My new novel Unborn features four very different women:
- Cindee, aged sixteen, who we’ve already met in the story Good Girl.
- Grace, mother of three and victim of an unjust system.
- Maya, who works in the system and is trying to make it better for the women in her care.
- And Kate, a criminal lawyer who is catapulted into difficulty when a relationship goes sour.
Kate is a successful criminal lawyer who, as Grace says, looks expensive: “You don’t get to look like that by losing cases”. She works for a big firm as a junior partner, has a successful and attractive boyfriend and a fourteen year old daughter.
But what seems like a perfect life is about to be thrown into turmoil.
Here’s the opening chapter of Unborn, in which Kate’s life hits a brick wall.
Unborn, Chapter 1
Kate Mitchell was tired.
Sure, she’d won her case in the Travis County court, a guy accused of reckless driving. If she was honest with herself, she wasn’t sure if he was guilty or not, but she’d done her job, finding a crack in the law and getting him off. But it had been wearing. Listening to evidence from the family of the teenager he’d hit when she’d stepped off the sidewalk, staring at the photographs of her bruised and battered body.
Kate’s boss, Tom Abad, had been impressed. Juries didn’t like reckless drivers. They didn’t like people who plowed down teenagers, leaving them in a coma in the prime of life. But Kate had records from the girl’s phone: enough to plant reasonable doubt in the heads of the twelve people she’d faced across the bench.
Kate pulled up outside her compact almost-suburban house and winked off the headlights. She took a moment to watch the movement behind the closed curtains of the kitchen.
Sasha would have finished her homework by now and would be looking for snacks. And Robert, Kate’s charismatic boyfriend of ten months, had told her he’d be waiting with a bottle of her favorite Edna Valley Pinot Noir and a takeout Thai.
She hauled herself out of the car, grabbed her bags from the trunk and clicked the lock on her remote fob. She paused at the threshold to catch her breath then unlocked the front door. Quietly: she’d surprise him.
Once inside, she slipped her shoes under the console table in the hallway and placed her bags on the floor. She could feel her hose rustling as she padded toward the kitchen in her stockinged feet.
She pushed the kitchen door open, gently, placing a smile on her face.
Sasha, her fourteen-year-old daughter, was standing with her back to the stove, pushed against it uncomfortably. In front of her, leaning over her, was Robert. He was stroking the girl’s cheek with his fingers. Sasha stared back at him, her eyes wide, cheeks pale.
“What the hell are you doing?” Kate let the door slam behind her and strode towards her boyfriend and daughter.
Sasha looked past Robert at her mother. Red blotches sprang to her cheeks and she slumped against the stove. Robert spun round to face Kate.
“Kate, honey!” He stepped towards her, his arms outstretched.
“Don’t you Kate honey me. What the hell were you doing?” She turned to Sasha. “Did he hurt you, sweetie?”
Sasha blinked a few times then ran past her mother. The door slammed once again and there was the thud of Sasha’s feet racing up the stairs. Another slam as she hurled herself into her room.
“It’s not what it looks like,” said Robert. His voice caught on the like.
Kate turned to him. “Go on then. What was it? And what exactly do you think it looked like?”
He twisted his lips. She could smell fear on him: high and sharp. “She was upset. Some girls at school took her cell. They’ve been teasing her for her hair.”
“What does that have to do with you pinning her to the stove and grabbing her?”
“I didn’t grab her. I was trying to console her.”
“She’s a fourteen-year-old girl, Robert. She hates being touched. There’s no way she would let you stroke her face like that.”
He shrugged. “Maybe she opens up to me more than she does you.”
Kate felt anger boil in her stomach. “Get out.”
His shoulders slumped. “You’re angry with me. I get it. I’ll come by tomorrow, huh? We can work this out.”
“There’s nothing to work out.”
He put a hand out but she batted it away.
“Come on, Kate. It’s just a touch. No harm done.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Have you touched her like this before?”
“Of course not.”
“And tonight, when you’re alone with her, it suddenly becomes alright?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. I was just talking to her.”
“She was leaning back over that stove so far I thought she was going to fall onto it. You had her cornered.”
He drew himself up. “Come on, Kate. You’re exaggerating.”
She lifted herself up, wishing she hadn’t taken off her heels. “I want you to leave, Robert. I’ll send your things on to you.”
He grabbed her wrist. She pulled back but his grip was firm. He’d never hurt her before. He’d never touched Sasha before. “You’ll regret this,” he said.
“No,” she replied. “You will.”
He leaned in. “You have no evidence, if that’s what you’re thinking. Nothing you can take to court. You and your precious lawyer buddies.”
“I just want you away from my daughter.” She forced herself to breathe. “Give me your key, before you leave.”
“Glad to.” He plunged his hand into a trouser pocket, letting go of her wrist. She took the opportunity to back away, toward the door. She hoped Sasha wasn’t listening.
He yanked a key off his fob and threw it onto the floor. “There,” he spat. “All yours, bitch.”
She pursed her lips but said nothing. She glared at him, trying not to blink, to look away. He met her gaze as he crossed the floor and brushed past her as he reached the door.
She hurried through the door behind him, anxious to make sure he didn’t call Sasha on his way out. He glanced up the stairs as he pulled his jacket off the hook, but said nothing. Kate could feel her heart thumping in her ears. She longed to run up the stairs, to go to her daughter.
Robert opened the door and turned to her.
“It’s been good,” he said. “Shame to end it like this.”
She glanced toward the door by way of instruction. He shrugged and stepped out.
She pushed the door closed behind him and pulled all the bolts. She stared at the door, breathless, sweat beading on her forehead.
Upstairs, music was coming from Sasha’s room: Beyoncé.
Kate ran from room to room, checking the locks, pulling the drapes. They were safe.
She took deep breaths as she headed up the stairs. She knocked on her daughter’s door but didn’t wait to be called in.
Inside, Sasha was lying on her bed, her eyes closed.
“Sasha, honey. I’m so sorry.”
Sasha opened her eyes. “Leave me, Mom.”
“He’s gone. He won’t be coming back. I’m so sorry for letting him near you.”
“It’s fine. Go away.” Sasha turned onto her front to face away from her mother. Beyoncé finished her song: something anodyne, nothing like her earlier career, the songs that were now banned. The room went quiet. Kate heard a car drive away outside.
She approached the bed and put a tentative hand on her daughter’s back. “You can tell me, you know. Anything. If he touched you like that before, if he hurt you.”
“Please. Just go.” A sob.
Sasha was a quiet, studious teenager who spent much of her time huddled up here doing homework and chatting to her friends on Discord. Kate respected Sasha’s privacy. Her daughter hated being disturbed, but this was different. Kate longed to gather her up and fold her in her arms like she would have done just a few short years ago.
“What was he doing, honey?”
“You can tell me, you know.”
Sasha pushed her hair aside. Her face was red. “So you can prepare a legal case?”
“So I can help you. You can tell me if he hurt you, Sash. If he touched you anywhere else. I won’t take it any further if you don’t want me to.”
Sasha shook her head. “I want to be on my own.”
Kate’s chest felt hollow. “OK. I’m not going to force you to talk to me. But anything that’s bothering you, you can tell me. It’s not your fault. Whatever he told you, you did not ask for him to treat you like that.”
Kate nodded. She waited for Sasha to say more.
“Please Mom. Just go.”
Kate bit her lip. She thought of Sasha’s father, six hundred miles away with his new family.
“Go,” Sasha repeated.
Kate retreated until her back was against the door. “I love you, sweetie.”
“I’ll be right downstairs, if you need me.”
“I know.” Sasha pulled on headphones and lay on her back, her eyes closed.
Kate stifled a deep sigh and left her daughter’s room, hoping Sasha hadn’t seen her tears.