I promise, p.1

I Promise, page 1


I Promise

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I Promise


  This book is dedicated to

  my editor, Carrie Feron,

  for giving me the opportunity

  to send my muse in a new direction


  I want to acknowledge the assistance of several individuals who gave willingly of their time and knowledge in researching this book: Loring N. Spolter, Esq., trial attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, previously Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York; Edward Bowman, Principal Court Clerk, Brooklyn Supreme Court; Andrew W. Stone, Principal Office Assistant, Brooklyn Supreme Court; my good friends Billie Bailey of San Antonio, Texas, and Jack and Carolyn Lampe of Uvalde, Texas; Dr. Susan Dombrowsky, Miami Shores, Florida; Miguel R. Hernandez, Deputy Sheriff, Uvalde County Sheriff’s Department; Amaro Cardona, Uvalde-Real County Juvenile Probation Department; and Ray Romo, Administrative Sergeant, Uvalde Police Department.

  For their help as able critics I am indebted to Lynda Wojcik, Gloria Dale Skinner, and Sherryl Woods. For their support and encouragement I would like to thank Carla Neggers, Mary Lynn Baxter, Pam Mantovani, and Sally Schoeneweiss.

  Loads of appreciation to my son, Blake, for his advice on Power Rangers and for managing alone during the hours I spent attached to my computer, and to my daughter, Heather, for proving single working mothers can raise great kids.

  This time, she wouldn’t get away . . .

  “Hello, Delia.”

  Her fingernails creased the Styrofoam cup. She forced herself to relax. Inside her, a gleeful voice was shouting, It’s Marsh! It’s Marsh! and someone was jumping up and down like a child at Christmas.

  Marsh couldn’t believe how beautiful she looked. He hadn’t seen her for three years, but it felt as though they had parted only yesterday.

  Marsh met Delia’s gaze and was startled to realize she was looking right at him. Almost the instant the thought occurred to him, she lowered her eyes.

  Hiding again, Delia? What made you nervous? Are you still as attracted to me as I am to you? Or is it something else? Do you know what I’ve discovered? Have you always known? Is that what’s kept you away from me all these years?

  But this time they were both free. This time, she wouldn’t get away.




  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen


  About the Author

  Romances by Joan Johnston


  About the Publisher

  Don’t fork a saddle if you’re scared of gettin’ throwed.

  Chapter One

  January 1996

  They called her The Hanging Judge. That might have been fine in her native Texas, which had a history of hanging judges dating all the way back to the infamous Judge Roy Bean. But Delia Carson was an oddity in Brooklyn.

  Delia thought the New York press, which had given her the label, was overreacting. She had pronounced the death sentence only three times since it had been restored in New York. It wasn’t her fault that happened to be twice more than any other judge. She made certain justice was served in every sentence she handed down. If she tended to be tough on criminals, it was only because they deserved it.

  She was getting tired of justifying her decisions, especially to people like District Attorney Sam Dietrich. Sam should have known better than to submit a plea bargain that would virtually let a murderer go free. She had thrown it out faster than chain lightning with a link snapped.

  Delia had only a year’s experience as a judge in the Brooklyn Supreme Court—a trial court despite its high-sounding name—but she had made her position clear in her campaign. Tougher dealing with criminals. The maximum sentence where possible. No leniency.

  One of Sam’s assistant DAs had requested an interview with her in chambers to discuss her decision. Delia had no intention of changing her mind, but she wanted Sam to know exactly where she stood, so she had agreed to see his envoy.

  When her phone buzzed, she figured the ADA had finally arrived. “Is that Frank Weaver?” she asked her secretary through the intercom.

  “You have a long-distance call from your sister on line two. She says—”

  “I’m expecting Mr. Weaver any minute, Janet. Tell my sister I’ll call her back.”

  “But she says—”

  Delia cut off her secretary. “Let me know when Mr. Weaver gets here.”


  “Not now, Janet. Tell my sister I’ll call her back.” Delia punched the button turning off the intercom. She loved her sister, but dealing with Rachel always reminded her of things she would rather forget. Delia knew she was only postponing the inevitable, but she needed her mind clear to deal with the ADA.

  The intercom buzzed again. “Mr. Weaver is here,” Janet said.

  Delia squared the shoulders of her black robe, brushed at her bangs, and smoothed her straight, shoulder-length black hair away from her face. “Send him in.”

  She watched as Frank Weaver opened the door and entered the room without meeting her eye. Never a good sign.

  “Good morning, Mr. Weaver.”

  “Morning, Judge Carson.” He cleared his throat and focused his gaze on the oil painting of Texas bluebonnets that filled the wall across from him. Delia could see the attraction. The painting featured a dirt road winding through a field of bluebonnets graced with a single, majestic live oak. There was nothing visible in the distance. It was a road leading nowhere, or taking you exactly where you wanted to go—depending on how you felt at the moment. She had experienced both reactions.

  She gestured to the two maroon brass-studded leather armchairs in front of her desk. “Have a seat.”

  Frank perched on the edge of the chair closest to the door, set his briefcase on his lap, and opened it to remove a sheaf of papers, all without looking at her. “Judge Carson, the district attorney asked me—”

  “I won’t waste your time, Mr. Weaver. The Lincoln deal won’t fly with me. You might as well open the jail door and wave Leroy Lincoln out to kill another kid. I won’t have it. Tell the district attorney to go back and try again.”

  The ADA rubbed a hand across his chin. “With all due respect, Judge Carson, if the district attorney and the public defender agree on the deal, I don’t understand your problem.”

  “My problem, Mr. Weaver,” Delia Carson said in clipped tones that compressed her Texas drawl, “is putting a dangerous criminal back on the streets where he can hurt innocent people.”

  Delia tossed her copy of the agreement across her desk. “We’ve been through this too many times over the past year. I don’t care if the docket gets backed up the rest of my term trying criminal cases the DA thinks ought to be settled. If Sam Dietrich wants things concluded out of court, tell him to negotiate a sentence that will let me sleep nights.”

  “Look, Delia—”

  “Don’t start, Frank,” Delia warned, rising irritably from her wooden swivel chair. She thrust an agitated hand through her hair. “And it’s Judge Carson in chambers when I’m wearing this robe, even if we are alone.”

  Frank stuck his papers back in his briefcase, closed it, and stood, waiting to be dismissed. He was looking at her now. She was afraid he saw too much.

  She turned away from
him and took a few steps to the seventh-story window that overlooked Court Street in the center of downtown Brooklyn.

  The Brooklyn Supreme Court Building where Delia worked, a monument in marble and mahogany, had been built in 1958 with as much artistry and as little public acclaim as Studebaker’s Golden Hawk Coupe. Below her a statue of Christopher Columbus stood amid ice-laden, newly laid cobblestones in front of the courthouse. Come spring, the brown patches would be grass, but it looked stark and barren now.

  Delia missed the mild south Texas winters. She missed . . . Delia caught herself before she could remember too much. It was never safe to remember.

  A few hardy souls bundled up against the January cold in trench coats and wool scarves scurried like industrious ants across the plaza to the Municipal Building around the corner. ADAs heading back to the Muni Building from the Criminal Courts Building could be seen detouring through the Brooklyn Law School. It had the cleaner toilets.

  Right now in south Texas, Delia thought, the earth would be warm. The live oaks that never lost their leaves would be rustling in the ever-present wind. The picture of one tree, one great old live oak with two people standing beneath it, appeared before her. Her heart began to race, and she forced away the troubling image.

  Delia turned to face Frank Weaver, leaning her palms on the inside window ledge, feeling the morning sun—the only sunlight she got all day—heat up her black judicial robe through the wooden venetian blinds.

  She let her gaze travel the length of the rumpled-looking man before her. She and Frank had worked together when she had first started in the DA’s office eleven years ago. The two of them had been on investigative duty together for six months, working twenty-four-hour shifts every third or fourth day, spending nights sleeping on futons in the Muni Building—when they got to sleep. Usually they were woken and called out for a ride to the police station, or occasionally the scene of the crime when there had been a felony with a victim or a child molestation.

  She had been the “young” DA and Frank had been “senior.” She had followed him around learning how to make sure the police collected sufficient legal evidence for an indictment by the grand jury.

  She had watched Frank and realized he cut corners. He was neither scrupulous nor ambitious. She was both. She had left Frank behind in the ten years she had steadily risen to prominence in the Brooklyn DA’s office.

  Delia had learned in the year since she had become a supreme court judge that it was necessary to keep herself distanced from her former colleagues if she was going to do her job right. Sometimes, like now, it was awkward. Perhaps a little less formality was what she needed in this situation.

  Delia sighed. “What is it you want, Frank?”

  “The DA wants you to lighten up. You’ve been putting him through hoops with these plea bargains, and he wants it stopped. I know I’m probably not the right person to be confronting you about this,” Frank said, “but Sam knew we worked together, and . . .” Frank paused. A dark flush stained his throat above his permanent-pressed polyester-cotton blend collar and the loosened knot of his paisley tie.

  “He figured we probably had an affair that would give you an extra edge in negotiating,” Delia finished for him. That had happened too frequently with a male-female investigative duty matchup for it not to have been true of her, as well. Delia had a reputation for being standoffish with men that should have precluded the assumption. Except Frank had an even worse reputation for being an alley cat with women.

  “You told him, I hope, that he was off the mark,” Delia said.

  The flush deepened. “He didn’t believe me,” Frank muttered.

  Delia caught a glimpse of tired brown eyes before Frank turned to stare at another wall filled with a framed history of her accomplishments—graduation from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, membership in the Texas bar, membership in the New York bar, authorization to practice as an attorney before the United States Supreme Court, certification as a judge in the Brooklyn Supreme Court. There were no photos of family, of a husband or children.

  It revealed a full life and an empty one.

  Frank sieved a hand through thick black hair that had fallen rakishly onto his forehead and turned back to face her. He was undeniably a handsome man. She might have been tempted by him once upon a time—if she had liked him better as a person. And if she hadn’t felt the way she did about older, wiser men who took advantage of younger, innocent women.

  “Tell the DA I understand very well how the system works,” Delia said. “That two trials for every five hundred dispositions is the norm. But I refuse to turn a travesty into a sham. I have the right to insist that some minimum sentence be served. If that interferes with the DA’s plans to get cases through the court mill, too bad. Take that message back to Sam for me.”

  “In case you haven’t noticed, you already have more than your quota of trials scheduled this year. Settle this one, Delia,” Frank urged.


  Frank turned without another word and started for the door.

  “And Frank,” Delia said, halting him in mid-stride. He looked back, and she said, “Tell Sam the next time he wants a dirty job done, to come do it himself.”

  A grin flashed on Frank’s face, chasing away the look of fatigue. “You going to sell tickets? I’d like to be there to watch.”

  Delia shook her head and laughed. “Sam Dietrich is a reasonable man. I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out.”

  Frank paused with his hand on the doorknob and gave her a searching look. “Watch your back, Delia.”

  Before she could ask Frank what he meant, he was gone.

  Delia started to sit down, glanced at the Seth Thomas clock on the credenza across the room, and realized her fifteen-minute court recess was over.

  At that precise moment, when it was too late to do anything about it, it dawned on her that maybe her sister had not been calling simply to chat. Maybe something had happened. Maybe she should have taken Rachel’s call. Another glance at the clock left her feeling anxious and torn. She insisted on promptness in her court. Her call to Rachel would have to wait.

  Delia walked across the hall to her courtroom and entered with all the pomp and circumstance given to jurists with the power of life and death over convicted criminals.

  The courtroom was spacious and had high windows that let in light but kept the outside world from seeing in, or unfortunately, as far as Delia was concerned, anyone inside from seeing out. At least the paneled walls, the Doric columns and gabled arch that framed the doorway, the benches, and the jury’s railed pews were all made of rich, warm wood. The pale blue-green carpet muffled the sound and kept it quiet. This was her world, where she spent long, exhausting days, and she loved it.

  The court officer, Jerry Speers, called the next case. Another assistant DA, a young woman, was waiting with another assistant public defender, also a woman, to present yet another plea bargain.

  Delia listened patiently while the ADA explained the plea bargain arrangement for a two-time offender, a petty thief who had graduated to robbery to support his drug habit. Sam Dietrich had granted the defendant very little mercy in this case. The young man was going to do some hard time in prison upstate. Delia wondered why Sam hadn’t done better bargaining on the Leroy Lincoln case.

  She was listening to the defendant detail the crime for which he had pleaded guilty when her secretary handed a note to the court officer and whispered in his ear.

  Janet’s eyes looked worried behind her tortoiseshell frames. She pulled her reading glasses off her face and let them hang on a gold chain. Janet was slender and proud of looking ten years younger than her age. Every Monday morning she had some funny tale to tell about her weekend dates with younger men. But there was nothing frivolous about Janet Gleason when it came to work. If she had brought a note to Delia in court, something was seriously wrong.

  The court officer rose immediately and handed Delia the slip of paper. That was odd
because, ordinarily, Jerry would have waited until the defendant had finished speaking.

  Delia’s stomach knotted.

  She didn’t open the note right away, simply held it in her hand as the defendant’s speech drew to a close. She didn’t want to be distracted by this news—whatever it was. Delia fingered the pink telephone message as she finished the business at hand, accepting the plea bargain and setting a date for sentencing. Not until the case was concluded did she open the folded pink slip.

  Her face remained impassive as she read the words. A muscle in her jaw spasmed when she clenched her teeth, but otherwise no one would ever have suspected the import—the stunning impact on her—of the few words she had read.

  Delia knew now why Janet hadn’t left the courtroom, why she was being watched so closely by her secretary.

  “Court will recess for the day,” Delia said in a quiet voice.

  Jerry Speers gave her a queer look but said, “All rise,” and got the courtroom on its feet so she could make her escape.

  Delia heard the quick tattoo of Janet’s pumps on the marble floor behind her in counterpoint to her high heels as she headed back across the hall to her office. She stopped as she reached her door to head off her secretary. “I want to be alone for a little while, Janet. Please make sure I’m not disturbed.”

  “Yes, Judge Carson,” Janet replied. “If there’s anything I can—”

  Delia closed her door on Janet’s offer of help and locked it, then slumped back against the glass and wood barrier and let out a breath of air she hadn’t known she’d been holding.

  Hattie Carson was dead.

  It was only then she realized her hands were trembling. Leftover anger? She hadn’t believed her animosity could still be so strong after twenty years. Fear? Fear could be endless, as she was in a position to know. Or was it relief? Maybe now she would be able to let go of the past.

  Delia rubbed her throbbing temples with her thumbs. She would have to go back to Texas, to the Circle Crown. She had no choice. Only she and Rachel were left now. Her younger sister would never be able to handle this by herself. Someone would have to take care of everything, make the funeral arrangements.

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