ALTHOUGH PEOPLE OFTEN said that divorce was an ugly business, Victoria Slade had a different perspective. Typically, by the time clients arrived on her office doorstep, it was the marriage that had gotten ugly. Divorce was simply the part where the truth came out.
In a cab on the way to her town house on Chicago’s north side, Victoria leaned her head against the seat and thought about the case she’d wrapped up today. Her client, a forty-five-year-old stay-at-home mom, had been blindsided three months ago after being served with a divorce petition by her husband of fourteen years. According to the terms of the couple’s prenuptial agreement, Victoria’s client was not entitled to receive any portion of the sizable business empire her husband had amassed, throughout the course of their marriage, as one of the most successful celebrity chefs in Chicago. The three lucrative restaurants, the bestselling cookbooks, and the income derived from his Food Network cooking show had all been designated “separate assets” per the prenup and thus untouchable by his wife in the event of a divorce.
Unless, of course, Mr. Celebrity Chef violated the no-cheating clause in the couple’s prenup, thereby rendering the entire agreement invalid.
Knowing this, Victoria naturally had done a little digging.
She would say this for Mr. Celebrity Chef: he’d covered his tracks better than most cheating spouses she’d come across—and that was coming from someone who’d made virtually a cottage industry out of the unfaithfully wed. Most got caught after leaving a text message or e-mail trail, others because of suspicious activity on their credit card or bank statements. But this guy had been smart: he’d bought his twenty-six-year-old mistress a one-bedroom condo in the Ritz-Carlton Residences via a limited liability company that he’d created under false pretenses—supposedly a “food supply” company—to which his restaurants had made bimonthly payments in the amount of twenty thousand dollars.
Unfortunately for him, however, the forensic accountant Victoria had hired to comb through Mr. Celebrity Chef’s books was even smarter.
And the rest was history.
Because of the diligent work of Victoria Slade & Associates, their client had walked out of this afternoon’s settlement conference with significantly more money than the maintenance award she would have received had they not busted her husband with his hands in the metaphorical cookie jar. So to celebrate, Victoria had taken all six of her associates—and Will, her assistant and right-hand man—out for a well-earned evening of dinner and drinks.
Lots of drinks, judging from the tab Victoria had signed off on when leaving the restaurant.
She, herself, was basically sober when the cab pulled up in front of her three-story townhome. She enjoyed a good bourbon on the rocks as much as the next girl, but tonight she’d been wearing her Badass Boss hat, and as far as she was concerned, badass bosses didn’t get falling-down drunk in front of their employees.
She tipped the driver an extra twenty when the taxi came to a stop. “Would you mind waiting until I get inside before you drive off?” She was playing it safe, of course, given the recent string of burglaries in the Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods. Not to mention the fact that it was one o’clock in the morning.
He nodded. “Sure. No problem.”
After getting out of the cab, she crossed the sidewalk and headed up the front steps of the brick town house she’d lived in for the last ten months. Her first home. In truth, she probably could’ve afforded to buy the place a couple of years earlier given the success of her firm. But with childhood memories of “Notice of Foreclosure” dancing in her head, she’d wanted to be confident she wasn’t biting off more than she could chew with the mortgage.
Victoria unlocked the front door, triggering the warning beep of her security system, and immediately punched her code into the keypad. When the alarm went silent, she turned around and waved to the cabdriver.
She brought in the mail, deposited it on the kitchen counter, and headed upstairs. After rearming the security system from the keypad in her bedroom, she changed into a T-shirt and shorts, quickly scrubbed the makeup off her face, brushed her teeth, then climbed into bed. She debated whether to return some work e-mails, then decided—nah—that she’d earned a few hours off given the success of today’s settlement conference.
With a satisfied smile, she snuggled into the covers and began to drift off.
* * *
Victoria shot up in bed when she heard the warning signal from her security system that the front door had been opened.
She heard the door shut downstairs, followed by the sound of footsteps.
Oh my God. Someone was in her house.
She slid out of bed and grabbed her cell phone from the nightstand. The alarm signal stopped, and the house fell silent again.
Her heart started thumping in her chest when she heard a man’s voice downstairs.
“We’re good to go,” he said.
Victoria moved silently into her walk-in closet, a space almost as large as her bathroom. Her laundry hamper was tucked between the wall and a row of long dresses. Sliding past the clothes, she crouched down and hid behind the hamper.
Her hand was trembling as she dialed 9-1-1 on her phone.
A woman’s voice. “9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
Victoria whispered, her words coming out in a rush. “My name’s Victoria Slade. I live at 1116 North Garner. Someone’s broken into my house.”
“Is the intruder in your home right now, ma’am?”
“Yes, I think there are two of them. I’m hiding in a closet upstairs and—” She paused, hearing something that made her palms sweat. “Someone’s coming up the stairs. I can’t talk—they’ll hear.”
“Ma’am, I’ll stay on the li—”
Victoria turned the volume on the phone all the way down and covered the speaker with her hand. Through a small space in between the hamper and the wall, she could see the closet doorway.
She held her breath as the footsteps on the hardwood floors grew louder.
A man dressed in dark clothing came into view in front of the closet. He paused, and then reached for his hip and pulled out a gun.
“You sure she hasn’t been home?” he called out to someone, in a gruff voice.
Another guy stepped in front of the closet. “Yeah, I’m sure. Why?”