Family Claims

Overview

Twist Phelan's second novel (and first mystery), introduces lawyer Hannah Dain, who is about to quit her family law firm and strike out on her own. But before she can make her break, it appears that a crucial document was mishandled, leaving Hannah's firm open to a $2 million malpractice suit. The deal-and Hannah's dreams-come crashing down. Then when an attempt is made on the life of one of the firm's paralegals, what looked like a business plan gone sour spins into something ...

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Family Claims: A Pinnacle Peak Mystery

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Overview

Twist Phelan's second novel (and first mystery), introduces lawyer Hannah Dain, who is about to quit her family law firm and strike out on her own. But before she can make her break, it appears that a crucial document was mishandled, leaving Hannah's firm open to a $2 million malpractice suit. The deal-and Hannah's dreams-come crashing down. Then when an attempt is made on the life of one of the firm's paralegals, what looked like a business plan gone sour spins into something worse. ...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Lawyer Hannah Dain is on the hot seat in more ways than one in Phelan's second Pinnacle Peak mystery...which vividly evokes the Arizona desert and thrills with convincing legal detail. ...Hannah makes a sympathetic and appealing heroine."
-Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590582121
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Series: Pinnacle Peak Mysteries (Hardcover) Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 241
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Twist Phelan received her undergraduate and law degrees from Stanford University. A retired trial lawyer, she enjoys world travel and endurance athletics. Her research for False Fortune included outrigger racing in Australia and surf-ski paddling in Hawaii.

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Read an Excerpt

Family Claims

A Pinnacle Peak Mystery
By Twist Phelan

Poisoned Pen Press

Copyright © 2004 Twist Phelan, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59058-212-1


Chapter One

Monday, July 20

The narrow ribbon of asphalt sliced through the great expanse of tan that led away in all directions—borderless, inarticulate, nearly astonishing. Distant mountains wavered and glistened in the heat like a mirage, a tweed of saguaros and palo verde clothing their lower slopes. Overhead in the midday blue, a "V" of Canadian geese sped homeward, more sound than sight.

Hannah Dain's long, lean body, taut as a bridge cable, stretched over the pencil-thin bike frame as it sped down the swath of highway. Muscles bunched and lengthened, driving her legs in an unceasing tempo—eighty times a minute, ninety, one hundred. Her feet seemed to dance on the pedals to the humming of the tires.

The road curved and Hannah down-shifted, skidding through an intersection studded with white crosses commemorating the unluckier head-on collisions and rollovers. Salty dampness crept out from under her arms and spread across her back. One more month, she thought as she returned her cadence to a punitive rate, soft grunts accompanying each downstroke.

As usual, any beauty in the desert was lost on Hannah. After the metallic sheen of the East Coast, Arizona's landscape seemed too drab, and there was too much of it. The apparent lack of boundaries made her uncomfortable. She viewed its stark never-ending space as a personal test, imposing on her an obligation to fill it, make her presence known. Far different from the city, where she just had been expected to be part of the masses.

A pair of familiar whitewashed pillars came into view. Spokes glinting in the sunlight, Hannah hurtled past her father's gated driveway without a sideways glance. Richard Dain's Spanish Colonial was a large dwelling with courtyard gardens, period furniture, and an extensive wine cellar behind thick adobe and ironwork. When she was little, Hannah thought it looked like a castle. Her older sister, Shelby, had lived there until she finished law school, but Hannah hadn't spent much time within its stucco walls—just school holidays as a child, staying in a guest room, and now during the occasional dinner, always as one of at least half a dozen guests.

Usually Hannah didn't put much emphasis on her childhood, mostly because the facts added up to a lot of heavy weather. And her father's lack of interest and her sister's unfriendliness had long ceased to matter. She was reconciled to her place on the periphery, among them but not of them. Her sense of self was grounded in her professional life as a transactions lawyer, not as a daughter or a sister. Diligence, exactitude, thoroughness—the troika pulling along her legal career.

And that career had just been given a boost, thanks to Eddie Keene. The first client to seek out her legal services—her other clients were referrals from Richard—Eddie had needed financing for his planned development of auto malls: small strip centers providing only vehicle-related services, such as oil changes, window tinting, and car detailing. Working largely by herself, Hannah had taken his company public via a nine-million-dollar stock offering. The stockbrokers had quickly sold all of the IPO's shares, and the funds had been released yesterday. Two million dollars had been transferred to the title company to finalize the purchase of the eight sites Eddie had previously selected and put under contract. The other seven million raised by the deal would be used to construct the buildings and finance other improvements.

And what better time to tell Richard she was resigning from the firm than after giving him a check for the legal fees from Eddie's deal? Anticipation welled up through her chest as she thought of the letter with the Boston postmark tucked away in her office drawer. We are pleased to confirm our offer of a position as an associate attorney ... Sidewalk cafés, urban anonymity, a range of seasons that went beyond hot and hotter—all hers a month from now.

She savored the idea of her new home, stamping the word into her pedal stroke. Bos-ton, Bos-ton, Bos-ton. Twenty-three hundred miles between her and the firm, the desert, her family. Before, physical distance hadn't mattered—obligation had pulled her back to Arizona. She had spent three years learning to be a lawyer—and three years failing to connect with Richard and Shelby. Now, her duty done, she'd be able to leave without looking back.

Leave? Or run away? Without warning, painful thoughts crowded aside her happy expectations. An aloof Richard, a hostile Shelby, an absent Elizabeth—the memories stung like cactus needles.

Hannah's jaw clenched. She muscled through a turn, then ratcheted up the tempo again. Haunches tight, lungs pumping like bellows, she forced the irritation out of her soul and into her legs, oblivious to her surroundings until a shape moved by the roadside.

"Dammit!"

She grabbed the brakes and laid down rubber as a coyote darted across the pavement. Barely clearing her front wheel, he disappeared into the chaparral, his coat the yellow-brown-gray of most desert creatures.

Chest heaving, she sat up in her seat and coasted while her adrenaline ebbed, taking the rest of her ire with it. Brushing sweat from her eyes with a gloved hand, she took a long swallow from her water bottle, then another.

Once it subsided, she felt foolish at her flare of temper. At two years shy of thirty, she should know better. She was the one who had chosen to come back to Arizona, to give it a try with the family law firm. She slipped the bottle back into its cage. Some fissures were apparently too deep to bridge.

A car approached from behind, tiny in her helmet mirror. The intrusion was unexpected—this stretch of road didn't get much traffic. Hannah dropped back onto her handlebars and steered the bike onto the shoulder where the asphalt was less even.

"Hurry up and pass," she said through gritted teeth as her tires jolted over the rough pavement.

But the car slowed to her pace, keeping its distance. Ten seconds went by, then twenty. Hannah felt the first pinprick of nervousness. There were drivers who took out cyclists just for the fun of it. She resisted the urge to accelerate. It was pointless—there were a dozen miles of nothing between her and the next building.

The headlights blinked once, twice, the flash reflecting off her mirror. Hannah threw a quick glance over her shoulder. The car looked familiar, but glare made it hard to tell. Her breathing became shallow and rapid. She could smell the fear in her sweat.

The driver gunned the engine, propelling the vehicle closer. Hannah's anxiety turned into alarm. The front bumper was within twenty feet of her rear tire. She was twisting in the saddle for another look when the car's horn began to blare.

Instinctively, Hannah wrenched the handlebars to the right, fighting to keep the bike vertical as her tires dropped off the pavement and sluiced through sand. Unclipping her feet from the pedals, she quickly dismounted and whirled to face her pursuer. Her heart was beating so fiercely, her ribs hurt.

The car, now parked next to the spot where she had gone off the road, was an old-style white Cadillac, complete with fins and dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Recognition hit, and relief—quickly followed by fury—coursed through her.

"Goddamnit, Eddie! What the hell are you doing?"

The driver's door creaked open and Eddie Keene clambered out.

"The property—it's gone! Every single parcel. That jerk sold it to somebody else!" Built like a bear, Eddie had a pale round face and poodlish hair, mostly dark blond. His baggy Guayabera shirt flapped over his cargo shorts, making him look like an aging beach bum.

Hannah slung her bike onto her shoulder and picked her way through the cactus back toward the pavement. "What are you talking about?"

Eddie paced at the edge of the road, his flip-flops smacking against the bottom of his feet.

"My insurance guy called this morning. He tells me he can't write a policy on the auto mall properties 'cause there's something funny with the titles, and that I better call the County Recorder's office. I did, and he was right—all eight parcels were sold to some other company, day before yesterday. And for a couple hundred grand less!" Eddie's words tumbled out in a steady stream.

Hannah leaned her bike against the Cadillac, the lawyer part of her mind clicking into gear. Why would the seller breach his contract with Eddie? She'd reviewed the purchase documents. If the properties weren't delivered as promised, Eddie's claim for damages would be in the hundreds of thousands. It didn't make sense.

"My insurance guy says unless the other buyer was in cahoots with the seller, it's a done deal."

"He's right," Hannah said. "If the other buyer is a bona fide third party—that means he didn't know about your contract—the property is his."

Eddie waved his hands in the air. "What the hell am I supposed to do now? Those were perfect locations. And who's gonna give me back my two million bucks?"

"That's why we bought title insurance. If there's a problem involving the chain of title, you're covered," Hannah said, projecting a confidence she didn't feel. Truth was, she had never had a deal come apart like this before. She pointed at the Cadillac.

"Can you give me a lift to the office? With the front wheel off, the bike'll fit in your trunk. I want to phone the title company right away."

"No problem. Then I'm going back to the west side. I called the seller's office but I couldn't get through. Thought I'd stop by this afternoon."

His comment brought Hannah up short. Raised in one of New York's tougher neighborhoods, Eddie had a checkered history he swore was behind him. But that was before his nine-million-dollar deal had crashed and burned.

"Don't do anything stupid, Eddie," she said. "It'll only make things more complicated."

"You mean no do-it-yourself lawsuits."

Hannah hefted her bike into the trunk and shut the lid. "Do-it-yourself?"

Eddie held up his hands, balled into fists. "Here's the judge and jury."

Hannah opened the passenger door but didn't get in. Instead, she locked eyes with her client over the car roof. "No self-help, Eddie. I don't want to bone up on my criminal defense."

"Okay, okay, we'll do things your way." Hannah didn't miss the unspoken "for now" made plain by his grimace.

Eddie slid behind the wheel, started the engine, and swung the car into a U-turn. "So if the property's history, what happens next? Do I start looking for other locations?"

"Yes, but you can't use the money raised by the offering to pay for them. Unless you purchase the properties specified in the investor documents, the deal has to be rescinded and the money refunded to the investors."

Including the funds that were supposed to be paid to Dain & Dain. Under his agreement with the firm, Eddie still owed attorneys' fees even if the deal didn't close. But Hannah knew her client's financial status—rather, his lack thereof. You can't collect what isn't there. So much for her triumphant march into Richard's office that afternoon with a six-figure check.

Eddie groaned. "You mean I have to start all over again? I'm gonna sue that jerk!"

"You can, but I'm not sure how much you'd recover. Your damages are mostly future profits, and those are always hard to prove. You also might have a problem collecting."

Eddie sighed. "How long is it gonna take to undo this mess?"

"Hard to say. Depends how cooperative the title insurance company is and how hard you want to go after the seller."

"A week? A month? Longer?"

"I hope not," Hannah said, thinking of the letter from Boston. "I really hope not."

Chapter Two

Hannah cleared away the last of the due diligence questionnaires from her desk. Director and officer backgrounds, financing packages, underlying contracts—in addition to drafting documents, a large part of Hannah's work required verifying the facts and figures provided by clients. As offering attorneys, the firm was responsible for the accuracy and completeness of all relevant information in government-required filings and investor solicitation materials.

The door to her office opened and her secretary walked in. A short, heavyset woman with a weakness for overbright colors and plastic jewelry, Clementine had worked for Hannah since they both started at the law firm.

"I knew that guy was trouble the minute I laid eyes on him." Despite six months with a voice coach, her secretary still sounded like New Jersey.

"Clementine, this isn't Eddie's fault."

"Hmpf. I know his type. With a guy like him, it's always his fault."

"Did you set up a telephone conference with the title officer?"

"Gone for the day. Want me to try somebody else?"

"No, I need to talk to whoever worked the escrow. Why wasn't Nancy on the deal?" Nancy Milner was the title officer the firm routinely used.

Clementine shrugged. "You'll have to ask Adrienne." Adrienne Leyers was one of the firm's transactions paralegals. Even though she and Hannah had worked on at least half a dozen deals together, Hannah really didn't know her well. A quiet girl who hid her brown eyes behind a fringe of brown hair, the paralegal didn't share much of herself. Not that Hannah had been all that friendly. Her most personal inquiry hadn't gone much beyond what kind of takeout Adrienne wanted to order the evenings they had to work late.

"I need the complete Keene file—real estate contracts, title policy, the works. And I'm out of legal pads. Didn't I ask you for some last week?"

"Yep. I put the order in right after you told me. It's that Missy. She's so tight with supplies, you'd think she was paying for the stuff herself. Last time I picked up steno pads, she told me to make sure I was writing on every line!"

"Why don't you bring me the file first, then set up a time for me to talk to that title officer. After that, you can find me something to write on."

"I'm on it, boss." Clementine pulled a white envelope from her skirt pocket and dropped it onto the desktop. "Before I forget, happy anniversary."

"Anniversary?"

"You and me—three years today."

Clementine caught the look of chagrin on Hannah's face and waved a plump hand, each fingernail painted a different shade of pink.

"Don't worry about it. I know you got a lot going on. By the way, you still sure about the Boston thing?" Needing help with all the arrangements to be made, Hannah had let Clementine in on her secret.

Hannah nodded. "One month to go. You still sure you don't want to come?"

"Thanks, but no thanks. You'll never catch this girl east of Colorado again."

The intercom buzzed and Hannah pressed the speaker button.

"Please hold for Miss Dain." The voice was little-girlish, with a faint lisp.

Clementine leaned her plus-sized bulk over Hannah's desk. "Missy, you tell that boss of yours to dial the phone herself if she wants to talk to her sister," she said into the small plastic box.

"Now, Clementine," said the disembodied voice, sugary sweet, as though it were addressing a recalcitrant child. "You know my name is Melissa, not Missy." The s's slurred into th's. "I'd appreciate it if—"

"And if you don't get me some legal pads right now, I'm coming over with my Magic Marker to write on that pretty little white shirt of yours instead." Clementine pushed the disconnect button.

Hannah reached for the phone. "You know I don't care if Melissa places Shelby's calls."

"Well, I do." Clementine's dark eyes lost some of their flintiness as she watched Hannah punch in her sister's extension. "Remember what Aretha said—you ain't nothing without respect."

Hannah was still listening to unanswered rings when Shelby appeared in the doorway. Replacing the receiver in its cradle, she motioned her sister into her office.

Shelby was beautiful in a Forties movie star way—round teal blue eyes, creamy skin, pouty lips. She wore a silk blouse and matching skirt printed with flowers. On her feet were high-heeled slingbacks. Almost instinctively her eyes went to her reflection in the mirror over the credenza while her hands smoothed her hair. Fine as corn silk, it was almost the same color.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Family Claims by Twist Phelan Copyright © 2004 by Twist Phelan, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    A Wonderful Debut

    After a lifetime of family dysfunction attorney Hannah Dain has finally made the decision to leave the Arizona law firm where she has thanklessly toiled beside her neglectful father and hostile sister. Before she can leave though, she discovers a multimillion-dollar case of fraud involving a land deal with one of her shadier clients. As she works to clear the firm she discovers that there is someone working behind the scenes to destroy her family¿s firm and who doesn¿t mind killing to achieve that goal. Like the author, Hannah is a devoted cyclist who finds peace while riding in the Arizona desert. Which Hannah definitely needs, as she works in one of the most dysfunctional workplaces imaginable. Since the death of her mother following her birth Hannah¿s father ignores her while her beautiful sister openly shows distain for her. Thrown into this mix is a file clerk with a crush on Hannah and Cooper Smith, the firm¿s computer consultant who happens to have dated both sisters. Oh, and Hannah has to babysit a cat in the office as well. Twist Phelan has created a very likeable character in Hannah, a young woman who still desperately needs her family¿s approval even as she attempts to break free of them. Her attempts to please her father is at times painful to observe, as no matter how much she achieves her father still ignores her or assigns her trivial cases such as discovering who¿s stealing office supplies. The mystery of who¿s attacking the firm leads Hannah into looking closely at the secrets amidst her family and forces her into reevaluating her place in it. This is an enjoyable mystery that examines how a woman¿s family can influence her life¿s choices and how she struggles to gain her independence. This is a well-written novel with an ending that has Hannah battling the forces of Arizona¿s desert. Not to be missed.

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