By John Conway
At the break, Derek excused himself and fled the preliminary hearing to the windy marble sun deck at the end of the courthouse corridor. What a disaster. He needed the refuge of a peaceful view--patchy clouds, hazy mountains, a beautiful golf course bordered by a thick, green stand of maple and pine.
It made no sense. He recalled their first meeting at Justin's. Carla impressed him. She was a natural beauty. No makeup. No pretenses. She had a confident, assertive exterior and a soft, warm center. They spoke into the night, confiding everything and anything--except work and his personal legal problems. It was the best he'd felt about a woman in a long time; maybe ever.
How could he have been so wrong?
Later that week, when she entered the deposition, dressed to kill, they'd both done a double take.
He read her thoughts like a billboard across her face: "You're that Derek?!"
His own thoughts had been something like, "You're her new attorney?!"
They composed themselves. No one caught on. The deposition proceeded.
That was when he learned she was a killer. She didn't care about the truth. She didn't care about right and wrong. She was a hired gun, and he was in the crosshairs.
Wasn't that a conflict? Shouldn't she have resigned? He didn't know. But they hadn't spoken since--until her cross-examination of him today.
What a nightmare.
The door swung open.
Carla hesitated as she stepped onto the deck in her heels and tight dress. They locked gazes. Her chest heaved slightly. Then she walked to the other side of the small deck striking at her cell phone--bap, bap, bap.
Derek turned slightly away, vowing to disregard her stunning beauty. She seemed uneasy. Good. Not that it mattered.
She listened to messages, jotted a note and shoved her cell into her handbag.
He would say nothing.
Carla folded her arms and stared out over the view. "Nice day."
He swallowed. "For some, I suppose."
She turned her head. "It's not personal."
"You made me look like a liar."
She brushed a loose lock of black hair over her ear. "I point out inconsistencies."
He turned toward her. "I didn't lie. How do you justify doing that?"
She lifted an eyebrow. "It's called 'impeachment.' Your lawyer does it, too."
"We shouldn't be talking about this."
Derek glared, unsure what to think. It was all play acting to them. No personal responsibility. They represented their clients. They wore their roles like suits of armor, immune from truth, unaffected by right or wrong.
He wanted nothing to do with this world of amoral rules.
"And I didn't betray your confidence," she added in a softer tone.
For a beat, the warm, beautiful woman peeked through the attorney veneer.
"I know," he admitted. He didn't feel like giving her credit for that. He'd already demonized her. He didn't need to question that decision now. But she had indeed steered clear of his mother's suicide, and the years of guilt and regret, the rehab--everything he told her about that night when he thought he understood her. She could have used it. It would've strengthened her examination. But she refrained.
But did that matter? She was still ruthless. She treated him like a criminal, embarrassed him. Her every question oozed with accusation.
Maybe it wasn't betrayal. But it felt like it.
Carla's handbag buzzed.
"Time to get back," she said.
She took a step. He stood firm. "I'll be there in a minute," he said. He was in no hurry to return.
She gripped the handle and glanced inside. She seemed to pause for something, drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly. Without looking directly at him, she said, "Derek ... we're not discussing this, but ... just be yourself."
"I don't even know--"
She cut him short with a flash of her intense, brown eyes.
His knees weakened.
"Just listen," she urged. "I will do my job. That's all it is. Don't let it get to you. The judge likes you. If you're you, you'll win. It will be over."
Her cheeks flushed. He fought the urge to touch her.
She twisted her mouth, turned and reentered the courthouse.
The door clunked shut. He frowned, staring at it.
Don't let it get to him?
Maybe a few minutes ago, when he believed he was wrong about her. But now he feared he'd been right. She was deep and sensuous and caring and warm, a gentle and loving soul hidden beneath a hard suit of armor.
Where did that leave him?
Blindsided by a wrecking ball, that's where.
Derek shook his head.
He yearned to heed her advice. But he couldn't. It did get to get to him. It spanned the depth and breadth of his being. More than she could ever know. And it would remain for a very long time.
- - -
John Conway is a complex-litigation attorney and writes science-fiction, fantasy and romance stories. His recent work has appeared in Daily Love, Farther Stars Than These, Indigo Rising Magazine, Lark's Fiction Magazine, Static Movement, 365 Tomorrows and Bewildering Stories. He submitted two winning stories in the Writers Digest 80th Annual Writing Competition and was honored as the 2012 winner of the Yosemite Romance Writers Smooch contest. His website is www.jcconway.com.