Lightning - By Danielle Steel

Chapter 1

The voices droned around the conference room as Alexandra Parker stretched long legs beneath the huge mahogany table. She jotted a note on a yellow legal pad, and glanced across the table briefly at one of her partners. Matthew Billings was older than Alex by a dozen years, he was in his mid-fifties, and one of the firm's most respected partners. He rarely asked for help from anyone, but it was not unusual for him to ask Alex to sit in on a deposition. He liked to pick her brain, admired her style, her sharp eye for the opponent's fatal weakness. And Alex was merciless and brilliant once she found it. She seemed to have an instinctive sense for where the point of the dagger would do the most damage.

She smiled at him now, and he liked what he saw in her eyes. She had heard just what they needed. A different answer from the time before. The very merest inflection. She slipped him a note on her yellow pad, and with a serious frown, he nodded.

The case was an extraordinarily complicated one, and had already been in process for years. It had been to the New York Supreme Court twice, with various motions, and involved the careless dispersal of highly toxic chemical pollutants by one of the most important corporations in the country. Alex had sat in on these depositions for Matt before. And she was always glad that this particular case wasn't her problem. The suit was being brought collectively by some two hundred families in Poughkeepsie, and represented millions of dollars. The case had been referred to Bartlett and Paskin years before, just after she had become a partner.

She liked her cases tougher, shorter, and smaller. Two hundred plaintiffs were not her cup of tea, although more than a dozen attorneys had worked on it, under Matthew's direction. Alexandra Parker was a litigation attorney too, and she handled an interesting assortment of difficult cases. She was the firm's first choice when the fight was going to be hard and dirty, and you needed an attorney who knew case law and was willing to spend a million hours doing meticulous research. She had associates and younger partners to help her of course, but Alex wanted to do as much of the work as she could herself, and she had a remarkable rapport with most of her clients.

Her real forte was labor law and libel. And she did a fair amount of litigation in both fields, though certainly, a lot of cases were settled. But Alex Parker was a fighter, a lawyer's lawyer, someone who knew her stuff and wasn't afraid of hard work. In fact, she loved it.

They broke from the deposition for a recess, and Matthew came around the table to talk to her after the defendant from the chemical company left the room with all his attorneys.

“So what do you think?” Matthew eyed her with interest. He had always had a soft spot for her. She had a fine mind and great skill as an attorney. Besides which, she was one of the best-looking women he knew, and he liked just being around her. She was solid, she was smart, she knew the law, and she had great intuition.

“I think you just got what you wanted, Matt. When he said that no one knew back then of the possible toxic effects of their materials, he was lying. That's the first time they've come right out and said it. We have the government reports from six months before that.”

“I know.” He beamed. “He walked right into it, didn't he?”

“He sure did. You don't need me here. You've got him.” She dropped her legal pad into her briefcase, and glanced at her watch. It was eleven-thirty. They'd break for lunch in another half hour. But if she left now, she could get a little more work done.

“Thanks for coming in. It's always nice having you around. You look so innocent, you throw them off-guard. While he's staring at your legs, I can throw the net over him and grab him.” He liked teasing her and she knew it. Matthew Billings was tall and attractive, with a full head of white hair, and a beautiful French wife who had been a fashion model in Paris. Matthew Billings liked pretty women, but he also respected talented and smart ones.

“Thanks a lot.” She looked ruefully at him, her red hair pulled back in a severe bun, her face so lightly made