All set to add another notch to your belt, LJ?”

Leslie Harris glanced up from the deposition transcript, hiding her annoyance at

the interruption and the uninvited familiarity.

She’d made the mistake of leaving her ofÞ ce door partly open when she’d

arrived at 4:30 a.m., and now she discovered with a quick glance at her Piaget it

was close to seven, and the troops were arriving. It wasn’t like her to lose track

of the time.

Absently tucking a strand of her shoulder-length, ash blond hair behind her ear,

she smiled automatically at the junior associate who leaned into her ofÞ ce.

Mentally, she ran his stats. Tom Smith. Eager, just like every other ambitious

young attorney, and smart enough to recognize the important players in the Þ

rm. Points for that. Just the slightest bit obvious with his ß irtatious attention.

Minor demerit. She crossed her silk-stocking-clad legs beneath the skirt of her

custom-tailored Armani suit and shrugged. “Just another day at the ofÞ ce,


“Oh yeah. Like it’s every day we take on the Feds with a couple of million at


“Uh-huh.” Actually, for her it was a near-daily occurrence, because defending

corporations in big-ticket, high-proÞ le lawsuits was her specialty. And she

liked to win. Every time. Her ferocious drive had shaped her career from the

start, as had her unfailing ability to read a jury and emphasize just the right

aspects of the case to garner their sympathy. She’d fast-tracked to partner

seven years out of law school, and her pace, if anything, had picked up in the

last year since she’d moved into a corner ofÞ ce.

But she had neither the time nor the inclination to point all this out to Tom. She’d

barely squeezed in her daily workout at the gym before coming to the ofÞ ce to

prepare for a big morning in court. She was also juggling six other cases that

were every bit as important as the one she was due to defend in two hours

before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

She reached for her fourth cup of coffee of the morning and went back to


“Get you something from the coffee shop, LJ? Bagel?”

“What?” Leslie glanced up again, surprised to see Tom still standing there.

Didn’t he have any work to do? “No. Thanks. I’m Þ ne.”

Breakfast wasn’t on her schedule. She’d be lucky if she remembered to grab a

yogurt at lunch, because the midday recess was a critical time to recap the case

with her client and revamp strategy. Working lunch was just a euphemism for

more work, and rarely included food. Fortunately, as far as tough battles went,

today’s case was middle-of-the-road.

United States v. Harlan Vehicles, LLC, et al. She knew the facts verbatim of

course, but her defense wouldn’t center on the facts. It was true that her client,

Harlan Vehicles, had imported 11,000 pieces of gasoline- and diesel-powered

equipment over the past nine months that didn’t meet the federal Clean Air Act

emission requirements. Arguing that point would be folly, because the measured

levels of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides in the

exhaust was irrefutable. She never based a case on discrediting the science,

because Americans were programmed to believe facts and Þ gures. No, her

ammunition had to be more personal, something that Joe Juror could relate to.

And when the federal government assessed the company millions of dollars in

penalties and Þ nes after the special agents from the Justice Department and

U.S. Customs seized the equipment, she had just the weapon she needed.

She couldn’t make the charges go away, but she didn’t need to.

After all, what average citizen couldn’t be made to appreciate that levying

crippling costs on Harlan meant a higher price tag for them the next time they

went to buy a snowmobile for their kids for Christmas?

In this kind of case, reducing the monetary damages to tens of thousands rather

than millions of dollars—what amounted to a slap on the wrist for a corporation

the size of Harlan—was a major win.

Still mentally reviewing the order of her witness list, Leslie drained her coffee

cup and rose to get a reÞ ll. As a sudden wave of

dizziness rolled through her, she dropped her coffee cup onto the thick Persian

rug. Reß exively, she braced both arms on the desk, lowered her head, and

took several long, slow breaths. It was frighteningly difÞ cult to catch her breath,

and her heart felt as if it might dance its way up her throat and right out of her

body. She blinked and forced herself to focus on the pens and papers covering

her desk until the room stopped spinning and the black curtain obscuring her

vision lifted. Then, when she was sure she wasn’t going to faint, she carefully

lowered herself into her chair. Worried that someone might have witnessed her

spell or whatever the hell it was, she checked the door to be sure no one was


Thankfully, the hall was empty. The last thing she needed was for her colleagues

to get the impression that she wasn’t up to form.

Her adversaries in the courtroom weren’t the only ones who killed the weak.

She got along well with her partners, but she wouldn’t exactly call them her

friends. Nevertheless, the thin veneer covering aggressive competitiveness didn’t

bother her. This was the battleÞ eld she had chosen, or perhaps the one that

had chosen her, and she intended to triumph.

“Ready to head over, LJ?” Stephanie Ackerman called from the doorway.

Leslie’s paralegal, a voluptuous redhead four inches shorter than Leslie’s Þ ve

foot six, pulled a rolling cart with two enormous briefcases strapped to it. In the

other hand, she carried a venti cappuccino.

“Just about.” Leslie smiled brightly and hoped she didn’t look as pale as she felt.

Even though her breathing was more comfortable, she still felt an odd ß uttering

sensation in her chest. Maybe no breakfast after three hours’ sleep wasn’t such

a good idea after all. “Do me a favor and grab a Danish along with another

coffee for me, will you?”

“Sure. I’ll meet you by the elevators.”

Leslie waited until Stephanie disappeared to Þ ll her own briefcase with the

notes and Þ les she’d need. By the time she joined Stephanie, she felt Þ ne.

While the elevator descended, she nibbled on the Danish and scanned the

messages on her BlackBerry. When the doors slid open, she dropped the

remaining half of the pastry into a nearby wastebasket.

She didn’t need food; the upcoming mental combat was all the fuel she needed

to energize her.

By three in the afternoon the next day, Leslie knew she’d have another win in

her column. The trial was still a long way from over, but she’d sensed the subtle

change of mood in the members of the jury, from wary and perplexed—as

they’d listened to the assistant U.S.

attorney recite dry statistics and a litany of rules and regulations—to

sympathetic, when she’d pointed out the massive expense and time required for

her client to comply with those same rules and regulations.

Her subtle point, time and time again, had been that Harlan Vehicles wished to

be in compliance with the law despite the heavy Þ nancial burden placed upon

them by government regulation, and that levying huge penalties would only make

it more difÞ cult for them. Oh yes, any taxpayer would understand that.

As she listened to the testimony of another of the government’s scientiÞ c

experts, she ran numbers in her head, calculating how much she might be able to

rein in the penalties. A very great deal, she wagered.

“Your witness, Counselor,” the judge said.

“Thank you, Your Honor.” Leslie rose quickly and strode briskly from behind

the defense table. She had only a second to register the violent racing of her

heart before she fainted.


My God, Leslie! Someone get some water!

“I’m Þ ne. Fine,” Leslie said weakly. Vaguely aware of the fact that she was

lying on the ß oor in the middle of the courtroom, she struggled to sit up.

Someone held her down with the slightest touch to her shoulder, and she didn’t

have the strength to protest. Her vision wavered and she felt as if she were

trying to breathe underwater. “No, please. Really. I…just need…a little air.”

She heard the judge hastily adjourning for the day and ß ushed with

embarrassment. She was used to being the center of attention, but not like this.

Stephanie’s face swam into view, and Leslie Þ xed on the bright blue eyes a

shade lighter than her own. When her head cleared enough that she thought she

could stand without falling, she said, “Help me up, Steph. I’m okay.”

Stephanie and Bill Mallory, Leslie’s second chair, guided her to her feet.

Stephanie kept her arm around Leslie’s waist. “You’re white as a sheet, LJ.”