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"Mr. Carlson, Agent Yellow Bird is here with Ms. Touchette." His assistant's tone was clipped and professional, giving no clue as to what sort of woman was waiting out there.
"Thank you." James's hand hovered over the old-fashioned intercom switch. The intercom wasn't his favorite way to communicate with Agnes. Reminded him too much of how his father would bark out orders to the hired help from behind the closed doors of his home office. Luckily, his father wasn't here.
And his parents had certainly never stooped to visit him in South Dakota. The sight of this shabby office in the Judicial Building in Pierre, South Dakota, would no doubt send his mother into affected hysterics. In her view, his job here was not the shortest path between the family mansion in Washington, D.C., and the White House. The Carlson family dynasty was mentioned in the same breath as the Kennedys or the Bushes. For as long as he could remember, he had been groomed for a run at the presidency. His parents expected him to do whatever it took to win. It drove them nuts that James insisted on walking the straight-and-narrow path to power instead of letting them open all the doors for him.
He picked up the photo of Ms. Touchette from his desk. The decade-old mug shot showed a bruised, beaten woman trying to look mean and mostly looking like a dog someone had kicked too many times. Her scarred skin and browned teeth were consistent with those of a meth abuser. She had a hell of a rap sheetarrests for transporting and delivering drugs, prostitution, breaking and entering. The later arrests, which had occurred almost ten years ago, had taken place at the same time James had been finishing at the top of his class at Georgetown with seven-figure offers from all the top firms.
His father had expected him to take the highest offer, but James didn't need the money. His grandfather had left him more than enough, so James had taken an entry-level position with the Department of Justice and earned every single promotion. He was one of the best lawyers in the country not because his mother was rich or his father was powerful, but because he worked hard and followed the rules.
Not everyone followed the rules. The paper trail on Touchette went cold nine years ago. Either she'd dropped off the face of the earth or gotten better at evading the cops. Both would explain why it had taken Yellow Bird months to track her down. James hoped she'd gotten clean, but he had to remind himself that it didn't really matter what had happened to her. What mattered was that James needed her. She was an insurance policy in his quest to clean up the courtroom.
If Yellow Bird hadn't been out there, James would have let Ms. Touchette sit. Nervous people were easier to manipulate than calm people. But FBI agent Thomas Yellow Bird was no criminal. Half the time, James got the feeling Yellow Bird would drop him with one shot, given the opportunity.
The other half, James was sure the man would take a bullet for him. James preferred to stay on the latter side as much as possible. He stood to put on his suit jacket and straighten his tie. "Send Ms. Touchette in, please."
Yellow Bird entered, motioning for the woman to follow him. James remained standingeven criminals deserved common courtesybut when she walked into his office, he did a double take.
She was not what he was expecting.
The woman standing before him had long black hair that hung to her shoulders in loose waves, with bangs that swept down low over her left eye. Her skin was a clear, tawny brown and appeared to be scar free. She wore a brown, ankle-length, tiered skirt and a pink tank top, and she clutched a brown leather bag to her side. She was clean, her eyes bright and wary. She'd look good on a witness stand.
She'd look better in bed.
Where had that come from? He hadn't had such an instinctive response to a woman in a while. But it didn't matter. James shook that inappropriate thought out of his head. She was off-limits. Because she was a potential witness, James couldn't act on any attraction to her. It was inappropriate, unethical and could get him debarrednot to mention it was the kind of thing his father would do. And even if that wasn't the case, it didn't matter how beautiful or put together she wasformer hookers didn't become first ladies.
At least, he thought she was the former hooker he'd asked Yellow Bird to bring in. He looked down at the mug shot, then back at the woman. He couldn't see the slightest similarity. Yellow Bird had never been wrong beforebut there was a first for everything. "I'm Special Prosecutor James Carlson. Thank you for coming, Ms. Touchette."
"I'm not Touchette." Her voice was strongno hint of nerves. Her eyes focused on a point behind James's shoulder. "My name is Eagle Heart."
Confused, James looked to Yellow Bird, who slouched against a filing cabinet as far off to the side as one could get in this small office. "Show him," Yellow Bird said in a low voice.
The woman didn't move.
"Maggie." The tone of Yellow Bird's voice changed, making his accent more pronounced. It was enough to be menacing. "Show him."
The woman took a deep breath as her gaze cut down to the mug shot on James's desk. "My name is Maggie Eagle Heart now," she said as she lifted the heavy bangs away from the side of her head.
She revealed a twisted knot of faded scar tissue that encroached on her hairline and sliced the edge off her eyebrow. James looked down at the mug shot and saw the matching wound. It had healed well, but the scar was still visible.
"And " Yellow Bird said.
Ms. Eagle Heart turned, dropping one shoulder of her tank top. James's gut clenched as she revealed a wide swath of bare skin. He couldn't help ithis eyes dropped down to where the strap of her bra met the band. The rest of the shirt hugged her curves. What did her legs look like under that skirt? He wanted to see. Even though he shouldn't, he wanted to touch. But he couldn'tnot now, not as long as he was a prosecutor and she was a witness.
She draped her hair over her front, revealing a tattoo that covered her right shoulder blade. In and amongst the flames, James could make out the letters that spelled "LLD." Margaret Touchette and Maggie Eagle Heart were the same womanbut different. Very different.
She stood, her back to him and her head held high. Under no circumstances should James find any of her actions erotic, but the way she'd dropped the strap of her topand the bra strap underneath it. He cleared his throat and sat down to hide his lower region as he flipped through the file until he found the matching photo of the tattoo.
Damn it, this wasn't like him. He lived for his job. He never let himself get distracted by a witness. But he was distracted. What was it about her that did that to him? If he was having this much trouble just interviewing her, how hard would it be to actually work with her?
"Thank you, that will do." As much as he didn't want her to put that strap back up, he needed her to. Right now.
She turned back around, her eyes focused over his shoulder again. He motioned for her to sit as he said, "Thank you, Agent Yellow Bird. I can take it from here."
"I want Yellow Bird to stay." Again, no wobble to her voice. James was impressed.
"I can assure you, Ms. Eagle Heart, this is a strictly professional interview. The nature of what we discuss is confidential."
Her right eyebrow notched up, but otherwise, her expression stayed blank. "Easy to say. Hard to prove. Can he stay or not?"
The challenge was subtlebut it was still a challenge. This was not what James had been expecting. People who came to see him usually had something to hide. They either tried to cut a deal, be invisible or bluster their way out of the situation. In any case, they acted rashly. This woman? She was something else entirely. All Yellow Bird had said when James had asked him to find Margaret Touchette was that he'd need a little time. He hadn't said anything about knowing her.
James looked to Yellow Bird, who tilted his head in agreement. "Fine. Let's begin, shall we?" He motioned to the single chair in front of his desk as he turned on the digital recorder. "For the record, state your full name, all aliases and occupation."
She hesitated, then sat, pulling her bag onto her lap like a shield. She wrapped the strap around her fingers, then unwrapped and rewrapped them. It was the only outward sign of her anxiety. "My name is Maggie Eagle Heart. I used to be Margaret Marie Touchette, but I'm not anymore. I make dance costumes and jewelry and sell them online."
James wrote it all down. "When did you get married?"
"I'm not married."
He looked up, keeping the surprise off his face. She was available. That shouldn't matter, but the news pleased him anyway. Ms. Eagle Heart's gaze had shifted from behind him to the file on the desk. Still not looking at him, though.
"I see." He swallowed, not because he was suddenly nervous. James Carlson, special prosecutor, personally appointed by the attorney general, did not get nervous. He could trace his mother's side of the family back to the Mayflower, for God's sake. His grandfather had been the eighth billionaire in America, and he didn't get there by being undone by beautiful strangers. Nerves were not allowed. Not during interviews, not in the courtroom. "How do you know Agent Yellow Bird?"
She didn't say anything for a long moment. "Once upon a time, a boy named Tommy tried to save a girl named Maggie. But he couldn't. No one could."
"Are you seeing anyone now?"
Yellow Bird's head popped up, and Ms. Eagle Heart's eyes focused on his face for the first time. James's wildly inappropriate question hung in the silence. He swallowed again. He shouldn't have asked itbut he wanted to know.
Her eyes were a warm, intelligent brown, and more than a little wary. Her chin tilted to one side as she weighed his inquiry. Suddenly, he felt as if she had all the power in the room. The back of his neck began to sweat. "I'm not seeing anyone. What's this about?"
Not married. Not even taken. Why did that matter? "When did you adopt your current alias?" Yes. He needed to get this train back on track. He was the one asking the questions around here. He was in charge.
Her eyes took on a distance, and she stopped looking at him. "Nine years ago."
Right after her last arrest. He looked her over againnot because she was a lovely woman. That had nothing to do with it. He was merely trying to gauge her willingness to cooperate. "How long was that after your last trial date?"
Her eyes fluttered shut, but her head didn't drop. "Do I need a lawyer?"
He glanced down at the defeated woman in the mug shot again. The woman before him? Anything but defeated.
"No, although I can recommend one of the best attorneys in the state, if you'd like." He dug around in the top drawer until he found one of Rosebud Armstrong's cards and scooted it across the desk. "Agent Yellow Bird can personally vouch for her."
Of course, James knew Rosebud personally, too. But few people knew that the son former secretary of defense Alex Carlson and his wife, Julia, had been prepping for public office since he was born had had an affair with a Lakota Indian woman throughout law school. That was the sort of information that, if the media bloodhounds got a hold of it, could be twisted around until it destroyed a nascent political career before it got off the ground. James had worked too hard for too long to let something as base as physical desire ruin everything. He just needed to keep reminding himself of that fact every time he looked at Ms. Eagle Heart.
Without raising her eyes, Ms. Eagle Heart closed one hand around the card. James thought she'd put it in her bag, but she held on to it, running the pad of her thumb over the edge. Interesting, James thought. She couldn't keep her hands still.
Her fingertips were long, with clean, short nails that showed no sign of polish. Her hands had a few calluses. Those were not the hands of a pampered, coddled womana woman like Pauline Walker, the woman his mother had hand-picked to be James's own blank slate of a wife. No, Ms. Eagle Heart had the hands of a woman who knew how to use them.
James shifted in his chair. Back on track. Now.
"Ms. Eagle Heart, the reason I've called you in for this interview today is because I think you have personal knowledge of a crime that was committed, and I would like to confirm your version of events."
The color drained from her face. "I don't know anything about any criminal activity. I'm innocent. I was never convicted."
"Despite being arrested seventeen times, yes. I noted that. I also noted that you had the same judge for all of your court appearances. One Royce T. Maynard."