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"MONEY, MISS SHANNON,"
Alfred Mungerley said, "is the key to everything. It's a golden key and can unlock a great future for you."
Kit Shannon nodded politely, though she disagreed. Mr. Mungerley had asked her to his home for some reason, and she would hear him out. Aunt Freddy would be shocked if she did not listen to this wealthy neighbor with courtesy and respect.
They were seated in the drawing room of Mungerley's mansion, a third again as large as her great-aunt Freddy's, which was just a stone's throw away in Angeleno Heights. After entering the huge reception hall, Kit had been shown by a butler past a series of alcoves and rooms to a magnificent court with six Pompeiian columns. The columns circled a fountain below and a stained-glass ceiling above. It was here Alfred Mungerley had greeted her.
The drawing room in which they held their meeting was designed in elegant Spanish Renaissance tradition. Indeed, everything in Alfred Mungerley's possession seemed dipped in affluence. He was in his mid-fifties, trim, andaccording to Aunt Freddywealthier than Croesus. He smoked a fine cigar; after a full six months as a lawyer in Los Angeles, traversing law offices and courtrooms and other bastions of the male-dominated profession, Kit could smell the difference between a moneyed cigar and the nickel variety. Alfred Mungerley was obviously a man used to the finer things in life.
"And it is quite clear," Mungerley continued, "that you have the brains to earn a great deal of money in your chosen profession. What you did to Heath Sloate!" Mungerley snorted with glee. "So manyof us wanted to see him get his comeuppance. Little did we know a girl would be his Waterloo. Excuse me ... a young lady."
"That's all right, Mr. Mungerley," Kit said. "I just hope to be thought of as a competent attorney."
"But you are, Miss Shannon. More! You are the toast of Los Angeles."
Old toast, perhaps. The newspaper circus that had attended the murder trial of Ted Fox and the exposing of Heath Sloate was long past. The flow of paying clients Kit might have expected was never more than a trickle. Kit had heard whisperingsusually expressed loudly for her benefitthat the world was simply not ready for a female trial lawyer, no matter how clever. And certainly not one who had just turned twenty-four years of age.
"Thank you, Mr. Mungerley," said Kit. "Perhaps someday I will live up to your opinion of me."
Mungerley chuckled. "Not if your aunt has anything to say about it, eh?"
True. Half a year after Kit's debut in court, Aunt Freddy still could not get used to the idea that her niece was a lawyer. Kit loved her aunt dearly, but she was growing weary of Aunt Freddy's insistence that she assume her "womanly role" and settle down to raise children. While Kit did want that for herself, she was not going to rush to the altar. She had come to Los Angeles to practice law, to work at seeing justice done for even the most miserable of citizens. They were entitled to the dignity of the Constitution as much as ... well, people like Freddy and the Mungerleys.
"I am very fond of your aunt, you know," said Mungerley. "Freddy and I have been friends ever since I built my modest dwelling."
Kit looked again at the exquisite architecture of the room.
"So I know she is looking out for you. But I am aware she has a less than enthusiastic appreciation of your ambitions."
Kit shifted self-consciously in her seat and smoothed her gray serge skirt. It was hardly the kind of attire one would normally wear to be entertained by a man as influential as Alfred Mungerley, but there had been no time to go home and change. She toyed with the black braiding of the matching jacket, knowing that Aunt Freddy would be positively appalled to find her so shoddily clothed while visiting. "I know it's hard for her," Kit said. "She comes from a different time and place, and her ways are settled. But I am praying that soon she will come to embrace me fully."
"Praying," Mungerley said. "That's a good thing. Never hurts to have God on your side, eh?"
"Never," Kit agreed. And she believed it with all her heart. She never would have been able to stand up to Heath Sloate, one of the most powerful men in Los Angeles, without her faith that she was in God's will.
Mungerley said, "And I understand she has certain reservations about Mr. Ted Fox."
The mention of her friend's name startled Kit. Even though Ted worked for Mungerley at the bank, she hadn't expected he would become a topic of conversation. She did not want to talk about her romantic perplexities. Despite having been wooed by some of the most eligible men of the cityincluding the impossibly handsome young actor, John BarrymoreKit kept finding herself thinking of Ted Fox.
His was the face that played most in her mind's eye, though she tried to prevent it. There remained the matter of his lack of faith, a frustrating resistance to God.
"Well," Mungerley continued, "Ted is a fine young man. A great future lies ahead of him. He's weathered that nasty murder trial business, thanks to your efforts. I can't think of a better match."
Thankfully, a domestic entered with a tray of coffee. She was young, perhaps Kit's age, and quite pretty. Her golden hair was pulled tightly under the maid's bonnet, and her milk white skin was flawless. She might have been the product of some high-society family herself, but for the eyes. There was a hardness about them that hinted at a tougher background. Kit, having grown up an orphan in Boston and New York, knew about such a past.
The maid poured two cups of coffee, curtsied, and left.
"To the point, then," said Mungerley. "I think I have a way for you to make good sums of money doing legal work and, at the same time, show Freddy how valuable you really are. Interested?"
Kit had certainly never expected this turn of events. Intrigued, she leaned forward. "Yes, sir."
Mungerley took a puff of his cigar, the smoke almost obscuring his face with wispy tendrils. "I have a close friend in the land business, and, as you know, that is a very valuable business to be in. Nothing is so valuable as land over the long term. And when our city gets its water source, Miss Shannon, there will be a demand for land that will make a buffalo stampede look like a ladies' tea."
Kit nodded. From the moment she arrived in the City of Angels, she had sensed the drive for land. Los Angeles was a city set in the middle of a sun-washed but undeveloped frontier. Those who bought up that frontier might someday come into large profit.
Mungerley continued. "My friend, a Mr. Taylor, is a man of broad vision for Los Angeles. He is an ambitious man and is in need of just the right lawyer to assist him along the way." Mungerley leaned forward. "Such a lawyer could profit substantially by hitching her wagon to him at the beginning."
The sound of it both interested Kit and caused hesitation. She did need money if she was going to survive as an attorney. With her own office now she had rent to pay. Yet she had not gone into law to make herself wealthy. She had pledged never to do any work merely for material profit.
As Kit pondered the suggestion, Mungerley said, "Will you see him?"
"I will meet with him, of course," Kit said.
"And take him up on his offer?"
"I will need to hear the details first."
Mungerley smiled. "Good show. Freddy says you are a young woman of principle. I like that. We need more of that around here. Just take one small bit of advice from a man with experience."
"Never discount the power of money."
The biblical warning about the love of money being the root of all evil came to Kit's mind, but she said nothing. Mr. Mungerley, though wealthy, was a decent man, and she would never insinuate anything about his motives.
"All right, then," Mungerley said. "I'll let Taylor know you're coming to see him. Miss Shannon, this could be the start of big things for you. Very big things!"
"Thank you, Mr. Mungerley."
"Not at all, not at all." He puffed contemplatively as Kit took a sip of coffee. Then he said, "Now I must mention one more thing, my dear."
Kit looked up at the somber tone of his words.
"I am a man who makes his living anticipating problems and then finding ways to avoid them. It's a special skill I have, and I use it well. Right now I see a problem, and I would like your help in solving it."
"Whatever I can do to help," Kit said, puzzled at what it could possibly be.
"That's the ticket. As I said, I am quite fond of your aunt, and I know that this would trouble her greatly. That's why I am coming to you. I hope she will never have to know."
"Know what, sir?"
"You have a young gardener there, a Mex."
"Yes, Juan," Kit said. He was the younger brother of Kit's maid and friend, Corazón. Aunt Freddy had hired him several months ago on Kit's recommendation.
"You saw the serving girl who came in a few minutes ago?" Mungerley said.
"Very pretty, wasn't she?"
Kit nodded. "Very."
"Well, it seems that this gardener of yours has been making, shall we say, eyes at Gloria when he sees her. That is what she tells me at least."
"But I'm sure"
"No need to try and defend him. I'm not here to make accusations. What I am here to do is intervene in what could well become an ugly situation." Mungerley stood then, as if his next words carried particular import. "Los Angeles, Miss Shannon, is a delicate balance of the old and the new. There are other divides, of course. Rich and poor. Laborers and employers. Natives and Europeans."
Kit put her coffee cup down as Mungerley paced the room.
"Some things do not mix," he said. "And were not meant to mix. If your young gardener were to make some inappropriate advanceeven a longer look than is in keeping with his stationit might very well explode in your aunt's face. And I don't think Freddy's heart could take something like that."
Yes, Kit thought. Her heart was a question these days. And nothing got it beating faster than scandal.
"So, Miss Shannon, all I propose is that you take your influenceI understand you are quite close to the lad's sisterand talk to him. Tell him in no uncertain terms to keep away from Gloria. That it would be best if he did not even look at her should she pass his way. Am I making myself clear?"
Kit held her anger in check. There was no sense in engaging Mungerley in a debate on the equality that was supposed to be part of a democratic system. Especially when no one else in high society seemed inclined to yield to such thinking. Perhaps another time. "Quite clear, sir," she said.
"Then you'll do it?"
It would not be a pleasant task, but for Aunt Freddy's sake and, truth be told, for Juan's sake, as well, Kit said, "Yes, sir. I will talk to him."
"That's the ticket!" said Alfred Mungerley. "Miss Shannon, one of the most important lessons in life is to know when to take direction from those with more experience. You have shown that willingness. I am supremely confident that you are going to go quite far, my dear. Quite far indeed."
Angels Flight (SHANNON SAGA Book 2) by Tracie Peterson & James Scott Bell
Copyright © 2001, Tracie Peterson & James Scott Bell
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This book is part of a series and it wonderful. It combines the legal world with the spiritual world and is so well written, you will want to read it at once. The main character is compasionate and believable and the writing is superb.