“The Case” — Burden of Proof (Hanover Investigations, Book 1)

Offices of Marshall, Bateman & Powell
Pittsburgh
June 3
5:30 PM

With a weary sigh, Chelsea Hanover pressed slim fingers to her throbbing head and willed her raging migraine to disappear. She didn’t have time for this. Philip Myers went to trial for armed robbery and assault in less than three days, and she’d yet to find a single loophole in the prosecution’s case.

Pushing her fingers through her long, copper-colored curls, she scowled at the files spread open on her desk.

“Damn it, Jerry!”

She told him this case was a bad idea. Never mind the partners forbade him to take it. Being Jerry, he naturally ignored her advice and the instructions of two of the firm’s senior partners, and — no surprise — the case blew up in his face.

Chelsea’s stomach heaved, and she could hear her sister’s chastising voice, reminding her stress could kill her. Sally was convinced her younger sister’s problems would be solved if Chelsea just slowed down. The thought made her ill.

Or maybe she was ill because she’d consumed nothing except half a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut since six this morning. The mere thought of food brought a protesting heave from her knotted stomach.

Just what she needed to end up a hellish Thursday. A bodily mutiny.

What she needed, Chelsea conceded, as her vision blurred from exhaustion, was some kind of evidence that put Myers elsewhere at the time of the robbery. Lacking that, she reached for her trusty bottle of aspirin. She grimaced as she washed several down with a gulp of cold coffee.

A rap at the frosted-glass office door rescued her from the sea of paperwork on her desk.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and Gene Marshall poked his balding head through the opening. “Got a minute, Chelsea?”

A warm smile tugged at her lips. Gene wasn’t just her boss. He was her mentor and adoptive uncle, and one of the very few men she trusted.

“Sure, Gene. I’m just going over the Myers case one last time.”

His frown reminded her none of the senior partners were happy with Jerry Merrick’s decision to take on the case in the first place. If it failed, it would make the entire firm look bad.

From what she saw, it would fail. Miserably.

“Give it back to Merrick,” Gene growled, shutting the door behind himself. “You’re working too hard on an airtight loss. The partners have had a meeting, and we’ve decided to let Jerry sink or swim on his own. If he pulls it off, great. If not, it gives him his third strike and gets him tossed out on his ear. We should have done it a long time ago.”

Chelsea’s brow furrowed. “Why are you telling me this, Gene?”

He shrugged. “I know you, kiddo. You’ll feel guilty if it fails. Which it probably will.”

A wry smile tugged at her lips. “Is that what you came in here for? A pep talk?”

He paused, his expression uncomfortable. “Actually, no. A big case just landed in the firm’s lap, and the partners agree. We want you to handle it.”

The knot in her stomach tightened. Was Gene actually trying to sell her on a case with flattery? He knew that crap was lost on her. The one and only time he’d tried and succeeded before now ended up being a very messy kidnapping case she almost lost, even though her client was actually innocent. “What kind of case?”

“A big one.” Gene skimmed a file across the mess on her desk. “Murder One.”

Chelsea’s blood froze in her veins. First degree murder? Dear God, he wasn’t suggesting that she, a junior partner, handle another capital case, was he?

“You’re kidding.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I know you said you didn’t want any more capital cases after the Brantley kidnapping, but this case is just too important, and you have the best track record of all the junior partners.”

Resignation flooded her. The partners handpicked her for this case, so she didn’t have much of a choice. She might as well hear him out. “What’s the story?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The woman’s name is Marlene Cavarella. They arrested her this afternoon, and details are still sketchy. According to Eleanor, she was incoherent when she called.”

“Incoherent?” Chelsea thumbed the edge of the file and shot a curious glanced at Gene. “How?”

“From crying, not intoxication. Eleanor said she was pretty close to hysterical, on the phone. Lucky us, to be the family law firm.”

“That seems odd for someone facing a Murder One charge.” Chelsea’s brow furrowed as something he said sank in. “Cavarella? As in Dominic Cavarella, of Cavarella Enterprises?”

“Yeah.” Gene settled his five-foot-ten-inch frame into one of the plush leather chairs opposite her. “Small world, huh? We handle all their corporate legalities.”

Chelsea nodded absently. She handled three of the well-known advertising agency’s legal disputes over the past two years, herself. She even met “The Big Man,” as Gene called him, once. Dominic Cavarella struck her not as awe-inspiring, but downright intimidating. He made her skin crawl. She frowned. She had way too much experience with powerful men to ever trust one.

“So who is Marlene?”

Gene laughed in disbelief. “You really need to get out more, kiddo! Marlene’s the Big Man’s wife.”

Chelsea’s head snapped up, even as she opened the file he’d tossed her. “Cavarella’s wife? Who’s the victim?”

Even as she asked, the answer stared up at her from the open file in her hands. Chelsea’s breath rushed out on a quiet curse. “She offed her husband?”

“Sam Spade, I presume,” Gene intoned wryly, but nodded. “Yeah, the victim was Cavarella himself. According to the police, there were sixty-four separate stab wounds to his chest and upper abdomen. The detective I spoke with said he figures Cavarella was dead long before she stopped hacking at him.”

Chelsea winced at his indelicate choice of words. Gene wasn’t one to sugarcoat. “So why me?”

Gene’s expression was sympathetic as he rose to his feet. “She asked specifically for you. I figure she heard her husband talk about your handling of the past couple of corporate cases. It’s not likely she’d distinguish between cases.”

Chelsea sighed as she closed the file. “Exactly what do you expect me to do? The woman was literally caught red-handed, if these reports are to be believed.”

“The question is, are they?” He shrugged. “Check it out. Talk to her, at least. She claims she’s innocent, and the firm trusts your judgment enough to give you free rein either way you go. If you feel the case isn’t worth the risk after you’ve talked with her, we’ll simply farm it out to the Public Defender.”

She sighed, pressing her fingers to her forehead again. “All right, Gene. I’ll head over there first thing in the morning. Where’s she being held?”

“Allegheny County Jail, at least until the arraignment.”

She nodded as she rose to her feet. “Got it. Do we have any idea who the District Attorney’s picked for the case, yet?”

Gene’s grimace stopped her halfway up, and ice trickled through her. Prosecutors never bothered Gene; he didn’t look at them with the same distaste many defense attorneys did.

“Gene? What is it?”

“More like ‘who’,” he muttered as he met her eyes. “Rumor has it Martin’s giving the case to the Executioner.”

The blood drained from her head so fast it made her dizzy, and she sank back into her chair as an image flashed before her eyes of dark blond hair, clean-cut good looks, and green eyes so intense they could pierce her to the soul from a yard away. She could barely draw a breath as she croaked out a single word. “Blakely.”

Gene nodded glumly. “From what I hear, that man’s been looking for a rematch ever since you trumped him at the Fairman trial, two years ago.”

She managed a wan smile. “I didn’t trump him — the evidence did. Chad was innocent. Even the Executive Assistant District Attorney can’t be right all the time.”

Gene snorted a laugh. “So far, you’re the only one who’s managed to prove that theory. His record for convictions was spotless, until you came along. Damn him, and his absolute devotion to the law.” A rueful smile flickered across his face, then. “Unfortunately, it works all too well for him.”

Chelsea’s heart stuck in her throat as she recalled the first and only time she faced Justin Blakely in court. It was the first time she was terrified since Rob tore away her innocence, and her sense of safety, in college. The idea of being in the same courtroom with another Blakely, and one fed with a silver spoon so like Rob’s, made her physically ill. She kept seeing the judge who turned her personal horror into living Hell. When she saw Justin, the first day, the sensation slammed into her, and rocked her clear off her game. No one knew how close to losing that case she came. No one knew how much his soul-piercing gaze rattled her. God, how would she ever face him again?

“You okay, kiddo?” Gene’s worried voice broke through her thoughts, banishing Justin’s face from her mind. She nodded. She could do this. She wasn’t a thunderstruck rookie, anymore. Her record was even more impressive than Blakely’s. After all, she hadn’t lost a case, yet.

Gene, halfway to the door, turned to give her another concerned glance. “You look like hell, Chelsea. You’re only twenty-four, for God’s sake. You need to slow down. Do yourself a favor, and get some rest before you tackle this one. The D.A.’s office is having a psychologist sent over from Western Psychiatric tomorrow afternoon, to see if Marlene’s even fit to stand trial. Save yourself the aggravation. Wait until Monday.”

Anger hardened Chelsea’s resolve. Psychiatrists, she could do without. They were all alike, trying to convince people the worst terrors were all in their heads. Trying to tell frightened, traumatized women they were crazy to feel afraid.

“No. If she’s as upset as you say, Mrs. Cavarella will be too fragile to withstand psychological analysis. I want to get her side of the story before the state’s headshrinkers get to her.”

Gene sighed in resignation. “All right, then. Good luck.”

As Chelsea turned to shove the Myers case into a file box and gather up her tape recorder and legal pads, she swallowed back a grimace. Between the little information in the file, and the roiling sensation in her gut, Chelsea feared she needed a good bit more than just luck. She needed a miracle.

Like what you’ve read so far? You can find this book exclusively through Amazon.com. Half of all royalties for sales of this book are divided annually between RAINN and The Rape Foundation.

Buy Here.

©Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

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Converse with the author (me)

If you are looking for a way to keep up on the most recent news from me, regarding my writing and books, and view the most recent excerpts and more, you might consider checking out my new social media group over at Facebook. You can find it at:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/esthermitchellreaders/

Now, this is a closed group, so you have to be approved to join, and I have two rules:

  1. No lurkers. I intend for this group to be a place for real discussion of your favorite and least favorite aspects of my books, for questions about the characters, the stories, the writing process, and more. You don’t have to be actively involved all the time, but if you go too long without comment at all, I’m going to assume you’re no longer interested, and you’ll have to rejoin.
  2. NO promo. Absolutely, positively NO promotions for other books or authors in this group. You won’t get a warning if you do it. You’ll just be removed, and you won’t be allowed back in. It’s rude, and disrespectful.

So, if you’re interested, look me up at the link above, and let’s talk! 🙂

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BURDEN OF PROOF Available for Sale

Burden of Proof is now available on Amazon.com in both ebook and paperback!

The charities benefited by this book are the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and The Rape Foundation. Half of all royalties from the sales of this book will be divided between these two charities, annually.

Thank you to the talented Nikita Gordyn for the beautiful cover art.

This book contains possible triggers for those who are survivors of rape and domestic violence. Chapter specifically involving trigger information will be marked with a trigger warning.

About the book:

When Justice Fails, Can Love Prevail?

Chelsea Hanover prides herself on one undisputed fact; she’s never lost a case. A crack young defense attorney, she takes only cases she believes in, and sticks to her rule of never mixing business with pleasure. Now, Pittsburgh socialite Marlene Cavarella has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of her wealthy husband, Dominic, and Chelsea finds herself thrust into the midst of a murder case set to turn her entire reality inside out. And the only man who might save her is a man she doesn’t want to trust, or to love.

Burden of Proof Final

If you, or someone you love, has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault,  please know you are not alone.  Domestic violence and sexual assault crimes are the  largest number of unreported crimes in the US and Europe. Break the silence, and help take back the night.  For help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or  RAINN at 1-800-656-4673. 

Get involved, and help take violence out of our homes, and rapists off the streets. Contact  your local shelters and domestic crisis organizations.  Together, we all make a difference.

An Author’s Life

~Esther Mitchell, 2016~

Yes, I’m an author.
I fall a little in love with my heroes.
I want to grow up to be my heroines.
I recoil in horror at my villains.
I laugh out loud at my comic relief,
and my heart breaks for every heartbreak my characters feel.

Yes, I’m an author.
I have a thousand friends,
who all understand me just as I understand them.
We know each other’s secrets,
We laugh, cry, and live together,
all within the same small space.

Yes, I’m an author.
You can call me crazy,
You can call me strange,
You can shake your head and walk away.
It’s not going to change anything.
Because there are a thousand people in my world,
all waiting for me to smile, to wave,
to ask, “What have you been up to, today?”

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“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF

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HE WANTED JUSTICE,

BUT AT WHAT COST?

Assistant District Attorney Justin Blakely believes only in the letter of the law. When asked to prosecute a dangerous woman accused of killing her husband with sixty-four stab wounds to the chest, he sees only a butcher who should be locked away for her depraved act. But when he comes up against the woman’s driven, feisty attorney, he knows Chelsea Hanover has the power to change his mind. And, as he realizes her aim is truth rather than law, he can do nothing but respect her integrity. Knowing she’s stumbling into trouble, he’ll do anything to save her from herself, even if the casualty of his crusade is the law in which he believes

“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF —

Justin blinked awake to the feel of warm fingers on his face. Opening burning eyes, he looked up to see Chelsea sitting on the edge of her hospital bed, fully clothed, with her right arm in a sling. The fingers of her good hand traced his stubbly cheek again, as a soft smile touched her face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look disreputable, before.” The soft lilt of teasing in her husky voice twisted his heart in the best way. She frowned, then. “I think I remember talking to you, last night. Have you been here all night?”

He sat up straighter, stifling a yawn as he glanced at his watch. Six-thirty. “Yeah, you did. And yes, I have.”

Her frown deepened, confusion and fear written in its lines. “You’ve been here every night when I go to sleep, and every morning when I wake up. Why?”

He tensed in surprise. He hadn’t expected to be cross-examined about his motives.

“Because I l–” He stopped, sucking in the words he was about to say. She wasn’t ready to hear how he felt. Not yet.

“Because I promised you I’d stay,” he answered instead, his voice husky with sleep and emotion. “The doctor says you have nightmares when I’m not here. I promised you I’d be here for you, and so…”

He managed an awkward shrug. He couldn’t tell her how important helping her was to him.

She shook her head slowly, as if having trouble thinking. With the amount of blunt force trauma she took to the head, he wasn’t surprised. Fresh anger shot through him, and he squeezed her good hand gently.

“You still haven’t told me what happened.” Her worried gaze searched his.

“Don’t you remember?”

“I… I think so. I just don’t know what’s real, and what’s a nightmare.” She pressed slim fingers to her forehead, eyes squeezed shut in effort. “I remember coming to your office. Talking. We were trying to reach a deal on Marlene’s case.”

He nodded, silently encouraging her to continue. The doctor told him to let her recall things at her own pace. Telling her what happened would force her to face the attack before her psyche was ready, and could be even more damaging.

“We had to go see the D.A. I remember that. And seeing–“

She cut off sharply, sucking in a shaky breath.

He straightened, alerted by her response. “Chelsea? What do you remember?”

She shook her head. “Running. I had to get away. I,” she stopped, thought. “I went home. I needed to hide.”

“From what? From who?”

“From… from everything! From him!”

Look for BURDEN OF PROOF, coming soon from Esther Mitchell and FyrRose Productions!

2015 Release Poll

As 2015 approaches, I’m making my list of projects for the coming year, and when I plan to have them finished. Some are set in stone (Publishers kind of like to know when they’re getting stuff… ;)…), but I decided to try something a little different, and have my readers weigh in on what you want to see, in 2015. So, from my upcoming self-publishing ventures, I’ve created a little poll, where you can vote for the series/books you most want to see released before the end of 2015. Be sure to cast your vote! 🙂

“Unknown Variable” — Excerpt from IN HER NAME (Project Prometheus)

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Every story has a beginning. While Project Prometheus’ beginning is thousands of years in the past, Matt and Manara’s story starts not quite so long ago… with a brutal slaying, and a dangerous mission. Problem is, only one of them knows exactly how dangerous this mission really is…

“Unknown Variable” – Excerpt from IN HER NAME (Project Prometheus, Book 1) —
January 2, 2000

The noonday sun glinted off the Mediterranean Sea in sapphire and diamond shafts, reflecting light against dark sunglasses. Salty seawater sprayed up against the prow of the sleek speedboat, carrying with it the pungency of fish and seaweed. His jaw clenched as he shifted gears, watching the shimmer of approaching land dance in and out of view like a desert mirage.

Sidon. Matthew Raleigh’s stomach clenched with bitter memory. He was well-acquainted with the deceptively quiet Lebanese city. He’d been here too many times in a past that he’d just as soon forget as a Navy SEa, Air and Land operative on prowl-and-growl missions. His lips curved in a wry grimace. He wasn’t a SEAL anymore — there was at least that much mercy left in the world. Not that what he did these days brought him much peace either. Good thing he wasn’t looking for peace anymore. To deaden the pain in his soul and help reduce the nightmares that regularly stole away sleep, he formed Project Prometheus — a special mercenary organization dedicated to ending terrorism. A futile enough cause. He scowled. The men who’d hired Prometheus’ mercenaries had business in Lebanon. Scum was still scum. That never changed.

Matt pulled his mind from the dark thoughts creeping in; he needed to concentrate on the mission. Was the team ready? He brought them in under the cover of night yesterday. He hoped they made it to the pre-arranged safe house but he had no way of being sure. They were on radio silence and for safety’s sake, he couldn’t go to find them until he was ready to join them. Matt glanced at his wristwatch. Besides, he was already on his way to meet with their CIA contact, codenamed Star.

Uneasiness clutched Matt. He didn’t like that no one at Langley had ever actually seen Star. There was no picture, not even a physical description, though the Agency claimed Star was a miracle worker. Matt scowled. He didn’t believe in miracles or miracle workers. From the little Matt knew, he surmised Star was an important figure in Lebanon, well connected with an extensive knowledge of the local area. Matt also guessed Star, whoever he was, probably had connections to arms dealers or some other dubious operation. Great. Just what they needed; a contact they couldn’t trust.

Find out more about the mission. Pick up your copy of IN HER NAME, today! And look for the continuation of Project Prometheus with HOPE OF HEAVEN, coming in 2015!