Sneak peek of a work in progress

After I released Mother Load in 2010, fans of the Shaken Series began to ask, “Any plans for Book 5?” I’ve said no for ten years, but I always added a caveat: “If the right story comes to me, I promise I’ll write it.” Well, guess what?

I’ve been toying with this one for about a year, and only recently started to write. I’m calling it Behind Closed Doors. For the time being, I’m not going to think about how this pandemic will change our world. It might or might not change this story.

So here’s a sneak peek from an early draft, subject to continuous self doubt, obsessive revisions, and of course, professional editing.

CHAPTER ONE

Five-year-old Dreama Doe had been a ward of the state since being found two years ago, dirty and hungry, abandoned in a downtown park. Today she was getting a new start in the home of Prince and Tamara Peavine, who had been her foster parents for the last fourteen months. One day she would look back and call this the luckiest day of her life. 

If there was one person in the courtroom who understood what an auspicious occasion this was, it was Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lilian Stewart Kaklis. Like Dreama, she’d been neglected and abused as a toddler, which led to placements in a series of foster homes. On her luckiest day, she walked out of the courtroom holding hands with her new mom, Eleanor Stewart, who’d helped her become the woman she was today.

“Your Honor, the State of California is satisfied these petitioners meet all necessary criteria to complete this adoption.” This, from child services supervisor Sandy Henke, who represented the State in today’s procedure. Sandy, who also was Lily’s best friend, couldn’t hide her enormous grin. In her line of work, there was no greater success story than the adoption of a child into a loving family. 

“And is the State also confident this placement is in the best interest of this child?”   

“Oh, we’re extremely confident, Your Honor.” 

“All right then, it looks like we have some celebrating to do.” Smiling broadly herself, Lily peered down from the bench at the excited child. “Dreama, would you like to come up here and help me make this official? Who’s taking pictures?”

“I am.” An exuberant gray-haired gentleman—Dreama’s new grandfather, Lily guessed—rose from the gallery brandishing an expensive-looking camera. Quite a few members of the Peavine extended family had turned out for the happy occasion.

Wearing a lavender crinoline dress with patent leather shoes, the girl skipped up the stairs to the bench, where Lily pushed back her chair to make room in her lap. With Dreama settled on her knee, she picked up her pen. “Do you know what happens when I write my name on this piece of paper?”

Dreama’s brown eyes danced with excitement. “It makes me a family,” she said, causing a chuckle around the courtroom. 

“It makes you a family! That’s right. Should we ask your mom and dad to come up here and help us?”

Without waiting for an answer, the couple hurried up to join them. Once they were in place, Lily signed the order to a chorus of cheers. Dozens of celebratory photos later, she adjourned the court for lunch.

Sandy squeezed through the side door before it closed. Now in her mid-fifties, she’d finally surrendered to the extra twenty-five pounds that had clung to her despite years of dieting. Lily couldn’t help but note how much more relaxed she seemed. Holding up an insulated bag, Sandy said, “I hope we’re still on for lunch, Your Honor. Suzanne made us chicken sandwiches on fresh sourdough.”

“Bless Suzanne!” Lily looped their arms and led her down the narrow hallway to the labyrinth of judges’ chambers. Best friends for nearly twenty years, they always relished the occasions when their work brought them together. “You don’t have to call me Your Honor back here, you know. High Priestess of Familial Justice will do when it’s just us.”

“High Priestess it is, then. I have to admit, it blows my mind every time you walk in wearing that robe. Don’t get me wrong, it suits you. But it seems like just yesterday you and I were juggling impossible caseloads, going to battle every day against the system.”

“We’re still juggling impossible caseloads, but now we are the system,” Lily said. “And all these young, idealistic lawyers and caseworkers probably feel like they’re out there doing battle with us.”

Lily’s surprising appointment to the bench had come just five months ago following the retirement of persnickety family court judge Rusty Evans, who’d championed her to his colleagues as his replacement. Though Judge Evans had been notoriously tough on attorneys, she’d always held him in grudging esteem for his consistent focus on what was best for the children who came to his court. Lily was determined to follow in his footsteps.

At forty-five, she was among the youngest of the hundred-plus judges in the Stanley Mosk building, the downtown courthouse where for years she had argued family law and criminal cases as an attorney at Braxton Street Legal Aid Clinic. As a relative newcomer to the bench, she had a windowless office that could barely hold three guests without getting into one another’s personal space. Still, this was her “chambers,” and she’d decorated it with her diploma from UCLA and framed photos of her family, including her favorite candids of sixteen-year-old Andy and twins George and Eleanor, who’d recently celebrated their tenth birthday. 

Sandy cleared a space on the desk and unpacked the lunch bag. “Are you making friends here, Lil?”

Lily shrugged as she hung her robe on the back of her office door. “I already knew a lot of these folks. I’ve been darkening their doors for ages. To be honest, nobody has time to socialize. We all have so much minutiae to handle with filings and transcripts. And the dockets have to run like clockwork or it all breaks down.”

“Sounds a lot like being a caseworker…or a legal aid attorney. But you still like it, right?”

“No.” Lily paused thoughtfully before her smile leaked out. “I love it. This is my dream job, Sandy. The absolute top of the pyramid…though I wouldn’t mind having one of those big offices across the hall someday.”

Superior Court judges were appointed by the governor and served six-year terms before coming up for re-election. In the absence of a shocking scandal or controversy, voters almost always retained incumbents. Essentially, an appointment to the bench was all but guaranteed for life. 

Lily arranged two of the guest chairs side by side and peeled back the bread on a sandwich to find sliced apples and soft white cheese atop thin slices of roasted chicken breast. “Suzanne makes the best sandwiches. My mouth is watering already.”

“Speaking of significant others, how’s Anna? We haven’t seen her since before Christmas.”

“I’ve hardly seen her myself, but that’s February for you. She goes straight from year-end sales to tax season.”

“Why don’t you guys come over next weekend? Suzanne has Sunday off. She’ll fire up the grill.”

Lily checked the yellow bar on her phone’s calendar, a family event. “Thanks, but next Sunday’s no good. We’re doing a birthday bash for Hal and Alice.”

“At least have Anna look at her schedule and let’s try to make a date. She’s turning into a hermit.” 

“Will do.” Lily silently congratulated herself for successfully dodging more questions about her wife. She couldn’t risk letting something slip that could land both of them in federal prison.


*****

The braintrust of Premier Motors sat huddled in the back of a stretch limo, a soundproof window sealing their conversation from the chauffeur. This secretive group consisted of owner and CEO Anna Kaklis; chief financial officer Hal Philips, who happened to be Anna’s brother-in-law; vice president for human resources Vera Ridley; and general counsel Lupe Segura. They’d spent the whole day holed up in a conference room at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel discussing a deal that would spell the end of the Kaklis family’s auto empire. Their presumptive buyer was Pinnacle Motor Corporation, a publicly traded management group that owned hundreds of car dealerships up and down the West Coast. Complete secrecy was required by law to guard against the potential for insider trading, the kind that had led to prison for domestic maven Martha Stewart.

Anna felt alternately excited and sick to her stomach. Since taking the helm from her father fifteen years ago, she’d grown Premier Motors from a single dealership in Beverly Hills to twenty-two throughout Southern California, all selling BMWs or Volkswagens. After industry-wide consolidation, Premier was a small but still valuable player in the market—streamlined, efficient and reliably profitable. Though Anna had taken on considerable debt at purchase, each acquisition had been carefully vetted to boost revenue and increase the company’s value. Here was an opportunity to extract that value. Given the volatility of current trade partners and tariff wars, now might be the right time to get out of the sales business and turn her attention to new challenges. 

The challenge was divorcing her emotions from the deal. Premier Motors had been started by her grandfather in 1956, the first year BMWs were sold in the United States. She’d practically grown up at the dealership, walking the few blocks from school every afternoon to watch the service and sales teams at work, awed to see her dad make deals on just a simple handshake. If anything was holding her back from selling, it was nostalgia.

“Just so you know, I could change my mind about this at any time. It has to feel good when my head hits the pillow or I can’t go through with it.” 

“Pinnacle delivers a lot of what you wanted,” Vera said, checking the other faces for confirmation. “This would be a seamless transfer of pension and benefits, and guaranteed severance for anyone downsized in the first eighteen months. I don’t have to tell you, Anna—that’s a fantastic deal.”

Taking care of her employees was paramount to Anna’s decision. It’s why she was reluctant to deal with their first suitor, the Lawrence Vehicle Group, a private equity firm that had offered several million more than Pinnacle. As a money guy, Hal believed she owed it to herself to seriously consider LVG’s offer, since she’d assumed all the financial risk to get where they were today. That’s how business worked, he’d said. The problem for Anna was that LVG wasn’t interested in selling cars. They mostly wanted the real estate for luxury condos and hotels in desirable locations, like this one in the heart of Beverly Hills. Once the company’s most valuable assets were stripped, they likely would lay everyone off, declare bankruptcy, and discharge the pension debt.

Whether they chose LVG or Pinnacle, their C-suite—the executives and dealership managers—were sure to walk away with generous severance packages. Golden parachutes, they were called. Anna stood to pocket over a hundred million dollars. It was mind-blowing.

It was dark and raining by the time they pulled onto the lot of the BMW dealership. Anna spotted Andy in the dimly lit showroom wiping down the flashy i8, BMW’s plug-in hybrid roadster that retailed for almost $200 thousand. Andy shadowed her at work much the way she’d shadowed her father. Losing Premier Motors would be hard for him at first, until she showed him the doors it could open.

Before opening the car door to the rain, she said, “Good work, everyone. Sorry if you missed dinner with your families. I’m going to take a step back for now, bow out of the process and get back to the office. You too, Vera. We need to put up a normal front while all this is going on.” Addressing Hal and Lupe, she said, “In the meantime, you guys get your teams together and start going through the fine print. Offsite, so people don’t start asking questions.”

“Both offers or just Pinnacle?” Lupe asked.

Anna hesitated. “Pinnacle first. We’ll go from there.” As they headed for their cars, she tugged Hal’s sleeve and asked him to come upstairs for a private chat.

Andy met them at the employee entrance in the back. He’d slowed his growth spurt at five-five, barely an inch taller than Lily, who was his biological aunt. “Hey, Mom. Charles is locking up. You ready to go?”

Hal ruffled his curly brown hair as he walked by. “Somebody needs a haircut.”

“So I can look dorky like you and Jonah?” he replied cheekily. “I’ll pass.”

Anna shot him a quick wink before answering, “Tell Charles we’ll set the alarm when we’re done and go out the back. I need a few minutes with Uncle Hal.” 

“Can I drive home?” 

He’d gotten his learner’s permit last fall, but then a less-than-stellar report card had put driving on the back burner. Better grades since then had earned him more driving time, but not enough to qualify for his license. “In the rain after dark?”

“I need ten hours at night. Come on, I have to learn sometime.”

“I’ll think about it. You got your homework?” 

“I can’t think about homework when I’m starving to death.” He raised a hand to his forehead and added, “I feel like I’m going to faint.” 

“Better not to let you drive then, huh? Too risky.” She mocked his dramatic gesture with one of her own—the world’s tiniest violin—before passing him a couple of bucks for the vending machine. 

With Hal on her heels, she trudged upstairs to her office and closed the door. “So what do you think? Is this Pinnacle business really happening?”

He helped himself to a bottle of water from the small fridge beneath her bookcase. Nearing his fiftieth birthday, he’d lost the hair on his crown, but he still was a handsome man. “It’s obvious they really want this deal. So does LVG. The real question is, do you?”

That, in a nutshell, was why the lurking headache behind her left eye had been threatening for a week to become a full-blown migraine. “It almost feels like an omen, getting two unsolicited offers out of the blue. And within three weeks of each other. I was thinking about the possibilities last night, our worse case scenario. Like what if our trade policy with the EU were to change? It could torpedo the whole German sector overnight.” 

“Maybe that’s your answer. You’ll look like genius for getting out when you did. What does Lily have to say?”

Anna shook her head. “We had to stop talking about it—for my sanity’s sake. I can’t think about this all day and all night too. She knows the basics, but it goes on the back burner at home. Besides, I’m not ready for the big family discussion yet.”

Hal snorted. “Me neither, especially with George. I know he technically has no say over this deal, but he could sure make our lives miserable.”

Her father probably would make some noise at first but he’d see the wisdom in it eventually, especially since he’d never wanted to expand in the first place. 

It was Andy she worried about. Since the day he came to live with them twelve years ago, Anna had encouraged his dream of taking over Premier Motors someday. This move might very well leave him feeling betrayed.

“Any more word from that Werner guy?” Hal asked, careful to keep his voice low in case Andy had followed them upstairs.  

“Not since early last week. I asked him to give me some space to deal with this. See, that’s another omen, him coming in at the same time as these guys. What if this is a conspiracy, everybody pulling these strings behind my back? Or maybe they just know something I don’t. Whatever, I really ought to fly to Munich and meet with Rolfe before I decide anything.”

Rolfe Werner was the German venture capitalist behind Helios, a next-generation auto manufacturer working to bring solar-powered vehicles to market. Anna had met him two years ago at a seminar for the North American BMW dealerships and found his vision both fascinating and brilliant. They’d stayed in touch, and he’d surprised her out of the blue in December with an interesting invitation to head up the US initiative, which would be based in Los Angeles. 

“Helios could be fun for a motor nerd like you,” Hal said.

“But I need to know exactly what he has in mind. I’d drop everything to be part of something revolutionary, but not if all he really wants is a pretty face to charm investors.”

“Nobody who knows you would hire you as a pretty fa—” He cocked his head and wrinkled his brow. “Wait, that didn’t come out right.”

“No kidding. Be glad you said it to me and not your wife.”

“Oh god, don’t even joke about that.” 

Anna’s stepsister Kim, normally a good-natured wisecracker herself, was in the throes of menopause. A remark such as that one would have landed Hal in the pool.  


*****

Lily relaxed on the couch, where she called out seventh-grade spelling words to fifth-graders George and Eleanor. She loved these moments after dinner when they hung out together in the family room—especially when they all made it home on time. It bummed her that Anna and Andy had missed dinner, but a lot was at stake. She’d be so glad when this grueling process was finished, no matter what Anna decided.

“Your turn, George. The word is laboratory. Eleanor conducts experiments in her laboratory.”

“L-A-B-O-R-A-T-O-R-Y.”

“Correct. Eleanor, your word is tournament. George has a tennis tournament next week at Oakwood.”

“It’s a match, not a tournament,” George complained. “I should have gotten that word.”

As Eleanor spelled, Blanca Casillas entered from the kitchen, drying her hands on a tea towel. “Everything’s clean and put away. Coffeemaker’s set to brew at five thirty. Oh, and I put two plates in the oven for the stragglers.”

“Thanks, Blanca. They don’t deserve you.” Lily nudged George with her foot. “You guys go say goodnight to Blanca.”

Eleanor rose first and ran to give their housekeeper a hug. Blanca’s husband Enzo, who’d worked in the service department of the BMW dealership for over fifteen years, died unexpectedly from insulin shock while visiting his grandparents in Mexico. As a US citizen, he’d sponsored Blanca for a green card soon after they married, but her application for citizenship was still bogged down in the system. 

Feeling a duty to Enzo, Anna offered Blanca a job managing their household, since the twins had just started kindergarten and Lily was itching to go back to work. In a matter of weeks, they’d built her a private apartment above the garage and bought her a car to ferry the kids to their activities. Now after five years, Blanca was as good as family. 

“Whose turn is it?” George asked when Blanca had gone.

“Yours,” Lily said, noticing a flash of headlights in the driveway. “The word is negotiable. Your bath and bedtime is right now and it’s not negotiable.”

Both children groaned but lumbered to their feet and collected the papers they’d scattered. 

“I’m going out to meet Mom with the umbrella. You guys go on upstairs and I’ll be there in a few.”

George asked, “What about Andy? I can get another umbrella and go meet him.”

“Andy can get wet. It’s your bath time. Up you go.”

Andy burst through the door and raced past her on his way to the kitchen. 

“Hi, Mom. How was your day?” Lily yelled sarcastically. All three children had taken to calling both of them Mom, insisting Mama was for little kids. “Blanca left two dinners in the oven. Don’t eat both of them.”

Underneath a wide golf umbrella, she dodged puddles in the driveway to reach the garage, where Anna was folding her silk jacket inside out so it wouldn’t get spots from the rain. 

“My knight in shining armor,” she said, bending down for a kiss. “Sorry I’m late. It’s been quite a day.”

“Good or bad?”

“Possibly excellent. I’ll give you the details when we get upstairs. But first, I’m starving.”

“Too bad. Blanca saved you some but Andy got there first. He’s probably eaten it all by now.”

“Are you saying I might have to cook something?”

“Oh no, not that. Never that.” She laughed and hooked their elbows for the short walk to the side door. 

At forty-eight, Anna was aging into her classic beauty, whether at a formal arts gala or driving the kids’ carpool. Her face was gently lined with laughter; and her long dark hair bore only subtle hints of gray. Those in the business community knew her as a woman of intellect, integrity and compassion, and with a dry sense of humor. To those who knew her personal side, she was wholly dedicated to her family. Lily knew her best of all, and considered herself the luckiest woman in the world for it.

11 Responses to “Sneak peek of a work in progress”

  1. Morticia87@gmail.com Reply June 13, 2020 at 8:01 pm

    Omg this is fantastic! The series has been my favorite and I’ve read them several times. Made my day seeing this. Thank you. Hope you stay safe and well, can’t wait for the whole book.

  2. I jumped up out of my chair the minute I saw Lily’s name. YAHOO.

  3. JoeNell Bennett Reply May 7, 2020 at 1:14 am

    Thumbs Up Ms. MacGregor! From one ZENA Fan to Another; I Like your Style, You hooked me with Stolen Souls in Undercover Tales, then came the House on Sandstone and Loved it, just started Mulligan, interesting characters, love the geography. Just finished readingThe Sneak Peak preview looking forward to the book. In the mean time I will be sure to read “The Shaken Series” ~😉😚~ Cheers, J`Nellies

  4. OMG! Lily is a now a judge — I luv it.
    I’ve so been in love with BMW’s since I read the series……for some reason, I just don’t look at them the same.

  5. Mary Beth Koehne Reply March 26, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    I’m hooked. Now I have to go back and reread the series so I will be ready when you publish this book. Please don’t take too long writing it.

  6. Ahhh, just what I was looking for, an excuse to reread the series. Looking forward to Book 5. Stay safe.

  7. Fabulous news about the book you’re working on. When the publication date nears I’ll go back and read the earlier books, they’ve always been favorites of mine.

  8. Happy dreamy sigh of gratitude

  9. I have read this series many times, and have been waiting for a new installment. Thanks!! Can’t wait to read this.

  10. Sylvie Saint-Laurent Reply March 26, 2020 at 8:08 am

    So far, so good. Got potential.

  11. Dang, you’re good, girl! Took you just a few pages to hook me and a few more to reacquaint me with these characters though it’s been a few years since I’ve been “shaken.” Can’t wait for more!

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