(c) 2000

Chapter One


MaryJanice Davidson

Everything was fine until she drove off The Cliff.

Well. "Cliff" was an exaggeration. More like "small dropoff in parking garage", which she had dubbed The Cliff when she started parking in this garage every morning. And she wouldn't have driven over The Cliff at all, if not to avoid hitting the guy who had flagged her down.

One minute she had been annoyed at herself for not getting a cup of chai before starting the commute home, the next her headlights had splashed across a wild-eyed figure stumbling directly into her path. She had wrenched the wheel so hard, her palms still burned. And as her van plunged toward The Cliff, she had thought, bemused, Is this going to kill me? Should have stopped for the chai, my girl.

Chai or no chai, it hadn't killed her. It hadn't even hurt her. Lynn Lough swung open her door…then swung it shut so she wouldn't tumble from level four to level three. She'd often wondered what would happen if a car drove off the track and got stuck between levels. Now she knew: it racked hell out of your minivan, ruined your evening, and prevented you from exiting the vehicle by any conventional means. She pulled the lever for the rear door, then carefully clambered into her backseat…and over that into her other backseat…and over that until she was in her van's storage space, pushing the rear door open and carefully stepping out. The climb had rucked up her skirt suit to somewhere around her shoulders, and she spent a moment yanking everything back into place.

Then she spotted the author of her misery. "You!" she said, as the man she'd avoided hitting trotted--limped--toward her. "You've got a weird way of getting people to stop. Next time, instead of lying down in the road, take time out to make a sign. WILL GET OUT OF WAY FOR FOOD. Better yet--"

"Are you the doctor who works in this building?" he gasped. She took another look at him and saw he was in serious trouble. He looked like someone had tossed his cheap suit into the dryer…while he was still in it. There was a bloody gash across one knuckle, the skin beneath his left eye was purpling, and he was wheezing like an asthmatic ninety year-old. "I need help."

"I'm a doctor," Lynn said carefully, belatedly realizing it was nine o'clock at night, the garage was all but deserted, and she'd left her gun in her purse. And left her purse at home. "But I don't think I--"

"I'm sorry--for what I did, how I stopped you--but you've got to help me. I need a doctor and I need a ride." To her annoyance, she saw he was quite handsome, and had a terrific (wheezy) baritone. Taller than she, with hair the color of Hershey's dark chocolate (her stomach goinged noisily, reminding her she'd skipped lunch), and eyes the color of a sunset (they were exceedingly bloodshot). "Please, they're after me."

"They are, huh?" Note to self: next time someone flings himself at the road in front of you, run him right over.

"Yes, and I need to lead them away from here." He jerked a glance over his shoulder and, taking in the empty level, glanced back at her. "Hurry! They're coming, doctor!"

"I'm not that kind of doctor," she explained patiently. She should have been scared out of her wits, but for some reason (PMS? A poorly honed sense of survival?) she felt no threat from this man. If truth be told, she felt sorry for him, with his black eye and shabby suit and bloodshot eyes. "People call me doctor because I've got a Juris Doctorate."

He gaped at her. Big, and handsome, but dim. "A what?"

"A lawyer," she clarified.

He groaned and nearly fell; she automatically reached out a hand to steady him…then whipped her hand away when she felt the bulge of a concealed weapon beneath his jacket. At least, she thought wryly, he hadn't shoved it under her nose and demanded she drive him to Cuba. Yet. "A lawyer, a damned lawyer? I don't need a lawyer! Look at this!" He started to roll up his trouser leg, but the frayed fabric disintegrated when he grabbed it, exposing a truly bloody leg. "What do you suggest, doctor?"

She peered at the wound, which was intriguingly gross. "I'd slap an affadavit over it to stop the bleeding. Then I'd help you bring suit against your attackers."

He snorted, and the snort turned into a slightly hysterical laugh. "What the hell," he said. "You're hired. What's your retainer?"

"Retainer?" she echoed.

"Yeah, it's a legal term, frequently used by lawyers."

"I know what it means," she said frostily, "and my case load is so heavy, I have to work fifteen hour days just to do a bad job."

He patted the bulge of his jacket and his bloodshot eyes twinkled at her. "I insist, Doctor…er…what's your name?"

"Lough," she said automatically, trying to figure out a) how she had gotten in such a mess in a surprisingly short time, and b) why she still--still!--wasn't scared. "Pleasedtameetcha."

"Your name is Doctor Loo?"

"The gh," she said with as much dignity as she could muster, "is silent.

He looked at her for a long moment, then smiled. He had a terrific smile, she was irritated to note. "I think I must be dreaming."

"What a coincidence," she said, "I was just dreaming about yelling for the cops."

"You can't turn your client over to the cops. Not unless you want to get disbarred."

"I'm not your--"

"Let's talk about it in the car," he said.

"We can't. In case you haven't noticed, a third of my ride is on level three, while the rest of it is on level four."

"I didn't mean your car," he said impatiently, limping hurriedly toward a row of parked cars. He fumbled at his jacket and pulled his handgun. She knew nothing about guns, except they were noisy, fired bullets, and made messes. The gun he held looked capable of all of those things. Exit, stage left, girly-o. And you should have done it five minutes ago.

"If you think I'm helping you steal a car," she began, when he shot the driver side window, punched the rest of the glass in with the butt of his gun, then turned and pointed the barrel at her with the gall to look apologetic. "…you're absolutely right," she finished weakly. Climbing into the driver's seat, she recovered enough to add, "Kidnapping jerk!"

"Murdering jerk," he corrected her tiredly, and got in with a grimace, favoring his bad leg. He had to grasp his thigh with his hands and force the knee to bend, going an alarming shade of white when he did so. The pain made him gag, and for a moment she was certain he would vomit and pass out, or pass out and then vomit. Then he set his jaw, straightened in his seat, and said in a forced, light tone, "Drive on, Jeeves."

"You just wait," she muttered, impressed in spite of herself. The man had the will of a conquistador, and that was a fact. "The courts take a dim view of kidnapping lawyers at gunpoint."

He snorted. "The courts might, but the average citizen would give me a medal. Which reminds me, how many lawyers does it take to--"

"If you're going to make me listen to lawyer jokes," she interrupted, backing the car out and stomping on the accelerator, "could you just kill me now?"

Chapter 2 by Jennifer Dunne