"You can't do this to me!" Kimberly Bennett's fingers curled around the
smooth oak arms of her chair. She stared, dumbfounded, at her attorney.
"And here I thought you'd be the first to offer congratulations!" Diane
Welby, petite and blond, leaned her chin on her clasped hands. Her
elbows were planted firmly on the top of her wide desk, and her eyes
fairly sparkled. "I'm getting married, for God's sake!"
"I know, I know, but why now?" Kimberly asked, seeing all her
plans go down the proverbial drain.
"Because Scott asked me." Diane had been widowed for seven years.
Kimberly's brows drew together in vexation. "Fine. Congratulations. I'm
glad you're getting married, Diane, really, but do you have to move out
of the state?"
"Scott's job is in L.A."
"But your practice is here and I need you!"
Diane sighed. "You don't need me — you need a good lawyer."
"You are a good lawyer. The best," Kimberly said, a slow panic
spreading through her when she thought of her ex-husband and his most
recent demands. She shivered. There was a side to Robert she hated to
think about — a deadly side. "Robert's not kidding. He's
threatened to take Lindsay away."
Diane grew sober. She tapped her pen on her desk. "Look, Kim, he doesn't
have much of a leg to stand on. The court already decided to grant you
"But that was before he cared," Kimberly pointed out, feeling her hands
begin to sweat. As soon as the divorce had become final, Robert had
married his mistress, a gorgeous woman who was blind to Robert's flaws
— just as Kimberly had been, years before.
"And now he cares?" Obviously Diane didn't believe it.
Kimberly's throat felt tight. "I guess Stella can't give him a son,
"And now he'll settle for a daughter?" Diane asked dryly.
Hot injustice swept through Kimberly's veins. "So it seems."
Diane's mouth clamped together thoughtfully. "You know, I wouldn't just
abandon you. I know Robert and how ... determined he can be. The man who
bought my practice is a lawyer — the best — and he's agreed
to either take my pending cases or refer them to someone else."
"I don't want some man I've never met." Kimberly insisted, trying to
hang on to her rapidly escaping calm. "I want you." Unnerved, she stood,
folded her arms across her chest and walked past Diane's desk to the
window. She watched a few dying maple leaves fall to the wet asphalt of
the parking lot. In the past few years Robert had changed, and his
reputation had become black as ink. No court would give him custody
— or would it? She couldn't trust fate. "Maybe it's crazy, but I'd
rather have a woman represent me."
"Let me guess. You think a woman can better understand your maternal
"Yeah." She glanced over the shoulder of her black suit. "A man might
sympathize with Robert."
Diane scowled. "I doubt it. And as for Jake —"
"Jake McGowan, the lawyer who bought me out."
"He can help you. And he'll do a damn good job." Diane's voice was
filled with admiration.
"He works on custody cases?" Kimberly asked without much interest.
"He used to."
"Used to?" Kimberly whirled, her blue-green gaze pinned on Diane's face.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Diane lifted a shoulder and slid her gaze away from Kimberly's. "He
concentrates on corporate law now. You know — taxes, mergers, that
sort of thing."
"Yeah, I know," Kimberly said, thinking of the bevy of lawyers who were
retained by the bank for which she worked. And then there were the
attorneys who had worked for Robert. It seemed as if half the lawyers in
Portland had been on her ex-husband's payroll at one time or another.
She worried her lip. The name McGowan was familiar — but not as
one of Robert's gophers. No ... but there was something ...
"At one time Jake McGowan was the best domestic relations attorney in
"'Was' seems to be the operative word," Kimberly challenged.
Diane twisted in her chair so that she could stare up at Kimberly and
hold her with her frank blue gaze. Her forehead creased thoughtfully. "I
wouldn't refer you to him unless I had absolute faith. He's the best.
The man you need. There was a time when he hadn't lost a case."
"And what happened?"
Diane hesitated. "He had a few personal problems."
"But they're in the past. Listen, Kim, would I refer you to him if he
weren't the best? He'll go up against anyone Robert hires and come out
"As sure as I am about anything."
Kimberly felt Diane was holding something back — something
important. "What is it you're not telling me?"
"Nothing. As I said, at one time he was the best in the business. He
still could be."
"If ..." Kimberly prodded.
Diane's mouth tightened. "If he were properly motivated."
"'If he were motivated.'" Kimberly repeated with more than a trace of
cynicism. "This isn't some case in one of your textbooks, you know. This
is my life, and Lindsay's."
"That's why you need Jake."
Kimberly wasn't convinced but forced a thin smile and raked her fingers
through her long hair. A headache was building behind her eyes. "You
know, I think it's wonderful that you're getting married again. Really."
"You have a funny way of showing it."
"Maybe I'm just envious."
"You? The woman who's sworn off men for life?"
Kimberly managed a thin smile. "Yeah, but Scott's a great guy, and I'm
sure you'll be happy breathing all that smog in L.A. —"
"I'm just disappointed, that's all. I was counting on you."
"So, count on McGowan. Believe me, he can help you. Better than I can.
I'll leave a note with Sarah — she's staying on — and she'll
set up an appointment for you in the next couple of weeks." Diane
touched Kimberly on the shoulder, "Trust me."
"I guess I have to," she said, feeling as if she had no other choice.
"You'll like him, I guarantee it."
"And if I don't?"
"You'll be the first woman who didn't."
"Oh great. A lady-killer." Kimberly wasn't impressed. Robert had cured
her of that.
Diane shook her head. "It's not intentional," she said.
"Good. Not that it matters. He wouldn't get to me."
Kimberly skewered the lawyer with a suspicious look. "I'm not in the
market for a man — any man. If Robert taught me one thing, it's
that I can only depend on myself." She offered Diane a small smile. "I'm
just interested in McGowan if he can help me keep my daughter."
"He can." Diane was firm.
Kimberly's answer was a skeptical smile. She glanced out the window,
noticing that the ominous sky had opened up and rain was pounding the
horizon in furious, windblown waves. Raindrops drizzled in jagged
rivulets across the windows. The gutters of the old
cottage-turned-office gurgled. Ever-widening puddles appeared on the
uneven asphalt of the parking lot. Kimberly's thoughts were as dark as
the slate colored sky. Could anyone really help her if Robert decided to
follow through on his demands? Or worse yet, would Robert ignore the
law, as she suspected he had in the past, and just steal Lindsay away?
Kimberly's fist clenched. Over my dead body.
If it was the last thing she ever did, she'd keep Lindsay safe with her.
And if it took Jake McGowan or an act of God to do so, then so be it.
Robert, whether he knew it or not, was in for the fight of his miserable
She left Diane's office and headed home, stopping for groceries before
driving through the dark, rain-slickened streets to her neighborhood, an
older section in the southeast section of Portland known as Sellwood.
Her house, built in the early twenties, was a story and a half, painted
white, trimmed in beet red and mortgage free. Though a little cramped
inside, the rooms were cozy and big enough to accommodate a single
mother and an energetic five- year-old. The fenced yard was surrounded
by a laurel hedge and was equipped with a sandbox, picnic table and
swing set. True, the house wasn't nearly as grand as the massive brick
colonial she'd shared with Robert during their marriage, but the little
cottage would do. And do nicely. If only Robert would leave things as
As if expecting Robert or one of his shady underlings to be watching,
she glanced nervously over her shoulder, then shook off her case of
nerves. She couldn't afford paranoia — not now.
She locked the car, then, balancing two grocery sacks, ducked under a
dripping clematis and hurried up the cracked concrete walk to the back
"I'm home," she called as she stepped into the kitchen and shook the
rain from her hair. She heard a high-pitched squeal and the scamper of
excited feet as Lindsay clambered through the hardwood halls to the
"Mommy!" Two blond pigtails, their ribbons long gone, streamed behind an
impish face and sparkling blue eyes. Lindsay flung herself at her
"How're ya, pumpkin?" Kimberly asked, scooping her daughter into her
arms and kissing Lindsay's flushed cheek.
"Oh, don't tell me, Arlene doesn't feed you?" Kimberly guessed, laughing
as she pointed to the stains from lunch on the front of Lindsay's
Lindsay's lower lip protruded. "She doesn't feed me enough!"
With a chuckle Arlene Henderson, a neighbor who took care of Lindsay
while Kimberly worked, entered the room. An energetic, whip-thin woman
of fifty-five, Arlene seemed taller than her five feet two inches. With
frizzy, steel-gray hair and twinkling brown eyes, she winked broadly at
Lindsay. "She's just mad 'cause I won't let her have a cookie until
after supper. We made pumpkin cookies today, didn't we?" she asked a
still-pouting Lindsay. "Even though Halloween's long over and Christmas
is just around the corner."
Kimberly chuckled, but Lindsay's brow pulled into deep furrows. "I'm
starving," she complained, rubbing her stomach theatrically.
"You'll survive," Kimberly predicted. "We're going to have hamburgers in
less than a half an hour."
Lindsay frowned again, then squirmed out of her mother's arms. "I like
McDonald's better," she pronounced, sneaking a sly look up at Kimberly.
"I know you do."
"And they've got fries and McNuggets and — and fruit pies!"
"We'll go on Saturday," Kimberly promised.
"Then not at all."
"Saturday!" Lindsay cried.
Mollified, Lindsay cast a suspicious look over her shoulder and wandered
back into the living room. Once there, she began assembling Legos in
front of the television.
"Robert stopped by today," Arlene said when the child was out of
Kimberly felt a cold knot settle in the pit of her stomach.
"What did he want?"
"To talk to Lindsay, which he did." Arlene scowled as she slipped her
arms through the sleeves of her oversized jacket. "Of course I didn't
leave the room. I don't trust him."
Kimberly fought down the panic that crawled up her spine. "What did he
"Well, actually he asked about you."
"He knows I work —"
"I know, but he stopped by the bank and you weren't there, so he assumed
..." Arlene shrugged.
"I was with Diane."
"I didn't mention you had a lawyer."
"Good — because I don't," Kimberly said, kicking off her heels.
"No lawyer? And why in heaven's name not?"
"It's a long story — I'll fill you in later. Just tell me about
"Well, the pixie was glad to see him."
"She should be — he's her father," Kimberly said woodenly.
Arlene rolled her eyes. "If you can call him that. Anyway, he didn't
stay long, just said hello, hugged her and asked about you."
"Was anyone with him?"
"Two men. But they waited in the car."
His bodyguard and chauffer. In recent years, Robert was never without
"Lindsay wasn't upset?"
"No," Arlene admitted grudgingly. "And I guess he does have the right to
see his daughter, but ..." She shrugged her slim shoulders.
"Of course he does," Kimberly said, ignoring the ridiculous panic that
chilled her to the very bone. She'd been married to Robert for less than
two years, and he'd been a stranger. She hadn't known him at all. The
marriage had been a mistake from day one. They both knew it. And now,
suddenly he wanted Lindsay. Ignoring the tightness in her chest, she
reached for one of the cookies still cooling on racks near the window.
"Well he isn't much of a father, and don't you stand up for him!" Arlene
didn't even try to hide her dislike. "You and I both know he walks on
the dark side of the law."
"It's never been proven," Kimberly said, defending him instinctively, as
she had for years. She couldn't believe some of the stories she'd heard
about him — wouldn't. And yet ...
"No, but then he didn't do right by you. Carrying on with that Stella
woman while you two were married."
"That Stella woman's his wife now."
"And now she wants your daughter."
"She won't get her," Kimberly said, though she felt the familiar fear
knot in her stomach.
"Diane tell you that?"
Kimberly frowned. "No," she admitted, explaining about her visit with
"So Diane's remarrying — that's good," Arlene said, scratching her
head. "But what do you know about this McGowan character?"
"Not much, except that Diane's sure he's the man for the job."
In the living room Lindsay giggled loudly, and Kimberly's heart turned
over. She glanced down the hall and spied her daughter. Lindsay, tired
of her building blocks, was trying to do headstands on the couch. She
tossed her legs into the air, tried to balance against the wall and
ended up flopping back on the couch only to start the process all over
"Things'll work out," Arlene predicted with a steadfast smile. "The Lord
will look after you."
"I hope so," Kimberly said.
"I know so!" Arlene snatched her umbrella from the floor. "Don't
you worry, and if you take Lindsay outside, you bundle her up good.
There's already a foot of snow in the mountains. Winter's coming early
"I'll remember that," Kimberly replied.
"Good. I'll see you tomorrow." Waving, she hurried down the hall and
called a quick goodbye to Lindsay.
As Arlene shut the door behind her, Kimberly snapped the blinds shut and
thought ahead to meeting with Jake McGowan. Why did she feel there was
something she should know about him? What was it?
"Come on, Mommy! Let's cut paper dolls!" Lindsay gave up her balancing
act, turned off the television and, dragging one tattered, fuzzy pink
bunny, dashed over to her mother. "Please, now!"
"I thought you couldn't wait to eat."
"We can do both!"
Kimberly laughed, forgetting about Jake McGowan for the moment. "I don't
think so," she said. "I might get confused and cut my hamburger with the
scissors and pour ketchup all over the dollies."
Lindsay giggled. "That's silly!"
"So are you pumpkin," Kimberly said, poking a finger in Lindsay's belly.
* * *
"No way!" Jake growled, disgusted. His shirtsleeves rolled over his
forearms, his tie strung loosely over the back of his chair, he sat amid
boxes, pictures and framed awards that had been stacked against Diane
Welby's desk. With a flourish he signed the contract for the house and
grounds Diane had owned. A second document took care of the legal
practice. "You know how I feel about custody cases."
"She needs your help," Diane insisted.
"She doesn't need me. There are several dozen lawyers in the yellow
"Humor me, Jake — meet with her." Diane skimmed her copies of the
agreement, deed and contract before stuffing all the papers into a file
and jamming them into her briefcase. Satisfied, she snapped the black
leather case closed. "The movers will take care of all this —" she
motioned to the office debris she was shipping to Los Angeles "—
"Now, about Kimberly — give it a shot, okay?"
Jake's lips compressed, and he grew thoughtful. "Oh, I get it," he
drawled. "This is a 'special client,' right? Maybe a friend or a friend
of a friend, and she's upset you're abandoning her."
"Something like that."
Shaking his head, Jake said, "Find someone else."
"Just meet with her. If it doesn't work out, refer her to Dennis Briggs
or Tyler Patton."
"They're both good."
"Not as good as you are —"
"As I was."
"You could be again if you'd stop wallowing in self-pity."
"Is that what I'm doing?" Jake asked, feeling his lips curve downward.
He really didn't give a damn.
"Yes. And it's such a waste. You could've been — could still be
— the best!"
"Maybe I don't want to be," he said, scowling darkly.
"Suit yourself. But this time someone needs you."
Excerpted from "Ruthless" by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2018 by Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.