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This is Martin Long reporting live from the steps of the U.S. District courthouse in lower Manhattan. We've just been told that a verdict has been reached in the federal case against Senator Ivan Russ. So far the headlines have been dominated by the prosecutor and the defense attorney in the casea legal battle between two high-profile lawyers dubbed the "Thriller Maxilla" and the "Italian Hellion." According to sources, defense attorney DeAngelo Di Meglio has gotten his client, Senator Russ, acquitted on all charges. Government prosecutors, headed by Attorney Samuel Maxilla, were shocked when their key witness in the case broke down after only fifteen minutes on the stand under cross-examination from Di Meglio."
The reporter shifted the microphone to his other hand. "Under relentless questioning by Di Meglio, Congresswoman Andrea Vermeil shocked everyone in the courtroom with her confession that she had framed Senator Russ in a conspiracy to embezzle over a half million dollars in campaign funds "
DeAngelo Di Meglio tuned out the reporters surrounding him and braced himself for the onslaught of media that would descend on him the moment he left the courthouse. This case was what he'd worked hard for his entire career, one that would make him a household name, one that would put him at the top and establish his legal reputation. And now at the ripe old age of thirty-four and after practicing law for ten years, he'd finally done it.
"Mr. Di Meglio, how did the case come together?"
"Why didn't the senator admit to the affair with the congresswoman to save himself?"
"Are you upset the senator wasn't truthful with you about everything?"
The reporters' questions came at him from every direction.
He'd had a gut feeling the moment Congresswoman Vermeil had taken the stand, and his instincts made him push her in his cross-examination. Maybe it was the "I'm about to hang you by the balls" look she'd given his client, Senator Russ, who denied having an affair with the congresswoman and was willing to risk prison time to keep the affair from his wife, who was terminally ill. DeAngelo shook his head. Ivan Russ had actually believed that it was better for his dying wife to believe he was an embezzler rather than find out he was unfaithful.
The reporters continued to bombard him with more questions despite his response of "no comment."
"How do you feel about breaking this case?"
"What do you think about the federal prosecutors and how they handled the case?"
The scene outside the courthouse reminded De-Angelo of the very first time he'd lost a case and how he'd felt then. He remembered the advice his parents, both of whom were lawyers, had given him: If you can't say anything nice about somebody, then don't say anything at all.
He looked straight into the TV camera pointed in his face and said in a direct, confident voice, "No comment for now. We'll answer questions at the press conference."
A short while later he was back in his office, surrounded by family, friends, associates and the law firm staff. They had all dropped by his office to congratulate him on winning a case many had thought would last for weeks or months. In fact, a few had even assumed there was only a snowball's chance in hell of winning the case. The federal prosecutors had boasted that they had an airtight case against the senator, and when they found a briefcase filled with half a million dollars buried in his backyard, many assumed he was guilty.
Although the evidence had been damaging, for some reason DeAngelo had believed Senator Russ's claims of innocence. But DeAngelo had suspected the senator wasn't being truthful when he'd asked him if he knew of anyone who would want to frame him. DeAngelo got the sense that Senator Russ was trying to hide something, trying to protect someone. But no matter how he'd tried, he couldn't get Ivan Russ to tell him anything other than that he didn't plant the money in his backyard.
Momentarily distracted, DeAngelo blinked when his father snapped a finger in front of his face.
"Daydreaming, son? If you are, then you're entitled. That case has consumed you for months now, and I speak on behalf of this entire firm in saying that you made us proud today."
"You most certainly did, Angelo," his mother chimed in with a huge smile on her face.
Coming from his parents, it meant a lot. He'd always appreciated their opinionseven at times when he didn't want to hear them. "Thanks, Dad, Mom."
His mother and father had always been his heroes. The two were highly respected attorneys who'd made a name for themselves and the Di Meglio law firm in Manhattan. The family firm had been established generations ago by his great-great-grandfather, and now included his parents, his father's two brothersFederico and Leandroand their sons, Maddox and Damon. They were all Di Meglios, and had made a name for themselves representing the rich and famous. The only person who wasn't part of the law firm was his younger sister, Samari. She was a partner in two law firmsone in Houston and another in Oklahoma Cityand she had called moments ago to congratulate him and to tell him how proud she was of him.
"Same here, Angelo," his uncles chimed in, as they grinned from ear to ear. "We want you to take some time off. You deserve it," his uncle Leandro, the eldest of the three Di Meglio brothers, said. "Besides, you need to prepare to take on all those interviews and book offers that will be coming your way. The case not only made national headlines, it even made news overseas. Winning this case makes you one of the hottest lawyers around."
"Hey, but don't get the big-head," his cousin Mad-dox warned.
"If you do, then we'll have to take you down a peg or two," his cousin Damon threatened. Both tried to look serious, but Angelo saw the amusement lurking behind their dark eyes.
He was about to tell both of themwho he thought of more like brothers than cousinsto kiss him where the sun don't shine when he remembered his parents and uncles were still in the room. Instead he glanced over at his uncle Leandro. "I doubt things will go that far, Uncle Andro. I may be news today, but history tomorrow."
"Don't be too sure of that, Angelo," his uncle Federico warned. Fedas everyone called himwas the middle Di Meglio brother, and the uncle who was the most fun to be around. He was the Di Meglio who'd covered for Angelo and his cousins over the years when they'd gotten into trouble.
Over the next three hours, DeAngelo's uncle's warning was born out when his phone kept ringing nonstop. It seemed that winning a high-profile case had not only given a boost to his career but also to his love life. In reality, he'd stopped considering himself a "ladies' man" a while ago. These days he dated just for fun, and always let the women he went out with know beforehand that there was no chance of emotional involvement. That had been deliberate on his part once he'd decided just what his future was.
He paused a second after locking his office door and glanced around. Everyone had left hours ago, but he and his two cousins had stayed late to celebrate some more. He had begged off Maddox's invitation to go back to his place to party and have a good time. Back in the day he would have gone along with the kind of partying Mad-dox had in mindbeautiful women and lots of cham-pagnebut not now.
He knew his cousins were wondering just what the hell was wrong with him since for the past couple of years his wild bachelor lifestyle had begun winding down. They accused him of no longer being any funlike tonight. No doubt Maddox and Damon had hooked up with some hot women and had plans for an outrageous night.
Bidding good-night to the firm's security guards, Angelo left the office and caught the elevator to the parking garage. He had received lots of calls that day. Some he'd preferred not to have received. There were the morning talk shows that called to get an interview and several well-known publishers offering book deals. Tomorrow, he decided, he would hire someone to handle all the press.
Then there were the calls from women he hadn't dated in monthsdeliberately. Evidently they hadn't gotten the hint since most of their calls made it seem as if they were still his flavor of the month, and would enjoy being by his side in the spotlight. He thought to himself, that wouldn't be happening.
He fished his car keys out of his coat pocket. He opened the door to his two-seater Mercedes sports car and slid in. Whether his admirers knew it or not, his absence hadn't been by accident. He had stopped seeing them for a reason. It seemed that lately one woman in particular seemed to dominate his thoughts.
After buckling his seat belt, he pulled out his cell phone and checked his messages. He would have to clear some of them out, he thought as texts and voice mails nearly totaled a hundred. He frowned as he realized the one call he had wanted most wasn't among them. He had expected her call if for no other reason than because he was her best friend's brother and he'd won an important case. Since she was a lawyer herself, she would know what that meant and how it felt.
Even now he remembered the first time he'd met her, the first time his sister Sam had brought her two best friends from law schoolMackenzie Standfield and Peyton Mahoneyhome to spend the holidays with the Di Meglio family at their Long Island estate. Both women had been lookers, but there had been something special about Peyton that held his interest, if only for a moment. It was easy enough to see that she had issues. For starters, he sensed that she was uncomfortable surrounded by the Di Meglios' wealth. She'd had a chip on her shoulder the size of the Rock of Gibraltar. Later, he'd found out why when he heard about the hard life she'd had growing up on Chicago's South Side. He couldn't help but admire her.
Although he rarely saw her, over the years he'd come to realize that he was attracted to her. It was subtleand sexual, or so he thoughtbut his interest increased whenever he saw her. At first, he chalked it up to her being different. But then things changed when he made a surprise visit to his sister in Oklahoma, only to find she was away on a business trip in Florida for several days. At the time, Peyton wouldn't hear of him staying at a hotel and had invited him to crash at her place until Sam returned to town.
It was during those five days that he'd gotten a chance to really know Peyton Mahoney and see a side of her she probably reserved for only those closest to her. With him, she let her guard down. And in doing so, he found her even more intriguing. She hadn't been as unapproachable as he'd thought she was. During that time he'd discovered just how compassionate and loyal she was and that she didn't have a pretentious bone in her body. Those five days had been special. And it was during those days, as unlikely as it might seem, that he had become totally enamored with her, although he'd done a good job of hiding it and ignoring his feelings. The man who could have any woman he wanted was hot and heavy for a woman who probably didn't want anything to do with him, even if she knew how he felt.
He was about to slide his cell phone back into his pocket when it rang. He glanced at the caller ID and when he saw it was an Oklahoma number, he heaved a sigh of relief. He felt a twinge that sent a fluttery feeling through his body. He'd been waiting for this call. He pressed the key to connect the call. "This is Angelo."
"Hey, this is Peyton. I don't want to take up much of your time, but I just had to call to congratulate you. I've been keeping up with the trial and you were simply fantastic."
The first thought that ran through his mind was that she could never take up too much of his time. And the second, a compliment coming from her meant everything. "Thanks, Peyton. I appreciate you calling. It was difficult at times."
"I can imagine. I'm involved in a messy case now myself. I go to trial in a couple of weeks, so wish me luck. I want some of that Di Meglio courtroom magic to rub off on me."
He smiled, thinking that the Di Meglio good fortune wasn't the only thing he wanted to rub off on her. The thought of his hands touching her skin sent shivers of desire down his spine.
"Well, I'll let you go, Angelo. I don't want to hold up The Man."
She'd always referred to him as that: The Man. Now he was beginning to wonder what it took to go from The Man to her man. "You're not holding me up. Besides, I'm on my way home from the office. I've got nothing better to do tonight."