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Falling for Rachel

Nora Roberts

  Falling for Rachel

  The Stanislaskis

  Book Three

  Nora Roberts

  The Stanislaskis: an unforgettable family saga by #1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts

  Landlocked in Manhattan, rugged seaman Zack Muldoon needed a tough, no-nonsense lawyer to save his kid brother’s delinquent hide. Public defender Rachel Stanislaski was not what he had in mind—until he discovered there was a lot more to the beautiful, coolheaded attorney than met the eye…and found himself falling for her, hook, line and sinker.

  Mary Kay, here’s one just for you
















  Nick couldn’t figure out how he’d been so damn stupid. Maybe it was more important to be part of the gang than he liked to admit. Maybe he was mad at the world in general and figured it was only right to get his licks in when he had the chance. And certainly he’d have lost face if he’d backed out when Reece and T.J. and Cash were so fired up.

  But he’d never actually broken the law before.

  Not quite true, he reminded himself as he pulled himself through the broken window and into the back of the electronics store. But they’d only been little laws. Setting up a three-card monte scam over on Madison for suckers and tourists, hawking hot watches or Gucci knockoffs up on Fifth, forging a couple of ID’s so that he could buy a beer. He’d worked in a chop shop for a while, but it wasn’t as if he’d stolen the cars. He’d just broken them down for parts. He’d gotten stung a few times for fighting with the Hombres, but that was a matter of honor and loyalty.

  Breaking into a store and stealing calculators and portable stereos was a big leap. While it had seemed like a lark over a couple of beers, the reality of it was setting those brews to churning in his stomach.

  The way Nick saw it, he was trapped, as he’d always been. There was no easy way out.

  “Hey, man, this is better than swiping candy bars, right?” Reece’s eyes, dark and surly, scanned the storeroom shelves. He was a short man with a rough complexion who’d spent several of his twenty years in Juvenile Hall. “We’re gonna be rich.”

  T.J. giggled. It was his way of agreeing with anything Reece said. Cash, who habitually kept his own counsel, was already shoving boxes of video games in the black duffel he carried.

  “Come on, Nick.” Reece tossed him an army-surplus bag. “Load it up.”

  Sweat began to roll down Nick’s back as he shoved radios and minirecorders into the sack. What the hell was he doing here? he asked himself. Ripping off some poor slob who was just trying to make a living? It wasn’t like fleecing tourists or selling someone else’s heat. This was stealing, for God’s sake.

  “Listen, Reece, I—” He broke off when Reece turned and shined the flashlight in Nick’s eyes.

  “Got a problem, bro?”

  Trapped, Nick thought again. Copping out now wouldn’t stop the others from taking what they’d come for. And it would only bring him humiliation.

  “No. No, man, no problem.” Anxious to get it all over with, he shoved more boxes in without bothering to look at them. “Let’s not get too greedy, okay? I mean, we got to get the stuff out, then we got to fence it. We don’t want to take more than we can handle.”

  His lips pulled back in a sneer, Reece slapped Nick on the back. “That’s why I keep you around. Your practical mind. Don’t worry about turning the stuff. I told you, I got a connection.”

  “Right.” Nick licked his dry lips and reminded himself he was a Cobra. It was all he’d ever been, all he ever would be.

  “Cash, T.J., take that first load out to the car.” Reece flipped the keys. “Make sure you lock it. Wouldn’t want any bad guys stealing anything, would we?”

  T.J.’s giggles echoed off the ceiling as he wiggled out the window. “No, sir.” He pushed his wraparound sunglasses back on his nose. “Thieves everywhere these days. Right, Cash?”

  Cash merely grunted and wrestled his way out the window.

  “That T.J.’s a real idiot.” Reece hefted a boxed VCR. “Give me a hand with this, Nick.”

  “I thought you said we were just going for the small stuff.”

  “Changed my mind.” Reece pushed the box into Nick’s arms. “My old lady’s been whining for one of these.” Reece tossed back his hair before climbing through the window. “You know your problem, Nick? Too much conscience. What’s it ever gotten you? Now, the Cobras, we’re family. Only time you got to have a conscience is with your family.” He held out his arms. When Nick put the VCR into them, Reece slipped off into the dark.

  Family, Nick thought. Reece was right. The Cobras were his family. You could count on them. He’d had to count on them. Pushing all his doubts aside, Nick shouldered his bag. He had to think of himself, didn’t he? His share of tonight’s work would keep a roof over his head for another month or two. He could have paid for his room the straight way if he hadn’t gotten laid off from the delivery-truck job.

  Lousy economy, he decided. If he had to steal to make ends meet, he could blame the government. The idea made him snicker as he swung one leg out of the window. Reece was right, he thought. You had to look out for number one.

  “Need a hand with that?”

  The unfamiliar voice had Nick freezing halfway out the window. In the shadowy light he saw the glint of a gun, the flash of a badge. He gave one fleeting, panicky thought to shoving the bag at the silhouette and making a run for it. Shaking his head, the cop stepped closer. He was young, dark, with a weary kind of resignation in the eyes that warned Nick that he’d been this route before.

  “Do yourself a favor,” the cop suggested. “Just chalk it up to bad luck.”

  Resigned, Nick slipped out of the window, set the bag down, faced the wall and assumed the position. “Is there any other kind?” he muttered, and let his mind wander as he was read his rights.


  With a briefcase in one hand and a half-eaten bagel in the other, Rachel raced up the courthouse steps. She hated to be late. Detested it. Knowing she’d drawn Judge Hatchet-Face Snyder for the morning hearing only made her more determined to be inside and at the defense table by 8:59. She had three minutes to spare, and would have had twice that if she hadn’t stopped by the office first.

  How could she have known that her boss would be lying in wait with another case file?

  Two years of working as a public defender, she reminded herself as she hit the doors at a run. That was how she should have known.

  She scanned the elevators, gauged the waiting crowd and opted for the stairs. Cursing her heels, she took them two at a time and swallowed the rest of the bagel. There was no use fantasizing about the coffee she craved to wash it down with.

  She screeched to a halt at the courtroom doors and took a precious ten seconds to straighten her blue serge jacket and smooth down her tousled, chin-length black hair. A quick check showed her that her earrings were still in place. She looked at her watch and let out a deep breath.

  Right on time, Stanislaski, she told herself as she moved sedately through the doors and into the courtroom. Her client, a twenty-three-year-old hooker with a heart of flint, was being escorted in as Rachel took her place. The solicitation charges would probably have earned her no more than a light fine and time served, but stealing the john’s wallet had upped the ante.

  As Rachel had explained to her bitter
client, not all customers were too embarrassed to squawk when they lost two hundred in cash and a gold card.

  “All rise!”

  Hatchet-Face strode in, black robes flapping around all six-foot three and two hundred and eighty pounds of him. He had skin the color of a good cappuccino and a face as round and unfriendly as the pumpkins Rachel remembered carving with her siblings every Halloween.

  Judge Snyder tolerated no tardiness, no sass and no excuses in his courtroom. Rachel glanced over at the assistant district attorney who would be the opposing counsel. They exchanged looks of sympathy and got to work.

  Rachel got the hooker off with ninety days. Her client was hardly brimming with gratitude as the bailiff led her away. She had better luck with an assault case…. After all, Your Honor, my client paid for a hot meal in good faith. When the pizza arrived cold, he pointed out the problem by offering some to the delivery boy. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm had him offering it a bit too heartily, and during the ensuing scuffle said pizza was inadvertently dumped on the delivery boy’s head….

  “Very amusing, Counselor. Fifty dollars, time served.”

  Rachel wrangled her way through the morning session. A pickpocket, a drunk-and-disorderly, two more assaults and a petty larceny. They rounded things off at noon with a shoplifter, a two-time loser. It took all of Rachel’s skill and determination to convince the judge to agree to a psychiatric evaluation and counseling.

  “Not too shabby.” The ADA was only a couple of years older than Rachel’s twenty-six, but he considered himself an old hand. “I figure we broke even.”

  She smiled and shut her briefcase. “No way, Spelding. I edged you out with the shoplifter.”

  “Maybe.” Spelding, who had been trying to wheedle his way into a date for weeks, walked out beside her. “Could be his psych will come back clean.”

  “Sure. The guy’s seventy-two years old and steals disposable razors and greeting cards with flowers on them. Obviously he’s perfectly rational.”

  “You PDs are such bleeding hearts.” But he said it lightly, because he greatly admired Rachel’s courtroom style. As well as her legs. “Tell you what, I’ll buy you lunch, and you can try to convince me why society should turn the other cheek.”

  “Sorry.” She shot him a quick smile and opted for the stairs again. “I’ve got a client waiting for me.”

  “In jail?”

  She shrugged. “That’s where I find them. Better luck next time, Spelding.”

  The precinct house was noisy and smelled strongly of stale coffee. Rachel entered with a little shiver. The weatherman had been a little off that day with his promise of Indian summer. A thick, nasty-looking cloud cover was moving in over Manhattan. Rachel was already regretting the fact that she’d grabbed neither coat nor umbrella on her dash out of her apartment that morning.

  With any luck, she figured, she’d be back in her office within the hour, and out of the coming rain. She exchanged a few greetings with some of the cops she knew and picked up her visitor’s badge at the desk.

  “Nicholas LeBeck,” she told the desk sergeant. “Attempted burglary.”

  “Yeah, yeah…” The sergeant flipped through his papers. “Your brother brought him in.”

  Rachel sighed. Having a brother who was a cop didn’t always make life easier. “So I hear. Did he make his phone call?”


  “Anyone come looking for him?”


  “Great.” Rachel shifted her briefcase. “I’d like him brought up.”

  “You got it. Looks like they’ve given you another loser, Ray. Take conference room A.”

  “Thanks.” She turned, dodging a swarthy-looking man in handcuffs and the uniformed cop behind him. She managed to snag a cup of coffee, and took it with her into a small room that boasted one barred window, a single long table and four scarred chairs. Taking a seat, she flipped open her briefcase and dug out the paperwork on Nicholas LeBeck.

  It seemed her client was nineteen and unemployed and rented a room on the Lower East Side. She let out a little sigh at his list of priors. Nothing cataclysmic, she mused, but certainly enough to show a bent for trouble. The attempted burglary had taken him up a step, and it left her little hope of having him treated as a minor. There had been several thousand dollars’ worth of electronic goodies in his sack when Detective Alexi Stanislaski collared him.

  She’d be hearing from Alex, no doubt, Rachel thought. There was nothing her brother liked better than to rub her nose in it.

  When the door of the conference room opened, she continued to sip her coffee as she took stock of the man being led in by a bored-looking policeman.

  Five-ten, she estimated. A hundred and forty. Needed some weight. Dark blond hair, shaggy and nearly shoulder-length. His lips were quirked in what looked like a permanent smirk. It might have been an attractive mouth otherwise. A tiny peridot stud that nearly matched his eyes gleamed in his earlobe. The eyes, too, would have been attractive if not for the bitter anger she read there.

  “Thank you, Officer.” At her slight nod, the cop uncuffed her client and left them alone. “Mr. LeBeck, I’m Rachel Stanislaski, your lawyer.”

  “Yeah?” He dropped into a chair, then tipped it back. “Last PD I had was short and skinny and had a bald spot. Looks like I got lucky this time.”

  “On the contrary. You were apprehended crawling out of a broken window of a storeroom of a locked store, with an estimated six thousand dollars’ worth of merchandise in your possession.”

  “The markup on that crap is incredible.” It wasn’t easy to keep the sneer in place after a miserable night in jail, but Nick had his pride. “Hey, you got a cigarette on you?”

  “No. Mr. LeBeck, I’d like to get your hearing set as soon as possible so that we can arrange for bail. Unless, of course, you prefer to spend your nights in jail.”

  He shrugged his thin shoulders and tried to look unconcerned. “I’d just as soon not, sweetcakes. I’ll leave that to you.”

  “Fine. And it’s Stanislaski,” she said mildly. “Ms. Stanislaski. I’m afraid I was only given your file this morning on my way to court, and had time for no more than a brief conversation with the DA assigned to your case. Because of your previous record, and the type of crime involved here, the state had decided to try you as an adult. The arrest was clean, so you won’t get a break there.”

  “Hey, I don’t expect breaks.”

  “People rarely get them.” She folded her hands over his file. “Let’s cut to the chase, Mr. LeBeck. You were caught, and unless you want to weave some fairy tale about seeing the broken window and going in to make a citizen’s arrest…”

  He had to grin. “Not bad.”

  “It stinks. You’re guilty, and since the arresting officer didn’t make any mistakes, and you have an unfortunate list of priors, you’re going to pay. How much you pay is going to depend on you.”

  He continued to rock in his chair, but a fresh line of sweat was sneaking down his spine. A cell. This time they were going to lock him in a cell—not just for a few hours, but for months, maybe years.

  “I hear the jails are overcrowded—costs the tax-payers a lot of money. I figure the DA would spring for a deal.”

  “It was mentioned.” Not just bitterness, Rachel realized. Not just anger. She saw fear in his eyes now, as well. He was young and afraid, and she didn’t know how much she would be able to help him. “About fifteen thousand in merchandise was taken out of the store, over and above what was in your possession. You weren’t alone in that store, LeBeck. You know it, I know it, the cops know it. And so does the DA. You give them some names, a lead on where that merchandise might be sitting right now, and I can cut you a deal.”

  His chair banged against the floor. “The hell with that. I never said anybody was with me. Nobody can prove it, just like nobody can prove I took more than what I had in my hands when the cop took me.”

  Rachel leaned forward. It was a subtle move, but one th
at had Nick’s eyes locking on hers. “I’m your lawyer, LeBeck, and the one thing you’re not going to do is lie to me. You do, and I’ll leave you twisting in the wind, just like your buddies did last night.” Her voice was flat, passionless, but he heard the anger simmering beneath. He had to fight to keep from squirming in his chair. “You don’t want to cut a deal,” she continued, “that’s your choice. So you’ll serve three to five instead of the six months in and two years probation I can get you. Either way, I’ll do my job. But don’t sit there and insult me by saying you pulled this alone. You’re penny-ante, LeBeck.” It pleased her to see the anger back in his face. The fear had begun to soften her. “Con games and sticky fingers. This is the big leagues. What you tell me stays with me unless you want it different. But you play it straight with me, or I walk.”

  “You can’t walk. You were assigned.”

  “And I can get reassigned. Then you’ll go through this with somebody else.” She began to pile papers back in her briefcase. “That would be your loss. Because I’m good. I’m real good.”

  “If you’re so good, how come you’re working for the PD’s office?”

  “Let’s just say I’m paying off a debt.” She snapped her briefcase closed. “So what’s it going to be?”

  Indecision flickered over his face for just a moment, making him look young and vulnerable, before he shook his head. “I’m not going to turn in my friends. No deal.”

  She let out a short, impatient breath. “You were wearing a Cobra jacket when you were collared.”

  They’d taken that when they booked him—just as they’d taken his wallet, his belt, and the handful of change in his pocket. “So what?”

  “They’re going to go looking for your friends, those same friends who are standing back and letting you take the heat all alone. The DA can push this to burglary and hang a twenty-thousand-dollar theft over your head.”