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Authors: Irene Hannon

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BOOK: The Way Home
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She drew a steadying breath. “Of course.”

His gaze moved to her arm, red beneath the edge of her short-sleeved jacket, and his own anger began to simmer anew. “You have grounds for assault, you know.”

She shook her head impatiently. “It's not the first time something like this has happened. If I pressed charges every time someone threw his weight around, I'd spend half my life in court. It just shakes me up for a few minutes.” She frowned and glanced distractedly at her watch. “I need to get my report on tape. And I want to get back to the studio and do a little editing before airtime. It's going to be tight.”

Cal nodded. “I'll let you get to work, then.”

He started to turn away, but paused when she reached out and tentatively touched his arm. “Cal, I… Thanks.”

He looked back at her, thrown by the electric jolt that shot through him at her simple touch. And he wasn't sure how to respond to her gratitude. He was glad she'd gotten her story. But the scene he'd just witnessed had upset him more than he cared to admit. The moment Johnson had touched her, he'd wanted to deck the guy. It wasn't an impulse he had often, and considering that she was a strong, independent
woman, he wasn't sure she would appreciate the fact that he'd felt the need to “rescue” her.

But what disturbed him even more was the knowledge that this scenario wasn't a one-time occurrence. This time there'd been plenty of people around to intervene. But what about the times when she was in danger and there was no one to step in? Cal wasn't a man accustomed to fear. But the realization that Amy put herself in situations where she could get hurt—badly—made his gut twist painfully.

“Why do you do this to yourself?” he said abruptly. There was anger in his question, and bewilderment. The words—and tone—surprised him as much as they did her, judging by the startled expression on her face.

“It's part of the job,” she said after a moment.

“But do you
like
doing this? Do you
like
dealing with scum like Johnson?” he persisted.

“Do you?”

He shrugged dismissively. “It's part of my job.”

She just looked at him, and her silence spoke more eloquently than words.

He sighed and conceded her point with a nod. “Okay, you win. But do me a favor, will you? Make it an early night.”

Again she seemed momentarily taken aback. “Why?”

He frowned. Why, indeed? Because he thought she'd been through enough today? Because she worked too hard and needed a break? Because he didn't like the fine lines of strain around her eyes?
Because he cared about her more than he should, more than was wise, more than he wanted to?

The furrows in Cal's brow deepened. There was no way he could verbalize any of that. Especially since he didn't understand how he had come to feel that way.

“Never mind,” he said shortly, his fingers clenching the handle of his briefcase. “It's none of my business, anyway.” And with that he turned and strode away.

Amy stared after him in confusion. Now what was that all about? First he was solicitous, then he was angry. Men! It was a good thing she
wasn't
romantically involved. She'd spend her life trying to figure the guy out instead of focusing on her career. But as she watched Cal's stiff, retreating back, she was startled to realize that maybe that wouldn't be such a bad use of her time—especially if the man was Cal Richards.

 

Amy took a soothing sip of tea and sighed contentedly. She had a lazy Saturday morning all to herself to bask in the glow of the coup she'd pulled off yesterday. As the other stations scrambled to piece together something for their ten o'clock news programs, Amy's coverage of yesterday's events had been picked up nationally by affiliated stations, giving both her—and the story—coast-to-coast exposure. She'd even received a call from the station vice president congratulating her for her diligence and for her comprehensive coverage of the case.

Amy took another sip of tea and stuck an English
muffin in the toaster. She
was
diligent. She'd worked hard to stay one step ahead of the competition on this story, and she'd succeeded. Yesterday's piece had done exactly what she wanted it to do. It had gotten her noticed by the right people. Thanks to Cal's tip. While she might have been in court anyway yesterday, there were days when she spent less time at the trial because of other assignments. Yesterday could very well have been one of them.

As she buttered her English muffin, she suddenly recalled Cal's question yesterday about whether she liked dealing with scum like Johnson, and a shadow crossed her face. She hadn't answered him directly. Because up until now, she hadn't really answered it for herself. Mostly because it was irrelevant. Bottom line, it didn't matter what she liked or didn't like. The station chose her assignments, and she did what she was told. And did it well.

But as she munched on the muffin, she came face-to-face with something she'd been dancing around for the past couple of years. For some reason, she couldn't avoid the question anymore, couldn't chase it away to some dark corner of her consciousness. It demanded an answer. And the answer was simple. She
hated
dealing with people like Johnson. Hated it to the very depths of her being. And then came the inevitable follow-up question, the one she'd
really
been avoiding. If she hated it so much, was the end result worth all the stress and strain?

Amy stopped chewing. Up until now, she'd always kept her gaze firmly fixed on her goal—first an anchor slot, and ultimately a network position that would let
her do in-depth issues reporting, such as the coverage she'd done around the Johnson case relating to alcohol abuse or with the Saint Vincent's story. Solid, feature reporting that had the potential to create awareness about problems and change lives for the better. Those were the kinds of stories that gave her the greatest satisfaction. Because they counted for something. They made a difference. And their impact was far longer lasting than anything she would ever report about the Jamie Johnson trial.

Amy frowned. Funny. In the past, whenever she'd thought about her career, she'd always listed “celebrity status” and money as her top reasons for wanting a high-profile feature job. When had they slipped to second place? What had brought her to the realization that it was the opportunity to make a positive difference in people's lives that was
most
important to her?

Amy's gaze fell on the card that had come with Cal's flowers. It was still lying on the counter, waiting for her to make what had been an oddly difficult decision—keep or pitch? Both choices seemed to symbolize something, and she wasn't ready to deal with that yet. So she'd uncharacteristically made no decision and done nothing. She reached over and fingered the card thoughtfully. Until a few weeks ago, she was content and in control, certain about what she wanted out of life. Then along came Cal Richards, with his steadfast values, solid faith and clear priorities, to disrupt her equilibrium—both emotionally and professionally.

And yet…Amy couldn't honestly say that she was sorry they'd met. Okay, so maybe it wasn't too com
fortable to reexamine her carefully crafted career plan. Maybe it wasn't too comfortable to deal with her lapsed faith. Maybe it wasn't too comfortable to think about just how long she planned to defer creating the family she ultimately wanted to have. But maybe it was time.

Amy sighed. For the last few years she'd sailed along, single-mindedly focused on one thing—making it big in broadcast journalism. She was now well on her way to achieving that goal. But meeting Cal had not only made her question that journey, it had also made her realize just how lonely it had been. Even more, it made her yearn for someone special to share it with. And different though they were, she couldn't help but wistfully wonder for one brief moment what it would be like if that special someone was Cal.

Chapter Seven

“E
ldon Lewis called. He was pretty upset.”

Cal gave Cynthia a distracted look, then paused beside her desk and wearily raked his fingers through his hair. It had
not
been a good Monday. “I'm not surprised.”

“Was it bad?”

“Brutal. I warned him they might get rough, but I didn't expect it to take such a vicious turn.”

“One of those situations where he almost felt like
he
was on trial, right?”

“Right. And it certainly didn't help our case that the judge let it go on far too long, despite our objections.” The weariness in his voice was now tinged with frustration.

Cynthia eyed him sympathetically. “Listen, how about I get you some coffee?”

Cal gave her a tired grin. “Since when do you offer to fetch coffee?”

“Since you look like you're about to cave in without some.”

“I don't deserve you, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Cynthia said pertly as she rose and headed toward the coffeemaker. “Just remember that when you're deciding on next year's raises for your hardworking law clerks.”

Cal smiled and continued toward his office. He dropped his briefcase on the desk, then went to stare pensively out the window, his hands thrust into his pockets.

“One cup of coffee,” Cynthia announced a moment later.

He turned and took it from her. “Thanks. Now get out of here. Go home to that new husband of yours.”

“When are
you
going home?”

He shrugged and took a sip of the coffee. “Later.”

She gave an unladylike snort and planted her hands on her hips. “Maybe it's a good thing you
don't
have a wife,” she declared. “The poor woman would need to keep a picture of you on hand just to remember what you look like.”

“Good night, Cynthia,” Cal said dryly.

She threw up her hands. “I give up!”

“Can I count on that?”

Her face grew thoughtful. “On the other hand, maybe if you
had
a wife, you'd keep more reasonable hours.”

Cal groaned. “Go home, Cynthia, before you get any more ideas.”

She grinned. “Oh, I'm full of ideas.” Then her
face grew more sober. “Seriously, Cal, try to get out of here before midnight.”

“I'll see what I can do.”

Cynthia shook her head. “You're hopeless. But even if you won't take
my
advice, I intend to take yours. Good night.”

When Cynthia left, Cal walked to his desk and sank into the overstuffed chair. He felt sick about the way the defense attorney had distorted the facts to discredit his witness. And there wasn't much he could say to comfort the man. Still, he had to try. So, with a weary sigh, he reached for the phone.

The man answered on the second ring.

“Mr. Lewis? Cal Richards.”

“How could they do that?” the witness burst out, clearly distraught.

“I'm sorry you had to go through that,” Cal said sympathetically. “In cases like this, where the stakes are very high, the defense can sometimes play pretty dirty, as I warned you. I was hoping they wouldn't this time, but I guess we gave them too much credit.”

“But I know what I saw!” the man protested.

“And I'm sure it happened exactly the way you described to the court.”

“But they made me sound like—like some kind of derelict! Like I made it all up. They kept dragging up all that stuff from the past, and they twisted everything I said. It wasn't fair!”

Cal drew a deep breath. No, it wasn't. But he'd seen it happen more times than he cared to remember. And though he'd done his best to keep the cross-examination focused on the Johnson incident, object
ing whenever the defense attorney brought up Eldon Lewis's past, enough information had been imparted to instill doubt about the witness's credibility in the minds of the jurors. Which had been the precise intent of the defense, of course.

“I know, Mr. Lewis. But you did your best and told the truth. All we can do is hope that the jury sees that.”

The man gave a bitter laugh. “I don't think that's going to happen.”

After watching the jurors' faces today, Cal didn't, either. He had hoped for more from them. But the defense team had done a masterful job of planting doubt, and there was little he could do now to change that. “You did everything you could, Mr. Lewis. That's all any of us can do. And I appreciate your cooperation. I know this wasn't easy for you.”

The man sighed, and suddenly his anger evaporated. “I guess I thought I'd put the past behind me, moved on as best I could with my life. This made me realize that my mistakes will always haunt me,” he said resignedly.

“You
have
moved on with your life,” Cal corrected him firmly. “From every standpoint—ethical, moral, legal—the defense team should never have brought all that up. It
is
history. Remember that.”

“Yeah. Well, I'll be seeing you.”

The line went dead, and Cal slowly replaced the receiver. The man was clearly unconvinced, and Cal felt a deep pang of regret for the need to involve him in the trial. But he'd been their only hope. It was a chance they'd had to take in the cause of justice. He'd
known that the defense team might use Lewis's past against him. The man's struggle a dozen years earlier with serious depression and a temporary drinking problem shouldn't have had any bearing on the credibility of his testimony, given the exemplary life he had led for the past ten years. But Johnson's team had positioned the facts in a way that implied that the witness was still unstable and not to be fully trusted.

It was one of those days when the injustice of the justice system weighed heavily on Cal's heart. Wearily he reached for his briefcase. Despite Cynthia's advice, it was going to be a very long night. As he spread his papers out and prepared to draft an outline of his closing remarks, he wished there was someone he could talk with about his feelings, someone who would listen to his doubts and reassure him that he had done all he could, someone who could fill the empty place in his heart and offer him understanding and support.

Suddenly an image of Amy Winter flashed through his mind, and he frowned. She'd been cropping up in his thoughts more and more lately, but so far he'd been able to convince himself that it was only because she was an attractive, appealing woman, and that his reaction was simply a normal male response to a beautiful woman. But right now he wasn't thinking about her in terms of her good looks. He was thinking of her in the context of confidante/friend/comforter, he realized, his frown deepening. That was serious stuff. And it wasn't good. He wasn't in the market for romance—particularly with her, he reminded himself firmly.

Nevertheless, a surge of longing just to hear her voice swept over him, so strong that it made him catch his breath. So strong that it scared him. So strong that it made him wonder if perhaps he should give up the fight and simply let the attraction he felt for her play out, see if their differences were really as irreconcilable as they seemed.

And then logic kicked in. He had issues of his own to resolve before he even
considered
trying to deal with the issues between them. That had to be his top priority.

But first he had a closing argument to write.

 

“Not guilty.”

A muscle twitched in Cal's jaw and his lips settled into a thin line as he stared at the judge, oblivious to the sudden pandemonium in the courtroom. It wasn't as if the verdict was a surprise. He'd known from the beginning that the odds were stacked against them. But as always, he'd held on to a sliver of hope that in the end justice would triumph. A hope that far too often was in vain.

He drew a slow, deep breath, then glanced toward Jamie Johnson. The defendant was beaming and shaking hands with his attorneys, his “golden boy” image restored. For a moment Cal actually felt sick. How could the man feel so little remorse for the life he'd carelessly destroyed? Cal hoped that at least Johnson had learned something from the experience. But he doubted it. The sports jock would probably emerge from the trial even cockier, more convinced than ever
that he was invincible, he thought with a disheartened sigh.

Cal felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up.

“You did your best, you know,” Bill Jackson said.

Cal gave a noncommittal shrug. “Too bad it wasn't good enough.”

His colleague glanced at Johnson's legal team. “Considering the guns we were up against—not to mention the money, the sympathetic press and Johnson's boy-next-door image—don't be too hard on yourself.”

Cal drew a deep breath and stood up. “Who said life was fair, right?”

“Right.”

Cal held out his hand. “Well, I know one thing. I couldn't have done even half as well without you, Bill. I may have been the lead on this case, but you worked just as hard as I did. Thank you.”

His colleague took his hand but brushed the comment aside. “You've done the same for me in the past. And will again, no doubt.”

Cal smiled. “Count on it.”

“See you back at the office?”

“Yeah. I'll be along in a few minutes.”

By the time Cal packed up his papers and left, the courtroom was mostly empty. He strode down the hall toward the front entrance of the building, then suddenly changed his mind and veered off toward a side door. No doubt Johnson was triumphantly holding court for a gaggle of reporters, and that was one show he had no desire to see. He assumed Amy was among them. What had been her reaction to the outcome? he
wondered. Surprise? Anger? Disappointment—in him?

The last question gnawed at him. He tried to tell himself that it didn't matter, but in his heart he knew it did. Because like it or not, he cared what she thought about him.

And he had his answer a few minutes later when he reached his office and discovered on his voice mail the slightly husky voice he found so appealing.

“Cal. Amy. I wanted to let you know how sorry I am about the verdict. You did everything humanly possible to convict Johnson, and I thought your entire prosecution—especially your closing argument—was masterful. How the jury could let that scumbag off is beyond me. I would have waited to talk with you, but I had to file the story and you were pretty tied up, so this is the best I could do.” There was a moment of silence, and when she spoke again her voice had taken on a different, more personal—and slightly uncertain—tone. “Listen, I don't suppose our paths are likely to cross again anytime soon, so I just wanted to say that I… Well, it's been a privilege to get to know you. I really enjoyed the time we spent together. And I wanted to wish you all the best in the future.”

The line went dead, and Cal slowly replaced the receiver. He knew she was working at warp speed to get the story ready for the evening news, and he was touched that she had taken time to place the call. He hadn't expected it. Or even let himself
hope
for it. Just as he hadn't allowed himself to dwell on the fact that she would no longer be a daily—albeit profes
sional—presence in his life. Though they had rarely spoken, merely knowing she was in the courtroom had brightened his days. Now he had to face the fact that even that limited contact had come to an end. It left him feeling strangely empty—and more than a little melancholy.

“You've been summoned by the chief, Cal.”

Cynthia's voice intruded on his thoughts and Cal glanced at her, forcing himself to shift gears. “Okay. I'm on my way.”

As he strode down the hall to David Morgan's office, he wondered what the senior member of the department would say about the outcome of the case. He hoped Morgan wasn't disappointed in his performance. Cal, like all of the staff attorneys, had great respect for the older man's opinion. His incisive legal mind, combined with a great sense of fairness and humanitarianism, had made him almost a legend in the Atlanta legal community. His praise—or censure—was never taken lightly.

Morgan's secretary glanced up when he entered, then waved him inside. “He's expecting you.”

The older man was engrossed in something on his computer screen, but he looked up immediately when Cal stepped to the door and knocked lightly.

“Come in, Cal. Have a seat. Would you like something to drink?”

“How about a gin and tonic?” Cal replied with a wry grin. At the older man's startled look, he added a quick disclaimer. “Just kidding,” he assured him.

“For a minute I wondered if the trial might have been even more stressful than I thought,” Morgan
said with relief. “I've never known you to drink anything more than an occasional glass of wine.”

“I still don't.”

“Well, you probably
could
use something stronger after these last few months. I know how hard you worked on the Johnson case. And I know how hard it is to lose. I've been there. Feel like doing a little rehashing?”

Cal nodded. “Sure.”

“Tell me about the approach the defense used.”

By the time Cal talked the case through with the older man, recounting the defense's tactics and his strategy, he felt a lot better about the decisions he'd made in planning his prosecution. And he suspected that had been Morgan's intent.

“So I'm not happy with the verdict, but I honestly don't know what I would have done differently,” Cal concluded, feeling more at peace with the outcome.

Morgan nodded. “Your approach was sound. By rights, you should have won. But a lot of factors that we have no control over often influence the outcome. That's what happened here, you know.”

“I'm beginning to accept that.”

“Good. I don't want you beating yourself up over this. You're a fine attorney, and you did as much as anyone could have in this case. More, I'd venture to say.”

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