Lightning: Excerpt

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Chapter One

The voices droned around the conference room as Alexandra Parker stretched long legs beneath the huge mahogany table. She jotted a note on a yellow legal pad, and glanced across the table briefly at one of her partners. Matthew Billings was older than Alex by a dozen years, he was in his mid-fifties, and one of the firm’s most respected partners. He rarely asked for help from anyone, but it was not unusual for him to ask Alex to sit in on a deposition. He liked to pick her brain, admired her style, her sharp eye for the opponent’s fatal weakness. And Alex was merciless and brilliant once she found it. She seemed to have an instinctive sense for where the point of the dagger would do the most damage.

She smiled at him now, and he liked what he saw in her eyes. She had heard just what they needed. A different answer from the time before. The very merest inflection. She slipped him a note on her yellow pad, and with a serious frown, he nodded.

The case was an extraordinarily complicated one, and had already been in process for years. It had been to the New York Supreme Court twice, with various motions, and involved the careless dispersal of highly toxic chemical pollutants by one of the most important corporations in the country. Alex had sat in on these depositions for Matt before. And she was always glad that this particular case wasn’t her problem. The suit was being brought collectively by some two hundred families in Poughkeepsie, and represented millions of dollars. The case had been referred to Bartlett and Paskin years before, just after she had become a partner.

She liked her cases tougher, shorter, and smaller. Two hundred plaintiffs were not her cup of tea, although more than a dozen attorneys had worked on it, under Matthew’s direction. Alexandra Parker was a litigation attorney too, and she handled an interesting assortment of difficult cases. She was the firm’s first choice when the fight was going to be hard and dirty, and you needed an attorney who knew case law and was willing to spend a million hours doing meticulous research. She had associates and younger partners to help her of course, but Alex wanted to do as much of the work as she could herself, and she had a remarkable rapport with most of her clients.

Her real forte was labor law and libel. And she did a fair amount of litigation in both fields, though certainly, a lot of cases were settled. But Alex Parker was a fighter, a lawyer’s lawyer, someone who knew her stuff and wasn’t afraid of hard work. In fact, she loved it.

They broke from the deposition for a recess, and Matthew came around the table to talk to her after the defendant from the chemical company left the room with all his attorneys.

“So what do you think?” Matthew eyed her with interest. He had always had a soft spot for her. She had a fine mind and great skill as an attorney. Besides which, she was one of the best-looking women he knew, and he liked just being around her. She was solid, she was smart, she knew the law, and she had great intuition.

“I think you just got what you wanted, Matt. When he said that no one knew back then of the possible toxic effects of their materials, he was lying. That’s the first time they’ve come right out and said it. We have the government reports from six months before that.”

“I know.” He beamed. “He walked right into it, didn’t he?”

“He sure did. You don’t need me here. You’ve got him.” She dropped her legal pad into her briefcase, and glanced at her watch. It was eleven-thirty. They’d break for lunch in another half hour. But if she left now, she could get a little more work done.

“Thanks for coming in. It’s always nice having you around. You look so innocent, you throw them off-guard. While he’s staring at your legs, I can throw the net over him and grab him.” He liked teasing her and she knew it. Matthew Billings was tall and attractive, with a full head of white hair, and a beautiful French wife who had been a fashion model in Paris. Matthew Billings liked pretty women, but he also respected talented and smart ones.

“Thanks a lot.” She looked ruefully at him, her red hair pulled back in a severe bun, her face so lightly made up you could hardly see it, and her black suit in sharp contrast to the vivid natural colors of her red hair and green eyes. She was a striking woman. “Just what I went to law school for, to become a decoy.”

“Hell, if it works, go for it.” He laughed, teasing her again, as one of the defense attorneys drifted back into the room, and they lowered their voices.

“Do you mind if I leave now?” she asked Matt politely. He was, after all, one of the senior partners. “I’ve got a new client coming in at one, and I’ve got a few dozen cases to cast an eye on.”

“That’s the trouble with you,” he pretended to frown at her, “you don’t work hard enough. I’ve always said that about you. Just plain lazy. Go on, go back to work. You’ve served your purpose here.” His eyes twinkled at her then. “Thanks, Alex.”

“I’ll have my notes typed up and sent to your office later,” she said seriously before she left. And he knew that, as always, her careful, intelligent notes would be delivered to his office by the time he got back there. Alex Parker was a remarkable lawyer. She was efficient, intelligent, capable, wily in just the right ways, and beautiful in the bargain, not that she seemed to care about her looks particularly, or notice the attention they brought her. She seemed to be completely unaware of herself, and most people liked that about her.

She left the room quietly, with a brief wave at him, as the defendants came back into the room, and one of the attorneys glanced admiringly at her retreating figure. Unaware of it, Alex Parker hurried down the hall, and down several corridors to her office.

Her office was large and well decorated in quiet grays, with two handsome paintings on the wall, a few photographs, a large plant, some comfortable gray leather furniture, and a splendid view up Park Avenue from the twenty-ninth floor where Bartlett and Paskin had their offices. They occupied eight floors, and employed some two hundred attorneys. It was smaller than the firm where she’d worked before, on Wall Street, when she’d first graduated from law school, but she’d liked this a lot better. She’d worked with the antitrust team there, and she’d never really liked it. It was too dry, although it taught her to pay attention to details and do thorough research.

She glanced through half a dozen messages when she sat down, two from clients, and four from other attorneys. She had three cases ready to go to trial, and six more she was developing. Two major cases had just settled. It was a staggering workload, but it wasn’t unusual for her. She loved the pace and the pressure and the frenzy. That was what had kept her from having children for so long. She just couldn’t imagine fitting children in, or loving them as much as she did her law work. She adored being a lawyer, and thoroughly enjoyed a good fight in the courtroom. She did defense work primarily, she enjoyed difficult cases, and it meant a great deal to her protecting people from frivolous lawsuits. She loved everything about what she did. And it had eaten most of her life up. There was never time for anything more than that, except Sam, her wonderful husband. But he worked just as hard as she did, not in law, but in investments. He was a venture capitalist, with one of the hottest young firms in New York. He had come into it right at the start, and the opportunities had been remarkable. He’d already made several fortunes, and lost some money too. Together, they made healthy salaries. But more than that, Sam Parker had a powerful reputation. He knew his stuff, took amazing risks, and for twenty years now, almost everything he touched turned to money. Big money. At one point, people had said he was the only man in town who could make fortunes for his clients with commodities. But he was smarter than that now. Sam was never afraid of a risk, and he rarely lost funds for his clients. He’d been deeply involved in the computer world for the past dozen years, had made huge investments in Japan, done well in Germany, and had major holdings for his clients in Silicon Valley. Everyone on Wall Street agreed, Sam Parker knew what he was doing.

And Alex had known what she was doing when she married Sam. She’d met him right after she graduated from law school. They’d actually met at a party given by her first law firm. It was Christmas, and he’d arrived with three friends, looking very tall and handsome in a dark blue suit, his black hair flecked with snow, his face bright from the frigid air outside. He’d been full of life, and when he stopped and looked at her, she felt weak in the knees as she watched him. She was twenty-five years old, and he was thirty-two, and he was one of the few men she’d met who wasn’t married.

He tried to talk to her that night, but she’d been distracted by another attorney from the firm, and Sam had been called away by his friends to talk to someone they knew, and their paths hadn’t crossed again, until six months later. Sam’s firm had consulted hers on a deal they were trying to put together in California, and she’d been called in with two other associates to help a senior partner. She’d been fascinated by him then, he was so quick and so smart and so sure. It was hard to imagine Sam being afraid of anything, or anyone. He laughed easily, and he wasn’t afraid to walk a tightrope of terrifying decisions. He seemed to be unafraid of any risk, although he was fully aware of the dangers. And it wasn’t his clients’ money he was willing to risk, it was the whole deal. He wanted it his way, or to walk away from the deal completely. At first, Alex thought him a brazen fool, but as the weeks went on, she began to understand what he was doing, and she liked it. He had integrity and style, and brains, and that rarest of all things, courage. Her first impression of him had been correct, he was afraid of nothing.

But he was intrigued by her too. He was fascinated by her intelligent, thoughtful analyses, her perception of a situation from three hundred and sixty degrees. She saw all sides and expressed the risks and the advantages brilliantly. Together, they had put together a most impressive package for his clients. The deal had been made, and the company had done brilliantly and been sold for an astronomical amount five years later. By the time Sam and Alex met, he had a reputation for being a young genius. But she was gaining a powerful reputation too, though she was building solidly and more slowly than Sam was.

Sam’s business allowed for more glitter and dazzle, and he liked that about it. He thrived on the high life, and the enormous power of his high-flying clients. In fact, the first time he took Alex out, he borrowed one of his clients’ private jets and took her to Los Angeles for the world series. They’d stayed at the Bel-Air, in separate rooms, and he’d taken her to Chasen’s and L’Orangerie for dinner.

“Do you do this for everyone?” she had asked, amazed at all his little attentions. She was more than a little in awe of Sam. She’d had one serious relationship with a boy her own age at Yale, and nothing but a series of meaningless dates during her brutally hardworking years in law school. The relationship while she was at Yale had dissipated by her junior year, and he had long since gotten married. But Alex didn’t have time for relationships. She wanted to work hard and be someone. She wanted to be the best lawyer in her law firm. And Sam’s wild flash and dash didn’t quite fit with that profile. She could see herself with attorneys like the ones in her firm, who had gone to Yale Law School, like her, or Harvard, sober, quiet guys, who spent a lifetime as partners of Wall Street law firms. In his own way, Sam Parker was a wild man, a cowboy. But he was great-looking, nice to her, and fun to be with. It was hard to remind herself that he wasn’t really what she wanted. Who wouldn’t want Sam? He was smart, gorgeous, and he had a terrific sense of humor. She would have had to be crazy not to want him.

They had driven to Malibu before they left L.A., and walked along the beach, talking about their families, and their lives, and their futures. Sam’s experiences had been interesting, and very different from Alex’s. He had said, almost casually, but with a tense look in his jaw, that his mother had died when he was fourteen, and he had been sent to boarding school, because his father didn’t know what else to do with him. He had hated boarding school, detested the kids, and missed his parents. And while he was away at school, his father seemed to have drunk himself to death and spent the last of his money. He died when Sam was in his senior year, though Sam didn’t tell Alex what he had died of. Sam had gone to college then on the small amount of money his grandparents had left him. His parents had left him nothing. He’d gone to Harvard and done well, and he didn’t say anything to Alex about being lonely when he was in college. He made it sound like a great time, though thinking about it, she knew that it must have been rough for him to have no family at all by the time he was seventeen. But it didn’t seem to have hurt him.

After Harvard undergraduate, he had eventually moved on to Harvard Business School, and had been totally enamored with venture capital. He’d found a job the minute he graduated, and in the eight years since he had made fortunes for several of his clients.

“And what about you?” she had asked quietly, watching his eyes as they walked along the beach at sunset. “There’s more to life than venture capital and Wall Street.” She wanted to get to know him better. She had just had the most exciting weekend of her life, and she hadn’t even slept with him. She wanted to know more about Sam Parker before they disappeared back to their own lives after they left California.

“Is there more to life than Wall Street?” he laughed, slipping an arm around her. “No one’s ever told me. What is there, Alex?” He had stopped walking and looked down at her. He was enormously taken with her, even then, but a little bit afraid to show it. Her long red hair had been flying in the breeze, her green eyes looked deep into his and made him feel a stirring he had never felt before. In some ways, it scared him.

“What about people? Relationships?” She knew he had never been married, but she didn’t know more than that. She assumed, just looking at him, and watching his easy style, that he must have had hundreds of girlfriends.

“No time for those,” Sam teased, as he pulled her a little closer and they continued walking. “I’m too busy.”

“And too important?” she asked pointedly, fearing that he might be conceited. He certainly had every reason to be, but so far she hadn’t seen it.

“Who said that? I’m not important, I’m just having a good time.”

“Everyone knows who you are,” she said matter-of-factly, “even here. Los Angeles, New York . . . Silicon Valley, for sure . . . Tokyo . . . where else? Paris? London? Rome? It’s a pretty big picture.”

“And not exactly a correct one. I work hard, that’s all. So do you. No big deal.” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled down at her, but they both knew there was a lot more to it than he admitted.

“I don’t fly to California in my clients’ planes, Sam. My clients come to me by cab. If they’re lucky. The rest of them come by subway.” She grinned and he laughed.

“Okay, so mine are luckier. Maybe I am too. Maybe I won’t be lucky forever. Like my father.”

“Are you afraid of that happening to you too? Losing everything?” It was an intriguing side to him, and clearly a motivating factor.

“Maybe. But he was a fool . . . a nice fool . . . but a fool. I think it killed him when my mother died. He gave up. He lost his grip, he was like that when she was sick too. He loved her so much that he just couldn’t handle it when she went. It killed him.” He had long since decided that he would never let that happen to him. He would never love anyone enough to let them pull him down with them.

“It must have been awful for you,” Alex said sympathetically, “you were so young.”

“You grow up fast when you’re the only one you have,” he said soberly, and then he smiled sadly, “or maybe you never do. My friends say I’m still a kid. I think I like that. It keeps me from getting too serious. There’s no point getting too serious in life. It’s no fun when you start to do that.” But Alex was, she was serious about her work, and her life. She had lost her parents by then too, although less dramatically than Sam had. But in her case, it had sobered her, made her feel more responsible. She had to be more grown up, more alert about her career, more intense about her work. It was as though she felt obligated to live up to their expectations of her, even now that they were gone. Her father had been an attorney too, and he had been so happy when she’d gone to law school. And she wanted to be the best attorney she could now, for him, even though he wasn’t there to see her do it.

They were both only children, they both had important careers, they both had a lot of friends, which for both of them replaced family in some ways, though Alex spent a lot of time with friends of her parents’, and families of her friends from law school. Sam’s friends were mostly bachelors, people he worked with, clients, or women he’d gone out with.

He had kissed Alex for the first time on their walk down the beach in Malibu, and he had slept most of the way back to New York, with his head on her shoulder. She had looked down at him pensively, thinking that he looked like a long, lanky boy as he lay there beside her, but she was also thinking how much she liked him. Too much probably. She wondered if she would ever hear from him again, if this was a beginning or an interlude for him. It was hard to tell with Sam, and he had admitted that there was a young off-Broadway actress he was currently going out with.

“How come you didn’t take her to L.A.?” Alex had asked candidly, shy, but never afraid to ask important questions. It was too much a part of her makeup not to.

“She was busy,” he said honestly, “and I thought it would be more interesting to get to know you.” He hesitated and then turned to Alex with a smile that melted her heart in spite of her best efforts not to let it. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t ask her. I knew she had rehearsals all weekend, and she hates baseball. And I really wanted to be with you.”

“Why?” Alex had no idea how beautiful she was when she asked him.

“You’re the smartest girl I’ve ever met . . . I like talking to you. You’re bright and you’re exciting, and you’re not exactly hard to look at.”

He had kissed her again when he dropped her off at her apartment, but there was no commitment in the kiss, no promise. It was quick and casual, and in a moment the cab was gone, and Alex felt strangely let down as she walked into her apartment with her suitcase. She had had a wonderful time, but she figured that he was in a hurry to get back to his off-Broadway girlfriend. It had been wonderful, but she knew it didn’t mean anything. It was just another fun weekend in the life of Sam Parker. She didn’t think there was much room in his life for Alex Andrews.

Until he sent her a dozen red roses at the office the next day, and called her that afternoon and asked her to dinner. Their romance began in earnest after that, and in spite of the heavy cases she had to prepare, she could hardly concentrate on her work during her four-month courtship with Sam.

He asked her to marry him on Valentine’s Day, almost four months to the day of the first time he’d taken her out to dinner. She was twenty-six by then and Sam was thirty-three. They got married in June, in a small church in Southampton, with two dozen of their closest friends in attendance. Neither of them had families, but their friends provided the warmth and celebration to make it an extraordinary day. They had gone to Europe on their honeymoon, and stayed in hotels that Alex had only read of. They went to Paris and Monaco, and spent a romantic weekend in Saint-Tropez. Sam had a client who was dating a minor movie star there, so they had a fabulous time, and went to a party on a yacht and sailed to Italy and back by morning.

They went to San Remo, and then on to Tuscany, Venice, Florence, Rome, and then they had flown to stay with a client of his in Athens, and then to London for the last few days, where they went to Annabel’s, and all of Sam’s favorite restaurants and nightspots. They looked at antiques, and jewelry at Garrard’s, and he bought her all kinds of fun clothes in Chelsea, though she said she had no idea where she’d wear them, surely not to the office. It was the perfect honeymoon, and they had never been happier than when they got back to New York, and she moved into his apartment. She’d been staying there anyway, but she had kept her own apartment until after the wedding.

She learned to cook for him, and he bought her expensive clothes, and a beautiful simple diamond necklace for her thirtieth birthday. He could have afforded to buy her a lot of things, but there was very little she wanted. She loved her life with him, their love and romance and friendship, their mutual respect, and passion for their work. He had asked her once about giving up her career, or at least putting it on hold to stay home and have kids, and she had looked at him as though he were crazy.

“What about not retiring, and having kids?” he had modified his previous offer. They had been married for six years by then, and he was thirty-nine years old, and once in a while he thought about having children. Most of the time, it would have cramped their style, but still, he thought it would be too bad if they never had them. But Alex had said she wasn’t ready.

“I just can’t imagine having anyone be that dependent on me, I mean all the time. I’d feel guilty working as hard as I do now, I’d never see the kids, and that’s no way to bring up children.”

“Can you see yourself slowing down eventually, working less?” he asked. But he couldn’t see her doing that, and neither could Alex.

Excerpted from Lightning by Danielle Steel Copyright © 1996 by Danielle Steel. Excerpted by permission of Dell, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.