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Authors: Magda Alexander

Shattered Virtue

BOOK: Shattered Virtue
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2015 Amalia Villalba
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
www.apub.com

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

ISBN-13: 9781503947047
ISBN-10: 1503947041

Cover design by Eileen Carey

For Skylar
Love you lots

CHAPTER 1

Trenton

Washington, DC

March

“You want me to babysit Holden’s granddaughter for the summer?” As if I don’t have enough on my plate.

“It’s not babysitting, Trenton,” Joss says. “She’s twenty-four years old.” Holden Gardiner is one of the founding partners of Gardiner, Ashburn & Strickland, and as his right-hand woman, Joss Stanton is often called upon to handle the law firm’s more delicate matters. Problem is I’m not up to being handled today. “You’d know that if you’d bothered to attend Holden’s annual firm picnics at his estate. She acts as his hostess.”

“I’ve got more important things to do than waste my time drinking tepid lemonade and eating dried-out sandwiches. Christ. What am I supposed to do with her? Is she even qualified to work as a criminal law intern?”

Joss makes herself at home in the guest chair across from my desk. “Madrigal Berkeley is brilliant. Beyond brilliant, actually. Not only did she graduate with top honors from Yale Law School, but she earned the Valdecott medal for her paper on self-incrimination. You should know that. Holden brags about her all the time.”

She would know about Holden’s family since she’s infinitely familiar with his existence. It’s an open secret she’s not only his partner but also his mistress. After Holden’s wife passed away from cancer twenty years ago, they’d grown close but never married. Conjecture has it he won’t take that step because Joss is black and he is white. If that’s the reason, he’s even more of a fool than I think.

“I’m not exactly in his inner circle.” Something she said grabs my attention. “Wait. That paper on self-incrimination? Did she write “Unraveling Miranda”?”

Crossing one knee over the other, she leans back in the chair. “Yes, she did.”

That law review article chipped away at many of the Fifth Amendment protections criminal lawyers have relied on through the years. The damn thing’s probably become required reading in every prosecutor’s office in the country. Ms. Berkeley’s interest obviously lies on the opposing side of criminal defense. Which begs the question: Why is she here? “I don’t understand. We defend people, not prosecute them.”

“Come September she’ll start work as a prosecutor at the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in Arlington. But Holden insists she learn the criminal defense side first.”

Well, that makes sense. Know your enemy and all that. But her choice of jurisdiction is irrational. “She picked a small county prosecutor’s office when she could work in a bigger city? Here in DC, New York, San Francisco. Someone with a Yale Law degree could have any job she wants.”

“If she’d gone to a bigger city, she’d be assigned misdemeanors. Arlington promised her more challenging cases. And Holden’s not getting any younger. However many years he’s got left, she probably wants to spend time with him.” A shadow rolls over her face. It must be difficult for her to admit such a thing, given her relationship with Holden.

I ease back into my seat, temple my hands over my midriff. “Holden needs to retire and allow a younger partner to lead the firm,” I mumble to myself.

Joss rises and shuts the door. Not hard to see why. Even though it’s after eight and most of the staff has gone home, someone might be loitering about. “For Christ’s sake, Trenton. You shouldn’t broadcast such an opinion. If it gets back to Holden, you could be out on the street.”

I sit up, and my executive chair snaps back with a bang. “With as much money and prestige as I bring into the law firm? I don’t think so.” During the last two years, I’ve represented several high-profile clients—a hockey player charged with rape, a rock star who allegedly beat up a fan, and our latest cause célèbre, a United States senator caught stealing campaign contributions to feed his coke habit. Got all of them off with barely a slap to their wrists. The first two brought in half a million each, and the senator? Well, after I got his charge dismissed on a technicality, he cemented my reputation as the go-to guy when your hand, or other parts of your anatomy, gets caught in the cookie jar. We now have more clients than we can handle and a waiting list a mile long. Needless to say, the partners would miss the income I bring into the firm.

Her eyes narrow at me. “Even so, he deserves your respect.”

She’s right. He does. When the other partners refused to so much as interview a young lawyer with no Ivy League credentials, he not only ignored their objections but also hired me after Mitchell Brooks recommended me. For that, at the very least, I owe him my allegiance. And he has it. Problem is in the last couple of years, he’s made some rather questionable decisions that negatively affected the firm. “I agree, but you have to admit his judgment is not what it used to be.”

“Such as?”

“Setting up that satellite branch in Houston. It’s nothing but a thinly veiled excuse for partners to fly south for the winter. Plus, his refusal to approve upgrades to our telecommunications network shows how little he understands the importance of having state-of-the-art equipment and software. To top it all off, he’s brought high-priced lawyers into the real estate area who have little to show in the way of income.”

Her mouth forms a tight line. “We need a branch in Texas if we’re to develop our energy practice. Maybe he didn’t approve as many upgrades to our network as you’d like, but he did approve
some
expenditures. And Slayton needs additional staff for his practice.”

Those are the arguments Holden offered at the most recent general partner meeting to justify his actions. Problem is we’re spread too thin. If he keeps urging expansion, we’re bound to hit a financial snag. We’ll need to tighten our belts and let go of people. But Holden doesn’t seem to understand the well’s not as deep as he thinks. I may accept the reasoning for the Houston office and the telecommunications shortfall, but I’ll be damned if I let slide the hires for the real estate group. “For the last three years, Dick Slayton hasn’t brought in any decent money. Real estate is not what it used to be.”

“Slayton’s working on a deal. Very hush-hush. If it comes to fruition, it will more than pay for his partner draw and the salaries of the new associates.”

I shake my head in frustration. This isn’t the first time Slayton has gotten his way only to come up with excuses for why things didn’t go as expected. “And if it doesn’t? His team’s salaries are a huge drain on our resources.”

“Let’s not jump off that bridge until we need to, shall we?” She folds her arms against her chest. “Now, about Madrigal?”

I rub two fingers against the incipient headache brewing inside my head. “Has Holden thought this through? If she’s going to work for Arlington, she can’t work on an actual case, not when I might end up on the opposite side of the courtroom from her.”

She waves aside my objection. “So assign her something to research for the summer. That will keep her out of your hair. Bottom line: if you agree to do this, it will make Holden happy, and he will be very grateful.” Her face is lined with exhaustion. No wonder. Rumor has it a couple of partners went at it hammer and tongs during today’s executive committee meeting. Managing partner egos would take a toll on anyone.

I scrub my face. After a week of fourteen-hour days, I’m beat. As soon as I settle this, I’ve got something lined up that will perk up things tonight. But I’ll be damned if I do something for nothing. “What do I get out of it?”

She breathes a labored sigh. “What do you want?”

“We’re getting new space on the twelfth floor. I want a private suite for my team.”

“I don’t know—”

“This is not about my ego, Joss. Most of my clients are high profile. They need to come and go without checking in with the receptionist on the second floor. Too many ways things could go south if word got out about them seeking representation.”

“That space has already been earmarked for Slayton’s real estate practice.”

“Fuck Slayton. I need the space more than he does.”

She shoots me a warning look. “Do you really want to make an enemy of one of our most powerful partners?”

She has a point. Slayton has clawed his way to the top of the firm’s food chain, but he’s no match against the almighty dollar. “I bring in millions to the firm, Joss. He does not.”

“Ah—”

Eager to get on with my evening plans, I cut to the chase. “Let me make this clear. If I don’t get this, I walk, and I have the clout to take half of the criminal law practice with me, including two partners.” Something I’ve been thinking about for the last two years. Only loyalty to the firm that gave me my big break keeps me here.

She pinches her lips. “That’s an awfully big favor for a three-month internship.”

I slice my hand through the air. “Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll need to bring it before the management committee.”

Which includes Holden. If he wants me to mentor his granddaughter, he’ll give me what I want. “You do that. When is Ms. Berkeley scheduled to start?”

“The day after Memorial Day.”

I glance at my desk calendar. “That’s two months from now. I’ll need an answer about the space by the end of April.”

“You’re a hard man to deal with.”

She doesn’t know the half of it. “We done? I have an appointment.” I rise, button my jacket.

“Yes.”

“I want it in writing.”

She walks out with her head held high, but we both know who’s going to win this battle. Slayton may have clout, but he’s no match against what Holden desires. And for some strange reason, he wants me to train his granddaughter. Very well. He gives me what I want; I give him what he wants. And his darling granddaughter gets to spend three months in the firm’s library researching some obscure point of law. Win-win all around.

I grab my cashmere coat and slip into it. It might be the end of the month, but March is refusing to go out like a lamb. It’s fucking freezing outside. Not that I need to brave the elements. My Jag waits for me in the parking lot. When I made partner a million years ago, the first thing I bought was a Jag—an older model, that is. This one’s brand-new, with all the bells and whistles. Just as I’m about to climb into the elevator, my cell rings. Damn. For a second I’m tempted to let it go to voice mail. But I don’t. Might be a client-related matter. “Trenton Steele.”

“Trent?” A slurred voice from my past reaches across the line, and I know whatever he’s about to say will ruin my evening.

“Bernie. What’s going on?”

“I’m in lockup down at the Fifth Precinct.”

“What’s the charge?”

“Assault and possession.”

In other words, he got into a fight and was caught with drugs. I tangle a hand through my hair while he explains he didn’t do it and he’s been set up. Just like the five other times I got him off. Grimacing, I promise to drop by the police station and see what I can do. I can’t say no to him. Back in the day, he stopped a gang of crack addicts from beating me to death.

After hanging up, I call my date to give her the bad news. “Selena?”

“Trenton. You’re on your way, I hope.” Her sultry voice hardens my cock. The things that woman can do with her mouth. But sadly, it’s not to be. At least not tonight.

“Unfortunately, just the contrary. Something’s come up.”

“Oh.” Her disappointment rides clear across the line.

“I’m sorry. Rain check?”

“Sure, Trenton. Anything for you.”

She means it too. But then she’s hoping for a commitment from me. Never going to happen. I’m not in the market for a fiancée, much less a wife. The only thing I need from a woman is a warm body and a killer mouth.

“Thank you for understanding.” After climbing into my Jag, I pull onto E Street and head for the Fifth Precinct, located in one of the worst crime-ridden sections of the city. I should know. Once upon a time, I called that neighborhood home.

BOOK: Shattered Virtue
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