I let her have the house in Boulder because I couldn’t walk in the front door without imagining who had been in my bed while I was working to keep the extraordinarily expensive roof over our heads and gourmet food on the fucking table. I also let her keep the car. Even though it went with all the trappings of the man I was now, it had never been my style. I preferred my massive, black 4x4 with its monster all-terrain tires and lift kit. Sure it didn’t go with my Ferragamos or my Armani, but I didn’t give a shit, and if I wanted something fast and sporty I had my Ducati Panigale in storage. The Italian-made street bike may have matched my wardrobe better but Lottie still hadn’t approved. She’d never been on the back of the rocket-like bike and I couldn’t picture her there if I tried.
In the end, I agreed to a hefty chunk of change for her monthly maintenance fee for five years or until she remarried, which meant that being the coldhearted bitch she was, she hadn’t yet accepted her babys daddy’s proposal. I told myself Lottie had cheated down instead of up because the baby’s father was a struggling artist and not exactly rolling in cash and prospects. I had no doubt she would keep him and his engagement ring at bay for the five years or until someone else with a fatter wallet came along.
It had been a hard and humbling lesson to learn. One that still stung and still made me cringe when I thought about it.
I don’t want anything from you …
The words danced around in my head along with the image of the young woman dressed in convict orange.
It was a good thing she felt that way because I was pretty sure after Lottie and the string of disastrous women that came after her, I didn’t have anything besides my knowledge of the law and my skill at working the legal system to give to anyone.
It was a sleepless night in lockup and not because of the scorned cell mate. She had actually quieted down some after I told her my dad’s words of wisdom. She did spend several hours muttering to herself, questioning what she had done, what her kids were going to do without her, but she eventually fell asleep. That left me alone, in the not quite silent jail cell, worrying about what my dad was going to say when Quaid, the too handsome for my own good lawyer, called him. I turned over every scenario I could imagine in my mind, and none of them added up to Brite Walker being in that courtroom when I went before the judge.
He was going to be so disappointed. He was going to be so hurt. He was going to be disgusted and fed up that, once again, I hadn’t listened to him, hadn’t listened to any kind of common sense or paid attention to any of the red flags flapping wildly in my face when I decided to hook up with Jared. I wasn’t twelve anymore and it was no longer cute when I stubbornly went against the grain. No, this situation wasn’t cute at all and there was no way my always supportive, always loyal, and compassionate father was going to condone my behavior when it led to other people he cared about getting hurt. If something had happened to Asa or to the cop, who also happened to be the gorgeous, southern bartender’s girlfriend, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself. As it was, I felt the guilt for having any part in putting them in danger weighing me down with every single step I took as I was herded into the courtroom. If I couldn’t stand myself for what I had done, how could my dad be there to offer me his massive shoulder to lean on?
The arraignment wasn’t like anything I had ever experienced before during all my other dustups with the law. I was hauled there in a van with an armed policeman in the front and back. I was transported with other women, and I learned quickly that the different colored jumpsuits they had us in represented the different levels of offenses that we were waiting to be arraigned on. It was a lot more intense and serious than any marathon of watching The Good Wife made it seem. I was forced to sit on a hard wooden bench next to a woman that told me she was waiting to be arraigned on manslaughter charges. She assured me she was innocent but that didn’t make me feel any better about the fact I was practically sitting in her lap. We were also placed behind a Plexiglas screen, which I assumed was supposed to be some kind of protection. I couldn’t tell if it was for us or for the people in the packed courtroom.
There were so many people, rows and rows filled with curious faces, all with their eyes locked on those of us on the wrong side of the barrier. Some people were crying; some looked furious as they glared at the group of us waiting to learn our fates. I was trying to search out the tawny, perfectly coiffed head of my unwanted, but very much needed, legal representative in the crowd but I didn’t spot him. My heart kicked hard in my chest and my handcuffed hands started to sweat as I curled my fingers into my palms. I was in so far over my head that panic and dread were starting to fill me up as I realized I very well might be stuck in this mess, leveled and flattened on the bottom of rock bottom, all on my own.
I was the idiot that fired him. I told him I didn’t need his help because I didn’t want him to call my dad. I did what I always did and fucked everything up. God, when was I going to learn to tamp down my foolish and impulsive reactions? Why did I always have to be my own worst enemy? I hadn’t ever done myself any favors, and now, it looked like I had gone and shot myself in the foot, all because I didn’t want to let my dad down again. When I least expected it, pride and remorse reared up to remind me that I wasn’t quite as awful as I made myself out to be. I still had a heart, still had a soul, even though both were tattered and torn.
I sucked in a deep breath and willed myself not to start crying. I really wanted to. I wanted to sob, shake, and fall into a million tiny pieces of regret and shame. I wouldn’t though. I was willful and foolish, but I wasn’t fragile. I had screwed up, like I always did, and I would take whatever consequences that followed that screwup stoically and silently. I would man-up, take whatever hits I had coming, and maybe finally pull my head out of my ass and start making better choices. That was the only way I had left to let my dad know I wasn’t a total lost cause. I could still turn it around if he didn’t give up on me.
I didn’t realize that I had squeezed my eyes closed to keep the moisture at bay. When I pried them open after I got my emotions under control, not only did I spot that elegant golden head coming through the large wooden doors, but I also quit breathing when I realized it was bent towards a much darker, much grizzlier one as they walked towards the front of the courtroom. Charcoal gray eyes locked on mine and shined so much love at me that I couldn’t stop a rebellious and wild tear full of liquid relief from sliding down my cheek. My heart expanded and started beating in a familiar rhythm tapping with hope and warmth as my dad tilted his heavily bearded chin in my direction and took a seat next to the attorney. The chin tilt was a universal signal from Brite Walker indicating everything would be okay, and with him here, with him looking at me like he always looked at me, for the first time since I had been arrested, I actually had a tiny sliver of belief that it would all work out in my favor. Maybe I was on the bottom, but my dad was there to give me a boost up, and this time, I was determined not to immediately fall down as soon as I got my feet under me.