COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 6

Chapter Six

August 7
5:00 AM

An insistent, annoying buzz filled Chelsea’s head, dragging her from the arms of oblivion and into the dim early morning light. Bleary-eyed, she slapped her alarm clock off and groaned as she sat up, swinging her long legs over the edge of the bed. Damn Justin Blakely, anyway! He’d pushed Marlene’s arraignment through the courts faster than she anticipated.

Little as she liked the idea of Marlene being locked up, she couldn’t stop the growing fear that behind bars was the only safe place for her client, right now. She counted on the extra time to prove her case, but unless she came up with a compelling eleventh-hour argument for a continuance, Marlene would be arraigned, today. Oh, well, maybe it was for the best, she told herself with a heavy sigh. No use putting off the inevitable; whether arraigned or indicted, Marlene didn’t have a prayer of avoiding trial, and the older woman couldn’t handle much more jail time, anyway.

Rising with a sigh, Chelsea stumbled into the bathroom and a hot shower, in hopes of reviving herself enough to make it through the day. Five minutes later, as she lathered her hair with her favorite apple-scented shampoo, Chelsea frowned. This case could fall apart without one woman’s testimony. She had to find Linda Travis!

Rinsing off, she stepped from the shower and dried off, wrapping her hair in the towel when she finished. Standing before the clearing mirror, she studied herself critically. More than once, Sally declared it a waste Chelsea didn’t date, with the way she looked. She had a naturally slim figure even her poor eating habits hadn’t managed to ruin, yet. Sure, there were dark smudges beneath her eyes, thanks to a restless night and too little sleep in recent days, and her skin was pale from stress. But those could be covered up with cosmetics.

Her body, however, was only just beginning to show the ravages of stress. She was still willowy, with full, but not disproportionately large breasts and curvy but slim hips. Letting her hands slide down over her creamy, freckle-dotted flesh, she wondered dreamily what Justin would think. Would he appreciate the silkiness of her skin, or its sun-sensitive pallor? The thought of his hands on her caused her nipples to pucker and her insides to tremble. Then, as her foggy thoughts cleared, she gasped in horror. Why should she care what Blakely would think? He was never going to get close enough.

 Never.

Chelsea frowned darkly at herself. There was no way she would ever let another Blakely hurt her. Even if Justin’s kisses did make her blood hot and her knees weak…

 Stop it, she commanded her libido as she yanked on her robe and strode back into the bedroom, grabbing up the phone. Forget coffee, this morning — she was too wired, now. Besides, she needed to check in with Sally before court.

The phone rang twice before a sleepy voice answered, “Hello?”

“Sal, it’s me. Did you find any leads on Linda Travis, yet?”

“Good morning to you, too,” Sally muttered wryly. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“It’s five-thirty AM.”

“God, Chels, I love you dearly, but I swear I’m gonna kill you.”

“Sorry. I’m due in court by eight-thirty. Now, did you find out anything?”

Sally sighed, and yawned. “No. I called in a few favors from an old friend to get him to watch her place, but there’s been no suspicious activity, so far. The store’s been closed, and no one unusual has been in or out of the building since you were there. I got Deke to fingerprint the place, too. Chels,” her voice grew grim. “The only prints he’s lifted so far belong to Linda and your client, Marlene Cavarella.”

Excitement zinged through Chelsea. Finally, a break! “So Marlene was there? That’s great news, Sal!”

“Not if Linda’s been kidnapped, it’s not,” Sally said. “The D.A.’s office will be all over that one, and your girl might end up facing kidnapping and breaking and entering charges on top of the murder rap.”

Chelsea’s high deflated. “Damn; you’re right. Linda’s the only one who can credibly give Marlene a rock-solid alibi. Any leads on where she might have gone?”

“I think the question should be why, not where.” Sally’s tone implied how little she, too, liked this loose end. “I’ve already checked, Chels, and Linda Travis is in this up to her neck. The first suspicious thing I flagged was in her connection to your client. She was friends with Marlene in high school, when Linda was dating Dominic. The girls had a falling out over him, according to my sources, and didn’t speak from their senior prom until about two years ago, when Marlene apparently renewed contact with Linda. Sis,” her tone turned grim. “All this makes it look like Marlene had a motive to want Linda Travis out of the way.”

Chelsea’s gut clenched, and nausea swirled in her stomach. Her case was shredding around her. “Well, keep at it, Sal. We need to find Linda, regardless of where that leads.”

“I agree,” Sally said. “Take care of yourself, Chels.”

“You, too. Tell Mom I said hi,” Chelsea said, before hanging up. As she returned the phone to its cradle, she drew a shuddering breath, and gathered her strength for the day ahead. She still had to face Justin Blakely and pretend she didn’t remember the scorching kiss they’d shared.

It was a lost cause to try ignoring her hormones, Chelsea decided an hour later as she watched Justin stride confidently into the courtroom in a dark brown suit that outlined his trim, muscular shape and intensified the piercing green of his eyes. As his gaze raked over her, those eyes flared with hunger, and Chelsea’s heart sped up, even as her palms went damp and her mouth turned to cotton. Nervously, she wet her lips, and watched his eyes darken further as they fixed on her tongue’s motion.

“Counselor,” he said, nodding, and the husky timbre of his voice made Chelsea’s knees weak. Good God, what was wrong with her? Chelsea snapped back into her cool courtroom demeanor, reminding herself this man she was mooning over was a Blakely — a corrupt, disgusting specimen somewhere below human on the evolutionary scale. Nodding crisply in his direction, she turned away as Marlene was led into the courtroom, determined to ignore Justin Blakely’s presence across the aisle if it killed her.

By the time the bailiff instructed them to rise for the judge’s entry, Chelsea’s tension had reached boiling point. Somehow, through the thrumming in her blood, she belatedly registered the judge’s identity.

 Willard Jennings.

Chelsea blanched, even as she locked her knees against a defeated collapse. Jennings? She’d drawn Jennings, of all people?

 I’m doomed, she thought, feeling the building pressure of unwelcome tears behind her eyes. God, was she going to break down here, in court? That would be a great start to her case — prove Jennings and his assumption women weren’t cut out for litigation right. Stiffening herself, she pushed aside her building despair over her crumbling case, and her rotten luck and forced herself to concentrate on her client’s innocence. She would find a way to prove it, somehow.

*****

Justin, watching Chelsea out of the corner of his eye, saw her face pale, and the shakiness of her stance, before she snapped bolt upright. He imagined she’d locked her knees, and concern slashed through him. Was she going to pass out? She looked even more haggard — if that was possible — than her hollow-faced client did. God, Jennings would eat her alive, and he could see she’d reached the same conclusion. Even as he watched, her eyes hardened to ice-blue chips, and her features set resolutely, like a soldier preparing for battle. Admiration stirred in Justin, and he barely suppressed the urge to smile. He couldn’t afford to go soft over Chelsea Hanover. He needed to keep his wits about him, for justice’s sake.

Judge Jennings, a formidable-looking man with the jowls of a bull dog and the cold glare of a Gestapo agent, glanced over the docket he was handed, harrumphed quietly in clear disgust, and raised that implacable black glare to fix on Marlene Cavarella.

“You are Mrs. Marlene Cavarella?”

“Yes.” Marlene’s whisper barely carried in the cavernous courtroom, and her head bowed meekly.

“Mrs. Cavarella, I hold here an indictment claiming that you did, on June third, willfully and with disregard to the value of human life, murder your husband, Dominic Cavarella. Do you understand this charge as it has been read to you?”

“Yes.” Her murmured answer wavered, and she trembled as if holding back tears. Jennings frowned, clearly disgusted by the display.

“How do you plead?”

Chelsea’s eyes raised level with the judge’s and in a firm, clear voice she said, “The defense enters a plea of not guilty, Your Honor.”

Jennings’ beefy face contorted in disdain. “Very well. Let the record reflect that the defendant is pleading not guilty to the charges.”

“We further request bail to be set, Your Honor,” Chelsea continued, undaunted. “Mrs. Cavarella is under considerable mental and emotional duress, and to keep her incarcerated under these circumstances constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

“Your Honor, it could be argued just as easily that stabbing a man sixty-four times with a butcher’s knife, in hopes of killing him, is also cruel and unusual punishment,” Justin said blandly. “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requests the denial of bail on the grounds that a person capable of such a gruesome execution is both capable and likely to commit another equally brutal offence.”

Chelsea’s eyes flashed rage as she shot him a scathing glance. “A woman of my client’s size is hardly capable, physically, of committing the murder of which she’s been accused, let alone a second like it–“

“Ms. Hanover,” Jennings leaned forward, his expression disapproving. “This is an arraignment. Kindly reserve your opening statements for the trial.” As Chelsea snapped her mouth shut, her cheeks flushing with rage and humiliation, Jennings continued. “As to the matter of bail, I’m not inclined to view size as a determining factor in the commission of a crime. In regards to your request for bail, I find sufficient grounds to believe your client is an opportunist. Her type will take a man for everything, including his life. As I’m not inclined to offer her the chance to prove me right, I’m denying bail. Mrs. Cavarella will be remanded to the custody of the Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution for the duration of this trial.”

Justin’s hackles rose, even as Chelsea straightened, rage flashing through her eyes. While it wasn’t uncommon for a judge to deny bail in a capital offence such as murder, he’d never seen a defendant’s sex used so openly against her, before. Justin let his own glare bore into Jennings, hating the arrogant, biased politician as he never had before. It would be a miracle if any of them got through this trial alive.

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 5

Chapter Five

 

Plagued by troubling thoughts, Chelsea spent the drive home dreading the solitude of her apartment. Maybe, she mused with a twinge of loneliness, she should get a pet. She’d certainly never felt so alone in her life. Between the helplessness Marlene’s case resurrected in her, the fear of having her personal demons splashed on the front page, should the media ever learn why she took this case, and the tension — both professional and personal — her confrontations with Justin Blakely stirred, she knew she wouldn’t be safe with her solitude, tonight.

Grimly, Chelsea turned her SUV onto the Fort Pitt Bridge, heading for the Pittsburgh city center. Better to spend the night working than to face old ghosts and new crimes. There was something comforting about burying herself in her work; it gave her a sense of control nothing else could.

Pulling into the underground parking garage of the nearly deserted office building that housed her law firm, she breathed a tiny sigh of relief and, grabbing up her briefcase, slid from her vehicle and headed toward the elevators.

Two minutes later, she was unlocking her office door when a voice behind her made her pause, unease dancing through her.

“Chelsea! What are you doing here? I thought you went to visit your sister.”

How did she explain herself, now? Chelsea fought panic, until she told herself it was silly to be scared of answering to Gene Marshall. Of anyone in the firm, Gene knew she was at work more often than she was home. He once joked about installing a bed for her, until he realized she took his offer seriously.

Turning, she smiled as she watched Gene amble toward her, tugging on a light jacket. Gene didn’t race, or stride, or even walk. He moved slowly, but gracefully, in a way his wife, Cookie, called “moseying.” He always had a windbreaker around, too. Like a good luck charm. Chelsea let her smile expand into a grin. “And I thought Aunt Cookie told you no more late nights!”

He grinned at her mention of his diminutive drill sergeant of a wife. “In this case, she’ll forgive me. I was finishing up the Wiggaln estate paperwork, which means I am now officially on vacation for two weeks.” His grey-green eyes twinkled merrily. “The Clipper is going out, and I promised Cookie a cruise.”

Chelsea laughed. “Just see that you keep that promise. I don’t want to defend your wife, next!”

He sobered abruptly.

“So you took it.” No mistaking the note of concern there. He expelled a heavy sigh. “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t.”

She cast him a sharp glance. Didn’t anyone think she was capable of defending Marlene? “Why not? It’s good money for the firm…”

“Forget the damned firm,” he said gruffly, his bushy brows meeting over worried grey-green eyes. “I’m worried about you, kiddo. I’ve known you since you were a baby, and I’m having trouble putting the kid I knew together with the woman you’ve become.”

Chelsea’s eyes shifted away. “I don’t know what you’re–“

“Bull. You spend too much time in this office, or in the courtroom. You work harder, and longer hours, than any three partners put together. I’ve never seen you anywhere outside of this place since you joined the firm. In fact, Cookie said something to me just the other day about how long it’s been since we saw either you or Sally at the house. Now,” he crossed his arms in the authoritative stance she remembered from her childhood, “do you want to tell me why you’re both working yourselves to death?”

She turned away, grim determination building in her. There was no way she could tell Gene her secret. He would do what Sally and Rebecca wanted to do but lacked funds or guns for, and she long ago promised herself she wouldn’t draw anyone into her mess. “It’s personal, Uncle Gene. Nobody’s business but mine.”

He continued to study her intently for a long moment, and then sighed. “All right, Chelsea. But don’t stay up here too late, okay? You need sleep.”

“Yes, Dad.” She waved him off with the teasing quip she used to in her teens. As his footsteps faded down the hallway, she rested one hand on the door frame, and closed her eyes against the sting of tears. It was good to know some things never changed. Eyes squeezed tight, she whispered, “Thanks, Uncle Gene.”

*****

Friday, August 6
9:45 PM

Justin shoved back from his desk and plowed his hands through his already-disheveled hair again. He’d been working on the Cavarella case for two months. How could a case so rock-solid also be so damned difficult to swallow? Glaring at the files and notebooks spread open on his desk, he only barely resisted the urge to hurl curses on Mack Martin’s head for handing this case off to him.

“If you didn’t already look ready to kill someone, I’d say that new, rumpled look of yours is pretty sexy,” quipped a cheery female voice from the doorway of his office. Glancing up, Justin smiled wryly. Slight, bespectacled, and with far too much sass for her own good, Darlene Masters was a highly competent A.D.A., and his childhood friend. Now, studying his face, small frown lines appeared above the rims of her stylish granny glasses. “Okay. What gives, Justin?”

Sometimes, he conceded darkly, Darlene could also be annoyingly perceptive.

“What makes you think anything’s wrong?” He masked his frustration, already knowing it was pointless. His courtroom face didn’t seem to work any better on Darlene than it did around Mack.

“Oh, no you don’t, Justin Blakely.” She marched into his office and planted herself determinedly in the seat opposite him. “I’ve known you since you were busy putting bugs in my hair and snakes in my lunch pail. You don’t get to pull that slick poker face with me.”

Justin regarded her in fond exasperation. Darlene was the closest he’d ever come to a sister, and she had a tendency to badger him like one.

“It’s nothing, Darlin’,” he assured her, falling back on the teasing nickname he gave her as a child. “It’s just this case I’m working on. It goes to arraignment Monday, but I don’t want to go charging into the courtroom without all the facts, this time.”

“‘This time’? Is this really the invincible, superhuman Justin Blakely I’m talking to? Don’t tell me you’re having an attack of nerves.”

He shrugged as his mind drifted back to those heated moments in the prison corridor. Damn, he’d never wanted a woman so badly in his life.

“You remember the Fairman case, two years ago?”

“The kid charged with armed robbery and evading arrest? Yeah.” She looked at him, her brown eyes wide in disbelief. “Justin, that was one case, and it was years ago. You’ve put away lots of bad guys and girls since, and never let that mistake affect your confidence.”

“Yeah, well, I haven’t had to face her again, either,” he muttered ruefully.

Darlene went dead silent. When she didn’t speak after a full minute, Justin glanced up at her, to find a wide grin plastered on her face, and her eyes twinkling.

“What’s so damned funny?”

“Is that what this is all about? Your infatuation with that defense attorney?” She laughed. “She’s really got you all tied up in knots, huh?”

“No, dammit, and I’m sorry I ever told you about that. Dar, have you ever faced Hanover in the courtroom?”

She thought a moment, and then shook her head. “Not yet, but I handle mostly sexual crimes cases. According to what I’ve heard, she never takes those.”

“Exactly. She’s–” He stopped dead, his heart clenching as he realized what she just implied. “What did you say?”

She shrugged carelessly. “She refuses to defend domestic abuse and rape suspects. It’s not that uncommon among female defense attorneys, actually. They don’t like to defend scum like that, and… Justin, are you okay?”

He stared at the files on his desk as his chest tightened with dread. Ill certainty settled like a lead weight as he replayed his conversation with Chelsea in the prison parking lot. The words she used weren’t what bothered him, he realized as the band tightened further, making breathing painful. It was the absolute contempt, and fear, in her eyes. If Chelsea Hanover refused to take on an entire category of offences, without exception, there had to be a very good reason.

Fighting against the pain lodged in his chest, he drew a breath and looked up at his friend with somber eyes. “Dar, I need you to do me a favor.”

She looked concerned. “Name it.”

“I need to know everything you can find out about Chelsea Hanover. The only way I’m going to piece together the truth in this case is if I can figure out what she’s thinking, and why.”

Darlene nodded, her cocoa eyes dimming with sympathy. “I’ll get right on it.”

Left alone in his office, Justin slumped back in his chair, and stared moodily out his window as Chelsea’s troubled eyes swam before him.

Just what are you hiding?

It was a question he would give anything to know the answer to.

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 4

Chapter Four

Sunday, June 20

Maybe her case was a long shot, after all. Chelsea sighed heavily as she pulled into the almost-empty parking lot beside a large Victorian boasting a placard sign reading Hanover Investigations. It’d been a long, tense drive from Pittsburgh to the small town of Pierce, the usual hour-long trip elongated by the perpetual Pennsylvania construction. Now, looking up at the bright blue building before her, the weariness seeped from Chelsea, and a smile inched across her face. It would be good to see Sally again, even if it was on business.

Sliding from behind the wheel of her SUV, she grabbed her briefcase and squashed the fleeting wish business wasn’t what usually brought her home to Pierce. With a sigh, she strode up the brick sidewalk she and Sally helped their mother, Rebecca, lay a decade ago. Climbing the few wooden stairs to the porch, she pulled open the side door leading to Sally’s detective offices, and stepped into chaos.

Martha Kline, Sally’s ever-present and over-protective secretary, was muttering to herself as she rooted through reams of paperwork on her uncharacteristically messy desk. Behind her, file drawers stood open, and the phone on her desk continued to ring, ignored. Typically the calm center of any storm Sally created, Martha now looked frazzled and unhappy. Chelsea bit back a grin.

“Hi, Martha,” she said as she crossed the short length of the receptionist’s lobby. “Sally in?”

“She’s always in,” Martha complained, clearly not happy about that fact. “I know she only lives next door, but she shouldn’t be here. It isn’t right — a woman in her condition, working like this. She should be next door, with her feet propped up and a man to take care of her, not out chasing murderers and thieves!”

It was a common complaint of Martha’s these days that Sally shouldn’t be working while pregnant, but the edge of real worry in the older woman’s voice today wasn’t lost on Chelsea.

“Is she okay?” Worry knotted Chelsea’s brow. “Mom didn’t say anything about any problems, when I talked to her a few days ago.”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Martha said, then sighed, waving one hand dismissively. “We got a new case handed to us by one of Sally’s old bomb squad friends, and she refuses to take a break. Personally, I think it’s the whole baby thing. It’s just not right, you know.” Martha’s silver-haired head shook as she located a file and shoved it back into one drawer with more force than necessary. “In my day, when a fellow got some poor gal in the family way, he did the honorable thing, and married her.”

“Sally doesn’t–”

“Oh, I know, I know,” Martha waved off her protest. “She claims she’s happy, and this is how she wants it, but,” Martha shook her head again, her dark eyes telegraphing her disbelief, “I’ve caught her many times, sitting there staring out the window with a wistful, heartsick look on her face. She misses that boy, whoever he is.”

“Martha!” Sally’s voice called through the open office door. “You find that fax, yet? I need to call Jerianne and let her know where we are on this.”

“Just did, hon,” Martha called back. “You have a visitor.”

“Who?” Sally’s voice sounded wary, and a little wistful.

Taking her cue, Chelsea walked to the door, poking her head in to grin at the brunette woman seated behind the desk. “Hey, Sal!”

“Chelsea!” Sally’s face lit with a wide smile, turning her pretty face into the kind of beautiful that made even women take a second look. Chelsea shook her head, wondering how Jack Carney ever let her sister go. She doubted it was willingly, knowing Sally. “Come on in, sis. God, it’s good to see you.”

“It’s been less than a week,” Chelsea quipped, laughing, as she made her way through the perpetual clutter that was Sally’s office. Her sister had never been the domesticated type. “I thought pregnant women were supposed to go through a nesting phase, Sal, not a pack rat one. What’s all of this stuff?”

“Hazards of the job.” Sally grinned, but the motion looked forced. “New case.”

“So Martha said.” Chelsea looked at her sister in worry. “Are you sure you should be doing this, Sally?”

“Not you, too,” Sally groaned, rolling her eyes. “Mom’s been over here three times already today, pestering me to come back home and rest, and Martha keeps muttering about working too much in my ‘state’.” She sighed. “Look, I appreciate the concern; really. But I’m only three months along. I can’t exactly sit around for the next seven months, waiting for this kid to get born. I need to work.”

Chelsea heard what her sister wasn’t saying. At barely three months pregnant, Sally was right. She was fully capable, physically, of working. Her emotional state was far more worrisome. Sally just wasn’t the same since she came home from Houston a month and a half ago. “Have you decided what you’re going to do, yet?”

“No.” Sally sighed again, resting one hand against her still-flat midsection. “I have the paper’s number tacked up beside the phone, next door, but I’m not sure I can actually use it. I mean, what do I say? ‘Hi, I’m sorry I left you in Houston. Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be a daddy’? Like he’s going to believe that, or even care. I was a one-night stand, Chels. We agreed–”

“But you’re in love with him,” Chelsea argued. “And your baby deserves to know a daddy. We both went through the fatherless thing, sis, and I don’t want my niece or nephew to go through that.”

Sally’s gaze turned steely. “Neither do I, Chels, but I don’t have much of a choice. Better no father than an indifferent one. Jack probably doesn’t even remember Houston.”

Chelsea bit her lip. Sally was deliberately selling herself short. Her relationship with Jack Carney was only three months ago. From the way Sally talked about her time with Jack, when she talked about him at all, Chelsea doubted either one would ever forget Houston.

Knowing it was none of her business, Chelsea sighed in surrender. “It’s your call, sis. Just promise me you’ll at least call me before you leave for the hospital.”

A grin flashed across Sally’s face. “Now, why would I go into labor without my coach? You think I want to go through this alone?”

No, she didn’t, which was the problem. Sally was terrified of pregnancy, and even more of being a parent. She needed Jack to reassure her she could do it, but her sister was too damn stubborn for her own good, sometimes. So, covering her worry with a grin, Chelsea said, “You can’t convince me you’re a wimp, Sally Hanover. I’m your sister. I know you too well.”

“Yeah, you do.” Sally’s smile turned wistful. “We still on for Thursday?”

Chelsea grinned. Ever since they were teenagers, they had set a standing “Sister Night” for every Thursday night. Whenever they were in the same town, they never missed. “Wouldn’t miss it!”

Sally gave her a long, penetrating look. Chelsea resisted the urge to wince. She knew her attempt at a cheery mood wouldn’t fool Sally for long. “What’s with you? When you were down last week, you didn’t look so… tense.”

Unbidden, the memory of Justin’s kiss rose in Chelsea’s mind, making her chest tight and heat flush through her. Tense wasn’t the word for it. Under Sally’s speculative gaze, she forced nonchalance and shrugged. “I had a run-in with the ADA over a new case I’m working. I guess the whole thing just has me stressed.”

Sally laid down her pen and gestured for Chelsea to take a seat. Chelsea did, settling back with a weary sigh.

“This case is driving me nuts, Sal, and I only just got it,” she admitted, closing her eyes. “Most of the clear physical evidence points to my client being guilty, but my gut’s telling me exactly the opposite. There’s some questionable evidence, but nothing anyone’s been able to pin down, yet.”

“Trust your instincts. Yours have always been really good.”

“Not always,” she countered, new tension rising in her as she reminded them both of the only time she let her guard down.

“You have got to quit beating yourself up over that, Chels,” Sally said firmly. “Wasn’t enough damage done, without you adding to it?”

Chelsea sighed heavily. “I know. I just… this case keeps bringing so much of that back up in my mind, I guess.”

Sally’s expression grew concerned. “This the murder splashed all over the news, lately?”

“I’m representing Marlene Cavarella. She’s been charged with stabbing her husband, Dominic, sixty-four times, leading to his death.”

Sally whistled. “That’s a lot of overkill. What’s the evidence look like?”

“She was found laying, semi-conscious but unharmed, beside her husband’s body, his blood all over her, and the murder weapon clutched so tightly in her hand that the paramedics had to pry her fingers loose.”

Sally winced. “So far, it doesn’t sound like a great case, for you.”

“I know,” Chelsea said glumly. “But Marlene claims she’s innocent. She even gave me an alibi to check out, and a play-by-play of her whereabouts the entire day.” She frowned. “Sal, she has victim written all over her.”

“So, you’ve got an alibi. Didn’t it check out?”

Chelsea grimaced.

“That’s part of why I came to see you, actually.” She snapped open her briefcase and withdrew the photographs and file it contained. “If you’re not too busy, I need your help tracking down a witness. Her name’s Linda Travis, and she’s been missing for almost over two weeks.”

Sally frowned at the items Chelsea held out. “Chels, this is a matter for the police…”

“They’ve been informed,” Chelsea assured her, then sighed. “But they said they can’t do anything as long as there’s no solid proof she didn’t just leave on her own. They claim there’s no evidence of foul play.”

“And you’re sure she didn’t?”

“Sally, you said to trust my gut. Well, since I got out of the car at the Travis place, all it’s been screaming is kidnapped! Someone wants Marlene to take the fall for Dominic’s murder.”

Sally nodded grimly, taking the file. “I’ll look into it. I have a few contacts in the Pittsburgh area. I’ll see if I can’t get an official investigation rolling.”

“Thanks, Sally,” Chelsea said with a small exhalation of relief. “You have no idea how much this case means to me.”

Sally studied her shrewdly. “Oh, I think I do. But, Chels,” she leaned forward. “Be careful about playing with fire. You’re liable to get burned.”

“Speaking of playing with fire, there’s something else.”

Sally’s concerned frown deepened. “What’s that?”

“Do you still have that friend at the forensic lab, down south?”

“Joyce?” Sally nodded. “Yeah, why?”

“Could you talk to her about getting some evidence tested? I can provide the samples.”

“I can ask.” Sally shrugged. “But rumor has it the pathologist who runs the lab is a real hard-ass about evidence collection. Why don’t you save yourself the trouble, and just use one of the private labs your firm already has on retainer?”

Chelsea shook her head. She already considered — and discarded — that idea.

“This case is already a media circus. I need a lab the media won’t find out we’re doing testing at, too. It lowers the chance of some reporter getting hold of the results and contaminating my case before trial.”

“Okay. I’ll call Joyce and see if she can send me their collection requirements and procedures.”

Chelsea relaxed. Maybe her case wasn’t as hopeless as she feared.

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 3

Chapter Three

Shaking her head at the insanity of men who believed a woman capable of a gruesome execution, but not of political or social acumen, Chelsea sighed as she stepped out from the oppressive jailhouse walls and into the bright June sunlight. Patting her purse, she smiled in satisfaction as she felt the soft thump of metal and plastic under her hand. Marlene’s story was safely on her recorder, her alibi secured in Chelsea’s head. All she had to do now was to verify the alibi, and they’d be ready for whatever Blakely planned to throw at them.

As she crossed the parking lot, Chelsea cast a wary glace toward the cluster of reporters peppering Detective Talbot with questions. At the moment, only Chelsea and her client knew for a fact she’d taken on Marlene’s case. Chelsea dreaded the day the press found out. This trial was high profile and already a media frenzy — exactly the kind of case most attorneys lived for. Exactly the kind of case she did everything she could to avoid.

Chelsea frowned, aware of the struggle ahead of her, even if her client was not. It wasn’t going to be an easy case to prove Marlene’s complete innocence. Especially not with the media already trying the case in the court of public opinion. Right now, as far as they were concerned, Marlene was guilty as hell. And, while Chelsea was convinced Blakely could never make a Murder One charge stick, Marlene had, by her own admission, been the last person to see Dominic alive. The murder weapon was found literally clenched in her hand, and she’d been covered in Dominic’s blood.

The only person who could possibly save Marlene from that damning evidence was this Linda Travis she’d mentioned. If that fell through… Chelsea’s face set grimly as she dug into her purse for the keys to her Ford Explorer. It wasn’t going to fall through, she promised herself. She wouldn’t let Blakely add another win to his near spotless record.

“Such a serious expression doesn’t belong on such a beautiful woman.”

The words, spoken in a mild, sexy voice she’d have recognized anywhere, sent Chelsea’s pulse skittering in a mixture of fear and unwanted anticipation. Snapping her gaze up, she met Justin Blakely’s lazy grin and smoldering green eyes. Bedroom eyes, her adoptive mother would call them. Staring into those thick-lashed, soulful eyes certainly made Chelsea wish for a bedroom.

Pulse skittering as she realized what she was admitting to, Chelsea pushed the thought, and the images it evoked, away. This man was the enemy, and she’d do well to remember it.

Letting her gaze slide from his, over his limber body, she schooled herself to objectivity. Not an easy pursuit, she admitted grudgingly, with a man who radiated masculinity and pure sin. He was leaning nonchalantly against the hood of her Sport Utility Vehicle, his well-muscled, trouser-clad legs crossed at the ankles and his arms crossed casually over his broad chest. With the stiff summer breeze ruffling his neatly cropped brownish-blond hair, he looked like a magazine model come to life. The effect, she decided as her breath backed up in her throat, was damn near lethal.

“What do you want, Blakely?” she asked, forcing herself to remember this man was an arrogant, dangerous opponent, and a Blakely, besides. He was not fantasy material; he had the power to destroy her, again. “I’m very busy.”

At her sharp tone, he stiffened, the lazy, sensual magnetism of a moment ago displaced by brisk efficiency. “I want to know what sob story Marlene Cavarella dished out to you, to get you in her corner.”

She glared at him as she moved to open the driver’s side door. Just what kind of brainless moron did he take her for? “Why? Because I’m a silly, sentimental female who’ll go to any length to stand by another woman?”

“No.” His eyes narrowed. “Because I don’t think you’d take the case without a reason.”

She lifted her chin in open defiance. “So who’s to say she gave me a sob story?”

The feral gleam in his eyes as he crossed in front of her SUV gave his answering smile a sardonic, dangerous cast. “Last I checked, you weren’t into losing cases, Counselor.”

She stiffened, righteous fury for the maligned Marlene Cavarella shooting through her. “You think I’m going to lose?”

“It’d be a long shot for you to win.”

She refused to let another Blakely intimidate her. With forced bravado, she shook back a cascade of coppery curls and offered him a saccharine smile. “Maybe I like long shots.”

His eyes took on a hooded look, an unholy gleam entering them.

“No,” he said as he took a step toward her. “You don’t. You like sure things, definite wins. You don’t ever risk losing, Chelsea.”

That unflattering, but accurate, observation pricked her, especially from this man. He made it sound like her being cautious was a bad thing. She didn’t imagine he’d ever done much particularly reckless in his own disciplined life. Only fools rushed into things with the intent of getting burned for their mistakes. Well, she’d been burned enough to learn it wasn’t worth the pain, and she had no intention of letting anyone close enough to do it again.

“So, what did your new client tell you?” Justin pressed, watching her intently.

“You know I can’t tell you that.” She glared at him again. “Attorney-client privilege.”

He frowned. “So you did take the case.”

She nodded curtly, meeting his assessing gaze. “Yes.”

His gaze grew darker, more intense, before his hand came up, fingers stroking a strand of flyaway hair from her face. The brush of his fingers against her skin set off a flurry of sensations Chelsea didn’t want to contemplate.

“Why do you believe she’s innocent?” he asked quietly.

Chelsea stiffened, calling herself a traitor even as a shiver of delight wound through her. There was no way she’d ever trust a Blakely again. Her glare pierced him.

“Because a ninety-eight pound, five-foot-two-inch woman can’t just overpower a six-foot-four-inch, two hundred-fifty pound weight lifter long enough to stab him even once, let alone sixty-four times. Because a woman who looks stricken and guilty for forgetting to call nine-one-one in a crisis would hardly be capable of hiding her guilt if she premeditatedly killed her husband.”

*****

Chelsea’s quiet words hit Justin square in the face, facts he could hardly argue. While he might have argued a good actress could hide or display guilt and grief at will, even he had to concede that a woman of Marlene Cavarella’s size would have to be operating in an emotional frenzy to stab her much-stronger husband, and even then, she would sustain wounds of her own before she managed to subdue him. He frowned. There went Murder One. The best he could hope for now was second degree. There was no way he’d accept Marlene Cavarella as innocent. Provoked, insane; whatever case Chelsea made, the crime scene evidence didn’t lie, and it said Marlene was as guilty as sin. He could only hope time and the detectives on the case could unravel how she’d carried it off.

The sound of a door slamming brought Justin out of his thoughts, just as Chelsea started the engine of her Explorer. Watching her drive away left him frozen inside, caught between duty and desire for the first time in his life. For some reason, he knew he’d have to sacrifice one for the other, and he had a sinking feeling he knew which would win out. It was an immensely depressing thought.

*****

The next morning, half an hour of negotiating Pittsburgh’s hellacious tunnels between Green Tree and the Strip District brought Chelsea to a block of brick warehouse buildings converted into shops and loft apartments in the Strip District.

Breathing in the mouthwatering scents of fresh bread and meat, mixed with an abundance of ethnic spices, Chelsea maneuvered her SUV into a parking space in front of a confectionary-white building with plate glass windows proclaiming Travis Catering in bright, blue, and flowing script. Even as she stared at the beautiful window display, however, a frown creased Chelsea’s brow, and an eerie tingling raced along her spine. Something was wrong; she could feel it.

Her hyper-vigilant awareness screaming at her, Chelsea studied the building and its environs. Beyond the colorful display of patriotic symbols and plastic foods, the interior of the shop was dark. Glancing at her watch, Chelsea noted that it was shortly after eleven in the morning on a busy Friday, and less than two weeks from the Fourth of July. Concern etched her brow. Surely, being closed like this constituted a bad business practice for anyone in the food industry. Or maybe the store just looked closed.

Climbing from her SUV, Chelsea strode toward the door, her eyes searching the darkened interior for some sign of movement. Worried, she tried the door, only to find it locked.

“Looking for someone?”

Chelsea turned at the sound of a voice, to find herself face-to-face with a jovial-looking Asian man dressed in slacks, button-down shirt, and loafers.

“Linda Travis,” Chelsea said with a rueful nod. “Do you know when she opens?”

He shook his head, his expression worried.

“Very strange goings-on, there,” he nodded toward the darkened store. “I’ve been Linda’s neighbor for nearly five years, and I’ve never seen that store closed.”

“Neighbor?”

He nodded. “I’m George Tzou. I own the Happy Dragon,” he explained, gesturing toward the next storefront, where an assortment of Chinese art was festively displayed. “I sell jade and fine jewelry.”

Chelsea offered him a small smile, shaking his extended hand. “Chelsea Hanover. I’m an attorney.”

“Attorney? Linda in trouble?”

“No.” Chelsea shook her head. “She’s a potential witness in a case I’m handling. Do you know Ms. Travis well?”

A broad smile split his face. “Oh, yes. Linda’s a very social person, very approachable. She runs a business owner’s organization for this block, and I doubt there’s a person who frequents this area who doesn’t know her. Very friendly.”

“And she’s never been closed?”

His smile faded, the worry lines reappearing on his forehead. “Up until the other day, no. She used to be there, cooking up a storm, until ten or eleven at night, most nights. Then, suddenly, she’s closed for two days straight during one of her busiest times of the year, and her assistant, Merrill, hasn’t been able to reach her.”

Uneasiness knotted in Chelsea’s stomach. So far, George Tzou’s words provided nothing except more questions, prime of which was, where was Linda Travis?

“Do you know where Ms. Travis lives?”

He pointed toward a nondescript door nestled between the two storefronts. “She lives in an apartment above the store.”

“She owns the building?”

He nodded. “Yes. She has two tenants in her building, besides myself.”

“And no one’s seen her coming or going?”

“No.” He sighed. “When Merrill first came to me, I spoke with both other tenants. They live on the third floor, so it didn’t surprise me when they both said they hadn’t seen her, but Sheryl Turner, one of the tenants, said she called down to Linda about her kitchen sink not working, and Linda never called her back or went up. Highly unusual.”

“And her car?”

“Blue van. It’s parked around back.”

Chelsea frowned. There was most definitely something wrong here. “Didn’t anyone call the police?”

He nodded. “Merrill did. Twice. They said they didn’t have any reason to believe she hadn’t left on her own, since she’d still been working, with the store’s door locked, when I went up Wednesday night.”

The eerie tingling at the base of Chelsea’s neck grew. “Do you have a key to her apartment?”

He nodded. “Linda left a key, in case she accidentally locked herself out.” He smiled. “She’s always losing her keys. Bad habit for a landlady.”

“May I borrow it, please? I’d like to make sure she’s all right.”

He studied her for a long moment, and then nodded. “If I may accompany you, yes.”

Chelsea nodded her agreement, but cautioned, “Just don’t touch anything, no matter what we find.”

As George returned to his store to get Linda’s spare key, Chelsea studied the building with a critical eye. Three windows on the second floor stood open, letting in the summer breeze, but no noise drifted out from them. Dead silence settled over the building, and caused Chelsea’s taut nerves to pull tighter. Suddenly, she wished Sally was with her. Her sister was a trained Private Investigator, a former bomb squad dynamo who could usually tell at a glance what was wrong with a scene.

Chelsea paced restlessly, cursing her bad luck. Without Linda Travis, Marlene’s alibi fell apart on the spot. It wasn’t enough Marlene left the morning of Dominic’s death — she was angry, and they’d argued. That gave her motive. The murder weapon was one of Marlene’s kitchen knives, which gave her means. Without Linda’s testimony, it wouldn’t be hard for Blakely to establish opportunity, either.

Damn it.

George returned with the keys, and Chelsea followed him silently as they climbed the stairs to Linda’s apartment. Inside, Chelsea stopped dead as she heard George swear softly. Her eyes wide in dismay, Chelsea took in the disaster inside Linda Travis’ apartment, before turning to look at the man beside her.

“Tell me she’s a messy housekeeper.”

He shook his head. “Not Linda. She’s a very orderly person, very neat. Has,” he swallowed hard, “do you think she’s been robbed?”

Chelsea glanced over the contents of the room, before shaking her head. “Not unless the robber was looking for something specific. Her TV, stereo, and antiques are still here, and I’m betting her jewelry’s right where she left it, too.”

His dark eyes widened in fear. “Then what do you suppose–?”

Chelsea frowned, feeling her case crumbling beneath her feet. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation.

“Mr. Tzou, would you please call the police and report the break-in, and remind them Ms. Travis is still missing. I think she might be in danger.” And any hope of saving Marlene along with her. Chelsea scowled. Whoever did this, whoever killed Dominic Cavarella, would pay. She wouldn’t rest until she proved Marlene’s innocence once and for all.

*****

If there was one part of his job Justin hated more than any other, it was dealing with the press. Sure, he could have left that to Talbot and the other investigators on the case, and for the most part, he had. Appealing to the public, however, could get them badly needed witnesses, so he did his face time with the cameras. He even spoke to the witness and EMTs, and all responding officers to the scene.

With Chelsea Hanover sitting opposing counsel, he wasn’t about to leave anything to chance. Bad enough she got under his skin, and he was having trouble concentrating on anything other than the fascinating paradox of a woman so driven she sent most of the District Attorney’s office fleeing for their lives at the mention of her name, but whose nervous demeanor and frightened eyes gave her the look of a cornered doe in the middle of hunting season.

Her obsessive dedication to this case rattled him. Chelsea Hanover didn’t defend anyone whose innocence she didn’t believe in. That she took on Marlene as a client left him questioning whether or not this case was the slam dunk it appeared to be when it first landed on his desk two weeks ago. Her staunch defense of Marlene Cavarella, from the very beginning, left him with one indisputable fact — if he didn’t do his due diligence and speak with everyone involved with the case directly, this case could blow up in his face, later. And if there was anything he hated worse than talking to the press, it was a case imploding at trial.

Justin grimaced, and tossed his suit jacket over the back of a chair as he rounded his desk and dropped into his own chair, already logging into his computer as he did. The witness interview with the victim’s daughter, Tracy, netted him a story he questioned, and the First Responders hadn’t provided him anything he didn’t already know about the scene — he hadn’t expected they would — but it did give him an idea or two where to start in getting a confession out of Marlene Cavarella.

His desk phone rang, and Justin snagged it, even as he scrolled through e-mails from the lab and investigators. “Blakely.”

“She’s back. Again.” Talbot grunted out the last word, his annoyance clear. “She’s demanding access to the physical evidence. What do I tell her?”

Justin’s lips twitched, and he wasn’t even sure if he was annoyed or impressed, himself. One thing for sure — Chelsea Hanover wasn’t just stubborn. She was a bulldog, when she was on a case. And she was getting on Talbot’s last nerve, apparently.

A wry grin tugging up his lips, he answered Talbot, even as he opened an e-mail from the lab. “Direct her my way. Tell her to direct all of her inquiries to my office. I’ll handle it.”

Talbot grunted again, and Justin thought he heard the man mumble something that sounded like “Good luck,” before the line cut off, and a dial tone filled his ear, instead.

Hanging up the phone, Justin focused on the e-mail from Penny James. A single line of text read Come to the lab. We need to talk.

Justin’s gut clenched. What did Penny find? Normally, she just e-mailed him the result forms, for his file, and left him to call her if he had any questions. Getting summoned to the lab was rare, and only rarely good news.

Scrubbing his hand over his face, Justin levered himself back out of his seat and, with a heavy sigh, bypassed the chair where his suit jacket still hung, and headed for the lab, tugging loose his tie as he went. God, he hoped Penny had good news to tell him.

 

Five minutes later, Justin stopped in the doorway of Forensic Technician Penny James’ lab and leaned one shoulder against the door frame.

“Tell me you have something good.”

He knew better than to cross the threshold without permission. The sixty-two-year-old grandmother of four scolded him like one of her grandkids a number of times when he was a rookie prosecutor about cross-contamination and improper attire for the lab.

Now, she glanced up at him over the rims of her glasses, her brown eyes twinkling in welcome. “Depends on what you consider ‘something good,’ young man.”

“At the moment, I’ll take whatever you’ve got.” Normally, he enjoyed matching wits with Penny. She had a brilliant mind, and a sharp sense of humor. He knew she and his Uncle Mic went way back, but he never dared ask how far, or how close.

Today, however, with Chelsea’s assertions of her client’s innocence ringing in his ears, he was just too weary, and too worried, to muster up the fortitude for one of Penny’s brain teasers.

“You’re sure in a mood, today.” She tsked beneath her breath and turned toward her desk, flipping through the files neatly stashed in the drawer there. “Case got you on edge?”

He opened his mouth to agree, but the words wouldn’t come out, as Chelsea’s thunderous green eyes seared through his mind, again. No, he was pretty sure the source of his mood wore a skirt and blazer that looked more second-hand than high-end. His breath caught at the memory of her slim form — the woman really needed to eat more — severely controlled red hair, and flashing green eyes… and he didn’t want to let his mind wander that way. No matter what he wanted, for years now, Chelsea Hanover wasn’t going to ever give in. She might look like sex up and walking, but she made it pointedly clear she considered him somewhere beneath pond scum on the evolutionary chain.

“I just need to know if this case is going to fall apart on me, Penny.”

She frowned. “Well, I don’t know anything about that. All I can tell you is, at the moment, the evidence is confusing.”

His own lips turned down. “How do you mean?”

“The autopsy report says the victim wasn’t a smoker. Are any of your suspects?”

Since he only had one, and there was no indication Marlene Cavarella smoked, he shook his head. “No. Why?”

“Because the swabs taken at the scene turned up a trace of tar and nicotiana tabacum around the wounds. The same trace turned up on the swabs we took here in the lab, off the knife.”

“Tobacco?” Justin didn’t like the sound of that. It hinted there might be another suspect. Tension stirred in his gut. Could Chelsea be right?

He didn’t want to believe it. Not yet. There was still far too much evidence against Marlene that couldn’t be explained away. “That’s it?”

She glanced over at him, looking over the tops of her glasses. “That’s significant, young man.”

“But not conclusive.”

She shook her head. “Not one way or another, no.”

“So, basically what you’re telling me is that, even though the prime suspect was found next to the victim, covered in blood, and with the murder weapon in her hand, none of the evidence you found conclusively proves she committed the crime.”

Peggy lifted one shoulder in a half-shrug. “I know it’s baffling, but the evidence doesn’t lie, young man, and aside from fingerprints that appear to have been deposited on the weapon after it was used to stab your victim, there’s no physical evidence to prove Mrs. Cavarella committed this crime. Even the blood on her clothes and skin are more consistent with after-death transfer. I went over her clothes three times, and couldn’t find a single cast-off pattern. I don’t have to tell you that with a stabbing this brutal, the perpetrator should have been covered with spatter from the attack.”

Justin rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily. “You realize I have to turn all this over to the defense, right? Hanover’s going to have a field day with this.”

Peggy’s lips twitched. “And if that’s the part of all this that’s got you worried, young man, we have bigger problems than this case.”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I’m more concerned about what we did find than what we didn’t. None of it matches the alleged attacker, and if she’s not the killer…”

“Then we still have a brutal murderer out there, running free.” The idea was sobering, but he really didn’t see how the murderer could be anyone but Marlene Cavarella.

“I’m still waiting on DNA results from swabs taken of the blood on the knife,” Penny offered. “That should give us something definitive.”

“Because killers who stab often end up cutting themselves as well,” Justin concluded.

“Right. And I’ve sent some of the samples to a colleague at the Bunker, down in Haitsburg. He’s a brilliant trace evidence expert, and I’m waiting to see if he comes to the same conclusions I did, before I release the results.”

Justin frowned. As a rule, he didn’t like forensics being farmed out to other labs. “Why? I trust your results, Penny.”

“Given the samples, I’ll feel more comfortable with my results if they’re corroborated by an outside source. It’s the trace we found in the blood sampled from the print on the phone, and the unknown footprint found beside the body. That trace wasn’t found anywhere else at the scene.”

Justin sighed heavily, and tugged at his already-loosened tie, unbuttoning the top button of his dress shirt. Nausea gripped him, and he wondered if he was in for a strike two against Hanover.

“All right. Send me the results when you get them. And, if you wouldn’t mind, could you copy Chelsea Hanover, at Marshall, Bateman, and Powell, as well?”

Penny cast him a curious glance, but nodded without further comment, turning back to her task. Leaving the lab behind, Justin headed back out onto the night-draped streets, turning up Forbes Avenue toward the Courthouse, and his office. He had no idea where the evidence would end up leading, now, but he just had to keep his attention on finding justice. The rest would take care of itself.

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 BURDEN OF PROOF BY ESTHER MITCHELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
ANY UNLAWFUL REPRODUCTION, DUPLICATION OR PRESENTATION OF THIS MATERIAL WITHOUT THE EXPRESS, WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE AUTHOR IS SUBJECT TO PROSECUTION UNDER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS LAWS.

Burden of Proof Final

 

 

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

Friday, June 4
 9:30 AM

 

“I’m telling you, I didn’t kill my husband!”

Justin Blakely, Allegheny County Executive Assistant District Attorney, traded skeptical glances with Detective George Talbot, and anger slashed through him. He was less convinced of Marlene Cavarella’s innocence, if that was possible, than he had been when she was booked yesterday afternoon.

“Mrs. Cavarella,” he cut her off as he rose from his seat to pace about the room, “you were found with the murder weapon and the body, covered in your husband’s blood. Do you really expect us to believe you had nothing to do with what happened to him?”

Huge blue eyes filled with tears, and a dark head Justin was certain came straight from a bottle dropped into her hands as she sobbed brokenly. Marlene Cavarella was one hell of an actress, he acknowledged sourly, but all the tears in the world weren’t going to sway him.

“Oh, cut it out!” He slapped his hands down on the metal table. She jumped, her eyes wide in fear. Justin frowned. What the hell? “The waterworks aren’t helping your case, lady.”

“Find Officer Martin Kopinski,” she implored Talbot, turning her broken gaze on the veteran detective. “He’ll tell you. I’d never k-kill my hus…band.”

A low curse of frustration left Justin and he plowed one hand through his hair as she started sobbing again. He was just about to launch into a full-blown tirade when an icy voice broke in.

“Well, I guess some things never change. Still resorting to scare tactics, Counselor?”

Justin’s glare snapped to the doorway. He froze as he locked gazes with the new arrival, those electric-blue eyes like a sucker punch to the chest, knocking the wind from him. Her!

She was slim, but curvy, encased in a conservative powder-gray business suit and spectator pumps that still managed to show off enough of her long, shapely legs he was sure that outfit should be illegal. Coppery hair fell in a riot of curls over her shoulders, and one fine-boned hand clutched a dark leather briefcase so tightly he was surprised it didn’t shake with the strain.

But her eyes were what held Justin spellbound. They were eyes he fantasized about since the Fairman trial, two years ago. He never expected to see them, or her, again. Especially not like this. Lightning blue, and currently glaring back at him as if he was the most vile creature on Earth.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he snapped, scowling to cover his runaway pulse.

Her answering laugh was mocking.

“Why doesn’t it surprise me you’ve already forgotten I’m a defense attorney, Mr. Blakely? Naturally you’d want to forget about Chad Fairman, and the one smudge on your spotless record, wouldn’t you?” She snorted derisively. “Of course, you tried this very same tactic on that poor kid, whose only crime was running away from an abusive parent.”

He stared at her, thunderstruck by the suffusion of passionate rage on her classically beautiful features. He could have argued, turned her words back on her. He could have admitted he’d been unable to forget the Fairman case, unable to forget her, for all the trying he’d done in the past two years. Damn, but she was beautiful when she was furious. Even as the thought crossed his mind, a sharp retort sprang defensively to his lips.

“Well, if it isn’t the crusading Counselor Hanover. What brings you to the lock-up? Finally get arrested for contempt of court?”

 

Chelsea watched the smug little smile tug at Blakely’s lips, and the anger she held under tight control since walking in to find him bullying her client erupted.

“I’m Marlene Cavarella’s attorney.” Her glare raked over both men like striking lightning. “You gentlemen should have waited for me. Mrs. Cavarella isn’t required to answer a single question without legal counsel present, and you,” she fixed her scathing gaze on Justin’s bland expression, “should have known better than to badger my client. Or are you Blakelys all above the law you cherish so damned much?”

Justin snapped upright, contempt flaring in his green eyes at her accusation. He glared at her for a long moment, and then bit out a sharp bark of laughter, startling the bewildered-looking woman seated at the table.

“I was not, as you so eloquently put it, ‘badgering’ your client, Hanover. Detective Talbot and I were merely–”

“Trying to intimidate a confession out of an obviously-distraught woman,” Chelsea snapped, her tone dripping disdain, and watched Talbot shift as if his seat was uncomfortable. Triumph flared in her as she turned back to Justin. “Or am I misreading the detective’s squirming?”

“Now, wait just one damn minute,” Blakely protested, before his expression went as cold as she felt. “Can I speak to you?”

She raised a brow. She had to maintain the upper hand, here, if she had any chance of surviving this ordeal without some kind of break down. Her heart was already beating too fast. “Sounds like that’s what you’re already doing.”

Those intense eyes narrowed. Uh-oh. She already knew from the Fairman trial it was a bad sign when his gaze went intense like that. “Outside, Counselor.”

Chelsea debated the wisdom of following his request. One glance at her client told her Marlene Cavarella couldn’t handle the argument sure to come. Meeting Blakely’s gaze again, she nodded, and turned toward the door. Shock plunged through her as he grasped her arm, and she tried to jerk away. His grip tightened ever so slightly, and she gritted her teeth, knowing she couldn’t react without creating a scene. Once they were outside the door, however, he was a dead man.

 

Even before the door finished closing, Chelsea glared frostily up at him and demanded, “Remove your hand this instant, Counselor.”

God, but she was a beauty, Justin thought as he studied her flashing eyes. Too bad she was more mercurial than a damned thermometer. Irritated with himself for his fascination, Justin couldn’t resist a taunting, “Or what?”

“Or I will remove it, and you, permanently,” she retorted with a sharp yank of her arm.

Justin tightened his grip, but eased up when she winced in pain. “That sounds dangerously like the textbook definition of a terroristic threat, Hanover.”

“And you’re treading perilously close to assault,” she shot back, her gaze going pointedly to his hand on her arm. “Not that I’m surprised.”

A dangerous smile curved on his lips as an idea for putting her off-balance, while satisfying his raging curiosity, came to him. “In that case…”

Before Chelsea had time to realize what he was up to, he dragged her against himself and smothered her angry protest in a kiss damned close to incendiary, he decided as he drank in the sweet taste of her lips. She brought her hands up, and for an instant, he thought she’d save them both, and push him away. Instead, those hands ended up clenched in the lapels of his black suit jacket, as a soft sigh betrayed her.

Justin was shell-shocked. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her for nearly two years, fantasizing over what she’d taste like. None of his fantasies ever came close to the reality in his arms now, her mouth fused to his and her body plastered against him in a passionate response that knocked his experienced socks off. She tasted fresh and new, like a field of wildflowers after a summer storm, and her scent was apples and roses, surprisingly soft and innocent for such a driven woman.

Because he wanted to tear off those all-business clothes of hers and see if she was as soft and hot underneath as she was hard and cool in the courtroom, he took a mental step back, and pulled away from her. The dazed expression on her face made him chuckle, happy to have rattled her.

“So, Counselor, still think you can make those charges stick?”

He knew he was baiting her. He also knew Chelsea wouldn’t disappoint — she had too much passion buttoned up tight inside that prim little suit coat to not rise to the fight. Even as the words left his mouth, he watched ice-cold fury slice away the haze in Chelsea’s eyes. He tried to let her go; he really should. But the warmth of her, and the soft texture of cloth and warm female body conspired against him, and his hands refused to release her. With a gasp of outrage, she took the choice away from him, yanking away. Her palm connected with his face hard enough to burn.

“If you have anything to discuss with me or my client in the future, save it for the courtroom.”

With that, Chelsea spun on her heel and marched back into the interrogation room. As he watched her go, Justin realized he just made the biggest tactical mistake of his entire career.

Staring after Chelsea, Justin wondered what it would be like to actually get to know her. He’d seen her in court — the cool, imperious beauty whose faith in her clients’ innocence was unshakable, and far too often right. Her flashing eyes and sexy lips hinted at a woman hell-bent on mischief lurking somewhere under all that conviction. The passionate way she returned his kiss…

He wondered what other fascinating secrets she hid behind that all-business exterior of hers. One thing was for certain. Keeping up with her was going to be exhausting — just keeping a step ahead of her mercurial moods would require superhuman strength. How could one woman be so perfectly poised, and so supremely irritating at the same time?

She accused him of bullying the prisoner. Him. Had any other attorney leveled the accusation at him, he’d laugh it off, aware his pristine reputation for adhering to the letter of the law was in no danger. But something about Chelsea Hanover made it impossible to find the notion amusing. Her earnestness and complete lack of guile were an oddity in the business of criminal defense.

He witnessed, firsthand, how those same qualities served her in the courtroom. The results were staggering. Chelsea believed in her client’s innocence, and her unwavering faith spoke volumes to a jury. No matter the evidence, in the end Chelsea poked holes in the prosecution’s theories.

Grudgingly, he admitted she was right about Chad Fairman. The poor kid was set up from the beginning, and only Chelsea believed him, until she gave the most brilliant cross-examination Justin ever saw, and brought Chad’s abusive father to a tearful confession, right there on the stand.

That was when the fantasy began, Justin acknowledged, swallowing hard as he clamped down on his libido. From the moment Chelsea turned from the stand with that blazing look of triumph on her face, he was lost. He couldn’t admit just how much he wanted her, and nor could he approach her. They occupied different worlds, which only crossed at points like this one, leaving them no room to be anything more than adversaries.

Not this time, he decided fiercely as he reached for the door handle. He wouldn’t let her slip away on him again. He didn’t see belief in her eyes when she stormed into Interrogation, and he noticed the slight hesitance in her voice when she proclaimed herself Marlene Cavarella’s attorney. She wasn’t convinced of the woman’s innocence, either, and he planned to use her doubt.

As he opened the door, Justin suppressed a grin at the cool ultimatum Chelsea was in the process of issuing to a haggard-looking Talbot.

“–I will not allow my client to speak with you until then, Detective, so you might as well accept it. I want to speak with her now, before she answers another of your questions.”

“Ms. Hanover, please,” Talbot calmly tried to head off the storm. “It’s police procedure. We–”

“The Miranda Warning specifically states she isn’t required to answer a single question without legal consultation,” Chelsea brushed his explanation off, her back ramrod straight. It was obvious she was taking out her anger at him on Talbot.

“She’s right,” Justin broke in as Talbot opened his mouth in protest. “Mrs. Cavarella has both the right to silence and to an attorney. We’ve got lots of time. We can let her confer with her lawyer first.”

Chelsea turned, eyes wide in surprise for an instant, before she recovered. Her surprise bothered him. Did she think he would violate the law just to win? The mere idea she might was insulting. He was very aware of the law, and he wasn’t about to prove her earlier accusation right. The triumph on Chelsea’s face as she gave him a curt nod, then turned her glare back to Talbot, fascinated him. Just what was she trying to prove?

“If you gentlemen will excuse us, my client and I have some talking to do.”

Talbot rose from his seat and left, but not without a wary glance at the prisoner. Justin, taking a step toward Chelsea, leaned to murmur in her ear, “I’ll concede this battle, Counselor, but choose your future battles carefully, because I intend to win the war.”

With that, he turned and followed Talbot out of the room. But not before he caught the flicker of relief on Marlene Cavarella’s haunted face.

*****

Now, just what in God’s name was that all about? Chelsea wondered as she turned to frown at the closed door. Blakely made it sound like he was doing her a favor, rather than following a well-established principle of law. Weary, she decided she most likely didn’t want to know. Turning back to Marlene, she gave the other woman a brief smile.

“I’m sorry you had to be put through that display, Mrs. Cavarella. I’m sure you’re under enough pressure without having to deal with any unnecessary stress. My name is Chelsea Hanover. I was told you requested my services yesterday evening.”

The petite, pretty woman at the table nodded miserably. “Nick always said you were the best. He told me to call you if anything ever… if I needed… if…”

Every ounce of strength seemed to desert the tiny woman, and her calm poise of a moment ago evaporated. Burying her face in her trembling hands, she sobbed uncontrollably; great, heaving sobs that looked enough to tear her apart. Compassion flooded Chelsea, and she moved to sit beside Marlene, placing a comforting hand on the older woman’s shoulder.

Marlene Cavarella didn’t look like a murderer, or like she’d ever have been able to hold down and stab her six-foot-four-inch, two hundred-fifty pound husband. She was tiny, like a fragile china doll, and Chelsea doubted she weighed more than a hundred pounds. If the murder happened as the police report laid it out, then Marlene would have to have been acting in an emotional frenzy, which meant she was provoked.

Reaching into her briefcase, Chelsea drew out her digital recorder and a notepad and pen. Turning on the recorder, she gently rubbed the sobbing woman’s shoulder. “Tell me what happened.”

Marlene nodded, making a valiant effort to pull herself together, but her lips continued to tremble as she haltingly began. “My husband and I had a fight yesterday morning.”

Chelsea started, surprised. Was she hearing the beginnings of a murder confession? Please, God, don’t let it be!

“It was such a stupid fight. I don’t even know why we were arguing.” She looked up at Chelsea with weary blue eyes. “All we seem to do, anymore, is argue.”

“What did you argue about?”

A bitter laugh answered her. “Anything and everything. The kids. Work. Some woman he’s been seeing on the sly.” She shrugged helplessly. “Everything was falling apart. Nick was always working, Tim was in trouble constantly, and neither one of them would listen to me. So when Nick made a comment about having to work late last night, I guess I just lost it. I demanded he stop lying to me and just admit he’s been seeing some woman from the studio. He denied it, yelled at me about doubting him. I don’t know what else was said. We just screamed at each other.”

“And then what?” Chelsea prompted, her stomach knotted in dread.

“And then I left.” Marlene shrugged.

Chelsea blinked, hard. “You left?”

The older woman nodded. “I just picked up my coat and purse and walked out the door. I was afraid he might hit me if I stayed, with the mood he was in.”

Chelsea sucked in a sharp breath. “He hit you? Before, I mean?”

A half-shrug answered her.

“Marlene,” Chelsea pressed her fingers against the other woman’s shoulder, “you have to tell me. If he hit you anytime, it’s important I know.”

“Yes.” The word came out faint, barely more than a whispered breath. “He didn’t use to, but over the past year, Nick’s been… different. Tense and easily upset — moody all the time. He never talks anymore, unless we argue.” She sucked in a pained breath, fighting tears. “I was afraid of him, but he made me so angry, too. I had to leave.”

Chelsea nodded. “Where did you go?”

“To a friend’s house.”

“Can you give me a name?”

“Linda. Linda Travis. She owns Travis Catering. She’s my best friend.”

Chelsea allowed herself a small smile. At least she would have an easy time verifying part of Marlene’s story. “What did you do at Linda’s?”

“Talked. I told her about the trouble Nick and I have been having. Then we went shopping. I bought a…” she stopped, color flooding her cheeks, before she continued in a whisper, “I bought a new nightgown. I thought, maybe Nick would like it… you know… maybe we could get our marriage back on track.”

Chelsea smiled, vindicated. A woman who couldn’t hide her embarrassment over buying sexy lingerie would never be able to hide her mortification over committing murder. “That sounds like a good idea to me.”

Marlene gave her a teary smile. “That’s what Linda said, too.”

“What time did you return home?”

Marlene smiled again. “It was just shortly before two in the afternoon. I remember because I was thinking the kids wouldn’t be home for nearly an hour, when I saw Nick’s car in the driveway. I thought, maybe he’d come home to apologize, hoping I’d be there.”

“And then what?”

Marlene swallowed hard, her cobalt eyes going wide in horrified memory. “I walked into the living room, and… and…” Her lips trembled, and her face went ashen as her hands started to shake violently. “There was Nick, laying on the floor, with his chest all bloody, and one of my best kitchen knives sticking out of his chest.”

Chelsea reached out, placing her hands comfortingly over Marlene’s. “I know it’s hard to talk about, but I need to know everything that happened, exactly as it happened.”

Marlene swallowed again, fighting for composure, and steadily losing as her eyes became huge and haunted.

“I… I didn’t know what to do,” she whispered. “I ran to him, screaming his name. He opened his eyes… looked right at me, and said…” she stopped, looking away for a moment. “I don’t remember what he said. I was too busy trying to stop the bleeding. I thought, maybe… I thought if I took the knife out of his chest, he’d be able to breathe easier.”

Chelsea’s breath caught. Could the explanation be so easy? “Go on.”

“When… when I pulled it out, Nick started gagging… turning purple. I panicked. I kept trying to stop the bleeding, pressing on his chest with my hands. But…” her huge blue eyes lifted to Chelsea’s face, imploring. “The blood made me dizzy, the smell, I guess. I don’t remember anything after that, except Tracy screaming.”

“Tracy’s your daughter?” Chelsea already knew the answer; she’d studied everything in the file she’d wrangled out of research before leaving the office last evening. The Cavarellas had two children – twins. Timothy and Tracy both just turned sixteen.

Marlene nodded, a small smile flitting over her lips. “Yes.”

“What time was it, when you woke up? Do you remember at all?”

Marlene nodded timidly. “It was five o’clock. Time to make Nick’s dinner. He always eats at six, on the dot. I remember I looked at the clock, and thought I better start dinner, or he’d be…” Tears welled in her eyes. “He’d be mad.”

Chelsea sighed. It all sounded so innocent, but there was something strange about the whole picture.

“Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I…” Marlene’s gaze faltered. “No. It never occurred to me.”

Her ashen features as she admitted to that one small error convinced Chelsea Marlene was telling the truth. She was innocent. A woman who looked that guilty for not calling an ambulance and went so irrational as to be worried about cooking a dead man dinner would never be capable of carrying out the bloody kind of execution performed on Dominic Cavarella. With a reassuring smile, Chelsea squeezed Marlene’s hands.

“It’s okay. I’m sure the shock made thinking difficult. Don’t worry; I’m going to help you.”

 

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©2006 Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: Burden of Proof, Chapter 1

Chapter One

 

Offices of Marshall, Bateman & Powell
Pittsburgh
June 3
5:30 PM

With a weary sigh, Chelsea Hanover pressed slim fingers to her throbbing head and willed her raging migraine to disappear. She didn’t have time for this. Philip Myers went to trial for armed robbery and assault in less than three days, and she’d yet to find a single loophole in the prosecution’s case.

Pushing her fingers through her long, copper-colored curls, she scowled at the files spread open on her desk.

“Damn it, Jerry!”

She told him this case was a bad idea. Never mind the partners forbade him to take it. Being Jerry, he naturally ignored her advice and the instructions of two of the firm’s senior partners, and — no surprise — the case blew up in his face.

Chelsea’s stomach heaved, and she could hear her sister’s chastising voice, reminding her stress could kill her. Sally was convinced her younger sister’s problems would be solved if Chelsea just slowed down. The thought made her ill.

Or maybe she was ill because she’d consumed nothing except half a cup of coffee and a stale doughnut since six this morning. The mere thought of food brought a protesting heave from her knotted stomach.

Just what she needed to end up a hellish Thursday. A bodily mutiny.

What she needed, Chelsea conceded, as her vision blurred from exhaustion, was some kind of evidence that put Myers elsewhere at the time of the robbery. Lacking that, she reached for her trusty bottle of aspirin. She grimaced as she washed several down with a gulp of cold coffee.

A rap at the frosted-glass office door rescued her from the sea of paperwork on her desk.

“Come in.”

The door opened, and Gene Marshall poked his balding head through the opening. “Got a minute, Chelsea?”

A warm smile tugged at her lips. Gene wasn’t just her boss. He was her mentor and adoptive uncle, and one of the very few men she trusted.

“Sure, Gene. I’m just going over the Myers case one last time.”

His frown reminded her none of the senior partners were happy with Jerry Merrick’s decision to take on the case in the first place. If it failed, it would make the entire firm look bad.

From what she saw, it would fail. Miserably.

“Give it back to Merrick,” Gene growled, shutting the door behind himself. “You’re working too hard on an airtight loss. The partners have had a meeting, and we’ve decided to let Jerry sink or swim on his own. If he pulls it off, great. If not, it gives him his third strike and gets him tossed out on his ear. We should have done it a long time ago.”

Chelsea’s brow furrowed. “Why are you telling me this, Gene?”

He shrugged. “I know you, kiddo. You’ll feel guilty if it fails. Which it probably will.”

A wry smile tugged at her lips. “Is that what you came in here for? A pep talk?”

He paused, his expression uncomfortable. “Actually, no. A big case just landed in the firm’s lap, and the partners agree. We want you to handle it.”

The knot in her stomach tightened. Was Gene actually trying to sell her on a case with flattery? He knew that crap was lost on her. The one and only time he’d tried and succeeded before now ended up being a very messy kidnapping case she almost lost, even though her client was actually innocent. “What kind of case?”

“A big one.” Gene skimmed a file across the mess on her desk. “Murder One.”

Chelsea’s blood froze in her veins. First degree murder? Dear God, he wasn’t suggesting that she, a junior partner, handle another capital case, was he?

“You’re kidding.”

He sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I know you said you didn’t want any more capital cases after the Brantley kidnapping, but this case is just too important, and you have the best track record of all the junior partners.”

Resignation flooded her. The partners handpicked her for this case, so she didn’t have much of a choice. She might as well hear him out. “What’s the story?”

“I’m not entirely sure. The woman’s name is Marlene Cavarella. They arrested her this afternoon, and details are still sketchy. According to Eleanor, she was incoherent when she called.”

“Incoherent?” Chelsea thumbed the edge of the file and shot a curious glanced at Gene. “How?”

“From crying, not intoxication. Eleanor said she was pretty close to hysterical, on the phone. Lucky us, to be the family law firm.”

“That seems odd for someone facing a Murder One charge.” Chelsea’s brow furrowed as something he said sank in. “Cavarella? As in Dominic Cavarella, of Cavarella Enterprises?”

“Yeah.” Gene settled his five-foot-ten-inch frame into one of the plush leather chairs opposite her. “Small world, huh? We handle all their corporate legalities.”

Chelsea nodded absently. She handled three of the well-known advertising agency’s legal disputes over the past two years, herself. She even met “The Big Man,” as Gene called him, once. Dominic Cavarella struck her not as awe-inspiring, but downright intimidating. He made her skin crawl. She frowned. She had way too much experience with powerful men to ever trust one.

“So who is Marlene?”

Gene laughed in disbelief. “You really need to get out more, kiddo! Marlene’s the Big Man’s wife.”

Chelsea’s head snapped up, even as she opened the file he’d tossed her. “Cavarella’s wife? Who’s the victim?”

Even as she asked, the answer stared up at her from the open file in her hands. Chelsea’s breath rushed out on a quiet curse. “She offed her husband?”

“Sam Spade, I presume,” Gene intoned wryly, but nodded. “Yeah, the victim was Cavarella himself. According to the police, there were sixty-four separate stab wounds to his chest and upper abdomen. The detective I spoke with said he figures Cavarella was dead long before she stopped hacking at him.”

Chelsea winced at his indelicate choice of words. Gene wasn’t one to sugarcoat. “So why me?”

Gene’s expression was sympathetic as he rose to his feet. “She asked specifically for you. I figure she heard her husband talk about your handling of the past couple of corporate cases. It’s not likely she’d distinguish between cases.”

Chelsea sighed as she closed the file. “Exactly what do you expect me to do? The woman was literally caught red-handed, if these reports are to be believed.”

“The question is, are they?” He shrugged. “Check it out. Talk to her, at least. She claims she’s innocent, and the firm trusts your judgment enough to give you free rein either way you go. If you feel the case isn’t worth the risk after you’ve talked with her, we’ll simply farm it out to the Public Defender.”

She sighed, pressing her fingers to her forehead again. “All right, Gene. I’ll head over there first thing in the morning. Where’s she being held?”

“Allegheny County Jail, at least until the arraignment.”

She nodded as she rose to her feet. “Got it. Do we have any idea who the District Attorney’s picked for the case, yet?”

Gene’s grimace stopped her halfway up, and ice trickled through her. Prosecutors never bothered Gene; he didn’t look at them with the same distaste many defense attorneys did.

“Gene? What is it?”

“More like ‘who’,” he muttered as he met her eyes. “Rumor has it Martin’s giving the case to the Executioner.”

The blood drained from her head so fast it made her dizzy, and she sank back into her chair as an image flashed before her eyes of dark blond hair, clean-cut good looks, and green eyes so intense they could pierce her to the soul from a yard away. She could barely draw a breath as she croaked out a single word. “Blakely.”

Gene nodded glumly. “From what I hear, that man’s been looking for a rematch ever since you trumped him at the Fairman trial, two years ago.”

She managed a wan smile. “I didn’t trump him — the evidence did. Chad was innocent. Even the Executive Assistant District Attorney can’t be right all the time.”

Gene snorted a laugh. “So far, you’re the only one who’s managed to prove that theory. His record for convictions was spotless, until you came along. Damn him, and his absolute devotion to the law.” A rueful smile flickered across his face, then. “Unfortunately, it works all too well for him.”

Chelsea’s heart stuck in her throat as she recalled the first and only time she faced Justin Blakely in court. It was the first time she was terrified since Rob tore away her innocence, and her sense of safety, in college. The idea of being in the same courtroom with another Blakely, and one fed with a silver spoon so like Rob’s, made her physically ill. She kept seeing the judge who turned her personal horror into living Hell. When she saw Justin, the first day, the sensation slammed into her, and rocked her clear off her game. No one knew how close to losing that case she came. No one knew how much his soul-piercing gaze rattled her. God, how would she ever face him again?

“You okay, kiddo?” Gene’s worried voice broke through her thoughts, banishing Justin’s face from her mind. She nodded. She could do this. She wasn’t a thunderstruck rookie, anymore. Her record was even more impressive than Blakely’s. After all, she hadn’t lost a case, yet.

Gene, halfway to the door, turned to give her another concerned glance. “You look like hell, Chelsea. You’re only twenty-four, for God’s sake. You need to slow down. Do yourself a favor, and get some rest before you tackle this one. The D.A.’s office is having a psychologist sent over from Western Psychiatric tomorrow afternoon, to see if Marlene’s even fit to stand trial. Save yourself the aggravation. Wait until Monday.”

Anger hardened Chelsea’s resolve. Psychiatrists, she could do without. They were all alike, trying to convince people the worst terrors were all in their heads. Trying to tell frightened, traumatized women they were crazy to feel afraid.

“No. If she’s as upset as you say, Mrs. Cavarella will be too fragile to withstand psychological analysis. I want to get her side of the story before the state’s headshrinkers get to her.”

Gene sighed in resignation. “All right, then. Good luck.”

As Chelsea turned to shove the Myers case into a file box and gather up her tape recorder and legal pads, she swallowed back a grimace. Between the little information in the file, and the roiling sensation in her gut, Chelsea feared she needed a good bit more than just luck. She needed a miracle.

Like what you’ve read so far? Consider donating to my fund in benefit of RAINN and The Rape Foundation. 50% of all proceeds will be divided between the charities and donated directly. 50% of the proceeds will go into a special fund to help with publication costs to get this book printed and more widely circulated, to further help these causes.

BECOME A PATRON – DONATE HERE

©Burden of Proof by Esther Mitchell
All Rights Reserved
Any unlawful reproduction, duplication or presentation of this material without the express, written consent of the author is subject to prosecution under Intellectual Property Rights laws.

Burden of Proof Final

COTW: BURDEN OF PROOF

Our first Chapter-of-the-Week book is Burden of Proof

The charities benefited by this book are the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network and The Rape Foundation.

Thank you to the talented Nikita Gordyn for the beautiful cover art.

This book contains possible triggers for those who are survivors of rape and domestic violence. Chapter specifically involving trigger information will be marked with a trigger warning.

About the book:

When Justice Fails, Can Love Prevail?

Chelsea Hanover prides herself on one undisputed fact; she’s never lost a case. A crack young defense attorney, she takes only cases she believes in, and sticks to her rule of never mixing business with pleasure. Now, Pittsburgh socialite Marlene Cavarella has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of her wealthy husband, Dominic, and Chelsea finds herself thrust into the midst of a murder case set to turn her entire reality inside out. And the only man who might save her is a man she doesn’t want to trust, or to love.

Burden of Proof Final

If you, or someone you love, has been the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault,  please know you are not alone.  Domestic violence and sexual assault crimes are the  largest number of unreported crimes in the US and Europe. Break the silence, and help take back the night.  For help, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or  RAINN at 1-800-656-4673. 

Get involved, and help take violence out of our homes, and rapists off the streets. Contact  your local shelters and domestic crisis organizations.  Together, we all make a difference.