Two Prescott & Talbott partners have been murdered in the past year. We need to control the fallout from that fact. As a result, the firm has an interest in the outcome of Mr. Lang’s case. We will want to be kept apprised of the case and consulted on strategy.”
He flicked his eyes to Cinco, looking for confirmation that he’d delivered the right message. Cinco gave a little nod.
Sasha stared straight ahead at the painting on the wall. As befit Cinco’s private conference room, it was a nude. There was no question that his secretary had not posed for this one. According to the brass placard hanging beneath it, it was the work of Philip Pearlstein, a native Pittsburgher and noted painter who specialized in nude models posing with unusual objects—in this case, a yoga ball.
She ran through a series of calculations in her head. When she’d spoken to Greg, he’d admitted that Ellen had filed for divorce because of his gambling. He’d also admitted he’d lost his job because he’d taken to stopping in at the casino on his way to work, which inevitably led to him not going to work. So, with no income and Ellen’s estate tied up in the divorce, Greg had told her that, despite his ritzy address, cash flow was a problem.
But Sasha simply wasn’t willing to be at Prescott & Talbott’s beck and call. Greg would have to figure out another way to pay her. She wondered if he had any space on his credit cards. Presumably, Naya could arrange for her to accept credit cards. To date, all her clients had paid by wire transfer or check—yet another strike against dabbling in criminal law.
She pushed her chair back from the table and stood.
“Your proposal’s not feasible. If Mr. Lang wants me to represent him, we’ll work something out between the two of us. But I won’t have you breathing down my neck and second-guessing me.”
Sasha reached in her purse for the retainer check, prepared to throw it on the gleaming table as part of her dramatic exit. It had been a mistake to even consider taking the case. What she really needed was a clean break from her former firm.
Kevin Marcus leaned forward and said, “Wait. Please reconsider your position. I personally assure you that we won’t interfere wth your work. We will, however, stand ready to give you any support you request in your representation of Greg Lang. I’m sure we can work through this.”
His voice was strained, but he stopped just short of begging.
She remained standing but asked, “Why is this so important to the firm? And don’t feed me some line about friendship with Greg Lang. I bet half of you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.”
Kevin looked at Cinco. Cinco looked at Fred.
Fred spread his paw-like hands wide and leaned back in his chair. “Seems to us Ellen was killed and her fella was framed to make the firm look bad.”
“You think someone killed one of your female partners and framed her estranged husband so you’d get bad press?”
Had Fred slipped into dementia without anyone noticing? His conjecture was insane. She looked around the table. Everyone else was nodding, like it was a reasonable theory.
“Assuming that were true, how exactly does it make Prescott look bad?” Sasha asked.
Kevin fixed her with a look. “Come now, Sasha. You know we got very low marks on the Mothers in the Law’s last survey.”
He tilted his head, as if he was wondering whether she had been one of the anonymous female lawyers who had responded to the survey by describing Prescott & Talbott as a place where relationships go to die.
She held his gaze and said, “I was single, not to mention childless, during my time here, Kevin, remember? I didn’t pay any more attention to those surveys than I did to the mandatory retirement age issue. It wasn’t relevant to my life.”
Marco bobbed his head and said, “And that’s why you were so damn good, Mac. No family, no kids. No whining about maternity leave and breast pumps and on-site daycare. None of that bullshit.”
Cinco jumped in and said, “Although work-life balance issues weren’t high on your priority list, Sasha, they are important to the new associates and law students.” He paused and looked hard at Marco, then he said, “And I mean the women and the men. They all want to know that they’ll have time to raise their families.”
Sasha shook her head. “Ellen didn’t have kids.”
“Well, that’s true,” Kevin conceded. “But, you know, that survey also made a big point about the divorce rate for our lawyers. It’s hovering at around eighty percent for the partners.”
Sasha thought of Noah, who had died convinced that his wife was going to leave him. As it turned out, he’d been right. Feeling neglected because he was always working, Laura Peterson had been having an affair.
She looked around the table, meeting each of their eyes for several seconds, then she asked, “Do you have any actual support for your belief that Greg is being framed for Ellen’s murder in an effort to sully the firm’s reputation?”
John cleared his throat, but Cinco spoke first, saying, “Of course not. If we had proof, we’d have taken it to the district attorney the instant Greg was charged.”
He sat back and waved both hands, gesturing to the men sitting around the table. “We may not have proof, Sasha, but we have, collectively, over a hundred years of solid legal judgment in this room. And, in our judgment, this is an act against the firm. Ellen and her husband, are——horrific as this may sound—collateral damage. Someone has committed this heinous crime in an effort to, as you say, sully our stellar reputation.”
Sasha tried to ignore her rising nausea. Leave it to Prescott & Talbott to consider itself the true victim.
When Cinco finished his self-serving speech, she said, “Not to be cute, but who do you think would murder one of your partners so your firm ranking plummets? WC&C?”
Fred chuckled and covered it with a cough.
Whitmore, Clay, & Charles—or WC&C—was probably indistinguishable from Prescott & Talbott to the average Pittsburgher. And for good reason. They were both well-established, well-regarded law firms that had served the city since the 1800s. Both employed hundreds of attorneys, most of whom hailed from the very best law schools. Both had filled seats on the federal bench and in boardrooms of publicly traded companies with their former partners. Both charged rates that topped out around a thousand dollars an hour.
But if one were to suggest to an attorney employed by either firm that the two were interchangeable, one had better be prepared to duck. The bad blood between the firms was legendary. And long-lived.
The three attorneys who formed WC&C broke off from Prescott & Talbott in 1892, in the aftermath of the bloody Homestead Strike. The strike, one of the most violent labor-management disputes in the history of the United States, had resulted in a shootout between striking steelworkers and Pinkerton agents, who had been hired to provide security for the steel mill.
The Pinkertons had approached the mill from the river after dark. When they attempted to land their barges, the striking workers were waiting for them. In the end, several men were killed on each side of the gun battle; the Pinkertons surrendered and were beaten by a throng that was estimated to contain more than five thousand striking mill workers and sympathizers; the militia was called in; and the battle moved to the courtroom.
More than a dozen of the strike leaders were charged with conspiracy, rioting, and murder. Similar charges were filed against the executives of the steel mill. Eventually, the charges were dropped against both the workers and management. Prescott & Talbott, of course, represented the Carnegie Steel Company; its owner, Andrew Carnegie; and Henry Clay Frick, who was running the company.
Josiah Whitmore, a partner at Prescott & Talbott, was contacted by the Pinkerton Agency, who wanted to sue the steel company in civil court for putting its men in harm’s way. Prescott & Talbott couldn’t take the case because it would be a conflict of interest, but Whitmore saw it as his chance to strike out on his own.
Joined by Matthew Clay and Clyde Charles, two newly minted lawyers, he left the firm and opened WC&C. In the early days, the three specialized in suing Prescott & Talbott clients, which resulted in protracted, bitter courtroom battles, where Prescott & Talbott tried to have their opponents disqualified.
Despite the public enmity between the two firms, the arrangement had worked to their mutual advantage for more than a hundred years: both firms ran up their clients’ bills fighting over every little thing, no matter how minor, and the attorneys at both firms could pound their chests about their take-no-prisoners battles.
Marco turned to Sasha and said, with no trace of humor, “I wouldn’t put it past those bastards.”
She was still formulating a response when Cinco frowned at Marco and said, “Of course it isn’t WC&C. But, I have no doubt that someone has murdered one of our respected colleagues—one of your former colleagues, I might add—in a deliberate attempt to smear the firm.”
Cinco spoke with such self-assurance and conviction that she almost forgot his belief had no basis in fact.
Will cleared his throat and added, “Sasha, even if you aren’t convinced that we’re right, it’s clear you aren’t convinced that we’re wrong. That means there’s a chance Mr. Lang was wrongly accused. Imagine being charged with a murder you didn’t commit.”
She did as he asked. She put aside her own reaction to the man and to the firm’s idiotic theory and put herself in Greg’s shoes. She pictured herself finding Connelly’s lifeless body and then being charged with his murder. Facing that fear in the middle of a sea of grief and despair.
Sasha walked out of the Carnegie with the retainer check and two new things: an agreement that she would defend Greg Lang and keep Volmer—and Volmer only—in the loop and the unshakeable feeling that she was being manipulated.