Excerpts for Do or Die : Reluctant Heroes


Chapter One

Monday

Ian Dunn was not what she'd expected from reading his file.

Phoebe glanced at Martell Griffin, who was sitting beside her at the interview table. Even though he nodded very slightly to acknowledge her silent surprise, his eyes never left Ian and the guard who was escorting him into the little room. It was a reminder that this man--­the prisoner--­was dangerous.

On paper, Dunn had come across as the unscrupulous love child of Captain America and James Bond, capable of damn near anything. He was a former Navy SEAL turned international jewel thief--­alleged international jewel thief, because he'd never been charged for that particular crime.

Still, after skimming the file that she'd been handed just this morning, Phoebe had imagined someone who looked more like Cary Grant. Someone slender and light on his feet. Someone capable of becoming invisible when wearing cat burglar black.

But this man in prison garb was built like a boxer. He was Mack truck huge. Piano mover massive.

His only hope at achieving invisibility would be if he tried disguising himself as a small planet or maybe a large moon. Provided it was a very dark night and everyone looking for him was drunk.

He was bigger than Martell, which was saying something, since the African American former-­cop-­turned-­lawyer was tall enough to tower over Phoebe--­remarkable since she'd been Amazonian herself since fifth grade.

But Ian Dunn made Martell look nearly undernourished, and Phoebe feel practically petite.

Along with being huge, Dunn was also sweaty. His prison-­issue T-­shirt was soaked around his collar, down his chest and beneath his arms, too, and it clung to his powerful upper body. The array of tattoos on his massive biceps gleamed as they stretched the edges of the fraying and faded orange sleeves.

His too-­long dark brown hair was dripping onto his face, and as Phoebe watched he used the bottom hem of his shirt in an attempt to mop himself dry. As he did so, he displayed an impressive, glistening set of hard-­cut abs along with the waistband of a pair of dull orange athletic shorts that he wore dangerously, precariously low on his hips.

And great, he'd lowered his shirt to find her staring at his crotch--­her gaze had inadvertently traveled south, following the arrowlike trail of dark hair that pointed the way down from his near-­perfect belly button as if it were a flashing neon sign.

Phoebe pushed her glasses up her nose, aimed her eyes at his face, and forced what she hoped was a polite, professional smile, even as he grinned down at her. His blue eyes were twinkling in a face that was broad and cheerful and big-­boned with a nose that was too large and a brow that should have been much too heavy for him to be called handsome.

Should have been, but wasn't.

Still, despite the fact that his winsome smile had the power to make the hearts of half the population flutter, Ian Dunn looked more like a man who threw oxen at the local county fair.

More, that is, than the criminal mastermind he allegedly was.

Except that wasn't just a mix of good humor and wry appreciation gleaming now in his eyes as he continued to aim his amusement at her. As he pulled out the chair and flopped down into it, his entire manner was easygoing and relaxed, as if they were meeting at the picnic area of the local softball field where he was taking a break from the game--­instead of in an interview room in a Florida state prison where he was halfway through an eighteen-­month sentence.

But there was sharp intelligence in Dunn's eyes, too.

Phoebe watched while he turned and nodded reassuringly at the guard, whose movements were almost apologetic as he used a short plastic restraint to lock the band around Dunn's left ankle to a metal anchor in the floor.

The prisoner's hands were cuffed, too, Phoebe realized, but he rested them on the table as if he barely noticed or maybe just didn't give a damn.

"Nice to meet you in person, finally," Dunn said in an evenly modulated, accent-­free voice. His words were odd, because neither Phoebe nor Martell had so much as sent him a letter, let alone spoken to him on the phone. There hadn't been time. She herself hadn't known she was coming here until a short, chaotic hour ago. "But you know, if you'd called ahead, I would've showered and dressed for the occasion."

He smiled as he turned slightly to glance over his broad shoulder at the door that closed behind the guard with a solid-­sounding thunk.

It was then that his face almost imperceptibly hardened as he looked from Martell to Phoebe and then back to Martell as if he'd used his criminal mastermind to detect that, yes, Martell was in charge of this little meeting. His smile was still securely in place, though, as he leaned in and lowered his voice and asked, "Are you a friend of Conrad's?"

Phoebe glanced at Martell, who narrowed his dark brown eyes slightly at Dunn as he asked, "Who's Conrad?"

The intensity--­if that was, in fact, what it was, and not merely her overactive imagination--­vanished from Dunn's eyes and face as quickly as it had appeared.

"Apparently not," he said with a shrug as he sat back in his chair. "No big, just an acquaintance I thought might be mutual." He folded his hands across his stomach, his movement limited by those cuffs. "So. What are you here to sell me? Although it's probably best if you start with your names, so I can stop thinking of you as Diverse Lawyer One and"--­he looked at Phoebe with another of those sunny smiles--­"Diverse Lawyer Two."

"I'm Martell Griffin," Martell said. "And yes, Ms. Kruger and I are lawyers, but only she is here as your lawyer. She works for Bryant, Hill, and Stoneham."

"Whoa, wait, really?" Dunn laughed but then frowned slightly as he asked Phoebe, "Is that . . . ? That's not . . ." He stopped himself and started over. "Where's Uncle Jerry?"

Uncle who . . . ? The question was as cryptic as the one about Conrad. Phoebe quickly glanced at Martell, but he shook his head in a silent I don't know.

"J. Quincy Bryant. The B in B, H, and S," Dunn explained, even though her silence hadn't dragged on for that long. As easygoing as he pretended to be, this was not a patient man. "The J is for Jerry, at least for those of us whose granddads knew him before he was a total soulless douchebag." His warm smile softened the potential edge of his words.

In fact, this man could announce I'm here to rob your house, and if he accompanied his words with one of those smiles, most people's first reaction would be Oh, how nice. Do come in.

Phoebe looked down at her file in dismay, wondering how she'd failed to make note of the fact that one of the senior partners was this man's uncle, although that certainly explained the reason the elite firm represented him. She wished someone had told her that she was going to have to deliver some very bad news to a family member.

"He's not a real uncle, we're not actually blood relations." Dunn saw her face and again was quick with the explanation. "Don't worry, you didn't miss it, it's not in there."

Okay, that was good, except now what was she supposed to tell him? Anything? Or nothing?

"The relationship was more of a my-­grandfather-­died-­saving-­his-­life-­in-­Vietnam thing," Dunn continued almost cheerfully. "Uncle Jerry felt indebted. Although it would've been nice if the support had been more proactive. Grocery deliveries and rent assistance while I was still a kid instead of criminal defense after I'd crossed the line, you know what I mean? But hey. Better late than never, right?"

Phoebe knew, from a brief family history, that Dunn's grandfather, John, had been KIA in Vietnam when Ian's father, George, was just a boy. George, who had died from hepatitis four years ago, had been a lifer in prison in Concord, Massachusetts, locked up for his part in a robbery in which a security guard had been killed, albeit accidentally. And although it had never been proven, it was believed that Ian had learned at least some of his mad breaking-­and-­entering and burglary skills at an early age, from Dunn Senior, who'd learned it in turn from an uncle. A real one. That info was in her file, along with a long list of other allegedlies. Some of them pretty impressively crazy.

But the present-­and-­living Dunn had asked her a question. Where's Uncle Jerry? She cleared her throat and decided it was best to be vague. "Mr. Bryant is currently unavailable."

"No offense," Dunn said easily, "and I'm sure you're equally douche-­tastic as a lawyer--­and I mean that in a good way. But whatever you're here for, Ms. Kruger, I'd prefer to wait until Unca Jer gets back from his vaca. Or you can ask the firm to send over his son-­in-­law, Bob-­the-­incompetent--­if it really can't wait."

And now they were both looking at her.

Martell Griffin, too, had been surprised when Phoebe had been waiting for him outside the prison's gates this morning. He clearly hadn't expected Dunn to have representation present at this meeting--­or maybe his surprise was that she wasn't Mr. Bryant or his son-­in-­law, Bob Middleworth. Especially considering the magnitude of his offer.

And so Phoebe changed her mind. Both men needed an explanation, and outside the prison walls, the news had probably gone public anyway. "Mr. Bryant and Mr. Middleworth were injured in a car accident last night, and I'm so sorry to have to tell you, but Maureen Middleworth--­Mr. Bryant's daughter--­was killed in the crash."

"Oh, shit," Dunn said.

"The firm's experiencing some chaos," Phoebe continued. "As I'm sure you can imagine."

"I'm sorry," Dunn said, with regret in his eyes. "Poor Jerry. He must be devastated. Bobby, too." He shook his head, took a deep breath, and blew it out. "Wow. I appreciate your stepping up and filling in, Ms. Kruger, but . . . I can certainly wait a few weeks--­months even if it takes that long--­for Jerry to get back."

Martell spoke up. "I'm sorry, but this situation, however, can't wait."

"It's gonna have to," Dunn said as he turned his gaze to Martell. He obviously and visibly appraised the lawyer's well-­fitting suit, his crisp white shirt, his brightly colored tie, as well as the hard planes and angles of a stern face that screamed serious business, accompanied by a gleaming and carefully shaved head. He appraised, but then immediately dismissed. Dunn's body language was as clear as if he'd flicked away a used tissue. "Isn't it." He made his words a statement, not a question, and the testosterone levels in the room rose substantially as Martell bristled, appraising him back.

Lowlife, convict, prisoner scum was the silent message Martell sent in response to Dunn's dismissal, but the prisoner's response was only the smallest of mournful smiles. Which served to piss off the lawyer more thoroughly.

"Mr. Dunn, I realize this isn't the best time, considering the circumstances, but aren't you even the slightest bit curious?" Phoebe asked, because having the two men sit there in silence, staring each other down, wasn't helping to move this meeting forward. And she had other things to do today.

Dunn again looked over at her, and she could practically see the wheels turning in his gigantic head as he tried to figure out the best way to push her buttons. And wasn't that interesting? He really didn't care why they were there. This meeting was little more than a game to him.

As Phoebe watched, he went for the obvious, with an insulting term of endearment. "Honey, I'm intensely curious--­but only about things that really matter." And yes, he put the cherry on top by proceeding to undress her with his eyes.

"I prefer to be called Ms. Kruger," she corrected him, forcing herself to remain as expressionless as humanly possible. Still, she couldn't stop herself from swallowing--­damnit--­because yikes, when he set his animal magnetism on kill like that, the man was a true force of nature.

And naturally, in turn, he made note of her almost microscopic gulp. His smile broadened.

Fine. Let him think he had the power to turn her knees into Jell-­O. She, however, knew better.

"And this does matter," she informed him crisply. "The reason Mr. Griffin requested this meeting--­the reason your Uncle Jerry's firm sent me here, with him, to talk to you. Matters. Immensely. Lives are at stake--­starting but not ending with two innocent children."

He laughed his surprise. "And only I have the secret code. Or something like that, right?"

"Or something like that," she agreed, turning to Martell. She herself knew only the basics of the situation. But one thing she did know, with certainty, was that the deal the other lawyer was offering was a gift from on high. "Mr. Griffin, I believe that's your cue."

But Dunn was already shaking his head as he told Martell, "Whatever you think I know, you're mistaken."

"Whatever you tell us," Phoebe interjected, despite having passed the invisible talking baton to Martell, "whatever you say, regardless of its legality, will not be used against you, now or in the future. You will receive immunity. Completely. I've made very sure of that."

Martell chimed in: "Play your cards right, Mr. Dunn, and you will walk out of here, with us, today. A free man."

Dunn laughed again, but his laughter faded as he looked from Martell to Phoebe. "Whoa, wait. He's shitting me, right?"

She shook her head.

Dunn got very still as he gazed at Martell. "Who are you?"

"I'm here on behalf of, well, the government, is what it comes down to," Martell told him, "even though I don't work for them directly and I can't be specific about the organization in charge of this mission. What you need to know is that I'm here to offer you your freedom, effective immediately, in exchange for your cooperation in--­"

"No," Dunn interrupted him, turning his chair as far as he could with his tether in place. "No way. No deal. No thanks. Not interested." He raised his voice and called toward the door, "Hey, Roger, we're done in here!"

This time it was Martell who was so surprised that he laughed. "Are you kidding?" He looked at Phoebe as if she could help. "Is he kidding? He wants to stay in prison?"

She shook her head. She, too, was clueless.

Which was proving to be a not-­unusual state for her in this, her first week of employment at the prestigious law firm. Upon her arrival, she'd been thrown into the deep end of the pool, assigned to assume the caseloads of three lawyers who'd recently been jettisoned. She'd spent most of the past week paddling desperately just to keep her head above water.

And then today had happened, creating even more chaos. Since she was one of the few lawyers who'd never met the boss's poor deceased daughter, she'd been hurriedly handed Ian Dunn's file, which was marked Top Priority. And the waves she'd thought were formidable turned out to be mere swells as this latest tsunami washed over her. It was part of her new normal.

And that was a total change of reality for her, since she prided herself on her ability to always--­always--­be one of the few people with a clue in any given room.

But now that she'd met him, it was clear that Ian Dunn's file was incomplete. Phoebe was going to have to dig deeper to figure out what made him tick. Which she would do as soon as she found both a little time and some Internet access.

"Roger!" Dunn called again. "Where the hell are you?"

But Martell stood up and knocked on the table in front of the man. "He won't come back in until I tell him we're done. And we're not done until you listen to what I have to offer, and then walk out of here with me, because that's what sane people do when they're handed a Get Out of Jail Free card."

Dunn looked from Martell to Phoebe, and his eyes were no longer warm. In fact they were positively steely. "I've been locked up for nearly a year, so maybe things have changed out beyond these walls. Is that really legal now?" he asked her. "Forcing me to do something I'm unwilling to do?"

She cleared her throat. "This is an unusual circumstance. Not only are those children's lives at stake, but from what I understand, this is a matter of national security. And Mr. Griffin is offering you quite a--­"

"I'm not interested in what he's offering. While I wish you luck in finding someone who can help you save the world, it's not gonna be me. Not this time."

Phoebe blinked at him. "As your lawyer, Mr. Dunn, I highly recommend that you--­"

"You're not my lawyer," Dunn said evenly, almost pleasantly, "and I don't give a shit what you recommend. No deal. Get me out of here. Now."

----------------------