The Appellate Years
Trials & Tribulations
Thursday, a week later…
The California Court of Appeals is divided into six districts. The First District, located in the area around the San Francisco Bay area and north along the coast, is divided into five divisions. Leslie Marks was thrilled and proud to be a senior law clerk assigned to a division one associate justice in the First Appellate Court. Graduating in the top five per cent of her law class at Stanford, senior editor for The Law Review, and clerking experience with a well-respected law firm in Sacramento, Leslie was a top candidate for the position. The icing on the cake was earning the senior clerk position for Associate Justice Perry Mason.
Moving along the tall stacks, inhaling the aroma of leather bound books, Leslie searched the law library. Occasionally she would pause to check the list she had composed and relish her good fortune. Even before law school she had aspirations of becoming a top trial lawyer or a well-respected law professor, but the ultimate prize someday would be an appointment to the California Supreme Court. She was fortunate to have Perry Mason as her mentor. A shrewd and highly competent trial attorney, Mason was well known and respected throughout the state.
Leslie found the volumes from her list, slipped them from the shelf and thought of their morning together. He was a good twenty years her senior and yet sitting beside him the years separating them seemed to melt away. When discussing the fine points of a case the role of judge and senior clerk disappeared and a unique relationship began - an apprenticeship, a partnership. For Leslie the idea of powerful middle-aged man and a beautiful younger woman was so appealing and full of potential at so many levels. Given the atmosphere of the court she knew she was perfectly positioned to rise to the top with Perry Mason and could envision clerking for him on the California Supreme Court.
Looking down at her list again, she moved down the aisle and pulled another edition from the shelf and felt the weight of the books-as well the law. Sitting at Mason's side, listening to his logic, discussing the legal merit of an opinion she was privileged to be an heir to his knowledge and felt elation when she was able to answer his questions. His smile was like candy; sweet, addictive…..she wanted more.
The aisle darkened and a figure stood next to her, the aroma of cologne enveloped her like a heady cloud. Nervously, Leslie smiled, shifted the weight of the large volumes in her arms. Strong and slender, with short wavy hair and dark brown eyes, the young woman was average in height and easily looked up at the face of Chief Justice Erskine Burrows.
"Your honor, I didn't realize you were in the stacks," she murmured, feeling awkward and surprised by his presence.
Five foot ten, sandy blonde hair and light brown eyes, Erskine Burrows moved with a cocky confidence of a man who knew his superiority in both appearance and intelligence. His tailored patriotic power suit, navy blue jacket, white shirt and maroon tie, displayed his alpha position in the court. Before moving down the aisle he had loosened his tie for that relaxed, sensual look and out of habit ran his hands over his precisely styled hair. Physically fit, the chief justice exuded an aura of prestige and sexual vitality.
Before his marriage to well-known financier, Peggy Lisbon, Burrows played the field and was considered quite a playboy. The justice's marriage to Peggy provided the financial and political support he desired to springboard his private agenda. Poised at the appeals level, he knew at the right moment events would catapult him to the California State Supreme Court. Rumors concerning one of the justices and a temporary leave had been circulating. Smiling down at the thirty four year old clerk he recalled a private moment with the governor. The governor assured him he would consider recommending his candidacy for the Supreme Court, pending approval by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Burrows had so many political connections the approval would be a sure thing.
"Let me help you with those, Ms. Marks." The chief justice reached for the journals. Leslie stepped closer and felt his finger slipping around the leather cover while managing to brush across both breasts as the books slipped from her arms. Burrows watched the young woman's eyes widen and smiled coyly, enjoying his clandestine caress and her reaction. The thrill of her shocked expression was sweetened knowing he had wielded power over Perry Mason's senior clerk.
Leslie stepped back, confused and angered. Was it an accident? No! The sly smile was evidence of his intent. She could slap him or loudly protest, but what would that accomplish other than giving him an excuse to make her life a living hell. If she complained or grieved the incident, who would they believe- a senior clerk or the Chief Justice of the First Appellate District?
Burrows turned and moved down the aisle, turning to see if she was dutifully following him. Timidly she followed and further contemplated the repercussions of a complaint.
Meanwhile in a conference room attached to the stately appellate courtroom…
In a large conference room resembling an elegant men's club dining area, three justices completed their deliberation. Associate Justice Anderson Powell volunteered to draft the opinion for the court and pushed back his high back leather chair from a vast Chippendale table large enough to seat eighteen justices. Normally cases are examined from several perspectives by a panel of three justices; however, on rare occasions all eighteen justices would sit together 'en banc', or full bench, to decide a case. Like a husband and wife who do not go to bed angry, judges of court reviews were encouraged to leave their disagreements in the conference room. But on occasion matters of major dissent necessitate a review by the full bench and often result in a precedent-setting ruling of the court. That ruling is then placed in a publication such as the California Appellate Reports. Drafting of a dissent can create disharmony and because of its implication that the other judges essentially committed a grievous error. Rarely are they written because one of the main duties of the chief justice is to promote harmony on the court.
With the departure of Associate Justice Powell, the two remaining justices used the privacy of the conference room to take a well-deserved breather from their never ending caseload of oral arguments, opinions, court transcripts, and briefs. Associate Justice Cynthia C. Caldwell, or C.C. to her friends, leaned back in her chair, ran her fingers through slightly graying dark brown hair and surveyed her fellow justice seated across the table before finally commenting. "I'm glad Andy volunteered to compose our opinion. That futile mandamus petition was a gigantic waste of our time. I can't believe an attorney would prostitute himself before the court, unless his client paid him dearly for his services. His argument went on and on, the light couldn't go off soon enough."
"Yes, I believe I detected your annoyance in there." Associate Justice Perry Mason replied with a shrug of his broad shoulders along with a sly dimpled smile. "You managed to flash me a look…what was that look again?"
C.C. Caldwell chuckled, her manicured fingers toying with her binder, enjoying their little moment of repartee. "Oh, that look… you mean the 'just kill me' look."
Enjoying the banter, Mason laughed and tilted his head to the side. "Was that it?" he asked with mock curiosity. "I'm not sure. Perhaps you could demonstrate it again, Your Honor."
Straightening with dignity, she turned her head and managed to repeat and embellish the 'just kill me' look one more time for his benefit.
Managing to maintain straight faces, they made eye contact briefly before bursting into uncontrollable laughter, enjoying the momentary relief from tension and stress.
A knock on the door produced startled looks reminiscent of two children caught sneaking cigarettes at a summer church camp. Trying desperately to stifle their laughter and avoid looking at each other for fear of inciting another round of merriment, C. C. Caldwell rose from the table and walked to the door of the conference room, looked back at her fellow justice and observed him wiping a tear from his eye, regaining his composure.
With an air of dignity C. C. opened the door to the conference room. A uniformed bailiff stood stiffly at her presence, his eyes looking around the room, checking the security of his judicial charges and noticed the robed justice standing solemnly by the table with two leather binders tucked beneath his arm.
"Your Honor, please forgive me if I've interrupted…but the noise…I grew concerned."
"Thank you, Bailiff," She answered formally and turned to Perry Mason who had moved to her side.
Nervously clearing his voice, the bailiff replied. "No, thank you Your Honor. If you need anything please don't hesitate to call."
"Of course," she replied and watched the uniformed officer disappear down the hallway.
They both heaved a weary sigh and realized their moment of levity was over. Mason presented her leather folder to her open hands and admired the earthy spirit of her natural beauty and vitality.
Cynthia Caldwell took the leather binder and wistfully looked up at her fellow associate. Even though clerk administrator, Nelsa Keetan, semi-randomly assigned cases to justices, C.C. found she checked expectantly to see if Mason's name appeared on her case assignments. She enjoyed their collaboration and their moments of camaraderie more than any other justice on the court. Smiling, she reminisced. 'Had it really been fifteen years? Fifteen years since the love of her life had died. It had also been fifteen years since she had truly enjoyed a man's company…until now. 'Should I tell him?'
Mason smiled wearily, the dimple in his cheek appearing again as he moved to hold the door for her. "Well, Your Honor, duty calls."
Instinctively C.C. checked her watched and realized it was late and the two briefs tucked in her briefcase dictated an evening of reading and analysis. Looking up, she flashed him a warm smile. "Yes, Perry, off to the legal trenches."
Walking side by side with a quiet dignity they moved down the corridor to their respective offices.
Leslie Marks nervously walked by the Chief's side contemplating whether she should file a formal complaint to the Board of Judicial Ethics…..and then thought of the notoriety her complaint would generate. The complaint would hardly remain anonymous. Without witnesses Burrows would argue their physical encounter was mutual and her complaint was a maneuver on her part to gain favor with the Chief Justice. Her plans for future advancement would quickly go down the drain and all for a grope in the stacks.
During their walk through the inner corridors leading to the various judicial offices they passed other judges and staff leaving for the day. Burrows smiled and plied his charm with all they encountered and Leslie began to have doubts- perhaps she imagined the salacious touch of his hands. Nearing Perry Mason's office their pace slowed and the senior clerk glanced at her companion and noticed a change in his smug countenance. Leslie stepped forward to open the door to their inner work area and watched the chief's fingers nervously stroking the leather bound book.
As Burrows caressed the leather cover he thought of his recent speech before a committee of the California Bar Association. Proudly he stood waiting for the question and answer session, prepared to dazzle his audience with his commanding presence and vast legal knowledge. The first member stood and asked if PerryMason was in the wings waiting to speak before the group. For a second he was speechless and awkwardly answered the question and was shocked to hear a murmur of disappointment spread through the room.
The chief's strong fingers rubbed harder against the book cover and stared intently at Leslie as he continued to recall the event.
Another member stood and asked what it was like having Mason on the court. Was having the lawyer famous for his courtroom theatrics creating a stir at the appeals level?With that question, a knowing titter of laughter spread throughout the room. Burrows felt his face flushing with anger. Afterall, he was the Chief Justice, a possible appointee to the Supreme Court, why was he spending his time discussing Mason. Mustering all his reserves he politely answered, 'Associate Justice Mason was like all the other justices who served the legal profession' and with that he stepped down and began shaking hands with anyone he could find.
Confidently, Leslie broke from his intent gaze and opened the door to their large, busy anteroom. Gloria Steiner, Mason's secretary, was orchestrating the preparation for tomorrow's caseload with the other law clerk and office staffer. Tall, trim, chestnut colored hair and eyes, and a curvaceous figure the middle aged secretary was a courthouse veteran having served as the secretary for the previous jurist, Associate Justice Franklin Cummings. Immediately their discussion ceased with the presence of the Chief Justice.
"Good evening Your Honor," Gloria greeted officiously.
Bowing and smiling, Burrows replied, "It's always a pleasure, Ms. Steiner."
Placing the large books on the corner of the desk, Burrows released a relieved sigh. Mason was not in his office. He had made it a point to avoid the man whenever possible after their first few meetings. He would share the limelight with no man and despised being in the same room with a man like Mason whose mere presence filled and drew attention in any room. How could this happen? Was the governor double-crossing him? Mason's appointment to the bench was easily confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, his qualifications were excellent and the final approval was filed with the Secretary of State. Already Mason had shown himself to be an above average jurist and well-liked by the members of the division.' For once, Erskine Burrows felt threatened. 'Was it possible Mason could easily be on his way to the Supreme Court, filling the seat intended for him? And what about the Governor's blessing?'
The silence in the room brought the Chief to attention. Gloria Steiner had dismissed the clerk and staffer and Leslie had used the chief's moment of distraction to slip into her own office and gather her purse, jacket and briefcase for her swift departure.
Stepping near the Chief the older woman asked coolly, "Can I help you with anything?"
Smiling effusively, he looked into the seasoned and experienced eyes of a secretary who had been around the block with more than one Chief Justice. Burrows felt his heart flutter as he imagined Gloria Steiner in a previous life as a 'dominatrix'. The thought both excited and frightened him and could imagine the statuesque brunette dressed in a tight leather suit snapping a whip at her side.
Leaning closer the secretary knowingly whispered, "Judge Mason will be arriving any moment from the courtroom."
Gloria Steiner's words were like the crack of the dominatrix's whip. Burrows snapped to attention and moved to the door, paused, and looked back at the older woman who struck a formidable pose with her hands positioned on her hips. The look was not lost on Burrows as he replied, "It's been nice seeing you again…Gloria…and give my regards to Judge Mason will you?"
Gloria tossed her head and watched the jurist slip out the door.
The Chief sprinted down the hall in the opposite direction Mason would travel on his way from the court. In his haste he failed to see his worthy opponent round the corner on his way to his office.
Mason slowed at the sight of the retreating Chief Justice. It had been a long and busy day with mundane oral arguments, the tedious researching and drafting of opinions. He was physically and mentally exhausted coupled with the nagging desire for the forbidden; a cigarette, a steak, and a fine bottle of wine or whiskey. The unpleasant sight of the diminutive shyster, Erskine Burrows, further added to his list of irritations. It had only taken one meeting for his experienced eye to size-up the Chief Justice.
Opening the door to his work area he stopped at the sight of Gloria Steiner and smiled. "You're still here?"
The secretary shrugged. "I could say the same about you."
Wordlessly, Mason moved across the room removing his robe as he walked and was joined by the seasoned secretary in an elegant movement resembling a tango as she eased the remainder of the garment from his shoulders on their way into his inner sanctum. Placing the cloak on a hanger she smoothed and arranged the garment before placing it in a decorative wardrobe.
Easing his tired frame into the large leather chair he placed his binder to the side of the blotter and looked over the piles of paperwork neatly arranged on his desk. Gloria was a daily reminder-waiting for him late into the evening, their elegant dance with his cloak, the neatly organized desk, and her sixth sense about all his needs-all were a reminder of who was missing in his life.
Stepping to the side of his desk, she watched him run his fingers through his beard.
"Wanting a cigarette?" she observed. Mason nodded, and looked up at his secretary. "…..and a steak, medium rare….. Lyonnaise potatoes…..with a chilled bottle of Merlot or a fifth of Bourbon."
Arms crossed, she eyed him speculatively, "Well, some things never change….. craving a cigarette, a medium rare steak, a fifth of Bourbon and you've only called me Della thirty times today…. is there anything I can really get for you?"
Heaving a weary sigh, Mason knew she was right. He relinquished and replied, "As always you're right; call Gilberto's and have my 'usual' delivered to my apartment building."
Gloria nodded and headed to the door leading to the outer office and her desk. Stopping with her hand on the door, she turned and watched him staring solemnly at the blotter.
"Perry," she called softly.
Looking up, he met the sympathetic eyes of woman who had experienced her own emotional hardships.
"Perry, I wish I could tell you things get easier with time….."
With a bittersweet smile, he replied, "I know, Gloria. Thank you and good night."
"Good night," she replied slipping through the door to her office leaving the justice in the cool silence of his massive chamber.
Staring at the blotter his mind drifted again to all that was missing in his life. He had made the decision with the swiftness and accuracy of any courtroom strategy. He had taken the perfect storm of his physical and mental life events and made 'his decision'. Once he accepted the Judgeship, the die was cast. His decision and what he had to do haunted him day and night. He remembered sitting on the edge of his bed, mind racing to find an answer as he felt her fingers gently caressing his back. She asked if he was feeling alright .No he wasn't alright! A headache was all he could say.
The Commission of Judicial Appointments would make their big announcement soon and the papers would have a field day. The pressure was on, he couldn't postpone the inevitable. But how could he tell the love of his life….. her new life would not include him. And then the moment presented itself….
The shyster lawyer, Erskine Burrows brought back the memory of 'the moment'. Shyster lawyers- Nathan Fallon came to mind along with Benjamin Addicks and the Helen Cadmus diaries. Helen Cadmus diaries….the Stephanie Wellborn letters….and Della.
Sitting at his desk, knowing the announcement was days away along with the pressure of surreptitiously tying up the loose ends of his law practice…he finally snapped as Della tried yet another time to show him the handwritten letters and the young woman's concerns in paragraph after paragraph.
"Why do you keep shoving those Stephanie Wellborn letters in my face? Are you trying to draw me in with these letters like you did with those Helen Cadmus diaries? Yes, they're interesting, yes, they're mysterious and yes, there could be a case if we looked into it. But can't you see the work is piling up and I promised Buckley Chase I'd have that land contract completed by the end of the month."
He stood and paced a few steps and instinctively realized this was the moment…..this was the moment he had been waiting for…... Would he be able to continue and finished what he had started by pushing all her emotional buttons? But first he had to make her understand.
"Don't you understand, Della?" He looked around trying to find the precise words that would make everything perfectly clear. Could he make her understand she was trying to relive the past by finding solace in her work, finding solace in one more mystery, one more adventure? "You should understand our lives have changed. Did you really think our special threesome would go on forever? Paul's gone and it will never be the same…..the magic that we had….the magic we had in our lives….it's gone."
He could see the reality of his words striking her, wounding her and felt the pain inflicted by every word. Each day he knew the magic was gone, and how it could all possibly end. He felt the changes in his own body and knew his end could be like Paul's. He would do anything to spare her from the ultimate heartache…anything.
Using his intimate knowledge of her emotional buttons he knew the ones to push. Tossing his papers on his desk was the gauntlet, a challenge to combat and a sign he had made his final decision. Moving to the door, he stopped and turned. Feeling tight with emotion, he pushed again as he commanded. "By the end of the month I need everything wrapped up, no new cases."
Gripping the door, he nervously turned the knob, gathering strength and carefully forming the words for the final button...the button that would seal their fate. The words were harder than he expected and as his eyes grew moist, throat choking. Only by clearing his voice was he was able to continue. "I wanted you to know I've accepted the offer to fill the vacant seat on the Appeals Court…..I've accepted the Judgeship."
The words had been spoken and their fate sealed. He slipped out the door and briskly walked down the hallway to the stairwell. He didn't want to take the chance of meeting anyone. He was not proud of what he had done. By tossing the papers on his desk, announcing 'his decision' to accept the vacant seat, he had thrown down an unforgiveable gauntlet. As he told Paul Drake years ago, Della's not a 'thrower' when she's angry, she's the 'cold glacial type', and once the initial hurt had vanished she would be angered like a woman cornered, a woman scorned. The moment had presented itself and he had expertly pushed all the right buttons.
Releasing a sigh, his fingers tugged on his necktie, then reached in his breast pocket to retrieve his wallet. He would be tipping the delivery from Gilberto's, and thumbed through the bills. Pausing, he turned to the last of the clear sleeved compartments to a fading photograph of a tall man and beautiful woman outside a courtroom, their faces turned to each other in a special moment in time. Using his thumb he tenderly turned the sleeved photograph to reveal a treasured slender strip of paper neatly tucked on the back of the photo….a fortune.
'No, Gloria, it doesn't get any easier.'
Gently closing his wallet, he slipped the folded leather back into his breast pocket, stood, swept the two briefs Gloria had organized inside his large leather briefcase and headed downstairs to the judicial car service.
The swirling mist moved from the bay and through the city causing the urban lights to twinkle on and off. High above the fog the gentle sound of a melancholy saxophone filled an apartment overlooking the city. In that apartment a solitary light dispelled the darkness outside the large window and bathed the tropical painting covering the wall with light. Beneath the modern style lamp, pencil and paper at hand, a half-eaten take-out container of Chilean Sea Bass and sautéed vegetables, Perry Mason read through the pages of a brief. Case after case, page after page, the lawyer's briefs were never 'brief' and all contained the common thread- all were wrongly convicted and all had hopes of garnering a reversal. Growing weary, he stretched and tossed the thick paper back in his briefcase and yearned for a glass of Bourbon and more…
Reclining his head against the soft leather, he heard the soft breezy sounds of a saxophone paired with the beat of distant drums, and the gentle rush of waves. The white capped waves in the painting called to him again, just as they had called from the window of the small SoMa gallery. Azure sky, aquamarine seas, brilliant white sands of an isolated beach were framed by lacy palm fronds blowing in the breeze.
Closing his eyes, he recalled walking down the jasmine scented path to their beach cabin in Negril, Jamaica. The white railed porch, curtains billowing, her scent still clinging to the damp robe, he had dreamed of their reunion during his long journey. Rick's Café, the pink flowered sundress, she was easily the most beautiful woman in the room and surrounded by men who desired her. The excitement and adventure of pursuit, it was no mystery-she only had eyes for him. Slipping into his arms on the dance floor, he kissed her neck and felt her press close as they enjoyed the freedom from their jobs….their identities…..from everything.
Opening his eyes, he smiled. On the cabin's shady railed porch the artist had painted a tall, dark haired woman in a pink flowered dress with shapely long legs enjoying the view of paradise…their paradise.
Over the course of a month the details of the painting and his memories grew more and more connected in time and space. The details of the cabin, its color, the twining jasmine around the porch rails, the design of the hurricane shutters, the placement of the palms were all so familiar, it was as though the artist were a part of his memories. Over and over with each day he felt the connection and the love, a love for a painting and the memories of a paradise lost. His eyes moved over the painting with the finesse of a lover's hand and rested on the artist's signature-a ring and two old fashioned keys.
15 Madrona Avenue, Sausalito
Valentina Bernini sat at a drafting table, sipping a cup of herbal tea and listening to the romantic sounds of a guitar and reed flute playing 'Night in Marrakesh'. She was surrounded by the orderly arrangement of paints, brushes, solvents, oils, and a newly prepped canvas. Slowly her eyes drifted to the final touches she had applied to a painting she had finished earlier in the afternoon. Smiling, she admired the final touch, the dark green toe rail on the white felucca. The addition of that small detail pleased her and added harmony to her memory of their special moments on the majestic river.
Gracefully tilting her head, her critical eye examined the white felucca anchored in the shimmering waters of the timeless Nile. Other boats, their brilliant white sails opened to the wind their bows splitting the water, moved in the distance. She examined the balance and texture of the rushes lining the shore, the stealthily positioned Blue Heron poised below the towering palms. They had stowed the white sails for the evening and had positioned the bow toward a wayward sand dune that threatened to spill into the river. The anchor lines jutted sharply out from the bow and stern and provided a steady platform for an evening of swimming and diving.
Shifting on her seat, cupping the hot tea in her hand, she admired the tall, barrel-chested man on the bow, clad only in shorts, prepared to dive. Glancing to the side with a carefree, boyish grin, his body formed a coiled 'S' ready to spring into the dark waters, his manner seemed to taunt the viewer to join him. Sighing, she placed the tea to the side and moved closer to the painting in the corner. Carefully, she inspected the drying green toe rail and thought of their night together, sleeping on deck beneath a jet black sky filled with millions of stars, cradled in his arms she heard the promise-the promise of undying love.
Earlier in the afternoon she had pulled the scrapbook from her bureau drawer, looking at old photos pressed between aging pages and letters, so many letters. On the sill beneath the expansive window that looked out over the bay and twinkling city lights, the book lay open-beckoning her. Gentling her fingers moved over the photos before resting on the small stack of letters-love letters. Holding them, caressing them, her fingers lingered, hesitating to open her heart again to the thought of undying love. Sweeping back wavy locks from her face, she inhaled deeply and gathered strength to slip the pages from the envelope. Two pressed flowers fell and landed on the yellowing paper. The two violets were still vibrant, neatly preserved with their blossoms intertwined. Tears glistened on her lashes before she sniffed and wiped them away with her fingertips. Folding the letter, the simple signature of the author exposed-an open ring with a single old-fashioned key, the blade forming the letter 'T'. Her lips began to quiver while placing the letter back inside the envelope and glanced at the finished painting, and in the corner- a ring with two old fashioned keys their shafts crossed one over the other.
Suddenly a knock sounded from her rear door causing her to jump and immediately check her watch. Pausing, she looked up at the blinking San Francisco skyline to the outline of the towering Paramount building before quickly closing the scrapbook and placing it out of sight. Smoothing down her painting clothes, a simple black sweater and a pair of faded jeans, she stopped and allowed skilled fingers to arrange her hair and wipe her eyes. With renewed purpose she slowly walked down the short hallway to her side door. The ephemeral sounds of the Ney reed flute played in the background as Valentina slowly opened the side door.
The dim light and open door created a draft that illuminated the swirling fog and wafted the scent of the sea and a hint of cologne. Gradually the outline of a broad back and shoulders covered by a long dark trench coat cinched at the waist appeared in the fog. Slowly the figure turned from the shadowy mist and into the dim light, the face still hidden by the upturned collar of the trench coat.
A week earlier she had entertained a stately jurist with tired sad eyes dressed in a conservative gray tweed overcoat carrying a burgeoning briefcase who reluctantly posed for a series of photographs and in a firm voice announced she was pressing her luck if she expected a return visit. She politely explained she did believe in circles and included an invitation to return. Had he found the time?
The artist opened the door further, drawn to her mysterious visitor. Stepping closer, she was surprised when he abruptly turned to face her. Valentina gasped and felt the air between them fill with electricity and met intense blue eyes that sparked with adventure, mystery and curiosity.
Her transformed visitor filled her with excitement. His electrifying presence caused her breathing to quicken, a change immediately noted by the tall man at her door whose smile revealed a boyish dimple. The intoxicating mix of adventure and mystery drew them together like a moth to a flame. Wordlessly, she stepped to the side and invited him to enter the house on 15 Madrona Avenue.