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Perri O'Shaughnessy

Unlucky in Law

The tenth book in the Nina Reilly series, 2004






Christina’s Story

Monterey, California , 1966

HER FRIENDS CALLED THEIR FATHERS “DAD” OR “DADDY,” BUT HE wanted Christina and her little brother to call him Papa because he had called his father Papa. His mustache drifted below his mouth at the corners, tickling her when he kissed her cheeks. When he was sick and lying on the couch in his study, he liked to sing to her. At bedtime he read her stories, like “Masha the Bear,” which was a lot like “Little Red Riding Hood,” and the story of “The Crow and the Crayfish.” Sometimes she persuaded him to read her favorite.

“‘The Snow Maiden’ again, Papa.”

He groused and teased, finally pulling out a tattered book and finding the page. “‘Everyone else was building snowmen. “Why not build a snow maiden?” the old lady asked. And so they did. When they were finished, they stepped back to admire her.’”

“She came to life,” Christina said, excited. “Like Pinocchio!”

“‘She smiled!’” he read, “‘and she began to move her arms and legs. How her grandparents doted on her. White as the snow was Snyegurochka, with eyes like blue beads. Blonde hair dangled all the way down to her waist. She had no color in her cheeks, but cherry red lips made of shiny ribbon. She was so beautiful!’”

He read on. Finishing the story, he leaned over to touch her cheek. “You, my little princess, have pink cheeks, nothing like this pale girl made of ice who melts in a bonfire.”

“Why did she jump over the fire?”

“She didn’t want to hide by the icy river anymore. She forgot she was made of snow, and dreamed she could be something she was not.”

“I’ll be like her. Brave. Jump over the fire.”

“No,” Papa said. “Remember, she lost her life for this dream.”

He shut the book. “Tomorrow, I will play some music for you, something you will like.”

“What is it?”

“Music for the snow maiden, based on the story you love so much,” he said, “by a man named Rimsky-Korsakov.”

“Okay.” Her eyes drooped. “Papa?”

“Yes, my princess.”

“I can’t sleep.”

He kissed her forehead. “One last story,” he said, “the true story of a boy in Russia. Then if you can’t sleep, you will have to count sheep.” He thought for a moment. “I warn you in advance, it’s tragic.”

“Does the wolf tear the goat to bits?”

“Yes and no,” he said.

“Is it sad?”

“Yes, some of it is sad.”

“Put your blue egg in the story, the one you keep in your study.”

“All right.” He laughed.

“Does anyone die in it? I don’t want them to die.”

“In true stories, people die, Christina.”

“Not me!”


She digested the information silently, then said, “Tell me your story, Papa. I promise not to cry.”


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?”