For a taste of my writing, try the first chapter of Blackjack & Moonlight (due in 2013) below. There’s also a long excerpt from Love in Reality on the Blackjack Quartet site. You can tell me what you think here! (I’m eager to know…)
BLACKJACK & MOONLIGHT
Single-title Contemporary Romance
“Okay, but I cannot be late for that man,” Elise Carroll said as Liz handed over her toddler daughter.
“What man, Aunt Leese?” DeeDee asked, her cornsilk hair glinting under the office lights.
Elise glanced at the magazine that Liz had dropped on Elise’s desk. “That man,” she pointed.
DeeDee grabbed for the copy of that month’s Philadelphia Magazine, the cover showing a handsome man in a black robe. The headline read, “Philadelphia’s Newest—and Sexiest—Judge” and beneath that, in smaller letters, “Blackjack McIntyre moves from the US Attorney’s office to his own district court.” Elise handed it to the little girl.
“Who’s dat?” DeeDee asked as she looked at the photo.
Elise laughed. “Just the latest guy to think a robe is all he needs to makes him right.” She set DeeDee down on the carpeted floor. DeeDee, who was dressed in jeans and a “Daddy’s Little Girl” t-shirt, started to play with the magazine. Elise worried about paper cuts. She hunkered down next to the little girl and pulled the magazine away. “You want to color, sweetheart?”
Elise pulled some paper out of the recycling bin, and after checking what was printed on it, spread it out on the floor, blank sides up. She had some crayons in her desk for just these occasions, mornings when Liz had to bring her daughter in while she was waiting for the day care center to confirm they could take another child.
Elise looked over at the doorway. She could just see Liz at her desk on the other side of the hallway. “Any luck?” Elise called out.
“I’m on hold,” Liz said, frowning at the phone.
“You okay, here, Dee?” Elise said to the head bent over the paper. She knew DeeDee could spend an hour coloring.
“Good girl. I need to talk to your mom, so just call if you need anything, okay? Do you have to go potty?”
“Okay, sweetie. I’ll be right back.”
Elise double-checked her watch. She still had time. She really wanted to be early for Blackjack McIntyre’s first motion hearing. It should only take him five minutes to find for her client and let her get back to work, but if she was late he’d be annoyed and waste everyone’s time yelling at her. She had a full day of work, with that deposition to prep. Plus she needed to do something about Liz’s mortgage.
She walked out to stand by Liz’s desk. “What did they say?” Mondays were often crowded at the day care center. Elise really hoped that Liz didn’t need to leave early to care for DeeDee.
“They can take her.”
“Great. Now tell me what happened on Friday,” Elise said quietly. She glanced over at DeeDee, visible through the doorway of Elise’s office.
“More nasty phone calls,” Liz said. She was younger than Elise by a few years, but today she looked exhausted and almost middle-aged. Her husband was out on disability, they were underwater in their too-large home, and she had unreliable daycare. Elise could empathize but she rarely looked at Liz without worrying that the family was this close to homelessness.
Elise was not going to let that happen. “Okay. Here’s what I need you to do. Call the bank and ask for the legal department. Give your maiden name and say you’re my secretary. If anyone asks, I’m the lawyer hired by the Skebitsky family regarding the need to refinance their mortgage. Get me the name of someone who can deal for the bank.”
Liz looked up, confused. “Why don’t we just file for bankruptcy? Christine offered to do the paperwork.”
Elise shook her head. “We’re not there yet. If I can negotiate a refi, you can afford that house. It’s the least disruptive solution. Just get me a name.”
Liz shuffled the stack of overdue notices on her desk. “Okay.”
Elise touched Liz’s shoulder. This would be okay, but Elise wished she’d had the time Liz had wasted not telling Elise about it. No point saying that to Liz, though. They’d had an argument when Elise had offered to loan them the arrearages. But she’d be damned if Liz lost her house.
“Oh, right, I almost forgot,” Liz said. “Your mother called on Friday.”
Elise wasn’t surprised. Peggy had called over the weekend as well. Elise had let it go to voicemail.
“Don’t tell me. She wanted to know if I was dating anyone.”
Liz looked up with a grin. “Even better. She wanted to know if you needed a list of Philadelphia’s most romantic restaurants.”
Elise looked at the “Blackjack” issue of Philly Magazine, mysteriously still in her hand. One of the other articles was something to do with romantic date venues. “Wait. This issue just came out. What? Does she have a subscription?”
Liz nodded. “Online.”
“She lives alone in Oregon. What does she need to know about Philly restaurants?”
“She’s worried you only go for cheesesteaks and, as she put it, how can you land a nice guy if you’re dribbling fried onions and Cheez-Wiz.”
Elise rolled her neck in a futile effort to get the knot out. “What can she be thinking? No, don’t answer that. I know what my mother is thinking. That I’m never going to give her grandchildren.”
“She worries you’re lonely.”
Elise frowned. Peggy was the lonely one, not her. It wasn’t Elise’s fault that Peggy’s grand passion with a married man hadn’t worked out. Why did she insist on living vicariously through her daughter? “Tell her to find her own boyfriend,” Elise said.
“She thinks you need more.”
Liz’s earnest expression said it all. “You Judas. You agree with her,” Elise accused.
Liz shrugged. “If by that you mean I want you to be happy, then sure.”
“I am happy.”
“You’re alone,” Liz said softly. She looked over at her daughter, who looked up as if on cue and smiled an adorable little-girl smile at them both.
“Why does everyone think I need a man to fix me? Nothing in my life needs fixing, okay?”
“If you say so,” Liz drawled.
Elise wanted to argue about this but it would be rude to suggest that marriage and a child weren’t so wonderful when one was on the verge of foreclosure. But that wasn’t fair to Liz, who’d been doing fine until the economy tanked and Donny injured his leg.
Elise sighed. “I can’t fight both of you. If my mother calls again, please just put her through to voice mail.”
“She won’t let me. Says you never pick up her messages from your voice mail.”
True enough. “Okay. You can talk to her. But could you remind her that I’m trying to make partner this year? Looking for the love of my life can be next year’s project, okay?” Assuming such a creature existed, which Elise doubted.
“She doesn’t think you date the right kind of men,” Liz muttered. Elise could tell Liz endorsed Peggy on that point.
“Hey, they’re nice enough. They just leave after a few months. Which is as it should be.”
“You need someone looking for more.”
“Well, he’d better look for me at the courthouse because if I don’t get there immediately I’ll be late for that man.”
Liz grinned. “I can’t wait to hear all about it. Details, I want all the details. Is he as good looking as his press conferences?”
“Not you too.” Elise threw the magazine on Liz’s desk. Jack McIntyre’s blue-black hair and chiseled jaw mocked him from the cover. Superman in a judicial robe. “I don’t plan to be there long enough to look at him. Five minutes, tops. He grants my motion, and I’m out of there.”
“Oh, please. You know he’s seriously hunky. And the article says he’s not dating anyone at the moment.”
“Get Christine to date him then.”
“She says he’s not her type,” Liz shot back.
Oh, lord, not Chris too? “Well, based on the women he’s been seen with, I’m not his type. Good thing because I have no interest in dating him or anyone else right now. I want to focus on making partner. And you’d better focus on getting your daughter to day care.”
Liz gave her a mocking look but gathered up DeeDee’s gear. Elise went back in her office and squatted down next to DeeDee. “Time to go, kiddo. Mom’s taking you to the day care, okay?”
“Don’t wanna.” DeeDee refused to look up.
Liz came in with DeeDee’s coat.
Elise rubbed DeeDee’s back. “Hey, you’ll have fun. And before you know it, it’ll be time for lunch. We’ll eat out back, if it’s warm enough.”
DeeDee looked up. “Really? By the fountain?”
“You bet.” March was too soon for the Logan Circle fountain to be running, but DeeDee liked to listen to crazy stories about the statues in the middle.
Elise helped Liz get DeeDee’s toys back into her Hello Kitty backpack. “Bye, Dee-Light,” Elise kissed the perfect peach-velvet cheek.
“Bye, Aunt Leese!”
Another check of the watch. Shit. There’d better be a cab downstairs or she’d be late.
Elise looked at the papers on the floor. DeeDee had drawn a figure in black. Either it was the Honorable Jack McIntyre or a vampire bat. Hard to tell.
* * *
Despite running through the lobby in a very unlawyer-like manner, Elise was late for “Philly’s Newest—and Sexiest—Judge.” Why did the man have to land on that magazine cover? That’s what had made her late—Liz’s fascination with his reputation as U.S. Attorney, his prosecution record, his high-profile society girlfriends. Elise had never met him and already she was pissed off at him.
She managed to slip in front of several lawyers waiting for the elevator at the federal courthouse. And when the doors pinged open on the tenth floor, Elise was out and jogging around the corner, her shoes clattering on the marble floors.
With relief, she saw Bart Mather waiting alone outside Courtroom 10A.
“Hi, Bart. Where’s your client?” she asked, slowing to a walk.
Bart looked her over, then went back to his Blackberry. “He just texted. He’s held up in the security line downstairs. I’ve let Tony know.”
Some things were the same, then. Tony, Judge Wilkins’s deputy, never let the parties into the courtroom until everyone was present. He’d have noticed that Elise was late, but with luck he wouldn’t have told Blackjack.
“Anyone from Keri-Age showing up?” Bart asked.
“From Cleveland? Not for a motion Blackjack will grant in five minutes.”
“He’ll rule for my client. As I’ve shown in the briefs, you’re over-reaching in your discovery requests—” Bart started to argue but Elise held up a hand.
Elise looked at him sourly. “Save it for the judge.”
Bart scowled at her. Not for the first time, Elise wondered why she’d ever gone out with him in law school. He’d been an older student, and not a particularly good one, but he’d had tickets for a Phillies post-season game. Not a shining example of her taste in men.
“You know,” he broke into her thoughts. “That’s the precise look you gave me when we broke up.”
Broke up? They went out once. “You make it sound like we were actually dating,” she protested.
Bart smoothed the hair on the top of his head. He’d been sensitive about his receding hairline ten years ago. Now it was a baby comb-over and looked far worse. What was it with guys and their hair?
“I’d thought we were dating,” he muttered. Then he straightened at the sight of his client, a dweeby guy in a bad sports jacket walking slowly down the hall. Bart couldn’t resist a final dig. “You know, Elise, someday you’ll be the one with your heart on the line. I hope the guy treats you the way you treated me.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ll tell Tony we’re ready.”
* * *
Waiting in the shadows between the door to the hallway and the bench—his bench in his courtroom—Jack McIntyre tugged at the knot of his tie, red, the only color that would show above the black robe. Appointing him to the judiciary was evidence that Washington politicians were insane—jurists were supposed to be older and seasoned. Jack felt absurdly young, like the actor picked for his good looks rather than actual experience.
Fear he’d flub his lines squeezed his windpipe. Despite years commanding witnesses and persuading juries in the federal courthouse, wearing the robe made him feel like his first solo case twelve years ago.
To calm his nerves, he imagined himself owning the space. He visualized walking over to the bench, instantly in control of the entire courtroom.
Not an inspiring set design, unfortunately. The courtrooms in Philadelphia were all wood tones. Brown ceiling, brown walls, brown furniture. It was like being trapped inside a walnut shell. The carpet wasn’t brown, but by the time your eyes got down there, your retinas no longer registered any other color. The courtrooms even smelled brown—the dull, lifeless smell of windowless rooms.
Great. Now he needed to cheer himself up as well as relax.
Think of something bright. There were some gold accents in the U.S. seal on the wall above the bench. As a lawyer, Jack had often focused on the eagle clutching arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other, but as the judge he wouldn’t see that unless he swiveled around and looked up. Instead, he’d just have some lawyers to look at. With his luck, they’d be wearing head to toe brown and he wouldn’t be able to keep from laughing.
“All rise!” Tony delivered his only line with deep panache, audible even in the wings.
Jack’s cue. Enter stage right: The Judge. He swallowed back the familiar nerves.
As he walked over to the massive dark leather chair, he kept his eyes on the empty wood benches at the back of the room, not looking directly at the three people standing before him. They were waiting for him to sit before they could sit. Despite a year of politicians and the vetting process and the FBI background check and judges’ school, Jack hadn’t gotten used to the idea that people had to stand for him. That shouldn’t be a joke, so he had to sell his performance.
Jack signaled to his law clerk. “Okay, Mr. Alexander, what have we got this morning?” he said quietly. The young man bounced out of his seat, but even standing, his head and shoulders were all Jack could see above the ledge at the front of the bench.
The clerk leaned in to whisper. “Defendant’s motion to compel in Everton v. Keri-Age Inc., Judge. Wrongful termination suit with a breach of contract countersuit. With all due respect, plaintiff’s case is a dog. Judge Wilkins told the parties to settle it at the Rule 16 conference, but instead, they’re still fighting over discovery.”
Turning toward plaintiff’s counsel, Jack adopted a particularly impatient expression. “Mr. Mather, why are we here?” Bart Mather was a schlub, the kind of lawyer who took pretty much any case that walked in the door. Jack looked at his comb-over, grubby complexion and rumpled suit. Mather’s scalp was shiny with sweat, making him look panicked. No surprise there—the guy always seemed jumpy, as though his license was going to be revoked.
“Good morning, You Honor. My client, Mr. Everton, has sued his former employer for wrongful termination, and—” Mather began.
“I’m aware of that,” Jack interrupted. “But why are we here today? I believe Judge Wilkins made it clear last September that this case should settle promptly and thus go away. And yet, six months later, it’s barely budged. Tectonic plates move faster.”
Jack sensed the lawyer for the defendant standing to address him. “Your Honor, if I may explain.” Her voice, starched to crispness, started to argue the motion. “Under Rule 26, defendant’s motion to compel must be granted. Mr. Mather has failed to cite any case law to show why his client doesn’t need to produce his tax returns for the years in question. One can only infer that the plaintiff knows that he’s suffered no financial damages since he changed jobs. As that is an essential component of his case in chief—”
Jack had turned toward the defense table, prepared to interrupt her to keep his judicial impatience balanced, but something about the businesslike woman standing behind table stopped his rebuke. He could hear her talking, but her argument had faded into the background.
What was it about her that seemed familiar? He’d never met her before. He didn’t even know her name. He couldn’t stop looking at her long enough to find it in the bench memo. She wasn’t particularly beautiful, although she had petal-smooth skin and hair like moonlight. It couldn’t be her looks that stopped him. He’d dated women far more attractive and been unmoved by their beauty. This woman set his nerves aflame and Jack could hear a rush, as though he was speeding through a long tunnel.
He became aware she had stopped speaking. He kept looking at her.
He had no explanation for the way his body was reacting. Chills crawled up his arms. His heart raced ahead of his sluggish thoughts. His hands tingled. His mouth felt coated in chalk dust, but he couldn’t see the glass of water in front of him.
Being in the same room with her felt as though they’d only parted minutes ago, or like it had been years and he’d lost hope he would ever see her again. The sight of her answered a question in his heart. It made no sense, but Jack had been waiting for her.
This lawyer—with her eyes sparking with emotion, her creamy complexion and enchanting rose-pink mouth pressed tight shut, and that moonlight hair glinting under the courtroom lights—was his future.
His brain struggled to make sense of what was happening. Nothing. The sense of finding a lost love had ripped away his ability to think straight and made his heart pound. What a wonderful feeling, thrilling and fizzy. Like iced champagne at a picnic, diamond-spray on a rocky shore, a roller coaster ride in the fog. Getting affirmed by the Supreme Court couldn’t possibly be more exciting.
She shifted from one foot to the other, then smoothed her blue dress. She stole a glance at Mather. She seemed uncertain what was happening or maybe she wasn’t sure what she should be doing.
“Your Honor?” she prompted.
She looked intelligent…and, Jack noticed then, very annoyed.
Suddenly, as if a camera had panned back to include the whole room, Jack could see that Jamie Alexander had turned to look up at him from the clerk’s seat, and even the court reporter was staring. Everyone was waiting for him to say something.
What was he supposed to say? She was a lawyer in his courtroom. He could hardly approach her in any personal way even after the hearing was over. It would be a gross violation of his role, but it would also put her in an invidious position. Everyone would assume she’d approached him ex parte to get him to grant her motion.
The irony was, Jack had been prepared to rule in her favor but only after impressing on both sides this case needed to settle. He could pull them into an impromptu settlement conference but what if he couldn’t get them to agree to a dollar amount? Mather was a hack lawyer, capable of stringing his client along with false hope just to jack up his fees and inflate the amount the defendant would pay to make the case go away. On the other hand, some defendants chose to fight rather than settle. In that event, it could take months or even years before Everton was off his docket and he’d be free to have a personal relationship with counsel for defendant. What if another of her cases was assigned to him, and another after that?
Jack’s instinct wasn’t to be impartial where this woman was concerned. He tried to imagine seeing her only as a lawyer in his court, but already—before he even knew her name—he ached to learn if she felt the thrill he did. And no matter how the case ended, it would look wrong if Jack asked her out for dinner the next night. Everyone would think she’d tried to influence the court.
They hadn’t covered this in judge’s school.
“Counsel, approach the bench,” he said. He motioned to the court reporter. “This is off the record.”
When Mather and—Jack finally looked at the papers to learn her name—Elise Carroll were huddled by the far side of the bench, Jack rolled his chair over to talk to them. He looked only at Mather, but Jack’s attention was focused on Elise Carroll’s body, just a couple feet away. He could smell her scent. He wanted to know if her hair was as silky as it looked. But Jack knew he’d grin at her in greeting, as though they were already lovers.
“Counsel, I apologize. I have to recuse myself from hearing this case.”
“That’s okay, Judge—” Mather stumbled.
“But, Your Honor, why? You’ve only just gotten this case. Surely you would have known if you’d had a conflict with the parties,” Elise Carroll objected. She sounded like she wanted to choke him.
With her irritation smoldering to his right, Jack kept his gaze on Mather, who was rocking his body back and forth, smiling in relief. Stupid rabbit.
“I’ll notify the clerk’s office to reassign it to another judge. I will stress that although I cannot hear this case, the court to which it is assigned should rule on all pending motions promptly.”
“Surely you can rule on the defense motion to compel before you hand the case off to another judge,” Elise Carroll said. Jack resisted the urge to see if her face was as pinched as her voice. “This case has stalled long enough.”
Jack looked up at the portraits of earlier judges on the wall of the courtroom. You guys never had this problem, did you? “I’m sorry, Ms. Carroll, but it would be highly improper for me to rule on your client’s motion. As I say, the next judge will be fully briefed on the status of this case.”
“Your Honor!” Elise Carroll said in a low, fierce voice. “I request—” the way she said request, Jack could tell she meant demand “—that you state for the record what reason you have for recusing yourself.”
Because I want to date you? didn’t sound right somehow. I have feelings for you? was even worse.
He had to say something. The rules for judicial conduct required him to give his reasons for disqualifying himself, however little he wanted to say it out loud. He considered denying her request, or hauling the lawyers into his chambers. But—he did a quick scan—with only six people in the room, moving to chambers wouldn’t change much. Anything he said off the record to Mather this morning would likely be blabbed to a reporter for the Legal Intelligencer over lunch. Might as well say it in open court.
So much for not wanting to be a joke.
Jack gave her—Elise, that’s a pretty name—a cool glance. “Very well, Ms. Carroll. Step back.”
He waited for the lawyers to walk back to their respective tables. Mather shook his head to cut off his client’s fevered whispering.
Jack nodded to the court reporter to go back on the record.
“As you know,” Jack addressed the space between the two lawyers in his most formal tones, “I inherited Judge Wilkins’s docket. My chambers is working hard to get all of her cases back on track after the transition. I appreciate that it is inconvenient to have yet another judge assigned after the time that has passed, but I could not have foreseen this conflict before today’s hearing. Therefore, in compliance with the canon of judicial ethics, I must recuse myself from hearing this case—”
He paused, then looked straight at Elise Carroll.This had to be the worst way to start a relationship. He hoped she’d understand.
“—because I’m in love with counsel for the defendant.”
What else could he have said?