Authors: Rachel Lee
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
“Lawrence,” “They Tell Me Snow,” and “Today I Heard,” copyright © 1998, Christian Brown. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Copyright © 1999 by Sue Civil-Brown
All rights reserved.
Cover design by Diane Luger
Cover illustration by Nick Gaetano
Hand lettering by David Gatti
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First eBook Edition: July 1999
“WE MADE A LOT OF MISTAKES, DIDN'T WE?”
“Every one in the book.” He looked at her mouth. “Are we about to make another one?”
“I don't give a damn.” And right now she didn't. She had been needing him for five long years, and she wasn't about to let fear of tomorrow stand in her way now. There was something to be said for the Scarlett O’Hara approach to life.
If he smiled, she never got the chance to see it. He seized her mouth in a deep, ferocious kiss, as if by will alone he could make the past and future vanish, leaving them with now and only now….
“A journey into Tami Hoag/Karen Robards territory.”
—Publishers Weekly on A Fateful Choice
“Gripping. … Action-packed. … Anyone who enjoys fast-paced romantic intrigue will want to be caught by Ms. Lee's terrific tale.”
—Harriet Klausner, Amazon.com
(Web site review) on
“Rachel Lee is a master of romantic suspense.”
To Helen Breitwieser,
for working so hard to give wings to my dreams.
Your friendship is priceless.
Sincere thanks to newsman Roger Schulman for an inside look at the studios of WFLA Radio in Tampa, and for generously answering so many of my questions.
Deep appreciation to my beloved spouse Cris, who once hosted as Rick Burbage, for vetting my talk-radio scenes, and for giving me so much insight about what it's like behind the microphone.
ohn William Otis took the news with his usual calm. He had been on death row for nearly five years, and all his appeals had failed. It wasn't exactly a shock.
But it filled him with a great sorrow for opportunities lost, and he sat for a long time thinking about the things he would never be able to do now. He sat thinking about the people who had died, the only people on earth who had loved him. And thought about the fact that everyone believed he had killed them. He hadn't killed them, but everyone else thought he had, and he was resigned to his fate.
He picked up a battered copy of
A Tale of Two Cities,
and read his favorite lines, on a page he had turned to so often that its edges were worn off almost to the print “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”
He thought about that, too, for a long time, then reached for his Bible with its torn, cracked cover, and opened to another of his favorite passages. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
They fed him meat loaf for dinner, and he ate, though it seemed pointless now. They took him to the yard for a brief walk, giving him a cherished taste of the evening sun on his skin, watching him carefully because now that it was final, they feared he might do something stupid. But they were nice about it. He liked his guards, and they him, and at times it seemed as if they were all members of a select fraternity. He would miss their camaraderie.
Back in his cell, he picked up a composition book on which he had carefully lettered:
The Poems of John William Otis.
He looked at it for a while, thinking what a poor legacy it was to leave behind, and thinking of all the poems he would now never write.
Then he opened to a blank page, picked up the stubby wooden pencil they let him use, and began to write.
“Today I Heard”
Today I heard that I will die,
and then I went to dinner.
It should be more, somehow.
Solemn, ponderous, thunder,
Pomp, circumstance, flourish,
Marking the moment of enforced mortality.
It might have been mail call,
with a letter from my brother,
whom I will never see again,
Or the library man,
with a book of Keats,
which I will never finished,
Or the laundry man,
with fresh, clean sheets,
which I will stain with sweat by morning.
Just a quick visit from the warden.
And three weeks hence, more visits,
a short walk,
And then I will be no more.
They will ask me to repent,
To say that I am sorry,
and I am sorry,
for everyone who hurt.
But I will never speak of this,
for love is sacrifice,
and I must prove my love.
Today I heard that I will die,
and then I went to dinner.
Meat loaf, potatoes, carrots, corn bread,
And icy cold milk were my counselors.
Marking the moment of enforced morality.
ou just don't get it,” Sam from Clearwater said.
Carissa Stover smothered a sigh and leaned back a little from the microphone. Outside, the night was dark, and on the windowpane beside her she could see the silvery shimmer of rain. She was getting very tired of this particular discussion on her show.
“No,” she said to the caller,
don't get it You can't buy an acquittal in the criminal-justice system. No way.”
The caller wasn't going to surrender that easily. “But a ten-million-dollar defense—”
“A ten-million-dollar defense comes close to buying a level playing field,” she said forcefully. “So what if the defendant had five lawyers and six investigators working for him. The state had the entire city police force, the state police, the state crime lab, a whole staff of state-paid prosecutors—and a lot more than ten million dollars to spend on the prosecution. In fact, the state outspent the defense in this case by two to one.”
“No,” Carissa said flatly. “Jonas Bellows did
buy an acquittal. He bought a level playing field.” She punched the button that cut off that caller and continued to speak into the microphone. “Come on, folks, we've beaten this horse to death every night since the verdict came down. Let's talk about something new before I go home.
“You're listening to the Talk of the Coast, 990 WCST, Tampa Bay's number one talk radio station. This is Carey Justice, and our subject tonight, and every night, is the law. How does it affect you and me? When does it screw up? When does it do right? If you've got a story to tell, we want to hear it. Our phones are open right now, and taking calls at 555-9900 in Hillsborough, 559-9900 in Pinellas, and toll-free at 1-800-555-9990.”
She punched the next blinking green button as she read from the screen in front of her. “Sarah from Largo, you're on the air.”
“Carey?” a woman's voice said uncertainly.
“Yes, this is Carey. “You're on the air, Sarah.”
“Oh. Well, I saw in the paper that that twelve-year-old boy who skinned that dog alive is going to get probation. Why can't they just send him to jail?”
“They could, actually. For maybe five years. And I kind of agree with you, Sarah. This kid sounds like a serial killer in the making to me.”
“Yes. Yes, he does! And how anyone could do that to a poor little dog….”
“But he's still a kid, Sarah. A juvenile. We like to believe that kids are still young enough to learn from their mistakes. We like to give them second chances to get their act together and grow up. Don't your kids ever make mistakes, Sarah?”
“Well, of course they do, Carey. But nothing like this!”
“I agree this kid's a monster. But I don't see how sending him to prison is going to make him any better. Do you?”
“It might scare him into behaving.”
“If he's scarable, this conviction and probation ought to do the job.” She cut Sarah off and continued on a subject that was sure to light up her phone lines.
“Think about it, folks. It's easier to do prison than probation and community control. You think not? Try it sometime. See how long you can go without being able to run out to the store to get ice cream or a six-pack. See how long you can behave if you're allowed to go out of the house only to go to work, and if you detour for fifteen minutes on the way home to get gas and milk… the next thing you know your probation officer is charging you with a violation and dragging you back into court.
“I'm telling you, probation and community control are set up to make people fail. And when they fail they go straight to prison. Caller, you're on the air.”
A few minutes later she cut to the news and commercials, which gave her a much-needed breather. She leaned back in her chair and stared at her reflection in the dark, silver-streaked glass of the window.
She saw the shadowy face of a pretty enough woman with dark hair and hazel eyes. The face of a woman who was as disillusioned as it was possible to be.
Rising from the chair, she took off her headphones and allowed herself a full-body stretch that made her spine pop. Then she went to hunt up a can of soda. Caffeine. She needed caffeine if she was going to make it through the next hour.
She pushed change into the vending machine down the hall from her studio and opened the drink, downing half of it in one thirsty gulp. When she was on the air, she drank bottled water, but right now she wanted to get hyped on caffeine and sugar. It meant that when she went home in an hour she probably wouldn't be able to sleep, but what the hell. There was no reason to get up early in the morning.
The newsroom intern joined her. Dale Jennings was a pretty young woman of about twenty-four, with blond hair and blue eyes big enough to sail a destroyer in. She seemed to live and breathe radio the way Carissa had once lived and breathed law.
“The phones are hot tonight,” Dale remarked. “Everyone seems to want to talk about Bellows, though.”
Carissa shook her head. “A half million listeners, and every one of ‘em wants to put in their two cents about that case. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't all saying the same thing.”
“They believe Bellows is guilty.”
“Too bad. The jury said he's not.”
“I know.” She was holding a piece of paper, and now she passed it with shy eagerness to Carissa. “Here's something that just came in on the news wire. I figured you could use it to shift the topic to something else.”
“Thanks.” Carissa took the paper and scanned it quickly.