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A Man of Privilege

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“Please. Call me Rosebud.”

“Okay. Rosebud. I’m not trying to confound anyone.”

“That’s what makes it so interesting.” Rosebud continued to study her.

Maggie decided maybe she didn’t feel so comfortable making small talk. She decided to try taking over the conversation. “Tommy said you’d gone to school with Mr. Carlson.” Just saying his name out loud made her think back to the sight of him standing in her garden, looking happy to see her. Maybe she could get some answers on what kind of man James was.

“Did he, now?” A small grin flashed across Rosebud’s face, but it was gone before Maggie could figure out what it meant. “That’s true. He was top of the class. He’s a damn good lawyer.” She added, “Agent Yellow Bird mentioned that he told you a few things about how James operates.”

“He just said Mr. Carlson likes to have insurance policies.” Tommy hadn’t mentioned anything about generous gifts or hot touches, though. Maybe that wasn’t how James normally operated.

“That’s correct. When James promises that he won’t use your deposition unless he has to, I can personally guarantee that he will keep that promise. He will only use your information if the rest of his case falls apart. A worst-case scenario, if you will.”

A lawyer who kept his promises? Rosebud seemed nice and all, but how could Maggie take the word of one lawyer about another? “Will that happen?” She’d had enough worst-case scenarios to last her the rest of her life. “Tommy said he’s never lost a case.”

“It’s possible, but not probable.” A sad sort of smile pulled at the corners of Rosebud’s mouth. “He’s never cashed in a policy, so you should be safe. He’s offering you quite a deal in return for your information. Expunging a record isn’t something done every day, you know, and relocation would cost him thousands.”

“I wasn’t sure.” About anything. More to the point, she wasn’t sure if she should want what she wanted, because she wanted to see James again. But seeing him again would mean telling him about what happened all those years ago, and if that happened, he’d see exactly how much of a nobody she was.

Rosebud didn’t seem upset by that answer. Instead, she nodded and smiled. “Is there something else you wanted from James? Something he didn’t offer?”

The way she asked the question put Maggie on edge. “Why? What did he say?”

There it was again, that smile that was too quick for her to interpret. “It’s safe to say that he’s not trying to screw you over. His morals are surprisingly well grounded for a lawyer. He did mention that he botched your first meeting badly, and he was trying to make up for that.”

A special prosecutor would tell another lawyer he’d messed up? A new idea occurred to Maggie. James had said he’d picked up on the Lakota tradition of gifts “along the way.” Rosebud Armstrong was a Lakota. “How well do you know him?”

“We’ve been friends for a long time.” Her gaze didn’t waver. “For a man of his station and aspirations in life, James has a unique talent. He is singularly able to see a person as they really are—not as they were or as they should be, and not as everyone else sees them. He judges a person on who he—or she—truly is.” She got a wistful look on her face, as if she was seeing things that had happened a long time ago. “I think you can understand how hard it was to be the only Indian in law school, and a woman at that. But James never saw me in those terms. And in return, all he asked was not to be judged as the scion of the Carlson dynasty. That’s why he’s out here, scraping by as a prosecutor instead of being a lobbyist in D.C. Everything he has, he has earned.”

While Maggie tried to guess what scion meant, she realized something. It sure sounded like Rosebud was talking around something, and that something sure seemed to be that maybe, just maybe, she and James had dated. Maybe he liked Indian women, Maggie thought. Suddenly, the prospect that he liked her seemed more plausible, less daydreamy.

Maggie chewed on all of that information. For so long, her life had been quiet and predictable. She beaded shirts and quilled moccasins and planted gardens and baked muffins. Every Thursday, she went to the post office in Aberdeen. She watched silly TV shows and drank tea.

Now James Carlson was in her life, whether she wanted him there or not. She thought back to how he’d looked at her, with that strange mix of desire and respect. Did he see her for what she was? Was it possible for someone to know about her past and not sit in judgment?

Was it possible he was interested in her?

Rosebud interrupted her thoughts. “So what I’d like now is for you to tell me the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. James thinks he knows what happened a long time ago, but he wasn’t there, and neither was I. Before I advise you as your lawyer, I have to know everything.” Rosebud got out a recorder and turned it on.

Maggie told her everything. Her life’s story took three hours and two pots of coffee.

James’s phone buzzed to life on his desk. Rosebud’s number. “What did she say? Is she okay?”

Rosebud sighed heavily. “I’m fine, thanks for asking. And the boys are great, but they miss Dan. He’ll be back from Texas this weekend, though.”

James rolled his eyes, grateful she couldn’t see him do it. “Business first. How is Maggie doing?”

Maybe he was imagining things, but he swore he heard Rosebud smile. “She’ll do it—on one condition.”

“I already laid my cards out on the table. What else could she possibly want?”

Rosebud chuckled. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’re crushing on her.”

“Get real. She’s a witness.” His defense mechanism was hardwired. At this point, Rosebud could have accused him of being white, and he still would have flatly denied it. Besides, crush was such a juvenile term. James would prefer to think of it as being attracted to Maggie. Because, after spending more time in her company, he was definitely attracted to her.

“I know you, James. It’s unlike you to not play close to the vest—unless you’ve got a vested interest in the outcome.”

This was exhibit A of why a lawyer should avoid working with an old lover. There were no secrets. “Have you considered the possibility that I’m concerned for her well-being?” That was a completely honest reason that had nothing to do with the way he’d let himself touch her on the shoulder. Even that small touch had left him humming the whole drive home.

Again with the knowing chuckling. “That is the only possibility, my friend.”

James debated hanging up on her, but that would only make the situation worse. He decided to redirect. “What does she want?”

“I’ll let you off easy—this time. But don’t think I’m going to let this drop. She also wants the record of Nanette Lincoln expunged.”

“What?” Or, more specifically, who? Maggie had introduced the older woman as Nanette Brown.

“Look it up. You always do.” Now Rosebud was teasing him. “Are we still on for dinner next Sunday?”

This was his one chance to get back at her. “As long as your housekeeper is doing the cooking—not you.”

“So crushing.” She giggled like a preteen girl. He half expected her to break into the “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song from his playground days. “You’re welcome to bring a guest, you know. And get back to me on that.”

What, was she suggesting he bring Maggie as a date? That would be a clear violation of the rules, and there was no way James was going to make such a rookie, public mistake. He couldn’t imagine a quicker way to derail all he had worked for.

Business first. He had to remember that. Nanette Lincoln. He scrawled out the name as he hung up the phone and then stared at it. There was only one possibility, really.

Maggie Eagle Heart wasn’t the only reformed criminal living in that house.

James pulled into an empty spot in front of Rosebud’s office. Next to Rosebud’s Audi was a Jeep wagon covered with equal parts rust and mud. Maggie was here. He tried to tell himself that he was only excited because this was another piece of his case. But what was the point of lying? He was looking forward to seeing her again. The two weeks since he’d been out to her house had seemed longer than normal.

Clark was waiting with a cup of coffee. “You can go into the conference room, Mr. Carlson. The court reporter is here. They’ll be in momentarily.”

James took his seat at the base of the table and got focused. He had a job to do today, and that job was getting a complete deposition from Maggie Eagle Heart. Nothing more and nothing less.

The door swung open, and Rosebud stepped into the room. “Morning, James,” she said with a smile that verged on coy. Before James could process what that smile could mean, Rosebud stepped to the side and Maggie entered the room.

For one excruciating second, James forgot how to breathe. He’d seen her looking sweetly pretty and covered in grime. He’d liked her both ways, but he’d never dreamed she could be this stunning.

She wore a cream-colored suit with silky piping and a ruffle at the bottom of the jacket. The skirt was pencil thin, clinging to her hips like an old lover. Her toes—with nails painted a siren-red—were peeping out of soft pink shoes that matched the top underneath the jacket. Her hair was sleek and smooth, not a wisp out of place, and her makeup was ready-for-a-close-up done. Someone had spent a lot of time polishing this woman.

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