Unlucky in Law

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9780385336468: Unlucky in Law

Nina Reilly takes on the most dangerous and difficult case of her career in New York Times bestselling author Perri O’Shaughnessy’s latest thriller. An ingenious blend of forensic science, history, and gripping suspense, Unlucky in Law pits the tough but compassionate attorney against the most unbeatable adversary of all: the law.

Nina has just received a last-minute call from her old boss and mentor in Monterey County, California, where she is enjoying the breathtaking scenery and spending time with her boyfriend, P.I. Paul van Wagoner. Klaus Pohlmann is in desperate straits and begs Nina to take over a seemingly unwinnable case: A luckless two-time felon named Stefan Wyatt has robbed a grave and made off with the long-buried bones of a Russian émigré. When he is caught and arrested, further devastating evidence found in the grave suggests that Stefan is guilty of a far more deadly crime.

A young woman, a classmate of Stefan’s, has been killed, and he is accused of her murder. Now, as a result of California’s Third Strike law, Wyatt is looking at twenty-five years to life whether he’s convicted of grand theft or murder. Either way, he’s in big trouble.
With her client’s blood DNA found in the dead woman’s apartment, Nina faces an uphill battle. Suspecting that her hapless client has been set up, Nina brings in a brilliant forensic pathologist who comes up with a startling theory about the case that could rewrite a crucial page of European history. As the evidence mounts against Nina’s client, Paul launches his own investigation into the shadowy past of the two-decades-old skeleton. But long-held secrets nearly get him killed and reveal a more insidious evil at work—and an extraordinary story dating back to tsarist Russia and the Romanov court. As Wyatt edges closer to the unluckiest verdict of his young life, Nina makes an astounding discovery that just might save her client—or expose a killer who could bury them all.

Brilliantly imagined and compulsively readable, Unlucky in Law is a beguiling mix of wrenching drama and gripping action. And it is Perri O’Shaughnessy’s most accomplished novel to date.

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About the Author:

Perri O’Shaughnessy is the pen name for two sisters, Pamela and Mary O’Shaughnessy, who live in Hawaii and on Lake Tahoe, and California and on Lake Tahoe respectively. Pamela graduated from Harvard Law School and was a trial lawyer for sixteen years. Mary is a former editor and writer for multimedia projects. They are the authors of nine previous Nina Reilly novels: Presumption of Death, Unfit to Practice, Writ of Execution, Move to Strike, Acts of Malice, Breach of Promise, Obstruction of Justice, Invasion of Privacy, and Motion to Suppress.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
Monday 9/1
Seven a.m. on the first Monday morning in September. Nina Reilly and Paul van Wagoner snoozed in his king-size bed in the sole bedroom of his Carmel condo. As the sun came through the shutters, striping the rug with light, Paul kicked off the covers on his side and, as Nina opened her eyes, turned over so all his long naked backside was displayed: the blond hair, smooth, well-muscled back, strong legs, and narrow feet.

As if he felt her attention, he turned to face her. Eyes closed, he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her tight to his body.

Nina was naked, too, the way Paul liked her. Herself, she favored expensive silks or shabby cottons, but since she had gotten involved with Paul, she had learned to appreciate what he called his simple needs. He liked skin, he liked the smell of her, he wanted nothing to come between them, so nothing did, at least not when they were in bed together.

This time with Paul was precious. Her son, Bob, fourteen, had spent the previous night with his grandfather. She had "freedom," in the way all mothers had freedom, meaning contingent freedom, but at least Bob was safe enough for the moment. She stretched in Paul's arms so her toes reached his calves and kissed his stubbled cheek.

"Mmm, coffee time," Paul said, smiling, eyes closed.

It was her turn. She didn't have far to go in the compact condo. When she came back with the mugs, Paul was sitting up in bed, legs crossed.

"I feel suspiciously elated, considering it's Monday morning," she said.

"Ben Franklin would call us slackers. He would have been up since five, making a kite."

"Progress means we get to do whatever the hell we want this early in the morning," she said.

Nina had moved to the Monterey area from Tahoe in early summer to be with Paul, just to see how things would play for them. She had gone to law school here, at Monterey Peninsula College. Her father lived here, and she had other old ties. But now, after her move from Tahoe and after a brief vacation of sorts, she had signed on for her second murder case in three months.

Her part started today, though the poor client had been counting the days at the Monterey County Jail for four months. A new case, a new chance to test herself and show her stuff, was always a thrill. So she felt good right now, enjoying the smoldering looks she was getting from Paul.

"Get back in here," Paul commanded. He patted the bed beside him.

"Be polite or you won't get this coffee. Triple-strength fresh-ground French roast. You'll never get better."

"All right, I'm begging you, please, get back in here. Or is the plan for me to admire you standing there with your hip cocked like that?"

She climbed into bed and pulled up the sheet, and they both sipped their coffee. Paul seemed to have something on his mind, so she held back the impulse to jump up and throw her clothes on, waiting to hear it. He ran a very successful investigation and security business. Selfishly, she hoped he was worrying about work and not anything that would slow her down.

He set his cup on the bed stand and drew her close. "Back to the grind for our girl. I hope Klaus is paying you a whole lot to compensate you for putting your life in such an uproar."

"I'm just glad to have a paying gig again, even though I'm coming in so late. It's going to be very demanding. But I've got you, and I've got Sandy to back me up, so I'm wallowing in a pleasantly fuzzy false sense of security."

"What about this case snagged you? You told me you weren't going to accept any more work until you made some decisions about the things that really matter. Remember?"

She knocked back some of the coffee left in her mug, remembering a distant time when she made decisions with only her own future to consider. But she had Bob to worry about, too. "Klaus called. He needed my help. And then the case . . ." She stopped. "I don't know much yet, but Klaus is ready to go all the way with Stefan Wyatt. He says Wyatt is accused of stealing a skeleton and strangling a woman in Monterey named Christina Zhukovsky. I'm going to meet the client today and start going through the files."

"Fine," he said, so absorbed in his own thoughts he probably hadn't heard hers. "But what is it about this case that has you looking so damned"--he paused to run his hands through the tangle of her long brown hair--"gorgeous?"

She laughed and hit him with a pillow. "That's your eyes giving you trouble. I've heard that happens as a man ages."

"You don't fool me," he said, pulling her into a full-bodied kiss. "You like distinguished. Aged red wine; ripe bananas; men with faces that show they've lived a life of excess and pleasure; flaky cheeses . . ."

"Shall I compare thee to a flaky cheese? Do you really want that?"

He laughed. "Anyway, have you considered this? Maybe this case will lead to a partnership opportunity. How would you feel about that?"

"Would you like that?" She knew the answer. She asked to avoid answering.

"Yep. You know I'd love to tie you down right here on the Monterey Peninsula. I'm always on the lookout for opportunities."

She smiled at him. "I guess I'll deal with a partnership offer when and if the time comes." Life felt easy here in his arms. Protected. But she was starting to notice something after this time she had spent away from work and from her own solo practice at Tahoe. She felt smaller, younger, less able.

Criminal defense work had always been her big place, her New York City. Good at her job, getting better all the time, she helped the hapless, damn it. She had a calling to go out and save miserable souls who could not save themselves, help them through the labyrinth, make sure the rules were followed and that they had their defense, even if they were guilty. She liked a large life. She wasn't sure yet how big her life could be with Paul.

He looked at her now, considering something, stroking her hair. Then he reached beyond her and pulled open a drawer to the bedside table. "Maybe the time has come," he said.

"What? Nobody's made me a partnership offer," she said.

He pulled out a small, ornately decorated enamel box. "Oh, but I have."

"Ah." She pushed her hair out of her eyes and looked at the box.

"Right. Marriage."

"We should have talked about this last night, at dinner, when we had time."

He shook his head. "Last night was chaos."

She remembered. Bob had decided he needed their dog, suddenly, for reasons known only to him, but he had been so insistent on her bringing Hitchcock that they interrupted their dinner date to drive back to her house to get him and then drove to her father's to deliver him. Paul had done it all so patiently, even though she had been fuming.

"Anyway, I don't want to talk, Nina. We've said it all and now's the right time for this. Mornings with you are so beautiful." He took her left hand and turned her to face him, popping open the box to reveal a twinkling square diamond ring, with two tapered baguettes flanking it.

He had asked her to marry him before, but the ring was a new, serious development. Nina held up her side of the sheet, gazing at the ring, her lips parted. The band, a sleek platinum, held the big stone between elongated prongs so that the light could dance around it in all directions.

"It's called an azure-cut--four equal sides. It was my grandmother's," he said. "A bluestocking in the early 1900's, I'm told. Seemed like the symbolically perfect thing for you."

"It's gorgeous," she said, stammering a little.

He took the ring from its box. "Nina, will you marry me?"

He had been patient with her. He deserved an answer. "I think . . ."

"Don't think."

She took her hand out of his, and covered the hand holding the ring with both of hers, feeling tears coming to her eyes. "I really love you!" she said.

"Then say yes."

"Marrying you means what? Staying here? Or would you come with me back to Tahoe?"

"I want you with me, Nina, forever and ever." Blond hair fell over his forehead, and his bare flat stomach creased delightfully at the waist.

"There's Bob," she said.

"He's a kid. He'll adjust."

"My work. Matt, Andrea, their kids. My whole life is in Tahoe."

"Unless it's here with me." He pulled the ring out and turned it in the sunlight, watching it twinkle. "Wear it?" he said. "Be mine?"

"I am yours."

"Yet, I get no answer." He said it lightly, but she could hear his disappointment.

"I just . . ."

"Okay. Bad timing, trial comin' up. So here's what we'll do. You try it on for size. See how it feels on your finger. Take some time. Think if you must. Sound like a plan?"

She let him slip the ring on her finger. She liked the way it felt, and how pretty it looked there.

They kissed for a long time, languorous, loving.

"Maybe I should wear it on a chain around my neck," she said, "or everyone will assume we're engaged."

"Wear the ring. Maybe you'll discover you can't take it off."

She glanced toward the clock on the bureau. Well, if she was a little late, so be it. Her client wasn't going anywhere. "Paul, I have questions."

"Okay."

"Being together," she said slowly, "what's that mean to you?"

He leaned back and laughed. "I don't want a Stepford wife, okay, or why pick you? There's a babe out there somewhere who...

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