Charged, p.6
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       Charged, p.6

           Jay Crownover

  I felt some of the tension that was coiled up inside of me unwind as I listened to her. Most of my clients had their own self-interests in mind when they made decisions about what they were going to do when faced with charges, but not this young woman. It was startling, even refreshing, to have someone in this office genuinely concerned about how their actions and consequences affected someone else, someone they loved. Even if she was a little late to the game, I was glad to see Avett had come to play.

  “The D.A.’s office sent over a plea deal this morning. They’re willing to drop all the charges except for the accessory charge if you agree to serve ninety days in jail with a two-year probationary period. They also want you to testify against Jared Dalton.” I laced my fingers together in front of me and watched as her breathing quickened. The gold on the outer rim of her eyes seemed to blaze as the brown in the center darkened to pitch-black. It was like watching a kaleidoscope shift and change shape and colors.

  “I don’t want to see Jared.” Her voice hitched and her knuckles turned white where she was clutching her upper arms.

  “You aren’t going to get a choice in the matter. You’ll have to testify, deal or no deal. You’re a witness and either the state or Jared’s attorney will eventually call you to the stand. Jared is trying to use you and the story that you were pissed your dad sold the bar as his reasonable doubt. You’re an integral part of his trial regardless of what happens with your own.”

  She pouted.

  I blinked because it should have looked indulgent and petulant. It should have made her come across as spoiled, sulky. It didn’t. It made her look adorable and put out. It wasn’t the kind of pout Lottie would give me when she wanted to spend an ungodly amount of money on a new couch or some purse that she would only use once; no, this was the pout of a woman that legitimately didn’t want to do something and was sullen about it. It was charming in a totally innocent way, and again, I silently berated myself for noticing the tiny gesture at all.

  “It’s a good deal, Avett. A really good deal. The minimum time served if you’re convicted on the accessory charge alone is three years.” I lifted my eyebrows at her. “Three years is the minimum, meaning if we do end up at a trial with a jury and they find you guilty, the judge can give you anywhere from three to five years. That’s a big chunk of time to sit behind bars if you take a gamble and lose.”

  She let her arms fall and scooted forward on the chair. She leaned forward and looked at me intently. Her eyes were mesmerizing and I found myself distracted by all the different colors trapped there. I had to ask her to repeat herself when I realized she said something and was waiting for a response from me. I needed to get my head in the game where this girl was concerned … this girl … that was the part I seemed to keep forgetting.

  “What did you say?” My voice dipped lower than it normally was and I shifted in my seat as other parts of me started to notice all the interesting and attractive things about Avett Walker as well.

  “I said, I Googled you.” She swept some of her hair back from where it had fallen over her shoulder, and I literally had to force myself to keep my gaze locked on her face as the motion pushed her chest up higher and tighter against the plain black T-shirt she had on.

  “Oh, yeah? How did that work out for you?” I knew what she would find: my service record, my wedding announcement, my work history with the firm, various tidbits on my most high profile cases, and several articles chronicling my divorce. Most divorces weren’t newsworthy, but when one of the people involved came from money and the other was as high profile as I was, it made for good filler on a slow newsday. I was curious to see what her interpretation of the snapshot of my life that existed on the Internet was.

  She got up from the chair and started to pace back and forth in front of my desk as she talked. “It worked out well enough, I guess. I saw that you were enlisted when you were younger, which explains why my dad immediately liked you.” She looked at me over her shoulder and a tiny grin tugged at her mouth. “He doesn’t usually like anyone instantly. It takes him a while to warm up.”

  I listened with half an ear as I watched her brightly colored hair swish around her shoulders. She didn’t come across as the girlie or overly feminine type, so I wondered why she had gone with such a delicate and pretty pink when coloring her hair.

  “I learned that you’re a Colorado native, that you grew up in the mountains, that your birthday is right around Christmas, which means you’re almost thirty-two, so you’ve accomplished a lot in your career in a short amount of time. I also learned that you own a lot of suits.”

  I snorted out a surprised laugh at that last part, which made her stop pacing. She took a step closer to my desk and put her hands on the opposite edge, leaning forward. The new position made her T-shirt gape at the collar, and even though I refused to look down, I could see the hint of a leopard-print bra peeking out. That hint of something that shoul be forbidden made my mouth go dry and had my pulse kicking. It was a powerful reaction to very little provocation, and I made myself beat it back, forcibly.

  “Every single picture you’re in, after you got out of the Army, you’re in a suit. Blue ones, black ones, gray ones, pinstripe ones. That’s a lot of suits.”

  I grunted. “I spend a lot of time in court. Suits are necessary for that.” They also set me apart from that kid running through the forest with exactly one pair of new jeans and one pair of boots that didn’t have holes in them. “And I’ve accomplished a lot because I work hard and I’m good at what I do.” I’d been working hard since I was born and I hadn’t ever had the opportunity to stop. When I was in high school, I pushed myself academically so that I could take advantage of every accelerated class my school offered. I knew college wasn’t going to be an option without the military, which meant I was giving four years to my country, so I was going to lose that time when it came to my career. Luckily, by the time I graduated high school, I had enough AP credits under my belt that I practically had an associate’s degree. My undergrad took no time at all, but I’d killed myself academically when I was younger to make that possible.

  “Yeah, I got that you are kind of a workaholic from all the stuff printed about your divorce.”

  Her dry tone made me stiffen. I dropped my hands and tapped the fingers of one against my bent knee in obvious irritation. “I don’t discuss my private life with clients, Avett.”

  A grin pulled at her mouth and her dark eyebrows danced upwards. “Why not? Your clients are probably the only people in a worse position than you were. We’re the last people that can judge what’s going on behind anyone else’s closed door. I’m here because I’m trying to prove I didn’t help my ex-boyfriend rob a bar. What’s a little infidelity compared to that?”

  I shot to my feet before I could control my reaction, shoving my hands through my hair. “She was unfaithful, not me. Not that it matters or that it’s a topic open for further discussion.” It was the wound that bled and bled, no matter how much pressure I applied to stop it.

  Avett righted herself and put her hands on her hips. She looked at me for a second and tilted her chin down a little bit. “Even when someone doesn’t want our story, we are still compelled to tell it.”

  My words to her from the interrogation room at the jail hit me hard when she threw them back at me like a fastball.

  She started pacing again and quietly told the room because she was no longer looking at me, “I also learned you are very good at your job. You win more than you lose. You have sent some very guilty people back to the streets, as well as saved some very innocent ones from a life behind bars. If I’m going to gamble on my future, then I couldn’t ask for anyone better to be holding the cards. I choose to believe that, for once, the deck is stacked in my favor.” She stopped once she was across from me again and we spent a moment staring at each other. “Thank you for not letting me fire you, Mr. Jackson.”

  Her softly spoken words spurred me on to say something I hadn’t said to a client since
I started practicing law professionally. “Call me Quaid.”

  Her spectacular eyes widened a hair and she bit down on her lower lip. “All right, Quaid. I’m not going to take the plea deal and that’s my final answer.”

  We both sat back down with my big desk between us. There was a pulse in the air, a vibration I couldn’t name, but it felt electric and more alive than anything that had crossed my path in decades. In fact, the last time I had the same shot of adrenaline, the same thrill racing through my blood, making my heart beat erratically, I had been getting on a plane for the first time in my life, headed to basic training and far, far away from an existence that was a constant struggle and hardship. It was like starting over, being given a second chance at something worthwhile. I understood it then … I was baffled by the rush of it overtaking my common sense now.

  “The preliminary hearing will be set in a few weeks. The State is going to take that time to dig up every little thing they can on you in order to prove they have enough to make the charges stick if we go to trial. I’m going to remind them that their case against you hinges on a known addict and is nothing more than hearsay. We also have the video from the parking lot that shows the boyfriend manhandling you. Our evidence and witnesses that point the finger at Jared being the sole perpetrator are far more compelling than anything the State might pull out of its hat.” I grinned at her and I thought I heard her suck in a breath. “Honestly, if I was in your shoes, I would tell the prosecution to shove their deal, too.”

  She gasped out a surprised laugh and it made something low in my gut tighten.

  “We’re in this together, Avett. We gamble together, which means we win or we lose together.”

  She snorted a little. “Except I’m the only one stuck doing time if we lose.”

  “True. But I’ve won cases far more complex, with way better evidence stacked up against my clients. If I lose this one, it makes me look like I’m slipping. I don’t slip.”

  “I gathered from the way your secretary was giving me the hairy eyeball that I’m not your typical kind of client.”

  “Well, if you called Pam a secretary to her face that might have something to do with it. She prefers to be referred to as my assistant.” I gave her a steady look and made sure she could hear the sincerity in my tone when I told her, “And my typical client is anyone that can afford me. I don’t care if you have pink hair or if you’re the star running back for the Denver Broncos. If you hire me, you will get the best defense I can give, and I will treat your case like it is my top priority.”

  She breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I’ll need to thank Asa for hiring you, then.”

  I decided not to tell her that her dad was picking up the bill now and instead absently told her, “I like your pink hair, by the way.”

  She blinked rapidly at me and then lifted her hands up so that the tips of her fingers were touching the rosy ends of her hair.

  “You do?” She sounded incredulous.

  I nodded. “I do, but you might want to consider changing it before court. It never hurts to look as respectable and as law abiding as possible.” She frowned at me and I lifted my hands up in front of me like I was warding off her ire. “That’s the kind of advice your dad would tell you to listen to if he was here. I told you, I spend a lot of time in court, and while your hair might seem insignificant to you, it can have a huge impact on the impression you leave on the judge and the jury. If we get that far.” Even though I would be inexplicably sad to see it go. It suited her and I liked the way it and she brightened up my typically drab office.

  She fisted a handful of the pink locks and closed her eyes for a split second. When she opened them back up, they glimmered with resignation. Again, her bottom lip jutted out in a pout that not only did I want to bite, but that also made the custom fit of my suit pants much tighter.

  “Okay, besides my hair, what else do I need to do before the preliminary hearing? How do I make myself respectable and law abiding?” She sounded so disgusted by the idea, I had to bite down another chuckle.

  “The hair, and dress appropriately for court. Something conservative but not too stuffy. You’re young and you look fairly innocent. You’ve got your entire life ahead of you. We want to play that up. Besides that, do what the arraignment judge told you—stay away from the boyfriend and try and keep yourself out of trouble.”

  She stiffened across from me and whispered, “Ex-boyfriend, and I told you, I don’t ever want to see him again.”

  “And I told you that you aren’t going to have a choice.” I looked at the watch on my wrist and was shocked to see that I had been talking to her for well over the time I had blocked out in my schedule to meet with her. It felt like it had only been a handful of minutes. “I understand where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t want to see the person that got me into this kind of mess either, but you’re the one that walked in here claiming you want to do something right. That you don’t need someone to hold your hand. It’s up to you to put the guy that hurt you, the monster that threatened those people with a gun and tried to rob a place that means so much to your family, away for a very long time. It is a huge step in the right direction, Avett.” I got to my feet and she followed suit. “I have another client waiting on me, so we need to wrap this up. I’ll be in touch. I’m sure the D.A. is going to want to talk to you about their case against the boyfriend. I should have a date for the next hearing soon.”

  I reached out to shake her hand and almost jerked my palm away when our skin touched. A jolt shot up my arm. It took all my restraint not to rub it like I had brushed up against a live wire.

  She pulled back and curled her fingers into her palm, like she was trying to hold on to the vibrant electricity the contact between us had created. When we touched, my blood felt charged, stimulated in a way I’d never felt before.

  “I look forward to hearing from you.” She delicately cleared her throat, making her way to the door of my office. Once she was there, she paused with her hand on the knob and turned back to look at me over her shoulder. “Quaid.”

  I looked up from the file I had turned my attention to and lifted my eyebrows at her in question. “Yeah?”

  “I’m neither as young nor as innocent as you seem to want to believe I am. If you want to sell that to a judge and jury because you think it will help keep me out of jail, then I’ll play the part. But you need to recognize that’s not the reality of the situation.” She was out the door before I could formulate a response.

  I called Pam to let her know I needed a few minutes to prep before my next client meeting, rocking back in my chair as I tried to recover from Hurricane Avett. She was a tiny whirlwind of destruction and I couldn’t seem to keep up with the different directions she was blowing my emotions in. I’d never encountered anyone like her. I couldn’t remember ever dealing with someone as real, as open with their faults and failures, as Avett seemed to be. I’d never met anyone as reckless with their own fate as she was. Something about that was really intriguing. So was the gauntlet she threw down on her way out.

  Obviously she was technically young, much younger than me at least. When I was twenty-two I had gotten back from the desert and was starting college for the first time. I wasn’t as untried as a lot of men in their early twenties but that had more to do with the way I was forced to grow up than it did with fighting for my country. Still, the difference between what I knew then and what I know now was huge, so yes, Avett Walker was young, regardless of her assurances that she wasn’t.

  As for her being innocent … I had her criminal record in front of me, so I knew she wasn’t an angel. However, there was something in those wild eyes of hers that seemed so gentle and soft. How innocent she may or may not be was still very much up for debate.

  I was getting ready to call Pam and tell her to bring my client in when the phone on my desk rang as I was reaching for it. I knew from the caller ID that the man on the other end was Orsen McNair, the man who had hired me and who was the McNair
in McNair and Duvall, the founding partners of the firm. I liked Orsen, appreciated that he gave me a shot right out of law school and the fact that he had stood by me during the divorce when Lottie had done her best to drag not only me but the firm through the mud. I owed the guy a lot considering my pedigree wasn’t as polished and shiny as most of the attorneys hired right out of school. I also recognized I had made it to this point in my career based on my own work ethic and own skills at knowing how to read and work a jury. I wanted my name on the sign along with Orsen’s and I hadn’t been shy about letting him know that.

  “What’s up, old man?”

  There was a raspy chuckle on the other end of the phone and I could hear his chair creak under his weight. “I hear we’re in the business of representing punk rockers now.”

  I frowned, even though he couldn’t see me, and glared at Pam through my closed door. “Where did you hear that?”

  “Come on, Quaid. You know the ladies in this office gossip like that’s what they get paid to do. Pam couldn’t wait to tell Martha about the girl with pink hair, saying she was locked up with you in your office for over an hour. Told her that she seemed flushed and agitated when she finally came out. You have something you want to tell me, kid?”

  I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples in vicious circles. “Nothing to tell, Orsen. She’s a new client. She was referred by another client. The pink hair is a minor issue, but I already advised her that it needs to go before court. If she seemed upset or worked up in any way when she left my office, it was because I told her she was going to be the State’s star witness against her boyfriend. She’s not happy about it. Pam has a big mouth.”

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