The women of the Sisterhood are united by their mission to help those unable to help themselves. But now they’ve encountered opponents who share a unique bond of their own. The law firm of Queen, King, Bishop & Rook—the Chessmen—has been a formidable force in Washington, D.C., for decades. And Sisterhood member Nikki Quinn’s new case has made her their prime target.
Nikki has agreed to represent Livinia Lambert as she files for divorce from her domineering, greedy husband, Wilson “Buzz” Lambert. Buzz, currently Speaker of the House, fears the scandal will scupper his presidential plans, and intends to make life extremely difficult for Livinia—with the Chessmen’s help. The Chessmen may play dirty, but the Sisterhood play smart. For too long, the Chessmen have believed themselves above the law they pretend to serve, but there’s no statute of limitations on the Sisterhood’s particular brand of justice—or their loyalty . . .
“Michaels listens to fans and delivers one hell of a punch.”—RT Book Reviews on Double Down
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
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Crash and Burn
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
It was early. Just barely past seven in the morning, when Alexis Thorne carried her cup of steaming coffee, the first of the many she would consume on this blustery early-October day, over to the huge, plate-glass window and stared down at the nearly empty parking lot. Her BMW was the only car in the lot so far that day. She sipped at the hot coffee just as another vehicle, Nikki's bright red Jeep Cherokee, swerved off the street and into the parking lot and came to rest next to hers. She smiled to herself. As was always the case, she and Nikki were the first ones into the office, beating each other out by a bare minute or two. She laughed out loud when she saw Nikki look up at the window and snap off a salute. Alexis did the same, unsure if Nikki could actually see her past the glare of the bright, early-morning sun on the window.
Alexis continued to watch her boss as Nikki sprinted across the lot like a gazelle. Alexis was holding out a matching mug of coffee when Nikki blew into the firm's kitchen. "Beat you by seven minutes, boss."
"Traffic was a bear this morning. Bumper to bumper two lights back, and I even left ten minutes early this morning. Hmmm, this is good."
"New coffeepot," Alexis said, giggling. "What's on the agenda today? Anything earth-shattering?"
"Not on my part. I have a ten o'clock appointment this morning. I don't even know what it's about. Mitzi said the woman refused, yes, absolutely refused to discuss with her why she wanted the appointment. Very mysterious. My new girl is due at eight thirty to finalize her divorce. I plan to leave at noon if nothing else comes up.
"Listen, Alexis, we need to talk here. I really want to make you a partner in the firm. Why do you keep fighting me?"
"Because you have already done enough for me. You pay me way more than I'm worth, and we both know it. I'm happy with the health benefits. This is your firm, Nik. Yours and yours alone. I know what you had to do to get to this point, and I'm not going to take any of that away from you. If the day ever comes when I think I deserve a partnership, I'll let you know. Another thing — I really, really do not want to be perceived as the firm's token black partner. I know full well that you and the other associates don't look at it that way, but there are lots of other people who will."
"If anyone ever deserved to be a partner, Alexis, it's certainly you. Without you at my side, we never could have handled those two class-action suits. You did more than I did, and you know it. You need to be rewarded for all your hard work. Because of those two big wins, we suddenly became the go-to firm for class-action suits. That's the reason I'm hiring this new girl. And I have two more I'm considering."
"One more time, Nik. You did reward me with that super-duper end-of-the-year bonus that made my eyeballs pop out of my head and let me buy that monster sitting in the parking lot. I don't need or want anything more. Can we stop talking about this now?"
"Sure. For now. Doesn't mean I won't keep trying, though. By the way, you are coming out to the farm tonight, right? With all the guys in New York on some secret gig, you can leave your car here, hitch a ride with me, and come in with me in the morning. Does that work for you?"
"Absolutely. A hen party and not a rooster in sight. My kind of party. Did you call everyone?"
"Everyone other than Maggie, since this meeting is about her. Don't look at me like that, Alexis. You know as well as I do that we all need to talk this through. The others agree."
"It's not that I disagree, Nik. It's more like ... oh, I don't know ... maybe I'm feeling disloyal or something. Uh-oh, you'd better check this out. There's some drama going on down there in the parking lot. I think it's your new associate. And is that her husband? The one she's divorcing? She's got a lip-lock on him like you wouldn't believe. Or ... is that guy someone she had waiting in the wings?"
Nikki ran over to the window to look down at the parking lot. "That's the soon-to-be ex-husband. I have to say, this is, without a doubt, the strangest case of divorce I've ever handled. You know who he is, right?"
"No, actually, I have no idea. Should I?"
"He's Jeffrey Lambert, son of the current Speaker of the House, Wilson 'Buzz' Lambert. Jeffrey Lambert started up that software company called Lobo, the one that just went on the stock exchange at the beginning of the year. If you believe the hype and the media, the guy has money blowing out his ears.
"He wants to give Amy half, and she won't take it. She settled for a set of assorted bedding, some dishes, a Crock-Pot, and a few other odds and ends. It got a little contentious at our last meeting. She doesn't want anything. It's weird. They actually love each other, but they are not in love. They're both agreeable to the divorce and want to remain friends. Will that work? Who knows? If I had to guess, I'd say probably, but only because he will be on the West Coast and she'll be in the D.C. area.
"Actually, Myra said she could stay in our safe house. You remember, the one that belonged to Marie Llewellyn, the woman who got the Sisterhood off the ground in the first place when we defended her. We keep it up and use it when needed. Amy is all set. She's going to be a great addition to the firm. I can feel it in my gut."
Alexis nodded. "Looks to me like they're both crying. I'm not getting this."
"Me neither. This is how Amy explained it to me. She said they were like an old comfortable shoe and a warm sock. They found each other in college, at a time when they each needed someone. She said there was never any passion, just contentment. She wanted more, and so did he, but for five years, neither one wanted to rock the boat. Once Amy passed the bar exam, and Jeffrey got his company off the ground, they became a little more vocal about their needs, wants, and expectations, and, for better or worse, this is the outcome."
Alexis nodded. "I think they're coming in now, and they're holding hands. Why is he even here?"
"Because he has to sign off on the divorce. He absolutely insisted on setting up a trust fund for Amy. Margie is handling all of that. He needs to sign off on that, too. Amy balked, but he shut her down and said he wouldn't agree to the divorce unless she agreed to the trust. He finally wore her down."
"Is there a lot of money involved?" Alexis asked.
"Oh, yeah," Nikki drawled. "The number of zeros is enough to make you dizzy. Amy no more needs to work than Annie does. Not that she is likely to touch any of the money in that trust. That guy is right up there, nipping at Mark Zuckerberg's heels. You know, the Facebook guy."
"Just when I thought nothing else could surprise me, I hear something like this. You'd better get moving. By the way, I just realized that since you're leaving at noon, I'll have to drive myself out to the farm. I have two late-afternoon appointments back-to-back. And the more I think about it, I might even be late, depending on traffic. Don't start without me."
"No problem. You want to meet the new associate?"
"It can wait. I need another cup of coffee before I'm ready to face strangers. Good luck with the Bobbsey Twins."
Nikki found herself giggling all the way back to her office. Before she did anything else, she turned on the gas fireplace in the casual seating area, which she preferred to use rather than dealing with clients, at least the ones she cared about, over her massive, shiny, cold desk. She knew that Mitzi Doyle, her office manager and notary public, would have a pot of coffee on the coffee table before her clients made their way to the office. Before that thought could leave her mind, Mitzi, a motherly gray-haired woman, appeared, tray in hand. "Anything else, Nikki?"
"Nope, I'm good, Mitzi. Thanks. By the way, hold my calls, and I'm planning on leaving at noon. You can reach me at home, if you need me. You can show the Lamberts in now."
They were such a nice-looking couple, Nikki thought, as they all shook hands and seated themselves. Amy was petite, a ball of fire with blond hair and eyes that were laser blue. Jeffrey was tall, ripped, with dark, untamed, curly hair, and puppy-dog-brown eyes. Both of them had killer smiles, which they didn't show often enough, at least to her knowledge. "Coffee?"
"I think I have already had my quota for the day," Jeffrey Lambert said. Amy nodded as she kept trying to shred her fingers, which refused to remain still in her lap.
Nikki poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned back. "You both look so nervous. Why is that? You ironed everything out weeks ago. We spoke on the phone, and you both assured me that things were on track. It's okay if you have changed your minds. It happens more often than you know."
"It's just that ... neither one of us has ever been divorced. I guess it finally hit us that this is the end of ... of ... our being together. We won't be cooking any more meals together or meeting up to eat something on the run at the end of the day. No more movie nights. No more sharing our day's experiences. Togetherness will be just a memory, and I find it sad, but, no, I haven't changed my mind, and neither has Jeff. We are going to go through with the divorce. Just tell us where to sign, so Jeff can catch his flight back to California." Nikki cringed at the jitteriness she was hearing in Amy's voice.
Nikki made a big production out of leafing through the folder on the coffee table in the hopes that she was covering up what she was suddenly feeling. She didn't know why, but she didn't have a good feeling about this divorce. Finally, when she realized she couldn't stall any longer, she placed the papers in front of the young couple. "My notary is on the way in, so it will be just another minute."
Amy Lambert went back to shredding her fingers, while her husband, for the moment, stared at the Jackson Pollock paintings on the wall. Nikki thought he looked more nervous than his wife. She felt her sudden uneasiness ramp up a notch. She let loose with a soft sigh the moment Mitzi and her notary stamp appeared. Seven minutes later, everything was in order, and the Lamberts were on their feet, waiting to shake Nikki's hand.
"Amy, I'll see you on the first of November, when you report for work. I was going to have you meet up with Alexis Thorne this morning, but her calendar is full. So when you get here for your first day of work, ask for Mitzi Doyle, the woman who just notarized your divorce papers. She's also our office manager, and she'll take you down to HR so you can get all of that out of the way. That's when you'll meet with Alexis.
"Everything at the house is ready for you. You'll have to do some grocery shopping, but that's about it. Is there anything else I can do for you before you leave?"
The Lamberts shook their heads and tried for smiles, which never quite made it to their faces, much less their eyes.
"Well, then, I guess this is good-bye, Mr. Lambert. Don't worry about Amy. We'll take good care of her."
Out in the hall, Nikki leaned up against the wall as she struggled to take a long, deep breath. Something's out of kilter was all she could think of to explain her sudden attack of nervousness. Long ago, she'd learned to pay attention to such feelings. She pushed away from the wall and headed straight for the door whose plaque said the office belonged to Alexis Thorne. She rapped softly, turned the knob, and peeked into the room. "Good, you're alone. I have to say that was one stressful meeting. And yet nothing happened. We were up to speed on everything. Smooth as silk, as they say. I had this crazy set of feelings, almost a panic attack. I don't know why. Some days, and this is one of them, I hate being a lawyer."
"What's happening?" Alexis asked.
* * *
What was happening was that Amy Lambert was licking at her lips. There was so much she wanted to say to this fine young man who was still her husband until a judge stamped her divorce papers. But the words wouldn't come, and even if she had known what to say, she seriously doubted that she would have been able to give voice to them. And to her eye, it looked like Jeffrey was having the same problem.
"Amy, if you ... if you ever need anything, anything at all, promise you'll call. You know I'm not just saying the words. I mean it. I think you know me better than anyone on earth, even better than my mother knows me."
Amy's head bobbed up and down. When Jeffrey walked out of Nikki's office to go to Margie Baylor's to sign the trust agreement, he was also walking out of Amy's life. At that moment, she had at least a two-minute window of time to change her mind. If she wanted. The door opened. Scratch the two minutes. This was it. She clenched her teeth so hard, she thought she might have cracked a tooth. Don't cry. Crying is a sign of weakness. You can do this. You're a big girl now. Right now, Amy Jones, you are on your own. I should have told Jeff I was taking back my maiden name. Why didn't I do that? Why? Probably because I thought it would be like pouring salt on an open wound. How could I tell him that I don't want to be associated any longer with the name Lambert — not because of Jeff, but because of his father and those around him?
Damn, she should have left when Nikki left. There was no reason for her still to be standing there, and yet, there she was. She whirled around to search for her purse, found it, and slung it over her shoulder. From somewhere deep inside, she managed to drag out the words. "Let's not say good-bye, Jeff. Let's just go with 'I'll see ya.' If I find the law isn't for me, I might hit you up for a job at some point. Don't forget to send me a Christmas card." She was stunned at how blasé her tone was. Mind over matter. She almost faltered at the strange look she was seeing on Jeff's face. Move! Just get the hell out of here. Move. Don't think. Go, for God's sake. Earlier, on their way into the building, Jeffrey had warned her that the office might be bugged and to be careful with what she said.
How she got to the lobby, she didn't know. And then she was outside, with the fierce October wind bent on attacking her as her hair blew in every direction. She walked around the building to the employee parking lot and her sad little gray Honda Accord, which had 140,000 miles on it. She'd insisted on driving it cross-country because she knew she would need a car to get around once she reached her final destination. Jeff had insisted on driving with her and refused to take no for an answer, saying he would fly back. Jeff had wanted to buy her a new car, a fancy high-end Mercedes, but she had declined his generous offer. How noble she was, how proud. She'd gone into the marriage with nothing, and that's how she was leaving it. She had no intention of touching the money in the trust fund. She had her pride.
Amy wrestled with her wild mane of hair as she tried to pull it back into a ponytail. Finally satisfied that she could see, she started the engine. It purred to life like a contented cat. As she was typing in the address to her new, albeit temporary, home on the portable dashboard GPS, a gift from Jeff, she saw a shiny black Lincoln Town Car drive past her and park next to a bright red Jeep Cherokee. As she waited for traffic to slow, she watched the car in her side mirror, saw a man in a dark suit wearing a chauffeur's cap get out and open the passenger door in the back. She gasped as a tall, handsome man with snow-white hair, despite his relatively young age, got out and strode forward. "Damn!" Amy fumbled with her cell phone and pressed the number one on her speed dial.
"Pick up, Jeff! C'mon, pick up." And then she heard his voice, and she calmed down.
"What? You're missing me already?" The words were lame-sounding, but still music to her ears.
"Listen to me. I was leaving the parking lot, and your father was just arriving. He's entering the building now, Jeff. Now."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. I even recognized his driver. Your father, the Speaker of the House, is now in the building. Okay, I'm outta here. Have a good flight, Jeff. Send me a text when you land, so I know you arrived safe and sound."
"Okay, Mother." It was meant to sound funny, and it might have come across that way if the tone hadn't been so brittle and brusque. Amy didn't bother to respond. Wilson "Buzz" Lambert, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was not her problem. Not any longer. He was Jeffrey's problem. She would never forget the day Buzz, of all people, called her a gold digger, among even other less-than-flattering names. Never.
Excerpted from Crash and Burn by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2016 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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