What in heaven’s name was she doing here?
Kelly slipped into the back of the courtroom where her old high school classmate Jackson Hunter was being arraigned for the murder of another police officer. He was the next one on the docket, the bailiff at the door had told her.
She hadn’t meant to come. Despite her friends’ urging, she left Gray Lee’s Fifty Yard Line restaurant after lunch fully intending to stay as far away as she could from Jackson Hunter and his troubles. But she had been at the courthouse anyway for another hearing in a probate case. She had finished up just a few moments ago and remembered his arraignment was scheduled for 3 p.m., so here she was.
She scanned the packed courtroom — full of other defendants on the docket, their attorneys, and no small number of media representatives — and wondered if she would even recognize Jackson Hunter. It had been more than a decade since she’d seen him. For all she knew, he’d lost his hair and developed a beer gut.
The courtroom suddenly buzzed with excitement and an instant later, two sheriff’s deputies led in a handcuffed man. It was Jackson, no doubt about it.
Okay. He hadn’t gone to fat. Kelly caught her breath. The aloof, brooding teenager she had known at Freemont High School had become a hard, dangerous man, big and muscled and heartbreakingly gorgeous. He had straight black hair cut short, piercing dark eyes and a mouth that would have sent her imagination into overdrive under other circumstances.
He looked arrogant and aloof as he scanned the courtroom but as he looked toward the back of the courtroom at the rapacious crowd — most here for his hearing — she couldn’t control her shiver. She had never seen such pure, undiluted fury. She thought she saw something else there, a deep, baffled betrayal, as if he couldn’t quite figure out what he was doing there, then his gaze suddenly landed on her and those intense dark eyes narrowed with shocked recognition.
She shouldn’t have come. He must think she was no better than the rest of the vultures come to pick his bones clean.
Before she could slip out of the room again, the gray–haired judge called for counsel to approach the bench. Martin Frinkel, who had been a year behind her at law school and now worked for the district attorney, stepped up to the bench. She waited for defense counsel to approach but no one stepped forward.
“Where is your attorney, Mr. Hunter?”
Jackson lifted his chin. “I haven’t retained counsel yet, your honor.”
“Then I’ll assign you an attorney, just for these proceedings.” He scanned the courtroom. “You, Mr. Huang. You’ve just won the lottery.”
The young public defender in question looked up from a pile of briefs in his hand, horror in his eyes. “But…but, Your Honor, my caseload is full.”
Kelly couldn’t let Jackson Hunter be represented by a green kid who couldn’t have passed the bar more than a month ago. Not after seeing that raw emotion in his eyes. Her heart started to pound, a wild panic flared in her stomach. No. She couldn’t do this!
She fought the instinct as long as she could. Then, with a sense of grim inevitability, she stood up on knees that suddenly wobbled. “Your Honor, if you have no objection, I will represent Mr. Jackson in these proceedings.”
All the heads in the courtroom swiveled toward her. The judge frowned down at her. “And you are?”
“Kelly Wainwright, sir. Of Wainwright & Wainwright.”
“I know your father, young lady. He’s a good man. Well, Mr. Huang, you’re off the hook. Step forward, Ms. Wainwright.”
She grabbed her briefcase and walked to the front of the courtroom, afraid to look at her new client for fear of what expression she might see in those dark eyes now.
As a whole, the past 36 hours had really sucked.
From the moment he’d woken up with only hazy memories of the night before and found Crystal McCall’s body in his living room, his entire world had shattered.
Now he watched Kelly Wainwright — the Brain of old Cagemont High — walk to the bench in a slim gray suit and high heels, looking cool and composed. His life had only needed this to go from horribly surreal to truly hellish.
Kelly Wainwright. He hadn’t seen her since those miserable days of high school, when she used to figure very prominently in his more lurid teenage fantasies. He never expected to run into her again. Last he heard, she was heading for Yale, for fame and fortune and stunning success as a lawyer.
But here she was, coolly announcing to the world she would represent him. He wanted to tell her to go straight to perdition, the same place he wanted to consign every last person in the courtroom :— and most especially his former brothers on the force who had been so damn quick to send him here.
Fury prowled through him, wild and dark. How in the hell had he ended up here, charged with Crystal’s murder? He never would have killed her. Not in a million years. He didn’t know how she ended up dead in his living room but he did know he wasn’t the one who put her there. All he knew was he’d woken up at 3 in the morning feeling woozy, went to get a drink of water from his kitchen, and practically tripped over Crystal’s body.
He watched the judge finish conferring with the Brain and that weasel Marty Frinkel from the district attorney’s office. The lawyers returned to their respective tables, then Kelly spoke. “Your Honor, may I have a moment to confer with my client?”
“Yes, but just a moment. We have a packed house today, Ms. Wainwright.”
She turned toward him at last and he cursed again the circumstances that had brought him to such a low point. Fury turned his voice sharp, mean. “Are you so desperate for clients that you go trolling for them in bind–over hearings?”
Hurt flashed briefly in those hazel eyes so stunning in her café au lait features, but she blinked and it disappeared, leaving her cool and professional once more. “What do you plan to plead to the charge against you?” she asked quietly.
“Not guilty, damn it,” he growled, ashamed of himself for taking out his emotions on her. “I did not kill Crystal McCall. I swear it.”
She nodded, as if his answer was just as she expected, then told the judge they were ready to begin. Jackson listened to the prosecution lay out the preliminary evidence against him. Even though he knew how important these proceedings were — this was where the judge would determine if there was enough evidence against him to warrant a trial and where a bail amount would be set — Jackson had to fight off exhaustion. Between being interrogated, fingerprinted, searched, and booked, he hadn’t slept in 36 hours, since finding Crystal’s body.
The D.A. laid out a grim picture, he had to admit. Hell, if he’d been the investigating officer on the case, he no doubt would have arrested himself, too. Crystal’s body was found at his house; she was killed with his Glock 9 mm service weapon, left at the scene with only his fingerprints on it; he had no alibi after Tony left him at his apartment. Not only did he not have an alibi, he didn’t have any memory of most of the night. All he remembered was feeling sick, loopy, after only two beers at Seymour’s.
As he listened to the steady litany of evidence, he wanted to scrub his face in frustration, to pound his fists into something hard. The people had a terrifyingly strong case against him.
He was being framed. It was the only explanation he could come up with. He wouldn’t have killed Crystal. He knew in his gut he couldn’t have done it, even though his memory had huge, glaring gaps in it.
But if he didn’t, who did?
He jerked his mind back to the court proceedings in time to hear the little weasel of a prosecutor finish up. “Mr. Hunter, you’ve heard the evidence against you,” the judge said. “How do you plead.”
Kelly stood up along with him. “Not guilty, Your Honor,” he said.
“The people are seeking to have the defendant remanded to custody without bail,” Frinkel said.
No! He was going to be stuck in a damn jail cell until his case went to trial. He hitched in a breath as rage and hopelessness buffeted him.
He didn’t make a sound but some of his sick dread must have shown on his features. The Brain reached out and squeezed his arm for an instant before turning back to the bench.
Just that one simple, comforting touch completely took his breath away. He felt as if he’d finally gotten his first glimpse at humanity again after 36 hours in hell.
“Your Honor,” Kelly said, her voice strong, persuasive, “The people’s case against my client is completely circumstantial. Detective Hunter is an exemplary police officer who has dedicated his life to serving and protecting the people of this city. He has strong ties to the community and poses little flight risk.”
The judge frowned for a moment, then nodded. “I’m inclined to agree with you, Ms. Wainwright. The defendant is hereby bound over for trial and bail is set at $100,000.”
With the bang of a gavel, it was over. The bailiff came forward to lead him to the holding room outside the courtroom. Kelly aimed a killer smile at the man that had him gaping at her elegant features. “Deputy Nichols, would there be an open interview room where I might confer with my client before he is returned to the holding cell?”
The bailiff looked dazed, as though he’d just stared a few seconds too long at the sun. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Good, Jackson thought. He had a few words of his own to say to the Brain.
What in heaven’s name was she doing here?