A breathtaking new romance is available now from one of my favourite storytellers, and I have the Prologue to share with you.
Jonah‘s whistle echoed off the marble walls as he strode purposefully down the empty courthouse hall. Glancing at the domed ceiling, he inhaled deeply, appreciating the timeless smell of law and order. God, I love it here, he mused, satisfaction filling his chest.
He’d been coming to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court since he was just a boy, trailing behind his father and hoping someday to be looked at in the same way others had eyed his dad—with respect, but also laced with a hint of fear.
“If others don’t fear you a little, son, you’re not doing it right.” Of course, his dad applied that same theory to his parenting as well. If anyone ruled his home with an iron fist, it was Edward Chamberlain.
“Have a good day, Mr. Chamberlain,” said the blonde attorney in the pencil skirt as she passed through the metal detector. She was entering on the other side and looked over her shoulder as she passed, running her eyes quickly down his body and biting her full bottom lip. She’d been sending him come hither signals for weeks, and although he’d been too busy to indulge in extracurricular activities, as soon as this case was over, he was going to take her up on her “offer.” The thought of peeling that conservative suit off her shapely body and finding out what she wore beneath caused a pleasant twitch between his legs.
He jogged down the stone steps outside, swinging his leather briefcase by his side. The world is my goddamned oyster, he thought with a grin.
Applegate, Knowles, and Fennimore was less than a mile from the courthouse and he chose to walk, whistling again—that damn song that had been stuck in his head since Palmer Applegate’s retirement party two days before.
Palmer was the senior of all the senior partners at the firm, who, by the way, wasn’t anywhere close to a jolly good fellow. The old guy was a “Stodgy, Lifeless Bore,” but Jonah supposed a tune by that name might not have gone over quite so well at an honorary event. In any case, he would now be boring his new trophy wife on a full-time basis rather than the rest of the employees at the firm Jonah had been hired at six months ago.
The prestigious law firm occupied the entire top two floors of the brick building Jonah entered, whistling a few bars yet again as the door swung shut behind him.
That nobody can deny!
The elevator ascended smoothly, dinging as the doors slid open.
“Good afternoon, sir,” his secretary, Iris, greeted.
“Iris. Any—” His words cut off abruptly when the man sitting in a chair in the small waiting room to his left stood. Justin.
“Sir, I told this gentleman your schedule was packed but—”
Jonah gave her a nod, concealing a grimace. “It’s okay, Iris. This is my brother, Justin.”
“Oh,” Iris said. “I didn’t realize . . .”
It spoke to how little anyone at the firm really knew him—though he spent the majority of his time there—that they didn’t know Justin Chamberlain was his brother. Justin was a lawyer as well, though the law firm Justin worked for was in a far different zip code, and from what Jonah could tell, took on more pro bono cases than paid clients. It was a wonder they could afford office space at all.
He gripped his brother’s hand, smiling as they shook. “What’s up, bro? Long time no see.”
Justin gave him a thin smile. “Do you have a minute?”
“It’s important.” Justin shoved a hand through his dark brown hair, exposing the Chamberlain widow’s peak before his hair flopped over his forehead again.
Jonah glanced pointedly at his Rolex as Justin continued. “I’ve been calling you for weeks now. I even stopped by your apartment a couple of times.”
Jonah sighed. He’d received the messages. He just hadn’t had time to call his brother back. What the hell could be that important anyway?
He signaled Justin to follow him to his office down the hall. “I’ve been slammed. You know I’m in the middle of this big case. I’m preparing to cross-examine the victim tomorrow. This could be—”
“That’s what I want to talk to you about.” Justin shut Jonah’s door, and Jonah felt a moment of pride as he watched his brother take in the small but luxurious office with a glimpse of the New Orleans skyline out the window. But when he turned his eyes back to Jonah, Justin’s expression was grim.
“Don’t do this, Jonah.”
“Do what exactly?”
“This case.” He shook his head, his bleeding heart making his eyes glisten in a way that made Jonah want to roll his eyes. “Murray Ridgley committed this crime and you know it.”
Jonah leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms. “The partners took on his case because they believe in his innocence, Justin. True, it doesn’t look good. The circumstantial evidence is . . . extensive. But he deserves a fair trial and good representation just like any other citizen.”
“I’m not arguing with that. All I’m saying is let someone else talk to the news cameras from here on out. Let someone elsecross-examine the victim. I know you, Jonah. You’re a damn good attorney. You’ll crush her if that’s your aim. But please don’t, I beg you. Don’t be tied to this. Don’t have this case be the one you’re remembered for. This is not something you want to hang your legacy on.”
“Jesus, listen to yourself. Are you telling me not to win?” In the last few weeks, he’d become the face of this case—the partners had designed it that way and he hadn’t needed to ask why. He was handsome, and he had the smile of a golden boy. Women liked looking at him; men respected him. The jury trusted him.
“I’m telling you not to be like Dad.”
That stopped Jonah like a punch to the gut. He knew that Justin, being the oldest, had taken the brunt of the discipline in their house. The lion’s share of the pressure Edward Chamberlain pressed upon his sons had landed on Justin’s shoulders. As a little boy, Jonah had watched and learned. He knew what brought about his father’s wrath and what gained his approval, and he strove always for the latter.
“Dad wasn’t all bad.”
Maybe Murray Ridgley if he had in fact committed the crime. Jonah had plenty of doubts himself. And he had this notion that there was something the partners weren’t telling him. But he had no proof of that, just some whisperings behind closed doors as he’d walked past.
And this case . . . this case was the one that could catapult him to the next level. If he impressed the partners, it could literally make his career.
One of the junior partners was taking Applegate’s vacancy, but one of the other two remaining original partners, Knowles, was practically a walking corpse. In the next couple of years, he’d retire or die, and if Jonah played his cards right, he could make junior partner and then partner thereafter. Partner! Even his dad hadn’t made junior partner until he was thirty.
Jonah had worked his ass off to graduate college in two and a half years, had attended an accelerated law school program, passed the bar on the first try, and had received a job offer at one of the most prestigious firms in New Orleans immediately after that. He was on the fast track. He couldn’t afford a stumble.
Jonah met his brother’s gaze. “Dad was respected.”
Justin’s eyes narrowed. “Dad was a sonofabitch who cared about power far more than he cared about people. He ruined lives as easily as he buttered toast. That’s not you, Jonah. I’m your brother. I know—”
“All right, listen, I appreciate this whole do-gooder speech, but let me assure you that my conscience is perfectly clear where my job is concerned. Murray Ridgley may very well have committed this crime.” Murray Ridgley may very well be a monster.“ But I’m not going to ask to be removed from his case. It would ruin me.”
Justin studied his brother for long moments before moving his eyes away again, toward the picturesque view. “I just have a feeling . . . you’re choosing a path here, Jonah.” He looked at him again, and this time Jonah detected sadness in his brother’s eyes before he gave him a small smile. “Quitting this case . . . you’re right, it would probably mean your career at this firm was over, but you always have a job with me.”
Jonah chuckled. “Fighting injustice for little more than pocket change? That’s your calling.”
Justin released a laugh that contained more breath than levity. “I could use a little help. There’s a lot of injustice in the world, bro.”
“Some might say it’s worthless to try to fight against it.”
As he looked at the person he loved most in the world, something pressed on his chest, some weightiness he wasn’t sure how to explain. A feeling that— His phone rang, breaking the strange sort of trance that had descended upon Jonah. “I really gotta get back to work. Can we talk later?”
Justin nodded, his smile sad again as he moved past Jonah. He laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Sure, Jonah. Let’s talk later.” And with that, he turned and walked out of Jonah’s office, shutting the door behind him.
The phone continued to ring, but Jonah didn’t answer it. Instead, he walked to the window and stared out at the sweltering summer day, that feeling returning to his chest again—pressing. I miss my brother, Jonah realized. He hadbeen avoiding him. But after this case was over, he would make it a point to see Justin more often.
Absentmindedly, Jonah brought his hand to the place where his heart lay and massaged lightly.
You’re choosing a path here, Jonah.
But he’d already chosen it. There was nothing to be done now.
* * *
Two weeks later, as Jonah lay in a pool of spreading blood, the charred smell of his mutilated flesh heavy and rancid in his nostrils, his brother’s words would come back to him, flowing lazily through his mind like the misty wisps of a forgotten dream.
You’re choosing a path. Let’s talk later.
But there would be no talking to his brother later.
His brother was dead.
The screaming dimmed enough for Jonah to register the high-pitched expulsion of air rasping from his smoke-drenched lungs.
He was whistling again.
Only this time, there was no tune.