Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
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Copyright ©2009 Rachel Ann Nunes.
All rights reserved. No part of this text may
be reproduced, in any form or by any means,
without permission in writing from the author
Caitlin McLoughlin's client was guilty. In a vicious and premeditated attack,
Chet Belstead had pushed his former girlfriend down in the new grass of April
and raped her. There were five deep stab wounds, with jagged lines connecting
them across the woman's back like a contorted dot-to-dot picture. It was a
miracle she'd survived.
He had worn a mask, and unfortunately there was little physical evidence to
connect him with the crime. Nothing except the lack of an alibi and the fact
that he'd threatened her with violence after she began dating another man. That
he'd been seen loitering near the grocery store where she worked on the night of
the attack wasn't exactly solid proof.
Enough evidence for a trial but never for a conviction. Caitlin had known
Belstead would walk away freeuntil she had made sure he wouldn't.
"We've tested the knife found in a trash can at an abandoned house two blocks
north of the defendant's apartment," announced deputy district attorney Mace
Keeley, speaking for the prosecuting team. "The knife has traces of the victim's
blood." Mace paused dramatically as he always did before going in for the kill,
a flair Caitlin both hated and admired. That he was drop-dead gorgeous didn't
help mattersat least for her client. "The knife also contains two of the
Caitlin didn't meet her client's gaze as the state prosecutor's words hung
heavily in the courthouse. After the first shock of silence, murmurs burst like
a wave from the spectators. The faces of the victim's family showed terrible
triumph. Caitlin kept her own face stoic, not feigning surprise, as some might
have done in her position.
Months ago Caitlin had hoped Belstead was innocent. It happened now and again,
in her work as a legal defender, that her client was wrongly accused or simply
in the wrong place at the wrong time. But those cases were few and far between
these days, or at least they were assigned to attorneys who weren't as
experienced or as good as Caitlin. She almost always got the dirty ones.
In this case she had known her client was guilty from the moment she'd walked
into the room at the jail where they'd met for the first time. He'd been far too
slow to bring his hazel eyes to meet hers, his lazy, annoyingly confident smile
covering his plain face. She understood at once that underneath his apparent
normalcy was a monster that existed only for himself.
She'd started their business immediately, willing her cheeks not to flush. Her
pale, freckled skin she'd acquired from her Irish father, along with her
copper-colored hair, but from her English mother she'd inherited a stiff
backbone and the famous English aplomb that served her well as a defense
At first Belstead had faked innocence. They all did. But she wasn't fooled. He
was easier than most to figure out. She'd once made the mistake of taking off
her jacket in his presence, when the heat of the holding cell had been
unbearable. Though her thick blouse was more than modest, his stare made her
feel dirty. That was when he'd mentioned the knife, wrapped in his thin jacket
and thrown away in an unused trash can. Perhaps he'd thought the danger the
knife represented would make him seem more attractive.
After another few days of subtle prodding, she learned the route he'd taken home
from the park that night, and that information allowed her to determine the most
obvious place he might have deposited the knife. He'd believed she would never
manage to connect the bits of information he'd given herand even if she did, so
what? She was bound by ethics as his legal counsel to keep her mouth shut and
let him go free. In his mind there was no possible way he could be convicted.
That's where he'd been wrong. A simple anonymous phone call to the police hadn't
been all that hard to instigate.
Beneath her outward calm, Caitlin allowed herself to feel the slightest bit of
"In light of this new evidence," Judge Harper said, inclining his gray head,
"I'm going to give the defense time to consider options before we continue on .
. ." He paused and consulted briefly with his clerk. "Apparently both the
prosecutor and the defense are scheduled for a separate trial tomorrow, so we'll
continue the next dayFridayas originally scheduled. But I want any new
motions, if any, on my desk by close tomorrow. I'm also granting the
prosecutor's request to revoke bail. Defendant is remanded to custody. Court is
Caitlin stood with the others as the judge rose and left the room. She could
tell by the rigid lines of his weathered face that Belstead was as good as on
his way to prison. Chalk one up for the good guys.
Yet as much as Belstead deserved to rot in prison for the full length of time
the crime required, her training now demanded that she try to arrange a plea
deal for him. Hopefully he'd be too stubborn to accept, or the prosecutors too
sure of their evidence to offer anything worthwhile.
Belstead leapt to his feet, pushing close to her, ignoring the bailiff who stood
ready to escort him to a cell. "I thought you said I was getting off!" he
growled, his hazel eyes level with hers. "You said they didn't have enough
Caitlin faced him, taking in the desperate, wild look that no longer matched the
closely cropped sandy hair and shaved face. He was pleasant-looking in an
ordinary way, but there was nothing to set him apart from dozens of other
ordinary middle-aged men. Except perhaps his clothes. These had obviously been
chosen with great care as though he was trying to impress someone. Women, most
likely. Girls. A wolf in sheep's clothing.
"It seems," Caitlin said deliberately, "this evidence changes things. Don't get
upset. I'll look at the evidence and how they got it and see what we can do."
Normally she hated it when the prosecutors managed to sneak in something like
this at the end of a trial, but today she felt only triumph.
"How they got it? How they got it?" Belstead's voice rose to a scream. "You know
how they got it!" Abruptly his voice became a deadly whisper. "You told him! You
must have. No one else knew." He swore viciously, making a move toward her. The
bailiff grabbed his arms and pulled him back.
"You're not helping your case." Caitlin made her voice icy hard. "Word of this
tantrum will get back to the judge. Now calm down! Obviously, someone was
rooting through the trash and found this so-called evidence. Or there was a
witness who led them to it. I'll find out and see what we can do to negate the
Her words had the desired calming effect, and his narrow shoulders slumped. "See
that you do," he muttered. "Or else."
"Or else what?" She lifted her chin as she met his gaze.
"Nothin'." His eyes were full of hatred as the bailiff took him from the room.
The threat was probably just talk, but she was glad she would be able to sleep
that night, knowing there was no chance he would be anywhere near her house.
That was a relief after the past few months of such close contact. She suspected
he'd want another attorney, but unfortunately for her he didn't have the money
to hire one on his own. Working full time at a local hamburger joint didn't
exactly add up to high-class attorney wages, and any cash that hadn't been eaten
by his rent had probably gone toward clothing. She could, of course, recuse
herself from the case, but that would be giving in to her fear.
Caitlin swallowed with difficulty and closed her burning eyes.
"So, your client's guilty," said a voice beside her.
Caitlin opened her eyes to see Mace Keeley approaching, followed by several of
his co-workers. "Big surprise," she muttered, her stomach tightening as it
always did at the deputy DA's presence.
He laughed. "Public defending is the worst, isn't it?" Though in his late
thirties, he was a poster-child for a beach surferblond hair, blue eyes, and a
build that made women drool. Most women anyway, though Caitlin tried not to be
one of them. The aloof manner she strove for at work protected her most days,
but sometimes a little scene of the two of them alone on a beach somewhere stole
into her daydreams.
"Well, there is a good side to your losing," said Wyman Russell, the deputy DA
originally assigned to prosecute the case.
"And what's that?" Caitlin forced herself to respond politely to the shorter
man. Though he was reasonably handsome and his voice pleasant, she didn't like
Wyman. Not because of his thinning brown hair and flabby body or even because
two years ago he'd been chosen for the job that should have been hers but
because of the calculating way he looked at her. The feeling had been bad enough
when he and his wife were living together, but now that they were separated he
seemed to find altogether too many opportunities to unnerve Caitlin. Either he
had the hots for her, was jealous of her success, or was just particularly
weird. She was leaning toward the latter.
Wyman grinned. "Chet Belstead is going to jail for a long time. That's worth any
He won't be going away for long enough, Caitlin thought as the two men
The truth was that Wyman Russell had simply been lucky. He was a terrible
prosecutor, and in the past she'd defended against him successfully in several
cases he should have woncases she'd hoped he'd win, given her clients' obvious
guilt. Perhaps that was why Mace had been called in to help with this case, to
be sure Wyman didn't mess up again. The family of the victim was working the
media hard, and a loss by the DA's office would not be taken lightly. Mace or no
Mace, she would have wonif she hadn't helped things along.
"It's not over yet," she forced herself to say. Mechanically, she began picking
up her papers and storing them in her brown leather briefcase, too aware of Mace
and the fact that he was still watching her. Her nerves tingled.
Wyman stepped around Mace, coming uncomfortably close. "You still think you're
going to get him off? How? His fingerprints were found on the weapon, and the
victim is ready to swear it was his voice she heard in the park that night. They
dated for six months. She should know."
The arrogance in his voice stung her into replying. "I'm sorry, but I cannot
discuss my client with anyone, especially with you. You'd better get back to
examining the knife and the jacket and hope you have enough evidence to convince
him to cut a deal."
Mace laughed. "She has a point, Wyman. I for one am interested to see what she
comes up with." He smiled at Caitlin and she grinned, swaying toward him
slightly before she pulled herself back. Apparently it had been far too long
since she'd been in a relationship with a man as attractive as Mace. Or any man
for that matter. "See you later, Caitlin," he said with another smile.
She watched him walk away for several long seconds before she realized Wyman
hadn't followed him. "How did you know there was a jacket with the knife?" he
Caitlin froze. Hadn't Mace mentioned it during the trial? She went over the
scene in her mind. No, he hadn't. They must have been withholding the
information, hoping to find the source of the anonymous phone call. Anonymous
was nowhere near as good as a live witness.
"He told you, didn't he? That idiot told you what he did!" A sort of mad glee
lit Wyman's eyes.
"What my client tells me is privileged information. I shouldn't have to remind
you." Though she spoke calmly, a tremor of fear shuddered up Caitlin's spine.
What if they found the boy who had made the anonymous call and traced him back
to her? If anyone accused her of a breach of ethics and they found evidence, she
could be disbarred.
The courtroom was clear now except for the two of them and Jodi Rivers, a
paralegal from the Legal Defenders Association who was standing near the door
waiting for Caitlin. Wyman reached out and briefly touched Caitlin's arm. "We
have more in common than you think, Caitlin." The arrogance was gone from his
"What are you saying?"
"We both want the bad guys to go to prison."
She studied his face. "Maybe so, but my job is to get as many clients through
the system as quickly as possibleperiod. Even if they get off. You're the one
who's supposed to send them to prison." She didn't add that he wasn't very good
at it, but she didn't have to. His record spoke for itself.
"We could be on the same team," he said lightly. "Think about it."
"I tried to join the DA, but you took my spot. Remember?"
"You holding a grudge? Besides, sometimes you can accomplish more working
outside the DA's office."
Wyman left her then, but she knew it wasn't over. Two days ago, she wouldn't
have hesitated to slam his slightly veiled suggestion of cooperation back in his
face as a blatant breach of ethics. But doing so now might make him more eager
to open an investigation into the anonymous caller, and the caller would
eventually lead to Kenny Pratt, a local private detective she sometimes used.
Kenny would never volunteer the information that he'd been making inquiries on
her behalf, but she employed him often enough for the DA's office to make a
connection. At least she hadn't told Kenny her true reason for sending him
"I found a teenager," he had said, calling her from his cell. "Says he saw a guy
run by, looking real nervous. There's a streetlight right outside, and he claims
the man was covered in blood. A bit later the kid heard a bang at the abandoned
house next door. Maybe a garbage lid. I checked out the house, and it still
looks abandoned. The garbage can is about half full. I didn't go through it.
Anyway, it wasn't on the night you were asking about. It was two days before."
Two days before the date she'd given Kenny, but two days landed the event
squarely on the night of Belstead's attack. She'd known Kenny Pratt would report
anything he discoveredanything near the date in question. She forced her voice
to be calm. "Not something I can use, but you might encourage the boy to call
the police. Whatever the man dumped might still be there. Maybe it connects to
something else they're working on. That's a scary neighborhood down there."
"I'll do that. You want me to keep poking around? I covered the whole block, but
I might have missed someone."
"No. I think it's a dead end."
"It's your call."
"Send me a bill."
He laughed. "I always do."
The police had taken a day to find the knife and another two to connect it to
the rape. That was fast, considering the months that had passed since the crime.
Simple. Not really any connection to her at all.
I shouldn't have done it. Despite all her rationalization, she'd been wrong to
go that far. She had put herself at riskand that meant putting Amy at risk.
The thought of Amy made her sit down hard on the first row of benches. Amy would
be waiting for her even now, playing with dolls or coloring a picture. Sweet
Amy, who knew only the world of a child and would never have to make the
decisions Caitlin did.
"Caitlin? Are you okay?"
She looked around at Jodi, surprised to see the younger woman still waiting for
her. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Too bad about the knife."
She sighed. Jodi Rivers was a good paralegal, so good that in some cases Caitlin
met with her clients only once before a hearing or trial. That left her free to
spend her time on the most difficult or disturbing cases. Like Chet Belstead's.
In fact, if she had still been working misdemeanor cases as she had at the
beginning of her career, she'd only see her clients at the trial itself, never
actually talking to them alone, relying instead on Jodi to take care of the
Yet for all her experience, Jodi was still young and too idealistic to
understand that because of Caitlin, many really bad guys walked free to harm
others again. Jodi still believed in second chances; Caitlin had seen repeated
offenders too often to subscribe to that useless vein of thought.
Jodi sat down, her long, dark hair falling over her shoulders nearly to her
slender waist. Caitlin envied that waist, not to mention the hair and flawless
complexion. Of course, anything was preferable to her own red hair and freckles.
Jodi tapped a french-manicured finger on the file she held. "I saw him staring
at you. I think he likes you."
Caitlin sat up straighter. "You do?"
"Yes, and he's cute. I mean, he could be a little taller, but he's taller than
you, at least. I hear he and his wife are getting a divorce."
Wife? Mace Keeley didn't have a wife. He was rumored to be in a long-distance
romance with an attorney in California, though if they didn't love each other
enough to be together, Caitlin didn't hold out much hope for the relationship.
That could only mean Jodi wasn't talking about Mace. "Uh," she groaned. "If
you're talking about Wyman Russell, then eewww."
Jodi shrugged. "He's not bad looking."
"He's a terrible prosecutor! You saw how he brought Mace Keeley in to help this
case." Though now, since there was so much damning evidence, Wyman would
probably try to resume the case on his own. He'd want the glory of the win for
Jodi grinned. "I see your point. A woman can overlook a lot of things in a man
but not stinking at his job. But speaking of Mace Keeley, what I wouldn't give
to get a date with him!"
"You and most of the other women around here."
Jodi shrugged. "Lucky for him, I guess." She clapped her hands on her knees,
just visible beneath her tight skirt, and leaned forward. "Well, I'm heading
back to the office. Can I help you with anything this afternoon?"
"I wish. But it's stuff I have to deal with. After I make sure the DA sends me
everything on this new evidence, I have to go chat with another client so we're
ready for trial tomorrow morning." A typical busy Wednesday for her.
"You mean the arsonist?"
"That's the one." The defendant had killed an old man in the fire, so Wyman had
gone after him with a murder one charge, but there was enough doubt in Caitlin's
mind about the defendant's intention that she was giving the case her full
attention. Since she was up against Wyman again, she would probably save her
client from life imprisonment. Unfortunately.
Nodding, Jodi arose. "Well, give me a holler if you need some help with visual
aids for the arson trial."
"I thought you had a brief to write for Sampson."
"I do, but it's boring." Jodi laughed and started down the aisle.
"In that case, I'll take you up on the visual aids. There's a file on my desk
that has them outlined. Top one. Red folder, I think. And, Jodi, thanks."
Caitlin scraped through the rest of her day, finally heading through the
snow-lined streets to her home in West Valley City. A stack of files she would
work on later filled her briefcase. Though it was only six-thirty, her eyes
ached and her head screamed for sleep. All she wanted was to crash in bed and
never wake up. Instead, she made the usual detour two streets from her house to
pick up Amy at the sitter's. Caitlin had looked for several months to find a
woman who could handle Amy, and the white-haired Sarah Burnside, a
sixty-eight-year-old Mormon grandmother of thirty, had been a real find.
Sarah's husband, Kyle, let her in, and Caitlin found Amy sitting on a stool in
the kitchen with Sarah, kneading saltwater dough on the countertop. "I'm
helping." Amy's short red hair, a shade darker than Caitlin's, framed her round,
grinning face. Any time flour and water were involved, Amy was content.
"I see," Caitlin said. "That's very nice."
At the sink, Sarah rinsed a final dish before drying her hands. "You can take
that home, Amy."
"Oh, thank you! You're so nice, Sarah." Amy began rolling the dough in a ball
with plump fingers. "Can I have a sack?"
"Of course, dear." Sarah moved her bulky form to a drawer and drew out a plastic
Leaving Sarah to store the dough, Amy slid off her stool and hugged Caitlin,
nearly overpowering her with exuberance. Amy didn't realize how strong she was,
which was why it was important that her sitter be sturdy. "I missed you so much.
Did you miss me?"
Caitlin looked up into her younger sister's eyes, as green as her own were blue.
"I did miss you." And it was true. With Amy things were always simpler. She was
twenty-seven, but intellectually she would always remain five or six. Their
parents had married late, having Caitlin when their mother was forty-three, and
Amy surprised them five years later. There wasn't a time when Caitlin hadn't
been involved in taking care of her sister, and now that their parents were
gone, the burdens and the joys rested solely on her shoulders.
Amy didn't look any different from other women her age, and sometimes that was
the most difficult thing for Caitlin. Sometimes she almost forgot that she could
never share her life with Amy the way most sisters could. Amy would never be
able to counsel her about a boyfriend, or buy her that sweater she had her eye
on. Or even fix dinner on the nights Caitlin was too exhausted to stand. But
these were selfish thoughts, and for the most part Caitlin was happy that her
little sister would never know all the pain the world carried.
As Amy began her usual babble about the day's events, Caitlin only
half-listened, nodding at all the appropriate times. Most of it would be a
repeat of the day before. In fact, Amy often got events from past weeks mixed
up. It didn't really matter. But suddenly her words grabbed Caitlin's attention.
"Caitlin, will you ever have a baby?"
Caitlin glanced over at the passenger seat to see Amy looking at her earnestly.
"Why do you ask that?"
"I think you should. If you had a baby, I could watch it. I would be a good
"I'm sure you would, but having a baby is kind of complicated." She didn't know
how to explain reproduction to her sister, much less falling in love and making
a permanent commitment. "Remember our gerbils and how they won't have any more
babies since they don't have a husband?"
"That's because we gave all the husbands away. I liked having the babies. They
"We couldn't keep so many in the cage. They wouldn't be happy."
"We wouldn't have tons of babies. Just one." Amy tilted her head in a pleading
gesture. "Please, Caitlin. Sarah's daughter had a baby, and I got to hold him
today. I was very careful. He smiled at me."
"I bet that was a lot of fun."
"So will you have a baby? Please?"
Caitlin stifled a sigh. "I don't even have time to meet a man, much less marry
one. Besides, I don't know that we want a guy hanging around all the time. I
sort of like having you all to myself."
Amy giggled. "Me too."
They pulled into the driveway of their modest home. The garage could hold two
cars, though they didn't need the space. Amy would never drive. While Amy ran to
play with the gerbils they kept in a corner of their small kitchen, Caitlin
rummaged in the freezer for a bagged pasta meal she'd bought at Costco. Amy
loved the curly noodles and the meat, and usually even ate a carrot or two,
though she wouldn't touch the broccoli. The calories in the meal were
outrageousprobably one of the reasons Caitlin had put on a few pounds lately,
but at least it cooked quickly and tasted good.
Amy talked to the gerbils, repeating everything she'd already told Caitlin about
her day, her big hands gentle with the creatures. She'd had twenty-seven years
to learn to be five.
"Why don't you go wash up?" Caitlin suggested. "It's almost ready."
From her seated position by the gerbil cage, Amy's face lifted toward Caitlin,
her childlike sweetness shining through. "Can we have ice cream after?"
"Why not?" There was really no point in denying Amy the treat. It wasn't as if
she would have to fit into a prom dress any time soon. Sorrow came with the
thought, but it was erased by Amy's gleeful cheer.
"I love you so much, Caitlin. You're the best sister ever!" She jumped up and
gave Caitlin a hug.
Forty minutes later, Caitlin was washing their dinner dishes when her cell phone
rang. "I'll get it!" Amy left her bowl of Neapolitan ice cream and raced over to
Caitlin's purse on the counter, delivering the cell phone to Caitlin's damp
"Caitlin. It's Wyman."
Her heart thudded in her chest. "Hi, Wyman. What's up?"
"It's about the Belstead trial."
She sighed. "You know we can't discuss it."
"I thought it wouldn't hurt to stop by."
"You're at my house?" If she had to have a visitor, why couldn't it have been
Mace? If only I could be so lucky, she thought.
"I wanted to make sure you were home before I knocked."
Caitlin strode to the front door, pulling it open. Sure enough, Wyman was
climbing from a sleek gray car, careful not to put his feet in the mound of snow
the plow had left next to the curb. She shut her phone and watched him walk up
the drive. The house had been built on a postage stamp-sized lot, like all the
other houses in the subdivision, so it didn't take him long to reach her. "We
can't talk about the trial," she warned. "Either of them. If you have a plea
deal, I want it in writing during normal work hours."
"Okay. Then how about dinner this weekend?"
"I'm sorry, I can't."
"It's just dinner, Caitlin. I promise, no shop talk."
His light blue eyes narrowed, reminding her of ice. "Look, it's only fair that
you know. This afternoon we tracked down the teenager who made the anonymous
call about your client's knife. He said a man came around asking about anything
odd happening in the area, and apparently that's the only reason he came forward
in the first place. The man was probably a private detective, and some in the
DA's office find it strange that a private detective would just happen to be
snooping around in that area."
"What does that have to do with me?" Caitlin said coldly.
"That's what I want to find out."
"And you'll find nothing. The way I see it, you should be grateful for any break
in the case. You and I both know I was about to win."
Wyman studied her, an unperturbed smile on his face. Caitlin felt ill.
"Caitlin? Who is it?" Amy peered around her at Wyman, pushing Caitlin to the
side in her enthusiasm. Ice cream smeared her chin, signaling that she'd been
licking her bowl clean.
"A man from work," Caitlin said, automatically shifting to the softer voice she
reserved for Amy.
"Hi." Amy grinned and lifted a hand in greeting. "I'm Caitlin's sister."
Wyman looked back and forth between them, apparently noting the similaritiesthe
freckles, the hair, even the build, though Amy was heavier and taller than
Amy wiped her chin on her sleeve. "Caitlin, I like my new ice cream better than
the kind with those yucky nuts. Can we always buy this kind?"
"Yes. Now why don't you go get your pajamas on?"
Amy clapped her hands. "I'll get the book!" She glanced at Wyman. "Bye!"
Realization came over Wyman's face, followed by a fleeting expression of what
Caitlin was sure was revulsion. Then Wyman smiled. "I didn't know you supported
Caitlin didn't respond.
"Well, think about what I said." With a wink, he turned and sauntered down her
Caitlin thought fast. If she went out with him maybe he'd get off the trail.
After all, her client would go to prison and Wyman would get credit for his
conviction. What did it matter how it came about? Going out with Wyman a time or
two might stall him long enough that the point would be moot.
But what if it wasn't enough? She shivered. He might be handsome in Jodi's eyes,
but right now everything about him repulsed her. The idea of going out with him
wasn't her idea of fun, no matter that it'd been two years since she'd dated
"Okay," she called, raising her voice to be heard. "Dinner."
He stopped and turned, a slow smile coming over his face. "I'm glad you changed
your mind. We'll make plans tomorrow then, after the arson trial."
Caitlin nodded, already wishing she hadn't agreed. But for Amy's sake she had to
protect her career, and for now that meant playing along with Wyman's little
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