The Hot Ladies Murder Club

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The Hot Ladies Murder Club


It's just a fun night out with the girls, with talk of men, sex and . . . murder? Why not, when each of them has a lawyer who deserves to get his just desserts. And so the Hot Ladies Murder Club is born — made up of names written boldly in blood-red lipstick on a cocktail napkin. Each lady has a diabolical plan in store for her lawyer. But the not-quite-what-she-seems Hannah Smith wouldn't mind the lawyer opposing her — the deliciously sexy Joe Campbell — winding up quite alive . . . and in her bed.


Then the joke suddenly becomes national news when lawyers and Hot Ladies both come under attack. Hannah — who has a close acquaintance with fear already — knows her life could be in jeopardy. There’s only one man whose help she dares accept — bad-tempered, ruthless and utterly drop-dead-gorgeous Joe Campbell, who insists he’s in charge of protecting his life. And hers!

Ann Major has penned a tale that will keep you reading late into the night to see what happens next… For a nail-biting thriller filled with plenty of action, adventure, and romance, don’t miss THE HOT LADIES MURDER CLUB.

~ Kathy Samuels Romance Reviews Today

Major’s book is a well-designed web of storytelling. Her characters… are real and capture the reader. A very enjoyable read. (4)

~ Debbie Richardson,

Great romantic suspense. Ann Major lives up to her name as a key sub-genre writer with this exhilarating story.

~ Harriet Klausner

Chapter One

Joe Campbell’s posh law offices with their sweeping views of the high bridge, port and bay were meant to impress and intimidate. The tall ceilings, the starkly modern, ebony furniture, the blond, hardwood floors and the oriental rugs reeked of money and power and social prestige — all of which were vital to a man with Campbell’s ambitions. Not that he was thinking about anything other than the exquisite woman he was supposed to be deposing.

The case had been dull, routine, until she’d walked in. She was beautiful and sweet and warm — and scared witless of him.

This should be good. He rapped his fingers on his desk and tightened them into a fist that made his knuckles ache.

The minx had him running around in circles like a hound dog that had lost a hot scent. His ears were dragging the ground, his wet nose snuffling dirt.

Minutes before the deposition, Bob Africa, one of the partners and a former classmate at UT Law School, had strutted through his door like he owned the place — which he practically did. Bob specialized in class-action lawsuits and had just won big, having collected over two million dollars in legal fees from a cereal company for a food additive.

There hadn’t been a shred of evidence any consumer had been injured. Africa’s fee had come to $2,000 an hour. Consumers had received a coupon for a free box of cereal.

Campbell was jealous as hell.

All smiles as usual this afternoon, a triumphant Bob had slapped him on the back and ordered him to win this one — or else. Salt in the wound — after the Crocker loss.

“I went out on a limb for you, buddy. I told the other partners you just had a run of bad luck in Houston and got a rotten hand here with that medical case.”

“Thanks.” Campbell hadn’t reminded Africa that he’d been the man who’d rammed that loser Crockett case down his throat and kept the more promising cases for himself.

Bob had smiled his wolverine smile and slapped his back again. “You’re the best, buddy. But we don’t pay you to lose —”

Lose. Campbell had felt the blood rising in his face. Hell, at least Africa hadn’t reminded him about the death threats all the partners had been receiving ever since Campbell had lost the case. Hell, the incompetent quack had won. What was he so mad about? His wife, Kay, maybe? She’d made a play for Campbell, a helluva play.

Today a letter from some crackpot, who said he was praying for Campbell, had arrived. The letter was in the same loopy handwriting as the death threats. Strangely, somehow it was even scarier. Mrs. Crocker had called three times this week, too.

But it was the woman across from Campbell who had him rigid with tension. He had to beat her — or else.

Her face was damnably familiar. Her husky voice was so exquisite and raw, it tugged at Campbell on some deep, man-woman level.

He hated her for her easy power over him even as his cold lawyer’s mind told him she was a fake. This was a staged performance. There was definitely something too deliberate and practiced about her lazy, luscious drawl.

To buy time he played with his shirt cuff. He’d asked dozens of questions and had gotten nowhere. She was a liar, and if it was the last thing he did, he would expose her.

“I-I swear I knew nothing, absolutely nothing about mo-o-old in the O’Connors’ house,” she repeated for the tenth time.

I think the lady doth protest too much.

When he shot her his whitest and most engaging smile and leaned toward her as if the deposition were over, she jumped. Her lovely, long fingers and unpolished nails twisted in her lap so violently, she almost dropped the damning photographs he’d jammed into her hands a few seconds earlier.

“I-I swear… no mold,” she pleaded.

Then why won’t you look me in the eye?

Toxic mo-o-o-ld,” Campbell drawled, pleased his o lasted even longer than hers. His mocking gaze drilled her.

She shook her dark head like a true innocent and began flipping through the photographs he’d made of the black muck growing inside the walls of the O’Connors’ mansion.

“There has to be a mistake,” she whispered.

No, you little liar. No mistake.

Campbell’s long, lean form remained sprawled negligently behind his sleek, ebony desk. His beige, silk suit was expensive. So was his vivid yellow tie.

Hannah Smith, her knees together beneath her full white skirt, sat on the edge of her the black leather chair opposite him. Flanking her was the attorney from her insurance company, a mediocre, colorless little stick of a man. Hunkered low in his chair in an ill-fitting undertaker’s suit and those smudged, gold-rimmed glasses, Tom Davis looked about as dangerous as a terrified rabbit.

“No mistake,” Campbell said. “The O’Connors had to abandon their home. It’ll cost more to remediate it than they paid for it, which was a substantial sum —”

“More than a mill… But it’s not my fault!” she protested. “I was only the realtor. I thought smart lawyers like you only sued rich people . . . ”

Didn’t she get it? The deep pocket here was her insurance company. Not her. So why was sure working herself into a sweat?

“Mold was not in your clients’ disclosure statement,” he said.

“There was no mold!” Her voice shaking, she began a boring repeat of her defense.

“Maybe you didn’t realize mold is a very serious issue on the Texas Gulf.”

“Because lawyers like you have made it into a billion-dollar industry.”

“I’m supposed to be asking the questions. And you are liable —”

She opened her pretty mouth and gulped for a breath.

Hannah Smith was lying. And she wasn’t all that damn good at it either.

And yet he liked her.

This was bad.

Joe Campbell, or rather just plain Campbell, as he was known to most people, at least to those with whom he was on speaking terms, and there were fewer and fewer of those in this town since his line of work tended to alienate a lot of people, had been a trial lawyer too long not to be able to smell a liar a mile away.

He’d been screwed, glued, and tattooed by the best liars in the universe—his ex-wife and his former best friend and boss had taken him to the cleaners.

Here we go again. The pretty little con artist across from him smelled warm and sweet. And thanks to his air-conditioning register that wafted her light fragrance Campbell’s way, he was too aware of that fact.

Chanel. He frowned, shifting his long legs under his desk as another unwelcome buzz of male-woman excitement rushed through him. By now he should have boxed her in. She was scared and pretty, and he should have her on the run. And yet… she had him oddly off balance.

Her nervous fingers shuffled and reshuffled the photographs of the O’Connors’ estate. He caught glimpses of the abandoned pool, the empty hot tub, and the red brick path that wound through the straw-like remnants of formerly showy flowerbeds. Her slim graceful hands trembled so badly when she came to his damning shots of the mold, she nearly dropped the whole bunch.

“Think how those images will affect a sympathetic jury, Mrs. Smith.”

“That’s not a question,” her lawyer said. “You don’t have to answer.”

Deliberately, she licked her lips with her pink tongue. “I’m sorry Mr. O’Connor’s sick, but . . .”

Hell. She sounded sorry. A jury would believe her, too. He almost believed her. When she began talking faster and faster, swallowing, and glancing everywhere but at him, Campbell found himself studying her wide, wet lips with obsessive interest.

Sexy voice, intoxicating scent … and that delectable mouth … Everything about her seemed soft and vulnerable and likeable. She was too damned likeable. Not like him.

Suddenly Campbell wanted her to shut up and just look at him, and that scared the hell out of him. His big house was lonely and empty, his footsteps echoed when he finally made it home and climbed the stairs to his bedroom alone every night.

Was anything about her for real? Was she sucking him in … as Carol had?

Mrs. Smith was damned attractive, too damned attractive, despite that shapeless white sack that concealed her figure, despite thick, inky bangs and huge, dark glasses that masked her face. Her legs were long and shapely, her ankles slim … even though those low-heeled, stained canvas shoes did nothing for her calves.

Yes, she was pretty despite the fact that that she’d gone to a lot of trouble not to be. Why had she done that? Most women liked to add pretty to their arsenal of weapons when they went up against him or a jury. For an instant he remembered Mrs. Crocker’s slit skirts and shapely legs. She’d been built like a gymnast.

“Call me Kay,” she’d said the day Campbell had lost. “Better, call me . . . anytime.”

He’d been angry, really angry—because he’d lost. Maybe he’d taken it out on her a little. “I don’t mess around with married women.”

“So, my husband’s wrong about you,” she’d purred. “You do have a principle or two. I like that.”

“No principle. I just don’t want to get shot by a jealous husband.”

“My husband’s a good shot, too. He’s a hunter.”

“This lawsuit wasn’t personal, you know.”

“So why are you so sore you lost?

“I’m sore about a lot of things.”

Forget Kay. Concentrate on Mrs. Smith. Campbell ran a tanned hand through his jet-black hair and yawned, pretending he was bored by what Mrs. Smith was saying. Bored by her. If only he was, maybe he could concentrate on the O’Connors’ case and finish her off.

She was tall. From the moment she’d glided into his office, he’d been riveted by her exquisite lightness of being. Something sweet and vulnerable screamed look at me, love me, please. Her every gesture, her quick, nervous smiles at Tom — hell, even the frightened glances hegot both charmed and maddened him.

A jury would be equally charmed.

Then there was the way she couldn’t seem to get her breath when he got too close. She was playing the role of damsel in distress with a vengeance that should infuriate him. And yet . . . her fear felt so real and palpable, he wanted to protect her.

Damn it, he had to get her. Africa had made it clear; his ass was on the line.

If her accent was fake, he’d bet a year’s salary her black hair came out of a bottle. The harsh color was wrong for her fair complexion, the style too severe for her narrow face. He kept eyeing the thick, glossy mass, longing to undo the cheap plastic clip.

Hell, what were those white bits of dirt that clung to her bangs? What had she been doing before she’d dashed late to his office?

“If the O’Connors are so concerned, why aren’t they here today?” she finished in that velvet undertone that undid him.

“They hired me to represent them.” His voice cut like ice.

“You mean to do their dirty work?” she finished, glancing out his windows like a trapped animal.

Damn it, Campbell felt sorry for her. Then Tom put a cautionary hand over hers, and Campbell felt a wild, really scary emotion.

“What’s all that stuff in your hair?” Campbell growled, wanting to rip Tom’s hand away.

“Oh!” Her eyes flew self-consciously to his. She gulped in another big breath, and he felt like the air between them sizzled.

This was bad.

She stirred her fingers through the mess of her purse and finally plucked out an elegant, gold-framed mirror. When she saw herself, she wrinkled her nose. Quickly, she yanked at the hideous clip and shook out her long, thick hair.

When lots of little white bits showered onto his gray carpet, she smiled, revealing deep dimples, and he felt that damn buzz again. Despite a bad haircut, she was way sexier with her hair down. She studied herself in her mirror and wrinkled her nose again.

He squirmed in his leather chair. He didn’t need this.

“Bits of sheetrock,” she explained airily. Lifting her triangular chin, she shot him a pious look. “I was inspecting one of the waterfront properties I represent. For mold, Mr. Campbell.”

“Just call me Campbell . . . ”

“There was a suspicious stain on the ceiling . . . I wanted to be sure . . .”

She and Tom exchanged self-righteous glances.

“My expert didn’t find any,” she said.

Touché, Campbell thought, even as some part of him cheered for her.

Again, her hands fluttered prettily as she reclipped her hair. She didn’t wear a wedding ring. For no reason at all he longed to remove those huge glasses that hid her eyes.

Were they dazzling blue or soft, velvet brown? Or fiery black? He wanted to sweep her hair back, get a good look at her. Maybe then he’d remember where the hell he’d seen her.

Damn it. He grabbed one of the mold photographs from his own duplicate pile and forced himself to focus on his clients and their toxic mold problem.

“Paul O’Connor is in the hospital, barely able to breathe or think,” Campbell said.

“I’m so sorry he’s ill.”

You don’t give a damn about Paul, and you know it.

And yet again, her face paled, and her voice went soft with husky concern that turned Campbell to mush.

Destroy her. Unnerve her.

Campbell fumbled awkwardly with the disclosure sheets of the sales contract. Then he rustled through his list of questions he’d deliberately structured to entrap her.

Somehow he had to get this smooth-talking little actress to admit that she’d known about the mold and hadn’t disclosed it. Her shaky voice and hands meant she was highly agitated. Maybe if he got her really mad, she’d snap. He was famous for his Perry Mason moments.

“Back to this mold situation at the O’Connors',” he murmured in a tight, low tone. “It was an old house on the water . . . ”

“There was no mold.” She glanced at her watch and out the window again. “The Tylers were diligent about maintaining their home. They repaired leaks, cleaned air-conditioning ducts. Besides, we had it tested for mold.”

“By an unreliable agent.”

“Just because your man, whom you no doubt paid to lie . . . three months

later . . . ”

Tom wagged a warning finger at his client, but she was too flushed with excitement to heed him.

Campbell almost grinned when she attacked her own attorney.

“Mr. Davis, I thought you were my lawyer.”

Campbell noted that there wasn’t a hint of that lazy drawl now. Just for a second he caught a couple of syllables that sounded crisp and elite… almost foreign. East coast? No, that cut-glass accent wasn’t American.

“How can you defend this . . . this pirate?” she was saying.

“Please, Hannah . . . ”

“It’s all right, Davis. I’ve been called worse.” Campbell faked a scowl.

“A pirate . . . who . . . who cunningly plasters his handsome, ruthless face on every billboard and phone book cover his money can buy?”

Handsome? Campbell’s perverse mind got stuck on the word.

“He’s fake, pretending he’s some Robin Hood defending the poor? How can you defend such a rude, crude ambulance chaser?”

Ambulance chaser? The day of any accident, the insurance lawyers are sure there, lady! But do you criticize them?

“Mr. Campbell has repeatedly called me and threatened . . . ”

“I was merely trying to set up an appointment for this deposition,” Campbell said in the same reasonable, sympathetic tone he used to persuade juries.

“Don’t talk down to me! You have no right to sue me.”

“This is America, Mrs. Smith. Texas, America. The Wild West. Anybody can sue anybody,” Campbell whispered.

“There was no mold when I sold the O’Connors that house.”

Campbell leaned toward her, automatically straightening his bold tie. “My clients say there was.”

She sank lower in her chair and gasped in a breath.

“Slimy. Greenish.” Campbell warmed to his subject as if she were a juror. “Black. Fungus. Toxic mold. Aspergillus, to be exact. Mr. O’Connor is a very sick man. Take a look at those photographs.”

“I’m sorry if he’s sick, but Paul doesn’t have anything that a green poultice won’t fix,” she whispered.

“That’s an old joke. I won’t sit here while you disparage innocent — ”

Deliberately Campbell leaned back in his chair.

“Innocent? They’re not innocent! I am! I told you there are such things as evil homeowners who . . . ”

“Who what?” Campbell sprang forward again. “Who don’t want to be taken advantage of by realtors like you?”

She opened her mouth wide and strained to get a breath. “Homeowners, who… who get up on the roofs with hoses and pour gallons of water into cracks between the walls!”

Her words hit him like a swift punch in the gut. To cover his fear that his clients had lied and he was on the wrong side again, he sprang to his feet. “I’m more interested in evil realtors, Mrs. Smith, who misrepresent properties to make a quick sale.”

She stood up, too. “Don’t accuse me of your dirty games — ”

Campbell smiled. “And what kind of dirty games do you play, Mrs. Smith?” His sensual gaze swept her from head to toe.

What the hell did she look like naked?

A hot crimson flush stained her cheeks. With a startled gasp, she sank back down in her chair.

Buying time, he stalked around to his desk and sat down, too.

“I think you’re vile,” she whispered.

“Who, me?” he murmured. “Vile?”

“Tom told me to save these for later,” she rasped. “But I’m too furious.”

She plunged her hand into her shapeless, beige purse again and shook out three lipsticks, the gold mirror, wadded bits of paper and a photograph, which she slapped onto his desk.

“You’re not the only one with a camera! That’s your Mr. O’Connor on the roof.”

All Campbell saw were thighs to die for and masses of long golden hair.

“Wow!” he whispered, finally recognizing her. “You look way better naked than I imagined — well, half-naked.”

Naked?” When she saw the snapshot, her cheeks caught fire. “Give me that!”

“Are you trying to distract me with sex, Mrs. Smith?”

“You low down — ”

Campbell laughed appreciatively. When she tried to snatch the picture back, he held it away from her.

The subjects in the photograph were a gorgeous blonde in a thong bikini and a blond little girl in a pink playsuit. The kid was about four. But the woman —

Wow. Bombshell. Wet dream.

Incredible breasts bulged out of slippery red material, and yes, she most definitely had thighs to die for. Mother and child were patting turrets of a sandcastle. There was a big house on a tall cliff in the background. The woman was staring at the little girl with a look of utter adoration.

He looked up at Mrs. Smith and grinned like a cat that had just munched a turtle dove and found the repast delicious.

Well, now I know what you look like naked.

“I like you better blonde . . . And the less you wear, the better you look!”

With a wild guttural cry of sheer rage, she lunged for the picture.

“Wrong picture,” she said icily, when he released it.

Thrusting it back in her purse, she came up with two dog-eared photographs and slapped them onto his desk. “There!”

“I like the shot of you in a bikini better.”

“Concentrate. See that hose! Mr. O’Connor doesn’t look sick to me. I have a video of him, too, and I’m sending them to my insurance company. He deliberately created that mold to get an insurance settlement to pay for his remodeling. You’re not going to destroy my good name.”

Campbell went cold. Somehow he forced a warm smile, his best lawyer smile. “Pictures like this won’t make any difference.”

“If they don’t, it’s because the entire legal system… is bought off by corrupt, rich lawyers like you. Since I’ve been in Texas . . .”

Since you’ve been in Texas?” he repeated. He stood up, and she struggled for her next breath. “Where were you before Texas? Why did you dye . . ?”

She went absolutely still.

He stared at her hard and then let it drop. “You’re taking this lawsuit way too personally,” he murmured.

“Oh, I am, am I? Well, for your information, being sued for more money than I’ll ever make if I live to be a hundred feels personal!” She walked back to her chair and sat back down and turned to Tom. “Oh, what’s the use of even trying to talk to someone as low as he is? I can’t take any more of his questions or accusations. Not today.”

“Low . . .” How in the hell could her ridiculous insult hurt? Or was it that she’d turned to Tom, when he wanted all of her attention?


“I . . . I’ve read things about you, Mr. Campbell,” she whispered, rallying.

“Such as, Mrs. Smith?”

“You stole money, ruined your best friend’s company, and your heart-broken wife divorced you.”

“Ah, my wife . . .” Icy despair seeped through Campbell. He didn’t give a damn about his wife. He didn’t. Still, he had to clench his hand into a fist to hold onto his control.

“And I don’t blame her one bit.”

“So, you’ve researched me — ”

“She got your mansion in River Oaks — ”

As if that was what made him bitter and filled him with hate —

He remembered the way Carol had curled against his body every night and felt sweet and soft and warm during those first months of marriage.

His black eyes narrowed. He’d believed her when she’d told him she loved him. He’d adored her, worshiped her, and believed in her. For the first time in his life, he’d almost felt . . . human.

“You had to leave Houston because you’re so corrupt people there despise you. Your best friend’s wife killed herself because of — ”

Campbell’s face turned to stone. His mouth tasted like ashes. “Is that so? Do go on?”

“You . . . why, you’re such a terrible father your son won’t have anything to do with you.”

His son. Every nerve in his body buzzed.

“And you’re such a good mother,” he murmured so cuttingly she gulped in a breath.

“The state even tried to disbar you because you are such a bad lawyer. You . . . you solicited clients improperly after that awful two plane collision in east Texas where those little children — ”

“You don’t know a damn thing about me!” he shouted, banging his fist on his desk. “I’m not on trial. I’m deposing you.”

Davis stared wide-eyed. It was Campbell’s turn to gulp in a savage breath. If it were the last thing he did, Campbell had to get control of this exchange and finish her and her wimp of an attorney once and for all.

“One corrupt judge tried to have me disbarred. And failed, Mrs. Smith. Just as you will fail, if you fight me with these ridiculous, rigged photographs.” Getting up, he tore her pictures in two.

She stood up, too. She was tall, but he was taller. When she shuddered, he realized his massive size intimidated her. Good. Using his body as a weapon, he moved closer.

“I-I’ve got more,” she whispered, backing away from him.

“So do I,” he thundered.

“And . . . and they aren’t rigged. I’m not like you. I wouldn’t rig—“ She tore his pictures into zillions of pieces and tossed them onto his carpet. She was almost to the door. “Goodbye, Mr. Campbell.”

“I’m not finished with you yet. You think I don’t know about you? Well, I do. I’ve done my research, too!”

She paled.

“Everything about you is a damned lie, Mrs. Smith.” He backed her against the door. “Where the hell is Mr. Smith? Or is there a Mr. Smith? What’s your real name, honey?”

“Please . . . I-I’m sorry . . . I shouldn’t have said . . . any of those horrible, personal things. I-I was upset.”

Her apology seemed sincere. She was white and shaking, cowering from him, but he was too furious now to care.

“Too bad you got personal.” His mouth thinned. “I intend to win this, Mrs. Smith.” He had to win this. Africa, the ruthless son-of-a-bitch had said so. “Now I’m more determined than ever to expose you — ”

He ripped her sunglasses off.

Her eyes were blue. Huge vivid irises were ringed with inky black lashes. She looked young and vulnerable and very scared — of him.

“Who are you really?” he rasped.

“You’re the last man I’d ever tell,” she whispered.

Spunk. He liked her spunk. And those thighs she had. She’d looked so loving in that picture.

Relationships. He was no damn good at relationships. And even if he was, he and she were off to a bad start.

With a shaking hand she grabbed her glasses and jammed them clumsily back on her narrow, white face. “Please . . . Just let me go . . .”

When he grabbed her hand, it was as cold as ice. With his huge body, he drew her toward him and blocked the door.

“What are you so afraid of . . . besides me?” he whispered.

He had the strangest compulsion to reach for her, but he knew that would only scare her more. With a curt nod, he stepped aside.

As if she considered him some sort of devil, she crossed herself and ran.

Campbell sank back into his chair, exhausted. He loosened his collar and his bright, yellow tie.

When Campbell heard Tom reassuring her outside in the hall, his mood blackened, and he swiped his arm across his desk, knocking all the papers and files that dealt with the O’Connor lawsuit onto the floor.

Maybe she was a liar, but the O’Connors had lied to him, too. Clients had a bad habit of telling their lawyers only one side of a story — their side.

He opened a lower desk drawer and took out the bottle of Glenlivet he kept hidden there. Hating himself, he took a quick pull. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He kept seeing that picture of her. She’d been smiling at that kid so sweetly, and he couldn’t forget her thighs.

He’d better forget them. His job was to search and destroy — to expose Mrs. Smith, to do whatever he had to do to hurt her, to win for the O’Connors.

The thought of hurting so much as a single fake hair on her inky head caused a sick, queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Who the hell was she?

Whoever she was, it was his job to find out and destroy her.

He rapped his fingers on his desk. With some difficulty he squashed his guilt and dialed Chuck.

The detective picked up on the fourth ring and sounded grumpy and half-stoned. “Yeah — ”

“How’s it going?” Campbell began, really cringing now at the thought of siccing his old pal, The Charger, on the frightened Mrs. Smith.

Chuck groaned or, rather, bellowed in the middle of a yawn and some other noisy, repulsive body function, “What the hell time is it anyway?”

“What the hell’s wrong with you? I know not to call you ‘til noon — ”

“Ooh . . . ” Chuck paused. “Bad night.” Another groan that pierced Campbell’s eardrum. “Hangover. Vicious little hammers pounding in my brain.

Not to mention . . . ”

“What’d you do —?”

“Got into a little . . . er . . . altercation . . .” The Charger let the statement hang.

“You got drunk again and picked a fight — ”

“No, man, this bastard insulted my bike. I took serious issue. Nobody says shit like that about The Charger’s bike. The wimp was wearing steel-toed boots, and he had more friends than I did. They had chains. Every muscle in my body feels like he kicked it. I’ve got a black eye that’s as purple as a plum and a tooth that’s hanging by a pink thread.”

“Your big mouth is going to be the end of you yet.” Campbell talked tough, but he felt affection. “Got something I want you to check out. A lady.” He told him everything he knew about Hannah Smith. He finished by saying he’d have Muriel fax key information from her file.

“What’s she done?”

“Just find out who she really is — ASAP. And no rough stuff.”

Chuck was six feet four inches, three hundred pounds of flab and muscle. Just a glance at The Charger, and the average Joe Blow thought—thug, if not worse things. He had massive arms, shoulder-length red hair, a gold loop in his right ear and a beer belly with a death head tattooed on it. He rode a Harley, which was as immaculate as he was unkempt. Not that he was as tough as he looked.

The Charger had strong convictions, which got stronger when he was drunk and forgot he was a coward. He’d been on the wrong side of trouble a time or two. Campbell had bailed him out more times than he could count. Nevertheless, after years of brawling, The Charger had found a niche of sorts. He was a top-notch detective and a whiz on the computer, not that he let on to any of his biker buddies.

“Hannah Smith, huh. Mystery lady? No rough stuff? You got the hots for this mama or something?”

Campbell suppressed a vision of her in the bikini. “Just find out who she is. And don’t let her see you. She’s scared of her own shadow. One whiff of you . . . and she’d run like a rabbit.”

“You do have the hots — .” The Charger laughed.

“Scare the hell out of her if you want to for all I care!” Campbell slammed the phone down and ordered pizza. He did not give a damn about Mrs. Smith. He didn’t.

Speaking of the hots, Muriel came in and told him Mrs. Crocker had called four more times.

“Call her back. Tell her I’m gone for the day.”

Shuffling through the stacked files on his desk, he saw the name, Guy James, on one of the labels and remembered he was supposed to make a decision as to whether or not to hire the kid as a law clerk. The kid was taking a year off from law school because his little brother was sick and getting sicker. Guy was raw and young and smart. He’d needed a job so badly he’d really pressed Campbell.

Impressed as Campbell was by the kid, he was in no mood to call him. Later.

Shoving James’s file aside, he eyed the rest of the stacked files and wondered how much he could get done if he worked until midnight. No reason to go home; there was nobody there. He was opening the top folder on his stack when Bob Africa buzzed him.

“I want to know how the deposition went. My office. Ten minutes? Okay?”

Not okay.

“Sure.” Campbell’s low voice was mild, but he spoke through his teeth and slammed the folder shut. Then he threw things.