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Authors: The Courtship

Mittman, Stephanie

The
Courtship by Stephanie Mittman

 

TWO
BROTHERS ...AND THE WOMAN WHO CLAIMED THEIR HEARTS ...

Ash
Whittier had barely returned to Oakland's harbor when he was arrested for
arson, insurance fraud, and murder. His only hope was his brother Cabot, the
best lawyer in Oakland, and Cabot's young wife, Charlotte, the town's first
lady lawyer. He knew he could count on his brother to rescue him, just as he'd
done before. The last time had put Cabot in a wheelchair...This time there was
Charlotte, whose no-nonsense suits weren't doing much to hide her needy heart.

All
Charlotte had ever wanted was to be a lawyer. Cabot had given her the chance,
and so much more, when he'd married her. He'd taught her to dress like a
lawyer, think like a professional, and act like a man. But somehow her
brother-in-law still saw the lace beneath the starch. And suddenly being a
lawyer wasn't the only thing she wanted anymore.

They
were his lawyers, determined to save his life. But as his trial approached, it
became clear that if Ash won his case, someone would still have to lose.

 

 

"ASH?"
HER VOICE QUAVERED. "SHOULD I LEAVE?"

"That
all depends on why you're here," he said, shocked at how gruff his voice
came out, how raw his need could sound. "Did you come to discuss my
case?"

"No."

He
took her hand and pulled at her until she sat on the edge of his bed within the
curve of his body. "The weather?"

Gently
he pulled her with him as he moved back on the small cot. He looped his arm
about her legs and pulled them up until she lay against his side.

"Did
you want to talk about Kathryn or Cabot or your woman suffrage?"

She
shook her head against his chest and laid a tiny hand on the side of his neck,
where she no doubt felt his blood racing, just as her head must have heard his
heart beating a double-time tattoo.

"Why
are you here?" he whispered against her hair while his hands searched for
the answers beneath her nightdress....

"So
that I'll be warm when I'm old," she said, leaning down and touching her
lips to his. She kissed him tentatively at first, and then instinct overcame
her and she kissed him with all the passion she had stored within her, all the
fire he had stoked with every look he'd ever given her, all the love he had
promised her with each of a million silent smiles.

 

 

Published
by Dell Publishing a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

1540
Broadway

New
York, New York 10036

Copyright
© 1997 by Stephanie Mittman

ISBN:
0-440-22181-1

Printed
in the United States of America

Published
simultaneously in Canada

January
1998

 

This
book is dedicated to three incredible people without whom I would be just a
lump under my electric blanket:

Alan,
who is every hero I have ever imagined and then some. I love you more than all
the stars in the sky, times all the grains of sand on all the beaches, times
infinity to the infinite. And that's on a bad day!

Sherry,
who is a best friend and a half—always and through everything. I couldn't have
invented a better friend for me than you. Thanks for being real, in every
sense!

Laura,
who is the editor of my dreams. Just hearing your voice on the other end of the
line makes me think I can do it, again and again. And makes me want to!

Thank
you all.

And
a special thanks to our cat, Karma, who only ripped up two pages of this
manuscript in an effort to remind me that he can't work the can opener himself.
Good Karma!

CHAPTER 1

Oakland, California: 1888

Above
Ash Whittier's head the courthouse ceiling fans droned rhythmically as they
circled round and round. Behind him, in the heavy oak pews, an impatient crowd
stirred restlessly. And beside him his sister-in-law Charlotte's skirts
whooshed with her every move. Yet despite all the commotion surrounding him, it
was a tiny, constant chirping that was grating on his nerves.

He
laced his hands out in front of him, cracking the knuckles, and silently
counted the seats in the empty jury box.

"Nervous?"
Charlotte asked him, her huge hazel eyes scanning the courtroom as she adjusted
the hat resting on her open satchel. Like her suit, it was a no-nonsense dark
blue—without a frill, a ribbon, a bow—as close to a man's hat as it could be.
With delicate fingers she turned the hat over to rest its brim on the case's
edges, so that it now sat like an empty nest. At least it appeared empty. If
not, he'd swear it was the source of that chirping that was crawling up the
back of his neck.

"Where's
Cabot?" he asked, twisting in his chair to check yet again the back of the
courtroom for any sign of his brother.

"He's
got a jury summation down the hall," Charlotte told him for what he
supposed was the third time. She opened her mouth just enough to allow a small
pink tongue to run quickly back and forth over her bottom lip before catching
herself in what was apparently a nervous habit.

"There's
really nothing to worry about," she said a bit too glibly as she caught a
wayward spiral of chestnut hair and poked it into her very tight bun. It was
unclear whether she was reassuring him or herself with her words. "Judge
Hammerman will ask to have the charges read. The district attorney will state
arson
and probably also insurance fraud, for motive. Brent, the old windbag, will
state his case, which will take forever, or at least feel like it. We'll say
it's circumstantial, which of course it is, and then the judge will ask how you
plead."

"This
is ridiculous, you know," he said. That only made a half-dozen times he'd
said as much since he'd been led into the courtroom to find her sitting at the
defense table instead of his brother. All of it was crazy: that the police
would imagine that he'd set fire to his own warehouse just a few hours after
he'd sailed the
Bloody Mary
back into Oakland Harbor; that his business
partner would accuse him of the crime; and that a lady lawyer (his brother's
wife, no less) was preparing to defend him.

Talk
about a short plank over a deep pier.

"It's
all very routine," Charlotte said, fidgeting with that ugly hat of hers as
if she found it more interesting than his legal proceedings. "We stand. I
say you're represented by Whittier and Whittier and—"

"Whittier
and Whittier...?"

"Cabot
and me."

She
said it so matter-of-factly that Ash was almost forced to wonder whether Cabot
had actually broken down and made her a partner in his practice.

"Change
the sign, did he?" he asked. "The stationery?"

His
sister-in-law glanced quickly at the floor and ignored his question, busying
herself with looking over the papers in front of her. For Ash, who knew his
brother all too well, that was as good as answering. Cabot would never give a
piece of himself away.

"You
can prove where you were last night between midnight and three or so, can't
you?" she asked, looking at him with eyes so big and innocent a man could
drown in them.

"Sure,"
he said, then hedged. "Maybe." He tried to remember a name, but the
truth was they'd probably never gotten past
sweetheart
and
honey.
He
knew she was blond. That is, she was blond on top. And she'd been walking the
street somewhere between the pier and the bar where he and Moss, the best damn
foreman any warehouse operation ever had, had stopped to have a few too many.

"Where?"
Charlotte moved her hat over to the edge of the open Gladstone, where it
perched precariously, and peeked in. Again he could hear the chirping, louder,
crawling on his nerves like ants over a ripe peach. He gripped the edge of the
table while beside him his sister-in-law checked the watch hanging from a
golden bow that, while small, wasn't much bigger than the breast on which it
hung. Well, leave it to Cabot to be above such things as choosing a woman by
the size of her... he reined in his thoughts.

"I
was on the
Bloody Mary"
he mumbled at her.

"That's
fine. Crew members saw you, naturally?"

Someone
had rowed him and the girl out to the boat— Jonesy maybe, or Flint, after he'd
left Moss back in the bar to pay the bill and go home to his wife and kids. And
someone had to have taken the girl back to shore later. She hadn't been there
when the police arrived.

"Did
anyone see you?" she repeated.

He
hadn't sold tickets, for Christ's sake. "I suppose, coming or
going...." he said, his voice trailing off. Where the hell was Cabot? This
wasn't the sort of thing he could talk about with his sister-in-law.

"Coming
when? Going where?" she asked. Before he could answer she laid a small
hand on his arm and nodded toward the side door. Things were about to begin.
And about time, too.

A
clerk came out and went directly to the district attorney's table. At Ash's
side Charlotte sat up straight and tall, the itsy-bitsy pink nails of one hand
tapping expectantly on the table.

"Where
the hell is Cabot?" he couldn't help asking, as sweat broke out on his
upper lip. The DA nodded at something the clerk said while Ash continued to
badger his sister-in-law. "He wouldn't leave me to you, would he?"

"Ashford,
he's at least as worried about you as you are about yourself." She rose
abruptly, taking her briefcase carefully with her. "Would you excuse me
for a moment?"

"Are
you going for Cabot?" he asked. He was not about to spend another night in
jail just to avoid insulting his sister-in-law's prowess as an attorney.
"I think you'd better get him now."

With
that tiny hand of hers she patted his weatherworn one reassuringly, even
patronizingly, then walked over to the prosecution's table and leaned forward
to speak quietly with both the bespectacled man who sat there and the clerk.
When both men nodded, she bent over and picked up her valise.

So
that was where she'd hidden her softness. Whether it was bustle or actual
bottom he couldn't tell, but his sister-in-law surely improved a courtroom when
she conferred with the enemy. His gaze followed her all the way to the back of
the courtroom until she passed through the double oak doors.

He
ought to be ashamed of himself. This woman was Cabot's wife. And it had taken
his brother long enough to find her. Well, women weren't exactly lined up
outside Cabot Whittier's doors, no matter how impressive those mahogany and
cut-glass panels were.

There
were some magic tricks that even Cabot couldn't pull off.

That
Cabot had found Charlotte Reynolds attractive was easy enough to understand.
According to Cabot (whose standards had always been impossible) Charlotte was
smarter than three quarters of the men he knew, and all of the ones he'd
opposed in court. And Ash had to admit, despite the man-tailored clothing she
had on, that she was pretty in an innocent way—which was to say that she had no
cleavage and her wide eyes were smolderless. She was pleasant enough too. She
hadn't mentioned that he'd repeated himself a hundred times, or complained when
she'd had to repeat herself on his behalf. And she was young, practically a
child when Ash compared her to Cabot's years.

But
no doubt what Cabot found most attractive had to be that she clearly worshiped
the ground beneath him.

Ash
did concede, however, with her third trip down the hall, that in contrast to
her many assets, she apparently possessed the smallest bladder in California.

He
stood politely as she returned to the table and took her seat once again. When
she'd finished adjusting her hat and bag to her own satisfaction, opening the
bag and carefully putting her hat atop it again, he demanded to know if Cabot
was coming.

"Oh,"
she answered, those big eyes so bright he nearly had to shield his own.
"You should see him! He's in courtroom number three waving some
photographs in front of the jury, and jaws are falling faster than pigeon
droppings on the cupola at City Hall."

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