By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Eventually, Collins was in the panty-burning business full-time. She wrote for lines called "Temptation," "Modern Romance Extra" and the ultra-steamy "Blaze." Though she'd moved to Colorado more than a decade earlier for love, she was now divorced and often hung out in coffee shops, which is where she met Kaufman in 2002.
He was going through a tough time. He, too, had lost his marriage, and was on the verge of losing his law license. He'd had a good run as a defense attorney, including some high-profile cases, such as that of Woodland Park teenager Jacob Ind, who'd murdered his parents in 1992. But addiction got in the way. "I was a drug addict," Kaufman says. "I was really, truly, as defined in the classic, clinical literature.... I'm the son of an alcoholic, the grandchild of an alcoholic. It's an inherited disease."
As he got older, his use of alcohol and marijuana intensified, and it eventually came between him and his first wife, also an attorney. After his divorce was finalized in 1999 and his time with his four young children went from every day to every other weekend, he turned to harder and harder drugs. "I didn't have a lot of purpose when I was away from my children," he says.
His worsening addiction also interfered with his work. There were complaints of inadequate representation, of neglecting cases altogether, of failing to pay expert witnesses. And when he saw the redheaded woman walk into the Peaberry Coffee that day in November 2002, he was working as a paralegal while the state Attorney Regulation Counsel reviewed his case — a paralegal with a lot of free time, which he spent hanging out at coffee shops, cracking jokes and making friends.
"Our eyes locked," Collins says. "And Shaun is a pretty cute guy. We started chatting. And...he's a charmer. And he's funny. And I like to think I'm not so bad myself. We were on our best behavior. Obviously flirting."
Right Guy, Right Coffee Shop.
Collins didn't give him her number, but she did give him a custom pen she'd had made for a romance writers' conference. It was to promote her book Lightning Strikes, about a woman named Blaine whose antique brass bed gets delivered to the wrong apartment. It's the apartment of the man of her dreams — though she doesn't know it yet! The pen gave Kaufman the clue he needed to ask Collins on a date: her website address. Eleven days later, they went to Gaetano's Italian restaurant. The date was epic. After dinner, they went to Quixote's, a Deadhead bar on gritty Colfax, and drank lemon drop shots and kissed while the jam band Garaj Mahal played a live set.
In February 2003, the Attorney Regulation Counsel made its decision: two years' suspension. That same month, Collins and Kaufman made their relationship exclusive. And that summer, he and his horse-dog moved in.
The woman had two young children and didn't want to waste any more time. They lived in the South, where the laws allowed fault-based divorces. Translation: The more adulterous the husband, the more alimony for the wife.
The louse, she'd said, is a man of routine. When he comes to Denver, he always stays at the same beige, continental-breakfast hotel in the Denver Tech Center, always rents the same white Toyota Corolla with the unnecessary spoiler, always packs the same JCPenney slacks and dress shirts. He likes to smoke while out of town on business.
That's what Collins and Kaufman found him doing on the first night after they took the case. The man, in his mid-thirties with an average build and a receding hairline, paced back and forth near the hotel entrance, puffing on a cigarette and talking on his cell phone. For dinner, he ate take-out sushi. As he paced, Kaufman filmed him from the front seat of the couple's own Toyota Corolla, a 1996, sky blue, no spoiler.
To be safe, Collins and Kaufman rented a room directly across from their target. To get it, Collins told the hotel clerk a whopper. She and her husband had honeymooned at this hotel. Could they please rent that same room — the one right across from the no-good cheater — for the night, for old time's sake?
But Collins couldn't sleep. She played sentry at the peephole all night long, watching the man's door, waiting for a woman to knock. But she never showed.
Neither Collins nor Kaufman set out to become private detectives.
Collins spent her early childhood in New Mexico. Her father was a military man who wound up teaching college history. When she was a child, he took the family on trips to Colorado ghost towns. He had a flair for telling stories, especially about the long-gone people who once lived in those towns. Collins inherited her father's flair. She loved reading and writing, and she made good grades.
By the time she was a teenager, though, her family had moved to Southern California, smack in the middle of the political tempest swirling around the Vietnam War. Collins wanted to be part of it. After high school, she attended a state university for a while, then dropped out in 1971 and hitchhiked around Europe for a year.