About the book
A new case has haunted this town. What follows is only corruption and hatred...
No day can be easy for Laura Jones; not when she's begged to represent a man accused of murder in cold blood. Left with no other choice, her investigation guides her to a dark path of the town's biggest corruption and her life's biggest lie. As the pleas of innocence go unheard by the jury, new evidence shows up...
Now, stuck in a race against time, Laura also has to deal with her son's disappearance and the threats against him. Until he returns with a knife in his hands and a confession that will change everything she thought real...
An explosion of breaking glass woke me. My bedroom curtains were open. Cold moonlight spilled across the room. My heart hammered in my chest. Was it a dream? Did I really hear that noise? Then the sound of movement downstairs. I want to call out to Bryan. It must be him, coming home drunk again. But fear has me by the throat. I can't speak.
A stair creaks, so soft I barely catch it. Bryan wouldn't be sneaking around. He wouldn't be stalking.
"Bryan!" I call out, finally summoning the courage.
I think I hear a soft sound. Like laughter. I slowly get out of bed, listening hard. Was that the other creaky stair, the middle one? I'm kneeling on the bed in the t-shirt and shorts I sleep in. I know I should go to the door, turn on the lights. But I'm afraid that any sound from me will cause whoever it is to abandon stealth.
The carpet upstairs is thick. It’s muffling his footsteps. My limbs are leaden. I want to move but I can't; my muscles are cramping with the tension thrumming through them.
"Whoever you are, I'm armed!" I say in a voice, high and brittle.
"So am I."
I know that voice. I scream and dive across the bed for the bedside table, yanking open the drawer and taking out the gun. My bedroom door is kicked open and a dark shape rushes into the room, one hand raised high. Moonlight glints off the savage blade in his hand and I fire.
He drops to the ground on his back, two feet from the bed. I leap across him, yelping in fear at the thought of my bare ankle being caught by a grasping hand. I reach the light switch and hit it, putting my back to the wall, and pointing the gun at the prone figure on the floor.
And see my son, blood oozing from his mouth, eyes wide and staring. I start to scream.
* * *
I wake with a sob. The room is dark. The sheets are a tangled mess on the floor where I've kicked them away. My t-shirt is soaked with sweat, and my hair is damp. Panting like a feral animal, I scramble to the far side of the bed and look over the edge. The nightmare is still clinging to the edges of my mind, making me think I'll see Bryan lying there. But he isn't.
I collapse on to the mattress, arms like water. I bite back a sob. How many nights is that? Always the same. For a moment I consider the bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table. I check the time on my phone beside them. Four-thirty. No point. I get up, running a hand through my long, now-tangled, brown hair as I walk to the door and down the hall to Bryan's room.
His bedroom door is open. I look in but he's not there. The bed is made—I did that—hasn't been slept in for two nights. I check my phone. Last message was six hours ago.
"With friends. Back later."
"Where are you, Bryan?" I whisper to the empty room.
The worry is a constant knot in my stomach. I can't remember the last time it went away. I send another message, hoping he sees it. Hoping he replies.
"Hi honey, I can't sleep. Just checking you're OK. Hope you're sleeping and safe. Wish I could see more of you."
Send. I force myself to stop looking at the icon next to the message, the one that changes when the message has been read. I've spent hours sitting and watching for that, dinner getting cold in front of me, TV shows flashing around the room, ignored. I turn on the light and look around the room from the doorway. So much has changed in the last year. This room used to be the typical teenage boy's bedroom. Untidy and odorous.
Now, it resembles a hotel room. Impersonal and cold. Nothing on the walls, surfaces bare and clean. A houseplant I bought for him to give the room some life has withered and died on the drawer unit beside his bed. I've been too busy to think about it and Bryan has been absent. I check the message again. Unread.
"Goddamned it! Pull yourself together!" I say aloud, slapping my hand against the doorframe.
I head for the bathroom, stripping off my PJs and underwear as I go, gathering them from the floor and depositing them in the hamper just inside the bathroom door. I run the shower hot until steam is filling the room. Then I step in and try to scrub away the worry.
* * *
Morning arrives as bright and fresh as the night was bleak. I sit out with a black coffee and a cigarette; my laptop is open in front of me. Caffeine and nicotine have become my customary breakfast and prioritizing my cases for the day essential for my sanity. My work phone sits on the glass topped garden table, my personal phone next to it and a constant magnet for my attention.
Ahead of me stretches a garden of lush foliage and elegant landscaping, courtesy of Jensen DeVille, my next-door neighbor. Since meeting his partner, he's expanded his architecture business into garden design, and I offered my backyard as their first showcase.
The green is restful to the eye, and the sound of running water, from the small stream they incorporated into the design, surprisingly soothing. As the nightmares have torn my night's sleep apart, coming out here to watch the sky lighten at dawn has become a ritual. Growing up in LA, I never imagined I would ever feel so comforted by nature. I've always been a city girl.
Maybe the mountains and forests of Washington State are starting to get into my blood. Maybe the town of Everwood, nestling in misty hills is making me one of its own. I light my second cigarette as I read through a contract negotiated by Nic Malone, an associate attorney in the firm of Hood, Kramer and Glass. The job she did had once been mine, until my success defending Hunter Watson on a murder charge led to my promotion to junior partner.
My work phone lights up as I'm composing my reply. Kevin Hood.
"Kevin. Good morning."
"And to you. Is that birdsong I can hear?"
"Yes, don't ask me what. I'm sitting out in the garden."
A deep chuckle. "Always knew we'd make a country girl of you."
"Hardly. I'm polluting the country air with cigarette smoke and my new car is a gas guzzler."
"Wanted to give you a heads up before you get into the office." Small talk over. "We've just landed a murder case. And I'm giving it to you. So, clear your workload. Give Nic the most important jobs and anything else we'll dump on Marilyn and Alexander's associates."
My heart rate has gone up at that word. Murder.
"What can you tell me?" I ask.
"His name's Mark Brantley. He's a local businessman, property mostly. Not one of our clients but he's recently fired the Seattle firm that had been representing him. And has offered us a lot of money to take his case."
That caught my attention. "Sounds desperate. Are you handing me another timebomb, like Hunter?"
He laughed. "No one better than you at defusing explosive cases. Marilyn, Alexander, and I have been debating this one for twenty-four hours. We don't need the publicity after what you did last year and there's just something about this guy that I don't like. But I got outvoted."
"Great. Thanks, boss," I say with mock chagrin.
The truth is that despite everything, the thought of another difficult defense sent adrenaline spiking through me. I may not be a city girl anymore. I'm certainly not a country girl either. But if there's one place, I truly feel like I belong, it’s inside a courtroom. My personal phone lights up, with Bryan's picture as the caller ID.
"Kevin. I've got to go. I'll see you when I get into the office."
I hang up and almost knock my phone off the table in my scramble to grab it and answer the call.
"Um, no. I'm Keeley. I'm a friend of Bryan's. Are you his mom?"
"Yes. What's happened?"
My insides are a block of ice, my knuckles are white on the phone. I can hear a tremor in the girl's voice and its terrifying.
"Bryan's in the emergency room."
I stood up so fast my chair was sent clattering to the paved ground.
"What?! Which ER?"
"Everwood General." The voice sounds almost childlike.
"I'm on my way but don't hang up. Who are you?"
"I told you. I'm a friend of Bryan's. I'm with him."
I dash through the house, laptop under one arm, grabbing my suit jacket as I pass it hanging over a stool in the kitchen. My shoes are at the door, I step into them as I fumble to open the door.
"He showed up at my place. He'd taken something and he'd been drinking..."
"What had he taken?"
I leave a shoe behind as I dash for the car, turn around and step back into it. Then opening the back door of the car, I dump my laptop and jacket in the back. Clive, Jensen's partner, is just stepping out of his own front door with a young beagle on a leash. He smiles brightly as he sees me and opens his mouth to say hello.
"Clive! Emergency. Can you just go through and make sure I've locked my back door? Then pull the front door shut."
I'm starting the engine and reversing out of the drive as I shout my instructions. He nods in confusion, mouth opening and closing like a fish. Then gives a thumbs up and mouths the words OK, as I tear away down the street.
"Kelly. Are you still there?"
The phone is on the passenger seat. The vehicle's Bluetooth has picked up the signal, routing it to the car's main display.
"It’s Keeley. Yeah, I'm still here."
"Do you know what he took?"
I'm trying to keep my voice level and free of panic. The last thing I can afford is to spook her. I want to keep this girl on the phone. She's my only connection to Bryan right now.
"No, he was pretty incoherent. But I know the guys he'd been hanging out with. It's probably meth."
"Oh, Jesus Christ!" I swear.
I can hear noise in the background. Voices and traffic. It sounds like Keeley is outside.
"He's not into that stuff. If that's what he took, it's the first time. Trust me."
"I don't even know you!" I said, "Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to yell. This is just a shock. I haven't seen Bryan for about two days. Are you his girlfriend?"
Keeley paused before replying, "Not right now."
My worry is fueling anger. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Hey, I don't need this! None of this is my fault. If Bryan is messing with drugs, it’s because he's messed up. And that's your fault."
My rage becomes an inferno. But I force control as I gun the car too fast through residential streets. Swallowing it is an almost physical pain.
"Like I said. I'm sorry for yelling. But I'm not a bad mother..."
"Yeah, yeah. Professional type. Working long hours. I've heard it all before."
The line went dead. I screamed, hitting the steering wheel repeatedly. The car swerved dangerously, lurching across lanes before I got it back under control. She's right and you know it. How much time have you made for Bryan since you became partner?
Tears blurred my vision and I scrubbed at them angrily. I'm going to make it up to him. I'll quit if I have to. He's more important than any job.
* * *
Bryan was in a side room of the Everwood General ER. He lay on a bed, chest bare but still in his jeans. The lawyer in me noted that they were a different pair to the ones he had been wearing last time he had been home. So, he's got clothes somewhere else. Maybe at this Keeley's place?
The room was bright and antiseptic. The walls were white and decorated with print outs of emails and notifications for staff, alongside professionally produced medical graphics. The air was artificial and cloying. I hated everything about it and most of all, the fact that my son was stuck in the middle of it.
His eyes were closed, and he had a canula on the back of his hand, an IV drip beside him. He wore an oxygen tube at his nose and one finger was engulfed in a gray plastic sensor, connected to a wire and a machine behind him.
I wanted to cry to see him needing so much medical technology.
"It’s not as bad as it looks," said the nurse who had led me to Bryan.
She had dark circles under pretty green eyes. Her face was pale with fatigue, but she managed a comforting smile. "We're just giving him oxygen and glucose through the drip. He was quite dehydrated when he was brought in. He's lucky he has such a responsible girlfriend. Here she is now."
A young girl walked into the room. She wore ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt that I recognized as belonging to Bryan. Her hair was dark, cut into a bob that framed an elfin face. She had piercings and her left arm was a mass of tattoos. She walked to Bryan's side, squeezing his hand, and then looked back at me with her chin raised and eyes wide.
"I'm Keeley," she said with defiance.
"I'm Laura. Bryan's mom," I replied.
The nurse checked the clipboard at the end of Bryan's bed, then the machines behind him.
"I'm not leaving," Keeley said.
"No," I said coldly, "you're not."
I turned to the nurse. "How long will he be unconscious for?"
"His vitals are good. He was given adrenaline when he was brought in, to bring him around. Then his stomach was pumped. We're letting him sleep that off."
She looked from me to Keeley. "If you two are going to have a fight, please leave the room first."
"No fight," I told her, pulling a chair over to Bryan's bedside and sitting, "Just talk, right Keeley?"
Keeley watched me warily. "Right."
The nurse left and I locked eyes with Keeley over Bryan's sleeping form. I could see the defensive barrier she was maintaining. She was expecting to be blamed because she had made the call. And because I didn't know her. I couldn't afford for her to be shutting me out. She was a portal into Bryan's head.
"Thank you, Keeley. For getting Bryan here and for letting me know," I said.
A chink in that wall showed as the girl shifted her feet. She avoided my eyes by fussing with Bryan's hair.
"I know that I haven't given Bryan the time he needs in the last year. I've put work first. I know that. But he's chosen to absent himself. He hasn't let me get close. I'm not making excuses. Those are the facts," I said.
"I get that. Bryan and I were... dating for a while. I feel like he pushed me away every time I was starting to get close. Truth is, I don't know anyone who knows him well."
Another chink in that wall. She seemed to shrink into herself, as though her defiance had been inflating her.
"Do you know how long he's been abusing drugs and alcohol?" I ask.
"He's been using on and off for about a year. He's not hooked. It’s like he goes weeks without touching anything and then just..."
Keeley looked and sounded hopeless. Her pain and concern were written all over her body.
"Binges?" I suggested.
Keeley shook her head emphatically. "No. I know guys who do that. It’s more like he was trying to... I don't know... deal with something on his own. And every so often it got too much for him."
I leaned forward, taking Bryan's hand. I reached up to stroke back his hair. It felt greasy. There was a growth of stubble across his jaw and in that moment, I was reminded strongly of his father. God, please don't let him be infected with that vileness!
"I don't know what he's been dealing with," I said, "He's been a closed book to me." I took a breath. "Do you know what it might be?"
It was hard to ask for help with my only child from a stranger. And one who looked not much more than a child herself. But Keeley showed no sign of enjoying my discomfort.
"The last time we really talked, he talked about his dad. About how he was sick. I took it to mean sick in the head."
"When was this?"
"Three months ago, maybe. I don't know."
"Had he seen his dad?" The question was hard to ask, I didn't want to know the answer.
Keeley nodded and my stomach cramped. I had to let go of Bryan's hand, I was squeezing it too hard.
"He didn't say it right out. But that's how it sounded."
Tommy DeLuca, convicted of one murder and almost certainly guilty of at least two, was back in our lives. I wanted to throw up.
As Bryan slept, I stepped out of the room to make some calls. I felt Keeley's eyes on my back like hot needles. Judge me all you like, little girl. It can't be any harsher than I judge myself.
"I need to make some calls. I'll be back," I told a nearby nurse, indicating to Bryan.
She smiled distractedly and nodded. I didn't look back at Keeley though it had been meant for her too. I made my way outside, feeling the clawing need for a cigarette. It had been outside this hospital just over a year ago that I had picked the habit up again.
Spits of rain were dotting the gray asphalt of the parking lot as I walked away from the hospital entrance. I was wearing a dark trouser suit, which flattered my figure. My hair was down, I hadn't had time to get it under control. It cascaded about my face, and I knew it would pick up the smell of the cigarettes.
I called Nic first. "Nic, I'm forwarding on the case files Kevin has emailed me. About this new case."
"Sure thing, boss. Gretchen collared me before my bum hit my chair this morning. Partners are like headless chickens over here," Nic replied.
Her Irish brogue was present, despite more than a decade as a resident in the United States.
"Then I'm guessing it’s going to be high profile. I'm going to be late into the office though, so I need you to get up to speed and brief me."
"Everything, OK?" Nic asked.
"Bryan..." I couldn't make myself say, took an overdose, if that's even what had happened. "He's in Everwood General. Too much to drink last night."
The lie sounded lame. Nic was smart enough to know I wouldn't be staying with him just because he'd got drunk the night before. Between us it didn't need to be said.
"Gotcha," Nic replied, "Don't worry about anything. I know the high-level stuff and I can get the rest before you get in so we can hit the ground running."
No question that Nic would be supporting me. She had assisted me on almost all the trial cases I'd taken on since joining the firm and there was no one I trusted more. I took a drag on the cigarette, flicking my hair back out of my face as I did.
"Good. So, tell me the story. What have the partners got me into?"
"Oh, it’s a doozy. Makes Hunter Watson look like a cakewalk," Nic said, "Client is a Mark Brantley. Property developer and general biz wiz. Owns some restaurants and salons, that kind of thing. Victim is Victor Milo. According to police, he's an accountant who's worked for Brantley previously. Milo was killed in a hit and run. Brantley's car was the murder weapon. Brantley claimed it was stolen but it’s an eighty-thousand-dollar vehicle and is fitted with an immobilizer. Brantley still has the keys."
"So, the cops don't believe him and I'm guessing he doesn't have an alibi."
"Give that lady a prize. Got it in one, boss."
I lit another cigarette, chain smoking. A construction worker on a scaffold across the street from the hospital was looking me up and down, grinning. I gave him the finger as I turned my back on him. I walked away followed by catcalls and whistles.
"Does he have a motive that we know of?"
"Not that I know of yet. Pretty sure the cops will have something."
"I'm starting to see why Kevin didn't want this case."
"That’s a fact? Smart fella."
My phone chimed and I took it away from my ear to check the notifications. A text from Bryan's phone. Two words.
I started hurrying back towards the hospital, throwing away my barely smoked cigarette.
"Download everything you can and put it through that supercomputer of a brain. Brief me when I get in," I said.
"10-4," Nic replied.
* * *
A doctor was leaning over Bryan when I got back inside, shining a light into his eyes, then examining the myriad numbers on the monitors.
"Hey, pal," I said.
"Hey Mom," he replied with a weak voice.
Relief flooded me. In two words, delivered with a faltering smile, he transformed into my little boy again. Gone was the distant teenager, the young man who left home for days at a time and turned up in an ER after taking hard drugs. I rushed to his side, Keeley stepping back to make way.
She was reluctant to let go of Bryan's hand, but I claimed it, pulling it to my chest.
"What the hell happened?" I asked, but softly.
"It’s hazy, Mom. I think I was spiked."
"Bloods showed a dangerous amount of amphetamine in the bloodstream," the doctor advised, "You were lucky to wake up at all."
"I know," Bryan said, resting his head back on the pillow.
He looked sick, his skin pale and his features drawn. Bryan was handsome, taking his looks from my side rather than his father's. I had always expected him to be a heartbreaker. Now, it was as though his life force had been sucked out of him. It was heart breaking.
"Like I said. Extremely lucky. You can leave when you want. A nurse will be along to remove the IV line and the canula. You need to drink plenty of water over the next twenty-four hours. And if you feel like doing something this stupid again, I'll kick your butt for taking up a bed in my Emergency Room," the doctor told him sternly.
Bryan nodded with eyes closed. The doctor left and at the prospect of Bryan coming home I felt the knot in my stomach untie itself.
"Where have you been?" I asked, "I've been so worried."
Bryan looked over my shoulder to where I knew Keeley was standing. I glanced at her. She was biting the nails of one hand, arms folded across her middle, hugging herself.
"Working," Bryan said, "Out of town. A construction site over in Layton."
"Construction? What about college? As far as I knew you were..."
"Mom, I quit college six months ago. It’s not what I want to do."
A flash of anger had to be suppressed. Now wasn't the time to be lecturing him on the value of education. It had always been difficult keeping him in school. Now, he was old enough to decide for himself. But it was hard to keep my teeth tight shut around the words I wanted to say.
"Ok. So, you got a job," I said.
"Been trying to. Don't know what I want to do. Just casual stuff to make some money," he replied.
"You could have just told me that," I said.
"You weren't around a whole lot, Mom," was his heartbreaking reply. "Since you got your promotion..."
My head dropped. His words were a knife to the chest. I wanted to call Kevin Hood and quit right there and then.
"Well, that's going to change," I told Bryan.
"It doesn't have to, Mom. I'm not a little kid anymore."
"No, you're an adult. And you're clearly into some adult stuff," I said accusingly.
"Keels, tell her, please. I'm not a junkie," Bryan implored.
"That's true, Lau... um... Mrs. Jones," Keeley replied, moving to stand at the head of Bryan's bed, putting a hand to his hair, "Some of your so-called friends are though. You were hanging out with Zach, weren't you?" she said to Bryan.
"Sounds like Keeley and I are on the same page about friends like that," I said.
"Guess we are," Keeley agreed.
"You don't have to say it," Bryan said sharply, "I know it already."
I wet my lips, squeezing Bryan's hand, and looking him in the eyes, "Are you coming home?"
I almost sobbed with relief when he nodded. "The job in Layton is over. I don't have the money yet for an apartment anywhere."
"You know you can stay at the farm," Keeley told him.
"I know. I'll come and see you though. Promise," Bryan replied, reaching up to touch her face.
There was tenderness in that brush of the fingers and a connection in their eyes. Keeley was tearing up.
"Where is the farm?" I asked, "Is that where you live, Keeley?"
"It’s a community about five miles outside of town, on the Springhill Road," Bryan said.
My eyebrows arched. "A community?"
Keeley looked at me with defiance again. "Sure. They took me in when my parents couldn't find time in their busy schedule for me. They're good people even if they don't live in an eight-bedroom mansion."
"Neither do I," I replied shortly, "Don't rush to assume judgement. I grew up around Skid Row, heard of it? So, any chip you have on your shoulder is your problem."
"Stop it," Bryan pleaded, "Both of you. Keels, I'm going to my mom's house, but you're welcome there. Right, Mom?"
Not his house anymore. My mom's house. And She is always welcome, is she? I bared my teeth and hoped it looked like a genuine smile. "Of course she is."
I decided, as I looked into my son's eyes and felt him return the squeeze of my hand, that I wasn't going to ask him about his father. The man he told me he had run out of town a year earlier. The man who had beaten his own son because that son wouldn't turn against his mother. I needed to know if Bryan had seen him, but this felt like a victory. He was coming home, and I didn't want to do anything to upset that.
But I had a number in my phone. A detective who could help me. An objectionable man who seemed to have a grudge against me for securing an acquittal for one of his arrests. But at that moment he was probably my best bet to keep my son safe.
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