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"Has the jury reached a verdict?"
"Yes, Your Honor, we have."
Defense attorney Iris Sinclair stood slowly and motioned for her seventeen-year-old client to do the same. She had logged more hours in this murder case than she had in her last few cases put together, and was confident that they would win.
Still seated, her client Terrance Gibson tugged on the collar of his light blue button-down dress shirt and yanked on the striped tie, loosening it from around his neck. He took a deep breath, grabbed hold of the edge of the table and pulled himself up, knocking a file folder to the floor and sending Iris's pen flying across the tabletop in the process.
Horrified, he glanced at Iris, his troubled eyes wide. He made a move to retrieve the folder, his chair scraping loudly against the hardwood floor before she halted him with a reassuring pat on the back. "Leave it," she mouthed silently and smiled.
He managed a small smile back and after a deep breath, turned his attention to the jury foreman.
"We the jury, find the defendant, Terrance Gibson, not guilty of the charge of first-degree murder."
Cheers went up around the courtroom and Terrance dropped down in his seat, his face in his hands and his shoulders shaking as he sobbed. Iris's heart went out to him while she swiped at her own tears. It had been one of her toughest cases, but she proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that her client was not guilty. She was relieved that it was finally over and an innocent young man wouldn't spend the rest of his life behind bars. Terrance's only mistake the fateful night that he was arrested for murder was that he had succumbed to peer pressure and attended a house party instead of going home after a football game.
Terrance threw his arms around Iris's neck. "Thank you for everything. I don't know what I would've done without your help."
Iris hugged him back. "It was my pleasure." She pulled back. "Just make sure I don't see you back here again."
"You won't," he said before he went to go join his family.
Iris gathered her belongings, preparing to leave the courthouse. Despite her best efforts, she always tried not to get emotionally involved in her cases, but it was usually inevitable. One of few defense attorneys in the Atlanta area whose defendants were mostly teenagers and good kids who ended up in bad situations, Iris's clients often got caught up in the wrong crowd, or made one bad decision, as in Terrance's case.
"Attorney Sinclair, we'll never be able to thank you for all you did for Terrance through this horrible ordeal," Mr. Gibson said to Iris when he pulled her off to the side. "We knew our son was innocent, but for you, someone who didn't know him the way we know him, to take on his case based on Terrance's word alone, means more to me and his mother than we could ever express."
Iris smiled. She had connected with Terrance and his family from day one, promising to do whatever she could to prove his innocence.
"It was my pleasure, Mr. Gibson. Terrance is a good kid. When I saw and heard the pain behind every word that he said while describing that night, I sensed he was telling the truth." If proof of innocence wasn't available, Iris relied on her gut to decide whether or not to take on a case.
She stuck around for a few more minutes before leaving the courthouse.
Back at the offices of Thomas, Alston & Sinclair, Iris moved down the wide hallway, her heels sinking into plush carpeting as some of the associates congratulated her on her victory. Though appreciative of all of the laudatory comments, she couldn't get to her office fast enough. A slight headache had been her companion for the past hour, and exhaustion after working long nights had finally caught up to her.
As she approached her office area, she couldn't help but reminisce about her professional life over the past few years. It had taken nine years of hard work at the firm, and the last four as a partner, to not only make it to the top floor of the office building, but to also receive one of the prime corner offices. Amazing views of North Buckhead and the Perimeter made the accomplishment even sweeter.
She stopped at the desk of her assistant extraordinaire, Melissa Rand. Melissa smiled and held the telephone receiver between her shoulder and ear while she gathered a padded envelope and a small package from her desk. She handed Iris the items and a small stack of phone messages as she fielded questions from a caller.
"Congratulations. I'll be in your office shortly," Melissa mouthed silently to Iris and then jumped right back into her telephone conversation without missing a beat.
Iris nodded and walked the few steps to her office. She placed her briefcase on the floor next to her long mahogany desk and quickly scanned her phone messages. Seeing nothing urgent, she tossed them on the desk before dropping into her seat. This would be the first day in over eight months that she'd leave the office before five in the evening and she could barely contain her excitement. Court dates always wore her out and this case had taken an emotional toll on her. Now that Terrance's trial was over, she could officially start making plans for her long-overdue vacation.
Her cell phone rang from inside her briefcase and she pulled it out of the side pocket.
A smile lifted the corners of Iris's lips at the sound of her younger sister's voice. Janna Morgan was a supermodel who had become internationally known after her appearance in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
"Hey, yourself. Where are you?" Janna planned to spend her three-week vacation in Atlanta, and Iris couldn't wait to see her.
"I'm still in New York, but I should be in Atlanta by seven this evening. Do you want me to have the driver bring me to your office or to your penthouse?"
Janna had been expected the day before, but a lastminute scheduling conflict with a modeling shoot forced a change of plans. Iris hadn't seen her foster sister in three months and was anxious to hang out with her and their other sibling, Macy, this evening.
Iris glanced at her watch. Three-fifteen. "I'm hoping to leave here in the next hour and plan to head straight home. Why don't you meet me there and then we'll drive out to Alpharetta and meet up with Macy?"
Janna sighed. "Are you sure you're going to be there, Ms. Workaholic? The last time I ended up at your place, you didn't show up until two o'clock in the morning, and I was left in that big ol' apartment by myself with nothing but microwave popcorn and a diet soda. Maybe I should just head out to Macy's crib and you get there when you can."
"No," Iris blurted out. She wanted Janna to stay with her and knew that if she went to Macy's, their sister would talk Janna into staying with her for the duration of Janna's visit. "I promise, I will be there but make sure you have your key, just in case."
Iris couldn't imagine her life without her sisters. She had been shuffled from one foster home to another after her single mother was killed by a misguided teen and none of their family members had been willing to take her in. Finally, Iris ended up with Mama Adel, her foster mother, who had provided Iris with a loving home and more attention than she had ever received in her life before. Iris was fourteen at the time and had joined two other girls at the house. Janna was then five and Macy was fifteen.
"Why do I need my key if you're going to be there?" Janna asked.
Iris laughed. "I promise I'll be there, but since you're staying a few days, it's best you have your key so that you can come and go with no problems." They talked for a few more minutes before disconnecting.
Noelle Beckett, one of the partners at Thomas, Alston & Sinclair and one of Iris's dearest friends, breezed through Iris's open office door. Stylish, intelligent and full of life, Noelle was a fireball, always ready to take on any challenge. She had an insurmountable amount of energy and the tenacity of a pit bull. She would zone in on what she wanted and wouldn't give up until it was hers.
"I'm glad you're smiling and sitting down."
The smile dropped from Iris's face. "Why?" She shook her head and threw up her hands in mock surrender. "No, don't tell me. I'm sure I don't want to know. Just keep it to yourself until I leave." Iris stood and began stuffing files into her briefcase. Tired, hungry and long overdue for time off from work, she had no intentions of taking on any more cases until after her three-week vacation. She slung her bag over her shoulder and then grabbed her purse to leave. Noelle blocked her path.
"Too late." Noelle flipped long blond hair over her shoulders, handed Iris a file and sat in a guest chair facing the desk. "I know you're planning to knock off early today, but we have a situation." Noelle tugged her short skirt toward her knees, defeating her purpose when she crossed one tanned leg over the other.
Iris groaned and dropped her bags near her desk before reclaiming her seat. "We always have a situation," she mumbled and opened the thin file. She lifted a magazine from it and held it up. "What's this for?"
A wicked smile curved Noelle's ruby-red lips. "Do you know who that is on the cover?"
Iris frowned and laid the magazine on top of the open file folder, and stared into the face of one of the most famousand beautifulmen in the country. "Nash Dupree. So?"
"Sooo, that delicious eye candy wants to hire you to take care of a legal matter."
"Nash Dupree? The Nash Dupree?" Iris's clients included numerous high-profile people in the Atlanta area, but none who could match the wealth or the good looks of Nash Dupree.
Noelle grinned. "Yes, the tall, dark and sexy business mogul and president of Dupree Enterprises, who has graced the covers of almost every national magazine there is, contacted us a short while ago." Noelle twirled the pen between her fingers and swung her leg back and forth. "He wants you!"
Iris lifted a perfectly arched eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
Noelle laughed. "He wants you to handle his niece's case. Although" her friend placed both feet on the floor and leaned forward in her seat, putting her elbows on the desk "once he lays eyes on you, he will probably want more than legal counsel."
"Oh, please." Iris waved her friend off and scanned the information sheet that one of the assistants had most likely put together. Mr. Dupree's fifteen-year-old niece, of whom he was the legal guardian, was arrested for drug possession.
"Don't 'oh, please' me. I hate when you do that!" Noelle banged her fist against the desk. "You are one of the smartest, most accomplished and selfless women I know, and don't get me started on how gorgeous you are! If you would give the men out here half a chance, they would be knocking each other over to get to you."
If it wasn't Noelle, it was one of her sisters saying the same thing. Iris in no way saw herself as gorgeous, but to let one of them tell it, she was every man's fantasy. Sure, she wanted to find her Mr. Right, fall in love and live happily ever after, but she lived in the real world. There was no way a man as hot as Nash Dupree would give her a second look. She was too tall and not skinny enough, and her skin was too dark. From what she'd seen, he only dated rod-thin, light-skinned women who made her look like the ugly stepsister, which was how she felt most days. Growing up with two "cute" foster sisters had done nothing to help Iris's low self-esteem.
She glanced back at the magazine cover. Nope, no one who looked half as good as Nash Dupree had ever asked her out. She set the magazine aside and folded her hands on top of the file folder.
"Let's get back to Mr. Dupree," Iris said. "I mentioned to you and Kyle a couple of weeks ago that I wasn't taking on any more cases until after I return from vacation. And just glancing at this information about the Dupree kid, either of you or one of the associates could handle this with your eyes closed."
"When I talked with Mr. Dupree, I offered my services, but he insists you're the one he wants. Have you ever met him?"
Iris shook her head as she glanced back at the information in the file. "Never. Did someone refer him or did he say exactly why he wanted me?"
"I don't know if anyone referred him. I just assumed he wanted the best." Noelle smirked, but shrugged when Iris narrowed her gaze. "Face it, Iris, you are the best. You not only have heart, but you're the only defense attorney who can connect with these teens."
Iris cocked her head. "What is this, Stroke Iris's Ego Day?"
Noelle stood and tugged on her tiny skirt. "It should be. You have been winning cases left and right. With the victory today, the phones will be ringing off the hook with parents who have teens in trouble, or nonprofit youth organizations vying for your volunteer services. Mercy Youth Community Center won't be the only agency begging for your time and expertise." She stopped at the door and turned to Iris. "Oh, and Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome will be here shortly. You might want to check your hair and freshen up your makeup."
Iris glanced at her watch. It was going on four o'clock. Even if she were able to take on the case, by the time she heard Mr. Dupree out, it would be too late to go before a judge, which meant his niece might have to spend the night in juvenile detention. It also meant Iris might be late meeting with her sisters for dinner, and she would never hear the end of how she always put work before them.
"Iris," her assistant said from the doorway before walking farther into the office. "Mr. Dupree is waiting for you in conference room B. Also, I talked with Mahone Construction this afternoon and put the information you requested inside your to-be-read file on your computer."
"Melissa, you're the best," Iris said to the short, thin woman whom she couldn't imagine her life without. Melissa had been with her for the past three years and she was Iris's right arm, keeping her professional life organized and her personal life drama-free. She was the person who helped maintain what little sanity Iris had left. "If I'm not out of this meeting by five o'clock"
"I'll come a-knocking." Melissa smiled and strolled out of the office.