For disclaimers see Part 1.Chapter 3
Cara Cipriano Vittore couldn't remember feeling more exhausted. She leaned her tall frame against the edge of the window, thinking about the case she had won today and watched the sweltering sun dip beneath the western horizon from her seventh floor office window in Tucson. She inhaled deeply, sensing the calming effects of the shimmering ball of fire reluctantly surrendering itself to a sky painting of iridescent oranges and purples. Her thoughts drifted easily away from the long day's events, thinking how good it would be to sink into her Jacuzzi to soak the woes and aches from her tired body with a glass of wine. And not just any wine, she mused, but her grandfather's exclusive, soon-to-be-debuted red. Pulled from her contemplation by the shuffling sound behind her, Cara turned and greeted her secretary with a smile.
"Don't you look pleased with yourself," Laura Sandoval laughed.
"Well, yes I am. When justice prevails, I am most pleased," offered Cara candidly.
"Mr. Torres's family are probably ready to have you declared a saint just about now, I suspect," grinned Laura. "And, if you keep winning these pro bono cases, you'll work us all to the poor house," she teased. Stepping closer, Laura spoke in earnestness: "It is a good thing you do, Cara. These people have only you."
Cara laughed nervously. "My dear Laura, a saint I am not, but thank you all the same. Now, do you have the Armenteros motions ready for tomorrow's filing since I do have to make some money to keep you out of that poorhouse," Cara said slyly.
"Yes, in fact I just put them on your desk," Laura informed her as she moved toward the door. "Go home, counselor. Relax and celebrate."
"Yes, Mother," Cara droned through her fading smile.
After Laura left, Cara stepped back to the window. Her eyes swept over the distant mountains as she let her mind return to today's victory. She chuckled at how the other attorneys in the practice always chided her for taking the pro bono, the unwanted cases, but were overtly relieved when she did. Only Laura seems to understand, she reflected. Nevertheless, such was Cara's nature to come to the defense of the underdog, paying client or not, in the cases no one else volunteered to take. As a result, her caseload was twice that of the others; she preferred it that way. She had won more decisions than any attorney in the practice. Stepping on toes was not a concern for Cara, and neither was playing favorites or making deals to appease the system. But the long hours she worked, giving each case her maximum effort, took its toll and left no room for socializing or cultivating friends. For her, friends were neither a priority nor a need . . . being a loner was Cara's way. It had been so all her life.
Today's judgment in her client's favor was reason enough to indulge and open her first bottle of Prezioso Rosso , Cara decided. Celebrating a victory over Dan Manning, the state's cutthroat prosecutor, was sweet in itself. But to win Angel Torres's freedom for a crime he did not commit was a reward that almost soothed the longing in her heart for the smell of the ocean and the breathtaking site of rows of grapevines laden with luscious purple, her life's blood. Looking out the window now, her gaze met a dry landscape dusted with the ever-changing colors of another spectacular Arizona sunset. The old ache returned. Running her hands through her long, brown hair, she tried to shake off the unease. Her neck was in knots and her temples were throbbing as the tension increased. "Enough of this!" she chastised herself aloud and decided a good workout was in order. Taking a long look at the work on her desk, she turned away, pulled her keys from her pocket, and walked the stairs to the lower-level garage and her primo, yellow, two-seater '79 Triumph TR 7. Cara loved the feel of its beauty; the sensation of her hand caressing the sleek body and worn, russet leather seats…the intense sensuality of the leather's pungent smell. She thought of her younger brother Stephen…and home and couldn't check the smile or ensuing nostalgia that invaded her guarded soul. Shaking her head slightly, she remembered how Stephen loved the TR 7 as much as she did and how the two of them had worked for months restoring the classic sports car-then how he had tried to manipulate her in to giving it to him when it was done.
Little brother I miss you…putting the fine-tuned machine in gear, Cara roared out of the garage holding the British sports car to a respectable speed. With the top down and the wind blowing in her face, the musty smell of the courtroom soon faded from her nostrils and mind.
After a grueling but satisfying workout, Cara drove up the canyon toward home, with the steady hum of the engine smoothing away the day's tensions. Maurillio edged into her thoughts. Maurillio Cervantes had taught her as he would any new hire, no special treatment, and no favoritism. He had been a hard teacher, but Cara loved the old man dearly. His sad eyes still haunted her as she reflected upon her last conversation with her grandfather's right hand man of thirty-five years It had been only a week ago…when he'd delivered the "precious red" to her home in the Santa Catalina foothills.
"Cara Mia, your grandfather misses you, he needs you by his side. He is not so young, Cara. He has been working twice as hard to get the Prezioso to shipping, but so many things have gone wrong, as if malocchio watches."
Cara shook her head in amazement at the memory of Maurillio's overwhelming conviction that the wine had been touched by the mythic evil eye.
"He has invested much, bella mia. If the Prezioso Rosso does not meet the shipping date, much will be lost. "
"Did he send you here, Maurillio. Has he asked for my return?" Cara implored, her brown eyes piercing his.
Lowering his head, Maurillio answered sadly, "No, bella mia. He will never, he will never. I know him well, Cara. Even though his heart dies each day since…Stephen…since you went away, he will never swallow his pride and ask you to return." The truth of his words stung her heart still.
The Cipriano Winery had been in the family for generations. Traditionally, the padrone chose the eldest son to succeed him as head of the family and vineyard when the time came. Early on, however, Cara's potential as a natural born leader, her charisma and her ability to lead his legacy into the next generation, were apparent to Sebastian Cipriano. At age five, Cara had ridden the fields and tended the grapevines with her grandfather. By fifteen, she knew the Cipriano Winery business as well as he. She could work alongside the best, including her brothers, and had earned the respect of the wine community for her hard work, fairness, and knowledge. She worked as any field hand, and through hard labor, she had earned the privilege to walk beside her grandfather.
As Cara and her brothers grew older, she nobly bore the constant eruptions of their escalating jealousy and resentment as well as their routine attempts to alienate themselves from her…but not so Stephen. Cara was sent to the best schools to learn business and law to prepare her for the position she would assume when the elder Cipriano stepped down. The expectations that rested on her shoulders were unquestionable, and her entire life was dictated by tradition, including a marriage to one she did not love.
Sinking into the luxury of the soothing water, Cara poured a small amount of the Prezioso into a crystal wineglass. Holding it up to the light and turning the goblet 360 degrees, she swirled the wine to inspect its clarity and body. Slowly she tilted the glass to her nose and breathed in the bouquet. Finally, she sipped it into her mouth, allowing it to linger on her palette where she fully captured the intensity of flavors, the mature smoothness with its spicy undertones that finished off with a subtle nuttiness.
The water and wine caressed her, the tensions of the day receded. Memories soon flooded her mind one upon another. Cara savored again the day when, as a tall and gangly fifteen year old, she had been out riding her horse. Her grandfather had come up from the eastern vineyard to meet her. She had reined up and pulled in beside him. They had ambled along, he talking incessantly about the latest graftings he had just received from France, she listening intently to every word. The day had been breezy, warm even. The new grape leaves were just unfurling to shimmer in the glistening morning sunlight. She loved the vineyard, its smells of rich earth, and the pliant new leaves mingling together. Cara remembered how taking a deep breath in the vineyard could bring to her the smell of the wine hidden within the unborn grapes. She had learned the nuances of tending the vines, caring for the burgeoning tendrils as sun and water pumped life into another harvest awaiting the oaken casks that lay in the mammoth caverns of the wine cellar.
Returning her attention to her grandfather, a smile flickered across her face. Cara realized she loved simply listening to the old man's voice. It was as smooth and mellow as his best wine that perfumed the cool cellars. As the wine in her glass dwindled, she remembered the day her grandfather had named his choice and changed her life forever. She had stood stunned, unable to comprehend his words they were so foreign to her thinking. She, a woman as padrone…there wasn't even a word for a female in that position. Having broken with the Cipriano tradition, her grandfather had not chosen one of her brothers to take over as padrone. The conversation still burned in her memory.
"Why me? Better yet, how me? Don't you have to name Paolo as padrone? Or even Giancarlo if Paolo declines to take on his responsibilities as eldest?"
"Ah, bella mia, dolce mia, your brothers, they do not feel the life of the grape flow within their own veins. They do not feel the beat of the earth underneath their feet as she pumps life up into every vine. Only you, Cara. You feel the very life of the land herself in every grape we harvest. You sense it in the bouquet of each bottling. She entices you. She melts into you as a woman melts into her lover. Your brothers, they do not even comprehend the sensations you revel in when we walk the vineyard together, when we taste the new vintages. They feel the intoxication only of the alcohol, not the sweet sensation of an intoxicating lover swirling within their mouths. But you, dolce mia, you allow the vines to take you into their arms and gently offer their delights." A wistful look flickered in the old man eyes. "I well know the feelings. Therefore, Cara Cipriano Vittore, you are the next Cipriano padrone. There is no choice, for the land seems to have laid claim to you as her choice long ago. I merely carry the message for her."
Refracted prisms of color bounced inside the fine crystal and refocused Cara to the present. The water swirled and caressed her long legs and firm lean body. "Ah, grandfather, you have created a masterpiece," Cara whispered as she savored the exquisite ruby liquid. For the first time in weeks, Cara felt relaxed…until the phone rang.
Wrapping in a towel, she stepped out of the Jacuzzi to answer it. Mark Chase, the senior partner, hurriedly said, "Cara, congratulations, baby! You ran circles around Manning, impressive win today. I know you're tired, but we have a special request, one that I want you to handle personally. This case needs your special touch, a pro bono of course. Cara this one may have all the possibilities of an international mess and you're the expert on international fiascoes and law.
"Can you be a little more specific?" Cara shot back a bit annoyed that her bath and the enjoyment of her grandfather's wine had been interrupted so rudely.
"Yep, the Nogales police arrested a twenty-three year old Hispanic male for murder, a gruesome murder, Cara…maybe more than one. We don't know if he is an illegal or not yet. He didn't have identification, and the truck he was driving is registered to a Sierra Vista resident. It's not listed as stolen so they're running that lead down now."
Cara groaned with fatigue trying to shake the cobwebs. "We need to make sure he was told without delay that he can seek consulate help, if he is illegal."
"There could be a lot of press on this one, Cara."
"Bad press I'm assuming?"
"Depends…on you. We've been asked to take this case…one of those requests we just can't refuse."
"Oh," Cara snapped back sarcastically. "Where have I heard that before?"
"Hey be nice, no I take that back, then I would worry. Okay, you have a meeting scheduled with Matt Peyson and Jacquelyn Biscayne Wednesday at ten in Nogales. That will give you tomorrow to straighten out your case load."
"Really, all that time," Cara retorted.
"Jacquelyn Biscayne," Cara repeated more to herself than to Mark. "Name sounds familiar."
"She's FBI…forensic pathologist with a special border task force in Nogales. As a matter of fact, she was raised in the area and now lives in a little place this side of Nogales called Rio Rico. Can't imagine anybody with her credentials actually wanting to stay in that border hellhole. Anyway, what we have so far of the case details are on your desk. I want to go over a few things with you before the meet so be in my office first thing in the morning. Oh…and Cara, don't forget we have a good prospect to fill the slot in Corporate Law that will be looking us over the end of next week." He cleared his throat and lightened his tone. "We want to put our best foot forward. I expect you to be there with all that irresistible charm of yours."
Obvious irritation colored her voice. "Sure, sure, Mark, flattery will get you…nowhere. You know how much I just love it when you spring for dinner. You're such a cheap SOB. Now let me get some sleep," she yawned and hung up the phone.
A voice spoke up in her head as she drove along the winding ribbon high-desert road toward home. Trust your instincts. Jake had reexamined the girl's body, read and re-read notes, tested for trace evidence well into another night. Trust your instincts. Funny how the rumbling voice in her head always sounded like her dad's. "What I wouldn't give to have you here with me now, Daddy," she said aloud as she pulled into the driveway of the ranch house. Trudging inside, she glanced at the note pinned to the refrigerator. "Ah, Rosa, too tired to eat tonight." She switched off the lights and headed for her bedroom, too exhausted to care where her clothes landed as she left a trail of jeans, shirt, bra, and shoes that ended at her bed. Throwing back the Navajo design comforter, Jake eased her nude body into the soothing caress of freshly laundered sheets. Yet sleep eluded her in spite of her fatigue, and she lay staring at the ceiling unable to shake the police artist's composite of the beautiful Hispanic girl from her mind.
The picture haunted her as much as the girl's actual eyes had, dead eyes floating out of ravaged innocence. It was a gut feeling, but Jake knew there had to be more, something the body was yet to reveal-something the victim was trying to tell her. But what? What are you trying to tell me? Finally, Jake succumbed to the day's grueling demands, and she fell into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by the familiar voice. Trust your instincts, baby. Rolling over to look at the clock, she droned an exasperated growl. 04:30. I might as well get up and read over the autopsy report again, she thought as she swung her legs off the edge of the bed, grabbed a robe, then reluctantly walked bleary-eyed to the kitchen where she had unceremoniously dumped her brief case only hours before. After flicking the switch on her coffeepot, Jake retrieved the file and thumbed past the autopsy photos to the report itself. Daylight hovered just outside while she read it carefully line by line, although she had written it herself, in the hope that another review of every detail might lead her mind in the direction of a clue, any clue. Then she pulled the set of photos her team had taken at the crime scene. Meticulously scanning every inch of each photo, she compared them with the notes from her preliminary examination of the body at the scene. After perusing the contents of the file for what must have been the tenth time, Jake was therapeutically caffeinated but no closer to an answer than before. I'm sure Vittore will have plenty of questions, Jake thought sarcastically as she tightly clenched her jaw. But I just don't have any answers. And that realization was like a hard fist in her stomach.
Jake remembered her testimony as an expert witness presenting the DNA evidence for the prosecution. She shuddered, recalling the defense attorney's cross-examination and her ill-fated encounter with the illustrious Cara Vittore. It was another murder case-one no lawyer would willingly touch. But Cara Vittore did. Jake's pre-trial review convinced her that the prosecution would get a conviction. Yet Vittore, who had sunk her teeth into that case with a vengeance, had wrangled a mistrial and then managed to convince a second jury that her client was next in line to god himself. I still think he was guilty, Jake reflected as the impressions of Vittore coalesced into a mental picture of the woman. She felt a shiver run down her spine and grimaced at the fact that this woman could cause such an adverse physical reaction. Her eyes, a cunning predatory brown, were the first trait Jake noticed that day as she surveyed the scene. Then Vittore's consummate expertise as a litigator of the shrewdest caliber was manifested from her opening statement before the jury to the confrontational thrashing of each witness to the meticulous undermining of the prosecution's crucial body of evidence. She was spectacular to watch, dark hair and eyes-her lean body adroitly posturing in front of the jury like a matador preparing for the kill, mesmerizing her target, daring their defiance, refusing all possible outcomes but victory. Voice and words wove magically to captivate and thus maneuver each juror's mind toward her ultimate objective. And if the power of her voice hadn't completely swayed them, the compelling intensity of those eyes was the final, irresistible gambit.
She was like some kind of Svengali weaving a spell and taking hostages. They didn't have a chance in hell, thought Jake. This was the tarnished picture Jake conjured of Cara Vittore, the image of a ruthless woman whose presence demanded attention even while her demeanor remained distant, strictly professional, and extraordinarily impersonal. Glancing up from her notes to the clock, Jake muttered, "Damn, I'm late, and I promised to meet Matt before the meeting. " After tossing her notes into her briefcase, she hurriedly threw on a pair of jeans, her boots, and a long sleeved shirt and headed out the door to Maria's Café.
Matt was standing in front of the café talking to Vittore, both so engrossed in conversation that they never noticed Jake's arrival. Just what I need this early in the morning, Cara Vittore, Jake grumbled inwardly and slipped through the side door of Maria's Café to forestall the inevitable. This morning, she had the place all to herself. She needed the solitude and quiet before this little soiree commenced.
"Good morning, Jacquelyn," greeted Maria the owner of the café, noticing the tiredness in Jake's face and eyes. "The usual, mi belleza?"
"As much as I would like to order margaritas from now until the end of the day, yes, Maria, please the usual. Oh, with a double dose of powered sugar."
Maria set the white coated sopapillas in front of Jake and asked, "Keep an eye on the place, Jake, will you? If you need more coffee, you know where to get it. I need to get a few things from the stock room."
Jake sat nursing a cup of extra strong black coffee when a shadow fell over her. She turned toward it and almost dropped her cup as she came face to face with the woman she hoped never to see again. Vittore looked at her absentmindedly . . . and laughed at the specks of white powered sugar dotting Jake's nose and face.
"I need some coffee urgently, is anyone here?" Cara impatiently asked as she sat at the counter beside Jake. "And you need to wash your face," she added, a raised eyebrow mocking Jake while leveling her eyes on the blonde. A faint smirk threatened the corner of Cara's mouth.
"Excuse me, but rude is as rude does. Does everyone snap to attention at your beck and call?" Jake angrily retorted as she piercingly focused on the same dark eyes that had tormented her memory for two years.
Jake reached up to wipe her face, but her hand stopped suddenly. Startled at her realization that she'd been staring, she knew she had to do something quickly before she hastily said anything more. Irritated, she hopped up and went around the counter to the coffee urns. The same sense of dread the last time she suffered under the gaze of this woman followed her.
"How strong do you want it?" she asked, trying to scrape some of the sugar off her fingers and face.
"I don't know. How strong have you got it? "
Jake looked down at her own cup, still firmly clutched in one hand. "Well, we do have this very mean blend of French Roast that is guaranteed to keep you sleepless for…oh, at least the next forty-eight hours," Jake suggested.
"Mmm..." Cara tapped one finger on the heavy porcelain cup in front of her, contemplating the brashness of the woman. Oh what the hell, I'm too tired to spar this morning. "I could definitely do with some of that.
Just as Jake was trying to pour the coffee without burning her self or the self-righteous woman across the counter from her, the café door swung open and Matt sauntered in with a grin plastered on his face. "And this would be your day job now?" Matt joked.
Before Jake could respond, Matt kept up his line of teasing. "Well now since you're in charge here, do you think you could rustle me up some grub," he said with affection and mischief in his voice. His eyes hungrily roamed over Jake from the tips of her boots to the smudges of powered sugar on her face while he turned a cup over. "And I sure could use a shot of that coffee 'bout now too, Jake."
"Matt, you'll be wearing this coffee if you aren't careful," Jake growled with feigned indignation.
Cara watched the exchange with a detached interest, unaware that the woman who had taken an obvious dislike to her since she came into the café was Jacquelyn Biscayne, the forensic expert whose testimony she had quashed two years ago. With her eyes still on Jake and the pot of hot coffee, she mused, she wouldn't, would she?
Directing her attention away from Matt onto the scrutinizing dark woman, Jake offered: "Do you need warmed up a bit, counselor?"
"Counselor? Do I know this woman?"
Jake groaned inwardly as Cara's questioning brown eyes pinned her. She felt the heat creeping up her neck when she suddenly realized this woman didn't recognize her, and it fueled her annoyance even more.
Continuing to stare unflinchingly into Jake's hazel eyes, Cara didn't hesitate with her reply: "Yes, please do." Jake's hands started to tremble slightly, but she did manage to get most of the coffee in the woman's cup just as Matt rounded the counter behind her.
"Maria!" he shouted "Where is my favorite cook this morning?"
"Maria! Get your pretty self out here. I'm starving"!
Just then, Maria came through the kitchen door with her arms full of paper napkins to refill the containers on the counter and tables. Hastily, she dropped the bundles onto the counter, straightened her crisp, white apron, and poked her finger into his chest, backing him away with each jab.
"Let's get one thing straight, Matt Peyson, I am your only cook, mi hijo . All you can do is burn the water and scorch the air when it comes to cooking. You need to find a good woman to settle down with. Make me a nieta before her abuelita is too old to spoil her."
Matt cautioned a glance at Jake. Her eyes were quick to avoid his, and she retreated to the other side of the counter.
"I'm working on it, Mamma, I'm working on it." Matt muttered, sidetracked by Jake's response to Maria's prodding.
The woman's fierce expression changed into a hearty laugh, attempting to lessen the tension her remarks about grandchildren had caused in Jake. "Still chasing my help around the counter? I swear I don't know which one, you or Sandro, had more boyfriends and husbands tearing my place up! Speaking of Sandro, where has that silver-tongued devil been hiding? I've not seen my sobrino for a while."
Aware of her son's unsettled appearance disguised behind his façade of a smile, Maria touched Matt's arm gently. "Go sit down with Jacqueline. I'll make your breakfast." Then more loudly, she chastised, "And please take your hat off, Matt. A gentleman nev. . ."
"Never wears his hat at the dinner table," he recited, grabbing Maria around the waist and kissing her cheek, while throwing his hat on the counter, "Yes Mama, but please tell Miss Biscayne here that I am a preferred customer and get hot coffee, too," he teased.
Cara had remained silent throughout the entire interplay behind the counter. She was well aware of the insinuated undertones in Matt's teasing and very conscious of how uncomfortable it made the blonde.
She smiled and warmed into a chuckle at Matt's affection for the woman who was obviously not just the proprietor of the café and how Matt had unwittingly revealed her mistake at assuming the irritating jean-clad woman was the waitress. She mused, so this is the FP I have the meeting with. Jacqueline Biscayne, well, well...most interesting. Ahh…yes I remember her now. Two years ago. I seem to recall she looked at me like she hated my guts...like I was a shyster who was smooth talking a jury into letting a murderer go free. Her testimony was most impressive...if anything, it alone could have buried my client, and would have if I hadn't gotten the mistrial and most of the forensic evidence thrown out on a procedural technicality. If I remember correctly, actually by an error she made. Giving Jake a thorough once over, she wondered, Hmm, how I could have forgotten her or that ill temper!
Directing her attention to the new customer in her café, Maria apologized. "You'll forgive him, Miss. He's always like this until I get him fed. Then he's just like the rest of them-rude, ungrateful, thankless, and ill mannered. Not like Jake here at all. Oh, and Jake, thanks for watching the front and getting coffee."
"I'm Maria Peyson, pleased to meet you, Miss…?"
"Vittore, Cara Vittore," taking the offered hand.
"Has Jake taken care of you, Miss Vittore?"
"Please, call me Cara. And yes, glancing back to Jake…so far."
Jake forgot her nervousness as her hazel eyes turned to glacial green remembering who this woman was sitting across from her, the cunning, cold-as-ice attorney who had methodically neutralized weeks of work gathering and analyzing evidence.
The faces of the murdered couple's family had kept Jake awake many a night. They had felt betrayed by a justice system that protected the guilty, abandoning the innocent victims on a mere procedural technicality. Well not this time, Vittore! Jake steadied her emotions, drained the last of her coffee, and determinably walked toward the door. Her voice trailed after her in a tone that left no doubt in anyone's mind that she meant business: " I'll see you both in my office when you're through socializing."
Jake was gone, leaving three stunned observers who had no idea what the hell had just happened in the now silent café. And Jake had no idea that her outlook on Cara Vittore would that day be forever changed.
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