Chapter One

“BRIBERY’S NOT MY FAVORITE kind of case.” Simon Montgomery had just shown Craig Dremmel to the door. Now he stood beside his secretary’s desk to give her an update on his meeting.
“But you’ll take the case, anyway,” Denise said with certainty.
“For the money Dremmel’s willing to pay, of course I’ll defend him.” A wealthy land developer such as Dremmel was just the kind of client he was expected to bring in. Simon had been assured that he commanded the respect of his colleagues, the trepidation of his opponents and the admiration of women, but he still hadn’t made partner. Taking on a notorious public figure would greatly improve his chances of becoming the youngest attorney to reach that elevated level in the hundred-year history of Boyden and Whitby, LLC.
“Does he really stand a chance of getting off?” Denise asked the lawyer.
“Hard to say, given what I know so far. It won’t be easy.” Which meant there would be more billable hours to put in the case. That would make the partners happy, regardless of the outcome. But Simon liked to win. “I’ll need to finish up some other cases first, so I can hit the ground running the minute his retainer arrives.” He turned to head into his office, where piles of paperwork awaited.
“Hold on,” she said, getting to her feet. “I know you have a full day, but you need to meet with Ms. Kavanagh. She’s been waiting an hour.”
He’d noticed a woman sitting in the reception area. Pretty in a simple, natural way, but lacking the finely polished appearance or the aura of ambition he’d become used to from the women he liked to spend time with—women who would help him advance his career. He looked at the folder Denise held out. “An hour? Why didn’t she make an appointment?”
“She was supposed to see Mr. Canter, but he got called away on business with an important client,” she said, as if reciting from a script.
“Yeah, Canter left for an emergency golf trip to the Cayman Islands this morning,” he remarked. He and Canter didn’t get along all that well, but the man was a partner. They were not on an equal footing—yet. A few more successes in the courtroom would help. And bringing in clients such as the powerful commercial real-estate developer Craig Dremmel.
“Mr. Canter specifically asked for this case to be handed over to you.”
“Why me, specifically?” He took the file from her, knowing he had little choice but to take it.
Denise looked down at her desk, clearly searching for the right thing to say. “Maybe because it’s a pro bono case?” she ventured.
Simon sighed. He’d been the one to pressure his mentor, senior partner Glen Boyden, to establish a pro bono program that called on every attorney in the firm—not just the junior associates—to take on at least two indigent cases per year free of charge. Though Simon’s motivation had been to get the firm to give back something to the community, Glen had agreed to the idea primarily as a public relations ploy. Regardless, Simon had gotten his way. Some of his colleagues had been pleased they’d be given time during the year to take on such cases. Most of them, however, had seen the new initiative as an impingement on their billable hours.
Simon nodded. “I’d say that’s probably the reason. So much for my scheduled desk time,” he said. Turning again for his office, he wondered how he’d manage to take on this new case while still doing his best on all the others.
“Do you want me to send her in now?” Denise asked.
“Sure,” he said, resigned to the inevitable. As he approached his desk, he flipped open the folder and scanned the first page. Then he stopped in his tracks and went into the hallway.
“Denise,” he called. She’d made it halfway to the reception area, but she turned around and came back. When she was once again standing in front of him, he glared at her accusingly. “Did you see the age of this client? It’s a kid, a little girl. I don’t know the first thing about juvenile cases—or juvenile offenders, or juveniles in general.” Or at least he knew nothing about kids except what he’d gleaned from his own childhood. Dated material, at best. And colored by the traumas of those earlier difficult years. He had no business taking on a juvenile case.
Denise had worked for him long enough to get away with rolling her eyes, but wisely she didn’t say a thing. So Simon asked, “What does the woman in the waiting room have to do with this child?”
“She’s your client’s social worker, Jayda Kavanagh. She’s also been made the guardian ad litem. And you don’t have to worry about this being a juvenile case. The girl is being tried as an adult.”
“That makes no sense. A child who needs a guardian ad litem is being tried as an adult? And from what I’m reading in this file, I’m coming into the case late,” he said. “This is not going to be good,” he muttered as he trudged back to his office. “Send Ms. Kavanagh in, please.”
While he sat at his desk, he read more from the folder. Eleven-year-old Tiffany Thompson was accused of willfully killing three-year-old Derek Baldridge. Because of the gravity of the crime and Tiffany’s history of violence, she would be tried as an adult in Baltimore’s Third Circuit. Simon would have liked the chance to argue that decision—he could have made certain the case stayed in juvenile court. But a public defender had already let the issue slip by. To Simon’s chagrin, it looked as if he’d be joining the case too late to do much good on some important preliminary matters.
Denise led in the social worker and indicated a chair, asked if she could get them anything, nodded when they said they were fine and closed the door when she left. Simon stood as Jayda Kavanagh approached his desk, holding out his hand in greeting. With her golden-brown hair dipping to her shoulders in a casual cut and her natural peaches-and-cream complexion, she was in many ways the opposite of the highly polished professional women he was used to. Nothing particularly special about her, but he would have had to say she had pleasant features, in a down-home sort of way. And he liked her handshake, firm and sure. Clearly, she wasn’t intimidated by his expensive suit or his fancy office.
With introductions over, she got right down to business. “Tiffany needs your help, Mr. Montgomery. I hope you’ll take her case.”
“It seems Renauld Canter agreed the firm would represent Ms. Thompson, so that’s already been decided.” He kept his expression neutral.
Intelligent eyes stared back into his. “I take it you didn’t choose Tiffany as one of your pro bono cases. But once you get to know her, I’m certain you’ll want to help her.”
Simon glanced down at the file, open now to a page containing Tiffany’s history. “Do you have reason to believe she’s innocent?” he asked. Almost every client claimed he hadn’t done it. But most of them had. Simon doubted this one would be any different. And yet he was surprised that a social worker would take the time to defend such a kid. The folder said the girl had been in foster care since she’d been a toddler. She wasn’t likely ever to find a permanent home. People familiar with the system referred to such foster kids as “lifers.”
The Child Comes First:

Simon sat where he was, assaulted by emotions he refused to name

His gaze rose to Jayda’s once more. She looked at him with what appeared to be warm approval mixed with a measure of sympathy. He felt understood, in a way he hadn’t experienced before.

They were crawling into his heart—he could feel it. Jayda and Tiffany were invading his life. He had to resist. He’d worked hard to encourage the impression that he would do whatever it took to advance his career.

Becoming partner had been his goal for so long, he’d forgotten that there could be anything more important.

He wouldn’t let normal, ordinary Jayda or the kid with the hugs get in the way of that now.
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