Friday, June 4
“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.
©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.