Lawyer Cass Leary is desperate for a break from her family drama. And when a local judge asks for help protecting his sister from domestic abuse, she sees an opportunity to resurrect her career. But the case quickly turns ugly when her client vanishes without a trace.
Convinced the volatile husband is behind the disappearance, Cass doubles down on her frantic search. But she’s unprepared for the tragic twist that could upend the entire Delphi court system…
With powerful figures circling, can Cass expose the shocking truth before her voice is silenced?
Imminent Harm is the sixth book in the high-octane Cass Leary Legal Thriller Series. If you like strong female leads, gripping courtroom conflict, and page-turning suspense, then you’ll love Robin James’s riveting novel.
Release date: May 28, 2020
Publisher: Robin James Books
Print pages: 302
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Copyright © 2020 by Robin James Books
All Rights Reserved
“Honey, you don’t wanna know.”
Generally, when people say that it only makes me want to know more. But the look on Miranda Sulier’s face took the wind out of me before I could hit her with the witty comeback I had in mind.
The woman had just celebrated her fiftieth anniversary of working as a legal secretary. She’d been at it longer than they even had a word for it. Paralegals, legal assistants, law clerks, filing clerks, those were all the fancy names for things Miranda did every single day of her working life. I wouldn’t be surprised if the woman could walk into a courtroom today and eviscerate even the most seasoned trial lawyers. Today though, she gave me a cold stare as she shut her laptop before I could see what was on it.
“How bad?” I asked for the seventh time.
She gave me a grim smile and sat back in her leather office chair.
“You’ve got a month. A solid month.”
“For everything?” I asked. “Utilities. Rent.” I paused. “Payroll?”
“Yeah,” she answered.
“Miranda,” I said. “I mean the complete payroll. Not just Tori’s. Yours too.”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“Do not give me that,” I said. “And a month is not so bad. I can do a lot in a month. It’s an eternity.”
The front door blew open, and a four-foot-eleven tornado blasted in. My law partner, Jeanie Mills, hoisted her briefcase on Miranda’s desk.
Miranda carefully picked it up and set it beside her. Later, she would sort through Jeanie’s indecipherable (to me anyway) chicken scratch on sticky notes and make sense of it all. Jeanie had a habit of scrawling said chicken scratch on the fly when she was at the courthouse. Miranda assembled it all into an organized calendar for Jeanie, who refused to use anything more technologically advanced than a flip phone.
“Everything go okay?” I asked, though it was clear from the line in Jeanie’s forehead that it hadn’t.
“Peachy,” she said. “The Wilhelm divorce settled. Finally got the bastard to agree to spousal support. Lump sum. Would have enjoyed raking him over the coals every month for the next twenty-odd years, but Kathy’s a hell of a lot more reasonable a woman than I am.”
“Good,” Miranda said. “We need the billing. Did you also get him to agree to Kathy’s attorney fee?”
Jeanie’s face cracked into a sly smile. “An installment plan, but yeah.”
“Good,” Miranda said. She eyed me once more. “That’ll make it six weeks.”
“Eons,” I said. “No worries.”
I stuck a hand in the air and wiggled my fingers in a wave as I turned and headed up the stairs to my office.
It was all a lie. I was worried.
Ever since I had represented my deadbeat father in a murder trial earlier in the year, my community standing had taken a hit. My old man had a knack for burning every bridge he crossed and screwing over every friend he ever made. The fallout from his disastrous Delphi homecoming was worse than I anticipated this time. It was a reminder to everyone in town that I was one of those Learys. Plus, there was the little matter of the bribe I gave him to send him packing for good this time. While the gesture had done my family a world of good, it had all but depleted my cash flow.
I swear I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known my billings would dry up too.
I heaved the battered leather bag I used for a briefcase onto one of my client chairs then plopped down behind my desk.
My desk. The thing was spotless, not so much as a paperclip out of place. A harbinger of doom far more ominous than anything Miranda pulled up in her ledger.
I’d been through worse. A lot worse. I had started this practice just two years ago with almost nothing but gas in my car and that beat-up leather bag. Now, I had the best staff any lawyer could ask for and both feet firmly planted in the county legal community. Things would get better.
They sure as heck couldn’t get much worse.
A soft knock on my door pulled me out of my head, or perhaps a more southern part of my anatomy.
Jeanie poked her face through the crack.
“Got a sec?” she asked. With her, it was always a rhetorical question. I waved her in. “What’s up?” I asked.
Jeanie moved my bag and sat in the chair opposite me. She pulled a folded business card out of the pocket of her navy-blue blazer and slid it across my desk.
“He wants to talk to you,” she said.
I picked up the card and scrunched my nose as I read it.
“Judge Tucker?” I asked.
Jeanie nodded. “He wouldn’t tell me what it was about. That’s his personal cell phone written on the back.”
“So why didn’t he just call me? “I asked.
Jeanie shook her head. “I suppose you can ask him. I’m just the messenger.”
Judge Kent Tucker was Woodbridge County’s newest District Court judge. He had narrowly won an election not long before I came back to town. I didn’t have any active cases in his court now as I primarily practiced one floor up in Circuit Court.
“Why do I get the feeling this can’t be good?” I asked.
“Come on,” Jeanie said, smiling. “Things will turn around. They always do. Plus, you’ve been through a heck of a lot worse than a little professional dry spell.”
I loved her. There was no judgment in Jeanie’s tone. Of course, I’d earned it from her if there were. She begged me not to get involved in my dad’s latest legal turmoil. Still, she never said I told you so and I knew she was always in my corner. Even if it was to give me a good swift kick in the rear end on occasion when I needed it.
“Give him a call,” Jeanie said. “Who knows, maybe he wants to ask you out.”
If I had been drinking coffee, I would have spit it out. “That’s the last thing I need.”
“I mean, he’s cute,” she said. I rolled my eyes, but she was already getting up to leave. She closed the door behind her while I fingered Judge Tucker’s bent business card.
Raising a brow, I slid my phone across the desk and punched in the number.
Judge Tucker didn’t want to meet in my office or his. Instead, he picked a diner attached to a truck stop off M-50. He was waiting for me in a booth with his back to the door as I approached.
“Judge?” I said. Tucker turned. He was handsome, with a thick head of light-brown hair, deeply tanned skin, and bright-green eyes. He rose to meet me and extended his hand.
“Cass,” he said. “Thanks for meeting me. I know how odd this must all seem.”
I took the opposite bench and folded my hands on the table. I ordered an iced tea and a toasted bagel when the waitress came.
At forty-two, Kent Tucker was one of the youngest judges on the local bench. His election had been a bit of a coup as he had only lived in the county for about five years before that. He’d made a small fortune as an asbestos lawyer, from what I was told. A lot of people thought he bought his way to the bench, but I’d so far found him a fair and thoughtful jurist. It also helped he didn’t have deep family connections in town like most of the good ol’ boy network around Delphi.
“Well, I’m curious,” I said. “You didn’t say much on the phone.”
Tucker sipped his own iced tea and gave the waitress a polite smile as she set down my bagel. The judge was working on a club sandwich. When the waitress left, I quietly scraped off about an inch of cream cheese from each half of my bagel before taking a bite.
“I need your help,” he said.
I dabbed the corner of my mouth with a napkin. “I figured that much out already. What’s going on?”
He tapped the blank screen of his phone before answering. “It’s my sister. I’m worried about her.”
Being an out-of-towner, I knew little about Kent Tucker’s family. Hell, most of Delphi would have considered him an out-of-towner even if he had lived here twenty years. He hadn’t.
“I’ve tried to look out for her,” he said. “But she’s had a rough go. Not that a lot of it she didn’t bring on herself. We weren’t close growing up. Ten years apart. I had an older sister, Cindy. We were kind of inseparable. She passed away when I was eight. My parents kind of had Annie to, I don’t know, replace Cindy. We lost her in a car accident. My mom was driving.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “That must have been a pretty awful time for your family.”
He shrugged. “I was just a kid. It wasn’t Annie’s fault, but it was hard not to resent her for even existing at that time.”
“I can imagine,” I said.
“I wasn’t always there for her,” he said. “My parents’ marriage fell apart. I think Annie grew up blaming herself for a lot of it. Kinda hard for a kid not to think she wasn’t enough for them to hold it all together, you know?”
I took a sip of my tea. I’d never spoken to Judge Tucker except in open court or a polite hello in the hallways. If anything, I always found him stoic. As far as I knew, he didn’t really socialize with anyone outside the courthouse. Being a judge could be a lonely life in that way. It could cause problems if he went on golf outings or lunched with lawyers who appeared before him. Which was why I was doubly stunned as to why I was sitting here. And why he just unloaded most of his life story on me, a near stranger to him.
“What’s going on, Judge?” I asked.
He let out a breath. Judge Tucker kept his eyes down. “Like I said, Annie’s had a complicated life. I should have been there for her more than I was. By the time I was mature enough to figure that out, it was too late. She doesn’t always trust me.”
“She’s in trouble,” I surmised. “What is it? Money or a man?”
Judge Tucker finally looked up.
“Ah,” I said. “A man. Is she married to him?”
He tightened his lips. “Brian,” he answered. “Brian Liski.”
“How bad is it?” I asked.
“I’ve seen some bruises,” he said.
“Do they have kids?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Thankfully, no.”
“Has she reached out to you?” I asked.
“Not overtly. But as distant as we’ve been over the years, I do know my sister. She moved here to Delphi when I did. She’d just gotten out from under a different bad relationship. She has a knack for those. We’re getting closer now. Until she married Brian, I was the only family she had.”
I smiled. “I’ve got a kid sister like that too.”
His face fell. He knew about my sister Vangie’s troubles. Everyone did.
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I thought of you.”
“What is it you want me to do?” I asked.
“Cass,” he said. “Annie, my sister. She’s a little in awe of you. She followed some of your more notable trials in the last couple of years. On more than one occasion, she’s asked me if I knew you personally.”
“I’m flattered,” I said.
“I’m hoping you can talk some sense into her. I think if she knew someone like you would be willing to go to bat for her, she could work up the nerve to deal with Brian once and for all.”
“Wait,” I said. “Do you mean to tell me she hasn’t asked for my help?”
“No,” he said. “But like I said, I know her. She covers when I’m the one asking. She doesn’t want to disappoint me, and she hates that she’s had to ask for my help before. I’ve told her that’s silly, but she’s stubborn.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Oh yes, his Annie sounded a lot like members of my own family. “Judge,” I said. “I sympathize with how tough this has to be for you. Believe me, I’ve been in your shoes. But if Annie doesn’t …”
“Cass,” he said, his tone growing grave. “I think she’s running out of time.”
A chill went up my spine. I didn’t know Kent Tucker well at all, but I recognized the fear in his eyes, and it triggered something inside of me.
“Just talk to her,” he said. “It’s all in her head, but I think she feels like she’s all on her own. I’m afraid it’s going to make her take chances she shouldn’t. And I don’t want to be sitting here someday hating myself for not trying everything I can think of.”
“Talk to her,” I said.
“She’s financially dependent on this guy,” the judge said. He turned his phone around and showed me a picture of his sister. She was pretty. Dark haired with a wide smile and deep dimples. In the picture, a man I presumed was Brian, her husband, had his arms wrapped around her. He was kissing her cheek. With everything Tucker said, the image gave me the creeps.
“Financially dependent, huh?” I said.
“Yes. I mean, she tries. She went to college for a while. Never graduated. She was going to be a dental hygienist. Then an X-ray tech. For a while she had an Etsy store and sold homemade greeting cards and invitations. She’s a pretty good artist. She does calligraphy and things like that. When she married Brian, she started going to cosmetology school. She just started at a hair salon. But I know my sister, that won’t last long either. I’ve been the one paying for all of that until now. Now, she thinks Brian’s her savior. Between the pair of them, I don’t think they have a pot to ... er ... you know what ... in.”
I sat back and shook my head. “So, you want me to pursue a case with a client who more than likely doesn’t want my help and who can’t afford to pay me even if she agrees to talk to me?”
Judge Tucker charmed me with a sheepish smile. “I’d say that’s about the size of it. And I’ll owe you.”
My face fell. Then his did. “No,” he said. “Not like that. I’m not talking about something unethical. I just mean if I’m in a position to put in a good word or throw some business your way …”
The truth was it wouldn’t at all hurt me to get back in the good graces of at least one member of the Woodbridge County judiciary. Plus, Kent Tucker was no fool. He knew I was a sucker for lost causes. Annie Liski fit the bill, for sure.
“Sounds like this is right up my alley,” I sighed.
Kent Tucker’s face softened with relief. “She works at a salon called Bella Donna. You could, I don’t know, maybe make an appointment with her?”
“Great,” I smiled. I ran a hand through my hair, wondering how much he expected me to sacrifice to the cause. Sliding out of the booth. I left a ten on the table. “I’ll see what I can do. But no promises.”
Judge Kent Tucker’s hopeful expression kind of melted me. Oh yes. I was a sucker for lost causes, for sure.
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