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Mr. Justice (Small Town Protectors #4)
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12 Heroes, one small town, and a charity calendar that will give them each a chance at love. This is just the beginning…
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“We the jury find the defendant Percy Hall guilty.” My shoulders sank in relief the moment the jury forewoman read the verdict. Hall was as guilty as they came but domestic abuse cases were the hardest to prosecute due to reluctant victims and determined abusers. Thankfully today had turned out as it should. Justice had prevailed.
My own gaze swept the courtroom, noting the sad almost-longing look on Percy’s wife’s face. I shook my head, knowing Sheila would be the first in line on visiting day and she’d pick him up in two hundred days when his sentence had been served. I shook it off, knowing there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about that. Abusers and victims, it was a vicious and disgusting cycle that I didn’t want to think too hard about.
“Guilty,” I said to my assistant, a recent grad who was still contemplating law school. “Fucking guilty.”
Charlie grinned and clapped my shoulder. “Those photos sealed the deal, man. It was like watching an artist,” he said with a disbelieving smile.
“If I’m really an artist, we won’t be back here next year on the same charge. Or a more serious one.” Sheila Hall wouldn’t be the first woman to die on my watch. I just hoped she was the first to break the cycle. Anyway. “Good work, Charlie. Take a long lunch and I’ll see you at two-thirty.”
He nodded as we made our way down the stone staircase that led to the main courthouse exit. Charlie turned right to go wherever he went when he wasn’t at work with me. I went left, towards Big Mama’s Diner and her midweek lunch special—chicken fried steak. My favorite.
The diner was mostly empty this time of day—the lunch rush long gone and the early dinner rush still a couple hours away—so I felt no guilt about stealing a booth to go over case files for the next trial. Another man who couldn’t keep his damn hands to himself and another woman too terrified to leave him. It was the curse of small towns; there wasn’t a lot of crime but all of it was personal. Up close and personal kind of personal—husbands and wives, families and friends doing horrible, unspeakable things to one another.
Maybe that was why I’d felt so restless lately, so out of sorts and generally unhappy with the way my life was going. I couldn’t exactly explain it and I wasn’t the kind of guy to look too deep into these things, but it was becoming a problem.
The bell above the entrance chimed, signaling another customer—bringing the total up to three. I didn’t need to look up to know who’d just come in with that frisson of frantic energy following them. Audrey Pearce. Foster sister to my best friend Will, Audrey strolled in looking wholly comfortable in her own skin. Long, waist-length jet black hair fell in soft natural waves around her, nearly hiding what I now knew was an incredible ass and long shapely legs. She didn’t turn but if she had, I knew she’d have eerie violet eyes that gave her an otherworldly appearance. Audrey wore her standard uniform of jeans and a plain T-shirt that hugged extraordinary breasts.
It was that damn uniform that brought me back to reality. There were plenty of reasons Audrey was a bad idea—legitimate reasons. Life-threatening reasons that had the potential to blow up my friendship with Will, so I thought of all the reasons she was wrong for me, starting with her damn clothes.
Must be sophisticated in dress and demeanor.
It sounded archaic, I knew that, but it was a matter of self-preservation. The next woman, if there was one, in my life would be a woman with whom I could commit. Shared values and beliefs, including her style of dress, would ensure a long-term and happy union. And while Audrey ticked plenty of boxes, I had to focus on the un-ticked ones if I wanted to keep my wits about me. She was a successful illustrator but that wasn’t a real career, not like an attorney or a doctor, which was yet another strike against her. She was beautiful, undoubtedly so, but many women were and that was easy enough to ignore. Luckily there was always one rule guaranteed to eliminate her.
Must be more than five years younger or older than me.
At twenty-five, she was twice that, but apparently knowing that didn’t stop my gaze from wandering all over her body, feasting on her. To Audrey’s credit, she didn’t turn, not once, and it was just the excuse I needed to get back to work. Audrey wasn’t what was important, not now, but guilt niggled.
A shadow fell over the table and I assumed it was Hope with my food, but it wasn’t. “Janey,” I practically groaned. I liked Janey, grew up with her and knew her well, but the last time she showed up wearing that girl next door smile, she’d gotten me to agree to be a damn Hometown Hero, which had become a worse and worse headache with every passing month.