Usually I pride myself on my intuition. I listen to that voice that says, “Something bad is happening…” or maybe “Get out. Now.” But on that Tuesday at the end of October, my psyche must have been protecting the one remaining day I still believed life was orderly and the universe liked me. Because I didn’t hear that voice. I never saw it coming.
They say bad things happen in threes. When her fiancé, Sam, disappears on the same day her mentor and biggest client is killed, hotshot Chicago attorney Izzy McNeil starts counting. But trouble keeps coming. Sam is implicated in the client’s death, her apartment is broken into and it’s not just the authorities who are following her.
Now, to find Sam and uncover her client’s murderer, Izzy will have to push past limits she never imagined. Lucky for her she’s always thrived under pressure, because her world is falling apart. Fast. And the trail of half-truths and lies is red-hot.
One day can age you.
Usually, I pride myself on my intuition. I listen to that voice that says, “Something bad is happening…” or maybe, “Get out now, you idiot.”
But on that Tuesday at the end of October, my psyche must have been protecting the one remaining day while I still believed that the universe was kind, that life was hectic but orderly. Because I didn’t hear that voice. I never saw it coming.
“McNeil, she’s not signing this crap.”
“She told me she was signing it last week.”
“She told you she was considering it.”
“No.” I shifted the phone to my other ear and pinned it there with my shoulder. With my hands free, I lifted up and sat down about ten stacks of papers on my desk, looking for Jane Augustine’s contract. I punched the button on my phone that would send a bleating plea to my assistant. “She told me she was signing it. Period.”
“That’s insane. With that lame buy-out clause? No way. No. Way. You have no idea what you’re doing, kid.”
I felt a hard, familiar kernel of fear in my belly.
“It’s the same buy-out clause she had in her last contract.” I ignored the personal comment he’d lobbed at me. I had gotten my fair share of them while representing Pickett Enterprises over the last three years, and although I acted like such comments didn’t sting, I often thought, You’re right. I have no idea what I’m doing.
I finally found the current contract under a pile of production facility agreements. I flipped through it as fast as I could, searching for the clause.
My assistant, Q—short for Quentin—stuck his head in my office with a nervous what now? look. I dropped the document and put my hand over the mouthpiece. “Can you get me Jane’s last contract?”
He nodded quickly, his bald, black head shining under the law firm’s fluorescent lights. He made a half-hearted attempt to find it amongst the chaos of my office—redwell folders that spanned the length of my visitors’ couch, file folders, motions and deposition transcripts stacked precariously on my desk. Throwing his hands up, Q spun around and headed for his own tidy and calm work station.
“I’m not messing around, kid,” Steve Severny was saying on the phone. Severny was the biggest agent/lawyer in town, representing more than half of Chicago’s broadcasters and nearly all its top actors. “Change the buy-out or we’re walking. NBC has been calling, and next time I’m not telling them no.”
I swallowed down the tension that felt thick in my throat. Jane Augustine was the most popular news anchor at the station owned by Pickett Enterprises, my client. The CEO, Forester Pickett, was a huge fan of hers. I couldn’t lose Jane to another station.
Meanwhile, Severny kept rolling. “And I want a pay-or-play added to paragraph twenty-two.”
I flipped through the contract and found the paragraph. It was tough, yes, and it was favorable to Pickett Enterprises, but as much as I couldn’t lose Jane, I couldn’t simply give in to anything her agent wanted. My job was to land the terms most favorable to Pickett Enterprises, and although the stress of that job was always heavy, sometimes so heavy I could barely see through it, I would do my job. There was no alternative.
“No pay-or-play,” I said. “It’s non-negotiable. I told you that last time, and I’m telling you again. That comes from Forester himself.” It always helped to throw Forester in the mix, to remind people that I was here, making their lives tough, because he wanted me to.
“Then let’s talk about the non compete.”
“Let’s do that.” I thumbed through the contract, grateful to have seemingly won a point. Q darted into the room with Jane’s previous contract, cleared a space on my desk and put it down.
I nodded thanks.
Q then placed a sheet of white paper on top it, giving me a sympathetic smile. In red ink, he’d written, Izzy, your meeting with the wedding Nazi is in forty-five minutes.
“Crap,” I said.
“That’s right,” Severny said, his voice rising. “That’s what I told you before. It is crap. And we’re not signing it!” And with that, he hung up.
“Mother hen in a basket!” I yelled, slamming down the phone.
I was trying not to swear anymore. I thought it sounded crass when people swore. The problem was it sounded great to me when I did it. And it felt so damned good. But swearing wasn’t appropriate at a law firm, as Q had reminded me on more than one occasion, and so I was replacing things like goddamn it with God bless you and Jesus Christ with Jiminy Christmas and motherfucker with mother hen in a basket.
Q sank into a chair across from my desk. “I know you’re crazed, and I know you have to leave soon, but first I need some of your fiery, redheaded decisiveness.”
I sat down, crossed my hands on my desk and gave Q my army-general stare. “I could use a quick break. Hit me.”
Q was wearing his usual crisp khakis and a blazer. He tugged at the blazer to try and hide the slightly protruding belly he hated—his personal nemesis to the perfect gay physique. Not that this deterred him from sizing up the rest of the male species. Q had emerged from the closet six years prior, and though he had a live-in boyfriend, Max, he still enjoyed the “new gay” privilege of ogling every man he came across.
He paused dramatically now. “Max’s mother is coming to town tomorrow.”
“I see your problem.” Max’s mother was a former Las Vegas showgirl, an eccentric woman with whom you’d love to grab a martini but who wears you out after two hours. The last time she’d come to Chicago, Q nearly broke up with Max just for an excuse to get out of the house.
“How long is she in for?” I asked.
“That’s not going to work.”
“I know it’s not going to work.”
“You can make her help with your Halloween party this weekend.”
He nodded, reluctantly conceding the point. “What am I going to the rest of the time?”
“Take on a new woodworking project and hang out in the garage?”
Q had gray eyes that I’d always found calming, but they flashed with irritation now. “That’s not decisive, Izzy. There’s a question mark at the end of that sentence. And it’s almost November! I can’t spend two weeks in an unheated garage in November.”
“Watch a lot of football?” Q had retained many of his straight man tendencies. A love of football was one of them.
“That’s another question, Izzy. And you know she’ll hover and talk, hover and talk. I won’t see a single play.”
“Okay, okay. Tell Max she has to stay in a hotel, and you guys will pay for part of it.”
Q ran his hands over his head again. “I guess maybe that would work.” He sighed. “God, I hate being in a relationship.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
Just then Tanner Hornsby, a high ranking partner in his mid-forties, walked by my office. He was tall, with deep black hair (dyed, I suspected) that arched into a widow’s peak. He was rumored to run five miles a day, every day, before work, and so he was lean and wiry, but he had the tired, slightly puffy eyes of a career drinker.
He stopped now and frowned at us.
Q turned in his seat. “Oh, hello, Mr. Hornsby,” he said in a breathy, effeminate voice, which he doled out only to annoy certain people like Tanner and his father.
“Hi, Tan,” I said.
His frown deepened. No one called him Tan. He was Mr. Hornsby to most, and Tanner to the elite few, myself definitely not included, but I needed him to believe me his legal equal. I ignored his distain and called him Tan because I wanted him to know he didn’t scare me, even if he did. Behind closed doors, Q and I had other names for him—Toad Horny, Tanned Hide, The Horned One…
“I couldn’t help but hear your phone conversation from down the hall,” Tanner said. “Was that Steve Severny you were speaking with? Problems?”
Tanner Hornsby had negotiated hundreds of contracts with Steve Severny. Severny would never tell Tanner he didn’t know what he was doing.
“No problems.” I gave Tanner my dutiful-nice-girl look which served me well at the law firm of Baltimore & Brown. Though truthfully, I didn’t need the look anymore. The ludicrous amount of dough I pulled in through the Pickett Enterprises work allowed me to get away with just about anything. I was my own little island amid a sea of associates who hadn’t been as lucky as me, and, as a result were forced to be ass-kissers and line-towers.
“How are your hours this month, Isabel?”
“Just fine, Tan, thanks for asking.”
Ever since Forester Pickett had made me the lead attorney for Pickett Enterprises, taking the cases away from Tanner, Tanner hated me. Tanner was lifelong friends with Forester’s son, Shane. He’d originally gotten the Pickett Enterprises work because of that connection and thought he’d never lose it. Every so often, Tanner tried to throw his lean, wiry weight around and remind me that he was still my superior by calling me Isabel instead of Izzy and asking questions about billable hours or continuing legal education. I felt bad for him. I felt guilty. I hadn’t tried to take Forester’s work from him. Forester had simply taken a shine to me, and I rode that windfall as far as I could. I knew many attorneys at the firm thought I’d gotten the work because I was a woman—a young woman with long curls of red hair that wasn’t afraid to wear high, high heels and drink with Forester until the wee hours.
Even if that was true, I didn’t care. I adored Forester. He was a smart, sweet man—not one of those older guys who oh-so-accidentally kept touching your hand…and your elbow… and your lower back. No, Forester was a prince, and like a prince he’d swooped in and saved me from the torment and agony of being just another associate slave. The job was hard, but I knew I was now doing good things for Pickett Enterprises. Still, that knowledge couldn’t hedge my occasional yet powerful bouts of self-doubt or the feeling that I was an imposter, one who could be exposed at any time.
Tanner grunted. “Keep the hours up. We’ve got the end of the year soon.”
I put a concerned look on my face, as if I didn’t have the top billable hours of any associate at the firm, and nodded. “Sure. Will do.”
He left. Thank God.
My cell phone dinged from where it sat atop a monstrous deposition transcript on my desk. I picked it up. A text message from Sam. Hey, Red Hot. Leaving for Cassandra’s. See you there.
“Damn it.” Cassandra was the wedding planner.
Q raised his eyebrows.
“Darn it,” I corrected.
I swiveled around and started scrambling through the chaos on my credenza until I found my bag. I couldn’t be late again. Plus, I needed to talk to Sam about this wedding stuff, which was starting to weigh me down as heavily as my job.
“Are you taking home the Casey research?” Q asked. “We have to file the motion by tomorrow.”
“I know, I know.” I stuffed a pile of case law and my Dictaphone into my bag.
“And don’t forget Sam’s dinner tonight at the Union League Club,” Q said.
I tried to ignore the mountain of panic taking over my insides. “Yeah, it’s going to be torture. Those financial dinners always are. But I’ll leave early and work on the motion.”
“You can do it,” Q said. “You always do.”
“Thanks.” I stopped and smiled, and he flashed one back.
As I kept stuffing things into my bag, I thought about how a big, blowout wedding had not been my idea. In fact, when Sam and I got engaged, I was fine to book a trip to the Caribbean with a few friends, throw on a little slip dress and get married to the sound of steel drums. But my mother, who hadn’t planned much of anything, or didn’t usually care about much of anything, seemed stuck on a huge, traditional wedding. And my soon-to-be husband who had legions of friends from grade school, high school, college, business school and work said he was on board for that as well. I want everyone to see how much I love you, he’d said. How does a girl say no to that?
My phone rang. Q took a step toward my desk and we both looked at the caller ID. Victoria McNeil. My mother.
Q picked it up, handed it to me, left the office.
“Hi, Mom.” I zipped up my bag. “What’s up?”
“Izzy, I know you two picked out the plates with the silver border for the reception, but I think we should consider the gold again.” My mother’s voice was calm and smooth, as always. “I’ve been thinking about it, and the linens are a soft white, rather than a crisp white, and that really lends itself toward gold rather than silver.”
“That’s fine. Whatever you think.” Reflexively, I extended the fingers of my left hand and glanced at my engagement ring, an antique, art deco piece with an emerald cut diamond. Looking at my ring used to make me grin. Now, it made me wince a little.
“Okay, and another thing. If you talk to your brother, Charlie, give him a little encouragement will you? We need him to try on suits.”
“The wedding is still six weeks away.”
“That’s right. Only six weeks away.”
My stomach hollowed. Only six weeks.
“Charlie has to stop dragging his feet,” my mom said.
I murmured in vague agreement, but for once I felt simpatico with my brother. Mentally, I, too, needed to stop dragging my feet about this wedding thing.
“Don’t forget you have another dress fitting tomorrow night.”
I tried not to sigh. “I know,” I said. “Battle number five.”
During the first visits with my bridal seamstress, Maria, it seemed she was trying to flatten my breasts and hide my hips, parts of my body I rather liked. I kept telling her, “I think the dress needs to be sexier,” and so she’d been dutifully making the bust line lower and the waistline tighter until the last time when she’d taken the pins out of her mouth and said in her accented English, “You want to look like hooker on wedding day?”
I told her I’d think about it.
I realized that most women wanted an ethereal look for their wedding, but I liked wearing sexy clothes on a daily basis, so why not on my wedding day? Plus, Sam said he wanted me in something hot. So I was going to give him hot.
“Izzy, really,” my mom said. “I don’t want you showing nipple on your wedding day.”
I laughed, and it felt good, like it was loosening up my insides. “See you tomorrow, mom.”
I logged off the computer, grabbed my bag and left to meet Sam.
It was just an average day.
– David Ellis, Edgar Award winning author of Line of Vision and Eye of the Beholder
“Red Hot Lies introduces Izzy McNeil, a redhead Chicago lawyer who gets mixed up in more than she signed on for when she became head attorney for a major media mogul…The coolest thing about this book is the Chicago connection. If you live here, there is no doubt you’ll recognize the city as the great character it is. In the first 100 pages alone, there are dozens of local references such as Lincoln Park, Streetwise, the Cubs, the Sox, the Union League Club, the Green Mill, the Vic and so many streets and restaurants and neighborhoods that you’ll be craning your head around to see if theh woman cruisng down Lakeshore Drive on the Vespa is Izzy McNeil herself.”
– Chicago Sun-Times
“Caldwell’s writing is always smart, sassy, and sexy, with more suspense than a celebrity murder trial. In RED HOT LIES, her prose burns up the page, and you’ll be still reading waaaaay past your bedtime. Highly recommended!”
– JA Konrath, author of the Lt. Jacqueline Daniels thrillers
“Life goes from fab to more than drab for Chicago attorney Izzy McNeil, the likable redhead in “Red Hot Lies.”…Caldwell, who teaches law at Loyola University, has written several novels before this and though her reviews have always been great, the Izzy McNeil series has really taken off…Her books, fast paced, snappy and highly readable, are a sophisticated blend of romance, mystery and savoir faire.”
– Northwest Indiana Times
Caldwell teases and tempts with sexiness, creating a desire for more as she connects the characters…Caldwell pushes and pulls the emotions of love, temptation, desire and loss…Red Blooded Murder and Red, White & Dead will be released in July and August respectively, keeping Izzy’s fans bathed in anticipation of another crime story laced with love and lust.
“RED HOT LIES is a wonderfully plotted story, smoothly crafted, filled with striking characters and great narrative. Caldwell slips seamlessly between voices to deliver an emotional roller coaster of a thriller. A legal lioness – Caldwell has written a gripping edge-of-the-seat thriller that will not disappoint.
- Steve Martini, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow of Power and Compelling Evidence
“When readers fall in love with a character, it can be excruciating to have to wait a year (or more) for the next book in the series to be published…That might be one reason for the interesting back-to-back publication of three new mysteries by Laura Caldwell. So readers charmed by the series’ feisty, red-headed heroine, Izzy McNeil, won’t have to wait long for their next fix….Those captivated by Izzy McNeil in Red Hot Lies may want to ration out Red Blooded Murder and Red, White & Dead. After this series jump-start, it will be a year or more before the fourth book in the series is released. That kind of wait could have frustrated readers wishing they’d been a little more judicious and a little less greedy.”
– Book Page
“Caldwell’s fast-paced writing engages the reader through eight days of agonizing uncertainty, clues and confusion to a cleverly conceived ending….The author’s ability to write steamy and passionate scenes is demonstrated well. I was anticipating how Caldwell, whose personal past has been spent dealing with the realities of the law, would delve into romantic fantasy. She teases and tempts with sexiness, creating a desire for more as she connects the characters…RED BLOODED MURDER and RED, WHITE & DEAD will be released in July and August respectively, keeping Izzy’s fans bathed in anticipation of another crime story laced with love and lust.”
– Book Reporter
“The plot races along, Izzy’s friends and foes do unexpected things, and then we get to the end of the book. Or do we? Surprise ending! We do not. Look for three books in the Red Hot series out this summer.” - Kim Alexander, Fiction Nation/Book Radio ”Izzy McNeil is one tough cookie. She doesn’t give up till the job is done. No matter how high the stakes are stacked aganist her. Red Hot Lies has a interesting plot that will keep you on your toes till the very last page. When I first saw that ony of my favorite authors Laura Caldwell was releasing this new trilogy, I get knew I had to check it out. I am happy to report that this book did not disppoint. Ms. Caldwell has such an amazing range of talent. Everything she writes is a winner in my book…from chick lit stories to international suspense thrillers. I can’t wait to visit with Izzy again.”
– Cheryl’s Book Nook
“Told mainly from the heroine’s first-person point of view, this beautifully crafted and tightly written story is a fabulous read. It’s very difficult to put down—and the ending is terrific.”
– Romantic Times, 4.5 stars
“Izzy tells much of the exciting story line as she bikes along the Windy City seeking clues to the whereabouts of her missing fiancé and to solve who committed the murder. However as she “joy” rides through the city, enough law enforcement types to fill Wrigley and thugs to fill U.S. Cellular Field (or is that the New Comiskey Park) follow her. Fans will enjoy this entertaining amateur sleuth as somehow everything converges on Iz who could use a day off; just not in jail.
- Genre Go Round Reviews.com
“Former trial lawyer Caldwell launches a mystery series that weaves the emotional appeal of her chick lit titles with the blinding speed of her thrillers. Young, sassy Izzy McNeil, lead entertainment lawyer at Pickett Enterprises, has earned envy for her success (much of which she owes to the patronage of CEO Forester Pickett) and cheeky manner, but she’s starting to panic about her upcoming wedding to charming Sam Hollings. Then Pickett is killed and Sam vanishes, as do $30 million worth of Panamanian real estate bonds….[R]eaders will be left looking forward to another heart-pounding ride on Izzy’s silver Vespa.”
- Publisher’s Weekly
“Laura Caldwell is doing it again. Her first of three books in a back-to-back-to-back trilogy will be in bookstores June 1. Red Hot Lies centers around the activities of hot shot Chicago attorney Izzy McNeil… Caldwell is a prominent law professor who develops imaginative plots… It’s fascinating how she dreams up ”
– Northwest Herald
“I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved Izzy’s character; she is intelligent, strong, and refuses to just lie down and let the world walk on her! When Izzy doesn’t get help from where she expects to get help, she finds another way to get the answers she needs. And Izzy is tenacious and it wouldn’t be wise to stand in her way! There is a teaser for book two, Red Blooded Murder, at the end of this book and it just wet my appetite for more Izzy! I can’t wait to read the second book with Izzy and her friends and family! If you are looking for a romantic suspense type of story featuring a strong female heroine with an intriguing mystery to resolve, then you will enjoy Red Hot Lies!”
- Manic Readers.com