Toronto, Canada, 1904
Adeline Pitman took a delicate sip of chilled white wine as the newlywed couple in the ballroom danced their first dance. Light dripped down through a beautiful crystal chandelier on the newlyweds. Proud parents, who needed this match between their son and daughter to build bigger empires, smiled as the groom pulled his bride closer.
She stifled a yawn and checked the time. Too early to leave… she would have to wait it out. Eli was in animated discussion with another shipping tycoon across the table. She tried to send him a look that she was ready to go to no avail.
Turning away from Eli and his business associate, her gaze swept over the people in the ballroom. These people they called their friends — weren’t. They were Toronto’s elite and elitist. They didn’t believe in friendships they believed in allies. Adeline despised most of them. A low murmur from the entrance caught her attention.
Eli stopped speaking mid-sentence as he watched Mirabel Salter enter the ballroom with her parents. Adeline watched in horror as Eli’s eyes lit up and his lips curved into a grin.
Mirabel Salter sauntered in as if she owned the place. Rage tightened Adeline’s chest as she watched Eli salivate over Mirabel. Beautiful, blonde-hair-blue-eyes, daughter of a shipping merchant—20-year-old Mirabel Salter. She was younger than their youngest son.
Adeline’s stomach twisted as she watched Eli. He didn’t hide his feelings for her.
Mirabel, smirked at Adeline, pranced past Eli, and had the nerve to run her fingertips across the top of his shoulders on her way by.
Not even a wife of twenty-five years would dare make a display of intimacy like that in a crowd of this calibre. They were blue bloods, old money, vicious gossips with their own code of what was right and wrong. If Adeline had an adulterous liaison, they would have fired her out of a cannon. She would be ostracized… dropped out of polite society.
Mirabel didn’t belong here. She wasn’t rich enough for the guest list… Eli had invited her. Eli lived by no code but his own.
All at once, the breath left Adeline’s body as her husband stood up, and followed Mirabel.
Humiliation pounded through Adeline. Her face flamed. Her jaw dropped as Eli held out his hand and they exchanged no words as Mirabel looked up at him and placed her small hand in his.
Matrons of the group watched along with Adeline as Eli and Mirabel swept onto the dance floor. Eli Pitman, the head of the wealthiest shipping family in Toronto held her too tightly. She giggled up at him in protest. Dressed in white tie, his tuxedo barely contained his powerful frame. Mirabel’s beautiful fragile beauty was amplified against him. As they moved together, the dance highlighted their differences—icy blonde against dark, curve against muscle, strength against beauty. Dancing showed off the differences that drew them together.
Eyes narrowed as the women of the group realized all at once, this was not their first dance. The matrons of the group dragged their attention from the spectacle of Eli and Mirabel to feast their eyes on the devastation of Adeline.
“Would you like a breath of fresh air?” Mrs. Jean King materialized at Adeline’s elbow.
Adeline opened her mouth to speak and then clamped it shut. Heat radiated from her face.
“This way, please.” Mrs. King took Adeline’s elbow. Together, they left the opulent ballroom as tears gathered in Adeline’s eyes.
“Come now. Stiff upper lip. You can’t let those spiteful cats see you making a scene.” Mrs. King opened a glass door to a balcony. The young people that had assembled there scattered back into the ballroom.
Mrs. King shut the door so they would have privacy on the balcony, she turned to face Adeline.
Adeline wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. “How could he… how could he humiliate me like this.” Adeline’s breath came in short gasps. She clutched a hand to her heart.
This is the last time. I am humiliated for the last time.
“This. This is intolerable.” Adeline gasped from the humiliation that raced through her.
“I know. It hurts. Don’t lose your head,” Mrs. King warned.
“This is too much.” Adeline’s eyes flashed in fury. “It is all too much. Did you see the ring on her hand?”
“Could have been from her father,” Mrs. King suggested.
“Fathers don’t give daughters rings like that.” Adeline’s mouth twisted in fury.
“Just take a deep breath and gather your strength. If you weep here, it will disgrace you. You must gather your strength.” Mrs. King’s eyes widened with worry.
“I am already disgraced!” Adeline shook her head. “I will divorce him. This is it. It is enough.”
“You can’t.” Mrs. King gasped.
“Watch me.” Adeline’s teeth clenched in fury.
“They will cast you out of polite society.”
“Polite society?” Adeline raged. “Where ever polite society is, it’s not there.”
“You can’t divorce him.” Mrs. King crossed her arms over her chest. “The law doesn’t allow for it. You have to prove adultery and abuse. Can you do that? Has he beaten you? Refused to feed and clothe you?”
“What do you mean?” The blood drained from Adeline’s face.
“It’s a double standard.” Mrs. King’s jaw clenched in fury. “Men can divorce women because of adultery alone, but women have to prove adultery and abuse. That is current Canadian law. There is no way around it.”
“I don’t believe you.” Adeline could barely get the words past the fist of fury in her throat.
“It’s true. My husband was a judge and I’ve seen a few women try. They don’t get far.” Mrs. King’s eyes softened in sympathy. “The best thing you can do now is get right back in that ballroom, laugh this off, keep your chin up and don’t allow one woman in there to know how bad this is hurting you.”
“No.” Adeline drew herself up to her full height. She wiped her tears with a handkerchief. “No. I will sue for divorce. Which lawyer would you suggest?”
“I must, in good conscience advise you not to… your husband…” Mrs. King’s eyes widened in fear.
“My husband what?” Adeline squared her shoulders as she waited for the answer.
“They fear your husband. Far and wide. It’s rumoured that if you cross him… you don’t live to tell the tale.” Mrs. King’s voice dropped ominously.
Adeline sniffed. “Ridiculous. He owns a shipping company. He’s a merchant! That is highly dramatic.”
Mrs. King clamped her mouth shut.
“What law firm do you suggest?” Adeline insisted on an answer as she tucked her handkerchief away.
“Mrs. Pitman. I really must advise you to turn a blind eye and try to forget this… idea of divorce… you will lose at this game. There is no way to win.” An edge of caution sharpened Mrs. King’s tone.
“It’s not a game, Mrs. King. It’s my life. Which law firm?” Adeline demanded.
Mrs. King crossed her arms over her chest. “Robson and McFaul. They are the best with family law. Or my husband always said they were.”
“Thank you.” Adeline swept past her to open the door back to the ballroom.
“Mrs. Pitman,” Mrs. King called out to her back. “You won’t win against him.”
Adeline stood still, the evening breeze sweet on her skin. She turned and looked at Mrs. King. “This is wrong.”
“I know. But… if you go up against him… I fear for your very life.” Mrs. King’s words hung in the air between them.
“Mrs. King, if my husband would humiliate me like this. What next? Will I be the nursemaid to their children?” The words ripped out of Adeline as she turned the handle. “Thank you. Thank you for bringing me out here for some fresh air and clarity.”
Mrs. King nodded.
“I won’t forget this kindness.” Adeline swept back into the ballroom. Ignoring her husband and Mirabel, she asked for her wrap and her driver.
A curl of tobacco smoke swirled around Richard Robson’s head. His eyes narrowed at the Pitman petition as he read it and then tossed it onto his desk. He wished he could throw it further.
A clerk handed him coffee as his old friend Mr. Roth, a partner at Roth and Levine, entered his office.
“Golf on Tuesday?” Mr. Roth asked as he added sugar to his coffee.
“Hmm.” Mr. Robson scratched his forehead.
“Usually you are more excited for golf.” Mr. Roth chided him as he sipped his coffee.
“I have a lot on my mind.” Mr. Robson frowned.
“You don’t have Canada’s first female lawyer in your office, why the long face?” Roth rolled his eyes.
“Adeline Pitman is petitioning Eli Pitman for divorce. Co respondent—Mirabel Salter.” Mr. Robson watched Mr. Roth for his reaction.
“Can you hand it off?” Mr. Roth’s head snapped up as he looked at the petition. He picked it up, read through it quickly. “Come on, this is easy, Robson. She doesn’t have grounds. Only adultery. No abuse. You could get a clerk to send her home with a pat on the head.”
“Nothing is easy with Adeline Pitman. She is very wealthy, very well connected. She doesn’t care about the law, she wants a hearing with a judge, anyway.” Robson leaned forward.
“Which judge? Eli owns most of them…”
“Exactly. Our luck, we would get one that isn’t in his pocket.” Robson crossed his arms over his chest.
“Who will you hand this to?” Roth put it down as if it might bite him.
“I don’t know.” Robson said quietly.
“Keep it out of my office. I am not going head to head with a Pitman. Male or female.” Roth leaned back in his chair.
“Speaking of female… how is it going?” Robson smirked as he changed the subject.
Roth rolled his eyes and groaned.
“Worse. We are the laughingstock of Toronto.”
Robson took a sip of coffee. “Cora Rood, Canada’s first female lawyer, articling in your firm… not going well?”
Roth scrubbed his hands over his face. “I have said it once, I will say it again. Women should not be lawyers. Cora Rood should have been stopped long before now. We have a couple months left before she is done articling and we can get on with business as usual. Longest two months of my life.”
“She did take the top marks at the bar exam.” Robson baited Roth.
“Oh, I know.” Roth shook his head. “I’ve been reminded daily. What good is a lawyer if the judges will rule against her because of her gender? It’s a waste of time.”
“Just a few more months.”
“The benchers want me to stop her so she can’t be sworn in.” Roth dropped his tone so that no one would overhear.
“How?” Robson’s face creased in confusion. “It’s too late. She passed the bar…”
Both men looked at the petition and then slowly, their eyes met as inspiration dawned on both of them.
Robson picked up the petition and held it between them.
“Hmmm. What about this? I tell Adeline Pitman that she doesn’t fit the burden of proof. Yes, Eli Pitman has had a clandestine affair but Canadian law allows for that. She has to prove that he has abused her and there is nowhere in this petition mentions so much as a slap. Nothing.” Robson’s voice deepened as he planned his response.
Roth nodded his head in agreement. “And then you say. However, there is a new up-and-coming lawyer that works at Roth and Levine. A woman.”
Robson picked up the torch and ran with it. “A woman with a keen legal mind that might be in a position to offer a second opinion.”
Roth leaned forward in his chair. “I’ll make sure Miss Rood’s case log is cleared to handle this case.”
“She might be suspicious. This is pitting her against a mob boss.” Robson’s voice had a tinge of trepidation. He cleared his throat, worried somehow his firm’s reputation may be damaged by assigning this case to a woman. He thought of how they would present this so it looked acceptable.
“Or not.” Roth’s eyes squinted. “Maybe one woman to another — Miss Rood will talk her out of it.” Roth shrugged and smiled like a wolf. “Did you really think I would let Miss Cora Rood article at our office and then be sworn in as a barrister?” Roth sneered. “A woman! Swearing in at Osgoode Hall! No. I’ve been waiting to see how I can trip her up and finally we have exactly what we need. Not a moment too soon. Cora Rood is not swearing in. Over my dead body.”
The term dead body made both of them pause. Eli Pitman was a threat. A big, terrifying threat to anyone. Mousy little Cora Rood didn’t stand a chance.
Their eyes met as they shook off their trepidations.
“Let me have my clerk make a copy of this and let’s settle this now. Adeline comes in today… I will send her to you directly.” Robson made a note for his clerk.
“We’ll be expecting her.” Cunning glinted in Roth’s eye as he met Robson’s gaze.
Robson leaned back in his chair, took a long sip of hot coffee and ignored the sting of conscience as he thought of Cora Rood being set up to fail against Toronto’s most notorious crime boss, Eli Pitman.
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