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Authors: Irene Hannon

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BOOK: The Way Home
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“And my job is to see justice done,” he countered a little too sharply as he moved forward once again.

“Why should our two jobs be incompatible? And why do you hate the press so much?” she persisted, struggling to keep pace with his long strides.

They reached the door of the courthouse and he turned to her, his jaw set, his eyes flinty. “They shouldn't be incompatible, Ms. Winter. Justice should be a mutual goal of the press and the law. But the only things TV stations care about are ratings and advertising revenues. If that means sensationalizing a trial at the expense of justice to gain viewers, so be it.”

“That's a pretty cynical attitude.”

His mouth twisted into a humorless smile. “Let's just call it realistic. How long have you been in this business, Ms. Winter? Two years? Three?”

“Seven.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. She didn't look more than a year or two out of school, but she must be close to thirty, he realized.

“Then you should know that it's hard enough to see justice done when everything works right. It's impossible when the press takes sides.”

“I take it you're speaking from personal experience?”

He hesitated, then gave a curt nod. “Five years ago I handled a trial very similar to this one. High-profile figure, well liked. He was charged with rape. He was also the proverbial golden-haired boy. Popular,
wealthy, powerful, a churchgoing man with a list of philanthropic endeavors to rival Albert Schweitzer. He had the press eating out of his hand. In fact, the news media did everything it could to discredit and harass the victim. She finally caved in under the pressure. We didn't stand a chance.” The bitterness in his voice was unmistakable.

“And…”

At her prompt, Cal turned to her, his rapier-sharp eyes cold as steel. “Two years ago he was charged with rape again. But this time he picked the wrong victim and the wrong place. She was a fighter, and she was determined to make him pay. Not to mention the fact that there were witnesses.”

“So in the end, justice was served.”

He shrugged. “No thanks to the press. And it depends on what you mean by ‘justice.' Yes, he was convicted. But he's still appealing. Worst case, he'll serve a couple of years and be back on the streets. I hardly consider that justice, given the crime.”

Amy gave him a quizzical look. “So why did you go into law, if it's so hopeless?”

He gazed at her thoughtfully. “Frankly I've been asking myself that question a lot lately,” he replied soberly, surprising her—and himself—with his candor. “I guess I thought I could make a difference. And once in a great while I can. Every now and then, because of my efforts, justice is served and the little guy wins. That's what keeps me going. That's what makes it worthwhile.”

His tone once more grew brusque. “Look, Ms. Winter, I can't stop you from covering this trial. But
I can—and do—decline to participate. I'll give you one piece of advice, though. Don't fall into the trap those reporters did in the case I just told you about. Don't be taken in by appearances. Do your homework. Dig. Don't assume that the image Jamie Johnson projects publicly is the real man. You'll do everyone a great service if you treat him as you would any other defendant. And while you're at it, take a look at the issue itself. Too many times people blame liquor for drunk driving instead of focusing on the real problem—irresponsibility. That's a harder issue to tackle. But some thoughtful coverage might go a long way toward placing the blame where it belongs—on the person, not the object. Think about that, Ms. Winter. Try to go for substance over sensationalism.”

She looked at him silently for a moment. “No matter what I do, I have a feeling nothing will change your mind about the news game,” she said at last.

Cal's mouth settled into a grim line. “When somebody dies, it's not a game.”

Amy met his intense gaze steadily. “I agree. And I appreciate your candor and suggestions. They were very helpful. In fact, I'd welcome any other input or ideas you might have as the trial progresses.”

“Don't hold your breath. As I said, I try to stay as far away from the press as possible.”

“I'll keep trying, you know.”

He shrugged and turned away. “Suit yourself.”

Amy watched as he disappeared inside, a thoughtful expression on her face. For somebody who didn't talk to the press, he'd certainly given her an earful just now. Which meant he might do so again. And
maybe next time he would offer a piece of information that would give her just the edge she was looking for in her coverage.

In the meantime, she intended to take to heart what he had said. While she didn't agree completely with his assessment of the press, he had made some valid points. And he'd given her a couple of ideas for related stories that could round out her coverage when there wasn't much to report on in the trial itself. All in all, it had been a productive morning, she decided. She had some good ideas, and she had a ray of hope—which was probably the last thing Cal Richards had intended to give her, she thought, a wry smile quirking the corners of her mouth.

As she turned to go, she glanced back at the door through which the reticent assistant prosecuting attorney had disappeared. He was an interesting man, she mused. Not to mention good-looking. Too bad they were on opposite sides—in his opinion, at least. Not that it mattered, of course. He wasn't her type anyway. Not even close.

Besides, even if he was, she didn't have time for romance. She had a career to build.

 

“If looks could kill…”

Cal stopped abruptly outside the jury selection room, the scowl on his face softening as he glanced at his colleague.

“It's not that bad, you know. We'll get this jury. If not in this century, then surely in the next.”

This time Cal smiled. Bill Jackson, who could go for the jugular in the courtroom better than anyone
Cal had ever encountered, also had an amazing ability to ease the tension in any situation. It was a pretty unbeatable combination in an attorney, and Cal was glad he was assisting on this trial.

“Believe it or not, I wasn't even thinking about the jury.”

“No? Then what put that look on your face?”

“A run-in with the press.”

“No kidding! I thought you had them all trained to keep their distance.”

“So did I. I think this one's new.”

“What's his name?”

“It's a her. Amy Winter.”

Bill gave a low whistle, and Cal raised his eyebrows. “You know her?”

“Unfortunately, no. But I've seen her on TV. Man, she's a looker! And you're right. She's only been around a few months. Must be good, though, to get an assignment like this so quickly.”

“She's pushy, anyway.”

Bill shrugged. “Same thing in the news game.”

“Yeah, well, I don't appreciate being called at home.”

Bill looked at him in surprise. “How'd she get your unlisted number?”

“Beats me. I didn't ask. I just told her to back off.”

“And how did the lady respond to that?”

Cal's scowled returned. “Let's just say I don't think I've seen the last of Amy Winter.”

Bill chuckled as he reached over to open the door.

“This could be interesting. Two people equally unwilling to bend. You'll have to keep me informed. In
the meantime, we'd better get on with the jury selection or there won't even be a trial to write about.”

As Cal followed Bill into the room, he gave one last fleeting thought to Amy Winter. Bill had called her a “looker,” and his colleague was right. But that wasn't why she lingered in his memory. He'd met plenty of attractive women, and he'd rarely given them a thought once out of their presence. No, it wasn't her
looks
that intrigued him. It was the
look
that had appeared in her eyes, then quickly vanished, when he'd spoken harshly to her. For the briefest of moments she had seemed somehow…
vulnerable
was the word that came to mind. Yet that seemed so out of character for someone in her profession. Reporters got the cold shoulder all the time. Surely they built up an immunity to it. Why would she be any different?

And she probably wasn't, he told himself brusquely. Most likely he'd imagined the whole thing. Besides, why should he care? Amy Winter was a stranger to him. And a reporter to boot. She was aggressive, ambitious, competitive, single-minded, brash—qualities he didn't particularly admire in either gender. He ought to just forget her and hope she honored his request to back off.

Except he didn't think she would.

And for some strange reason, he didn't think she was going to be so easy to forget.

Chapter Two

A
my took a sip of her drink and glanced around glumly. A charity bachelor auction was the last place she wanted to be on a Saturday night. If her TV station hadn't bought a table and their lead anchorwoman wasn't the MC—making this a politically expedient event to attend—the proverbial wild horses couldn't have dragged her here. Spending an entire evening watching women bid on dates was not exactly her idea of a compelling way to use her precious—and rare—free time.

“Why the long face?”

Amy turned to find one of the younger copywriters from her station at her elbow. She shrugged, groping for the woman's name. Darlene, that was it. “I can think of other places I'd rather be.”

“Yeah? Spending an evening mingling with a bunch of hot-looking guys doesn't seem so bad to me. Have you checked out the program?” She waved it
in front of Amy's face. “It's got all their pictures and bios.”

“No. I'm not planning to bid.”

“I wasn't, either, until I got here. But I met several of the auctionees during the cocktail hour and now I've got my eye on Bachelor #12—over there, by the bar.” She gazed at him longingly. “Man, a date with that dude would be
worth
a couple hundred bucks! Did you meet anyone interesting?”

Amy shook her head. Actually, she'd only just arrived, putting off her appearance as long as possible. It had been a grueling and frustrating couple of weeks and she was exhausted. Though she'd tried repeatedly to contact Cal Richards—even waylaid him a couple of times enroute to the courthouse—and spent hours in the courtroom after the trial began, he'd hardly spoken to her. Apparently he'd said everything he intended to say at the one encounter when he'd made it clear what he thought of the news media.

Amy sighed. She hadn't given up on finding an angle on this story. But the assistant prosecuting attorney wasn't making it easy, that was for sure. Still, she was due for a break. In fact, she
deserved
one. After all, she'd paid her dues. She'd put in the long hours, sacrificed her personal life, worked the midnight shift in the newsroom, all in the name of career advancement. And she'd accomplished a lot. But not enough. She had her sights set on an anchor slot. And she'd get there, just like Candace Bryce, she vowed, as the celebrity MC stepped to the microphone.

“Ladies, please take your seats so the wait staff can serve dinner—and we can get to the
real
purpose
of this evening. You'll have about an hour to enjoy your food and plan your strategy. Bon appétit!”

“Our table's over there,” Darlene indicated with a nod, leaving Amy to follow.

Amy knew most of the women from the station either by name or face, although she didn't consider any of them “friends.” The broadcast news business was too competitive to foster real friendships. She smiled pleasantly and sat down in the one empty chair, her back to the stage. Obviously her table mates had vied for the seats with the best view, she thought wryly. As far as she was concerned, they could have them. She'd much rather focus on the chocolate mousse promised for dessert than the dessert the other women had in mind.

By the time the mousse was served, Amy was beginning to plan her escape strategy. She'd put in her appearance, been noticed by Candace and stopped on the way to the ladies' room to chat with the station manager. Her duty was done. In another few minutes she could sneak out, head back to her apartment, take her shoes off, put on some mellow jazz, dim the lights and do absolutely nothing for what little remained of the evening. It sounded like heaven!

As Candace stepped once more to the microphone, a buzz of excitement swept over the room and there was a rustling of paper as the women reached for their programs. While the ladies focused on the stage, Amy focused on her dessert.

The first auctionee was introduced to cheers and whistles, and Amy rolled her eyes. How could grown women behave in such a sophomoric way? she won
dered in disgust. And
they
complained that
men
acted juvenile! She eyed the exit longingly, but it was too soon to leave. The bidding had barely begun. Resignedly she reached for one of the programs and fished a pen out of her purse. She might as well put the time to good use. In the car this evening, on the way to the dinner, she'd had some ideas about the trial coverage and she wanted to jot them down before they slipped her mind.

As Amy made her notes, she tuned down the surrounding cacophony of sound until it was no more than a background buzz. She'd learned that technique early in her career, when she realized she would often have to compose broadcast copy in the midst of chaos for live feeds. It was a skill that had served her well in the years that followed.

In the one real conversation they'd had, Cal Richards had suggested some angles for her coverage that she hadn't yet explored. She'd also picked up a few ideas since sitting in on the first couple of sessions of the trial. They had all been filed away in her mind for emergency use, just in case she wasn't able to break through his wall of reserve. Up until now, she'd been confident she'd find a way to do that. But her confidence was beginning to slip, she admitted. She'd tried everything she could think of, and the man simply refused to budge. It was time to put some of her emergency plans into action.

Amy ran out of room and turned the page to continue her scribbling. Her name fell on Bachelor #5 just as Candace introduced him.

“Now, ladies, here we have a real coup. One of
Atlanta's most eligible and elusive bachelors, who only agreed to participate because of his interest in Saint Vincent's Boy's Club, which will benefit from this event. He's gorgeous, articulate, charming and
very
available. If I wasn't already married, I'd bid on this one myself. Ladies, please welcome one of Atlanta's finest assistant prosecuting attorneys, Cal Richards.”

Amy practically choked on the sip of coffee she'd just taken as the room erupted into wild applause and more catcalls. She stared at his name and photo in the program, then jerked around to confirm that her nemesis was, indeed, present. Sure enough, there he was, looking incredibly handsome in his tux—and extremely uncomfortable in the glare of the spotlight, judging by the flush on his face and his strained smile. Cal Richards, who shied away from publicity, was allowing himself to be ogled by a roomful of raucous women and auctioned off for charity! It was incredible! It was unbelievable! It was…the chance she'd been waiting for, she realized with a jolt! If she bought a date with him, he'd
have
to talk to her, she reasoned, her mind clicking into high gear. Sure, there was a chance he wouldn't tell her anything of value. But she was pretty good at ferreting out information. It couldn't hurt to try, considering she'd run out of other options.

Amy turned to Darlene. “How much are these guys going for?”

Darlene gave her a distracted glance. “What?”

“How much are these guys going for?” Amy repeated impatiently.

“So…someone caught your eye.” Darlene glanced back at the stage and gave Amy a sly smile. “I can't say I blame you. He's a hunk. Even if he wasn't a prosecuting attorney, my defenses would crumble with him in five seconds flat.”

The bidding had already started, and Amy needed information—fast. In the interest of time she restrained the impulse to throttle Darlene. “It's for a good cause,” she replied with a noncommittal shrug.

Darlene wasn't buying. “Yeah, right.”

Amy gave up the pretense of disinterest. “So how much?” she repeated urgently.

“The last guy went for three-fifty.”

Amy cringed and glanced back toward the stage. Was it worth the gamble? Cal Richards didn't strike her as the kind of man who would bend. But even if she got one lead, one piece of information that gave her an edge, it would be worth the money. It was almost like an investment in her career, she rationalized.

Amy glanced around. Women were holding up numbers and calling out their bids. She turned back to her table, spotted the large number in the center and reached for it as the bid rose to three hundred.

She waited until the bidding slowed at four-twenty-five.

“Okay, ladies, is that it? Any more bidders? No? All right, then…” Candace raised her gavel. “Going…going…”

Amy took a deep breath, turned her head slightly away just in case Cal Richards could see past the
glare of the spotlight, and held up her number. “Four-fifty.”

There was a momentary hush, and her heart thumped painfully against her rib cage.

“Four-seventy-five,” someone countered.

Amy gulped. “Five hundred.”

A murmur swept the room.

“Now, ladies, that's what I call a bid!” Candace said approvingly. “Do I hear five and a quarter?”

Amy stopped breathing. Five hundred was about her limit, especially when the odds of hitting the jackpot were about on a par with winning the lottery.

“No? All right, Bachelor #5 is going, going, gone, to table thirty-two and one very lucky lady.”

As enthusiastic applause swept the room and her table mates congratulated her, Amy hoped Candace was right. Because she could use a little luck about now.

 

“Cal, there's a woman on the phone who says she won you in an auction. Is she a nut, or is there something you haven't told me?”

Cal closed his eyes and felt the beginning of a headache prick at his temples. He hadn't mentioned the auction to anyone in his office, especially not Cynthia. She was a great friend and legal assistant, but ever since she'd walked down the aisle a year ago, she'd made it her personal goal in life to watch him do the same. And she was nothing if not tenacious. “She's not a nut, Cynthia, and yes, there's something I haven't told you.”

As the silence lengthened, he could feel her growing impatience over the line.

“So are you going to come clean of your own free will or do I have to drag it out of you?” she finally demanded.

A bemused smile tipped up the corners of his mouth. “Have you ever thought about going into police work, Cyn? You'd be great at the third degree.”

“Hah-hah. Spill it, Richards.”

He sighed. There was no way around it. He and Cynthia had been co-workers and friends a long time, and she wouldn't rest until she had the whole story. “I agreed to be one of the bachelors auctioned off at a charity dinner last Friday. A good chunk of the money goes to Saint Vincent's, so I couldn't say no.”

“No kidding! Mr. Particular, who finds fault with everyone I suggest as a potential date, is actually going to go out with some strange woman?”

“I certainly hope she's not strange.”

“Very funny. So do you want to talk to her or not?”

Cal sighed again. No, he didn't. But he'd have to face this sooner or later, and he might as well get it over with. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Do try to restrain your eagerness,” Cynthia said dryly. “Remember, this woman paid good money for you. You could at least show a little enthusiasm. How much, by the way?”

“Five hundred.”

She gave a low whistle. “All I can say is, you better make this date something to remember. I'll put her through.”

“Wait! Did she give you her name?”

“No. Don't you have it?” Cynthia asked in surprise.

“I cut out early that night. She hadn't gone back to pay yet. They said she'd be in touch with me.”

“Well, it's payoff time now. Have fun, lover boy.”

Cal grimaced and took a deep breath. This was the most awkward thing he'd ever done, even if it was for a good cause. He just hoped the woman could at least carry on a decent conversation, or it would be one very long evening.

He heard the call go through and, remembering Cynthia's comment about how much money the bidder had paid, forced a pleasant note into his voice. “Cal Richards speaking.”

“Mr. Richards, I believe we have a date.”

He frowned. The voice was oddly—and unsettlingly—familiar, and a wave of uneasiness swept over him.

“Yes, I think we do,” he replied warily. “I'm sorry, I didn't get your name the night of the dinner, although I have a feeling we've met.”

“Yes, we have. This is Amy Winter.”

Amy Winter? The
reporter?
Impossible! Fate wouldn't be that unkind, not after he'd endured being auctioned off in front of hundreds of women, let himself be humiliated for charity. It couldn't be her!

“Mr. Richards, are you still there?”

It was her, all right, he realized with a sinking feeling. Now that she'd identified herself, he recognized that distinctive, slightly husky voice. His headache suddenly took a turn for the worst, and he closed his
eyes. “Yes, I'm here. Look, Ms. Winter, is this a joke?”

“Hardly. I paid good money for this date. And I have the receipt to prove it.”

“But why in the world…?” His voice trailed off as her strategy suddenly became clear. He wouldn't talk to her in a business setting, so she figured he'd have to in a social situation. A muscle in his jaw clenched, and his headache ratcheted up another notch. “It won't work, you know,” he said coldly.

“What?”

“Don't play innocent with me, Ms. Winter. You're still trying to get me to talk about the trial. Well, forget it. You wasted five hundred dollars.”

“It went to a good cause. Besides, how do you know I didn't bid on you because I really wanted a date?”

“Ms. Winter, anyone who looks like you doesn't need to buy dates at an auction. Let's stop playing games. You bought a date, I'll give you a date. And that's all I'll give you. How about dinner Friday night?”

“How about sooner?”

“Sorry, that's the best I can do.”

“Okay. Just name the time and place.”

“I'll pick you up. That was part of the deal.”

BOOK: The Way Home
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