Authors: Jennifer Griffith
by Jennifer Griffith
© 2015 by Jennifer Griffith
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author.
First Edition, E-book
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are creations of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locations is purely coincidental.
Cover Art by Laura Lynn Tolman from a photo via Shutterstock.com
For A Really Good-Looking Lawyer
Thanks for Marrying Me
Threatening and Intimidating
Camilla Sweeten had immersed herself so deeply in the details of the case on her desk—what should’ve been an open-and-shut conviction of a local chronic burglar—that when Sheldon tapped her on the shoulder she jumped six inches in her seat and came bouncing down on her desk chair, rolling it over his open-toed shoes.
“Ouch! Gah! Remind me to never startle you.” He hopped a little, holding his foot. “And to quit taking podiatric advice from my father-in-law.” The Birkenstocks had been a recent addition to Sheldon’s casual Friday. Not a welcome one, if anyone was asking Camilla, which they weren’t.
“Sorry.” Camilla spun in her office chair. It rolled nicely on the mat in her cubicle, making a deep plastic-on-plastic hum. “You okay?”
“Falcon wants to see you.” Sheldon quit hopping and let the foot down again. The fear must have shown on Camilla’s face because he patted her shoulder. “Hey, you know he’s not going to bite you in half, don’t you? He’s just a boss, not a monster.”
“And don’t forget. You’re his favorite.”
The monster’s pet. How comforting. “Right now?” she asked, but Sheldon gave her a what-do-you-think grunt, and she steeled her knees. It was true. Falcon did like her. Just because Falcon Torres was a fierce old bird living up to his name toward everyone on the wrong side of the law, and was so tough he could sneeze with his eyes open, it didn’t mean Camilla should be afraid of the Yavapai County Attorney.
Oh, but he could rip her head off and fire her in three seconds flat. Fate’s prankster minions turned up the volume on the clock’s second hand as she slouched toward the boss’s lair.
Sheldon hollered after her. “You going to ask him about the promotion? You should.”
Sheldon. The Jokester. Like Camilla would dare—no matter how much she dreamed of it. But no. She was too young. Too new to the staff. She’d have to work here longer than Sheldon to aim for that.
“Come on. Be brave. You’re the hardest working person in this office. Self excluded, of course.” Ah, yet another joke. Everyone knew Sheldon put in his forty hours and made a beeline for home and hearth and his lovely wife Lydia. “I’m serious. That deputy spot is coming open, and you’ve got to speak up if you want it.” Now he and his Birkenstocks were shuffling alongside her toward Falcon’s office. “It never ceases to amaze me how you can be so tenacious in the courtroom against the criminals and so much of a scared animal about your own life. It’s a disconnect.”
“You’re all kinds of encouraging right now, Sheldon. Keep up the cheerleading.”
“Oh, you know what I mean.”
She did, but she sped her gait, hoping to leave the sandaled man in her dust.
“Good luck, Camilla.”
She’d need it.
With her heart pounding so hard it might be bouncing her lapel, she threw her hair back up in its bun and pushed open Mr. Torres’s creaky door. “Excuse me?”
“Camilla! Good, good!” He jumped to his feet and came to escort her into his office. Why the warm welcome? Usually he only gave her a passing nod. Oh, no. There’d been rumblings of budget cuts. This could be the “You’re Fired” warm welcome. But she’d tried so hard to do everything right. She’d dug in and made every case her own. She’d put away sixteen criminals in the past quarter, and even if there were staff reductions and she was low on the totem pole—
She sat down, her guts a slosh of heat and fear.
“Well. That’s a nice suit you’re wearing. Green is your color.” Falcon Torres noticed what was someone’s color? Revelations abound. She would’ve thanked him, but she couldn’t speak. “So. I brought you in this afternoon to talk to you about a very sensitive subject. After I mention it, I hope you won’t take it personally. I really want to preserve our friendship.”
Friendship. Yup. The breakup speech. She’d heard it before. Well, not often herself, and not since undergrad when Burns Pilsington let her down easy, but she’d seen it on TV enough. Falcon’s version emerged as the “work breakup” speech. Her spine couldn’t hold her up, and she slumped in the leather wingback chair. But, wait. Maybe she had a shot at redeeming herself—
“Before you say any more, Mr. Torres.” She slid to the edge of the seat, heart pumping. “I would like a chance to tell you that I’m getting a lot closer on the case against Neddington. He’s been sheer Teflon in the past, but this time I’m sure we’ve got some things that will stick.”
Torres shook his head—not like he was going to argue, but more like he needed to mentally change the subject. “Right. Good work, Camilla. That’s very good. I have full faith in the team on this one. Now—” he cleared his throat. “About what I wanted to discuss with you.”
The team. He had faith in the team. But she was just a single, lone member of the greater team. She was so gone. And she had all those law school loans left. And her car to pay off—the new one, the car of her
that she should never have bought but did anyway because she
thought she had a steady paycheck.
Sick bile bubbled inside her. For once, Sheldon was right. She had to speak up for herself!
“At least give me a chance to defend myself, sir.” Quick. Think of the elements of her case. She was a hard worker. She stayed longer hours than her colleagues. She shut those criminals behind bars. She—
“Cool your jets, Sweeten. You’re getting all worked up over something, and I have no idea what. It’s sensitive, I know, but I want to ask you a favor.”
The supercharged air in the room must have touched a wooden surface. Klunk. It all went neutral again. “A favor?” She wasn’t fired? Oh, hallelujah. “Sure. Anything.” Well, almost.
“I’ve got this buddy. We were fraternity brothers in college. Heh-heh.” Falcon chuckled and got one of those faraway, reliving-youthful-antics looks in his eyes. It made his eyebrows seem less furry. “Yeah. Good guy. But he got in touch with me and needs some help.”
“Right. Legal help.” And Falcon couldn’t do it without compromising his ethics, since this guy was a longtime pal. Wow. “I’m honored.” Camilla sat tall in the chair. He chose her!
He shook his head. “Uh, no. Not legal help. It’s a little more…personal.”
Oh, dear. Camilla backed away. Rumblings of doom sent tremors from the distance. She’d heard it before…
“See, my buddy has this son.”
Bam! The set-up!
Oh, snap. Far worse than getting fired!
Falcon was going on. “And overall, he’s been a good kid, you see. He just needs a little direction. A good girl and he’ll be fine. I know it. So what I was wondering was…”
Five thousand beetles crawled beneath Camilla’s skin. She had to clench her jaw to still them. Oh, this could go sideways for so many reasons. And the consequences, if worst fears were realized, and they often were when a set-up was concerned,
actually end up being her job, especially if her boss’s best pal’s ne’er-do-well son was involved.
“—for dinner this Saturday night. Uh, heh-heh. I guess that’s tomorrow now, isn’t it?” Falcon Torres’s brow, against all odds, looked sheepish. The meanest old bird in the world, with that look in his eyes—it should have melted her resolve.
But Camilla was stronger than that. She was playing the long game.
“Oh, thank you so much for thinking of me, Mr. Torres. I appreciate it more than you know.” How could she possibly sound gracious without lying? Well, she couldn’t. But sounding sincere was part of a lawyer’s repertoire. “I wish I could, but I can’t possibly.”
It was her standard answer. She’d used it a hundred times in the last couple of years to fend off the dreaded set-up from Aunt June, from the lady at church, from even Sheldon (who luckily learned fast). This answer had everything: it was clear, kind, and final.
Unless you were Falcon Torres, and Camilla’s boss.
“I won’t take no for an answer.”
Camilla’s jaw dropped. What? But a minute ago he was all about preserving their friendship. She scrambled for an excuse. “If only I had a way to help you out, I would, sir. But it’s out of the question. Now, about Neddington.”
“I don’t give a
about Neddington. He’s going to fry.”
What? In the electric chair? Yes, Arizona still had capital punishment, but, “He’s a burglar, sir.”
“You know what I meant. We aren’t going to let him off. I told you I had full faith in the team, and up until a minute ago, that included you, Sweeten.”
Cold water splashed in her face. She spluttered. “Wait. You’re going to fire me?”
“Did I say that? No. But I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about firing everybody.” He harrumphed and pulled a cigar out of a box on his desk. He didn’t light it. Arizona had passed a Clean Air Act years ago. But he shoved it between his teeth and chawed down. “Come on, Sweeten. I think a date with you is what this kid needs. It’s not like I’m asking you to marry the guy. A date. And no, your job does
depend on it. Come on, I prosecute things like sexual harassment for a living here. I’m not an idiot.” The presence of the tobacco looked like it made him wind down a bit. “Fine. Okay. Now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have asked.” He sat back in his chair, and Camilla got up to leave.
Now probably wasn’t the best time to throw her hat into the ring for the deputy county attorney job. She headed for the door.
“But I’m not changing my opinion here. You have a chance to make a difference in a young man’s life, and you’re letting it pass you by. You’re letting
pass you by, Sweeten.”
Camilla stopped in her tracks. She wasn’t sure if she’d heard right. Did Falcon Torres actually verbalize those last words, or had Camilla’s mind conjured them up in her boss’s voice? They did hang in the air, but she couldn’t be sure.
“Have a good weekend, sir.” She clicked his door shut behind her and went back to the Neddington file.
Latin. “You Shall Have the Body (in Court)”
Camilla pressed her hands down the tailored lines in the jacket of her suit. Oh, shoot. She shouldn’t have. Now the sweat from her palms might leave stains. But she couldn’t dry them on her skirt. It’d do the same thing. She swallowed hard, but her throat had parched. Water was in all the wrong places in her body right this second.
She got this way every time she came to court, and especially when she had to appear before Judge Harper. He was a bear. A very tall bear with gray hair and deep frown lines. He and Falcon Torres battled it out, falcon versus bear, on a regular basis on the racquetball court outside of the legal court, and Camilla knew he was a person, but she could never think of him as anything but a man-eating animal.
“Counselor, would you like to cross examine?”
“Yes, your honor.” She’d like to very much. If only she could get her game together. Sheldon was at the prosecution table beside her, but this was Camilla’s case, and he was letting her take the lead. After a quick look at her notes, she approached the witness box. “Mr. Tipton. The police have a recording of you. Do you know what it says?”
The sound of her own voice, and the fact it didn’t tremble when she spoke, infused her with confidence, and it surged through her veins. She had this. Yessiree. This bad guy was going down.
Tipton shook his head. He’d been in the witness box at least six times since Camilla came on staff as a prosecutor for Yavapai County. They’d danced before.
“It says, Mr. Tipton, ‘I’m going to clock that buzzard Waldron with the handle of my granddad’s machete and slice up his tires even if it’s a government vehicle.’ Does that sound familiar to you? Is that something you would say?”
Mr. Tipton kept his eyes on his lap. He shook his head.
“Please speak your response, sir.”
“Okay, well, answer this. Does your granddad have a machete?”
“Do you have access to it?”
Oh, yeah. She loved this guy. He was the best kind of criminal to prosecute and improve her conviction record: he had both a temper
a conscience. He couldn’t lie on the stand, but he couldn’t help but make irrational threats on whoever got his goat and then carry them out.
Sure enough, Waldron had turned up in the E.R. that night, knocked on the head by someone he said wielded a long, curved knife, and he’d had his tires sliced. Luckily, the whole threat had been captured on the bar’s surveillance camera in the parking lot. They’d put in audio a year ago at the county’s request, and it had resulted in four of Camilla’s convictions.
Thank you very much, Drinky McFatterson’s Bar.
“Thank you, your honor,” Camilla said, walking back to her chair after extracting all the conviction-guaranteeing evidence she could from Tipton, including having him identify a photograph of Waldron passed out at the scene with the machete on the ground near the slashed tires.
“Is that your name carved in the handle of the machete, Mr. Tipton?” “Yes, ma’am.”
Why he didn’t simply plead guilty in the first place boggled the mind. Some people just wanted their day in court, she guessed. At the other table, for the defense, Tipton’s lawyer scratched the back of his neck, which blazed red. Poor guy. If he couldn’t even convince Tipton to not testify against himself on the stand, as was his Constitutional Fifth Amendment right, there was nothing the lawyer could do about this one.
All that remained was Camilla’s closing remarks, and Tipton would be spending the next six months in jail for criminal damage and assault with a deadly weapon. Cha-ching, and the world was a safer place, for a time.
The defense babbled on with the next witness for a while, someone Camilla didn’t need to bother with. She’d made her points and they’d carry the day, she had no doubt. Just like she’d had no doubt she’d done the right thing by shutting down Falcon’s attempts at fixing her up on a date a few weeks ago. Since then, she’d had no dates and no regrets. Well, not many. Sheldon never stopped bugging her about dating and getting a life, and, sure, he was probably right. He and Lydia were so happy together, even after twenty years of marriage. But it wasn’t as if Camilla didn’t
those things, things like Sheldon had—a spouse and family to go home to at night, a reason not to stay at the office putting in the overtime, someone to talk to other than Siri. But at least Sheldon got it that Camilla had no intention of being dragged toward someone she wasn’t interested in. She was a girl with a mind, and even though she wasn’t confident in all areas of her life (like the fact she still hadn’t told Falcon she had an interest in the promotion), she did know one thing: she intended to choose her own husband.
If only he’d show up.
Her turn arrived. “Your honor.” She approached the bench, gulping down any fear of bear teeth and claws that threatened to surface. By now she knew Judge Harper well enough to know to approach him with a smile. He was disarmed (er, declawed) by a smile. Camilla flashed her best one. “I think the evidence, including Mr. Tipton’s own confession that the signature on the handle of the machete was his own, that he did indeed make the threat, which was caught on live audio, against Mr. Waldron—” Camilla’s eyes strayed out into the courtroom, and her voice trailed off.
A fog had gathered around one spectator’s face, and all the rest of the room faded into darkness. A choir from one of those Southern Baptist churches started to sing in her head, a low note that then soared to the heights of the audible range, with one soloist strumming the heavens with her vibrato.
There, standing alone at the back wall, leaning against it with his arms folded and one leg crossed over the other, stood the best thing Camilla had seen since she walked through the mall and saw those posters hanging in the window of the menswear store. Sharp suit, broad shoulders, dark hair in one of those cuts that slicks up and over in the front when a guy cares about how he looks. Not that he looked like he tried too hard. He looked like he wore his fabulousness with casual grace. Man, was she sweating? A warm glisten rose to her forehead and neck.
“Miss Sweeten? You were saying?”
“Huh?” Holy crap. She was
still in court.
And making her closing arguments—before Judge Harper. Her throat filled with cotton and her legs turned to lead. Nothing but butterflies zoomed in her head—refugees from her stomach a minute ago when she saw that dreamboat at the back of the room. Her eyes strayed there again, big mistake, and he had a jaunty grin pulling at one side of his face.
He was laughing at her!
The temperature of her face and neck rose about fifteen degrees, and now her skin there probably matched the burgundy of her business suit. Geez. All her clothes shrank in an instant. Everything went too tight and itchy on her shoulders, around her collar and stomach. She had to get out of here.
Suddenly, Sheldon was at her side. “Your honor, my colleague was saying—” He rested his hand on her shoulder, grabbed her eyes with his own and turned her back around to face Judge Harper. Camilla’s eyes met the judge’s. The bear could pounce at any moment and tear her limb from limb—but instead, laughter danced in his eyes. Oh, now he was a circus bear. And Camilla was the clown.
“Uh, yeah. Like, totally. I think I’ve made my case.” Like, totally? What? Did she just fly in from California in the 1980s in a time machine airplane? Guh! She stumbled to her chair and grabbed the water bottle on the table. She should splash this thing in her own face, wake herself up. But her blouse was white. The last thing she needed was to augment her disgrace with a wet t-shirt contest.
“Thank you. And the defense?”
The attorney for Mr. Tipton shot Camilla a sorry glance. Great. She’d rather have his ridicule than his pity. If she could slide down in her chair and disappear right now under the table—why didn’t they make trap doors beneath these things? Surely she wasn’t the first prosecutor to wish for one.
That was it. She could go into courthouse renovation construction—in her next career, after she lost this job.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.” Judge Harper rose, and the courtroom followed suit.
The bailiff hollered, “The judge will take a recess and return with the verdict.”
Camilla exhaled heavily. Sheldon leaned in close.
“What the junk just happened to you?” He wrenched his head around and peered at the back of the courtroom. “It was like an invisible alien ship swooped in, attacked and left you lobotomized. Oh, I see.” He held out the ee on see, nodding knowingly. “So, it seems Camilla Sweeten
be charmed by a man after all. Ha! I wonder who he is. You should bring him to dinner to meet Lydia when you come on Sunday. Lydia will cross examine him, get the goods.”
“Shut up, Sheldon. I am dying here. Did you see how fast I went into the death spiral? Now old Tilton is going to get off, free to attack someone with his granddaddy’s blow gun or samurai sword or something.”
“You mean Tipton?”
“Oh. Right. Whatever. I am so dead.” With her already being on Falcon’s bad side and the staffing changes in the wind, Camilla might have just signed her own career death warrant. She’d be staying home, rereading her worn copy of
The Compleat Angler
for the next five years and tying fishing flies before some firm took pity on her and hired her to make their coffee.
Sheldon just laughed his usual way—much like a trained seal. She expected him to start clapping his flippers along to the rhythm of the barking. “No, Sweeten. You’ll be fine. Closing arguments aren’t
Yeah, they’re a lot.”
Camilla crossed her arms on the table and threw her head onto them. “If Torres were here, he’d tell me to pack it in.”
here. Didn’t you see him? He’s at the back with that
who is clearly the kryptonite of your logical thinking ability.”
What? Falcon was
? She swung around. Sure enough. Jiminy Crickets, she wished Sheldon’s invisible aliens who took her brain would swoop in and take the rest of her right now. She’d be better off on their alien planet or even in their spaceship as some biological experiment.
Falcon stood at the back, beside the guy who caused all this mess—who, incidentally, looked a little less perfect now that the moment had passed. Sure, he still had the broad shoulders and the impeccable suit, and the swagger of his demeanor steamed off him like dew in the morning sun. Yeah, he still looked good. But maybe not quite as good. One percent less incredible, at least.
“You’re drooling again, Sweeten. Get a hold of yourself.” Sheldon elbowed her. “Besides, he’s your competition.”
She snapped out of it. “What? How so?” As far as Camilla was concerned, he could win and win and win. Unless—
“For the deputy county attorney job. They just brought him in from Coconino County.”
Yeah, he’d have to be from out of town. Camilla would have remembered him. She’d been in Prescott, with the exception of college and law school, her whole life. If he’d even breezed through and stopped at the Tastee Freeze, she would’ve had radar for
Not that she was exactly thrilled to know he was horning in on her promotion.
“What’s going on? Did they already give him the position? I thought they planned to hire internally.” It wasn’t fair, changing the rules of the game on her like that. Sure, she wasn’t the only candidate for the job or the most experienced, and maybe not even the most qualified—as evidenced today—but everyone knew she worked hardest for it.
“No and yes. I mean, from what I heard, Falcon brought him in from Flagstaff because he’s some kind of courtroom genius. The Jury Whisperer or something.”
“That’s corny.” Absolutely. In fact, he probably conjured it up himself and spread the rumor. She suppressed a snort as she rolled her eyes.
“Whatever. I don’t care. He’s got a gift. Lazy as a walrus sunning itself on a rock, but no jury can resist him.”
“Not with women on it.” Camilla stifled a sigh. Yeah, she could see herself falling prey to that charm as a juror. “But he hasn’t been hired. It’s not official or anything, right?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. He’s just part of the lawyer pool for now. But my money is on what Billingsley said—that Falcon is grooming him for the deputy county attorney position.” Sheldon frowned. “Listen, chica. If you are serious about wanting that job, you’d better get yourself together. No more of this drifting off mid-sentence garbage. And you’d better march your sweet little legs in and tell Falcon what you want and why you deserve it. Otherwise, you can kiss your promotion and your raise good-bye.”
Raise. Oh, yeah. And that was the other reason she needed the promotion. Exactly two days after she signed the loan papers on her dream car, boom! Her landlady raised the rent on her apartment, and now every rent payment bit into the small amount of extra she had been paying on her student loan. She’d gone from sitting pretty to car poor, a close cousin to house poor, in less than a week’s time.