If the case she’s just been handed doesn’t destroy her first.
Hayden McCarthy knows firsthand the pain that follows when justice is not served. It’s why she became an attorney and why she’s so driven in her career. When she’s assigned a wrongful death case against the government, she isn’t sure if it’s the lucky break she needs to secure a partnership—or an attempt to make sure she never gets there.
Further complicating matters is Andrew Wesley, her roommate’s distractingly attractive cousin. But Andrew’s father is a congressman, and Hayden’s currently taking on the government. Could the timing be any worse?
The longer she keeps the case active, the higher the stakes become. Unknown enemies seem determined to kill the case—or her. Logic and self-preservation indicate she should close the case. But how can she, when justice is still just beyond her reach?
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By Cara Putman
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2017 Cara Putman
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THURSDAY, MARCH 30
The euphoria of winning a hard case vied in her thoughts with wondering what came next as Hayden McCarthy left the Alexandria courthouse. A colorful dance of tulips lined a flower box of the town house across the street, and the faint aroma of some hidden blossom scented the air. It was over.
Her client had needed her absolute best.
Hayden had delivered it and obtained justice.
She shifted her purse and readjusted her briefcase as she started down the street. Continue straight on King Street, and in a block she'd be at the office. Turn, and in four blocks she'd be home. Her town house's proximity both to work and the heart of Old Town Alexandria was why she loved the space she shared with a friend from law school.
So ... which way to go? The thought of going back to her office and confronting the waiting pile of work held no appeal. She would spend one night savoring success ... and recovering from the adrenaline pace of a roller-coaster trial and jury.
She'd make a salad and cup of tea, maybe pick up a novel. If that didn't hold her attention, she'd dig into her trial notes. Analyze what had worked and how the risk of requesting a new foreman after deliberations had begun had paid off.
Each step closer to home, her conservative navy pumps tapped the refrain. She. Had. Won. She let a smile spread across her face.
She left King Street and headed north on St. Asaph. Some of the buildings she passed housed businesses, but with each block the area became more residential. In one condo a senator lived. In another a congressman, next to him a chief of staff and other people with powerful political positions. When Hayden first moved to the city from small-town Nebraska, her head had turned at how easy it was to rub elbows with those who controlled destinies. Now it was only scandals or surprise retirements that caught her attention.
The evening was so pleasant she detoured and walked the couple blocks to Christ Church. The wrought iron fence around the church grounds beckoned her to settle in the shade of the stately trees. She opened the gate, then walked until she reached a bench. Settling on it, she breathed deeply and closed her eyes.
Father, thank You. It went well today.
She pushed against her eyes, daring relieved tears to fall.
There was no one else around, and Hayden sat quietly, waiting ... for something. Here within the shelter of a church more than two hundred years old, shouldn't she feel God's presence?
Yet there was ... nothing.
Not even a rustle of a breeze through the leaves that she could pretend was the Spirit moving.
I need You.
Still nothing. Then slowly she sensed His smile as warmth spread through her.
A couple came around the corner then, strolling along the garden path arm in arm, smiling at one another. They looked at ease and in tune as their strides matched.
What would it feel like to be that comfortable and safe with someone? To know you could trust another person with your most hidden parts? Hayden shook her head. Her life was full to the brim — no room for a relationship. She stood and walked the rest of the way home at a brisk pace.
When she reached her town house, she crossed the courtyard and dug her keys loose from the pit of her purse. The Wonder Woman key ring, a gift from a grateful client after she won what he called the unwinnable case, jiggled as she unlocked the door.
The moment she walked inside, Hayden kicked off her heels and set her bag on the chair next to the glass table by the door. Soft classical music flowed from the kitchen, and the aroma of something spicy filled the small space.
"Emilie?" Hayden leaned down to rub one of her arches, then straightened and moved toward the kitchen.
"Down here." Emilie Wesley's bubbly voice came from the stairway leading to the basement. "Can you check the oven for me?" "Sure. What are you making?" Hayden moved around the granite countertop and turned on the oven light. Emilie was a wonderful cook, but she often got distracted. "Mmm, lasagna. Looks great. It's bubbling around the edges, and the cheese looks perfect. You expecting company?" Hayden opened the fridge and pulled out salad ingredients. A salad plus a glass of sweet tea and she could disappear into her room ... though the pasta looked wonderful. If she was lucky, Emilie would save her some for lunch tomorrow.
Hayden was dicing a red pepper when two sets of footsteps echoed up the stairs.
"Look who stopped by, Hayden."
"Hmm?" Hayden looked up and into clear blue eyes that matched the Potomac as it moved into the bay. His pressed khakis and Oxford with pullover sweater portrayed an understated GQ elegance that screamed old money and matched the clean haircut and polite smile that revealed teeth so perfect they might be caps. Andrew Wesley, her roommate's cousin. She hadn't seen him in years.
The knife slipped, and she felt a sharp pain in her finger. She turned on the tap and stuck her finger beneath the flow of cold water.
"Andrew, do you remember my roommate, Hayden McCarthy? Hayden, this is my cousin Andrew. It's been a while, but I'm pretty sure y'all have met before." Emilie's eyes danced as she tugged the man into the room. His mouth curved into a relaxed grin, the look as familiar and practiced as Hayden's in court.
The years had been good to Andrew Wesley. He'd been handsome when they'd first met, but now he was something more. He had the build of someone who worked out and took care of himself. Compact, muscular, and distractingly good-looking. Hayden pasted a smile into place.
"Hayden?" The deep voice was thick as the richest chocolate. "It's nice to officially meet you — again." He gave her a devastating smile. "Emilie is always talking about you."
"Good things, I hope." She grabbed a paper towel and turned off the water.
"What else would I say?" Emilie's eyes widened as she saw blood seeping through the paper towel. "Ooh, do you need a Band-Aid?"
"I'll be all right." Hayden took a deep breath and met Andrew's gaze. "Any friend — or cousin — of Emilie's is welcome here." With her good hand she scooped up the diced pepper and sprinkled it on top of the salad. "I'll leave you two to enjoy your dinner. It looks good, Em."
"You don't need to leave, Hayden." Emilie leaned closer, not hard to do in the galley space that felt even smaller with Andrew's presence, and handed Hayden a fresh paper towel. "We're working on plans for a spring festival. Think inflatables, fair food, and fun. It's a community event for his non-profit." She grabbed a purple grape from a bowl next to the sink and popped it into her mouth. "You can help us."
* * *
His cousin's roommate wrapped the paper towel tighter around her finger, then turned to the refrigerator, shielding her face from his view. Had they really met before? He had a vague recollection of an awkward girl visiting his cousin during a law school break, but his memory didn't match this attractive woman with the black hair and ... stocking feet.
As Hayden put away the vegetables she'd used for her salad, Andrew looked for something to break the uncomfortable silence.
"I like the idea of a festival, Em, but I'm not sure we can pull it off."
"Oh? You already have the location." Emilie claimed the pot holders and opened the oven. "We can do this because we're the dynamic duo. Besides, you've got a staff and board of directors to help. We'll create the framework, and they can do the rest."
Andrew shook his head. "You haven't worked much with a board. And don't forget, I'm not the senior guy in the office."
Emilie slid the pan from the oven and set it on top of the stove. "You're a Wesley. Everyone takes one look at you and snaps to attention. Your dad is too powerful to tick off." She softened the words with a smile. "You might as well embrace it."
That was something that hadn't happened yet in his thirty years. Being Scott Wesley's son was like wearing a coat made for someone else.
He leaned against the counter and redirected the conversation — a skill he'd picked up from his father. "I've heard about Emilie's day, Hayden. Tell me about yours."
Hayden paused, salad dressing in hand. "I won a case today."
"Oh?" He studied her face, but she didn't give anything away. Not much of a talker?
She shrugged. "I kept an innocent man out of jail. So it was a great day for my client and his wife."
"For you too." Emilie stepped next to Hayden and squeezed her shoulder. "This woman worked a lot of late nights on that case and is on the fast track to becoming a partner." Hayden started to protest, but Emilie kept on. "She'll never brag about herself, but she's good. Nobody will be surprised when she becomes the youngest partner in Elliott & Johnson history."
Soft color tinted the woman's cheeks, and she glanced at Andrew. "I'm not any better than a hundred other attorneys in town."
Only a hundred, huh? In a city overwhelmed with attorneys, she'd ranked herself fairly high. Well, the last thing he wanted to do was spend free time with an attorney. He'd spent too much time in their presence growing up to be wowed by their brilliance or awed by their stories.
She held up her salad bowl and fork. "I know y'all have plans to make, so I'll slip upstairs and not interrupt. It was nice to see you again, Andrew."
Andrew put a hand on her arm before she could disappear. "You really want to walk away from Emilie's lasagna for that?" He crinkled his nose and pointed at the bowl of greens.
Emilie grabbed an extra plate. "There's plenty, Hayden."
Andrew grinned. "Always is. She forgets there's only two of us."
He said it as though these evenings were frequent, but they weren't. Emilie was as busy as anyone in town, so he'd pounced on her invitation. When they all sat down at the island a few minutes later, he watched Hayden. She looked tired. A good trial would do that, his dad always said. He and Emilie kept a quiet conversation going, with Hayden interjecting now and then.
She'd made it through law school, and he admired anyone who did that. He'd quit after a semester — but that had more to do with wanting to become his own man rather than an ever-lengthening part of his father's shadow.
A phone beeped, and Hayden glanced at hers and frowned.
"Sorry, but I need to prepare for a meeting in the morning. Nice to see you, Andrew." She stood and brushed past him with a small smile.
He watched her cross the living space and head toward the stairs. As she climbed from view he reminded himself that he didn't have time to feel attracted to anyone right now. Not when Congressman Wesley was gunning for a title change. Anyone he was seen with would end up plastered across the social pages of the Post the next day. Who would willingly sign up for that?
He turned back to the kitchen and found Emilie smirking at him.
"I'm not sure you're her type, Andrew." Her smile widened until her dimples showed.
He made a face at her. "Don't think I don't see right through you. I know why you had me meet you here." He was just surprised it had taken this long. "It doesn't matter. I'm too busy to get involved right now."
His cell phone rang.
The noise blared in the silence of the flea-bitten, no-name motel room. He was safe here. He couldn't go back to Mexico without that flash drive.
The phone rang again and his hands shook.
He had to answer it, but then he would have to confirm Miguel's death.
He hadn't wanted Miguel to die.
Even now adrenaline shocked his body when he thought of it.
He had killed a young man.
A man who had been as close as a brother.
The phone rang again.
Hours had faded into days as Rafael tried to find a way to stay alive.
El jefe must know what he had done by now. Rafael had followed his orders, but without the prize, his days were still numbered. How could he hope to stay ahead of the family leader?
He must become as ruthless as the man two steps behind him.
Hesitate one moment, one second, one breath, and the man would be on him with the full power of the family.
The cell phone fell silent, the quiet almost as shocking as the former noise.
He would destroy this phone, get a new one. He should have done that the moment he escaped the detention center where he had found Miguel. It had taken all his skill to work his way out as the alarm rose behind him. El jefe didn't care ... not without the precious information on that flash drive Time was what he needed most. Time to formulate a plan. Time to find what Miguel had taken. Time to redeem himself so he could live.
The phone resumed its incessant ringing.
Rafael took a deep breath and picked it up.CHAPTER 2
FRIDAY, MARCH 31
Early morning found Hayden in her office at Elliott & Johnson. It was little more than a closet, but it was better than the spaces new associates shared.
A light knock pulled her gaze from the spreadsheet on her desk to the doorway. Gerard Campbell, a partner and her boss, stood there without his usual suit coat and tie. Must be too early to present the perfect corporate image to the mainly empty halls. "Got a minute?" As if she could tell him no. "Sure."
"I've got a case I'm kicking your way this morning." His eyes bored into her as if gauging her mettle.
Hadn't she already proven it?
"Okay." Her cases were routinely assigned unless she brought in the client herself.
"This one has potential. The kind that can make your reputation. Or destroy it." His stare held her captive. "Do you have the time?" And guts was the unspoken rest of the sentence.
She swallowed at the implied warning. "As much as you ever give me." She softened the words with a small smile.
Hayden was bone-weary after the trial and had anticipated spending the rest of the week managing discovery for a couple cases. Leigh, her paralegal, had updated her schedule and brought in the spreadsheet of deadlines for her review just moments before. Three pending cases, none urgent.
"We'll meet immediately after the others agree it's yours."
So much for catching her breath.
Gerard took a step out before turning back. "Good job yesterday. The Commonwealth's office told me about your daring call. Pretty risky."
"This time." He studied her. "Your gut is good, but don't get cocky. Instincts have taken down many bright attorneys."
Hayden rocked back in her chair as he left. He'd followed her case? The partners barely tolerated her court-appointed cases, and some claimed they stole from her billable hours — even though everyone knew she worked them after hours.
But "tolerated" didn't mean they monitored her trials. As long as it didn't cost them anything, they'd let her run them as she liked.
So why had Gerard called the Commonwealth attorney's office?
An hour later she shifted against a chair in the large conference room and sipped her English breakfast tea as the meeting of partners and select associates droned on. She'd have gladly avoided it if Gerard hadn't told her to attend.
Donald Elliott chaired the regular meeting with his typical firm hand that matched the meticulous cut of his suit and perfectly coiffed white hair. The man was a legend, a founding partner of the firm, and though he regularly threatened to spend more time on the golf course, he hadn't slowed down yet. "Next up, Rodriguez v. United States. This one's yours, Campbell."
Gerard leaned forward until his elbows rested on the table. His tablet device rested next to him, but he ignored it. His gaze flicked toward Hayden, then back to the partners and senior associates sitting around the gleaming walnut table. "I filed the Rodriguez complaint last week. Now it's time to kick the investigation into focus. This is the perfect case for an associate, and yesterday McCarthy confirmed she's the one to run it."
This was the first time Gerard had championed her and not Angela Thrasher, his usual pick.
Hayden straightened as she listened to the partners discuss his suggestion.
"Her criminal experience is different. How does this one match?" Reed Johnson leaned back and crossed his arms. He was known for his bulldog tenacity, but he focused on the rare appeals the firm filed when clients pushed for a second try, so his opinion carried weight.
"Her court appointed cases gave her experience in a place she was expected to fail. You should have seen her at this week's trial."
Elliott raised an eyebrow at Gerard. "I didn't realize you were at court."
"I wasn't, but I heard the reviews. The Commonwealth thought they had her client on all counts. He walked. All because she took a daring risk."
Excerpted from Beyond Justice by Cara Putman. Copyright © 2017 Cara Putman. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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