The Paradise Thriller Series
Season One Available on Radish
Season Two coming in 2018
— Scroll Down to Sample the First Episode —
The Miami Lawyers Series
The Millionaire’s Convenient Arrangement
“A heartfelt, engaging story with warm and memorable characters. Peden has written a winner!” — New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Shirley Jump
What readers are saying about The Millionaire’s Convenient Arrangement …
Emma said: “This is the first book by this author that I’ve read and wow what a fantastic story it is. I was totally hooked from the first page till the very end and then I wanted more and more. I fell in love with the characters from the start. This book has a lovely ending, it’s just perfect for the story. I would I’ve to read the stories of the other characters and I can’t wait to read more from this author in the future.”
Francoise said: “I loved everything about this heartfelt, uplifting and beautifully written story, with some angst and all the feels! Ritchie and Maria are great, complex and multi-layered characters, they give this book its irresistible emotional pull.”
Hilda D said: “The Millionaire’s Convenient Arrangement is a thoughtful novel that will engulf the reader and not let go until the last page. There is passion, angst, tension, drama, twists and turns and sizzling scenes.”
Debra M said: “Ms Peden is a new author to me, one I’m sure I will be reading more of in the near future. I found this book to be quite entertaining, will definitely recommend.”
Cheryl M said: “Maria and Richie are complex, well rounded people that you want to root for. Their backstories and motivations are rich and multi-layered. Peden is an expert at drawing the reader into the story world. I can’t wait for the third book in the series.”
— Scroll Down to Sample the First Episode —
AVAILABLE NOW 29 from Mr. Media Books and from Amazon
ALSO AVAILABLE NOW AS A SERIALIZED NOVEL ON RADISH:
The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal
“Jane Peden gives readers exactly what they want — plenty of sass, sizzle, and surprises on every page!” — New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Roxanne St. Claire
“The conflict here is rich and deep. There’s no greater grist for the gut than two scarred lovers trying to find a way back into each other’s arms.” — New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Julie Leto
What readers are saying about The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal …
Lori says: “Wow! What an intense book! I had to finish it once I started it. I could not put it down.”
2kasmom says: “I loved this story! It felt very real and the scenario could happen to anyone with a Vegas weekend in their past. I was impressed with the depth of these characters, even the kids. This book is a definite keeper on the shelf”.
Jessica says: “This story was so heart wrenching and uplifting. It’s crazy how one chapter I was crying and yelling at my Kindle for someone to please tell Sam to just listen and the next I was laughing at the antics of Olivia and JD. I can’t express how much I loved this book. I will say that I wanted to hate Sam in some parts for being so thick headed but I guess the author just did a great job of making him more realistic like that. I would highly encourage everyone to pick up this book. It’s one you will want to read over and over!”
Misty says: “I loved this book. . . .This book got right to the point which hooked me as a reader. The story was well written and I just flipped through chapter after chapter in no time at all.”
Angie says: “I felt like I was on the edge of my seat from page to page as I read this story.”
Kae says: “I loved Camilla’s strong personality, her sister’s story and her adorable son. The author did a great job of tying up all the loose ends and giving me the happily ever after than I wanted.”
Isha says: “This story was strong, frustrating, heartbreaking but it grabs you from the first page. An emotion filled read that takes you on a great journey to happily ever after.”
AVAILABLE NOW from Entangled Publishing, Indulgence Imprint
— Scroll Down to Sample the First Episode —
Paradise Thriller (Season One)
Episode One – She Won’t Tell
Her heart hammered against her ribs, lungs burning as she sucked in more air. He was getting closer. Not bothering to move quietly, not any more. She should have run sooner, right away, the moment she saw them by the cliff. The moment she understood that something was terribly wrong.
But she’d stood there, frozen in disbelief. Stood there, even when he turned toward her. Even as he looked past her, through her, then said something to the other man. Her first instinct to rush forward, to help, had been cut off by a cold, paralyzing fear. And the realization that what she’d just seen was not an accident.
A sob caught in her throat, choking her as she tripped over roots, as her foot tangled in vines. She pitched forward, landing flat on her face. Her cheek burned where she’d scraped the ground, and hot tears rushed behind her eyes.
She scrambled up and started running again. He was so close now she could hear him breathing. She’d never make it back to camp. At the fork in the trail she turned right, toward the beach. He couldn’t hurt her out in the open, not in broad daylight. Not where someone might see her, help her.
She was almost there. The sheer rush of hope as she spotted a flash of blue water ahead gave her a burst of adrenalin and propelled her legs faster. Moments later she was sliding down the slope, spilling onto the warm sand. She pushed herself back onto her feet, half running and half stumbling forward, choking out a sob of relief. The sunlight glistened on the water.
Then her skin turned to ice. He was calling her name softly.
She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. She tried to run, but the sand dragged at her feet. Her legs felt weak, and she couldn’t move them fast enough. She fell again, and looked back as he effortlessly dropped down the slope and stepped onto the beach behind her.
She found her voice then, and screamed for help, screamed as loud as she could. But there was no one there, no one on the entire length of the beach, as far as she could see. She screamed again, crawling on her hands and knees, turning then falling back on the sand as he walked toward her.
“Who are you? I didn’t see anything. I won’t tell anyone. Please.”
He just shook his head, then unfolded a latex mask and pulled it on, hiding his features.
She’d already seen his face. Why did he need a mask when she’d already seen his face? Images of every horror movie she’d ever watched flashed through her mind as the man in the mask moved toward her.
“Please!” she screamed again. Then sobbed, “I won’t tell.” She was scurrying backwards now, on all fours, like a crab.
“No,” he said, “you won’t tell.”
When she saw the gun in his hand she closed her eyes and, for the first time in more years than she could remember, she began to pray.
* * *
“Good afternoon.” The man leaned against a table in the front of the small conference room in the downtown L.A. hotel. The measuring look in his eyes as he surveyed the room seemed at odds with the casual stance.
This, Alison thought, must be the “ruggedly handsome” director her sister had described in her last, hurried phone call more than two months ago, before Gwen disappeared. She had supposedly left for the taping of a new reality TV show. But as far as Alison had been able to discover, no one in the industry had ever heard of it.
The director was tall and lean, dressed in a loose fitting polo shirt and faded jeans. Although he wasn’t overtly muscular, Alison’s experience as a fitness instructor told her this was not a man who spent his time sitting behind a desk. She could easily imagine him performing the physical challenges on an old school, survival-type reality show. His steady gaze scanned the forty or so people sitting on the folding chairs, and they immediately fell silent. Nervous excitement filled the air.
While she studied the director, he suddenly looked her in the eyes. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, afraid that somehow her face would reveal that she was no ordinary contestant. Answering the ad in a movie trade paper and coming here to the audition for the next taping of “Reality Island” was her last, desperate attempt to find out what had happened to her sister. The director seemed to measure her a moment longer, then moved on.
She exhaled slowly, unaware until that moment that she had been holding her breath. There was no way he’d recognized her as Gwen’s sister. Gwen was movie-star gorgeous, in a classic cinema sort of way that belied her adventurous spirit. Alison, on the other hand, was a throwback to the Irish ancestors on their father’s side of the family. She told herself to relax. The longer she kept her identity a secret, the better chance she had of catching the director off-guard. That is, if she ever got the chance to speak with him alone.
His voice, like the appraising look he’d used to survey the room, had an undercurrent of steel. “My name’s Brogan. I want to congratulate all of you on being selected as possible contestants for Reality Island. I’m here to answer any questions you have. Then we’ll be interviewing each of you briefly, and you’ll be notified of our final selection by the end of the week.
“Understand that if we could, we would choose you all. But the success of our program requires the proper mix of contestants. For those of you who aren’t selected today, we’ll keep you on our list for future tapings.”
Had Gwen sat here, maybe in this same room, listening to this same introductory speech? Alison wished she’d paid more attention to her sister’s last phone call, but it had just been one more of Gwennie’s crazy adventures. A slot on a new reality TV show that she was certain would catapult her into the acting career she’d been dreaming of since her first taste of the theatre back in high school. And it had nothing to do with housewives, cocktail parties, or the lives of the rich and not so famous.
No, this was some sort of wilderness survival competition. At first Allison had been appalled. The only survival reality show she’d heard about in recent years was one where the contestants were dropped off naked in a jungle and ate bugs and rotting parrot heads for twenty-one days before catching malaria or some other disease and spending the next three months in a hospital. Naked and Afraid? How about naked and completely insane?
But no, Gwennie had assured her it was nothing like that – it was a revival of the kind of survival show they’d watched as kids. Totally retro. Campfires and beaches and silly contests and maybe a little romance with a hot guy. These shows might be passé here in America, Gwennie insisted, but there was a huge foreign market for it in direct to video streaming. And there was a good chance it would get picked up in the U.S. by one of the more obscure networks.
While Gwen rattled off the names of all the reality show contestants who had spring-boarded into careers in movies and TV, Alison had tuned out. She’d been dealing with the day to day problems of running her health club in New York, and wasn’t really in the mood to hear the details of her younger sister’s plans to frolic in the sunlit coves of a tropical island for what appeared to be an all-expense-paid six-week vacation.
Brogan was still talking, giving what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech.
“First, is there anyone here who would have a problem dropping all their other commitments on short notice if you were selected for the next six-week segment?”
The room was silent.
“Good. At your personal interviews we’ll be asking each of you to sign a confidentiality pledge. If you are selected you’ll be given advance information about the program. Any leaks about the show’s content, location or other details could be very detrimental to the success of the entire production.
“I want you all to understand that revealing even the existence of this program is grounds for immediate disqualification.”
Probably that was why her sister had sworn her to secrecy, Alison thought. Don’t expect to hear from me for six weeks, she’d said. I shouldn’t even be calling now, but I was afraid you’d worry. But it didn’t explain why now, more than two months later, she’d still heard no word from Gwen. Or why it had been impossible to find out anything about the producers of the show and when – or if – it was going to air.
She could understand keeping the actual episodes of a reality show under wraps, but even the existence of the show? In the end, it was only through sheer luck and perseverance that she’d found the ad, sandwiched between the personals and job listings in one of the free weekly trade papers. And she’d felt her first glimmer of hope when one of Gwen’s roommates had recognized the ad.
Unattached and looking for adventure? Alternative producer seeks free spirits for reality-based programming. Exotic location. Cash prize awarded. Call 1-800-REALITY.
She fingered the worn slip of newsprint and listened anxiously as Brogan continued.
“With a $100,000 cash prize for the last remaining contestant and extensive media exposure and contact opportunities for all eight of you who are selected today, I’m sure no one wants to risk being disqualified for the sake of a little advance bragging to your friends or family.”
A man in the back spoke up. “Are you casting more than one episode today?”
“No. Just the initial taping. Although, as I said, we’ll be calling some of you back later for future casting, assuming things go as planned on our first shoot.”
His words fell on somber ears, as everyone looked around the room and gauged their own odds of being selected as one of eight from the group of forty or so hopeful contestants.
“Excuse me,” Alison said, “does ‘first shoot’ mean this is the first episode to be taped?”
“That’s right.” Brogan smiled. “So I guess you would be our guinea pigs.”
Alison shifted uneasily. What could have happened at – or before – the first taping to cause the production company to scrap it altogether? Had Gwennie ever made it to Reality Island? And if the taping had been canceled, why had she disappeared?
* * *
Want to read more? The complete serial novel is AVAILABLE NOW on Radish: https://radish.app.link/W9xdGDgQlH
Miami Lawyers (Prequel) – The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal
Sam Flanagan was on top of the world. Two weeks ago he’d won his biggest jury trial ever, defending a multimillion-dollar product liability case.
Five days after the jury returned its verdict for the defense, he cashed his bonus check and turned in his resignation. Now he was spending three glorious weeks in Las Vegas. When he returned, the new office in one of Miami’s high-rises would be decorated, furnished, and staffed, and the law firm of Flanagan, Berrington & Perez would officially open its doors for business.
But for now, Sam deserved to cut loose and have a little fun.
He took the elevator from his luxury suite to the lobby of the casino hotel and walked into the lounge. He took one quick look at the cool blonde seated alone at the bar and complimented himself on making the right decision.
The answer to how he was going to spend his first evening in Vegas was sitting right there at the bar. Short skirt, long legs, silky sleeveless blouse, and an air of class about her that made a man look twice and wonder if he could get lucky. And know that it would be well worth the effort.
She glanced around the room, her classically beautiful face expectant, not as if she were waiting for someone in particular but rather as if she were waiting for something interesting to happen. Her hair was cut in a sleek style just past her chin. She reached up and tucked a few strands behind her ear, revealing the long and lovely line of her neck, before she turned back to her drink and said something to the bartender.
Sam slid onto the barstool next to her. He ordered a beer, turned to her, and smiled.
“I’m wondering if you could help me out?”
She angled her chin toward him and raised an eyebrow, her expression cool. She had to be wearing contacts. No one’s eyes were that blue.
“I’m sorry, have we met?” Her voice was as cool as her demeanor, and it made him want her more.
“Sam Flanagan,” he said, and reached out his hand.
She hesitated, then put her hand in his. Her grip was firm but her skin was soft. He held her hand a second longer than necessary, then released it.
“May I ask your name?”
She hesitated again, then said, “Camilla.”
“I don’t give my last name to men I meet in bars. Not even in Vegas.”
Maybe that explained the trace of nerves he was sensing. He prided himself on being able to read people, and this was a woman who, despite her cool exterior, had just a hint of strain beneath the surface. Instead of flashing warning signals, it intrigued him.
He put some money on the bar, waved away the glass, and took a long drink from the icy cold bottle.
“Well, you know what they say about Vegas.”
“What happens here stays here?” she asked, and he nodded.
“I’m counting on it,” she said.
Now that was interesting. Was she running away from something? And he questioned again why such a sophisticated and beautiful woman was alone in a hotel bar. She definitely had his interest now. He leaned in a little closer.
“So will you help me?”
She shifted on the stool, crossing those long, elegant legs. When she raised her gaze to meet his, he was struck again by the beauty of her electric blue eyes. And the sudden heat that seemed to fill the small space between them. He knew she felt it, too. And was almost as good as him at masking her reaction.
“What exactly is your problem?” Her voice was still cool, but she broke eye contact and reached for her wineglass, running her fingers down the stem for a moment before lifting it slowly to her lips.
“My friends have both canceled. Which means I’ll be eating dinner alone.”
“You don’t like your own company?”
He extended his hands, palms up. “It’s just that they always give a lone diner the worst table.”
She looked him over. “I’m sure you’ve never been put at a bad table in your life.”
You’d be surprised, he thought, but his answer was smooth to his own ears. “Wouldn’t it be terrible if I started tonight? Especially when I was supposed to be celebrating.” He gave her his best “innocence tinged with sadness” look.
“Okay, I’ll bite. What are you celebrating?”
That seemed to get her attention.
“Really.” She gave him a look that reminded him of 1940s movie stars, sultry and icy at the same time. She had a restrained sensuality Sam couldn’t wait to unleash.
“Really. And what are you doing here, alone?”
“Actually, I’m on the run.”
He glanced around the room. “Should I get my gun?”
“Do you have one?”
“No.” He leaned closer. “What are you running from?”
She laughed. “At the moment, the spa where I’ve spent the last three days.”
“So an army of spa workers is searching the Strip for you?”
Her eyes narrowed. “How do I know you aren’t a deranged killer? You could be wondering how much time you have.”
He pulled out his wallet and extracted his driver’s license and a newly printed business card, pausing to write Camilla is safe with me and signing his name and the date on the back of the card before setting them both on the table in front of her. She picked them up, read the back of the card and smiled, then handed him back his license.
“Looks legit. What happens if I call the number on the card?”
“The answering service will tell you we open for business in three weeks.”
“Good thing I don’t have a pressing need for legal services.”
She tapped the business card against the smooth wood on the surface of the bar.
“I gave my treatment schedule to a willing victim. No one will even know I’m gone.” She grinned. “Slap enough mud and seaweed on naked female bodies, and it’s pretty hard to tell any of us apart.”
He held his finger up so she’d pause. “Sorry, just needed a moment to process that image.”
She laughed, the sound bubbling out of her, sweet and fresh, and suddenly she looked like a girl barely out of her teens. He’d pegged her in her midtwenties, close to his age, when he’d first spotted her at the bar. Now he wasn’t so sure.
Time to close the deal. “You’re alone. I’m alone. We could have dinner at two separate tables. Pitied by waiters. Or we could enjoy the evening together. It’s as simple as that.”
“How do you know I’m not waiting for someone?”
“Maybe you were waiting for me.”
She laughed and shook her head. “That’s a really bad line.”
“Have dinner with me and I promise to do better.”
He could almost see her mind working, considering. Could read in her eyes that she was weakening, the same way he could always read a jury.
“It’s just dinner,” he prompted.
“I’m not leaving the hotel with you,” she said, and he knew he had her. It was only a matter of time until she was in his suite.
“We’ll have dinner right here at the hotel,” he assured her.
He took her hand to help her off the barstool, then rested his palm lightly for a moment on the smooth silk on the back of her shoulder as he guided her out of the lounge and toward the nearby restaurant. Las Vegas was a town that was built on luck. And Sam was feeling lucky.
Five years later
The hot Miami sun beat down on Camilla as she shaded her eyes with her hand and looked up at the towering building. She stepped through the revolving door onto the marble floor and breathed in the crisp air-conditioning. She would never have come here if she had any other choice. Desperate times call for desperate measures, she thought, squaring her shoulders and steeling herself. It was, after all, the story of her life. And Danny—the man she’d married for all the wrong reasons and ended up loving for all the right ones—was hardly going to swoop in and save her this time. Or ever again.
The elevator whooshed her soundlessly to the fortieth floor, its doors opening directly into the impressive lobby of the firm. Camilla hesitated for a moment, then ruthlessly suppressed the urge to ride back down to the lobby. Her heels clicked as she walked across the polished wood floor toward the reception area.
The receptionist was a middle-aged woman, impeccably groomed and tastefully formidable.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to see Sam Flanagan.”
She frowned slightly. “And you are?”
She looked at her computer screen, then back at Camilla.
“I’m sorry. I don’t seem to have you listed on Mr. Flanagan’s schedule. Let me call his assistant. Jennifer will be happy to set up an appointment for later this week.”
The woman looked up, hand poised over the phone, and raised one perfectly arched eyebrow.
“It’s urgent I see him today.” Before I lose my nerve.
“I’m sure Mr. Flanagan’s assistant will—”
“Just tell him…it’s Camilla from Las Vegas.”
“Camilla from Las Vegas.”
“Yes.” She reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a card. “And give him this.”
The receptionist frowned at the business card, flipped it over, then looked back at Camilla.
“Please take a seat and I’ll check with Mr. Flanagan,” she said finally.
Sam was pacing in his office, fine-tuning the closing argument he would give to the jury when the case reconvened the next morning. His secretary’s voice came through the intercom, jarring him back into the present.
“Mr. Flanagan? I’m sorry to interrupt you, but—”
It better be important. “Jen, I asked you to hold all my calls.”
“I know but—“ She lowered her voice. “Can I come in?”
“Sure.” Whatever crisis it was now, he’d just have to get past it.
Jen slipped into the office and shut the door firmly behind her.
“There’s a woman in the reception area who is insisting that she see you today.”
“What’s her name?”
He frowned. “I don’t recall anyone by that name.”
“She says she’s from Las Vegas. And she had one of your cards. But it looks like the old ones.”
He held out his hand, flipped the card over, read the inscription. The fact that his expression didn’t change was a testament to his finely honed ability to hold a poker face whenever damaging evidence was presented by the other side at trial.
“Send her in.”
He walked over to the window, frowning as he gazed out at the panoramic view of Miami afforded by his corner office. They were in the same office tower where they’d started out five years ago. But now, instead of a suite of offices they’d sublet from another tenant, their firm had taken over the entire floor. He flipped the card idly between his fingers.
Camilla. Camilla Winthrop. He realized with a start that he hadn’t even known her last name. He’d spent the most amazing two weeks of his life with her. Had actually thought he might be falling for her. And then realized it was time to back off fast. The last thing he’d needed before starting his new firm was to be distracted by an entanglement with a woman he met in a bar in Las Vegas. So he’d cut his trip short. He winced when he remembered their awkward last breakfast, in the dining room of the resort hotel, overlooking the glitter of Vegas. The way she looked when he said it was probably better if they just said good-bye. He’d watched the warmth fade from her eyes, replaced by the cool reserve that had first drawn him to her in the bar. That’s fine, Sam, she’d said. As it happens I have plans of my own.
For a while he’d regretted leaving so abruptly and had hoped she’d contact him. She had his business card, but he didn’t have a clue where she was from. It was only afterward that he realized that when they weren’t making love, they’d talked about his plans, his future. Maybe the fact that she’d been such a complete mystery had added to the way the memory of those two weeks still haunted him.
He shook his head. He’d certainly never expected to hear from her five years later. Obviously, she was in some kind of trouble. And he didn’t need this kind of distraction, regardless of how strong the pull of curiosity was.
He turned, sensing a movement in the doorway.
“Hello, Sam.” His assistant retreated discreetly, closing the door behind her.
His first thought when Camilla walked across his office toward him was that she was even more stunning than he remembered. He felt, suddenly, as if someone had punched him in the gut. There was a large diamond on her left hand, and her clothes reflected understated elegance. Whatever her problems were, it didn’t look like they were financial.
“Camilla.” He kept his tone even.
He gestured to a visitor’s chair and sat down behind his desk. She was still the picture of cool sophistication and class, even more so than the first time he’d ever seen her. He had a sudden flashback of her sleek blond hair mussed as he ran his fingers through it, those long legs tangled in the silky sheets, her porcelain skin flushed, her quick little intake of breath right before she… Get a grip, Sam, he told himself, and kept his face carefully without expression. There was some reason she’d shown up here today, and he doubted if it was to reminisce about ancient history.
“I didn’t expect to ever see you again.”
“You’ve done well for yourself,” she said, looking around the office.
He was annoyed by his own reaction to her, and his words came out harsher than he intended.
“What are you doing here, Camilla?”
She shifted slightly in the chair. “It’s a little hard to explain.”
“Look, I don’t have time for small talk. So why don’t you get to the point.” He sat back, ready to digest whatever legal problem was on her mind. He’d help her if he could, but only because he still felt bad about the way he’d ended it in Vegas.
“Fine.” She crossed her legs and leaned forward, looking him straight in the eye. “I’m here,” she said, “because I need you to marry me.”
The look he gave her made her feel like a witness being questioned in one of his trials. She’d gotten his attention, but the interested and slightly amused look had been replaced by eyes so hard that she felt as if his stare were physically pinning her to the chair. The last five years had transformed any lingering traces of boyish charm into chiseled good looks with a slightly dangerous edge. His gray eyes appraised her coolly. She could remember a time when they had darkened with passion. Eyes like storm clouds that reflected the swirling passions he’d aroused in her during that brief escape from the most desperate time in her life. His thick black hair, so perfectly in place now, had been wildly unruly and she resisted the impulse to reach out now, to lean across his desk and see if it still had the texture of silk as it slipped through her fingers. Rekindling an old romance was not what she was here for.
“Is this a joke?” There was no warmth in his voice.
“I spent two weeks with you in Las Vegas five years ago. I’ve regretted ending things the way I did.” He paused and glanced pointedly at her ring finger. “But apparently you moved on.”
The nerve of him. He was the one who dumped her, before she even had a chance to explain what was going on in her life, how badly she wished things were different. She hadn’t gone to Vegas intending to meet a man who’d turn her emotions upside down. But she’d felt a connection to Sam. She remembered how they’d strolled through shops on the Strip the last evening they spent together, and how sweet he’d been when she spotted a simple silver chain in a jeweler’s case, with two interlocking hearts. He’d bought it for her, fastening it around her neck, and she had felt like she could at least carry with her this one perfect memory. But the clasp must have broken sometime that night, because when she reached to touch the hearts as she lay in bed thinking about her future, the necklace was gone.
After a sleepless night, she’d decided to tell Sam everything and ask for his advice. She had foolishly believed he might help her think of another solution. But before she’d been able to confide in him about her plans, plans she desperately wanted not to go through with, he’d cut her off, discarded her like a stray poker chip left on a table by a vacation gambler returning to his real life. So she’d married Danny, completing her end of what began as nothing more than a business proposition.
“As a matter of fact, I got married a week after you left,” she said, meeting his eye and lifting her chin. She was not going to feel guilty when he was the one who had walked away from her. And when the decision she’d made had been to put her sister, Olivia, above all else.
“Well. Then it seems you already have a husband.”
“Not anymore. That’s why I’m here.”
“I don’t handle divorces.”
This wasn’t going at all the way she’d planned. To be honest, she hadn’t really had a plan. She’d headed for his office and thought she’d just figure out the best approach once she got there. But the man sitting across the desk from her wasn’t the same man at all that she had known in Las Vegas. That Sam had had been cocky and sure of himself, but approachable. This Sam, measuring her with steely eyes, exuded power and control. It would be much harder than she’d expected to get him to understand and to agree with her proposal. “I don’t need a divorce lawyer, Sam.” She leaned forward. “What I need is for you—”
He cut her off. “To marry you. So you said.”
“For you to listen,” she finished.
“Camilla, it was…interesting…seeing you again, but unless you have a serious legal matter to consult me on, you need to leave. Now.”
He was looking at her like he thought she’d lost her mind, and she realized it probably seemed that way.
“Look,” he said, “if you had called and made an appointment—”
“I didn’t think you’d take my call. Why would it be any different than last time?”
He looked genuinely perplexed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He didn’t even remember not returning her phone calls? It had been more than four years since she’d last tried to contact him. But Camilla remembered it very clearly.
She took a deep breath. “I’m here now. Just let me explain.”
He glanced at his watch. “You have two minutes. I’m finishing a trial tomorrow, and I don’t have time for games.”
“Meet me tomorrow then. After you get out of court.”
“Why should I do that?”
He was so formidable. She searched his face for a trace of the warmth she’d been drawn to five years ago, but couldn’t find it. She just saw someone who got what he wanted through ruthless determination. She felt herself shudder.
“I can’t—it’s too much to explain. Have dinner with me tomorrow night, and I’ll explain everything.”
He seemed to consider for a few moments and she held her breath. In the sleepless nights she’d spent deciding whether or not to come see him, the one thing she’d never considered was that he might dismiss her without even hearing her out.
Finally, he nodded. “All right. Give me your number and I’ll call you when I get out of court. It may be late.”
She let her breath out slowly.
“That’s fine. I’m not going anywhere.”
If there was one thing Sam was good at, it was compartmentalizing his life, locking problems away to be dealt with later, so that he could focus clearly on the matter at hand. It had gotten him through a rocky childhood and served him well in his chosen career.
When he faced the jury, no other thought intruded on his impassioned plea for justice for his client—now a paraplegic thanks to a reckless driver who’d been too busy drinking coffee and texting at fifty miles per hour to notice the red light. Or the compact car coming through the intersection, and the promising high school basketball player in the passenger seat who was now never going to walk again. The driver herself didn’t have any money, but the insurance company was sure as hell going to pay every penny of the policy limits. His client’s mother sobbed quietly in the background as Sam wrapped up his closing argument.
But when he sat in an empty room in the courthouse, waiting for the jury to return, he let his thoughts entertain the puzzle of Camilla Winthrop showing up at his office. Clearly the woman had lost her mind. It was a pity, because she was even more attractive than he remembered. He’d been surprised at how strong the impulse had been to walk around the desk and take her into his arms to find out if the chemistry between them was really as strong as he remembered. Fortunately, reason prevailed. He was not going to take any chances with a woman who obviously had delusions about marrying him.
She had to be running some sort of scam, but he couldn’t figure out what her angle was. The sugar daddy she’d latched onto after Sam returned to Miami had apparently left her high and dry, and she’d decided to find out what had happened to that young lawyer she met once upon a time. Sam wasn’t that same kid anymore. He cringed when he remembered how he’d let his guard down, opened up to her, shared his plans and dreams. And apparently Camilla had found out he’d actually surpassed his own expectations.
When he’d started the firm with Jon and Ritchie, he’d expected to be successful. He just hadn’t imagined how successful they would be. It had been his idea, which was why his name was first on the door. But it hadn’t taken much to talk his law school buddy Jonathon Berrington, an associate at another of Miami’s major insurance defense firms, into trading in the long hours and associate’s salary for a chance to own their own firm and bring in million-dollar verdicts for plaintiffs. They would change people’s lives and make themselves rich in the process. As the plan began to take form, they’d added Ritchie Perez, a hotshot young prosecutor in the state attorney’s office, whose handling of high-profile drug and gang violence cases had catapulted him into the public eye as the champion of the underdog, a man who got justice for the little guy. It was exactly the image they wanted.
The three of them had agreed from the beginning that there would be no fender benders, no dog bites, no slip-and-fall cases handled by the law firm of Flanagan, Berrington & Perez. And no clients with dubious claims, no scammers in neck braces faking injuries. They weren’t ambulance chasers, and they wouldn’t take a case for a client who didn’t deserve to win. They would be the ones who stood up for the innocent victims of drunk drivers and of unscrupulous companies that ignored the warnings in their own product safety tests and caused needless suffering. They would specialize in wrongful death, serious bodily injury, and million-dollar verdicts.
And that’s exactly what they’d done.
“The jury’s in.”
Sam looked up, nodded to the bailiff, and went into the courtroom.
“You mean you didn’t tell him?” Camilla’s sister stared at her. “How could you not tell him?”
“He’s different now.” Camilla paced across the room, stopped, and looked out the window at the Atlantic Ocean.
“Well, duh,” Olivia said, stretching her long limbs and leaning back on the bed. To all appearances, she was the typical 15-year-old, obsessing over the latest pop star, the coolest fashions, the hottest boys in school. Thank God, Camilla thought. She would never let a single day go by without remembering to be thankful. If this had been the only thing Danny had given her, it would have been enough.
“So what did you say?”
“That I wanted him to marry me.”
He sister stared at her, mouth gaping. “Well, that’s an original opening.”
Camilla shrugged. “It bought me a meeting with him. Dinner. Tonight.” She looked at her watch.
“So where’s he meeting you?”
“Here?” Olivia glanced at the closed door across the suite. “What about JD?”
“Well, since JD’s the whole point…”
“Look,” Olivia said, her brilliantly blue eyes turning a deeper shade with intensity. “Let’s just leave now. We can go anyplace. There’s enough money—you don’t have to do this. We’ll just…we’ll go live in Italy!”
Camilla shook her head. “We’re not going to start running.” Arguably the only thing of value her mother had passed on to her and her sister was dual citizenship in Italy, a result of her mother’s paternal grandfather, who immigrated to the United States in the 1930s, dying a few years later without ever having renounced his Italian citizenship. It seemed to Camilla to be a tenuous link, but her mother had investigated it and obtained dual citizenship for herself and both her daughters, claiming it gave them “an international flair.” Camilla, however, had no desire to live in exile from the only country she considered her home. Compared to that, a marriage of convenience to the father of her child seemed like not such a big sacrifice at all.
“Trust me, Liv. This is the only answer. It’ll be fine.”
“He’ll hate you.”
“Probably. It’ll only be for a year at most. Then we really will be able to start over.”
Olivia didn’t look convinced.
“Listen,” Camilla said. “I better get downstairs. I’m supposed to meet him at the restaurant, and he’s probably on his way here now.”
There was a knock at the door and they both jumped guiltily.
“Do you think…”
Camilla shook her head. “He doesn’t know what room we’re in.” She peeked through the eyehole in the door, then looked at Olivia. “I guess he found out.”
Camilla opened the door and tried to slip out into the hallway, but Sam blocked the door from closing.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in, Camilla?”
“No, I’m ready to go down…” Even with heels on, she had to tilt her head up to look in his eyes. She’d forgotten how tall he was. His shoulders seem broader now that she was so close to him, and he had an air of confidence that bordered on arrogance. He exuded a kind of casual power that seemed just as intimidating standing in a hotel hallway as it had been sitting behind the desk in his opulent office.
“Who’s in the room with you?” He took hold of her elbow lightly. “Your lover? I want to know exactly what’s going on here, and I don’t think you want to have this conversation in the hallway.”
She stepped back and let him in the door.
Whatever he’d been expecting, it wasn’t to see a teenage girl sitting on the bed.
“This is my sister, Olivia. Livvy, this is Sam Flanagan.”
Sam felt a little foolish.
The girl was staring at him like he was some sort of fascinating other species. She looked over at Camilla. “Oh my God, Cam. You didn’t tell me he looked exactly like—”
“Sorry.” She silently studied Sam another ten seconds or so, then shrugged.
“Are you satisfied? Can we go to dinner now?” Camilla started toward the door.
Olivia looked back down at her book, something ghoulish with vampires on the cover from what Sam could see of it, and gave every appearance of tuning the adults out.
“Maybe it would be better to talk in the restaurant,” Sam allowed.
“Yes, let’s do that.”
They were almost out the door when another voice interrupted them.
Sam jerked his head around. The connecting door opened and a small boy walked out, rubbing his eyes and clutching a tattered teddy bear.
“I thought you were asleep, honey,” Camilla said, hurrying over and bending down to give him a hug. She brushed a wavy lock of black hair back from his forehead, and Sam felt something clench in his gut. The little boy looked up then, staring at him with Camilla’s brilliantly blue eyes.
“Who are you?”
“That’s Sam, honey. He’s an…old friend of Mommy’s.” She looked over at Sam. “Sam, this is my son, JD.”
Sam just stared. Was it possible? Of course it was. But for the eyes, he was staring at a mirror image of himself as a child.
“I’m sorry, just let me get JD settled back into bed.”
“Not quite yet,” Sam said, walking over and crouching down in front of the boy, who leaned back against his mother, but kept his eyes on Sam’s face.
“Where’s your daddy, JD?” Sam asked softly, then regretted the question when the little boy’s lower lip began to tremble.
“Daddy had to go away,” JD said.
“That’s enough,” Camilla said sharply, looking at Sam as she pulled the little boy toward the other room. “JD, let’s get you back into bed.”
The little boy rubbed his eyes and held Camilla’s hand, walking with her back toward the bedroom. He paused when he got to the door and turned back to look at Sam.
“Daddy can’t live with us anymore. God needs him up in heaven,” he said solemnly, and Sam heard Camilla catch her breath before she looked back over her shoulder and gave Sam a look that said she wished he was the one who was dead.
* * *
Want to read more? The Millionaire’s Unexpected Proposal is available now from Entangled Publishing and on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Miami Lawyers (Season One) – The Millionaire’s Convenient Arrangement
Episode One – Maybe Say Yes
Ritchie Perez closed the lid on his laptop, leaned back in his expensive leather chair, and looked out the floor-to-ceiling window of his office, taking in the panoramic nighttime view of the Miami skyline. It didn’t matter how many million-dollar verdicts he and his two partners brought in. Ritchie never forgot where he came from. And the years of hard work and sacrifice it had taken to get here. He’d come a long way from the salary he’d made as an Assistant State Attorney, prosecuting gang members and drug pushers. His life now was a world away from his memories of growing up in one of Miami’s poorest and toughest neighborhoods.
“You want to grab a beer?” His partner Jonathon – the Berrington of Flanagan, Berrington &Perez – stuck his head in the doorway. Jonathon, unlike Ritchie, had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He came from a long line of blue-blood New England lawyers who didn’t exactly approve of his departure from the tradition of practicing corporate and tax law. Not that Jonathon was looking for their approval. It always amazed Ritchie that Jonathon, who’d had every privilege, was the cynical one, while, he, Ritchie, was the object of his partners’ good-natured jabs about his reluctance to let any good cause go unchampioned. It was the main reason he’d left the State Attorney’s office and joined his two partners launching their firm six years ago.
As a prosecutor, he’d seen so many victims, and although he’d brought justice to the criminals who hurt them, he’d wanted to do more. In their personal injury law firm, he and his partners only represented the victims of serious injuries that were the result of the grossly negligent or reckless acts of others. They had built a reputation for taking on corporations whose dishonest practices resulted in serious injury or even death to consumers. And they’d qualified for membership in the million-dollar verdict club many times over.
He realized Jonathon was still waiting for a response.
“Sorry,” Ritchie said, glancing at his watch. “I’m already late for St. Theresa’s.” His parish sponsored a Wednesday night soup kitchen that fed the homeless and, unless there were pressing matters at the office, Ritchie tried to be there in person working the food line.
“I still don’t know why sending the check isn’t enough,” Jonathon grumbled. He dropped a heavy file on the corner of his partner’s desk.
“Tough day in court?” Ritchie grinned. Anything less than an unqualified victory left Jonathon in a bad mood. So even though they’d been certain the judge would grant the opposing attorney’s motion to continue, he knew Jonathon was steamed at what amounted to just one more delay getting a major case to trial.
“You don’t want to hear about it,” Jonathon said, scowling. “Especially since the way my schedule’s looking now this case is probably going to screw up our fishing trip in Bimini Christmas week.”
Ritchie shrugged. “Maybe the case will settle by then.”
“Yeah, maybe. Sure you won’t skip the food service at St. Theresa’s tonight and go wind down with me? I’m buying.”
“Go hit up Sam,” Ritchie suggested.
“Like that will happen,” Jonathan said. “Flanagan doesn’t have time to grab a beer after work anymore. Not since he went from carefree bachelor to family man.”
Ritchie laughed, and headed for the locker room of the small gym they maintained for use by the three partners and their employees, to trade his suit for jeans and a t-shirt. Jonathon had decided to get in a workout and by the time Ritchie left, he appeared to be in a competition with one of the younger lawyers in their office on dueling treadmills.
If Ritchie were honest with himself, he had to admit he was a little jealous of Sam. A little more than a year ago, Sam hadn’t even known he had a son. Now five-year-old JD was the pride of his life, he was reunited with Camilla– the woman he’d loved and lost, and they were happily married with a second child – six-month-old baby Sophia. Rounding out the family was Camilla’s sixteen-year sister, Olivia, who had become a fixture here in the office, working part-time after school and dreaming about the day she’d go to law school and follow in Sam’s footsteps.
Despite the tireless efforts of Ritchie’s mom and his five sisters to fix him up with “a nice girl,” he was still single at thirty-three. He was a self-confessed workaholic, and when he wasn’t working, he was busy donating his time to local projects, like the soup kitchen at St. Theresa’s. At least for now, the occasional casual date was about all he had time for.
As far as he was concerned, unless a person could fully commit to supporting a family, not just financially but emotionally, they had no business starting one. Single parent homes and broken marriages were, in Ritchie’s opinion, one of the leading causes for kids dropping out of school and turning to drugs and gangs. Effective intervention programs were pretty much nonexistent, and the criminal justice system was a poor excuse for a safety net. He gave his own parents a lot of credit for successfully raising six children on a tight budget, in an area where teenagers were much more likely to get pregnant or arrested than they were to graduate high school.
Tonight, at St. Theresa’s, he found himself standing next to a surly thirteen-year-old boy dishing mashed potatoes and vegetables onto the waiting plates.
“So what’s the matter, Joey?” Ritchie asked. He’d taken an interest in the kid lately. Joey reminded him a lot of himself at that age. The kid had a sharp mind, a quick tongue, and a knack for talking his way out of trouble. At the moment, he also had a black eye, a swollen lip, and a bad attitude.
Joey jerked his shoulder toward his older sister.
“Maria did that to you?” Ritchie asked. Maria was the other reason Ritchie had been enjoying spending time with Joey. Joey was just a kid, but his sister was all grown up. Ritchie figured she was probably in her mid-twenties, and other than the fact that she rode herd on her little brother and seemed to spend as much time volunteering as St. Theresa’s as he did, Ritchie didn’t know much about her. But he liked the way her smile lit up a room, and he wouldn’t mind spending more time with her.
“Nah,” Joey said. “I just got into it with some guys, you know? Back in the old neighborhood.”
“So what’s the beef with your sister?”
“I’m grounded.” Joey glanced over as his sister walked toward them carrying a replacement tray of mashed potatoes. “Probably for the rest of my life,” he muttered.
Maria waited for Ritchie to lift the empty tray, then she slid the new one smoothly into place.
“You’re lucky if I let you out again before you’re thirty,” she said. Her dark eyes flashed, and her skin was flushed from working in the kitchen. She glanced over at Ritchie and sighed, then tapped Joey on the shoulder.
“I’ll bet he wasn’t running around getting into all kinds of trouble when he was thirteen.”
“Just don’t ask my mother,” Ritchie said. “But if you let me buy you a cup of coffee after we’re done here, I’ll tell you all about my life as a reformed thirteen-year-old troublemaker.”
She flashed one of those smiles that had attracted him the first time he met her, and it looked for a moment like she might say yes. He’d asked her out before on an actual date, but she’d thanked him politely and told him she was too busy. If she didn’t want to go out with him, he wasn’t going to press it. But hey, this was only coffee.
“I’d like to,” she said, her voice sounding a bit wistful, “but I really don’t have time tonight. Besides,” she said, shooting a withering look at her brother, “I have to keep this one in my sight at all times.”
“Bring him with you,” Ritchie suggested, and saw Joey perk up.
She laughed, tossing her hair back as she took the empty tray out of Ritchie’s hands. “Can’t. In case you haven’t heard, he’s grounded.” She turned and Ritchie watched her walk back toward the kitchen.
“Man, she always says no,” Joey said. “Why do guys keep asking her out?”
“Because someday she might say yes?”
“She does, you’ll be sorry you asked,” Joey said, lowering his voice and checking to make sure Maria wasn’t in earshot. “She’s a real ballbuster.”
Ritchie cuffed him on the back of his head.
“Hey!” Joey said.
“Watch how you talk about your sister,” Ritchie said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Joey muttered.
* * *
It was only temporary, Maria thought later that night as she helped Joey pull out the sofa bed and get the pillows and blanket out of the closet. No wonder the kid hated living here. He didn’t even have his own room.
“I promise you,” she said. “As soon as I get a little more money saved up, we’ll get a bigger place. Someplace nicer,” she promised. “And you’ll have your own room again.”
“Our old place was just fine,” Joey said, getting into bed and turning away from her.
Maria sighed. She hadn’t realized when she first came back how much the neighborhood really had changed. All she had been able to see was how cancer had turned her young, vibrant mother into a frail woman who looked so much older than her forty-one years. Alarmed, Maria had taken a leave of absence from college and moved back home. Within six months her mother was gone, and, at twenty-two, she was the only one there to take care of nine-year-old Joey. Their brother Tito certainly wouldn’t be around to help. There had been a small life insurance policy, but the medical bills and the funeral expenses had used that up. Returning to school to complete her degree hadn’t been an option.
Now, four years later, she was more concerned with paying the bills than finishing her art degree and pursuing the career she’d dreamed of since she was a child. And a couple months ago, she was awakened in the middle of night by the police bringing Joey home – drunk and suspected of being one of a group of kids who’d vandalized a neighborhood business. After that, she’d decided she had no choice but to move them out of that neighborhood and get him away from the “friends” who were nothing but trouble.
It wasn’t the first time Joey’d had a run-in with the police. Just a week before, Maria had to beg the owner of the same vandalized store not to press charges against her brother for shoplifting. So, she’d sold the house and moved them into a one-bedroom apartment that was way too small, but at least it was in a better neighborhood. With the second mortgage her mom had taken on the house and declining property values, she’d been lucky to sell it for just about what was owed on it.
She’d taken the bedroom in the small apartment herself and set Joey up with a sofa bed in the living room because she hoped he’d soon be bringing home new friends from school. She’d pictured gangly adolescent boys hanging out in the living room eating pizza and having sleepovers, while she retreated to the bedroom and shut her door to mute the sound of their loud voices and blaring video games. But so far, Joey showed no signs of fitting into their new life, and as far as she knew he hadn’t made any new friends. And keeping him away from the old ones was turning out to be a lot harder than she’d expected.
She got ready for bed, leaving the door to the living room open to discourage Joey from sneaking out after he thought she was asleep. As she lay there in the dark, she let herself imagine what it would be like to actually go out on a date with that gorgeous guy who volunteered at St. Theresa’s. He always had a kind word for Joey, and he didn’t get offended or pushy when she turned him down. There was something familiar about him. She’d thought so the first time he smiled at her, but if she’d met him before she was sure she’d have remembered. With his dark wavy hair, quick smile and chiseled good looks he wasn’t the kind of man a woman would forget.
Thinking about Ritchie’s smile made her wonder what it would be like to have his lips pressed against hers, and those strong, capable hands holding her instead of trays of food. He was probably a really good kisser, and she’d bet he knew exactly what to do with those hands. She sighed, letting her head sink deeper into her pillow, closing her eyes, and willing herself to fall asleep.
Maybe once she got ahead a little financially, moved herself and Joey into a bigger place, felt comfortable that she could actually trust Joey to stay out of trouble for more than five minutes… then, if Ritchie asked her out again, just maybe she’d say yes.
* * *
Want to read more? This book is available now as a serialized novel on Radish here: https://radish.app.link/Wmgn8TyvUI
The Millionaire’s Convenient Arrangement is also available from Mr. Media Books and on Amazon and wherever books are sold.