For Miami’s “hot-blooded legal duo,” Gail Connor and fellow attorney Anthony Quintana, personal passions collide with professional duties as they take on the city’s most dangerous cases (Library Journal).
Suspicion of Betrayal: Gail Connor thinks she has a booming law practice, a perfect home, and a forthcoming marriage to a top criminal lawyer. But her perfect life is threatened when menacing phone calls and threats to her young daughter uncover secrets from her past.
Suspicion of Malice: Gail and Anthony’s shaky relationship is now further divided by an explosive case. Anthony’s daughter wants Gail to defend her boyfriend against murder charges. Two things stand in Gail’s way: a reluctant witness, and the witness’s lawyer—Anthony. As a conflict of interest heats up, a young man’s life is on the line. To win, who’ll cross it?
Suspicion of Vengeance: Aiding the appeal of a man convicted of murder ten years earlier, Gail discovers plenty of justice-system malfeasance—as well as a link between the slaying and the skeletons in her own family closet.
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Like anyone else with a telephone, Gail Connor had received her share of crank calls, but none where the person on the other end had disguised his voice, called her a bitch, and said she was going to die. The night she received such a call, it was more annoying than frightening. At thirty-four, trained as a litigating attorney, she was not the sort of woman to be easily rattled. And she thought she knew who had done it — the kid across the street. He was fourteen, and earlier she had yelled at him to stay out of her backyard. He'd been smoking in the gazebo. Even worse, Karen and two of her friends had been out there with him, and Karen was still under eleven years old.
Later on that night, Gail wondered if her temper might have been the result of so many changes in so short a time. Divorcing one man, falling in love with another. Giving up a partnership to open her own practice. And moving into an old house that was making her crazy. She and Karen had lived in it less than a month. They were not used to high-beamed ceilings and heavy plaster walls, to narrow stairs that twisted to a second floor, or to an immense gas stove that hissed, then popped into name. The toilets gurgled; the air conditioner wheezed. Warped windows stuck halfway open. Gail would have to go outside and shove while Karen jiggled the crank. During heavy rains they put towels on the sills. Gail told Karen they were having an adventure. Karen crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Gail's mother had warned against uprooting the child so abruptly from her old neighborhood. Gail could see the point — in hindsight — but didn't know what could be done about it now. To make Karen feel better, she had allowed her to bring home a kitten from the animal shelter, a little black-and-white female named Missy. So far the creature had thrown up twice on Gail's bedroom rug and peed on one of Anthony's best jackets.
They had planned to move in after the wedding to a home freshly painted and patched, with a new kitchen and refinished oak floors. Karen would get to design her own bedroom. But the week after Gail put their old house on the market, expecting to have months till the closing, a Brazilian couple offered full price — if they could close right away. Not wanting to lose the deal, Gail called a moving company and had all her and Karen's belongings hauled from their modern three-two in South Miami to the 1927 coral rock and stucco relic in Coconut Grove, where air plants sprouted from the leaky tile roof and the bushes had not been pruned in decades.
She had assumed it would take only two or three weeks, with little disruption to her schedule. She had been wrong. The workers, few of whom spoke English, showed up when they showed up, and charged extortionate rates for off hours. The painting couldn't be done until the carpenter was finished and the carpenter had to wait for the plumber. The wedding was only two months away, and Gail imagined the worst: home from their honeymoon, Anthony sweeping her into his arms, stepping over the threshold. They plunge between the open floor joists.
The night Gail received the telephone call wishing her dead was a Thursday, the middle of June. Officially Anthony was still living in his town house on Key Biscayne, fifteen miles away, but he would often come by after work. On this particular night he had stopped by a gourmet grocery. He opened the aluminum takeout pan and showed it to Karen, who was sitting backward in a kitchen chair with her chin on crossed arms.
"¿Qué pasa, mamita?"
"I hate mushrooms."
"Karen!" Gail turned around with a hand on her hip. "If you can't be polite, then go upstairs until you can."
"Fine. I'll starve to death."
Gail called out to her retreating back. "And take a bath. I'll come check on you in a while."
"Don't bother. I'll be dead." Karen scooped up her kitten, which was playing with a toy lizard under the table. Heavy-soled sneakers thudded up the stairs, and a few seconds later a door slammed.
"Sorry about that," Gail said. She jerked on a drawer to free it, then scooped silverware out of the tray. The cabinets were fake walnut, and the appliances were avocado green. It would all go during remodeling — if they could ever decide what to put in its place. She gave the silverware to Anthony — three sets in case Karen repented.
He was still frowning at the empty archway that led to the hall, which seconds before had contained a skinny girl with long brown hair and jeans so baggy they dragged on the floor. "What's the matter with Karen? Is she mad at me for a reason that I fail to grasp?"
"No, it's me. I told her she couldn't go outside and play — excuse me, go hang out — with Jennifer and Lindsay."
"Que va. It's almost dark." He glanced at the ceiling. A stereo had come on, playing just below the volume at which someone might go upstairs and ask that it be turned down.
"Just ignore her," Gail said. "She's almost eleven, and I've heard that girls go through this when they hit puberty. It's a natural phase of development. Supposedly."
Half to himself, Anthony muttered, "Ah, yes. The obnoxious phase."
Gail made a little face at him, then put the lasagna in the oven to warm and went about making the salad. Rip open a plastic bag of mixed baby greens, throw in a few walnuts, some cherry tomatoes, and crumbled Gorgonzola. Toss with bottled vinaigrette — not the cheap kind, the five-dollar brand from Chef Allen. She and every woman lawyer she knew had a repertoire of recipes that could produce a meal in ten minutes flat. It helped if somebody else brought the main course.
Anthony had taken two glasses from the cabinet. "What would you like to drink?"
"Just wine. Anything stronger will put me to sleep, and I have a case to work on." Her wineglasses were lost in the boxes stacked in the living room. He poured white wine into one short glass and dark rum over ice into another.
"I would have gone over the file at my office, but the handyman called. It cost me a hundred dollars, but at least he fixed the sink. There was a cat toy stuck in the drain, don't ask me how."
Anthony touched the rim of his glass to hers. "Salud."
She gratefully took a swallow and leaned over to give him a quick kiss. "Thanks. And hello, mi cielo, whom I haven't seen in two days. I wonder. Is your secretary telling the truth when she says she can't reach you? Why am I always the one to let the repairmen in?"
"Well, you live here." Anthony leaned against the counter next to her, sipping his drink. He had gracefully masculine hands. There was a ring on his last finger — garnet set in gold.
"That is not the right answer." Gail pulled on his loosened tie. Patterned red silk, which matched the ring, which went with the monogrammed initials on the pocket of his custom-made shirt. "I bet you don't even know what a P-trap is, do you?"
"Of course. I keep them in my nightstand."
She narrowed her eyes. "Hopeless."
He set down his drink and kissed her. His soft, full mouth was cool from the ice, tangy-sweet from alcohol. Both hands went under her shirt to caress bare skin. She had not worn a bra. He quickly discovered that fact and pinned her against the counter.
Stopping to catch her breath, she said, "Stay tonight. Say yes." She left a trail of light kisses across his cheek. "Yes. Yes. I promise you many exotic delights ..."
"Should we? If you have work to do, and with Karen in her phase — I'll stay if you want, but is it wise?"
"Probably not. You make me very unwise. I'm crazy about you. Absolutely wacko."
He curled her fingers over his hand and kissed them. The movement made her engagement ring sparkle, even in the kitchen's buzzing fluorescent light. The stone was perfect, a man's diamond he had worn on his own hand, reset for her. His eyes lifted to focus on hers. "Gail, are you going to tell me what happened in court today or not?"
Since morning that topic had been in and out of her consciousness like an intermittent toothache. She reached for her wine. "The judge is going to appoint a psychologist to interview Karen. I haven't told her about it yet."
"What do you mean, a psychologist? The motion was about visitation."
"Yes, well, they raised the issue anyway, after the judge said that Dave getting Karen five afternoons a week was a bit much. They said I've made Karen afraid to admit she wants to live with her father. Afraid? What in God's name do they think I do, beat her? What really galls me is that Dave doesn't consider how this is affecting Karen. Never mind what she's going through, he wants to get back at me. Our marriage failed, and it's all my fault, but I got the house and the kid. Well, excuse me. It was Dave who wanted out. Then he took off on his damned sailboat for six months. Lived with some girl in San Juan. He hardly ever wrote Karen. I can't tell you the times she cried over him and I had to make up some story. 'Yes, sweetie, of course your daddy loves you, but there's no post office on the islands.' And now he's back and I'm such a bad mother they need a psychologist to determine the extent of the damage." Gail let her arms fall to her sides. "Sorry for ranting."
She could feel the heat building from Anthony's direction. "Come on. This isn't about you. Dave is angry with me. You're just bonus points."
A lift of Anthony's brows said he doubted that. "Karen is old enough to decide where she wants to live, don't you think? Why doesn't the judge leave it up to her?"
"Karen won't make a decision. She doesn't want to hurt either of us, so she won't say anything."
"You haven't asked?"
"I'd rather not put pressure on her."
"Gail, she's not a baby. You should take another look. A girl is better off with a mother, who can tell her about —" Anthony looked for the word —" feminine things. She can visit her father when she likes, but her home is with you. Be as subtle as you need to, but make your point. You have more power with Karen than he does."
"Maybe you're right, but I really don't want to talk about it anymore."
Gail grabbed a towel to take the lasagna out of the oven. Maneuvering it past the door, she grazed her knuckle on the hot metal. "Ouch. Dammit!" The door slammed shut with a clatter of oven racks. She dropped the aluminum pan on the table and waved her hand to shake off the burn.
"Are you okay?"
"It's nothing." She looked down at the pan. "I should have put the lasagna in a nicer dish. As if I could find one in that chaos in the garage." Gail let out a long breath, then noticed the folder Anthony had laid on the end of the table when he'd come in. "What's in there? The architect's drawings?"
"I thought we could look at them over dinner," he said.
Away from the tourist-clogged section, streets in Coconut Grove curved around overhanging trees and dense tropical foliage — small streets with odd names like Ye Little Wood, Battersea, and Kiaora. The land could rise and fall, as this part of Miami had some altitude — fifteen feet above sea level. One might see a starkly modern house of angled glass and concrete beside a rundown clapboard cottage. The next would be hidden behind a wood fence laden with hot pink bougainvillea. A rainbow flag might fly from one roof, Old Glory from another. At this time of year plants thrust upward and out, blocking the light, climbing over each other, bursting with buds, tendrils, fronds, and leaves the size of dinner plates.
Clematis Street was a cul-de-sac running along a canal that led to Biscayne Bay. The dozen or so homes were generally of a Mediterranean design, with a few tropical moderns and one white-columned colonial out of its latitude. Gail and Anthony's house was constructed of block and stucco, with a circular drive and covered terraces front and back, tiled to feel cool in the summer. There were two coral rock fireplaces, downstairs and in the master bedroom, for those days in winter when one might want the glow of a fire. The real estate saleslady had used the words charming and cozy.
As Anthony laid the drawings out on the table — pen and ink with washes of color — Gail wondered if the architect had looked at the right house. It was evident he had gone far beyond plans for a kitchen. The long, narrow living room had doubled in size. The side wall had been pushed out twenty feet, and a massive brass chandelier hung from the ceiling. The stairs, which had been torn out and moved across the room, curved to form a balcony that looked down from the second floor. Gail laid her fork carefully on her plate.
Anthony showed her a drawing of the new master bedroom. "Here's a view of the upper-floor terrace from our room. It's completely private. Karen's room and the other two bedrooms would have balconies. The guest house would be next to the pool, separate or connected to the main house, whatever we prefer."
As if finally aware of what he was showing her, Anthony shuffled through the sketches. "Well, the architect thought it would add value to the house. You don't want a pool?"
"But we were only going to redo the kitchen and make some minor repairs, not redesign the entire house. We don't have time for major renovation right now."
"That's what contractors are for."
"But somebody has to be here to deal with these people. Not you. I get to do it because I live here."
"I do not want to live in this house the way it is, and it is better — in my opinion — to do it now, to get it over with —"
"Anthony, let's just get the kitchen done."
"Why are you being so negative?"
"I'm not negative, this is insane!" Gail sat back in her chair. "How much would it cost? Ballpark figure."
He shrugged. "I don't know. Two-fifty. Three hundred."
"At least." She propped her chin in her palm. "I hate to tell you, but I've got that old Hawaiian disease — lackamoola." When Anthony went blank, she repeated, "Lackamoola. Lack of —"
"Okay, I get it."
"Miriam's been asking for a raise, the computers are costing a fortune, and I'm afraid to spend money right now."
He scooted his chair out and reached for her hand. "Sweetheart, listen to me. It was my decision to hire the architect, and the changes — those over our budget — I'll take care of them. You don't have to match every dollar I put into the house. I don't expect you to."
"But I want to."
"Because ... I just do."
His laugh was an exhalation of disbelief. "What are you trying to prove?"
"I am not trying to prove anything. But when you blithely start talking about three hundred thousand dollars ..."
He spun a drawing to the table. "Maybe we shouldn't have bought this house. Maybe we should find something else."
"Well, you know, I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind a few times as I waited around for someone to come fix the roof."
"Is that what you want? All right. Okay, vamos a venderla. I'll call a realtor tomorrow."
"Another of your typically extreme responses —"
Above the whir and hum of the air conditioner — always on this time of year — Gail heard a high-pitched noise. It took her a few seconds to realize it was a scream, and that it wasn't a sound effect on one of Karen's CDs. She leaped up.
"What was that?" Anthony asked.
He automatically glanced upward, then raced for the stairs. Gail heard it again — closer, and coming from the backyard. She ran through the kitchen and onto the terrace, seeing nothing but tangled trees and through them a glimmer of light on the water.
Karen came hurtling out of the darkness, another girl closely behind, legs pounding. Gail ran across the terrace, nearly tripping on a broken tile.
A third girl followed more slowly. "Come on, guys. He was just kidding."
Fists clenched, Karen whirled around. The friend with her giggled, breathless with excitement. Gail reached for Karen to make sure she was all right, then moved to stand in front of her, guarding her from whatever might be out there. The gazebo was a crisscross of pale lines, and a small orange dot — a cigarette — flew into the shadows. "Who's there?"
The third girl slowed. "It's my brother. He didn't mean anything."
A boy sauntered down the steps. Gail could see only a slender frame and blond curls. His voice carried easily on the heavy, humid air. "My mom sent me to find Lindsay."
Gail glared at him, the same kid who had skidded over her freshly laid sod on his older brother's motorcycle. "Go home, Payton. Now. And stay off this property."
He shouted back at her, "I wasn't doing anything. Don't get so hyper."
"I said go home! Do you want me to call your parents?"
Karen screamed, "Payton, you asshole!"
Gail grabbed her upper arm. "Don't talk like that!"
"I'm not hurting you." She came closer and sniffed Karen's hair. "What were you doing out there? Smoking?" She shook her. "Answer me."
The boy vanished into the bushes, and his sister fled after him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Suspicion Series Volume Two"
Copyright © 2018 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Table of Contents
SUSPICION OF BETRAYAL,
SUSPICION OF MALICE,
SUSPICION OF VENGEANCE,
Preview: Suspicion of Madness,
About the Author,