Child Comes First

Child Comes First

by Elizabeth Ashtree

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Child Comes First by Elizabeth Ashtree

Trial attorney Simon Montgomery rarely loses a case. But when an eleven-year-old girl stands accused of murder, the courtroom superstar faces his toughest challenge. The child's social worker, Jayda Kavanagh, thinks it's open and shut: her client didn't do it. And Jayda will stop at nothing to prove her innocence.

Jayda isn't the only one who's bonding with the young girl. While he fights to win her freedom, Simon moves ahead with plans to adopt her. It means dredging up his own painful past. Coming clean about his growing feelings for Jayda.

But Jayda's harboring a secret of her own—a secret that could affect their future together. And the child's.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780373782482
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 07/08/2008
Series: Harlequin Super Romance Series
Edition description: Larger Print
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Bribery's not my favorite kind of case." Simon Montgomery had just shown Craig Dremmel to the door. Now he stood beside his secretary's desk to give her an update on his meeting.

"But you'll take the case, anyway," Denise said with certainty.

"For the money Dremmel's willing to pay, of course I'll defend him." A wealthy land developer such as Dremmel was just the kind of client he was expected to bring in. Simon had been assured that he commanded the respect of his colleagues, the trepidation of his opponents and the admiration of women, but he still hadn't made partner. Taking on a notorious public figure would greatly improve his chances of becoming the youngest attorney to reach that elevated level in the hundred-year history of Boyden and Whitby, LLC.

"Does he really stand a chance of getting off?" Denise asked the lawyer.

"Hard to say, given what I know so far. It won't be easy." Which meant there would be more billable hours to put in the case. That would make the partners happy, regardless of the outcome. But Simon liked to win. "I'll need to finish up some other cases first, so I can hit the ground running the minute his retainer arrives." He turned to head into his office, where piles of paperwork awaited.

"Hold on," she said, getting to her feet. "I know you have a full day, but you need to meet with Ms. Kavanagh. She's been waiting an hour."

He'd noticed a woman sitting in the reception area. Pretty in a simple, natural way, but lacking the finely polished appearance or the aura of ambition he'd become used to from the women he liked to spend time with— women who would help him advance his career. He looked at the folder Denise held out. "An hour? Why didn't she make an appointment?"

"She was supposed to see Mr. Canter, but he got called away on business with an important client," she said, as if reciting from a script.

"Yeah, Canter left for an emergency golf trip to the Cayman Islands this morning," he remarked. He and Canter didn't get along all that well, but the man was a partner. They were not on an equal footing—yet. A few more successes in the courtroom would help. And bringing in clients such as the powerful commercial real-estate developer Craig Dremmel.

"Mr. Canter specifically asked for this case to be handed over to you."

"Why me, specifically?" He took the file from her, knowing he had little choice but to take it.

Denise looked down at her desk, clearly searching for the right thing to say. "Maybe because it's a pro bono case?" she ventured.

Simon sighed. He'd been the one to pressure his mentor, senior partner Glen Boyden, to establish a pro bono program that called on every attorney in the firm— not just the junior associates—to take on at least two indigent cases per year free of charge. Though Simon's motivation had been to get the firm to give back something to the community, Glen had agreed to the idea primarily as a public relations ploy. Regardless, Simon had gotten his way. Some of his colleagues had been pleased they'd be given time during the year to take on such cases. Most of them, however, had seen the new initiative as an impingement on their billable hours.

Simon nodded. "I'd say that's probably the reason. So much for my scheduled desk time," he said. Turning again for his office, he wondered how he'd manage to take on this new case while still doing his best on all the others.

"Do you want me to send her in now?" Denise asked.

"Sure," he said, resigned to the inevitable. As he approached his desk, he flipped open the folder and scanned the first page. Then he stopped in his tracks and went into the hallway.

"Denise," he called. She'd made it halfway to the reception area, but she turned around and came back. When she was once again standing in front of him, he glared at her accusingly. "Did you see the age of this client? It's a kid, a little girl. I don't know the first thing about juvenile cases—or juvenile offenders, or juveniles in general." Or at least he knew nothing about kids except what he'd gleaned from his own childhood. Dated material, at best. And colored by the traumas of those earlier difficult years. He had no business taking on a juvenile case.

Denise had worked for him long enough to get away with rolling her eyes, but wisely she didn't say a thing. So Simon asked, "What does the woman in the waiting room have to do with this child?"

"She's your client's social worker, Jayda Kavanagh. She's also been made the guardian ad litem. And you don't have to worry about this being a juvenile case. The girl is being tried as an adult."

"That makes no sense. A child who needs a guardian ad litem is being tried as an adult? And from what I'm reading in this file, I'm coming into the case late," he said. "This is not going to be good," he muttered as he trudged back to his office. "Send Ms. Kavanagh in, please."

While he sat at his desk, he read more from the folder. Eleven-year-old Tiffany Thompson was accused of willfully killing three-year-old Derek Baldridge. Because of the gravity of the crime and Tiffany's history of violence, she would be tried as an adult in Baltimore's Third Circuit. Simon would have liked the chance to argue that decision— he could have made certain the case stayed in juvenile court. But a public defender had already let the issue slip by. To Simon's chagrin, it looked as if he'd be joining the case too late to do much good on some important preliminary matters.

Denise led in the social worker and indicated a chair, asked if she could get them anything, nodded when they said they were fine and closed the door when she left. Simon stood as Jayda Kavanagh approached his desk, holding out his hand in greeting. With her golden-brown hair dipping to her shoulders in a casual cut and her natural peaches-and-cream complexion, she was in many ways the opposite of the highly polished professional women he was used to. Nothing particularly special about her, but he would have had to say she had pleasant features, in a down-home sort of way. And he liked her handshake, firm and sure. Clearly, she wasn't intimidated by his expensive suit or his fancy office.

With introductions over, she got right down to business. "Tiffany needs your help, Mr. Montgomery. I hope you'll take her case."

"It seems Renauld Canter agreed the firm would represent Ms. Thompson, so that's already been decided." He kept his expression neutral.

Intelligent eyes stared back into his. "I take it you didn't choose Tiffany as one of your pro bono cases. But once you get to know her, I'm certain you'll want to help her."

Simon glanced down at the file, open now to a page containing Tiffany's history. "Do you have reason to believe she's innocent?" he asked. Almost every client claimed he hadn't done it. But most of them had. Simon doubted this one would be any different. And yet he was surprised that a social worker would take the time to defend such a kid. The folder said the girl had been in foster care since she'd been a toddler. She wasn't likely ever to find a permanent home. People familiar with the system referred to such foster kids as "lifers."

Simon ought to know. He'd been a lifer himself. Yet somehow, he'd made it. His foster mother had seen to that when she'd officially adopted him. Maybe Tiffany would be another one-in-a-million case. Who was he kidding? She was far more likely to be a psychological mess with a well-honed survival instinct that helped her manipulate softhearted people such as Jayda Kavanagh.

The social worker looked at him intently. "I know she's innocent. Tiffany could not have hurt that little boy. When you meet her, you'll see. But I don't have any evidence, if that's what you mean. That's why we need your help."

Simon sat back and considered the woman for a moment. She was nothing like the overworked and underpaid social workers he remembered from his own childhood. She still had a passion in her for the children she served. Or at least for this particular child. That meant she had to be new to the job, not worn down by the failures of the system and the delinquents who were almost always beyond help. Yet she appeared to be in her mid-thirties, not fresh out of college.

"How long have you been doing this kind of work?" he asked.

Her eye widened, as if surprised by this. "Almost fifteen years," she said. "Why do you ask?"

"Because you seem so undefeated," he said, wondering if she'd understand. "I figured you must be new to the job."

"You mean I haven't been discouraged until I'm beyond caring."

He nodded. "I know that's a stereotype, but it's one I've found to be true."

"Some cases are hard to be passionate about, but not Tiffany's. She's one of those rare kids, you know? You'll have to meet her to see that for yourself. But she's still locked up in the juvenile detention center. I'm hoping you'll help me get her out."

He flipped a page in the file. "She isn't out on bail?"

"No. She's been incarcerated for more than a month now. The public defender assigned to her case didn't do much to help her. Will you?"

Simon looked at her steadily for a few seconds before answering. He didn't want this case. He had too many pending actions already. He'd done four pro bono trials this year and had only found enough time to handle them by putting in ridiculously long hours. And with this client's history, any trial would be a certain loser. But for reasons he didn't understand at the moment, he couldn't keep himself from wanting to do something for a kid whose public defender had completely let her down. And for the undefeated social worker who seemed so determined to help her.

"I'll do my best," he said. But he knew there was little he could do.

Jayda believed Simon Montgomery. He had a sincerity that she never would have expected to find in the ruthless man she'd read about on the Internet. He wore an expensive, perfectly tailored suit, and his hair was cut to exhibit just the right mixture of boyish charm and urban sophistication. His nails were manicured and buffed. Everything about him expressed his confidence, his desire to win. References to the firm on the Internet almost always led to a story involving Simon Montgomery. The man was a legend, though he appeared far too young to have made a name for himself already.

What Jayda remembered most about him was that five years ago, fresh out of clerking for a state supreme court justice, Montgomery had landed a high-profile case. A prominent and wealthy citizen had decided he would not pay for a crack defense team when his son had been accused of vehicular manslaughter. Daddy had washed his hands of his drunkard offspring, and the young man had been forced to settle for an unknown Simon Montgomery as his attorney. Against all odds, Simon had won an acquittal. And he'd lost very few cases since then.

"Do you defend people more vigorously when you believe they're innocent?" she asked. She'd had enough experience with lawyers through her job to know that the answer to this question frequently revealed interesting details.

"Every client deserves a fair trial. A vigorous defense for anyone accused of a crime is what keeps the judicial system vital and impartial."

Jayda would have laughed at such a pat answer, except that Mr. Montgomery seemed to believe his words. "But it must be easier to give a case your best effort when you know the suspect has been unjustly accused," she prodded.

He shook his head. "I give every case the same attention. Tiffany's will be no different," he countered. "We should discuss the possibility of a plea."

"No." She didn't hesitate. Tiffany hadn't killed Derek, and she shouldn't have to say she'd done it just to secure a reduced sentence that would put her behind bars for some length of time, anyway.

Montgomery looked startled by her quick answer. His expression made him appear almost boyish, and she realized that his chocolate-colored eyes and black hair— with no hint of gray—added to his youthful appearance. Most women would find him attractive, she realized. Jayda knew that beneath the facade there likely rested so much single-minded ambition and such an intense sense of entitlement that he would not take no for an answer. That would be good for Tiffany. But such driven men scared the hell out of Jayda. Just sitting opposite him made her palms sweat. But she wouldn't let him see any part of her fear. That was not the way to deal with such men.

"You should at least consider…" he began, but she held up her hand to stop him.

"Tiffany will want a trial," she said. Unlike so many of the other children Jayda had worked with, Tiffany really was innocent. She deserved to be exonerated, and the only way to achieve that was through a trial.

"Tiffany is eleven years old," Montgomery said. "I don't know much about kids, but my guess is that she's not really mature enough to make an informed decision on such an important matter. You've been declared her guardian ad litem. It's up to you to guide her in this."

"I'd tell her not to accept a plea bargain."

His lips thinned and he almost glared at her. She lifted her chin defiantly, mostly as a show of courage. "She's not a perfect kid. She couldn't be, with all she's been through. But she's so smart and she has such a big heart, even if she tries to hide it sometimes. You have to meet her, and then you'll understand."

"You keep saying that, about meeting her. And yet she's not here because the public defender couldn't even make a case for bail. What are you not telling me?" His gaze seemed to bore into her, and she had to resist the urge to race for the door leading out of this chilly, glass-enclosed space. That was no surprise, given her own history. Lawyers routinely brought on a desire to flee, even though she knew from many sessions with therapists that this was not entirely rational. Not all lawyers were like her uncle, she reminded herself.

This one waited now for an explanation. She had to admit the truth—he'd find out soon enough from Tiffany's file.

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Child Comes First (Harlequin Super Romance #1503) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Baltimore, the state accuses eleven-year-old Tiffany Thompson of willfully killing three-year-old Derek Baldridge. The Third Circuit Court judge ruled that the preadolescent will be tried as an adult because of the shocking homicide and the accused documented history of violence. Attorney Simon Montgomery is assigned the pro bono case in which a public defender failed to get the venue changed back to Juvenile Court. Other court rulings handled poorly by his predecessor further hampers his ability to mount a strong defense------------------ Meanwhile social worker Jayda Kavanagh totally believes Tiffany did not kill the younger child. She demands the new lawyer do a better job than the previous one did. As Jayda and Simon begin to fall in love, both are also charmed by the young girl on trial. However, besides understanding THE CHILD COMES FIRST, all three have issues to overcome if relationships are to forge permanently.------------ This entertaining romantic legal thriller works because the lead couple of this aptly titled tale focuses on defending the child over their attraction. The story line is fast-paced from the moment Derek picks up the pro bono defense of Tiffany and never slows down as he struggles with issues left by the previous lawyer, his client¿s history and brooding reluctance to speak, and his desire for Jayda. Her idealism matches his skepticism as fans will enjoy this fine contemporary.----------------- Harriet Klausner