It was close to midnight when my cell phone rang. I’d already worked another 16-hour day in the office plus another two at home, and I was wearing my pajamas, cocoa in hand, ready to call it a night and crawl into my enormous and comfortable bed, so when I saw the name ‘Knob-head’ flashing up on my phone, I let it roll over to voicemail. But then he rang again and again and again, and on the fifth ring, against my better judgment, I answered.
“Faith … I mean, Grace! Don’t hang up!”
Knob-head. Ugh. The stupid British guy could never even get my name right. Why had I answered? Oh yes, because he was the best friend of my best friend’s fiancé.
“It’s late, Vincent,” I said sharply. At least I was able to remember that his given name was ‘Vincent’ and not ‘Knob-head’. “What do you want?”
“I’ve been arrested. I need a lawyer.”
“What? Oh my God, what?! You got yourself arrested three weeks before Cady and Rick’s wedding! What did you do?”
I may have panicked slightly, but Vince’s voice was annoyingly calm.
“Yeah, I know. Fookin’ bummer. I told the policewomen that, but they were hard arses. They said they had to take me in, asked for a couple of selfies and booked me anyway. They let me use my phone though—cheers, girls!”
I heard a woman laughing in the background and wondered if this was one of his stupid pranks.
“What have you’ve been arrested for?” I asked sceptically.
“That don’t matter but…”
“It really does matter, Vince! It kind of matters a lot.”
“Um, hang on,” he mumbled, “I’ve got a list somewhere.”
I could hear rustling and in the background drunks were yelling. My stomach sank—this wasn’t a prank, which had been my first guess and fervent hope. Then Vincent’s voice came back on the line.
“Alright, yeah: criminal trespass, breaking and entering, vandalism, criminal damage and theft. I think that’s everything.”
My eyes bulged. It sounded serious.
“I know a couple of criminal lawyers who can…”
“No! I need you, Fa— Grace. Please! I’m at the 20th Precinct police station, but they’ll be moving me to Central Booking and then the Tombs. Fook me! I don’t like the sound of that!”
“Vince, I’m a corporate lawyer. I do mergers and acquisitions. I’m not a criminal lawyer. I can’t help you.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a criminal, so that’s okay.”
“Vin, no! Listen to me for once! You need…”
“Please, Grace! For Rick’s sake! For Cady’s sake! For the sake of puppies and kittens—especially the puppies. Please! You’re my only hope!”
He made it sound as though he was about to be taken away and locked up for a hundred years, which might have saved the world a lot of angst.
I heaved out a long-suffering sigh.
“Fine. I’ll come. I’ll do what I can … just … don’t talk to anyone. Don’t say anything. Don’t even comment on the weather.”
“Is it a nice evening?”
“Shut up, Vince!” I took a deep, calming breath. It didn’t work. “Anything else you want to tell me?”
My question was sarcastic, but I should have known better.
“Yeah, ta. Could you go to my flat and let me dogs out for a slash.” He paused. “And if they’ve shit on the floor, could you chuck it in the back garden.”
“Cheers, Grace. You’re a mate.”
He hung up.
I really, really couldn’t stand Vince Azzo.
I really, really couldn’t stand Vince Azzo. Wait, let me back up and I’ll start at the beginning.
My best friend in the whole entire world is a superb human being named Cady Callahan. She’s kind, clever, funny as hell and last year she ran the New York City marathon! Seriously, my girl is awesome. She’s also the top radio breakfast host on the Atlantic seaboard and happens to be engaged to the almost equally awesome Rick Roberts, who owns the number one gym in Manhattan and used to be a professional athlete. He’s British, too, but a little on the reserved side and quiet, like me. And to be fair, Cady creates enough noise and chaos for both of us.
It was almost perfect, as perfect as life can get, that is. We all got along great and I was really excited to be Cady’s Maid of Honour at their wedding in three weeks.
I did say almost perfect. Except for one thing—the proverbial fly in the ointment, the bump in the road, the pain in the ass that was Vincent Azzo—Rick’s best friend.
The trouble was, he thought the world revolved around him—the world according to Vince. Well, I had plenty to say about Mr. Vincent I’m-always-right Azzo.
First, he’s an idiot.
Second, he makes me so mad because he never listens.
Third, he’s an idiot.
Fourth, he can never get my name right.
Fifth, he’s an idiot.
He just doesn’t listen to me—and I’m his lawyer and OMG how on earth did that happen?!
Well, I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to believe me—Vince was a law unto himself and I was supposed to uphold the law. He made it so darn hard. That man … that jerk made me crazy.
He’s an opinionated, rude, crude, knob-head. Yes, that’s what he is—a giant knob-head. And a manwhore, don’t forget that. Tinder was invented with him in mind. His Tinder account includes ‘dates’ with dozens of models, actresses, A-, B-, and C-list celebrities.
‘Dates’? Yeah, that’s a euphemism for ‘slept with’ which is a euphemism for ‘brought to a screaming orgasm’—allegedly. He’s the one alleging, obviously, so the evidence is circumstantial, subjective and therefore to be struck from the record. I’d call it a mis-trial. He’d call it “’avin’ a laff”. Because he’s a stupid British knob-head. Case dismissed. Or so I thought.
Any redeeming characteristics, Your Honor?
He’s kind to animals. And that’s where this story starts. With a dog. Seventeen dogs, to be precise. You kind of had to be there. Seeing is believing, right? And that sums up Vince—he had to be seen to be believed, and then you had to look again to make sure you weren’t having a daytime nightmare, and that he really was that much of an idiot.
You needed the full surround-sound 360o version to really understand the extreme level of his knob-headishness. That’s his word of choice to describe himself, by the way, but my gosh, it fits him!
Oh, what does he look like? Well, 6’4” with abs that you could use for a ladder. It pains me to say it, but he’s gorgeous, a former Armani catwalk model (yes, really). But when he opens his mouth, which he invariably does at exactly the wrong moment, his personality screams knob-head.
Mostly, I just ignored him—or tried to—but right now, he was my problem.
He’d been arrested on serious charges, and I knew for a fact that he was supposed to be having a suit-fitting with Rick at Armani’s Fifth Avenue store tomorrow afternoon—and they didn’t reschedule appointments for just anyone.
The clock was a-ticking and I hurried to dress.
It was cold out, the temperature dropping like a stone as a freezing wind howled down from the Arctic, threatening snow, and I was not relishing a hike across the city at this time of night, checking on his unruly hounds, then schlepping back to the Manhattan Detention Centre on White Street.
Although the possibility of snow was the least of my worries. Besides, as a kid from the mid-West, snow was just a fact of life for four months of the year. Interesting factoid: Minnesota averages 110 days of snow annually, and I was just as happy driving with chains on a truck as tires. I’d even driven a snowplow the winter I’d dated Paul Lund.
But in New York City, it’s different. Sleet, snow and puddles outside, Savannah-heat on the Subway and in buildings, and the next Polar-vortex could arrive anytime through April.
In short: it was ass-freezing cold.
I bundled up with layers, pulled on my trusty Ugg boots and slid on a quilted down coat that was more duvet than item of clothing. A knitted hat and gloves came next, but it was my Maxwell Scott chestnut tan briefcase that completed my ensemble—and screamed lawyer. No, it hadn’t been a gift from my parents when I graduated law school because although I received hugs and good wishes, they would have thought spending that sort of money on a bag as frivolous. I agreed, but still enjoyed a frisson of guilty pleasure every time I touched the butter soft leather. It was a man’s briefcase, or so the saleswoman had told me when I’d bought it for myself.
“But, madam, ‘The Lorenzo’ is a briefcase for a gentleman!”
Which made me love it even more, and now it went with me everywhere—and especially to chilly police stations in the middle of the night. It was part of my armour, my shield of justice … and I say that with just a hint of irony.
I’d never wanted to work in criminal law—it was too messy, too unpredictable, too ugly. I preferred corporate law where I understood the intricacies, the loopholes, the ways another lawyer would try to trip me up through a deal, poring over wordy contracts hundreds of pages long. I had a large, comfortable office, with a large corporate desk and three assistants. It suited me.
Traipsing around New York City at one in the morning to see the Knob-head did not suit me.
“You owe me for this, Cady,” I grumbled to myself as I jumped in a yellow cab.
Vince had only recently relocated from Los Angeles and now rented a tiny basement condo with attached yard in Brooklyn Heights, not far from the Transit Museum.
My cab driver only agreed to wait for me when I promised him a tip of fifty bucks—half now and half when I came out again.
I punched in the door’s access code and woke the dogs as I pushed open the door. I like dogs, I do, but I wasn’t keen on being slobbered all over or having them jump up and try to lick my face.
At least I knew what to expect as I’d met them once before in a park, so thank goodness they knew me and didn’t try to bite. If anything, they seemed desperately pleased to see me, whining and crying, then charging to the backdoor and begging to be let out. It took me a few seconds to undo all the bolts, by which time, they were almost frantic, scrabbling at the polished wood and leaving claw marks.
“Alright, you guys!” I snapped. “Take it down a notch—you don’t want to wake the neighbors.”
I was surprised when they seemed to listen to me and stopped yelping, but as soon as the door was open a crack, they squeezed through, Tap being the last, which didn’t surprise me.
They all took long and satisfying pees, and I was as relieved as they were when I couldn’t see any puddles or mess anywhere in Vince’s shiny, white kitchen.
Tap was the first to return, shivering from the cold. She was a scrawny little thing with three legs, but very affectionate as she nuzzled against me, peering up with her big beautiful eyes and no doubt asking me why I was here and not Vince.
“I’m going to try and save your dad,” I said to her, rubbing her soft ears. “Mostly, I’m trying to save him from himself. Wish me luck.”
The other two dogs spent longer snuffling around outside, and eventually I had to call them in.
Tyson was a large mutt of indeterminate heritage whose long, pink tongue was always hanging out the side of his mouth like he was smiling at you. But he was tall, with heavy shoulders and very strong, and without such a sweet personality, he would have been intimidating.
Zeus was the one in charge—a tiny Yorkshire terrier with a loud, high pitched bark, who could have sat comfortably in the palm of both hands, but seemed convinced that he was a Rottweiler. But then again, he did have Tyson to back him up.
He eyed me warily, then pointedly glanced at his empty food bowl.
Vince hadn’t said anything about feeding them, so I hoped there was nothing complicated about their diets as I carefully placed a biscuit into each of the empty dishes, and filled up the communal water bowl.
I swear the dogs’ faces fell when I relocked the backdoor, and Tap tried to follow me as I left, but I gently pushed her back inside the kitchen, feeling horrible as her soft whines reached me outside.
I gave the cab driver the rest of his tip, then sat back with my eyes closed while we re-crossed the river to Manhattan.
‘The Tombs’ was what New Yorkers named the towering, gray Manhattan Detention Complex, a building so depressing that it could have been designed during the Soviet era.
Considering it was now nearly three in the morning, it was surprisingly busy. The entrance teemed with law officers in their navy-blue uniforms, all armed, all with the look on their faces that they’d seen it all, experienced every aspect of humanity and society’s failings. I wasn’t sure where Vince fit into that.
I presented myself to the Desk Sergeant who was polite and efficient, and handed me Vince’s charge sheet which I read with disbelief as my eyes grew wider.
I glanced up at the Desk Sergeant who was obviously holding onto a smile. He raised his eyebrows and nodded. My eyebrows had already scaled the heights and were approaching lift-off.
I sat down heavily on one of the plastic visitor seats, sweating as I peeled off layers one at a time, until I was taken to meet my ‘client’ in an airless, windowless room, decorated with a table and two chairs bolted to the floor.
Vince swaggered into the room escorted by a police officer whose happy grin and bright red lip gloss seemed at odds with the whole, bizarre situation.
The other surprising thing was that Vince wore a well-cut suit and crisp white shirt, both of which were now covered in dog hair and paw marks.
“Gracie!” shouted Vince, crushing me in a huge bear-hug. “You came!”
“Good luck with that one!” laughed the police officer, and she left the room, shaking her head.
“Hmpfh!” I groaned in a muffled voice, trying to free myself from Vince’s iron grip. “Put me down! Now!”
I’d learned that Vince responded best if you spoke to him like his dogs—with clear commands in short sentences.
He beamed at me. “You look nice. Your cheeks are all pink—it suits you.”
I ignored his comment, grit my teeth, then pulled out a notepad and pencil from my briefcase.
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?”
She’d come! Gracie had come! I couldn’t believe me fookin’ luck! I’d been certain she’d have sent Rick instead. He was me best mate, but he weren’t no lawyer. And I’d got meself in a right pile of shit this time. Even with a couple of sexy birds arresting me, I hadn’t been able to talk my way out of this one.
But there she sat, in the middle of the night, cool as a cucumber, her soft hazel eyes trying very hard to look annoyed. But she wasn’t fooling me.
Grace cared. I knew that she tried very hard to hide that fact at the firm of sharks where she worked, but she couldn’t hide it from her friends.
I reached across the table and held her hand.
“How are me dogs?”
She gave me a small, reluctant smile as she tugged her hand free.
“Well, they’d all been very good—no accidents—but they were busting to go out. Tap came straight back in, but Zeus and Tyson had a good snuffle around outside. I, um, gave them a biscuit each, I hope that’s okay? I wasn’t sure if they had allergies or anything. And I refilled the water bowl.”
She looked so worried and anxious that I wanted to kiss a smile back onto her pretty lips, but I knew that would just earn me a slap—which wouldn’t be the first time. No one kissed Gracie without her permission.
“They’re good dogs,” I nodded. “How was Tap?”
All three were rescue dogs, but Tap was special. I’d found her wandering around a building site when I’d been on a shoot in Dubai. Her back left leg had a huge, manky cut and I could tell that she was in pain. So I’d tempted her out with a few veggie crisps and took her to a local vet. He couldn’t save the leg and it took me four months to bring her home. She got nervous if I left her alone too long, but had the sweetest temperament. She liked to tap me with her front paw when she wanted a cuddle, which is how she got her name from. She was my special girl.
Gracie’s smile faded. “Tap was more anxious than the others. I felt really bad leaving her again. But I’ll drop in on my way to work.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “That’s alright, Gracie, I’ll do that meself.”
She gave me her trademark irritated stare.
“Vincent,” she said slowly and clearly like I was five years old. “Vincent, you’ve been charged with two violations, three misdemeanors, and there’s a very real chance that the prosecutor will push for a felony charge! The only place you’ll be going right now is to your arraignment, and they might not even post bail because you’re a Brit and potentially a flight risk. At the very least, you’ll have to surrender your passport.”
I leaned back in my chair, frowning. “So, the police are a bit upset with me?”
She rubbed her forehead. “Yes, Vincent. The police are upset with you. So is the director of the animal shelter.” She glared at me and tapped her pencil against her blank notepad. “Now then, just so tonight isn’t a complete waste of my time, why don’t you tell me exactly what happened when you left your apartment his evening. Don’t leave out anything.”
“Are you sure?”
Her lips thinned in irritation. It was kind of weird how much she turned me on when she did that.
“Right,” I said, adjusting my pants as my trouser-snake sat up and took notice of Grace’s sweet face and glorious little titties.
“Stop staring at my chest!” she said crossly.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. It’s force of habit.”
She rubbed her forehead again. I hoped she didn’t have a headache.
“What time did you leave your condo?”
She sighed and stared at the ceiling. “And where did you go?”
“I was meeting this woman off Tinder at her hotel about 8.30pm, and so we chatted for a bit, had a few drinks, did the business—twice—I had a quick shower and left.”
Grace stabbed at her notepad, leaving black squiggles all over it. Maybe lawyers were like doctors with their terrible handwriting.
“What time did you leave the hotel?”
Her mouth dropped open. “You had sex twice and left the hotel half-an-hour after you arrived? Can anyone confirm that?”
I grinned at her. “Roxy could confirm it—she was counting her orgasms. Had to use both hands. To count, I mean.”
Grace tapped the pencil on the table in a fast, annoyed rhythm.
“And I mean, can anyone other than Roxy confirm what time you left the hotel?”
“Oh right, yeah. I asked the doorman about vegan restaurants in the area and he suggested a couple so I tipped him a tenner. He’ll remember me.”
She made a note of that then looked up.
“And when you left the hotel, where did you go next?”
“Well, I was starving so I was going to check out one of the places the bloke at the hotel suggested, but I never got there.”
“Why was that?”
The anger reared up inside me again as I remembered what happened next.
“I was walking past this building and I could hear dogs barking, like really crying and upset. Turned out the place was an animal shelter but it’s not staffed at night. There was a notice on the door saying that they needed to re-home five dogs or they were going to be euthanized in 72 hours! That’s the fookin’ word they used, euthanized, like it was a good thing and not murder. And all I could think was that those dogs needed to be saved! So I legged it over the wall, kicked open the door and started letting them out of their cages. Then the cops turned up.”
Grace stared at me, then looked down at my charge sheet.
“It says here that you’d gotten leashes on five of the dogs and had six puppies stuffed in the pockets of your jacket.”
“They were cold,” I said, leaning forward. “They were only little bugs, too small to put on leads.”
Grace’s lips moved like she wanted to say something, but the words didn’t come. Finally, she sighed.
“Vincent, what were you going to do with 11 adult dogs and six puppies?”
“Take them home with me,” I grinned at her.
She blinked several times. “And then what?”
“Ah, well, I hadn’t quite worked out that part, but I’m sure I could have re-homed them. Everyone loves dogs, right? Every family should have a dog—you can learn a lot from animals.”
She shook her head but I didn’t think she was disagreeing with me.
“Did you have any intent to sell them?”
“Course not!” I said, somewhat insulted. “I just wanted them to have a proper home, not live their lives in cages. It’s not right—they haven’t don’t anything wrong.” I had to swallow the lump in my throat. “It’s not their fault they got born at the wrong time in the wrong place.”
Grace’s eyes glistened.
“So, shall I tell the Judge that and he’ll let me go?” I asked hopefully.
Grace sighed again. “Oh, Vincent,” she said.
“That’s me name, don’t wear it out!” I grinned.
Grace didn’t smile. I wished she would—she had a smashing smile.
“Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. Tomorrow morning, you’ll be brought before a magistrate judge for an initial hearing. I’ll be there as your attorney, God help me. This is the arraignment and it’s when the judge decides if you’ll be held in prison or released on bail. You’ll also be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. I suggest, given the evidence, that you plead guilty. The judge will post bail—we hope—and you walk out of there. The prosecutor won’t want his or her time tied up in court on this, so we’ll get down to plea bargaining. That means I try to persuade him or her of a lesser sentence, like a fine or community service.”
I frowned, trying to follow what she was telling me. “So, I can go home after I meet the judge tomorrow morning?”
“Let’s hope so. Just stick to the facts … and Vincent, try to say as little as possible.”
“Maybe the judge is a dog lover?” I said hopefully. “He’ll be on my side!”
“The judge is on the side of the law,” she said severely. “Now, let’s talk money. Bail could be up to $5,000 but maybe less if the judge is an animal lover,” and she smirked at me when she said that. “And you should know that I bill at $400 an hour.”
I grinned at her. “Really?”
“Good for you! That’s fookin’ fab!”
“I don’t have any money.”
Her eyebrows rocketed. “You expect me to do this pro bono?”
“What’s the singer of U2 got to do with it?”
“Pro bono, not Bono! It means ‘for free’.
“Cheers! You’re a love.”
“Wait! That was a question!” She stared at me. “Oh, never mind.”
“And how are you going to post bail?” she asked faintly.