“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

Advertisements

“The First Fire” — Excerpt from UP IN FLAMES

UpInFlamesCoverArt

A serial arsonist’s path of destruction has turned into an eerie serial murder, and jurisdiction falls to the FBI’s resident expert on the bizarre, and the only forensic lab in the country equipped to handle tracking down a renegade psychopath. Are Doctor Faith MacKenzie and her team ready for what they’re about to uncover?

A mysterious serial arsonist has been setting fires over the Witch Hollow area for months, and when a charred body turns up at the most recent arson scene, Faith and Jonathan are called to the scene. While Faith begins the process of identifying the victim and determining cause of death, Jonathan suspects the danger runs deeper than either of them could have predicted. As the number of fires, and the body count, grows, the partners will have to ask themselves what’s most important — bringing down a killer, or finding the truth.

“The First Fire” — Excerpt from Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 2: Up In Flames

The blare of sirens jerked Doctor Faith MacKenzie from sleep. Through sleep-blurred eyes, she watched the whirl of colored lights dance across her bedroom wall and disappear, then closed her eyes again. She needed her sleep. Since the Bunker joined forces with the FBI a month ago, on a case so strange it left her questioning her own reality, her sleep was sporadic at best. More often than not, memories of events she still couldn’t reconcile tore any chance of sleep from her, leaving her in her studio at all hours, trying to forget the images of an obsidian knife biting through flesh, and blood covering her hands, clothes, and the floor of her lab.

She touched her fingers to her throat, aware the soreness lingering there was little more than memory, even if the yellowing bruises were not. Faith shuddered. She often woke unable to breathe, with the phantom sensation of hard fingers digging into her throat, or the impossible pressure of a hand as cold as the grave wrapped around her heart.

If only those were the worst of her recent memories, she might be able to ignore them. After all, Rene Haley was dead, the case closed. However, for the past week, the memory of a brutal dismemberment case they just wrapped up four days ago plagued her sleep. She still couldn’t say for sure what caused some of the marks on that body, regardless of her new partner’s assurance they had enough evidence for a conviction.

She started to drift back to sleep, only to be jolted awake again by the shrill tone of her cell phone, on the nightstand beside her bed. Fumbling for the device, she punched accept without looking and put the unit to her ear as she fell back against the pillows with a muttered, “This had better be good.”

Special Agent Jonathan Caulder’s wry chuckle filled her ear. “Good morning to you, too. I don’t suppose you heard the sirens screaming through town.”

She refused to open her eyes. He would go away, if she just pretended he wasn’t there. Then, with a sigh, she realized he was waiting for an answer. “Mmm. And if I was a firefighter, I might be concerned.”

“C’mon, Mac. Batter up — we have a dead body.”

She swung her legs out of bed, and groaned as she sat up. “No way can they know that yet. I doubt the flames are even out. Besides, what can’t wait until a decent hour? And what’s this ‘we’? Since when are fire-related deaths considered an FBI matter?”

“Since a scorched body ran out of a burning building, screaming about demons.”

Ice plunged through Faith, and she groaned again, in disbelief. Not again. “Demons.”

“Yup. Up and at ’em, Mac. Wetherly already signed over jurisdiction. Meet you at the crime scene — I’ll text you the address.”

Before she could protest that bodies neither ran nor screamed, he hung up, and her phone beeped, indicating an incoming text. Glancing down at her phone, she pressed open and her eyes widened at the address showing on her phone’s screen.

Look for this second book in Guardian, Inc: Witch Hollow

Available Now! 

SIGHT UNSEEN available for sale!

I am super excited and pleased to announce that Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow’s debut book, SIGHT UNSEEN, is now available for sale!

If you’ve been waiting for this book, it’s finally here! You can pick up your copy of the e-book today at any of the following locations:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Desert Breeze Publishing

All Romance Ebooks

Hopefully, it’ll be available in print very soon. I will keep you posted on that front.

If you want to know what the book is about, keep reading:

What happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When a wealthy philanthropist is found dead in a locked room, in the midst of a series of bizarre murders, with no apparent cause of death beyond the faint scent of incense, Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team have their work cut out for them.

As the case starts to go cold, she’ll be forced to turn to a man with abilities in which she can’t bring herself to believe, and credentials that leave her no choice but to accept the possibility he might just be on the level.

sightunseencoverart

 

 

“Serial Killer” – Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

 

What happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

sightunseencoverart

When a wealthy philanthropist is found dead in a locked room, with no apparent cause of death beyond the faint scent of incense, Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team have their work cut out for them. As the case starts to go cold, she’ll be forced to turn to a man with abilities in which she can’t bring herself to believe, and credentials that leave her no choice but to accept the possibility he might just be on the level.

 

“Serial Killer” — Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 1):

She lifted one brow and stared him down expectantly.  He fought the urge to chuckle. She was adorable, when she was pissed. Not that he was about to admit it to her.

“All right.” He threw his hands up in mock surrender. “You’re right. I had the forensic accountants go over his financials, and it doesn’t look like your pal, Adam, had any reason to want Parrish dead.”

“Good.” She turned back to the samples on her workstation. “Now maybe we can get back to finding the real killer.”

“Like Patton.”

She shot him a withering glance over her shoulder. “Would you let it go, already?”

“Why? Even you admitted he matches your profile of the type of person most likely to want Parrish dead.”

She turned toward him again, her arms crossed over her chest and her gaze cool. “Perhaps. But if he’s Ramsey’s killer, what’s his connection to Carol-Ann? Or the other five victims?”

“You found a solid link?” Jonathan straightened, instantly on alert. Mac wasn’t able to link the cases more than peripherally, before. Not enough to convince her they were connected, and he wasn’t about to argue with someone with her credentials, when it came to these things.

“Not conclusive, no. But I had Mark run gas chromatographic analysis of the clothing of four of the other victims, and there are consistent levels of the same incense components in all of them as we found on Ramsey.”

“What about the others?”

“Carol-Ann’s body was submerged in the Monongahela for so long, all chemical traces were washed away, and one of the other victims was little more than a skeleton. We barely found enough clothing fibers to confirm she was definitely clothed at the time of burial. Beyond that, there just wasn’t a big enough sample to get a definitive test, and we can’t be sure there wasn’t any environmental contamination of the sample.”

Jonathan reached into his pocket for his cell phone. “Consistent is good enough for me.  Thanks, Mac.”

Even as he dialed Damion’s number, Jonathan squashed the uneasy feeling in his gut. This was almost too easy. What kind of sick game was Haliatus up to, now?

Look for SIGHT UNSEEN, coming from Esther Mitchell and Desert Breeze Publishing on October 11, 2016.

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.

“The Hit” – Excerpt from NOWHERE TO HIDE (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus Badge

 

This particular piece comes from NOWHERE TO HIDE.  Meet Candace Billings, daughter of a man with connections that could get her killed.

As far as the world was concerned, debutante Candace Billings knew nothing beyond a life of privilege. But the high gates of the Billings estate housed a secret darker than any prison facility, and Candace would do anything to escape it. When her father offered her the chance to travel to South America on holiday, she eagerly accepted, determined to never return to the life she left behind. But a bag exchange in a Columbian hotel brought her back into the United States a criminal, released into her father’s unyielding custody. A stolen car and a nighttime collision brought Candace to the attention of a man who could neither abandon nor absolve her. But, just maybe, he can save her.

 

“The Hit” – Excerpted from NOWHERE TO HIDE (Project Prometheus, Book #16) –

            This is it.  I’m going to die.

The thought slipped through Candace Billings’ mind like a snake, gone in a flash as the dark sedan slammed into the side of her sports car again. Grim humor gripped her as she acknowledged it wasn’t actually her anything.  She didn’t know a damned thing about cars. This was Ben’s car, sliding out of control on the rain-slick road as she fought to break free from the shove of the other vehicle.

God, please don’t let me die here.

What she was praying for, she didn’t know.  Death would be preferable to being returned to Ben’s fancy townhouse, or worse, to her father’s sprawling mansion.  Still, Candace gritted her teeth and fought the out-of-control car, and the jarring pound of the hitman’s vehicle.

And she had no doubt he was a hitman.  One of the cartel’s thugs, no doubt, employed strictly to take care of people like her.  Candace barked a sharp laugh, but didn’t dare spare a glance for the backpack on the passenger seat beside her, or a thought for its contents.  She didn’t have time.

A guard rail loomed in the beam of her headlights, and she swore softly beneath her breath as she slammed the brake to the floor.  The screech of the expensive machinery protesting the hard use joined the chorus of squealing rubber and the splinter of crushed metal and fiberglass.  Then, there was a sickening crunch, and pain seared through her body as she flew forward, caught between the guard rail to her left and the gunning engine of the sedan to her right.  Her breath stopped in her lungs as the seat belt strangled her, then snapped, and a nauseating crack filled the compartment.  She slumped sideways with a groan as pain exploded through her, and only the tortured squeal of the windshield wipers kept her company as she tumbled into darkness.

Want to know more about Project Prometheus?  Stay tuned… And pick up your copy of the Eppie-Nominated Project Prometheus series debut, IN HER NAME, available now from Desert Breeze Publishing!

“Dangerous Bait” – Excerpt from DEAD MEN… (Section Psi)

SectionPsidecal

 

Calliope McKinney has the dubious honor of being a member of one of Mars’ famous First Families, and Psi.  But when her position as a member of a prestigious family places Calli in the middle of a fight for the survival of all Psis on Mars, she’ll have to decide where her loyalties lay, and whom to trust, because if she’s not very careful, she could end up dead.

 

“Dangerous Bait” – Excerpt from DEAD MEN… (Section Psi, Book 4) –

 

“What are you doing, Calli?”  Cade murmured the words into the headset, aware she could hear him, but that she couldn’t respond while the mark was with her.

“Sounds to me like she’s got his number.”

Cade turned toward MCAR Homicide Detective Stefan Theonides, seated next to him in the surveillance flier, and scowled.  None of these people got Calli – not like he did.  Even the people she worked with; hell, even her own brother, from what he saw of Lance McKinney, didn’t get Calli like Cade did.  He knew what drove her, how isolated she felt out here in the real world.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t relate, either.  She tried harder to be noticed than anyone he ever met.  Like now.

Cade swore beneath his breath, wishing he knew more about Martian culture, so he could properly profile how dangerous this creep was.  The anxiety that threaded through Calli’s voice told him he probably wouldn’t like the answer.

He heard Calli’s sharp intake of air, and a noise like some kind of weapon being released, and tensed.

“Talk to me, McKinney,” he ordered in an undertone.  They’d been unable to set up visuals, in case the perp was watching the park beforehand, and now that lack could put Calli’s life in danger.

“What do you need a shankblade for?”  Calli’s voice came through clear, but Cade frowned at the unfamiliar reference.  He glanced at the man beside him as Theonides swore beneath his breath.

“A shankblade is a weapon crafted up on Satan’s Tit.  It’s a titatone blade, housed in something innocuous-looking, and undetectable to contraband scanners.  Usually, the blades are coated in nuerotoxins.”

Cade’s blood froze.

“Calli, get the hell out of there!”

“I think you know,” came the cold voice of their mark, closer than it shoud have been to the microphone.  Hell, it sounded like the asshole was breathing in her ear.

“What do you want?”  Calli’s snapped response was followed by a rustle of movement that Cade hoped like hell was her moving out of range.

“Why, the Muse, my dear.  She will make such an interesting addition to my…collection.”

That tore it!  Cade was on his feet, and across the surveillance flier’s bay before he heard another word.  He’d just reached the door when a scream reverberated  through the vehicle that sent terror slicing through his soul.

Look for the first book of Section Psi, ILLEGAL PURSUIT, coming from Esther Mitchell and Desert Breeze Publishing, soon!