Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 27
In civil court, there’s an air of mutual professional respect. I know the judges and they know me. But this criminal court seems more like an elementary school playground where everyone has to prove themselves to avoid being pummeled by the recess bullies.
“I have replaced Mr. Trambone on this case,” I inform the judge. “And I’m with Veterans’ Legal Alliance myself, at least for the time being.”
He raises a skeptical eyebrow at me and then turns to the Assistant District Attorney at the podium across the aisle from me, who is prosecuting the case.
“Mr. Stemple, is the State ready to proceed?”
“We are, Your Honor,” replies the ADA, and I can feel my blood rush to my toes.
“Your Honor,” I interrupt, which obviously annoys him. “I… wasn’t finished. I was about to ask for a little more time due to just being very new to this case… a continuance, or, umm….”
“Are you asking for an extension?”
The judge is grinning at me as if amused, and I sneak a glance over to the ADA, who looks like a tiger about to pounce on his prey.
“Uhh… well, I was going to ask for one, but, umm….”
Something is telling me I shouldn’t.
“You’ll have to agree to extend the rule, of course. Is that what you’re asking for and agreeing to do?”
“Uhhh. No. Not at this time, Your Honor.”
I’m not sure what he’s talking about but I can tell I was just about to do something unwise, so I retreat.
“Well then, back to ADA Stemple. Have you gotten your discovery to Ms. Morrell or her predecessor on this case?”
“Not just yet, your Honor,” says the ADA, while flipping through one of his many voluminous files. As he does that, I do a quick search of the Rules of Criminal Court on my smartphone.
Rule 02-342 says that the State has six months to prosecute a case. If it fails to do so within that time, the case must be dismissed for lack of prosecution. I want to jump up and down with happiness that I didn’t agree to extend the rule.
Apparently if the State isn’t ready for trial, that’s a good thing. It only has six months to drag its feet. But if the defense— in this case, me— isn’t ready, and agrees to an extension of the Rule, then the State gets more time to prosecute the case than would otherwise be allowed under the statute.
I guess I really do learn something new every day. And at least I didn’t mess up Jensen’s case on my first minute or two of working on it.
“We do have some materials to give to the defense,” ADA Stemple continues.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” demands the judge, and I’m glad to see that he can be equally grumpy to both sides. “Here she is. Hand it over.”
“It’s… at the office,” ADA Stemple admits, with a shrug. “I’m just covering this file today for…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s typical governmental bureaucracy once again.” The judge waves his hand at ADA Stemple to cut him off, while also rolling his eyes. “You have until the end of the day to deliver the discovery to Ms. Morrell. Do you have her office address?”
“Your Honor,” I quickly interrupt, too embarrassed to admit that I don’t actually have an office at the moment. I’ll have to figure that situation out rather quickly. “I can pick it up from ADA Stemple.”
“I like your initiative, Counsel. ADA Stemple, instruct your office to have it ready for your new opposing counsel by four thirty this afternoon, or I’ll instruct Ms. Morrell to draft a motion to compel.”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“All right then, we’ll set a status conference for two weeks from now. I see that there is a motion to recognize an expert. Ms. Morrell, I expect you to be ready to present that at that time.”
“Uhh, Your Honor,” I say, looking at Jensen.
“We are not sure we need that expert any longer. Or it may be a… different expert.”
I don’t know how I’m going to reverse Dylan’s course and figure out a new defense in only two weeks. But I’m not about to ask for more time. And I’m also not about to make my new— hot! — client mad at me for continuing the PTSD defense to which he’s so vehemently opposed . I’ll have to work it all out somehow.
“Fine, Ms. Morrell, whatever. But whatever you need to do that involves an expert, I expect you to be ready to do it in two weeks when we reconvene. Understand?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Very well then. You’re adjourned.”
Whew , I think, happy to have survived my first criminal case hearing.
“Thank you very much for not using that PTSD expert,” Jensen says, putting his hand on my arm. It feels like electricity is running through it. And I feel like a silly schoolgirl for thinking that.
“I’ll figure something else out,” I assure him. I’m trying my best to remain professional and composed even though I want to rip his shirt off and see the muscles that I know are underneath. They’re always poking out dangerously just below the surface, teasing and taunting me. “But we need to meet about your case, once I receive and review the discovery documents. I’ll call you with a time and place, but plan on it being in about a week’s time.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it,” he says, with his now- infamous wink. “Just let me know where and when you want to get together, and I’ll be there.”
Is it just me or did he put an obvious accent on the phrase “get together”? I wonder. I’m not sure, but either way he and his amazingly in shape body walk away from me, out of the courtroom and to whatever life he leads that is undoubtedly so very different from mine.
My hands grip hard rock and my feet scatter pebbles everywhere as I climb to the top of the mountain. I pull myself to the top and grab water from my canteen. Winded but not completely spent, I look beneath me to the group of men I’m leading.
Or was leading.
They’re so far away, they look like ants.
“What the fuck is your problem ?” I scream down at them. “Get your asses up here now .”
I lean back against a tree and consider taking a nap while they take their time sauntering to the top, but I’m too worked up to relax. I think about how my brothers— literal and figurative— have always had my back at war and I’m disgusted by these trainees. They wouldn’t be able to help rescue any captives, let alone a fellow service member.
Memories rush my thoughts, much to my dismay.
“We’re going down, we’re going down ,” Ramsey was shouting.
We were on a helicopter mission to rescue fellow SEALs who were trapped. But our helicopter was ambushed by the enemy and we were under attack as well.
I stared in horror at my brothers and the other members of our unit as our plane went down. Many of us were able to jump out just before landing but others, including my brother Harlow, were trapped under the fallen plane. We pulled them out from the wreckage as the plane lit up the sky in a fiery blaze.
We managed to rescue Harlow, but not all of the members of our unit were so lucky. And I wouldn’t exactly count Harlow as lucky either. He was burnt and his face completely disfigured. He was in the hospital for months and then it took nearly a year for him to undergo facial reconstructive surgery.
Still, I know that everyone in that copter, including me, did our very best that day. We minimized casualties and injuries to the best of our abilities, just as we did at other times when we were tested. And these new recruits can barely even make it up the side of a fucking mountain.
It’s all I can do to not quit this job right now out of frustration. It’s hard to work with these men when they start out so very different from my figurative— and literal— brothers with whom I had had the honor of fighting side by side before all of this “assault” crap crept up on me and my military career ended less than voluntarily.
The first two men leading the pack finally crest the peak, out of b
I’ve had to scratch my way through life, fighting for everything I’ve earned. And these pussies think they can just waltz up the mountain— at an incredibly slow pace— and take it. The Air Force doesn’t know what it’s doing if it would rather have these slowpokes fight its wars than a trained and experienced SEAL like me.
“That was pathetic,” I yell at the men, which wipes the smirks off their faces. “Only half the trainees that started are left, and only two of you made it up the mountain in any kind of semi-decent time. Congratulations. The rest of you would be dead by now.”
I throw my canteen, still half full of water, at the surprised men.
“Tell your fellow trainees I’m so disappointed in their dismal performance that I left. They can find their own way down. They’ll probably need the rest of what’s in my canteen because they’ll be huffing and puffing too much without it. And do be sure to tell them that if their next performance is this horrendous, they can count themselves out of the program.”
Two hours later, I’m at a bar with Ramsey and Harlow when I get the call I’ve been waiting on despite trying not to.
“Jensen, it’s Riley.”
Her voice sounds so damn sexy. I can’t help picturing the cleavage and ass that goes with it.
Harlow must know by the look on my face that I’m excited to hear her voice on the other end of the line.
“Flavor of the day?” he asks me.
“Something like that,” I mouth as I go outside in order to hear her better.
“Hey Riley. Been thinkin’ bout me?”
Her tone is awkward, as if obviously wanting to remain professional, but she doesn’t deny it. She just half laughs that addicting laugh of hers.
She’s just your lawyer , I remind myself. And even if she weren’t, then just like Harlow said, Flavor of the Day is all she’d ever be.
I can’t let this chick keep knocking me off my game. I have to remember the rules that have always kept me safe. I don’t do relationships. I don’t do commitment. I do hard, fast one night stands. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am and please-lose-my-number-now types of encounters.
“Actually, Jensen,” she continues, “I’ve been working hard on your case. But I have some questions. Can you come to my office tomorrow?”
“What time?” I say it too quickly, but it’s too late to try to reign myself in. Damn, this girl makes me act differently than I normally do.
“First thing in the morning?”
“I have work. I don’t get out until six.”
“Well that’s a little… later than I usually meet with clients,” she says. “But I must admit that your case is moving more quickly than I’m used to, and I need to keep up. So we can meet when you’re done with work. My office is in the Sunshine Building, downtown.”
“Right.” I wouldn’t expect such a fancy pants lawyer to have an office in such an old, decrepit building, but I don’t say anything. Insults wouldn’t go well with the fuck-me vibe I’m trying to project. “Well, I’ll see you then, Ms. Morrell. ”
She gives me another small giggle before we hang up.
When I get back to the bar, my brothers are all ears.
“Soooo, who is she this time?” they demand.
“That was actually my lawyer.”
I take a swig of my whiskey and Coke, hoping my shrug looks nonchalant enough.
“What happened to that Dylan guy?” Ramsey asks with interest. “I thought you said he was a good lawyer?”
“They say he is, but he was hell-bent on pleading that bullshit defense based on PTSD. Can you believe it? He wanted me to say I’m crazy. Like Mom!”
Harlow scoffs and says, “Jensen, we all know you’re nothing like her. You and all of us have always had to clean up after her mess.”
But Ramsey raises his eyebrows.
“PTSD doesn’t mean someone’s crazy,” he says softly.
“I… I know,” I say, realizing how insensitive I could have sounded. What is it with everyone continually reminding me that PTSD doesn’t equal crazy? And continuing to call me out for being such an ass about it? “I just meant that I know I don’t have PTSD.”
“Sure,” he says. “But if you did, it wouldn’t be such an awful thing.”
Why does he care so much ? I study his face but it’s a mystery. I don’t think he’s trying to say he thinks I do have PTSD, because Ramsey has never been one to mince words. He’d just come out and say it. We’ve always been close like that.
Harlow interrupts our slightly serious conversation by punching me in the arm.
“But you were using your pick-up voice while talking to your lawyer,” he insists. “She hot?”
“Ha. Yeah.” I turn back to my glass on the bar, wanting him to drop it already. “But she’s super stuck up.”
“I’m sure you can soften her up,” says Harlow, with a grin.
“Stop. She’s my fuckin’ attorney .”
I don’t know why I feel so protective of her. I know Harlow is just fucking with me like he always does, teasing me about my tendency to go through girls like red lights. But she’s not just any girl. She really is my attorney, and she really is… different, somehow.
“Well, I gotta go,” Ramsey says, his hand clasping my shoulder as he stands up. “Early day tomorrow.”
“Me too,” I say, swigging back the rest of my drink. “Although, I swear if these trainees don’t start stepping up, I don’t even know how I can do this job. Could you imagine us just moseying down a mountain in Kabul? We’d all be dead. But these trainees act like they’re training for a day at the park, not a war.”
“I know nothing can compare to serving in the SEALs with your brothers,” Ramsey says, sympathetically. “But this seems like a good gig for you. You’re given free reign and you’re paid much better than you used to be—”
“And much better than Ramsey and I still are,” Harlow points out.
“And you still get to do what you love,” Ramsey finishes.
“But I’m not with you two. And I won’t get to be deployed.”
I know I sound whiny. There are still opportunities to go overseas as a private contractor if I want. But everything’s changed so quickly and I do miss working alongside my brothers. After all we went through as children, we have each other’s backs like no other men could. And it was an honor to serve alongside them as “brothers” in the military as well as actual “brothers.”
“Well, once you sort this criminal case out, I’m sure you can come back,” says Ramsey, always so supportive.
“But why would you want to?” quips Harlow. “Stay where you are and I want to come join you.”
Now there’s an idea .
“Yeah, first thing’s first,” I say, as I stand up to leave.
I say goodbye to my biker friends as we get ready to leave. They tell me to come back soon and that they’ll buy me a round to celebrate my escape from the slammer. I think I’m ready to join up with them, and even if Harlow and Ramsey don’t understand, these guys have become like a second family to me. Harlow and Ramsey still have our SEALs family to count as their figurative brothers, but I don’t. So I need the Desert Dogs.
As we walk outside to the parking lot, Ramsey follows me to my bike instead of heading to his car.
“I’m glad you found some friends here,” he says.
I stare at him, thinking his nice comment is really just a lead-in to tell me to be careful, or that motorcycle clubs are notoriously rough, or something along those lines. But he doesn’t say anything further.
“I didn’t mean to upset you about the whole PTSD thing, either,” he says.
“Well, it’s kind of upsetting, Ramsey. My last lawyer, Dylan— from the VLA? Before I fired him? He sent me to go see this
“And did he?” Ramsey asks, with that look of curiosity returning to his face.
“Did he what?”
“Conclude that you have PTSD?”
“I don’t know. I’m assuming he did. His whole job is to testify that I have PTSD. But I never found out because I fired Dylan before he received the report from the doctor.”
“I think maybe I should see that doctor.”
What? I look into Ramsey’s eyes and they look resigned and sad.
“I’ve just not been sleeping well at all. Night sweats. Really bad dreams. Drinking too much. I don’t want to turn out like Mom. I think I should get some help. And my overreactions have been off the charts. You know that girl I was seeing briefly? Nadia?”
“I didn’t tell you this because I was too embarrassed. But we broke up because I went on a binge and then accused her of cheating on me, just because I saw her hug a guy at a club. It turned out it was her cousin. I felt like such an idiot. I looked up my symptoms and apparently they’re all classic PTSD indicators.”
This doesn’t sound like my brother at all. Ramsey is always the cool, calm, collected one. He’s my rock and my go-to guy for advice, support and help.
“But you’re so strong,” is all I can manage to sputter.
“Well, that’s the thing, Jensen. I know you don’t have PTSD. But you keep saying it as if anyone with PTSD is weak or crazy. When really it’s just something that happens to people. It affects them, changes them.”
“I… I’m sorry,” I say, and I wrap my arms around him in a rare hug. “I’ll get you this doctor’s info. I’m sure he can help.”
He turns to walk across the parking lot and as I get onto my bike I still can’t believe it. I guess I seriously misjudged PTSD and the people who have it. And I sincerely hope Ramsey can get help. I suppose he’s been holding our dysfunctional family together for so long that even he could crack under the pressure.
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