About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
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Sixteen months later
It was dusk when Nikki Quinn stopped her cobalt-blue BMW in front of the massive iron gates of Myra Rutledge's McLean estate. She pressed the remote control attached to the visor and waited for the lumbering gates to slide open. She knew Charles was watching her on the closed-circuit television screen. The security here at the estate was sophisticated, high-tech, impregnable. The only thing missing was concertina wire along the top of the electrified fence.
Nikki sailed up the half mile of cobblestones to the driveway that led around to the back of the McLean mansion. When she was younger, she and Barbara referred to the house as Myra's Fortress. She'd loved growing up here, loved riding across the fields on Barbara's horse Starlite, loved playing with Barbara in the tunnels underneath the old house that had once been used to aid runaway slaves.
The engine idling, Nikki made no move to get out of the car. She hated coming here these days, hated seeing the empty shell her beloved Myra had turned into. All the life, all the spark had gone out of her. According to Charles, Myra sat in the living room, drinking tea, staring at old photo albums, the television tuned to CNN twenty-four hours a day. She hadn't left the house once since Barbara's funeral.
She finally turned off the engine, gathered her briefcase, weekend bag and purse. Should she put the top up or leave it down? The sky was clear. She shrugged. If it looked like rain, Charles would put the top up.
"Any change?" she asked walking into the kitchen.
Charles shook his head before he hugged her. "She's gone downhill even more these last two weeks. I hate saying this, but I don't think she even noticed you weren't here, Nikki."
Nikki flinched. "I couldn't get here, Charles. I had to wait for a court verdict. I must have called a hundred times," Nikki said, tossing her gear on the countertop. Her eyes pleaded with Myra's houseman for understanding.
Charles Martin was a tall man with clear crystal blue eyes and a shock of white hair that was thick and full. Once he'd been heavier but this past year had taken a toll on him, too. She noticed the tremor in his hand when he handed her a cup of coffee.
"Is she at least talking, Charles?"
"She responds if I ask her a direct question. Earlier in the week she fired me. She said she didn't need me anymore."
"My God!" Nikki sat down at the old oak table with the claw feet. Myra said the table was over three hundred years old and hand-hewn. As a child, she'd loved eating in the kitchen. Loved sitting at the table drinking cold milk and eating fat sugar cookies. She looked around. There didn't seem to be much life in the kitchen these days. The plants didn't seem as green, the summer dishes were still in the pantry, the winter placemats were still on the table. Even the braided winter rugs were still on the old pine floors. In the spring, Myra always changed them. She blinked. "This kitchen looks like an institution kitchen, Charles. The house is too quiet. Doesn't Myra play her music anymore?"
"No. She doesn't do anything anymore. I tried to get her to go for a walk today. She told me to get out of her face. I have to fight with her to take a shower. I'm at my wit's end. I don't know what to do anymore. This is no way to live, Nikki."
"Maybe it's time for some tough love. Let me see if she responds to me this evening. By the way, what's for dinner?"
"Rack of lamb. Those little red potatoes you like, and fresh garden peas. I made a blackberry cobbler just for you. But when you're not here, I end up throwing it all away. Myra nibbled on a piece of toast today." Charles threw his hands in the air and stomped over to the stove to open the oven door.
Nikki sighed. She straightened her shoulders before she marched into the living room where Myra was sitting on the sofa. She bent down to kiss the wrinkled cheek. "Did you miss me, Myra?"
"Nikki! It's nice to see you. Of course, I missed you. Sit down, dear. Tell me how you are. Is the law firm doing nicely? How's our softball team doing? Are you still seeing that assistant district attorney?" Her voice trailed off to nothing as she stared at the television set whose sound was on mute.
Nikki sat down and reached for the remote control. "I hope you don't mind if I switch to the local station. I want to see the news." She turned the volume up slightly.
"Let's see. Yes, I'm still seeing Jack, and the firm is doing wonderfully. We have more cases than we can handle. The team is in fourth place. I'm fine but I worry about you, Myra. Charles is worried about you, too."
"I fired Charles."
"I know, but he's still here. He has nowhere to go, Myra. You have to snap out of this depression. I can arrange some grief counseling sessions for you. You need a medical checkup. You have to let it go, Myra. You can't bring Barbara back. I can't stand seeing you like this. Barbara wouldn't approve of the way you're grieving. She always said life is for the living."
"I never heard her say any such thing. I can't let it go. She's with me every minute of every day. There's nothing to live for. The bastard who killed my daughter robbed my life as well. He's out there somewhere living a good life. If I could just get my hands on him for five minutes, I would ..."
"Myra, he's back in his own country. Shhh, listen. That man," Nikki said pointing to the screen, "was set free today because of a technicality. He killed a young girl and he's walking away a free man. Jack prosecuted the case and lost."
"He must not be a very good district attorney if he lost the case," Myra snapped. Nikki's eyebrows shot upward. Was that a spark of interest? Childishly, she crossed her fingers.
"He's an excellent district attorney, Myra but the law is the law. The judge let things go because they weren't legal. Oh, look, there's the mother of the girl. God, I feel so sorry for her. She was in court every single day. The papers said she never took her eyes off the accused, not even for a minute. The reporters marveled at the woman's steadfast intensity. Every day they did an article about her. Jack said she fainted when the verdict came in."
"I know just how she feels," Myra said leaning forward to see the screen better. "What's she doing, Nikki? Look, there's Jack! He's very photogenic."
Nikki watched as the scene played out in front of her. She saw Jack's lips move, knew he was saying something but she couldn't hear over the voices of the excited news reporters. She saw his arm reach out but he was too late. Marie Lewellen fired the gun in her hand point-blank at the man who killed her daughter.
The television screen turned black and then came to life again.
Barnes looked directly into the camera, his eyes wide with shocked disbelief. Blood bubbled from his mouth. "I ... should have ... killed ... you, too ... you bitch!"
"You killed my little girl. You don't deserve to live. I'm glad I killed you. Glad!" Marie Lewellen screamed.
Barnes fell face forward onto the concrete steps of the courthouse.
Chaos erupted but the camera stayed positioned, capturing the ensuing panic.
"Oh my God!" was all Nikki could say.
Myra reared back against the cushions. "Did you see that! That's what I should have done! I hope she killed the son of a bitch! Is he moving? I can't see. Is he dead, Nikki? Charles, come see this. Why didn't I have the guts to do what that woman just did?" Myra shouted, her skinny arms flailing up and down. "If she killed him, I want you to defend her, Nikki. I'll pay for everything. Use your whole firm. Every expert, every specialist in the world. She killed him. She got in his face and killed him. Tell me he's dead. I want to know if he's dead!"
Nikki looked at Charles, who was busy staring at the ceiling. "He's dead, Myra."
"Look, look! They're handcuffing her. They're going to take her to jail. I want you to leave right now. Post her bail, do something. Don't let them keep her in jail. Say you'll take her home with you. Tell them she won't be a menace to society. Charles, get my checkbook."
"Myra, for God's sake, simmer down. It's not that easy."
"The hell it isn't. She was crazed. Temporary insanity. Are you going to do it or not, Nikki?"
"Yes, but ..."
"Don't give me buts. You're still sitting here. I never asked you to do a thing for me, Nikki. Never once. I'm asking you now."
"I didn't say I wouldn't do it, Myra. I need to think. I need to talk to Jack. I can have my paralegal go down to the station. Tomorrow morning will be time enough. There is no way in hell she's getting out of jail tonight. She has to be arraigned. Can you wait for morning, Myra?"
"Yes, I can wait for morning." Myra swung around. "Charles, did you see what that woman just did? I would cheerfully rot in prison if I had the guts to do that. First thing in the morning, Nikki. I want you to call me with a full report."
"You don't answer the phone, Myra," Nikki said sourly.
"I'll answer it tomorrow. Isn't it time for dinner? Let's eat off trays this evening. I want to see what happens to that poor woman. They'll be reporting on this for hours. Does she have other children? A husband? Isn't anyone going to answer me?"
Nikki's jaw dropped. Charles spun around on his heel, a smirk on his face.
"I can tell you what Jack told me. She has two other children, and yes, she has a husband. She's a homemaker. She works at a Hallmark shop on weekends for extra money that goes for all the little extras young kids need. Her husband is a lineman for AT&T. Her two boys are nine and eleven. Jenny, the daughter that was killed, worked after school till closing at the same Hallmark shop. She had a flat tire the night she was killed. She was fixing it herself when that creep offered to help and then he snatched her and dumped her body out near Manassas. Jack said they're a very nice family. Marie went to PTA meetings and they went to church as a family on Sunday."
"They'll need someone to take care of the boys, to cook and do all the things a mother does in case they don't let her out right away. Charles, find someone for the family. Use that employment agency we use when we do our spring cleaning. I hope they give her a medal. Someone should."
"Myra, for God's sake, she killed a man in cold blood. She took the law into her own hands. Civilized people don't do things like that. That's why we have laws."
"Where was the law when that bastard killed my daughter? Did Barbara get justice? No, she did not! My daughter is dead and no one paid for that crime. My unborn grandchild is dead and no one paid for that crime either. I'll go to my grave never having seen my grandchild. Don't talk to me about justice. Don't talk to me about the law because I don't want to hear it. Those laws, the justice that freed that man ... suck."
Nikki looked up to see Charles standing in the doorway. She watched as both his clenched fists shot upward. In spite of herself, she grinned. Myra was alive and belching fire. All she had to do was get her to calm down and maybe, just maybe, she would return to the land of the living.
It was midnight when Jack Emery finally returned Nikki's call. She crawled into bed, her head buzzing with the evening's events.
"Did you see it, Nikki?"
"Of course I saw it. Myra and Charles saw it, too. I'll say one thing, it snapped Myra out of her fugue. At least for now. She wants me to defend Marie Lewellen. I said I would."
"You can't defend her. It's open and shut. Insanity isn't going to hold up. She admitted to buying the gun at lunchtime from some punk on the street. That goes to premeditation. They've charged her with first degree murder. I'll be prosecuting, Nikki."
"Pass on it, Jack. You did enough to that woman."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean, Nikki?"
"It means that asshole got off. That's exactly what it means, Jack. Myra was right when she said it sucked. You didn't fight hard enough. He was guilty as sin and you damn well know it."
"The judge threw out ... why am I defending myself? I did the best job I could under the circumstances. I tried to stop her at the courthouse. I was seconds too late. Don't go sour on me now. Turn it over to someone else in your firm, Nikki."
"I can't do that, Jack. I promised Myra. She's never, ever, asked anything of me. I have to do what she wants. I'm going to give you the fight of your life, too."
"If you take this case on that means we aren't going to be able to see one another until it's over, at which point we'll probably hate each other's guts. Is that what you want?"
Nikki's mind raced. No, it wasn't what she wanted but she knew where her loyalties lay. She loved Jack Emery. "Beg off, Jack. Let some other A.D.A. take the case."
"I guess I'll see you in court, Counselor," Jack said coldly.
It was his tone, not his words, that sparked her reply. "You bet your sweet ass you'll see me in court." Nikki snapped her cell phone shut and threw it across the room.
Nikki punched at the thick downy pillows. She knew she wasn't going to be able to sleep now. She felt like crying. A second later she bounded out of the twin bed and ripped down the covers from the bed that once belonged to Barbara. If she wanted to, she could stick her hand under the pillow and pull out Barb's old beat-up teddy bear and hug it to her chest the way Barb had done every night she slept in the bed. It almost seemed sacrilegious to touch it. Instead she picked up the pillow and looked down at the tattered bear named Willie. She almost stuck her finger in the hole under Willie's chin but changed her mind. She lowered the pillow and went back to her own bed. Tears rolled down her cheeks. "God, I miss you, Barb. I think about you every day. I just had a fight with Jack. At least I think it was a fight. I wish you were here so I could call you up and tell you all about it." She punched at the down pillows again. Maybe she needed to read herself to sleep. Her gaze traveled to the built-in bookshelves across the room. The three top shelves were hers because she was taller than Barbara. The three bottom shelves belonged to Barbara and were loaded with everything but books. No, she was too wired-up to read.
The first month she'd come here to live, Myra had knocked out two walls and turned this room into a two-girl bedroom. They'd spent so many hours in here, huddled in their beds, giggling, telling secrets, talking about boys and sharing all their hopes and dreams. Even the bathroom had twin vanities and twin showers. Myra didn't stint and she didn't favor one over the other. She simply had enough love for both of them. She looked now at the twin desks, the colorful swivel chairs, the bright red rocking chairs. It seemed so long ago, almost like a lifetime. She stared at the colorful rockers and at the cushions they'd made at camp one year. Barbara's was perfect, her stitches small and neat. Her own was sloppy, the seams loose. But it wasn't the cushions that held her gaze. The chair was rocking, moving slowly back and forth. She looked up to see if the fan was on. A chill washed down her spine. She shuddered as she reached for her robe. Maybe Charles had left some coffee in the pot. If not, she could make some more.
Nikki walked down the long hallway to the back staircase that led to the kitchen. She blinked when she saw Myra and Charles sitting at the table, highball glasses in their hands. She blinked again. "I couldn't sleep," she mumbled.
"We couldn't either," Myra said.
"After what we saw on television this evening, I can understand why. I'm going to make some coffee."
"Nikki, Charles and I want to talk to you about something."
Nikki reached for the coffee canister. There was an edge to Myra's voice. A combative edge. Something she'd never heard before. "About what, Myra? I said I would take Marie Lewellen's case."
"I know. That's just a small part of it. Do you remember a while back when you told Charles and myself about two young women who came to see you? Kathryn Lucas and Alexis Thorne, only that wasn't Alexis Thorne's real name at the time?"
"I remember," Nikki said, measuring coffee into the stainless steel basket.
"You helped Alexis by going outside the law. You couldn't help Kathryn because the statute of limitations had run out but if there was a way to help her, would you do it?"
Nikki felt herself freeze. "Are you talking about inside the law or outside the law, Myra?"
"Don't answer my question with a question. Would you help her?"
"I can't, Myra. There's nothing I can do for her. I looked at everything. Time ran out. Yes, I feel sorry for her. I understand how it all went down. She waited too long, that's the bottom line."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sisterhood Bundle"
Copyright © 2012 MRK.
Excerpted by permission of Kensington Publishing Corporation.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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