A victim of child prostitution is targeted for death by the men who used her.
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Mr. Baxter, died and left Chastity the bulk of his estate. Great right? That was until she faced his greedy relative in a court battle over the estate, which opens a can of Secrets. Court exposure sets off a string of events that reach as high as the United States Senate Chambers and as low as State prison walls. Through everything, Chastity once again must face her past Secrets. Desperate measures won’t allow her to push her childhood friend, Lt. Cmdr. Kenton Stone to the side, she needs his help, even though she hides the biggest Secret of all from him.
Chastity March admitted she’d lost this round. After multiple refusals to attend mediation, today she waved the white towel in surrender as she strode down the eerie halls of the old Philadelphia law firm.
The clicks of her serviceable low-heeled pumps against the beige ceramic tiles competed with the loud thumps in her chest. Tendrils of cold seeped from paneled walls plastered with portraits, a pictorial morgue of men and women who were long dead. Like a fox salivating over sheep, their faces leapt at her as she passed. Slashes of smiles, gruesome in their attempt to appear benevolent, mocked her. She suspected these vultures had created gold nests from the fear and ignorance of people like Ms. Cook, the elderly housekeeper at the ranch. The thought leached all moisture from her mouth and throat.
Each dreaded step to the opened doorway at the end of the hall sent the nausea already churning in her gut, up a notch. An acrid taste filled the back of her throat as she drew closer to the room. Closer to the inquisition. Closer to the disaster with her name on it.
Today, she'd dressed in her best black suit, each of the five buttons securely fastened on the boxy jacket. The straight skirt fell a respectable distance below her knees. She'd pulled back her dark, thick curly hair into a chignon lying on the base of her neck; stubborn tendrils escaped from the sides, caressing her dark face. Her goal was to look professional, act professional, be professional; but most of all, don't kick Maude Stone’s lily-white ass. Not that the woman deserved her consideration, she didn't; however, since she represented Mr. Baxter's estate she'd put her personal feelings aside. For the next few hours anyway.
Inhaling, she bolstered her wavering courage before stopping at the doorway. Sunlight glinted off three drinking glasses set on the long table at the rear of the room. Two people sat around an oval mahogany table in the middle of the room, talking softly. One was an older white male with brownish-blonde hair, average build, and a large round face with buck teeth. The other was an anorexic-looking older woman with blondish hair, pale skin and thin, almost non-existent, lips.
Chastity’s eyes slid to the corner of the room, widening in pleasure at seeing Mr. Jamison, Mr. Baxter's attorney, well, her attorney now, who sat looking at some papers. One knot in her stomach eased at the sight of someone she knew who wasn't overtly hostile toward her. Entering the room, head high as Mr. Baxter had instructed, she headed toward her attorney, aware that all conversation had stopped.
Either he heard her approach or he’d been watching the doorway, because he stood with a welcoming smile and extended his hand to her.
Mr. Jamison pulled out a chair for her. "Hello, Chastity. How are you?" His deep husky voice brought a smile to her face. Calm and soothing, she wondered if he practiced to get it just right.
Another knot unfurled in her stomach. Moisture returned to her mouth, allowing her to return his greeting without stammering. She sat and pulled her chair toward the table. "I'm fine, sir."
"Call me Richard. I'm your attorney now." His palm rested on her tightly clasped hands lying on her lap. "Don't worry, things will be fine. This is just a preliminary. David told me he discussed this possibility with you." His brow rose in question.
She nodded after realizing he spoke of Mr. Baxter. "Yes. Yes, he did. But, I never liked the idea, plus it’s a long drive from the ranch." She slid her hands from beneath his and looked around the table.
He leaned forward and spoke softly. "I understand. David explained you've only left the ranch a few times in the past ten years."
She nodded. In order to keep her tough skin tight, she veered away from all discussion about the ranch.
"We'll try and wrap this up quickly, then you can be on your way." He smiled and returned to the papers he'd been looking over.
Exhaling, Chastity fought the rising nausea at the thought of answering questions about her life, about Mr. Baxter, about the ranch. Some things should be left alone. Two more people entered the room.
She glanced at Mr. Jamison's scowling face and followed the line of his gaze. Her stomach dropped, kicking her heart into high gear as she recognized the overblown, plasticized face of Maude Stone, Mr. Baxter's sister. The greedy bitch who had started this mess.
At five foot three and two hundred pounds, she'd stuffed herself into a light pink suit. Her belly hung over the top of her skirt and the tight sleeves of her jacket threatened to cut off her circulation at any moment. Next to her stood a short, gray haired woman with large lips that appeared frozen in a pout. Not at all attractive on a woman her age.
Chastity's stomach knotted back up with a vengeance. A buzzing sound that she recognized as nerves, serenaded her mind. Pushing everything away, she focused on her reason for being here. Mr. Baxter had given her the ranch. It was hers. People counted on her to be strong and win this battle. Little by little, her discomfort eased. At least she could sit without losing her breakfast.
Besides, this wasn't about her. No matter how they worded the request for mediation, she knew better. Time to squash her fears and do what Mr. Baxter had told her to do, exactly as they'd rehearsed. She sat straight. Random thoughts flew around her mind, but she refused to allow dread and anxiety to lodge in her psyche.
"Mr. Jamison, I see your client is here. The plaintiff is here as well, shall we begin?" The anorexic woman's deep voice startled Chastity out of her reverie.
"Yes, thank you,” Mr. Jamison answered.
The woman nodded. "Good. My name is Ms. Jackson. I will serve as Mediator today. Due to the nature of this claim, I have asked Mr. John Abrams to assist since he has a lot of experience with these types of cases." She pointed to the man seated next to her before looking across the table at Maude Stone.
"As attorney for Ms. Stone, we appreciate any assistance in setting these matters straight as expeditiously as possible." Her attorney flipped through a stack of papers, before glancing across the table to Mr. Jamison.
The mediator nodded. "A grievance was filed against the will of Mr. David Baxter by his sister, Mrs. Maude Stone— “
“Why am I here wasting my time?” Chastity blurted, unable to hold it in any longer, her jaw tight. “Mr. Baxter had the right to leave his money and property to whoever he wanted to.” Brows raised and head tilted, she stared at the shellacked hair on Maude Baxter’s head and wished she had a match to send it sky-high in flames.
“If he weren’t unduly influenced, which I believe he was,” Maude snapped, her eyes narrowed in challenge.
The heifer wants to play. Bring it on. “So you’re rewriting the law now?” She shoved a tendril of hair behind her ear.
“Just stating it so you can understand.” Her tone dripped acid.
“Cut the crap, you’re fighting his will ‘cause I’m black. If I were white, your nose’d be so far up my ass, I’d be breathing for you.” He’d told her to come out fighting, throw down the gauntlet.
Maude Stone's neck and shoulders tensed at the distasteful confrontation. “What’s up with you people?” She chuckled with an evil grin and pushed herself forward, her breast squashed against the table.
Chastity’s teeth snapped together as her face blazed. “You people?” Eyes widening, she leaned forward, palms on the table, and stood. “Oh hell no, you didn’t.” This bitch doesn’t know me.
Maude rolled her eyes. “Yeah, anytime something happens, you scream it’s because of your color. That’s getting so old. Somebody says something against the President, it's because he’s black. If the police make a mistake, take down the wrong person, it’s because he’s black; if the rent goes up, it because he’s black; if the sun don’t shine, it’s because of somebody black. Damn, the sun don’t just shine on black people. Listen, the only color that matters in the world today is green. And I’m fighting my brother’s will because you’re a gold-digging whore.”