SECOND ACT FOR CARRIE ARMSTRONG is a lighthearted and sweet romance with elements of suspense.
Carrie Armstrong is a widow and single mother of four children. She’s back working full time in the city while raising her kids in suburban New Jersey. She wants a calm life and a manageable job so she can make enough money to be able to focus on raising her kids.
Ian Gordon is an ambitious prosecutor and Carrie’s boss. He’s never let anyone or anything get in the way of his goals. He aims to wrap up the child abuse case he’s been recruited to prosecute so he can return to Washington, D.C. to continue to prosecute high profile cases on his journey to the top of his profession.
Carrie is the only lawyer in the office with the expertise to help Ian solve the child abuse case. He assigns her to the case in spite of her reservations, promising to make allowances for the time she needs to care for her kids.
Ian finds himself sucked up into the crazy world of Carrie Armstrong and her four kids and despite reservations he is soon immersed with all of it. Carrie doesn’t trust him or his intentions, afraid he’ll break her heart as well as her kids’.
Genre: Contemporary Romance ISBN ebook: 978-1-922548-33-7 ISBN PRINT D2D: 9798215684474 ASIN: B0CLZHBPW4
Word Count: 70, 485
|Amazon||Apple Books||Google Play||Barnes and Noble||Kobo||Scribd||Smashwords||Angus & Robertson Print|
(ebooks are available from all sites, and print is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and some from Angus and Robertson)
Carrie Armstrong hurried up the stairs from the subway. When she reached the top and stepped outside into the early autumn morning, she was in Foley Square, the court complex in lower Manhattan. She glanced at her watch and surveyed her surroundings as she caught her breath. It was only eight thirty. Fortunately, she had made good time which wasn’t easy when she was commuting from New Jersey and had to get four children off to school. She even had time for coffee.
Carrie crossed the street to the luncheonette on the corner. The coffee shop was a popular place at this hour and she needed to follow the drill or endure the wrath of the other customers who were also in a hurry. She gave her order of coffee, light with cream, no sugar, and headed over to the cashier to pay, reaching into her purse for the exact change. Her head was bent as she dug into the depths of her bag to find the dime she knew was there, when she bumped smack into a man coming from the opposite direction. Carrie watched in horror as the hot coffee he’d been carrying spilled over the side of the container onto his hand.
“I’m so sorry,” she blurted.
“No problem,” he growled, putting his coffee down on the counter so he could wipe his hand. He wasn’t happy.
“Really, I’m terribly sorry. Let me buy you another cup.” As she spoke, she reached for some napkins from the counter, prepared to mop up the spill. “Did any get on you?” When she turned to get the napkins, her shoulder bag hit the counter and knocked the basket of sweeteners onto the floor. She bent down and gathered up the packets and put them back on the counter. When she stood up, she found him looking at her with amusement. Mortified, her cheeks burning, she was tempted to give him a piece of her mind, whether he deserved it or not, when he burst out laughing. She was struck speechless. Who was this guy and why was it her misfortune to provide him with his first laugh of the day?
“Excuse me,” she said, with all the dignity she could muster. “I’m so glad you find this entertaining.”
Before giving him an opportunity to respond, she thrust her money at the cashier, grabbed her coffee and fled. She needed to get away as fast as she could before she embarrassed herself further.
Minutes later, standing on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse and composed, she took the lid off her coffee cup and took a tentative sip. She determined to put the stranger and their awkward encounter out of her mind. The coffee was delicious, with the right amount of cream, and just what she needed to sooth her wounded ego and charge up her batteries before her impending court appearance.
“Carrie!” A voice interrupted. “Wait up for me. We might as well go into together.” It was Dee Dee, her longtime friend and adversary on the motion she was about to argue.
The earlier incident was forgotten as Carrie turned to greet Dee Dee who had caught up with her. Together they hurried into the building, went through security and checked their cell phones before they headed for the bank of elevators.
“Did you get the message from Judge Castle?” Dee Dee asked.
Carrie shook her head. “I came right from home and haven’t checked my phone yet.”
“He put off our argument until ten. His secretary said he wanted to do a sentencing before he heard our motion.”
Carrie looked at her watch. “I wish I’d known. I could have gotten something done in my office, but now…” She shrugged. “I guess I could go up and check out the hotshot prosecutor they just sent up from Washington to oversee the investigation our office is doing.”
“You mean Ian Gordon?”
“I heard he was heading up the task force. I’d be curious to see him too. He’s got quite a reputation. It should be a good show.”
The women dropped off their files in Judge Castle’s courtroom and checked the calendar to see where Gordon would be. Noting his case was being heard on the fifth floor, in courtroom number 501, they made their way to there.
When they arrived, court was already in session so they found seats in the back row. Gordon was on his feet in the middle of his argument. As he turned toward the judge to respond to a question, she could see his profile and gasped out loud. It was the guy from the coffee shop–just her luck.
Carrie tried to put it out of her mind and focus on his performance. She was impressed. Gordon held the courtroom spellbound, pacing in front of the judge, tall and confident in the navy pinstriped suit which didn’t seem to have been marred by the spilled coffee. The suit showed off his broad-shouldered athletic build and when he turned her way in response to a remark by defense counsel, she got a better look at him. Although not movie star handsome, he was tall and lean and with his chiseled features, perfect, except for a lock of hair which didn’t seem to want to stay in place. He might be arrogant, but he was good at what he did and exuded vitality, accentuated, she decided as she watched, by those piercing blue eyes which added an energy which radiated.
Ian Gordon was arguing for the release of confidential documents and even with a voice so soft, at times she had to strain to hear, the man managed to mesmerize and control the courtroom. With decisive precision, he showed why opposing counsel’s argument had no merit. With polite restraint, he told the judge what he expected to prove and why. When he was finished, Carrie grinned and was tempted to applaud. He reminded her of what was best about the legal profession and why she’d made the sacrifices and worked so hard to be part of it. If her life had been different, if she didn’t have the responsibilities she did, she would have loved to work with this man, but it was not meant to be–even if she hadn’t spilled his stupid coffee. These days, too many people were depending on her. Her chance at such a career was over.
She glanced down at her watch and saw to her surprise she’d less than five minutes before she was scheduled to be upstairs. She nudged Dee Dee and pointed to the time. As they got up to leave, Gordon turned and looked to the back of the courtroom where she was standing. Their eyes met, just for an instant before they both turned away and she hurried out the door. He remembered her, Carrie knew. What she didn’t know was if he would hold it against her.
When Ian finished his argument, he decided to go downstairs and observe Carrie Armstrong. He hadn’t met her yet, but the day before he’d reviewed her personnel file at the recommendation of a number of people in the office. The woman had a lot of responsibilities, including four kids, but her name kept coming up as the perfect person to assist him with this investigation. He still hadn’t bought into the idea. How could a woman who lived an hour away in the suburbs and had four school age children have the time or the focus to do the job? So far he hadn’t been able to find anyone else. He at least needed to give her a look.
When he walked into Judge Castle’s courtroom the argument was already on. He walked down the aisle to the middle of the courtroom and took a seat. He wanted to be able to hear her and watch how she performed. He figured Carrie had to be who was arguing since she was taking the government’s side. The woman was articulate, and forceful. He liked how she stood still, hands at her side, speaking in a low well-modulated voice. It was a style he knew was much less distracting for the judge and would enable His Honor to pay attention to what she was saying. She also had a nice butt, he decided, noticing how well she looked in her dark, short skirted suit, and surprising on someone with so many kids. He forced himself to focus on her argument. Great bodies don’t always translate into great litigators but she was winning on all counts.
When Carrie finished, she turned to go back to her seat which is when he realized who she was, the blond from the coffee shop. He couldn’t believe it. Later today he would have to interview her and already they’d started out on the wrong foot. He knew she’d been embarrassed and he should have hid his amusement. Spilled coffee happens and it hadn’t gotten on his clothes. She’d been so cute he had reacted to her without thinking. Now, he guessed, he’d suffer for it.
Carrie looked up and saw him. The minute she did, her face flushed. He was sure from her expression she was thinking evil things about him. Should he stay and apologize, or leave and deal with her later? Later, he decided. Now he’d take the coward’s way out. Maybe by this afternoon they would both have forgotten the earlier encounter, but he doubted it.
Carrie walked back to her office thinking about the day which lay ahead, including the work on her desk waiting for her. She was determined not to dwell on her encounter with Ian Gordon. There was no doubt it did not bode well he had come down to Judge Castle’s courtroom. Why was he there? Had he figured out who she was? Maybe, but what did he want? He could not be so vindictive as to try and make trouble for her. It was a cup of coffee, so what did he want?
Her cell phone rang forcing her to put anymore thoughts about Ian Gordon on hold.
It was the attendance office at Columbia High School, the public school her sixteen year old son Joey attended. Carrie and Mrs. Carney, the attendance officer, were on a first name basis since the year before.
“Mrs. Armstrong, is Joey in school today? You didn’t call in to say he’d be out, but I see he wasn’t in first or second periods.”
Carrie seethed. Why did Joey make it so hard? He knew there wasn’t much she could do from this distance short of leaving the office. Maplewood was a half hour away in the best of times and in the middle of the day it would take at least an hour to get back there if she had to. He knew they needed her job to survive and he knew he had her over a barrel.
“I hated to call you,” said Mrs. Carney. “I know you have your hands full.”
“It’s your job,” said Carrie. “Besides, I need to know. I’m expecting he’ll be there soon, at least if I have any say in it, but please let me know if he’s not in school by the end of next period.”
“Will do,” said Mrs. Carney. “And since this is the first cut this semester we’ll overlook it unless there are others.”
“Thanks,” Carrie said. “Here’s hoping.”
When she hung up, she dialed Joey’s cell phone. There was no answer. She imagined he was screening his calls and would not want to speak to her. She left a scathing message, finishing up by with the admonishment if she did not hear he was back in class before noon there would be repercussions like he’d never seen. Being grounded for a month would look mild by comparison. She would be waiting for his call confirming his presence in class.
She hung up the phone and hurried to her office.
The rest of the morning and most of the afternoon were more routine. She was busy and not able to dwell on either Ian Gordon or Joey. Her busy and consuming job had its down sides, but it also could be a mental break from life’s stressors. She worked through lunch and did not look up until the late afternoon, except to take a call from Mrs. Carney confirming Joey was in school.
She knew she had to leave early to catch the 5:15 train so she could be home in time for her daughter Lizzie’s back to school night. It was Lizzie’s first year at the middle school and Carrie needed to know if there were any problems she had to address to make sure Lizzie got off to a good start. Later this week she was scheduled to be at Jefferson Grammar school for Brian and next week she was due at the high school for Joey. The only one she didn’t have to check on was Molly since she was in nursery school and daycare, so not too much was expected of her.
Her phone rang and Carrie reached over to answer it.
“This is Ian Gordon’s office,” said the voice at the other end of the phone. “Mr. Gordon wishes to meet with you as soon as possible.”
Meet with her? Good God! What did he want? It was coffee, for goodness sake. On the other hand, he outranked her so she had to say yes. After agreeing to be right down to his office, she hung up the phone.
It couldn’t be the coffee, she decided. No one would be as successful as he was and be so small minded. So what did he want from her? The only possibility she could think of was his task force since her background was in child welfare. In spite of Gordon’s apparent brilliance, the possibility of working on the investigation filled her with dread rather than excitement and would have even if she hadn’t bumped into his coffee.
Gordon had made a name for himself in D.C. as a vigilant, determined, cold blooded crime fighter who had uncovered corruption in the Senate and had, with skill and finesse, put the perpetrators behind bars. He was reputed to be a hard taskmaster who expected the same dedication from those who worked under him as he expected from himself. He put in long hours, had no family, as far as anyone knew, and no personal life except for the occasional fundraising gala where he would appear squiring some society beauty. Rumor had it that anyone who worked for him didn’t have a life either. Now Carrie had a chance to see him in action, everything she had heard about Ian made sense.
Carrie assured herself he would not want her on his team if he knew her. She had made no secret of the fact her children were her first priority. She had made it a condition of her employment. If he didn’t know and was calling about an assignment, she’d have to set him straight no matter what it cost her. She had four children who depended on her.
She could not ignore him. She needed this job to survive and even then it was a stretch. The latest tax bill had come the day before. Property taxes were going up. She was already having trouble making ends meet. Now with this increase she’d either have to get a raise or cut something out of what already was a very lean budget.
She leaned down and reached for her bag and pulled out her comb as she wondered about what Gordon wanted. Ian Gordon was investigating the city social workers involved in the near starvation of four children under their supervision in the Bronx. She’d heard through the grape vine the investigation wasn’t going well. The city social workers were stonewalling any inquiry, perhaps covering for each other.
Carrie ran the comb through her short straight blond hair glancing at her reflection in the mirror she kept in the side drawer of her desk. She was lucky her hairstyle suited her since it took no time out of her busy day. She applied lip gloss and brushed on a bit of blush so she didn’t look exhausted and half dead. Raising four kids and working this job might be tiring, but no one needed to know it. Satisfied she looked okay, and not unhappy she happened to be wearing her power suit, a charcoal pencil skirt, with a crisp white blouse, she grabbed a pen and legal pad. Kicking off the slippers she kept on in the office and sliding her feet into her Jimmy Choos, one of her rare splurges, found on sale at Saks, she headed downstairs to Gordon’s office. She was curious to find out what he wanted though she was dreading the initial face to face.
Ian Gordon was even better looking close up. His longish black hair gave him a more youthful image, but the piercing bright blue eyes were just as intense as she’d first thought. Carrie wondered if he remembered her from the morning.
“Thanks for being so responsive,” he said, standing up and reaching across his desk to shake her hand. “I know you’re a very busy woman. I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me.”
He sounded so genuine she almost believed him even if they both knew she’d be sabotaging her career if she hadn’t met with him when he asked.
“Would it be risky to offer you a cup of coffee?” he said, a slight twitch at the edge of his mouth letting her know he was kidding.
Good move, she decided as she turned down his offer with a smile. It was less awkward for both of them if he joked about what happened earlier.
She grinned. “You remember?”
“Of course, how could I not?” he said motioning for her to take the chair in front of his desk before he sat down opposite her.
She looked around the room as she did. It was a corner office with a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge, but the room was bare save for the desk and two chairs. There weren’t even law books in the bookcase or pictures or commendations on the walls. Either the rumor about having no personal life was valid or he didn’t intend to stay in New York for very long. The place was barren.
Even though Ian had seen Carrie in court, he still was surprised at her appearance. She was much younger and more attractive than he’d expected. In preparation for this meeting with her, he’d gone over her personnel file the night before and learned she’d been widowed three years earlier, left with four children including an infant and a teenager. The husband had died, leaving her with nothing but debts so she’d come to work for the U.S. Attorney where the pay was higher than the Attorney General’s office where she’d been employed prior to having children. He understood how she couldn’t manage private practice–not with all those kids. The hours were too undependable.
He still was skeptical even though he had seen her in action and had been told by a number of people whose opinions he respected how perfect she would be for this job. He knew from his own experience it was just about impossible to juggle a career like theirs and a personal life. How could anyone perform well at work with those kinds of responsibilities? Looking through her file he’d expected to learn raising kids interfered with her job. What he’d found instead was, in spite of four kids and a commute from the suburbs, she did a stellar job. Now he needed to probe to see if there were cracks in her armor others hadn’t picked up.
“Mrs. Armstrong,” he began.
“Carrie,” she corrected. “Call me Carrie.”
“Of course, of course, and please call me Ian.”
She nodded, looking like she wanted to be anywhere but here in this office with him. So far it was damn awkward. Of course, the coffee thing had made a bad situation worse.
“Carrie,” he began again. “You must be wondering why I asked you to come here.”
She nodded again, waiting for him to continue.
“You know about the investigation I’ve been asked to direct?” The governor had created a special task force to look into the responsiveness and culpability of the Children Service caseworkers assigned the Nugent case–where the children were starving in spite of regular visits by the Children Service Caseworkers.
She nodded. “Yes, I’m familiar with the case,” she said, looking into his probing stare even though she was tempted to look away. His intensity was unnerving. “Everyone is. It was in all the papers.”
He ran a hand through his thick dark hair, perhaps explaining why it looked so unruly. “You may have heard we’ve hit an impasse.”
She shrugged. “I might have.”
He grimaced. “I’m sure everyone in the department has.”
She had to grin. “As you must have figured out, nothing ever stays secret for very long around here.”
His mouth twitched, betraying his somber tone. “I’ve noticed. However, there are times when things are better left unsaid.”
“I’m sure,” she said. That she found him appealing and attractive would get her nowhere. She already knew he could be arrogant and she needed to catch her train if she was going to be on time for back to school night. If this interview continued much longer, she would miss it. She wasn’t about to tell him. From what she’d heard about him, she did not expect him to be sympathetic to a single mother.
“So you’re wondering what this has to do with you.”
She managed a smile. “I was.”
“You worked for child protection in New Jersey.”
“Yes, but more than sixteen years ago.”
“I reviewed your file from those years.”
“There’s a file?”
He nodded. “Come now, Carrie. Don’t be disingenuous. Of course there’s a file. It took some doing to get it. Some drone down in Trenton had to dig through cartons until he found it, but there is a file.”
“I’d be curious to see it,” she said.
He smiled again and when he did his brow scrunched up and two dimples appeared which didn’t fit his reputation as a hard ass.
“I bet you would.” He paused, took a sip of the bottle of water on his desk and then continued. “Anyway, besides noting you were the lead trial attorney on the infamous Kirby case and successfully handled the appeal, including the Supreme Court argument,” he said, reading from the open file in front of him, “and gave a stellar performance in spite of well-known opposing counsel,” he continued. “It’s clear you had a great deal of interaction with child protection workers.”
She nodded. “I represented them–their office–so I was always interacting with them.”
“The universal comment throughout your file was,” he paused, and again looked down at the papers in front of him on his desk, “you understood them, related well to them, didn’t patronize them and,” he said turning over a page before looking up, “you instilled loyalty.”
She nodded. None of this came as a surprise. She’d loved the work–felt it was a ‘mission’ and loved the people who did it–with notable exceptions. She would rather have gone back there, but she couldn’t afford it. This job in the U.S. Attorney’s office paid much better, even with commuting costs and additional taxes.
“I’ve also taken the liberty of reviewing your work here,” he said, “including observing you in court.”
Carrie had to stop him. He was going to offer her some impossible assignment and challenge and she could not accept it–not with four children. “Ian,” she said, “if you have some kind of crazy notion I would be a good candidate to work on this investigation…”
Ian put his hand up to silence her though not seeming in the least bit annoyed by her interruption. “I know you have four children,” he said, waving another folder on his desk. “I know you’re raising them by yourself, you’re a widow, and I can even venture a guess,” he opened the folder and ran his finger down the print until he found what he was looking for, “perhaps sixteen year old Joey is giving you a run for your money.”
She nodded, too shocked to respond. There didn’t seem to be anything he didn’t know about her. She felt bare and vulnerable and wasn’t sure how to recover.
Perhaps he realized because he didn’t look over at her or say anything for a few moments. “I know your situation,” he said, looking up and meeting her eyes, “but I need your help and I’m willing to work within its confines. First of all, neither of us would run the investigation–at least not the legwork. I’d oversee it and you would assist me.” He looked watched her, waiting for a reaction. She gave him none. She had to hear more.
“I need someone who knows this field and understands the people who work in it.”
“I worked in New Jersey,” she said. “New York’s system isn’t the same.” She could tell she’d lost the battle but she had to keep trying.
Ian waved her comment aside. “You’ve had the experience and you understand the kinds of people who work in this area. My investigators don’t. Maybe they’re not the right people. If you sign on, and I hope you will, you can decide. I also would need you to look over the data which has been compiled so you can prepare the questions these guys need to ask. I need you to know this case well enough so you can second chair when I try it.”
“You want me to try this case with you?” It was a dream job she couldn’t take.
He nodded. “Besides your reputation, I’ve seen firsthand you’re good.” He paused, seeming to hesitate before continuing. “As a woman you’re sympathetic and they’ll expect a woman.” He looked up and met her eyes. “You know juries like balance.”
Her head shot up and she stared at him. “I’d be your token?”
He grinned. “No, just seeing if I can get your goat. To be honest, I didn’t want you. I still can’t figure out how you manage what you do and raise your kids at the same time. You convinced me you can. You’re good on your feet and I’ve heard glowing reports regarding competency and efficiency and I need your expertise.”
It was her turn to hide a smile or give in to his charms although she was very tempted. What an opportunity. Besides, the work she did now was not absorbing. There were no dragons to slay. He was offering a golden opportunity she would love to accept. How would she manage with her family? She couldn’t justify getting caught up in something so absorbing–not when all four were depending on her.
She shook her head. “I can’t do it. It would take too much of my attention away from my children.”
“I’ll make accommodations.”
His voice became firmer. “I don’t think you quite understand.”
She looked up, noting the change in tone. He was staring down at her, dead serious. “Or is it I don’t have a choice…” she asked.
He held up his hands and shrugged. “I’m afraid I’m desperate.”
And she was too. She needed this job. She had a new tax bill she couldn’t pay.
“You talked about accommodations.”
He nodded. He looked down at her personnel file still open on his desk. “Most nights you need to be out of here by five to catch the commuter train home,” he read.
“You must realize I can’t drive into the city. Between the traffic and the expense of parking, it would be impossible.”
He nodded. “I get it. You don’t live in the city.” He looked up at her. “I’ll go along with it. I’m told you are efficient.” He shrugged. “Busy people usually are. You’ve always managed so I don’t see why that should change.”
“Sometimes I have to leave earlier, or get in later, or be out for a few hours in the middle of the day–for parent/teacher conferences, Christmas pageants, back to school nights–you know, the usual.”
“Right,” he said, “the ‘usual’.” He grinned when he said it.
For a moment Carrie was charmed. This interview was not going the way she expected.
Ian again ran a hand through his hair, which made it even more unruly, but it made him look younger, more human and more attractive. “I don’t, but I have a feeling I’m going to learn. Listen, Carrie, I’m not suggesting anything be changed. There may be an occasional weekend–Saturday or something–when we haven’t had time to go over something and we’re close to trial, and maybe an occasional late night around then. Could you manage?”
She nodded, understanding now she had no choice–not if she wanted to keep this job, but she had her pride. “If you’re flexible with me for the other stuff, I’ll be flexible with you on the weekends and the,” she grinned, “the quote, unquote occasional late night.” In spite of her reservations she was intrigued by the job and if she was being honest, by him.
He nodded. “I think we understand each other.”
“I have to say the case has always interested me and child protection is my first love so it’s the commitment which worries me,” she admitted.
He stood up and extended his hand. “I saw you sneaking a peek at your watch. I suspect you’ve got one of those compelling commitments to attend to so I’ll let you go.”
She stood up too and reached out and shook his hand, then taking the file he held out. “Thanks. I do,” she said, glancing at her watch, “but I should make the train if I get out of here right now and run. See you tomorrow.”
“First thing, come by when you get in and I’ll go over what we’ve got so far so you can get up to speed. Now get going!”
She nodded, turned and fled.
He watched her retreat. She was going to be very interesting to work with. She wasn’t intimidated. Too many people were which got very tiresome though it was out of his control. He liked her sense of humor–could laugh at herself which must be how she managed. He’d been expecting a self-righteous St. Theresa type and thank God she wasn’t one of those, even with all her childcare commitments. He thought about what he’d read about her in her personnel file–she had an analytical mind and was intuitive. They were great qualities in a partner and what he already sensed she would be, because she’d stood up to him. He grinned as he closed up her files and cleared off his desk in anticipation of polishing a brief one of the young attorneys had prepared.
The one concern he had, Ian acknowledged as he took a sip of water, was he found Carrie Armstrong very attractive. Since his wife walked out on him twenty years before, Ian had avoided romantic entanglements. It didn’t mean he didn’t date and romance the woman of the hour, and of course he had a sex life. It was healthy and added spice to his life. He didn’t do romantic entanglements–not since he found for him practicing law and having a family didn’t mix. What’s more, he and Carrie would be working closely together and his unbroken rule was not to date anyone from the office. They could be friends which, Ian thought with some satisfaction, was going to be very interesting.