Authors: Donna Fasano
Tags: #General Fiction
“Take a seat, Mrs. Whitlock.” Officer Perez rounded the desk as she spoke. “And, Zach, I want to thank you for staying put while I was gone.”
When he’d first spied Tyne, Zt dpied Tyach had scooted to the edge of the seat, but now he sank against the black padded chair back. Tyne lowered herself onto the only other chair available in the cubicle. She set her purse on her lap.
“Your son was picked up at the local high school,” Officer Perez began. “He and the others spray-painted graffiti and obscene words on the gymnasium walls.”
“Oh, Zach.” Disappointment snagged in her throat. Her son refused to look at her.
“Mrs. Whitlock, we picked Zach up after eleven.”
Tyne’s attention swung back to the officer.
“Were you aware that your son was out so late?”
The officer’s coal-black eyes were probing and filled to the brim with accusation.
“I was working.” Defensiveness tightened every word. “I had to go in around three this afternoon.” She glanced down at her son, tossing him a quick, narrow-eyed glare. “I’d left dinner for him. And then Rob arrived before nine. They were going to watch the Phillies game.” Tyne spoke swiftly. “When I arrived,” she continued, “it was close to midnight. Rob was asleep on the sofa.”
“So Zach’s father—”
Tyne gasped. “Zach!” Her tone was sharp with reproof. “Don’t talk about Rob like that.”
His chin jutted, his mouth a thin slash. He looked so much like his dad in that instance that she had to force herself not to look away.
“Zach, go sit over by the door. I need to speak to your mother.”
Officer Perez’s request was stern enough to brook no argument, and Zach pushed himself from the chair, lumbered across the room.
Tyne glanced down at her lap and saw that her knuckles were white from the death-grip she had on her leather bag. Her insides quaked. “I-I just don’t understand what’s going on,” she murmured, pressing her palm to her forehead and closing her eyes for a brief second. “I don’t know what’s happened to my son.”
“It’s Ms.,” Tyne corrected. “Rob and I aren’t married. Yet.” She glanced down at the diamond ring on her left hand. The stone glittered in the harsh fluorescent light and she noticed that she was once again clutching her purse tight enough to make the tendons in her hands stand out rigidly.
“Maybe he should be here with you.”
Officer Perez’s voice was so unexpectedly soft that it drew Tyne’s attention.
“Your fiancé,” the officer said. “Would you like for me to call him?”
“No.” Tyne shook her head, looking away.
“I think you could use a little support. He might—”
“No.” She straightened her spine. “I’m fine. Rob has to be up early. I don’t want to bother him. I’m just fine, Officer Perez. I can handle this.”
The woman sitting behind the desk didn’t look convinced.
Like tiny sparks of light, memories flickered through Tyne’s head. Difficult circumstances over the years that—as a single parent—she’d had to handle on her own. Front baby teeth loosened in a fall on the playground. The wrist fractured in a bicycle accident. Teasing that turned into nasty bullying because Zach looked different; he wasn’t white, he wasn’t black, he wasn’t Latino.
Raising her son on her own hadn’t been easy. The responsibility had forced her to develop a steely resolve, an unfaltering tenacity, if not on the inside, at least in the brave face she insisted on presenting to the world.
She could handle anything life threw her way when it came to Zach. She was devoted to his protection, and she meant to nurture him and defend him and love him. No matter what. She intended to be the very be
When she lifted her gaze to Officer Perez, she knew she expressed more confidence, even if she still felt quite shaken inside. She’d just take the problem one step at a time.
“I’m sorry he painted the school building,” Tyne began. “He knows right from wrong. He knows better than to deface property. I can promise you he’ll face the consequences. We’ll clean the building, or pay to have it cleaned. Zach’s a good kid,” she insisted. “Yes, he’s been showing a bit of defiance lately. And, no, he should never have left the house tonight. He’ll be on restriction for that. But I don’t believe his behavior is so seriously depraved that he needs to have a criminal record.” Reality sunk in and she repeated, “A
Officer Perez’s face held no emotion. None, nada, zip.
A flutter of panic threatened Tyne, but she held it at bay. “You said yourself that no one was hurt. He’s never been in any trouble before. Isn’t there some other way we can handle this? Is there anything I can do to get the charges against my son dropped?”
Without taking her eyes off Tyne’s face, Perez straightened the reports on her desktop, gathering them together and tapping them into a neat pile.
“I wish I could help you, Ms. Whitlock. But the damage is done. The report is already on file. There’s no way for me to undo it. It’ll be up to the judge to determine your son’s punishment.”
Refusing to feel defeated, Tyne asked, “Okay, so what happens now?”
“We’re releasing him into your custody.” She set the papers down and splayed her palm on top of them. “Listen, it’s very clear to me that you’re a…a concerned parent. A
concerned parent. I wish I saw more of those around here.” Perez’s dark eyes softened. “It’s usually my policy to give a kid a warning. I like to give them a chance if I can. If Zach had been merely loitering, then I’d have brought him home. I’d have given both him and you a stern lecture. However, he destroyed public property. He had a can of paint in his possession. Orange paint on his skin. And not only that, the boys Zach was with have already seen their share of trouble. They’re way past the warning stage. One of the boys spent thirty days in juvie hall. These are not the kind of kids you want your son hanging with.”
Closing her eyes, Tyne clenched her jaw so tightly the joints began to ache. Taking up with delinquents. Defacing public property. Running head-on into trouble with the law. Earning himself a criminal record.
She’d taught Zach better.
“This isn’t normal behavior for my son. You have to believe me.”
Perez rested her forearms on the corner of the desk. “I’ll tell you what I believe. Zach is disturbed about something. Angry would be a better word. I tried to get him to talk to me. Tried to connect with him. He was rude and disrespectful. I hoped that would change once we were away from the others. But even then, he continued to be uncommunicative. That’s not what I’m used to from first time offenders. They usually break down, express remorse, rather quickly. Not your son. Then fear got the better of him and he just shut down. It’s been my experience that kids like Zach—” She stopped, then started again. “There’s not an easy way for me to say this. I think your son needs some help. Professional help.”
Tyne fought the insult that reared in her chest, but she couldn’t fault the woman for stating the truth. She nodded, fighting to breathe around the knot that swelled in her throat. “He does need help. And I promise you he’ll get it.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Ms. Whitlock.” Leaning forward, the officer’s tone lowered an octave aesp an octs she suggested, “The first thing you should do is find a good lawyer. Zach has a mandatory court appearance in front of the juvie judge. And it’s soon. Our policy is to take care of these things as quickly as possible, so he’s scheduled on the court docket for Wednesday morning.”
“But that only gives me four days—”
“Three, actually,” Perez corrected. “We’re into Sunday morning.”
Tyne sighed sharply. “How am I supposed to find a lawyer by Wednesday?”
Unwittingly, items on her work schedule zipped through her brain; the meeting this afternoon with that couple to finalize their wedding menu, shopping and prep for the Women’s Association Tea on Monday, the Idea Exchange for the Small Business Owners Guild set for Tuesday morning.
“I can’t just go to court with Zach? Explain things to the judge myself? Surely—”
The officer cut her off with an emphatic shake of her head. “Not a good idea. Judge Taylor plays hardball. He’s a firm believer that a person is known by the company he keeps. It’s his motto. You’ll probably hear him say those words while you’re there. He’ll come down on Zach hammer-hard simply because of the friends he’s chosen to run around with.” Perez leaned forward, sincerity tempering her intense gaze. “Find Zach a lawyer, Ms. Whitlock. He won’t fare well without one.”
There were forms to sign and another firm lecture for Zach before Perez let them go.
The drive home was made in stony silence. Tyne knew she and Zach would have to talk, but her son wasn’t ready for any more scolding. She’d seen him switch off when the officer reprimanded him before they’d left.
The teetering emotional triangle she was attempting to balance had her feeling very much off kilter. Concern for Zach weighted one corner. Another sagged with motherly guilt. And the third? Well, that corner was heavy with anger. She wanted firm control over her emotions before she talked to him about his actions, about what had precipitated this craziness, and about the legal repercussions he was facing.
She braked the car to a halt at a stop sign, looked down the deserted street in both directions and then crossed the intersection.
Legal repercussions. The phrase sounded ominous.
Damn, she was tired. She wished she had someone to lean on. Someone to talk to. Someone to reason this out with. She’d traveled a solitary road for years.
There was Rob, of course. But although she knew he cared for her deeply, she also knew how he felt about taking on the task of raising a teen. He hadn’t come right out and expressed his anxiety about becoming an instant parent, but Tyne sensed his hesitation. Who knew how he’d react if she dumped this problem on his shoulders? She certainly couldn’t keep it from him, but she could handle the bulk of it on her own.
How would she handle it, was the question.
Find Zach a lawyer. He won’t fare well without one.
The officer’s advice hit her like a kick to the gut. Then another thought breezed through her mind; Lucas Silver Hawk was a lawyer.
No way. No how
“What?” Zach’s short, sharp question broke the quiet.
Startled to realize that she’d actually voiced the thought, she attempted to downplay it by murmuring, “Just working out some things in my head.”
Zach’s father wasn’t just
lawyer. He was a prominent, high-powered attorney who made the city news often. Judging from what she read about him in both the business and society sections, it seemed Lucas was Man of the Hour in Philadelphia’s courtrooms
in the bedrooms of a multitude of women. She rarely saw a picture of him when he didn’t have a beautiful female nearby.
Acid churnedh="Acid ch in her gut and she leaned a little closer to the steering wheel.
Lucas was part of the past. A past she’d grappled with for a hell of a long time. A past that, for years, she wasn’t sure she would ever overcome. But she was beyond all that. She’d left it behind.
She pulled into the empty parking space on the street in front of the brownstone she and Zach called home.
Your son needs a lawyer
Zach plucked the car keys from her fingers and shoved open the car door. “Talkin’ to yourself now? Mom, you’re freakin’ me out.”
The slam of the door reverberated in her head.
She wouldn’t go to Lucas. She just couldn’t. What would she say to him? How would she explain?
“Lucas,” she whispered aloud in the darkness, “I have something I need to tell you.”
Guilt eddied in her chest. The thought of facing his questions—not to mention his fury—made her entire body flush with heat. But all of that was preempted by a stiff resentment when she remembered all the years she and Zach struggled and went without.
The far off bark of a dog broke the silence and she sat up straighter.
Zach had found himself a heap of trouble. Tears stung her eyes and she did her best to blink them away.
He’ll come down on Zach hammer-hard
Tyne could think of a dozen reasons why she couldn’t go to Lucas for help, but then she swung her weepy gaze toward the porch where the treasure of her world was letting himself into the house—and she realized in that instant t
hat there was one crucial reason why she would.
ummer sunlight heated the
crown of Lucas’s head as he weaved his way through the tourists and business people crowding the sidewalk. Cars, taxis, and buses rumbled along Market Street, sending dust swirling in the sultry air. One perk he loved about working in Philadelphia was that his office was within walking distance of the court house. He thrived in the outdoors, and the trek he made sometimes several times each day offered him the opportunity to be out in the open air rather than cooped up inside.
Rain, snow, sun, it didn’t matter. His colleagues thought he was nuts. They simply didn’t understand his affinity for nature.
Today his steps were lighter than usual. The petition he’d just filed would assure victory in the Jamison case. Winning the complicated litigation would be a feather in his cap. No one in the office had thought it could be done, and that’s exactly why he’d accepted the challenge. Life was good. No, he decided as he entered the revolving door of his office building, life was
He whistled as he crossed the high-ceilinged atrium and stepped into a waiting elevator that shot him toward the top of the high rise. He shifted his briefcase to his left hand as the doors slid open and he entered the bright and ultra modern vestibule of Young and Foster.
“Martha.” He nodded at the firm’s receptionist, pausing at her desk.
“So—” excitement dripped from her sneaky whisper “—did you do it?”
He offered up a mischievous grin.
Her brown eyes glittered. “You’re
, Lucas. You’re going to be the youngest partner this firm has ever seen.”
More importantly, the first of Native American descent too. The idea gave him a great deal of satisfaction, but he said nothing.
Martha beamed and Lucas gave her shoulder a warm pat.
“I hope you’re right, Miss Martha.” He picked up an envelope that had his name scrawled across the front of it. “Any calls?” he asked.
“Six. Two need immediate attention. Three can wait.” Her tone lowered. “One can be tossed into the circular file.”
Lucas accepted the slips of paper. “You know I appreciate your skillful memorandum triage.”
Martha flushed to the roots of her bleach-blond hair. “Larry and Nate are waiting for you in Larry’s office. You’ve got an appointment in twenty minutes with the parents of the Reeves girl. They wanted to personally thank you for helping Shannon. I’ll call the minute they arrive.” Without batting an eye, Martha continued her list. “You’ve got a court appearance at eleven-thirty. Lunch with the Jamisons at twelve-forty-five. And you’re booked solid until seven, but we can go over your afternoon appointments later.”
Not only was she an extraordinary office manager, Martha made a great mother hen. She juggled the schedules of the entire ‘minor league,’ as the two senior partners referred to the group of attorneys in their employ. Lucas didn’t know how Martha accomplished the copious tasks that would have surely overwhelmed anyone else, but he was glad she did. He’d be lost without the woman.
“Thanks, Martha. I’ve got to stop by my office; then I’ll go talk to—”
“Oh, wait. There’s someone here to see you.”
He frowned. “I don’t have time today.”
“I know, I
.” Martha looked apologetic. “I tried to explain that your schedule is packed, but she insisted on waiting—”
Martha glanced down at a pad on her desktop. “A Ms. Whitlock. Tyne Whitlock.”
Lucas stared. Blinked. Then he reached up and tugged at his tie, wondering who the hell shut off the room’s air supply.
“She’s waiting in your office. I tried to tell her your schedule was full, but…” Concern sharpened Martha’s tone. “Are you all right? She said she knew you. That you were old friends. That she’d only take a minute of your time. Should I not have let her in?”
Martha droned on and he watched her lips move, but he didn’t hear a word of what she said. A blind-sided punch wouldn’t have stunned him more than hearing that name. He lifted his hand and nodded at Martha to let her know everything was okay even though he had no idea if it was or not, then he turned and headed down the corridor.
“Don’t forget Larry and Nate. They’re waiting!”
Martha’s warning sounded like a distant echo.
Tyne. Here. In this building. In his office.
What had it been? Twelve, thirteen…no.
years. He scrubbed his fingers across his jaw.
He turned the corner and came to an abrupt halt. At the end of the corridor, the door of his office stood ajar. He saw Tyne’s perfect profile as she sat in a straight-backed chair staring at something out of his line of view.
In an instant, Lucas was catapulted into the past.
Darkness surrounded them like a cloak. Tyne’s soft sobs tore at his heart. Of all the girls he’d dated—and there had been more than a few—only she brought out in him a fierce compulsion to protect.
He swiped away her tears, the dark color of his thumb a stark contrast against her creamy white skin.
“I don’t understand them, Lucas. I never will.”
“Don’t worry,” he crooned. “It’s going to be all right. Trust me, babe. They can’t keep us apart. You’ll be eighteen soon too. We can do what we want then. Go wherever we want.”
He cradled her, his back supported by the massive pin oak. And when she stopped crying, she pulled away from him and gazed into his eyes. Her sweet face wrenched his heart and caused heat to spark his desire. Never had he wanted a girl the way he wanted Tyne. tooanted TRaw need coursed through him.
She cradled his face between her palms and drew him to her. Her lips were hot against his. The kiss grew hungry, their breathing labored.
“Our love will last forever,” she whispered against his mouth.
He heard the question in her quavery tone, responded to her need for reassurance.
“Forever,” he groaned, tugging her down onto the mossy ground.
Lucas tilted his head to stare at the carpet in front of his shoes and gulped in the artificially-cooled air as he dragged his way out of the past. The grip he had on his attaché case made his hand throb almost as much as the memory had caused his groin to go all achy and needful.
Of course, their love hadn’t lasted forever.
He was within steps of the door when Tyne glanced in his direction. Nuances of various emotions passed across her face. And it was a striking face, Lucas couldn’t deny it. The years had refined her features—
She stood, smoothing her palms across the fabric of her skirt.
—and ripened her body. Her eyes were the same vivid blue he remembered, and her white-blond hair was still long and straight. He could easily recall the silky feel of it brushing against his bare chest. As teens, he’d thought of them as the perfect juxtaposition: she, all sunshine and light, he, dark like the night.
He forced his gaze back onto her face.
“Tyne.” He entered his office, puzzled by the strain in his voice. What really confused him was the fact that he couldn’t seem to get his tongue to form anything more.
“Hi, Lucas. It’s been a long time.” Her lush mouth pressed into a nervous smile, and his gut tensed.
He wanted to smile back. He truly did. With every fiber of his being. To let her know that he’d survived the sprawling interim since they’d parted just as well as she obviously had. But he couldn’t smile. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think.
Damn! Move, man!
The harsh command was nothing more than pure, self-preserving instinct, and he thanked heaven for blessing him with a healthy dose of it, which never failed to kick in just when it was needed. This time was no exception.
Lucas took several steps and set his briefcase, mail and messages on his desk. He said, “Yes, it has been a long…long time.”
“I know you’re very busy. The woman at the front desk told me so. But I was hoping you could give me some time. Just a moment or two.”
Grateful for a reason to break contact with her mesmerizing cobalt eyes, he snatched the opportunity to study his wristwatch. “I’m due in a meeting right now. And I’ve got clients coming—”
“My day really is jammed, Tyne. But I’ll have Martha check my schedule. I’m sure I could fit you in within the next couple of—”
He couldn’t dismiss the tone of those two small words, nor could he ignore the magnitude of emotion clouding her expression. He had no choice but to relent.
“Sit down,” he murmured. He closed the door of his office and then returned to perch himself on the corner of his desk. He steeled himself before asking, “What’s on your mind?”
She seemed to shrink a little as a thousand thoughts ran though her head. Seconds passed, and still she didn’t speak.
Lucas witnessed the phenomenon almost on a daily basis. The people who wound up in his office often felt as if they were carrying the world on their shoulders. He knew her anxiety would eventually discharge, and from the looks of it, he wouldn’t have to wait long.
Finally, she pressed her hand to her chest. “I can’t breathe.”min breath
“Relax. Do you want some water?”
She shook her head, a lock of her long, platinum hair falling over her forearm. “No. I need to get this out. I promised you I’d hurry.”
He couldn’t keep his brows from arching a fraction. She hadn’t kept her promises in the past. Why would he expect her to now?
Tyne ran her tongue along her full bottom lip, hesitated another moment, then blurted, “I need a lawyer.”
Lucas closed his eyes and stifled a sigh. He could have guessed as much, of course. He’d worked hard to get himself into the privileged position of being able to pick and choose his clients. The last person he wanted to represent was Tyne Whitlock.
Common sense told him Tyne wasn’t attempting to flatter him. She was speaking purely out of desperation.
“Look, Tyne—” Something made him stop. He sighed, and then he stood, taking his time rounding his desk and sitting down. The leather-upholstered arms of the chair were cool and smooth under his fingertips.
“I know some of the best attorneys in the city.” He plucked a pen from the cup on his desktop. “And many of them owe me a favor or two.” He reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulled out one of the business cards he always kept handy, and turned it over, poised to write. “Let me give you some names and numbers—”
“I don’t want just any attorney.” Her chin lifted. “I want you. Why
would I have come here?”
His gaze lowered to the small white card in his hand. With much deliberation, he set down the pen and the card, and then he looked her directly in the eyes.
Every muscle in her body appeared board-stiff.
“Listen to me—” he kept his tone calm “—when people find themselves in trouble with the law, or victimized, or wrongfully sued, or unjustly accused, they tend to get lost in a strange, I don’t know, franticness. A recklessness that they almost always regret. Believe me when I tell you that no situation is hopeless, and circumstances are rarely as desperate as they might be perceived. Whatever trouble you’re in, don’t let panic and fear haze your thinking.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I think I do,” he rushed to assure her. “I see it every day. Honest, hardworking people finding themselves in dire straits. And this unfamiliar territory throws them. They grasp at help from the first source that comes to mind.”
“Just like that old adage warning that only a fool acts as his own lawyer, it’s also foolish to choose an attorney in haste. You and I have a past, Tyne, and even though all of that took place years and years ago, the fact remains that we have a history. I don’t believe I would be the best person to represent you in a court of law. You need someone who’ll be totally unbiased. Let me give you some names. I’ll make some calls for you myself—”
“Stop!” She lifted her hands and scooted to the edge of the seat. “You don’t understand. And I can’t make you understand if you won’t
for a minute.”
His eyebrows arched and the frustration in her statement had him leaning back a bit.
She frowned. “I’m sorry. Really, I am. I had to stew all day yesterday.” She fisted her hands in her lap. “I didn’t expect to reach anyone on a Sunday, but do you know that your firm doesn’t offer an emergency number on the answering machine?” She exhaled with force. “I’m a nervous wreck just
you. But all that aside, I shouldn’t have snapped at you. Please accept my apology.”
He didn’t react, didn’t move. He just waited for her to continue.
“The thing is…what you need te ft you no know…”
Once again, she grew terribly cautious, and Lucas found that extremely curious. What the hell was it she found so hard to tell him? What kind of trouble was she in?
She blanched, but then her spine straightened. “I’m not the one who needs a lawyer. I want to hire you, yes. But I’m not the one needing representation. It’s my son who’s in trouble.” A nerve at the corner of her eye tic
ked, but her gaze never veered from his as she added, “
t was rumored that
Judge Marvin Taylor ate a pound of ten-penny nails for lunch every day—right after putting the hammer to at least a half-dozen delinquent teens every morning.
Because he specialized in corporate law, Lucas had minimal experience representing minors, and those cases had been forced on him when kids of clients had wound up in trouble. Shannon Reeves was a good case-in-point. In every instance, though, he’d been successful in having the charges reduced or dismissed simply by finding the right words to say to the right people in the DA’s office and by talking to the judge. However, the judge presiding over Zach’s case had refused his calls. The man wouldn’t even talk with Lucas about the charges his son was facing.
. The phrase made Lucas’s gut clench, and he turned his head to glance for what felt like the hundredth time at the grim teen seated next to him at the defense table. There was no denying the kid was his.
Lucas faced forward when the gavel struck wood.
“No, Mr. Hawk, I will
meet with you in chambers. I like to do business out in the open. Where everyone can hear and know what’s going on.” The Honorable Judge Taylor peered over his eyeglasses directly at Zach. “I do like for people to understand exactly what’s happening and why.” He pulled off his glasses, took a moment to buff them on his sleeve, and then perched them back on his nose as he returned his attention to Lucas. “There’s nothing you could say to me in there, Counselor, that can’t be said out here.”
So the man wasn’t only hard-hearted, he was also a jackass. Lucas stood. “May I at least approach the bench?”
It was a desk, really. The Juvenile Courtrooms were small, almost intimate, as public audiences were barred from proceedings involving minors.
The judge sighed, loud and long, and waved both lawyers forward.
“Thank you, Your Honor,” Lucas murmured. “If you’ll hear me out, I think you’ll agree that this case has some…special circumstances.”
The prosecutor from the District Attorney’s office was a woman just short of retirement whom Lucas had met with only once in another case involving a minor. He remembered her as being firm but fair. Her smile bolstered Lucas, but the judge remained silent and stone-faced.
“Your Honor, I’ll get right to the point. Zachary Whitlock is my son.” He paused. “I met him for the first time this morning.”
The opposing attorney’s gaze widened, but Judge Taylor’s expression remained unmoved. Not much fazed Lucas, but he hadn’t expected indifference.
“I understand you have a reputation of being tough. Even on first time offenders. But I ask you to bear in mind that—”
need to bear in mind,” Taylor countered, leaning forward and speaking loud enough for all to hear, “is that this young man is in my courtroom today because he broke the law. Special circumstances or not. Go back to your seats.”
Lucas felt stung as he made the short trek back to the table. Tyne’s troubled gaze locked onto him. He would have liked to offer her some encouragement; a smile, cira nod, something. But he couldn’t find a reason to.
“Don’t get me wrong.” The Judge slid his gavel several inches to his right. “I’m pleased that you’re enjoying a family reunion. I sincerely hope something good comes of it. But that doesn’t change the fact that the fifteen-year-old sitting, well, slouching there—”
Zach shifted in his seat.
to associate with three known criminals. He
to deface public property. He’s costing the tax payers money. I am sick to death of petty crime, and I firmly believe that every criminal act that goes unpunished only paves the way further into a life of unlawful conduct. If someone doesn’t give me a solid reason not to, I plan to punish this young man to the fullest extent of the law. Zachary Whitlock has admitted to behaving in a criminal manner.
is what we’re here to discuss. Isn’t that correct, Counselors?”
The Assistant State’s Attorney said, “Yes, Your Honor.”
“Yes, sir,” Lucas was forced to agree.
“Fifteen years old and hanging out with common criminals at midnight.” Judge Taylor leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “Mr. Hawk, you say you just met your son for the first time this morning.”
“Yes, sir.” Lucas nodded. “We had breakfast at the coffee shop down the block.” Attempting to garner some sympathy, he added, “Although, we were too nervous to eat.”
Everyone except Tyne’s fiancé. The man had chowed down on a stack of pancakes as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Lucas might have felt a bit envious at that, if he hadn’t seemed so rock-stupid. But perhaps Lucas had been too quick to judge, and Rob had simply been too damned hungry to offer a single constructive idea regarding Zach’s problem.
“Tell me. What was your impression? Of your son, I mean.”
Lucas didn’t answer right away. He remembered the teen’s I-don’t-give-a-damn posture, his brooding air. Zach had scarcely said two words to him. Had barely looked at him, in fact, as Lucas and Tyne had quietly discussed the proceedings.
But the kid was on emotional overload. Who wouldn’t be? He’d met his father for the very first time this morning. He was also facing a courtroom and a judge and criminal charges. When a person was down in a valley as deep as Zach was, he had nowhere to climb but up.
“He has great potential.”
Taylor only nodded. “I’d like for Zach to explain what happened. Why were you out so late at night, son?”
“Excuse me, sir, if you would.” Lucas slid his fingers along the full length of his ink pen. “I instructed Zach earlier that, as his representative, I’d be doing most of the talking. He’s never been in this kind of situation before, and he’s feeling apprehensive.”
“I sympathize, Mr. Hawk. I do. But not enough to let you run my courtroom. I’d like to hear what Zach has to say for himself. He obviously thought he was man enough to go out and break the law. He needs to be man enough to explain himself. I’d like for him to tell me, in his own words, what he was doing. What was he thinking? Why was he consorting with delinquents?”
Zach looked at the judge, then looked away. He fidgeted in his chair. “I didn’
“You didn’t know what, son? That it was too late for you to be out? That spray painting graffiti on a building that doesn’t belong to you is wrong? That breaking the law has consequences?”
Lucas ground his teeth, hoping Zach kept his cool in the face of the judge’s taunts.
“I didn’ even know those dudes.”
The Judge nodded. “I see.”
“I just met ’em,” Zach continued. “They asked me if I wanted to hang out. Have some fun.”
“I had a bad day. Had a fight with my friend.” The teen shrugged. “I felt like I was crawlin’ outta my skin. I needed to get out the house.”
“So you needed to get out
the house. And where was your mother?”
“Workin’.” Zach’s chin dipped and his tone lowered. “She’s
The Judge zeroed in on Tyne. “Is this true, Ms. Whitlock?”
“I’m a single mother, Your Honor. I have bills to pay just like everyone else,” she said, her voice tight. “I own a catering company. I fix food for parties. People have parties at night. If I want to pay the mortgage and utilities, buy food, clothes, I have to work at night.”
“Even though it means forfeiting your son’s safety and wellbeing?”
Tyne was clearly taken aback. “That’s not fair.”
“Oh, I disagree. It’s perfectly fair. You’re his parent. Zach should be your number one priority.”
my number one priority. Why else would I work so hard? Six days a week, sometimes sixty hours a week. There’s no other reason except to provide a roof over his head and clothes on his back. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to provide for a child these days?” Tyne clamped both hands on the arms of her chair. “And I’d like it noted for the record that I usually only work two nights a week. Friday and Saturday. And my partners and I try to schedule things so that each of us has one weekend off a month.” She fumed. “Yes, I work long hours. But I have to earn a living.”
Lucas picked up the file in front of him and tapped it lightly on the table to get Tyne’s attention. He looked at her. Hard.
She took a deep breath, but her shoulders remained rigid. Then she muttered, “Do you have any idea how much sneakers cost these days?”
Judge Taylor ignored the question. He looked at the man sitting at the far end of the table to Tyne’s left. “And, if I might ask, who are you? And what’s your role in all of this?”
“Rob Henderson, sir.” He stood. “I’m Tyne’s, er…Ms. Whitlock’s fiancé. I was at her apartment the night all this went down. But I fell asleep, so I really can’t tell you anything.” He sat down, but then he bolted back to his feet. “Your Honor.”
Taylor studied Henderson for a moment, giving him far more notice than Lucas felt the man deserved. The judge told Rob to take his seat before swinging his attention back to Zach.
“So, son, let’s get back to that night. You met these
, as you called them. They asked you if you wanted to have some fun.”
Lucas slid his foot over an inch and gave Zach’s shoe a light tap.
,” Zach said to the judge. “They asked me if I had money.” The teen shrugged again. “I told ’em I did, and they said we should go tag some stuff.”
“’Tag some stuff’—” the judge rested his elbows on his desk and his chin on his fisted hands “—meaning to spray paint your name or your gang sign on dumpsters or fences or buildings or whatever, correct?”
“I’m not in a gang.” Zach quickly added, “sir.” He swallowed hard. “And the taggin’ was
idea, not mine.”
“But you admitted to buying the paint. The police report states the receipt was in your pocket.”
The teen lifted one shoulder and his voice went meek. “I was the only one who had any money.”
Lucas could feel Zach’s shame, his defeat. “Your Honor, I’ve already explained that I just met Zach. That I don’ fohat I dt really know him. But he’s never been in any trouble before. I think it’s quite clear that he just got in over his head here. Those boys were older than Zach. I’m sure he felt flattered that they’d even talked to him.”
Taylor glanced at a document on his desk. “Officer Perez noted in her report that Zach mouthed off, and that he acted rudely.”
“That was posturing,” Lucas countered. “I’m sure he was doing that for the benefit of the other boys. You were fifteen once. Don’t you remember—”
never back-talked a police officer, Counselor.”
Lucas laced his fingers and rested his hands on the table top. “Sir, I have no idea what kind of parenting Zach has had up to this point. And I’ll admit that three unsupervised weekends a month would leave any teenager with way too much time on his hands.”
He remembered his own youth. Those long lists of never ending chores his uncle always had at the ready. Like any adolescent, Lucas had felt he was being treated with unfair harshness. But now he realized there must have been good motives behind his uncle’s madness.
“Good!” the judge said. “I’m glad we agree that Zach needs supervision. What we need now is a plan. A plan that will assure that Zach doesn’t show up in front of me again.”
Lucas placed his palms firmly on the table. “That’s not going to happen, is it, Zach?”
The teen adamantly shook his head. “No, sir.”
“Promises are all well and good.” Taylor looked from Lucas to Zach. “But I can tell you, son, that eight out of every ten minors who sit where you’re sitting come in here to pay me a second visit. And of those, an even higher percentage pay me a third visit.” His stern stare remained steady. “And the punishment is stiffer for each offense.” He picked up his gavel, slid his fingers down the length of it, his gaze raking over everyone sitting in front of him. “Like I said, we need a plan for this young man. Or I’m going to have to come up with one of my own.”
No one said a word for several long seconds.
Tyne leaned forward, twisting to face Lucas. “I could try to get someone to cover my weekends for a while.”
“Ms. Whitlock,” the judge said, “I understand your dilemma. You’re a single, working parent trying to raise a teenager on your own. I empathize. But I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t stress that there’ll be no
in whatever strategy we make here today. We will
something solid. Something concrete.”
Lucas spent most of his weekends reading briefs. But he couldn’t see why the kid couldn’t hang out at his place while he read.
“I don’t think I’ve made you understand the importance of what’s happening here today,” Judge Taylor told Tyne. “If your son shows up in my courtroom again, you won’t be seeing him for a while. Unless, of course, you go to Juvenile Hall for a visit. Do I make myself clear?” He narrowed his gaze at Zach. “Don’t let the name fool you, son. It’s a prison. With bars on the windows and guards who carry weapons.”
Eight out of every ten minors
Bad odds. Very bad odds.
Lucas stole a glance at Zach. Fear hummed from the teen like low-voltage current, but he was doing his damnedest to hide it behind a tight, you-can’t-hurt-me smirk that would only get him into deeper trouble. The kid’s badass attitude churned up startling emotions in Lucas; dread, frustration, guilt.
He could be sitting here staring at himself at that age.
“Your Honor, what if I were to take him out of town for a time?” The question surprised Lucas just as much as it seemed to surprise everyone else in the courtroom. All eyes turned to him.
“Some litigation I’somigationve been working on was recently settled.”
Judge Taylor nodded. “I read about that in this morning’s paper. Congratulations, Counselor.”
Lucas nodded his appreciation, but his mind fixed on the almost impossible logistics of making his suggestion happen. “I only have a couple other cases I’m working on at the moment. I could pass them on to colleagues. Clear my desk. Zach and I could go to Wikweko. The town where I grew up.” He glanced down the table, noted Tyne’s stunned expression, but didn’t let it deter him from asking, “Zach is out of school for the summer, right?”
Tyne’s fiancé casually examined his cuticles, and an odd irritation flared in Lucas.
When Tyne didn’t answer, Lucas looked at Zach. “You must have several weeks of vacation left, right?” Suspicion clouded his son’s dark gaze.
Lucas turned to the judge. “Wikweko is a Lenape community near Lancaster. A month or so there and Zach’s life would change forever. I’m sure of it, Judge. There’s plenty of open space. Hiking. Fishing. And community events—tribal gatherings. Zach could learn about his heritage.” His heart started to race. The more he thought about this idea, the more it excited him. “You know, Your Honor, I haven’t taken a vacation in…” His short bark of laughter held an odd note. Vacation? What the hell was that? “I’m sure I could get away from the office for a month. They owe me that. I’d only need a couple of days to sort things out. Then we could head off to—”
“You’re not taking Zach anywhere.” Tyne’s shrill voice sliced through his enthusiasm.
“You have a problem with your son getting to know his father, Ms. Whitlock?” the judge asked.
“I haven’t seen this man for…for…years.
years. I don’t know what kind of person he is.” Panic edged her words. “I refuse to allow—”
“Mr. Hawk is a well-respected attorney,” Taylor pointed out. “An attorney with a plan. A plan that’s sounding really good to me, actually. Healthy, outdoor activity, and father-son bonding time. What more could we ask for?”
Lucas leaned forward and looked down the table. “Tyne, you’re welcome to come along. I’m only thinking of Zach.”
“I can’t just drop everything and leave the city for a month, Lucas.” Her blue eyes narrowed and her jaw tensed. “I have a business to run.”
“What about what
want?” Zach blurted. “Does anyone care what I want?”
Judge Taylor peered over his eyeglasses once again. “Sorry, son. You lost your vote when you ran the train off the track.” He pushed at his glasses with his index finger. “Ms. Whitlock, if you own this catering business—”
“Co-own,” she corrected. “I am co-owner of—”
“Even better.” Taylor nodded. “That means the business doesn’t depend on you alone. I suggest you do a little delegating.” He shrugged. “Or stay in town and work. The choice is yours. As for Zach, I think some time with his father is just the ticket.”
“Lucas!” Tyne whispered furiously. “Don’t do this. Don’t you dare take Zach—”
“It’s done,” Taylor stated. He looked over at the court clerk. “I grant Lucas Hawk custody of Zach Whitlock for thirty days.”
“You can’t do that!”
“Oh, but I can, Ms. Whitlock,” the judge said. “The good state of Pennsylvania has granted me that privilege. Mr. Hawk, please utilize the time to do what you can for your son.”
“I will, Your Honor. Thank you.”
“Ms. Whitlock, Mr. Hawk, as parents of a minor who has committed a crime, you’re responsible for making full restitution to the city to have that wall painted. I strongly suggest you see to it that Zach dtht that pays off the debt himself. But that’s entirely up to you.” The judge glanced over at the clerk. “You getting all this? Good.” He looked at Zach. “We’ll reconvene in thirty days at which time I’ll make my final decision on this case.” He looked at the Assistant DA. “You have any disagreements you want to raise?”
“We’re fine with this, Your Honor,” the woman said.
Taylor narrowed his gaze at the teen. “Zachary, I strongly suggest that you use this time to do some hard thinking. What’s important to you? What do you want to do with your life? Which direction do you want to go? And most importantly, what kind of person do you want to be? You need to get yourself sorted. I’ll see you back here in one month’s time.” The judge paused a moment before asking, “Do you understand what’s happening here, Zach? I’m giving you a chance to turn things around for yourself. This is a rare occurrence in this courtroom. I need to know that you understand that this is a pivotal moment in your life. “
Zach’s gaze lowered. “Yes, sir. I got it. I mean
, I understand.”
“Good. That’s it, then.” A sharp thud rang out as the judge slammed down the gavel.
incoln Highway shot straight
through southeast Pennsylvania’s lush farmland. From the backseat of Lucas’s BMW, Tyne gazed out at grassy wheat fields, tidy rows of neatly-trimmed fruit trees, and squat, windowless mushroom houses. The blasting air conditioner did little to cool her temper. Shaking Lucas until his teeth rattled loose might give her some satisfaction.
She hadn’t spoken a single word since Lucas had picked up her and Zach a little over an hour ago. A fire continued to smolder inside her. It had been sparked in that courtroom when Lucas had succeeded in turning her life upside down.
Yes, he had made his suggestion for Zach’s sake. Logic wouldn’t allow her to think otherwise. And Sandy, Chip, and Gina, her friends and partners of Easy Feasts, couldn’t have been more supportive or cooperative about her needing time off to sort out her son’s problems. It would make for longer work days for a few weeks, but they were good people who knew Tyne would, in an instant, do the same thing for them. Even Rob, who rarely voiced an opinion about her son, had admitted that Lucas’s plan might be just what Zach needed. But that was classic Rob, always going with the flow, taking the path of least resistance.
So why was she feeling so betrayed? The reaction might not make much sense, but that’s what she felt. Betrayed. By her friends. By her fiancé. She wanted all of them to be as annoyed with Lucas as she was for forcing her to leave her home and her business.
She even felt betrayed by Zach.
Her son had been an absolute bear since that ill-tempered judge had exiled them for thirty days. Zach had snapped at her at every opportunity. He’d moped around the house, he’d groused whenever she’d spoken to him. He didn’t want to be on this trip any more than she did. But then this morning Lucas arrived in his sleek, silver sedan with its black leather interior and tinted windows. The car was probably worth more than what she earned in a year, maybe two. Zach had been awed, and he and Lucas had talked horsepower, torque, and acceleration speed as they stowed the suitcases in the trunk. Tyne had settled herself into the backseat, her arms folded tightly under her breasts, savoring just a smidgeon of satisfaction that her silent treatment would prove to Lucas just how she felt about his stupid plan.
But he hadn’t seemed to notice.
The three of them hadn’t even left the city limits before Lucas had plied Zach with sports talk. Lucas did most of the talking about the Eagles. Buth n Zach was crazy for football. How many arguments had she had with him during his pre-teen years over staying up late to watch the game? The conversation became more two-sided when the subject switched to the Phillies. If only Zach could remember algebraic equations as easily as he spouted off batting stats. He became almost animated. Well, as animated as a sullen fifteen-year-old will allow himself to become, anyway, when the conversation turned to ice hockey. All that talk of power play percentages and shot on goals and shutouts became as mind-numbing as a hefty shot of Novocain to Tyne.
The fact that father and son were talking was a good thing—she exhaled loudly, cheeks puffing, bangs blowing—
it? Brooding like a four-year-old was stupider than Lucas’s stupid plan. She realized that, but she couldn’t do a damned thing about the irritation chewing her insides.
They’d passed Lancaster not long ago, so she knew they weren’t far from their destination. Wikweko, a tiny hamlet located due west of Philadelphia, was nestled in a beautiful valley between the Susquehanna River and the City of Lancaster. The Native Americans who had come together to settle Wikweko shared the fertile basin with the people of nearby Oak Mills. Tyne’s hometown.
The silence that had settled over Lucas and Zach tugged at Tyne’s attention. She glanced toward them, then saw her son dart two quick looks at his father. An odd, kinetic tension simmered inside the car.
Finally, he said, “So, um, I’m, ah, Lenape, huh?”
Her gaze clashed with Lucas’s in the rearview mirror.
“Honey,” she said to her son, leaning forward and placing her hand on his shoulder. Shifting in the seat gave her a chance to support her son, but it had also allowed her to avoid Lucas’s hard stare. “You knew your father was Native American. We talked about it.”
Zach went still. He didn’t turn around to look at her. “Yeah. We talked about it. Once. For that family genealogy project I did back in
She slid back into the seat, mindful of Lucas’s gaze boring into hers in that small mirror. Tyne glanced out the window and saw the Wikweko welcome sign.
“We’re here.” Tension and anger and sheer frustration strangled her pronouncement.
“What’s it mean?” Zach asked. “Wikweko. Is this place named after someone?”
Lucas shook his head as he turned onto the community’s main street. “No, it’s from our people’s native tongue. Algonquian. It means ‘place where something ends.’ My great-grandparents and a slew of other Lenape families pooled their money and bought this land.” He made another turn. “They’d been tossed out of their homes, their land confiscated by the government, or they’d been swindled by fast-talking reps of big businesses. Things were harsh for our ancestors. I’m sure you’ve learned about that in your US history classes. A lot of people spent generations feeling lost, like drifters without a real home. They named the community Wikweko, thinking this would be the place where their wandering would end.”
“Algonquian, huh? Saa-weet.” Zach twisted in his seat to face Lucas. “You know any other words?”
Lucas lifted one shoulder. “I used to. When I was about your age, my uncle taught me some. Hello. Good-bye. Sky. Sun. Moon. The names of a few plants and animals. That kind of thing.” He looked at Zach and grinned. “Just enough to impress the girls.”
Zach snickered. Tyne forced her gaze away from Lucas’s striking profile, focusing instead on the passing scenery. She’d certainly been impressed by him all those years ago. He’d been so different from the boys she’d grown up with in Oak Mills. His swarthy skin and sharp bone structure. Those dark, penetrating eyes. His bad-boy manner. His self-assurance. His q
Amëwë is what he’d called her, the soft syllables tickling across her skin when he’d whispered them close to her ear.
fit, he’d told her, because she’d stung him in the heart. She’d razzed him mercilessly about the corniness of it, but she remembered how she’d melted in his hands that moonless night.
The car jolted slightly when Lucas steered onto a pea stone driveway.
The familiar red brick ranch house had Tyne smiling. “We’re staying with Jasper?”
Lucas shook his head as he put the car in park and cut the engine. “Uncle Jasper doesn’t live here any more. The house is mine now. I’m going to renovate the place and use it as a rental property. As soon as I can get around to it.”
The three of them climbed out of the car and Zach looked at his father over the roof. “I have an uncle?”
“A great uncle,” Lucas corrected. They congregated near the trunk. “My father died when I was nine. Uncle Jasper moved in. Took over the mortgage, the utilities. Raised me like I was his own.”
Tyne tugged at the hem of her blouse, then smoothed her hand over her hair. “How is Jasper?”
“He’s doing okay.” Lucas shrugged vaguely. “I guess.”
Lucas opened the trunk and Zach pulled out his suitcase and backpack. “When do I get to meet him? My uncle. I mean, your uncle. My great uncle.” Zach paused after slinging the backpack over his shoulder. “Do I get to call him Uncle Jasper too?”
Tyne went utterly still. She hadn’t seen Zach smile in a long time.
“Let’s slow down a little,” Lucas said, his chin tucked tight as he unloaded the trunk. “Let’s go inside and get settled. There’s plenty of time to do everything we want to do.”
Zach turned and made his way to the front door.
She reached for her case.
“I’ve got it,” Lucas told her.
“No, thanks.” Her fingers contacted his on the handle, and his skin felt fire-hot. “I can take care of myself.” She gave a little tug and he let go.
“I will, thanks.” She flashed him a plastic
smile before turning and following Zach.
She shouldn’t continue this infantile behavior. Really. But she didn’t want to be here in Wikweko. Didn’t want to leave her business. Didn’t want to be forced to live under the same roof with this man for the next thirty days. Lucas would just have to understand where she was coming from. If he couldn’t…
Lucas slid between Tyne and Zach to unlock the front door. As soon as he entered, he set down his own suitcase and tugged off the sheet that covered the couch. The curtains were drawn and white sheets still hid the remainder of the furniture, but a deep sense of nostalgia rolled through Tyne when she stepped into the living room. How many Saturday afternoons had she sat here watching television with Lucas? It had been a different couch, of course, but they had spent so much time together—in this room, in this house—getting to know each other, talking about their hopes and dreams.
“It won’t take me long to clean this place up,” Lucas assured them.
“We’ll help.” Tyne moved further into the room, nudging her son ahead of her. “Won’t we, Zach?”
“Sure. I guess.”
The petulance in his tone had her cutting a sideways glance of warning at him. “Of course, we will. Lucas, tell us where to stow our bags and we can get to work.”
Lucas matched two corners of the sheet while folding it. “You take Uncle JasperourUncle J’s old room. Off the kitchen.” He motioned the way with a tip of his head.
“I remember. But that’s the big bedroom.” The suitcases were beginning to feel like lead weights in her hands.
“You take it. That way you’ll have your own bathroom. Jasper added one on. The men can share. That okay with you, Zach?”
Her son shrugged. “Got no prob.”
Lucas pointed down the hall. “You take the bedroom on the left. That was my old room. I don’t think my uncle’s changed much in there. I’ll take the one straight back. The bathroom is to the right.”
“Sweet,” Zach said, hitching his backpack further up on his shoulder and trekking down the hallway.
Tyne didn’t get it. Zach was Mr. Sunshine with Lucas and grumpy as hell with her. She thought she and her son should be sharing some solidarity. What was going on?
A couple of hours later, all the beds had been made up with fresh sheets, the dust covers had been removed from the upholstered furniture, counters and tables had been dusted, the carpet vacuumed, and a soft summer breeze fluttered the curtains of the open windows.
Tyne finished shining the stainless steel sink, rinsed and wrung the dishcloth and hung it over the faucet. Then she dried her hands and, still clutching the dishtowel, she went into the living room. Seeing Lucas and Zach sitting on the couch, she frowned.
“What’s going on?” Her son didn’t take his eyes off the bow in his hands, so she asked, “What’s that?”
Lucas chuckled. “It’s a bow, Tyne.”
Heat flushed her body. “I know what it is. What’s he doing with it?”
“He gave it to me.” Zach clutched the thick wood of the bow’s handle as he lightly fingered the taut string as if it were some sort of exotic musical instrument. There was wonder in his tone, in his gaze, in his touch.
“My uncle made it for me,” Lucas told Zach. “Along with a quiver of arrows. There are only a few arrows left, but we can buy some more.” Then he looked at Tyne. “I found them stored in the closet. I’d like Zach to have them.”
The strangest feeling welled up in Tyne. “Oh, no.” She shook her head. “No, no, no. He’s not accepting that. That’s a
. That could be deadly. You don’t give a fifteen-year-old a dangerous weapon.”
Lucas looked momentarily confused, but then he smiled and shook his head. Tyne thought her brain would explode from the frustration caused by his nonchalant attitude. Zach’s jaw set and his eyes grew hooded.
“Don’t be silly, Tyne.”
.” Her son jutted his chin. “And I
“And I said you’re not.” Tyne planted a fist on her hip.
“He has custody this month. He gets to say what I can do and what I can’t do.” Zach stared at her in an evident stand-off. But it didn’t take long before his gaze broke from hers and he set the bow next to the leather quiver. “Why do you have to ruin everything? Everything!” He stood then, and bolted for the front door.
The metal screen slammed shut, the bang sharply emphasizing the silence he left behind.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Tyne glared at Lucas.
The man sat on the sofa, cool and collected. “I’m trying to win his trust.”
“Win it? Or
A tiny fissure cracked through Lucas’s calm. “Not only are you being unreasonable, you’re also being unfair.”
As teens, they had often debated the injustices of society, focusing mainly on close-mindedness and discrimination. Tyne was often upset by the bias Lucas suffered at the hands of teachers, coaches, and even peers, treatment that Lucas usually t
“It’s a reasonable assessment from where I’m standing.”
He cupped his knees with his palms. “Look, Tyne, the kid doesn’t know me. I’m a complete stranger.”
“The kid? That
is my son.” Everything he said seemed to grate on her.
son,” Lucas pointedly reminded her. “I have a stake in this too. I want to help him too. But you have to let me.”
“That thing is a weapon.”
He slid his hands over his thighs. “It can be. But it’s only a weapon if a person has a mind to use it that way. And a person has to know how to use it; otherwise, it’s a pretty frustrating contraption. Besides, it’s safer than the knives and guns that some of the kids his age tote around these days.”
“That’s a ridiculous argument.” Tyne rested her hand on the back of the chair, barely aware of the faint scent of pine spilling into the room on the heated breeze. “Zach has nothing to do with guns or knives.”