Vindicated (A Jenny Watkins Mystery Book 6), page 1
Book 6 in the Jenny Watkins Mystery Series
I want to thank my family, Scott, Hannah, Seneca, Evan and Julia for their continued support. I couldn’t do any of this without you.
Bill Demarest is the world’s best fact checker. Some of the content in here is against his better judgment, but I figured my readers wouldn’t mind a few truth-stretches. J
Danielle Bon Tempo is the grammar guru. How is it my ‘finished product’ gets returned to me with a sticky note on every other page? Thanks for finding the things I didn’t!
This one also goes out to Colleen Krezel, who hosted a book club about Driven and invited me. My first book club…that’s something to remember.
Lastly, my thanks goes out to you, my readers, for encouraging me to follow my dream. You all ROCK!
I hope you all enjoy Vindicated!
Three weeks later
Jenny placed her hand on her tiny baby bump and smiled as she read the document in her hand. Biting her lip, she headed into the kitchen. “Hey,” she said casually to Zack, who sat at the table. “I just got something interesting in the mail.”
“Oh yeah? What is that?”
She held up the paper. “I’m officially divorced.”
A huge smile graced Zack’s face as he got up from his seat. “Really?” He slid his hand around her waist. “That’s great.”
She hugged him in return. Releasing the embrace, she asked, “Is sex with me still going to be as exciting now that we’re no longer having a torrid affair?”
“I’m not sure,” he remarked with a smirk. “I think we should go find out.”
Jenny let out a hearty laugh and kissed him on the cheek. “You know, I may be the first pregnant woman in history that’s happy to receive divorce papers.”
He thought about that notion for a moment. “You know, somehow I doubt it. But,” he added emphatically, “I do have something to give you.” He disappeared into the bedroom that he shared with Jenny.
She chewed on her fingernail as she awaited his return; somehow she felt nervous, even though she knew what was coming. Zack did indeed come back into the kitchen with the little black box he had presented to her three months earlier, opening it to reveal the ring that Jenny had been eager to wear since her acceptance a week later. “I believe this belongs to you, m’lady,” he said as he lowered down to one knee. “And now that you are officially single, you can wear it proudly.” Glancing up to her with a smile, he slid the ring on her finger.
She looked down at her hand, admiring the way the modest solitaire diamond looked on her finger. Her gaze drifted beyond her hand to the clearly-delighted face of the man she loved, invoking an even deeper sense of happiness. She placed her hands on Zack’s cheeks, gently guiding him to stand up so she could give him a kiss. “Actually, I believe I’m officially engaged, thank you very much.”
“Ah, yes,” he replied playfully. “Sorry, I won’t make that mistake again. So…do you want to make the call to find out when we’ll become officially married?”
Without a word Jenny smiled and picked up her phone, remembering the agreement she and Zack had made a few weeks before. A woman answered in a professional tone. “Fairfield County Government Center.”
“Hi,” Jenny began. “I was wondering if I could schedule an appointment to…get married.” The words sounded surreal as she said them.
“Sure,” the woman replied happily, “when would you like to come in?”
“What’s your first available date?”
“Let me see,” she said slowly, as if she was reading a screen as she spoke. “The judge has an opening at two o’clock tomorrow.”
“That sounds great.” Jenny glanced at Zack, giving him the thumbs up and mouthing the word tomorrow. “Although, we don’t have our marriage license yet. I am under the impression that there’s no waiting period on that?”
“That’s correct,” the woman clarified. “You’ll just need to come in early to the clerk’s office with your social security cards and driver’s licenses. Then, once you get your marriage license, you can go to the judge’s chambers and have your ceremony. You can bring in up to six guests and dress however you’d like.”
“That sounds fantastic.”
“Okay, can I just have your names and I’ll schedule the appointment?”
“Yes. I’m Jennifer Watkins, and my fiancée is Zack Larrabee.” She could hear the keystrokes in the background.
“Well, first let me offer my congratulations,” the woman said cheerfully, “and we’ll see you tomorrow at two.”
Jenny knocked on the door to the basement, from where her mother, Isabelle, called, “Come on down.”
At the bottom of the stairs, Jenny found her mother watching television in the living room of the in-law suite she called home. “Hi, ma.” Waving her left hand in the air, she added in a sing-songy tone, “Look what I got.”
Isabelle’s face lit up. “Oh, honey, that’s great. I guess that means the papers came.”
Jenny took a seat on her mother’s couch. “They sure did.” Bracing herself for the conversation she knew she was starting, she continued, “And I just got off the phone with the folks at the courthouse. It looks like I will be single for precisely one day.”
The pleasure left Isabelle’s face, and her shoulders drooped. “One day? Really, Jenny?”
Jenny had expected that reaction, and her mother didn’t disappoint. “I know it seems like I’m rushing into this, but Zack and I have actually been engaged for a few months; I just haven’t been able to wear the ring because the divorce process takes so long.” She softened her tone and her expression, knowing her mother only had her best interests at heart. “The reality is, we want to get married as soon as possible for the sake of this baby. I’m already four months pregnant, and eventually this child is going to be able to do the math. We want to put as much separation between the wedding and the delivery as possible.”
Isabelle, too, sounded more compassionate. “But is the courthouse really the way to go? Are you sure you don’t want to do something a little…fancier?”
“I’m sure, ma.” She smiled lovingly at her mother. “Believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing. The last time, when I married Greg, I was so excited about being a bride that I didn’t give enough consideration to what being a wife was going to be like. And, yes, I had an amazing wedding day, thanks to you.” It was not lost on Jenny that her parents had spent a small fortune sealing a union that didn’t last. “But then after the honeymoon, I came home to a life that didn’t make me happy.
“This time is going to be different,” Jenny continued. “I like my life now. I don’t need a big, extravagant ceremony to make me happy. I’m perfectly content with what I already have.” She patted her mother’s hand. “We’d just like to make it official for the sake of the baby.”
“I know,” Isabelle acknowledged. “You’
“I’ve already had one of those,” Jenny said.
“But Zack hasn’t. How do you know he won’t feel slighted?”
“Because he’s Zack,” Jenny said flatly. “Trust me, he won’t feel like he’s missing out on anything.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive.” Jenny replied. “In fact, a ceremony would probably only call attention to the fact that he’s not on the best terms with his family. His parents don’t even know about me…or the baby.”
Isabelle shook her head with disapproval. “I can’t imagine that,” she uttered, even though she was already aware of the situation.
“I’ve told you about his father,” Jenny continued. “His dad takes every possible opportunity to remind Zack that he’s a screw-up. I can’t blame Zack for not wanting to tell his father that he’d impregnated somebody else’s wife. But after we get married…” A sly smile appeared on Jenny’s face. “We plan to go down to Georgia so he can introduce everybody to his pregnant wife. His father will have a much harder time finding fault with that.”
“You don’t think he’s going to criticize Zack for keeping him in the dark about it?”
“Zack hasn’t spoken to his parents since before we moved to Tennessee. It’s not like they’ve been chatting and he’s simply failed to mention it. They’ve had a falling out.” Jenny shrugged with cautious optimism. “We’re thinking that maybe this baby can serve as an olive branch.”
“I just have a difficult time imagining that a family can go that long without talking.” Isabelle looked upset. “It doesn’t seem right.”
“Well, not all families are as close as ours.” She raised an eyebrow at her mother. “But even our family has a few skeletons in the closet.”
Pursing her lips, Isabelle demonstrated defeat. Turning the conversation back to a place where she knew she had a leg to stand on, she added, “But aren’t you going to want your brothers there when you get married? Or Rod? Or Ingunn?”
“Sure, it’d be great to have them all there,” Jenny said, “but I’m allowed exactly six guests in the courtroom. Which six people would I choose? And if people are coming in from out of state, suddenly this wedding becomes a much more formal affair, which is exactly the kind of thing we’re trying to avoid.” She placed her hand on her mother’s arm. “Trust me, ma. I’m happier this way. You’re the only wedding guest we need.”
Isabelle digested the words, glancing down toward her lap. With renewed vigor she sat up straight and said, “Okay, that’s fine…but will you at least promise me that you’ll get your hair done?”
Jenny sat with her hair in an up-do, complete with a few loose curls framing her face. She had opted for a pale pink dress with an A-line cut to hide her baby bump; somehow she didn’t find white—or form-fitting—to be an appropriate choice.
Zack, who wore a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants, glanced at Jenny out of the corner of his eye. “You look great, you know.”
“Thanks,” Jenny whispered with a smile. She held on to her single rose—the ‘bouquet’ she acquired at the insistence of her mother—and waited anxiously for their names to be called. Isabelle dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Are you okay, ma?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” She flashed a weak smile. “It’s just that my little girl is getting married, you know?”
Jenny wondered if those were tears of pure happiness or if her mother was also mourning the absence of her husband of forty years, who had passed away just six months earlier. Out of fear of getting tearful herself, Jenny decided against focusing on her father at that moment. She didn’t want sadness to cloud what should have been a joyous occasion.
Mercifully, the judge opened the door and greeted them. “Miss Watkins and Mr. Larrabee?”
Jenny drew a deep breath before she stood. “That’s us,” she announced, taking Zack by the hand and walking through the door of the judge’s chambers. It boggled her mind that when she walked back out through those doors, she’d be doing so as Zack’s wife.
The judge was younger than Jenny had anticipated, and he wore a smile that, most likely, few people ever saw while he wore that robe. “I hear you two are here to get married.”
“That’s the rumor,” Zack replied as he shook the judge’s extended hand.
“I must admit this is one of the more pleasant aspects of my job,” the judge said as he shook Jenny’s hand as well. He inspected the marriage license and asked if Zack and Jenny had more guests than just Isabelle.
“No, we don’t.” Jenny felt unpopular.
“Well, we need two witnesses, so let me just get a clerk in here.” He disappeared for a moment, returning with another employee of the courts, who seemed genuinely happy for the couple.
Circling around behind his desk, the judge pulled a folder out of his drawer. “So, did you two write your own vows?”
Jenny grimaced apologetically. “Were we supposed to?”
The judge shook his head. “No, not necessarily. It’s just an option if you want it.” He looked back and forth between the couple and added, “I guess I’ll just go with the traditional ceremony, then?”
She smiled with relief. “That sounds perfect.”
He pulled a piece of paper out of the folder and returned to the front of the desk, telling the couple where to stand and giving them a brief description of what was about to transpire. Jenny’s nerves tingled as she handed the rose to her mother and took Zack’s hands in hers. She looked up into his eyes and flashed a nervous smile, which he returned. This was it. This was the moment they would become husband and wife—the moment they would remember forever.
She could hardly believe it was happening.
The judge began. “Today we will be celebrating in the union of Jennifer Lynn Watkins and Zachary Ryan Larrabee. Are you, Jennifer, here under your own free will with the intent to marry Zachary?”
Looking squarely at Zack and positively brimming with love, she whispered, “I am.”
Are you, Zachary, here under your own free will with the intent to marry Jennifer?”
He gave Jenny’s hand a subtle squeeze. “I am.”
A million little memories flooded Jenny’s mind as she looked at Zack’s face—the face she’d laughed with and struggled with—the face that had greeted her in the mornings and comforted her during her darkest hours. This was now going to be the face of her husband—the face she would turn to for decades to come…the face that would eventually become wrinkled with age but would always welcome her home at the end of the day. “Do you, Jennifer, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to love him and comfort him, honor and keep him, forsaking all others, as long as you both shall live?”
She was so choked up she could barely speak. Eventually, she managed a weak, “I do.”
“Do you, Zachary, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love her and comfort her, honor and keep her, forsaking all others, as long as you both shall live?”
Zack’s smile reflected a mixture of love and happiness. “I do.”
The judge turned his attention to Jenny. “Jennifer, please repeat after me.”
She stated the vows, her voice cracking with emotion. “I, Jennifer, take you Zachary, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” A tear worked its way down her cheek.
Zack’s face was the most serious she’d ever seen as he took his turn reciting the vows. “I, Zachary, take you Jennifer, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.” The gravity of the situation was almost overpowering to Jenny. She bit her lip and sniffed as another tear escaped her eyes.
The judge turned to Isabelle and softly asked, “Do you have the rings?”
In a merciful moment of levity, Isabelle searched frantically for a way to free up her hands. She passed Jenny’s rose off to the clerk before producing the rings, handing them over to the judge.
He held up the overlapping rings for a moment, proclaiming, “These rings are a token of your love and fidelity; may they forever serve as a reminder of the promises you made here today.”
He handed Zack’s ring to Jenny, who in turn slid it on his finger, repeating the judge’s words, “With this ring, I thee wed.”
Wed. She had just officially pledged her life to Zack.
She held out her hand as Zack took his turn putting the ring on her finger. She heard his voice crack subtly as he said, “With this ring, I thee wed.”
And now he, too, had just pledged his life to her.
The smile on the judge’s face was broad. “Well, then, with the power vested in me by the state of Tennessee, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Holding out his hands wide, he added, “You may kiss the bride.”
Jenny looked lovingly into Zack’s eyes, and for the first time she kissed her husband.
“What time are they expecting us?” Jenny asked, referring to Zack’s family.
“Well, they’re expecting me at seven-thirty,” he explained. “They still don’t know about you yet.”
Jenny gripped the steering wheel as she stifled a laugh. “Is this going to be explosive?”
“Explosive? No.” Zack grinned evilly as he looked over at Jenny. “But it is going to be funny as hell.”
“Humor is in the eye of the beholder. I’m not entirely convinced that I’m going to be laughing while these events unfold.”
“Oh, I will be,” Zack said with confidence. “My father is going to shit his pants.”
Jenny glanced at the clock as she shifted in her seat, trying to head off the tingling that threatened her backside. “I feel like we’ve been on the road forever, and we still have forty-five minutes left.”
Other author's books:
- Driven (A Jenny Watkins Mystery Book 1)Targeted (A Jenny Watkins Mystery Book 9)Trapped (A Jenny Watkins Mystery Book 5)
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