The judge sighed, an audible sound that echoed throughout the nearly empty courtroom.
“I think we both know, Mr. Townsend, that if the defense puts Ms. Walker on the stand after he coaches her against a junkie that is a proven drug user and with the evidence of the physical abuse, your case is in the toilet.”
“Your Honor …” The other attorney huffed out an irritated objection but the judge held up his hand.
“Stop, Counselor. I’m not in the habit of wasting the court’s time and I’m not in the habit of putting weak cases in front of a jury. I agree with Mr. Jackson that the video evidence is damning and so is the history of your primary witness. Ms. Walker has a history of infractions but none of them prove her to be a menace, just a young lady that needs to grow up and make better choices.” His gaze drilled into me. “Do you consider yourself lucky, young lady?”
I blinked rapidly and shook my head in the negative. “No, Your Honor, not typically.”
“Well, adjust your attitude and take this as your wake-up call. You are extremely lucky that Mr. Dalton didn’t hurt anyone, yourself included, and if he dragged you into his drug activities, which it sounds like he did, you are very fortunate to be here in this courtroom at all.” I nodded woodenly. “I’m dismissing the State’s case against you, but I’m doing so with the warning that you are expected to make yourself available to both the police and the district’s attorney office as they move forward with the case against Mr. Dalton. If I get any kind of hint that you are not being accommodating and cooperative, I will gladly rule on any obstruction of justice charges that are brought up against you. Am I making myself clear?”
I nodded again. “Yes, Your Honor.”
“If I were you, I would take a long hard look at the choices that resulted in you ending up in the car with Mr. Dalton and a loaded gun that night, Ms. Walker. Next time, luck may not be on your side.”
I blew out a long, shallow breath and told myself I couldn’t pass out.
“The charges against Avett Walker are dismissed. Court adjourned.” The gavel hit the block on the desk and we all got to our feet as the judge swept out of the room, his robes billowing behind him.
“Dismissed.” I whispered the word like it was a prayer and melted into the hard embrace that wrapped around me. My face didn’t hit soft cotton and a barrel chest like the last time I won a court battle. No, this time my cheek hit a silk tie and a chest that was rock hard and felt like it was carved of stone. I instinctively wrapped my arm around Quaid’s lean waist and inhaled his tangy, expensive scent. I would never tell my dad, but it was a better hug, mostly because it made me tingle all over. It made me feel safe and protected in an entirely different way, a way that was heavy and intoxicating to my already stripped and exposed senses.
“And that’s how it’s done.” He muttered the words into the top of my head and let me go like I was on fire, which I was, on the inside.
My dad cleared his throat and I walked over to hug it out with him as well. His embrace was familiar, warm, and I would give it all up in the blink of an eye to run towards the tingle I got from Quaid’s arms around me again. It looked like my addiction to chasing after my ruin wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
I almost kissed her. It was a close call when her face hit my chest and her arms wrapped around me. I wanted to kiss her but I refrained, which was a struggle, so I hugged her back instead.
I never hugged my clients after a win. Usually, it was a businesslike handshake, followed by a tired joke about my bill being in the mail. Not this client. This client I wanted to wrap up in my arms and tell her to start making better choices so she was never in this position again. With this client I wanted to touch my mouth to hers and see if she tasted as wild and rebellious as she seemed. I wanted to find that innocence I knew she had somewhere inside her, hidden under all the debris she piled on top of it. And I knew it would feel as sweet and as soft as I guessed it did. And because I wanted all of that, I pulled back from Avett Walker like her skin was wrapped in thorns, and met her father’s knowing look with a guarded one of my own.
Brite didn’t miss much. I couldn’t tell if the blatant relief in his dark gaze was from the dismissed charges or because I immediately took my hands off of his daughter. Honestly, I wasn’t sure which one he should be more relieved about.
I shook hands with the big man and nodded when he offered up a gruff, “Thank you.”
“All I did was what I get paid to do.” I made sure my voice was flat and devoid of emotion. Maybe if I repeated that it had just been a job, and that she was like any other client, I would eventually make myself believe it. I needed to believe it before I got myself into trouble.
I saw Avett’s eyes widen and her mouth pull into that familiar pout that I wanted to nibble on. I bit back a groan and inclined my head towards where Townsend was lingering on the other side of the courtroom. “I’ve got to touch base with the prosecutor before I head out. If you need anything else, follow up with the firm.” I couldn’t stop myself from meeting those swirling, colorful eyes as she glared at me. “Good luck with the rest of the case.”
She opened her mouth, then snapped it back closed with a shake of her head. Her eyes narrowed to slits as she practically growled out, “Thanks.”
Brite took her arm, muttered something to her that I couldn’t hear, and then guided her out of the courtroom. I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief that the tiny force of nature was no longer my problem, no longer a temptation I didn’t want or understand, but my guts felt hollow and my head started to pound like I’d had too much to drink.
Townsend made his way over to me and set his worn briefcase on the desk next to my much nicer one. He lifted an eyebrow at me and asked snidely, “So, do you think if I dropped a couple grand on a new suit Willis would rule in my favor more often?”
Normally, I would smirk and throw out some offhand quip about clothes making the man, but my sense of humor and typical pride at winning a case was nowhere to be found. I rolled my eyes and didn’t bother to mask my annoyance at the other man’s petty dig. “Your case was crap and Willis saw it. Even if he didn’t, you were never going to get a conviction with the video evidence and the previous criminal history of your only witness. Not even Tom Ford or Ralph Lauren could pull your case out of the crapper. Don’t be a dick, Townsend.”