Circle of the Red Lily #2
November 21, 2023
Available in: Audio, e-Book, Trade Size
She’ll risk everything to expose the truth.
Since her twin sister Sylvie’s disappearance seven years ago, single mother Mabel Reynolds has turned grief into action and become a strong voice for victims of violence and abuse. When new revelations shed light on what may have happened not only to Sylvie, but dozens of other women, Mabel’s hope for answers is reignited. But the new oh-so-charming DA overseeing the investigation seems more interested in a quick rather than an accurate resolution. With little faith in the system, Mabel isn’t about to stay quiet, not when she’s finally close to the truth. She’s willing to go up against anyone—even a smug, irritating, attractive DA to get the answers she and other families deserve.
Open and shut.
That’s what Assistant DA Paul Flynn has been told about his new assignment supervising a house of horrors case. With a high-profile conviction at stake, Paul can’t afford to make a wrong move if his professional goals are to be achieved. But Mabel Reynolds has his attention. All of it. Attraction aside, the woman knows far more than what’s in the official files which makes her something even more intriguing. But using Mabel as an asset means exposing her and her young daughter to even more danger. Danger that is closing in on them from every side. As even darker forces appear, and their lives are threatened, Paul is faced with risking not only his entire career, but also the one thing he never anticipated losing: his heart.
Mabel glanced up and stared into a pair of the most crystal-blue eyes she’d ever seen in her life. It took her a moment to see the rest of the face. Those eyes had a kind of gravitational pull that made looking anywhere else impossible. She sat up a bit straighter, murmured a goodbye to the nurse on the other end of her call, and quickly tapped off.
“Mr. Flynn.” She was up in a shot, her datebook dropping to the floor with a bit of a thud. They both bent, both reached out, fingertips grazing over one another as their heads nearly knocked together. Mabel jumped back, her face going hot. “Sorry. You, ah—you startled me.”
She prided herself on always being aware of her surroundings. Always. How had the man appeared out of nowhere? Had technology secretly come so far that he’d beamed himself in on some kind of stealth transporter beam?
“Then I’m the one who should apologize to you. Paul Flynn, ma’am.” He inclined his head.
His voice sounded like the smoothest bourbon—a little smoky, well-aged, and temptingly tantalizing.
What on earth was the matter with her?
They stood, Mabel juggling her datebook and phone as she quickly shoved both into her oversized, worn shoulder tote. Not looking directly at him didn’t seem to re-center her equilibrium. Her heart was ka-thudding all over the place, as if it had forgotten where it was supposed to be housed.
Paul Flynn was a man who commanded attention. Not only in stature and appearance but in attitude. She’d dealt with confident men before. Confident, egotistical, overbearing even. But this man displayed his self-assuredness on an entirely different and charming level. Her tingling toes signified that.
Mabel frowned. She didn’t tingle. She certainly never had before. Okay, once—maybe twice—but she also prided herself on being an excellent judge of character from the instant she met someone. It was nerves, she reminded herself. There was a lot riding on this meeting, so …. Yes, it was just nerves.
“I beg your pardon?” Mabel blinked, trying to connect what he’d said to reality. He lifted one hand to show her the Matterhorn frosting-topped cupcake he held. “Oh. Right.” She pinched her toes inside her boots, slung her bag over her shoulder, and wished she could turn down the flush in her cheeks to simmer. She glanced at the older security guard standing next to the metal detector near the entrance. “Charlie gave you one, huh?”
“He’s an ex-cop,” He shifted a thick, leather-strapped bag behind him and offered his other hand in greeting. “I have a feeling he was spreading the potential bribery evidence around.”
She accepted without thinking, the instant thrill of his touch shooting through her system and resetting her brain. “I don’t think bribery is the right—”
“You must be here to talk about Sylvie’s case.” His hold was firm, gentle, and without any hint of sweaty nerves. He wasn’t just cool as a cucumber; he could qualify as a subterranean deep freeze.
“I—” she almost lost her breath. Not the case. Not the Tenado case or, God forbid, the Lily Girls. Sylvie’s case. Something inside of her
unexpectedly broke open even as she reminded herself he was well-versed at playing games. “Yes, I am. I would like to. Please.”
Way to sound non-pathetic, Mabel.
Whatever control and determination she’d built up the past eight years seemed to be crumbling at this man’s imported leather-encased feet.
“How about we go upstairs to my office?” That smile of his came far too easily. “It’s a bit of a mess right now. Haven’t had a lot of time to unpack, but it’ll be more private than standing down here in the lobby.” He inclined his head and urged her to follow him. “Unless you’re adverse to chaos.”
“I have an eight-year-old. Chaos and I are old friends.”
“I’ll bet.” Was it her imagination, or had his attitude shifted? “Shall we?”
As they approached security, she glanced up at one of the security cameras in the corner of the lobby. Part of her wondered if this was a trick, a setup of some kind to get her to violate the restrictions his boss had placed on her.
“Would you like some coffee?” He motioned her ahead of him and quickly followed. “I haven’t gotten my brewer unpacked yet, but we could—” He indicated the coffee stand in the far corner of the lobby.
“No. No coffee, thanks.” She couldn’t seem to get a foothold on their conversation. Then she realized her uncertainty was probably what he wanted. Charm disarmed, especially when it was unexpected. Given that almost smirk of a smile on his full lips, things were going precisely as he’d planned for them to. “Would you mind if we took the stairs?” She hung back as he approached the bank of elevators nearby. “I missed my workout this morning.” Nothing like starting their professional relationship with a lie. The only workout Mabel tended to get was pulling open the fridge.
“The stairs it is.”
So easy, so congenial. So …. Mabel blew out a frustrated breath. This was not going at all the way she’d intended. Or expected. She was going to have to wrestle control back if she was going to find her footing.
The special investigator wore his tailored suit far more easily than most, as if he’d somehow been born in it. There was a relaxed presence about him that certainly didn’t scream lawyer or even prosecutor. The wavy hair she’d seen in her online search had been combed back and certainly spoke of the professionalism she knew him to possess. He was clearly someone who knew how to present himself.
She was not the kind of woman to have her head turned easily by a handsome man or her goals derailed by a charming smile. Keeley’s father had cured her of those trivialities. That said, Paul Flynn struck her as the kind of man who could change her mind.
About a lot of things. Her flat-heeled boots clacked against the steps.
Okay, this is your chance. Maybe your last chance. Keep it short. Keep it succinct. Keep it friendly. Be nice. Find out information. Above all, don’t get arrested.
“Must be nice to be back here. In Los Angeles,” she added when he glanced back at her over his shoulder.
“It’s not New York.” The light in his eyes dimmed a bit. “For future reference, I like caramel.”
“My favorite cupcake. For the next time you visit.”
“You sound pretty sure there’s going to be a next time.”
“I think it’s pure luck I’m being let up here at all,” she countered. “I have a pretty good idea my picture is up in security’s office as one of LA’s most wanted.”
“You’re not quite at that level.” He turned on a smile so bright it could have powered one of a dozen power stations in the city. “Not yet, anyway.”
The second-floor landing led to a long, wide hall lined with open doors and people milling about. “It’s just down here.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a set of keys as they approached a door that, unlike the others around them, didn’t display a name or title. “I’m used to an office with a view. I’m not entirely sure what I have qualifies.” The door swung open before he could slide the key into the lock.
The young man with dark, short hair pushed his glasses up with one finger, a surprisingly confident smile on his face. “Mr. Flynn. Kent Clark.”
He stuck out his hand for an eager shake. “I’ve been assigned as your paralegal and office assistant.”
“Kent … Clark?”
Try as she might, Mabel couldn’t help but duck her head to hide her smile.
After shaking Kent’s hand, Paul stepped into the reception area of his office. “Your dad a comic fan, Kent?”
Tan walls, Mabel noted. Tan carpet. Wood paneling. Completely nondescript, expected, and … boring. She glanced at Paul. All that
described the office perfectly. Paul Flynn, on the other hand? Not so much.
“No, sir,” Clark stated. “My mom. DC, though. Dad’s the Marvel …”
Kent eyed Mabel with more than a hint of suspicion. “When she’s trying to irritate him, she tells him she only married him for his name.”
“Family dynamics never fail to surprise me,” Paul told Mabel. “Kent, this is Mabel Reynolds.”
“Yes, sir.” Again with the less-than-approving look. “Everyone in this building is familiar with who she is.”
Mabel didn’t miss the way she sounded like a curse word.
“Ms. Reynolds and I are going to chat for a while. Get yourself settled in, Kent,” Paul told him, gesturing to the young man’s collection of boxes. “You and I can talk once Ms. Reynolds leaves.”
“Ah, yes, sir.” Kent hovered behind Mabel as she followed Paul through the wooden door to his office. “Ah, sir? DA Eichorn called. Your meeting with her has been shifted—”
“We can discuss my schedule later, Kent. Thanks.” His flash of a smile had Kent stepping back as Paul closed the door in his face. He turned and smiled at Mabel. “Please, have a seat.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Kent’s out there looking for a pitchfork,” Mabel said as Paul set the cupcake down in front of his computer monitor, set his case on his desk, and headed for the stack of three boxes piled in the back corner of the office. Beyond them was a small wet-bar area where he washed his hands before he dived into one of the boxes. Other than two padded chairs on the other side of the desk, a too-short, worn sofa across the room beneath a framed photograph of the Griffin Observatory, and some law texts lining bookshelves, the space was bare.
“Either a pitchfork or a torch,” he agreed. “I understand your reputation is well earned.”
“Good.” Mabel, still standing, crossed her arms over her chest. “Reputations are difficult to ignore. I like to think I’m equally so.”
“Can’t imagine anyone ignoring you.”
Mabel frowned. It was a line. Had to be. An effective one, given the way her heart jolted, but it was still a line. Rather than responding, she shoved her hands into the back pocket of her jeans and wandered over to look out the window.
Across the street sat the East Los Angeles Farmer’s Market where stands offered a variety of fresh fruit and veggies along with homemade goods. Just beyond the tents one could see Belvedere Park Lake, with its spacious expanses of grass offering sunny snack sites in the warmer seasons. In February, though? Not so much. “I can see why this view might be disappointing compared to New York, but it’s not bad.” Quintessential Los Angeles with its slightly hazy morning fog, with the promise of sunshine poking through the clouds.
“Actually, my New York office overlooks a deli and Indian restaurant.”
Paul shifted one of the boxes to the counter, flipped open the top. “Best chole masala I’ve ever had. Just need to find that … aha. Here we go.” He reached in with both hands and lifted out the rather elaborate coffee machine. “Never leave home without it.”
“I think you need to rethink your definition of chaos,” she said as she glanced around the rather spartan office. Even with the boxes, it was far from cluttered. She set her bag down in one of the two empty chairs across from his. “You travel pretty light if that’s all you brought.”
“Lighter than you think.” He glanced over his shoulder before refocusing his attention on setting the coffee machine near the outlet and plugging it in. After removing a handful of mugs from the box, he made quick work to set the small metal pot to brewing before he retrieved his attaché and removed his jacket. “Most of those boxes are printed-out files and documents I was sent regarding the case.”
“For the record, this is the neatest move-in I’ve ever seen.” Mabel turned away, not ready to face the sight of the man in well-fitted white shirtsleeves and a surprisingly sexy tie. Clearing her throat, she scrambled for something else to say. “Your office doesn’t even register on the chaos meter.”
She snuck a glance to see he was grinning, then looked away again. “Chaos is stepping on Legos in the middle of the night on your way to the bathroom or finding Barbie’s clothes in the laundry.”
“I imagine even Barbie needs to use the washing machine from time to time. The question is: Does Barbie do her own ironing?”
She turned back to him in time to catch him unbuttoning his cuffs and rolling up his sleeves. Her cheeks went warm at the sight of taut, toned forearms. Arm porn, Cass called Mabel’s affection for those particular appendages. That description wasn’t the least bit wrong.
Mabel fought back a smile even as she steeled herself. She’d been right about the charm. He had it in spades. Clearly, she needed to focus on building up an immunity to it. “Mr. Flynn—”
“Paul, please. May I call you Mabel?”
“Sure.” She crossed her arms over her chest again; then, realizing that made her come off as insecure, she shifted and dropped her arms to her sides. “Paul, I wanted to—”
“Sit, please.” He motioned to the chair while he shifted the stack of folders into more manageable piles along the counter behind his desk. Before he faced her again, he did a quick flip-through and pulled one free. “You sure I can’t get you some coffee? I know a caffeine addict when I see one.”
“Stop. Please.” Perched on the edge of the cushioned chair, she took a calming breath. She was here for Sylvie. To give her sister a voice. That was all that mattered. There wasn’t a force in the universe that could puncture the balloon of determination that had inflated eight years ago. “I’ve been through this polite get-me-to-drop-my-guard routine before with your boss. And with at least three of her underlings—and, to be honest, I’m tired of it. I came here today to get an assurance from you that you’re taking these disappearances seriously. Not to just charm me into a false sense of security before you usher me out again with no more answers than I walked in with.”
“I am taking the disappearances seriously.” His smile was quick but more somber this time. “I hope that doesn’t mean our meeting is over already.”
She simply stared, waiting, her pulse thudding in her throat.
“Underlings, huh?” Paul’s eyes sparked with dull amusement. “Please tell me you called them that to their faces, and where can I see a video of that interaction?”
Mabel’s mouth twisted. She might have called them that and worse, but only after they’d given her the runaround and she’d threatened a sit-in. Not that she was going to admit it to Paul. “How about we cut through all the bullshit?”
His eyes cooled. “I wasn’t aware—”
“Seriously.” Exhaustion she hadn’t expected to surge threatened to drain the energy completely out of her. She didn’t want to piss Paul off and close off the only remaining avenue in the DA’s office to get answers, but she needed him to know she meant business. “I’m running on sugar, adrenaline, and about ten hours sleep over the past three nights. I’ve got an eight-year-old with a sudden Stephen King obsession, tax season is about to land on me like a two-ton boulder on my shoulders, and you’re sitting there with a smile that looks like you just walked off the pages of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue.”
His brows shot up.
“So, please,” she said, finishing on a wave of anxiety she hadn’t realized she’d been riding. “Don’t continue with the affectations and devil-may-care attitude. I can assure you: This devil does care. A lot.”
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