MCKENNA WRIGHT looked up from her work to find the devil regarding her from her office doorway. The devil wore cowboy boots, a know-it-all grin, and a battered Stetson fringed with errant curls of sandy-colored hair.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Mckenna grumbled.
The grin widened. "Fine welcome."
Mckenna met him eye-to-eye. Her staff knew better than to disturb her when she was poring over a case, barricaded in the citadel of her office and enthroned at her desk. But her staff had left two hours ago.
"I knew I would find you here on a Friday night," the devil said. "Everyone else is out partying, or spending time with the family, or vegging in front of the tube. But not Mckenna Wright. She's hard at work for the firm, brow furrowed, mind focused, giving it her all for good old Bradner, Kelly, and Bolin."
Mckenna leaned back in her chair with a sigh. The State of Arizona v. Todd Harmon was going nowhere as long as Tom Markham, temptation personified, stood in her doorway. He couldn't come within sight of her without irritating, distracting, provoking, and otherwise tempting her to think about him rather than the work at hand.
"Okay, Cowboy, so you found me hard at work when I should be out partying. But I'm sure any hole in the party world is diligently being filled by your colleagues at the county attorney's office. After all, being on the government payroll means you aren't caught dead working after hours, right? We wouldn't want the taxpayers to get more than their money's worth, would we?"
He shook his head--a handsome head in spite of the too-long hair and cowboy hat. "You need to go out and have some fun once in a while, Mac. Then maybe you wouldn't be such a grouch."
Mckenna scowled. Of all her friends and acquaintances, Tom was the only one with the nerve to call her Mac. "Spare me the lecture," she said sharply. "Are you here for a reason, Cowboy, or is your idea of a Friday night party coming over here to needle me?"
His long, lean body lounged against the doorframe. A relaxed smile showed total unconcern with her annoyance. Tom Markham had always shown total unconcern for Mckenna's annoyance, even during the year he had worked for Bradner, Kelly, and Bolin. The fact that her nameplate was getting ready to add the title "Partner" while he barely even rated a nameplate hadn't intimidated him in the least.
But then, a man who had ridden bulls for a living before taking on law school might not regard a mere law firm almost-partner as intimidating, even one who cultivated a sharp tongue and an edgy temper.
"I am here to needle you," Tom admitted with an insouciant grin.
"Like I didn't know that?"
"And--believe it or not--I'm also here in an official capacity."
"Really," she drawled skeptically.
"Semiofficial. It is Friday night, after all. Want to go somewhere for a drink?"
She had to laugh. "You're asking me out?"
"Oh, no. Would I be so bold, after the last time?"
He would, Mckenna thought. Tom Markham's boldness knew no limits. If his boldness had been aimed at his work with BKB, he would have soared to the top, as Mckenna had done. But Tom Markham was bolder with bulls and women than with the law. Thus his current fate at the county attorney's office, stuck as a middle-class public servant, taking his revenge by being a thorn in Mckenna's side.
He answered her skeptical grimace with, "Nope! You don't have to worry about me takin' liberties, ma'am. You made yourself pretty clear on that score a long time ago, and I'm not a man to beat a dead horse. Actually, I want to talk to you about work. Nose-to-the-grindstone sort of woman that you are, you should appreciate that."
"Work," she echoed. "What work?"
"State of Arizona v. Todd Harmon ring a bell?"
The Harmon case was the last thing Mckenna wanted to discuss with anyone from the county attorney's office right then, especially sharp-eyed, sharp-eared Tom.
"I just thought, this being the beginning of the weekend and all, that music and maybe a little liquor could make the discussion more amiable."
Stuffing the file on her desk into her briefcase, Mckenna grimaced. "You're not going to give up and go away, are you?"
"Not a chance."
"All right, Cowboy. I'll give you an hour. After that I have to put my nose back to the grindstone. I have a ton of work waiting for me."
She insisted upon taking separate cars. No way would she cede a driver's seat to Tom. He led the way to the Rainbow's End, a steak house and bar in a historic stagecoach stop on the western edge of Sedona. Almost everything in Sedona, Arizona, qualified as picturesque--from southwestern cowboy quaint to New Age kooky. But to go along with the ambiance, the Rainbow's End boasted the best margaritas in town.
The place also grilled the best steak in town, a reputation to which Tom paid tribute by ordering a huge New York strip, juicy rare, with a baked potato soaked in butter.
"I thought we were here for a quiet drink and legal talk."
"A man's gotta eat," he said, stabbing a near-raw hunk of steak and blissfully forking it into his mouth.
Dinner, caveman style. Mckenna contemplated throwing up. Her idea of a sensible meal was perhaps salad greens and a few slices of tomato. The closest she generally came to meat was opening a can of cat food for Nefertiti, her cat.
"You should weigh five hundred pounds, eating like that."
Tom swallowed a bite and answered cheerfully, "Just doing my part as top of the food chain. Nothing wrong with real food, Mac. You should try it some time. You're thin as a rail."
Regarding him sourly over the salted rim of her margarita, Mckenna said, "I like being thin as a rail. It's healthy." Not to mention elegant, fashionable, and sexy--three qualities that boosted any woman's career. It wasn't fair that dumpy and plain were usually fatal to a female seeking professional advancement, but that was the way the world worked. "That's just disgusting." Mckenna grimaced at Tom's steak. "Now that you're not battling bulls in the rodeo arena, you've decided to eat them?"
"Nothing better in this world than a good steak. And a good buttered potato. Mmmm. Lots of butter. And sour cream."
Mckenna took a cleansing sip of margarita just to drive the notion of all that fat from her palate. "Can we get down to business, Tom? You did drag me here to do something more interesting than watch you drool over a dead cow, right?"
He grinned engagingly, showing white, straight teeth. "I could think of a number of more interesting things to do."
Mckenna skewered him with a glare.
"How's that boyfriend of yours?"
That caught her by surprise. "Adam?"
"Yeah, Adam. I heard he was quite the hot-shot attorney in Denver. The word is out that you two are planning to tie the knot."
"He is a hot-shot attorney, but the rest is rumor."
"Ah. Rumor. You can tell me. Is BKB going to lose its best attorney to matrimony?"
She gave him a superior smile. "Don't get your hopes up. My career is never going to take second place to matrimony. I'll be here to whip your ass in court for the foreseeable future."
He chuckled in acknowledgment that he'd been bested. Her answer to his question hadn't told him what he wanted to know, which was none of his business and he knew it. She didn't want to talk to Tom Markham about Adam Decker.
"And just what about the Harmon case did you bring me here to discuss?"
"Ah, Mac, you never relax a minute, do you?"
She scowled. "Not that it's any of your concern, but yes, I do take time to relax. In certain circles, in fact, I'm actually considered a fun person."
"Yeah, I know. When you take your cat to visit the hospital, the patients think you're a barrel of fun. Of course, considering the other stuff on a hospital agenda, their standards may be pretty low."
Mckenna set her glass on the table and whipped the napkin from her lap. "I'm outta here." Even a good margarita wasn't worth being insulted.
"Whoa!" he commanded as she stood. "Wait!"
"Why? So I can waste time with this nonsense?"
"I do want to talk about Todd Harmon."
"Then get to it, Cowboy." Huffily, she sat. "What do we need to discuss about Todd Harmon, other than the fact that the county attorney and the bumbling Keystone Cops in the sheriff's office are targeting an innocent man simply because he's a high-profile celebrity?"
"Mac, if we wanted to target high-profile celebrities around here, we could drag half of Sedona to the station to get fingerprinted. This is a town full of celebrities."
"Sure. Artists, writers, a movie icon or two. But Todd Harmon is a genuine star. They don't come any bigger. America's boy next door. Mr. Country-Clean Living with a taste for occasional partying. So you just assume he's heavy into drugs."
"I know he's heavy into drugs. Not only doing drugs, but pushing them. Right here in the fair little town of Sedona."
"Bullshit," she said airily.
"I have witnesses."
"All of whom were snockered to the gills at the time of the alleged drug transaction. I'll rip them to pieces on the witness stand."
He waved a forkful of steak at her. "The stupid shit tried to sell coke to a police officer, for chrissakes!"
She answered with a superior smile. "Entrapment. I'll get it thrown out. The jury will never hear it. Besides, Todd thought it was a joke his buddies were playing on him."
Tom gave her a stern look. "Cut the defense attorney song and dance, Mac. You're not impressing a jury here. This is me. Your client is guilty as sin of both possession and selling, and we both know it. But to save the taxpayers money, the prosecution is willing to do a deal, because for all his money and worshipping fans, Todd Harmon is a small fish in a big, scummy pond. If he tells us who the big fish are and turns state's evidence when the time comes, we'll let him plead guilty to the lesser charge of possession. He'll get an abbreviated sentence, along with rehab, and before too long, he's back to wowing 'em on stage and making commercials for Pepsi."
Mckenna shook her head, but she did throw him a bone. "I'll talk to him, but he won't go for it. He knows you've got holes in your case, and he also knows he has the best defense attorney in the state on his side. I can kill you in court, Cowboy." Or at least she could if she somehow managed to make legal lemonade out of the bagful of lemons Todd Harmon had handed her. But she wasn't in the mood to give up the truth and watch Tom gloat. Not tonight. Not after the barbs he kept throwing her way.
"The truth has nothing to do with it, eh?"
More than he knew. But she put on her trademark confident smile and pulled out the standard lecture. "Right and wrong, true and false don't exist in a court of criminal law, only proving something beyond a reasonable doubt, and a jury can see reasonable doubt in something as small as a defendant's charming smile or the prosecutor's ugly tie. Hell, don't tell me you still believe in the law as a tool for righting the wrongs of society."
His smile twisted wryly. "Cynicism. It sounds so wrong coming from that angel's face of yours. Don't you ever get tired of sacrificing truth to ambition, Mac?"
She prayed for patience. Angel's face, indeed! The way Tom Markham often looked at her--as if she were some kind of ripe fruit waiting to be picked--never failed to muddle her brain, though she wouldn't in a million years let him know that. So she shot him a look that no one, not even Tom Markham, could call angelic.
"I'm not in the business of tilting at windmills, Cowboy. And realism isn't cynicism. I owe Todd
Harmon the very best defense I can give him, because that's what the law says he deserves, whether he's a bum off the streets or a rock star. Everybody has the right to the best possible defense against eager-beaver prosecutors like you. So quit angling for me to hand you my client on a skewer."
He gave her a long, hard stare that she met head-on without a flinch. Tom Markham was an idealist, and he was not going to make her feel guilty about this, because everything she'd said was right. Idealists screwed up the world, not realists.
"Okay," he finally said, giving up on the stare. "Talk to Harmon, and think about it, Mac. Think about the greater good for a change."
She rolled her eyes as he pushed back his chair, slapped his Stetson onto his head, and stood up. "I'll get the bill."
"Never mind," she told him. "I wouldn't want the taxpayers to get stuck for that steak. My expense account is fatter than yours, I'm sure."
"The taxpayers won't be buying my steak." He grinned wickedly. "But I'll let you buy it with your fat expense account, if you insist. I'm outta here for the weekend. You'll be nose to the grindstone for BKB, right? But I'm spending the weekend on a pair of water skis at Canyon Lake. Call me Monday. We'll talk."
Mckenna stared into her glass while Tom disappeared out the door--just to prove to herself that she really had no desire to watch his butt as he walked away in those snug jeans. Then she smiled to herself. Like hell she didn't want to watch his butt. It was a supremely superior butt, as men's butts went, and she didn't have to buy the product just because she admired the packaging.
Waterskiing, eh? Skiing double, no doubt. She wondered who would be sharing the lake with him. Some "fun" honey with more boobs than brains, probably. Not that she cared. In fact, she totally didn't care. Tom had made his play for her when he worked for BKB, and she'd given him the cold shoulder for a host of reasons. She had lived at the top of the firm's ladder, while he had teetered on the bottom rung. Like that would have worked out? She didn't think so. Besides, an ex-rodeo cowboy wasn't even close to her type. That down-home drawl and stupid Stetson reeked of cowboy bars and country music. Mckenna preferred four-star restaurants and Mozart when she had time to indulge in such frivolities, which wasn't often.
She needed another margarita, Mckenna decided, and motioned to the waiter. From across the room he pointed to her glass with a questioning lift of a brow, and she nodded.
Excerpted from The Cat's Meow by Emily Carmichael. Copyright © 2004 by Emily Carmichael. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.