Back at the house Anne made a quick lunch of soup and sandwiches. After they cleaned up, she came up with a quick plan.
"Don, remember how you had the two of us in the guest bed so you could take care of us when we were sick?"
"Yeah?" Don replied, his voice low and weary.
"Well, why don't we get you and Grace in there and you can both take a nap."
"Yippee . . . you can nap with me daddy!" Grace exclaimed as she headed up the stairs.
Don started to argue but Anne held up her hand. "You're exhausted, sore and about out on your feet. You can catch a few hours' sleep and guard Grace."
Don's eyes popped open as she stared back at him. "I saw you last night, now get up there with your daughter, she's waiting."
He realized she was right, he was so tired and this way he could keep an eye on Grace at the same time. He was a bit embarrassed that she had caught him staying in Grace's room, but he had woken up and couldn't stop worrying about her, so he decided the best way to protect her was to be in her room.
She watched him trudge up the stairs and when she checked on them a few minutes later, they were fast asleep. Don had Grace cuddled to him and she was almost hard to see wrapped in his huge arms.
Anne returned downstairs and read a little until she finally laid down on the couch for a nap. She was awakened by sounds from the kitchen, checking her watch, she was surprised that she had been asleep for over three hours.
She wandered into the kitchen to find Don putting away some dishes. "Did you get enough sleep?"
"I'm okay," Don said quietly, his back to her.
Anne noticed that he stopped what he was doing and was just staring out the window. "Are you really okay?"
"I guess I don't know." He said, still turned away from her. "I'm so sorry about yesterday, I can't believe I got you and Grace into that."
"Don, what are you talking about?"
"They wanted to get me so they went after Grace." He replied, the guilt obvious in every word he spoke.
"Wait a minute, you think that was to get you!"
Anne went across the kitchen and grabbed his arm, turning him towards her. She could see the remorse etched in his face. "Don, we didn't come to any conclusions this morning but it's obvious that someone wants to stop you from keeping Grace."
"No, whoever caused yesterday, it had nothing to do with your past, we're convinced of that!" Anne told him, trying to not reveal what they suspected but at the same time wanting to reassure him it was not his fault.
He looked down at her for several seconds before he finally spoke. "That was the bravest thing I ever saw in my life." His voice filled with wonder.
"You . . . I've never seen anything like that."
"Don, I don't know what you're talking about, but you were . . . were . . . I don't even know what to say. You took on three men, I don't know how with all that happened you can say I was brave!"
Don seemed to find her reply funny and he smirked at her.
"Don, this isn't funny, you could have been killed!"
Don's expression turned serious again as he peered down at her. "And what about you Anne?"
"What about me?"
The smirk was back as Don started speaking. "Anne, I'm a big guy, linebacker, Army veteran, I've been fighting my whole life."
"You just don't get it, you're five foot nine, maybe a hundred and twenty soaking wet . . . and I doubt they taught you a lot of hand to hand combat in lawyer school."
Anne just looked up at him trying to figure out what he was saying.
"Jesus Christ Anne, I saw you. You launched yourself at those guys to save Grace." Don explained. "For me to go after them is one thing, but for you to do that, I can't imagine what you were thinking."
Anne turned and walked away from him trying to control her emotions. He was right, what the hell was she thinking. "I was scared to death," she finally added.
"So was I."
"What! You were scared!" She said spinning back to look at him.
"Hell yeah, it was three to one, if they would have come at me all at once, they could have taken me, it was you going at them that made them split up." Don told her flatly.
Anne just shook her head before something came to her. "A man is dead."
"So, I wish it was all three."
Anne jerked her head up. "You can't be serious Don."
Don gazed at her for what seemed like several minutes as Anne tried to read what was in his mind. She couldn't believe he was this cavalier about killing a man.
"Anne," He started out cautiously. "When I was in the war, I realized something early on. We are all responsible for our own decisions, they decided to try to kidnap my daughter. They knew the risks of that action. Just like in the desert, if you shoot at someone, they may shoot back. They accepted the risk when they went after her, I have no regrets or remorse of the result."
Anne simply stared at him as his words sunk in, but then another thought came to her. Slowly she walked over until she was only inches from him. She stopped before him and looked up into his face. "But what about you Don, what if you had been the one who was killed?" She asked him and he could see the emotions in her face as she struggled to keep control of them.
Looking down at her he realized what he would have lost if that would have happened. Slowly and distinctly he answered her question. "I would be okay with that outcome . . . I would have died defending my-"
Her eyes were locked on his as she waited on him to complete the sentence, the word 'daughter' seemed to be hanging in the air for both of them. But as he gazed down on the woman that had become so important to him in the last few weeks, he couldn't finish the sentence that way. Too much had changed, regardless of the scene in the restaurant all those weeks ago, there was only one word he wanted to use now. "my . . . family." He finished quietly.
Anne's eyes flew open wide as she stared into his. Then another word hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks, 'them'. Bobby said, Don kept saying he lost 'them', them as in more than just Grace, them as in her and Grace she realized. "Family?" She whispered back at him, her eyes never leaving his.
The small shy smile that Anne had grown to love played on his lips as he looked down at her. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she caught sight of his arm moving and then a huge hand approached the side of her face. She couldn't help herself as she tilted her head into the palm of his hand and she felt the roughness of the bandages around his battered knuckles. So gently she could barely tell, his fingers wrapped around the back of her head and tangled in her hair. Slowly, she felt herself being pulled towards him and right before their lips touched, she heard an almost imperceptible whisper. "Family," he said and his lips were on hers.
Starting softly, his lips just brushed hers. Her eyes closed as she felt his other arm go around her and pull her full against him. Almost imperceptibly his lips were on hers again, but this time she felt them stay and nibble at hers. Without thinking it through, her arms went to his shoulders and she felt his hand leave her hair to join his other at her back. As she felt his tongue tickle her lips, she opened them and he gently ran it around the inside of her mouth. She melted into him as her hands slid across his massive shoulders and her arms wrapped around his neck, reveling in the feel of his rock hard chest against her soft breasts.
Pulling her even tighter, his tongue dueling with hers, she couldn't help the low moan that escaped her as the kiss deepened even further. His huge hands caressed her back and she felt that gentleness that always surprised her. She couldn't help herself, the feel of him pulling her close made her weak and she was soon lost in the wonderful warmth that was radiating through her.
For Don, his emotions were overwhelming him. He could feel his passion build as their kisses became deeper and deeper. The feel of her in his arms was incredible, and his mind was filled with an almost uncontrollable urge to never, ever let her go. To him, she was filling a space within him that had been empty for so long.
Feeling his hands move down to the gentle curve of her ass, Anne gripped him even tighter as she felt him lift her off of her feet. She responded by grabbing the back of his head and jamming her lips against his even harder. Rewarded for her efforts with a subtle growl, Anne felt a desire rising in her that no man had ever brought to the surface. She wondered how she had lived this long without ever being kissed like this.
Years of loneliness seemed to be draining from her as she remembered her plea from late last night. What she would give to be held and kissed like this, every day, for the rest of her life!
"Daddy, Daddy," came echoing from the upstairs. Quickly they broke apart at the sound of Grace waking from her nap and coming out of her room.
Anne stepped back and stared at him for a second as she tried to get a handle on what had just happened. All of her thoughts of just a moment ago were gone as she looked up at the huge man in front of her. Donald Duncan, Donald Duncan, Donald Duncan, her mind kept repeating over and as if her subconscious was fighting to understand how the hell she ended up in his arms.
"Anne?" Don said as he saw the wonder in her eyes. It was obvious to him that he had taken advantage of her. The scene in the restaurant played out in her face once again and he knew that he had made a terrible mistake. "Anne, I'm sorry, please -"
"Don, I have to go." Anne interrupted him. She quickly gathered up her things and was gone before Grace reached the bottom of the stairs.
Don was stunned as Grace finally found him in the kitchen. "Daddy, did Miss Anne go home?" She asked, sorrowfully.
"Yes honey, but we'll see her again soon." Don told her, not wanting to tell her the truth, that that may not be the case.
The rest of the day, Don was on auto-pilot as he fixed supper and then later decided to share a bed with Grace again. He didn't want to let her out of his sight and the little girl was thrilled to be cuddled by her dad.
After they settled in and Grace drifted off to sleep, Don laid wide awake, his mind struggling with what happened today. He couldn't believe with all that had happened this weekend, the only thing he could focus on was kissing Anne. How could he have made such a monumental mistake, he wondered? He cursed himself for being that forward and forcing himself on her and finally he worried whether that would be the nail in the coffin to cause him to lose Grace. Surely his unwanted attentions would make her question whether he could be trusted and if he couldn't be trusted, maybe she would feel he couldn't be trusted with Grace.
But then another thought crept through his fear, the sight of her in front of him as he spoke the one word that his heart said he should, family. Pulling Grace a little bit more in to him, he realized that that was what he wanted more than anything. A family, a mother for Grace, a mother that he saw was willing to risk her life in order to protect her. He hadn't brought it up, but he had heard her when she yelled for help. She had screamed, "They're taking our daughter", and it was those words that enflamed him. Not the idea that they were taking his daughter, that they were taking 'their' daughter. The sight of her slapped to the ground had caused a rage in him that he had not felt since the last woman he loved had faced the same fate.
The last woman he loved, yes he loved her, and he knew it as sure as he had loved Libby. Grace loved her and she loved Grace, now the only question remained, how did she feel about him? As he thought of her against him and her lips on his, he wondered if that dream was even possible.
The scene at the restaurant came to him again, but this time, he dismissed it. He decided it was not going to stop him this time, somehow, someway, he was not going to allow Anne to walk out of his and Grace's life without one hell of a fight!
On the other side of town, Anne also laid awake staring at the ceiling. What in the hell was she thinking? She must have been tired, the emotions of the weekend weakening her, that must have been it. Allowing that man to kiss her like that, and her melting into him. It didn't mean anything, just two people who had gotten close and had experienced a significant life event. That was it, a couple more days and she would be done with them, that's what she wanted, to go back to her solitary, lonely life. A life devoid of a precious little girl and her father. Just a couple more days she thought, as she finally drifted off to sleep.
She sees them standing there and they turn as she walks forward. All eyes are on her as the music plays and she continues towards the front of the church. Ah, her wedding she recalls, as her mind drifts back to that wonderful time. She can see the wedding party turn towards her as her father escorts her towards her soon to be husband. It's so hazy, these faint whispers of her memory, people in the pews, her family, but there is Grace, why is she there? Oh that's right, she's her daughter, but no, she doesn't have children, does she? No, she must be mistaken, it's difficult to see well through the veil over her face. It must be another little child, that's right, the flower girl but no, she is younger, oh well, she keeps walking. She reaches the front and can hear her father as he says something to the man she is to be wed to. But he seems so different now, has he gained weight, gotten bigger? As she turns, she can see the Best Man, he's in uniform, who wears a uniform to a wedding? What the hell is going on, he's dressed up like a cop. In uniform for a wedding, but they all were going to wear tuxes, but she dismisses it and turns to the minister before her. Something seems odd, as through her hand she can feel the roughness of some type of tape around his hand. The hand is huge and hers feels so tiny, why?
It's all so familiar but not, the voices are the same, the words, he says 'I do' and she does also. But why is she agreeing, no she doesn't want this, he's going to leave her. He won't stand by her, he won't protect her, she knows that now, she wants to run, somebody stop this, he doesn't love me, she knows that now, and she just wants someone to get her away from here.
The preacher says that he can kiss the bride, but she doesn't want a kiss, she just wants out. She looks up as two huge hands wrapped in white are lifting her veil, it's all becoming clear somehow. From the corner of her eye, she sees her again, Grace, her daughter, her little angel, and she has an enormous smile and then suddenly the veil is gone, she clenches her eyes closed, she doesn't want to see this, she knows what will happen, somebody make this STOP!
She feels his hand on the back of her head, her face is moving forward and up. She uses all the strength she can muster to concentrate and it comes to her, daughter - she has a daughter. She opens her eyes and she can see him just as his lips are a hair away from hers. Then his lips are on hers and the feeling is incredible and her eyes close again so she can revel in the warmth that is radiating through her. But in that warmth is a love that is coming through, so strong and so powerful that it overwhelms her senses and when she opens her eyes again she sees a face that shocks her to the very core.
Suddenly bolting upright in bed, Anne comes wide awake in an instant. "Oh my God . . . I'm in love with Donald Duncan!" She whispers out to herself as her dream becomes clear. It was him standing before her; him, Donald Duncan, angry, violent, brawler, killer, Donald Duncan.
"No, it was just a dream!" She exclaims to her empty bedroom. But it wasn't just a dream because it wasn't that Donald Duncan. It was the Donald Duncan with the shy smile and the gentle laugh, the one who held her as she cried and comforted her when she was sick. Him, who slept on his daughter's floor to protect her, the one who can't cook a bit and makes terrible clothes choices. That's the man she's in love with, and the feeling of being in his arms made it true.
"What the fuck am I going to do now?" She asked herself as she flopped back into her mattress.
"Anne, come in, heard you had some excitement this weekend?" Roger Evans asked as she came into the conference room.
Anne just stared at him, she couldn't believe he asked her that.
"Ah, let's get this meeting going shall we?" Mark Winters said and they all took their seats around the conference table.
"About this recommendation, Anne, I'm sure you want to relook it after the events of this past weekend." Mark said to her.
Anne looked at him and stared straight into his eyes. "No, it was a horrific thing that happened and I'm still reeling from it, but it only makes me that much more sure of my decision."
"Come on Anne, you can't be serious. Donald Duncan killed a man and put two others in the hospital and you say he should have custody of a child?" Roger spat out at her.
Anne took a deep breath, she figured this was coming, so she was ready. "Yes, I am aware of all of that, we were attacked and they tried to kidnap his daughter. He was defending us and as far as I know everyone at all levels of law enforcement agrees."
"There is no buts, he was defending his daughter, my recommendation stands and I am ready to defend it in court tomorrow!" She said firmly, daring the partners to challenge her.
There was nothing but silence in the room as the partners stared her down but she obviously was not going to fold. "If there is nothing else gentleman, I have work to do."
"Where's the money Anne?" Brett Langeman asked her directly.
Turning to him, Anne felt immediately uncomfortable. "What money?"
"The money from the Warren estate. We audited the accounts last week and there is several million missing."
"I had nothing to do with any money nor did I ever have access to any of their accounts." Anne replied, feeling a chill run up her spine.
"That's not what these documents say. It shows that you had authority to pay for the kid's expenses and now money is missing."
"Bull shit!" Anne spat out as a folder was slid down the table at her.
"I would take a look at those documents before I got too uppity, miss."
Anne felt her hands shake as she opened up the folder and started examining documents. Most she recognized but some she didn't, but they all showed a common thread, they had her signatures on them. "I have no idea what some of these documents are about and I don't remember signing them."
"Miss Summers, you're a lawyer, surely you're not going to claim you signed documents that you didn't read?" Brett asked her, leering like a jackal at her.
"I may have signed some of these, but I think things may have been added later."
"Huh, sounds likely." Brett replied to her explanation.
Anne sat quietly for a while before she decided that she had nothing to lose. "So your attacks on Mister Duncan and his daughter failed, so now we go to plan B, blackmail."
She caught a wry smile from Brett but decided to focus on the owner directly. "Mister Winters, it won't work, the police and Sheriff's department are on to you and are currently gathering evidence that you orchestrated the attack this weekend."
She thought he would flinch but her hopes fell when he didn't even seem to notice her statement. "Miss Summers, I have to applaud your guts; that was an excellent try to divert attention from your misdeeds."
Anne tried to hold her composure but she felt it slipping as he continued. "Here is what is going to happen. You are going to go redo your recommendation, go into court tomorrow, testify that Duncan is not an acceptable father and the firm will be awarded guardianship."
"And if I don't?" Anne asked with a sinking feeling she already knew the answer.
"By tomorrow night, you will be sitting in a jail cell, arrested for fraud, misappropriation and felony larceny. Your smallest problem will be your disbarment."
Anne sat stoic, desperately trying to figure out what to say. They had her and she was sunk. They had all the documents and she had no doubt they had everything in order for her fall.
"And what happens to Grace if I testify she shouldn't be with her father?" She asked and they all could hear her voice cracking. Brett Langeman couldn't suppress a smile as he knew it was over, he had won again.
"What's it to you Anne?" Roger asked her.
"I want to know, I care for her."
"Fine, she will be adopted by one of our more wealthy clients, who is willing to pay for that privilege in cash!" Roger replied triumphantly.
"I could expose you all!" Anne spat out, making one last effort to extract herself from this mess.
"Stop it," Mark Winters stated flatly. "You have no evidence, the police have no evidence and we have absolute proof of your crimes. Even if you go to court, and support your current report, we will simply have it overturned once we show the Judge that you conspired to steal the girl's money. You will be in jail, discredited and then we will deal with taking care of Duncan."
Anne slumped in her chair, of all the possibilities, she hadn't seen this one coming.
"Now, I suggest you get to work on redoing that report and we'll see you later today to go over the questions you WILL be answering in court tomorrow!" Mark said, dismissing her.
She got to her feet, praying that her legs would hold her up, and walked out of the conference room, leaving the three partners sitting there.
After she left, Mark looked over at Roger. "That was fucking stupid!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" He replied.
"Oh, I'll tell you asshole, why did you tell her we were going to sell the girl. She didn't need to know that!" Brett told him, anger seething through him.
"What difference does it make?" Roger retorted, trying to defend himself.
"Enough, fuck it, it's done." Mark said looking over at the other two. "I think we got her but we need a backup plan."
"I can come up with something." Brett answered.
"Fuck no, I will. You've fucked it up every time." Mark said directing his venom at Brett.
"What are you talking about?"
"How did your perfect plan go Saturday?"
"Yeah, well, who would of thought he could take those three."
Roger jumped back into the discussion, happy to get the heat back off of himself. "I did! I fucking told you that guy was a beast, you probably should have sent ten guys after him."
"Fine, you come up with something, because if this goes sideways tomorrow, we're fucked!" Brett threw out and then left the room, slamming the door behind him.
"He is right about that." Roger said to Mark after Brett was gone. "We better come up with something just in case."
"I have an idea."
"Never mind, the more people involved the more risk. I'll handle it, you just get to work on a script of questions and answers for tomorrow."
After Roger left, Mark mulled the plan around in his head. He had to smile, thank you Anne he thought, I would have never come up with it myself.
Anne went back to her office shaken, how did she ever get in this mess? They had her, every one of those documents was picture perfect, there was no doubt that it showed a consistent pattern of fraud on her part. She could declare her innocence, hire lawyers, and on and on but it would do little good, they were way ahead of her. With the amount of money missing and the firm against her, she would be in prison for twenty years, maybe more.
And while she was fighting that, what would happen with Don and Grace. The partners were right again, regardless of what she did, they would get Grace. They were willing to kill Don if necessary and they obviously had the resources to get it done.
Dropping her head into her hands, she started crying but soon realized the futility of it. Opening up her laptop, she started rewriting her report, whether she could go through with it or not, she didn't know, but at least she had to look like she was.
As the day came and went, two very worried men were assembled at Don's house.
"I thought she was coming back." Don said to Mike as they stood in the living room.
"I did too, she was supposed to just go in for a meeting and then back here." Mike replied, nervously running his hand through his hair.
Don just shook his head, he knew why she wasn't coming back. Unfortunately, he also knew that the future of family that he wished for last night, was gone. "I tried calling her several times today, but she never answered."
Mike was distraught as he thought of his words only yesterday. He said he couldn't see how she could be in danger, now he prayed that he was right.
A knock sounded at the door and before either of them could move, Bobby opened it and came in. "I have news but I don't know whether it's good or bad."
"Well?" Mike said with some heat, he was obviously not in the mood for jokes.
"She's okay, one of my deputies who was watching her apartment, said she just went in alone."
"Damn!" Mike exclaimed. "Something has to be wrong or she would have come back here."
"I could pick her up, but if she's not willing, I could have a hell of a mess on my hands." Bobby volunteered.
"NO!" Don exclaimed, startling both men. "No, leave her alone, whatever is wrong, let it go."
'Are you sure?" Mike asked, shocked at Don's outburst.
"Yeah, leave her be, I guess we will see everyone tomorrow at nine."
"Don, I still have someone guarding her and you, they will follow you to the courthouse tomorrow."
"That's not necessary." Don replied.
"Fine, then they will be following Grace to the courthouse." Bobby told him with a look that showed that he wasn't giving in.
"All right, I got it, you win." Don said, his mind really somewhere else.
Mike and Bobby said their good-byes and headed out, meeting up again at Mike's house.
"I don't like this, something's going on with Anne." Mike told him, as they both grabbed a beer when they got home.
"Yeah, but what?" Bobby asked before another thought came to him. "And why doesn't Don care?"
"That's what I really don't get!" Mike said before he blew out a breath. "What the hell is with those two?"
"What do you mean?"
"Come on, he's so in love with her it's crazy!" Mike said with a chuckle.
"Yeah, but what about her, I'm not so sure she sees things the same way."
Mike just looked at him for a second before he started laughing. "Jesus Christ, no wonder you can't get a girl!"
"Nothing, just let it go." Mike said as he turned more serious. "Look, we have to be ready for anything tomorrow, whatever happens, we have to have a plan."
"I'm way ahead of you." Bobby said with a small grin. "I already talked to the Judge and we can have plenty of support there."
"How'd you do that?"
"I went through this weekend's events with him and then used the one trump card that I've never played before."
"Trump card?" Mike asked.
"Yeah, I called in a marker for Michael Duncan."
Mike gave him a grin, "So I owe him one now?"
Bobby just shook his head, "Nope, he just said to tell you you're even now."
Bobby looked at his dad quizzically and then took a drink of his beer. "Do you want to tell me that story?"
Mike just shook his head. "No Sheriff, I don't"
Bobby finished his beer and set it down. Very deliberately he walked over to the window and looked out across the back yard for a few moments. Then he seemed to wander around the room before his eyes seemed to light on the mantle over the unused fireplace. Picking up a picture of his mom, he stared at it for a while before looking back at his dad. "You know, you keep giving me that Sheriff routine but you're the one that got me into this job."
Mike just nodded, not knowing where he was going with this.
Bobby sat the picture back on the mantle, turning away from his dad. Mike could hear his son's voice break a touch as he started speaking, his words only a bit louder than a whisper. "Do you think she would ever forgive me if we have to stop him tomorrow?"
Mike just stared at his back as the implications worked their way through his mind. "If it comes to it, you can't let him hurt other people, innocent or guilty, it's your job . . . Sheriff."
Mike saw his head droop a bit at his words and he watched his son as he seemed to stand frozen with his back turned to him. "Yeah, it's a great fucking job." Bobby finally said softly as he walked out the door, leaving his dad deep in thought.
Don woke up and stared at the little girl in his arms. She was still fast asleep and the sound of her gentle breathing sounded like music to his ears. Cuddling her even tighter, his thoughts returned to the last six weeks of his life. From the day Anne brought Grace to the house, to the fateful kiss yesterday, it all ran through his mind over and over.
Looking down at her, he made himself a promise, whatever happened today, he was not going to give her up. Whatever it took, whatever money he had to spend, whoever he had to battle with, it didn't matter, he would not let her go.
Finally Grace started to stir and when she woke up a huge grin came to her face as she realized that her daddy was holding her safe and warm in his arms. "Morning Daddy." She said softly.
"Morning sweetie," he replied as he hugged her even tighter. "I love you."
"I love you, too" she answered sleepily as she snuggled in even tighter.
Finally he pulled back from her. "We have to get up and dressed nice today."
"We have to go see some people." He answered.
"Will we see Miss Anne?"
Her question made Don swallow hard before answering. "Yes honey, we'll see Miss Anne today." He just wished he knew what her attitude towards him was going to be.
"All right, let's get up and going." Don said as he got himself untangled and out of bed, still feeling the pain of the weekend's fight.
On the other side of town, Anne didn't have to wake up. She had been up most of the night as she tried desperately to figure a way out of her predicament. Unfortunately as morning dawned, she was no closer to a solution than she was last night. Every option she considered ended up badly. With a heavy heart she got up and dressed for the day.
By eight o'clock Sheriff Duncan and his police counterparts had finished laying out the courtroom.
"All right . . . listen up." Bobby said to the assembled group. "You all know your places and your responsibilities."
After looking around the group and seeing the head nodding, he continued on. "Everyone here is aware of the events of this past weekend. We believe that the attempted kidnapping of the child involved in this court action was not a random act. Because of that belief, you are all here. We have no reason to suspect something will happen today, but prudence dictates that we be ready for anything."
Bobby seemed to hesitate and those that knew him best could see his emotions start to surface. "One last thing, I know that everyone here knows that Donald Duncan is my cousin and the girl is his daughter. I also know that there is probably not an officer here who has not had to deal with him in the past."
Again there was a pause as he seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "I'm asking every one of you to put any prejudices you may have aside. Our job is to protect everyone here, including him. If something happens, we have enough manpower here to control the situation. Do NOT let your emotions get the best of you, stay calm."
Bryce was standing close enough to his boss to see his hands shake just a bit as he finished. "If anything happens today that rises to the level that you feel deadly force is necessary, make damn sure that there are no other options."
After receiving a chorus of "yes sirs" and head nods, Bobby dismissed the group and turned away.
"You okay?" Bryce asked as he approached the Sheriff. In the last few months Bryce had gone from being a young rookie to an experienced deputy under the Sheriff's tutelage. But more than that, he considered his boss, not only a great mentor, but a good friend.
"Yeah, just worried, I guess." Bobby replied carefully.
Looking around at the others starting to leave the courtroom, Bryce tried to reassure his boss. "I think you've got a good plan. Everyone in civilian attire, coming in one's and two's, spacing them out around the room; I think everyone is ready."
"I just hope no one is too ready, we sure as hell don't want this to turn into the O.K. Corral!" Bobby replied, shaking his head.
"I think everyone got the message, I don't know all of them, but it seems like they're all older officers."
"Yeah, we choose only the most experienced for this."
"But . . . ah . . . kind of makes me wonder why I'm here, you really haven't given me a role." Bryce asked hesitantly.
The Sheriff looked at him with a small grin. "I have you here for a very specific reason."
"Oh no, not sure I like the sound of this."
Bobby just chuckled at his response before he turned serious. "Bryce, there are four people that I believe have any chance of controlling Don without it becoming a nightmare. Obviously Anne, my dad and me, but I also believe you can."
"ME?" Bryce blurted out.
"Yeah you." Bobbie said with a smile. "Look, don't sell yourself short, I think my cousin respects you and considers you a friend. To him, that's enough."
"Okay, so what do I need to do?"
Bobby looked around to make sure there was no one lurking nearby. "Only a couple people know this but we actually suspect that Anne's firm is behind all of this and may cause trouble here or try to incite Don to lose control."
"What . . . holy shit, the lawyers!" Bryce said softly, keeping his voice down.
"Yeah, can't trust lawyers, there's a revelation huh?"
Bryce just chuckled at his boss's joke. "So?" he asked.
"The fact is you're new, none of them would probably recognize you in civilian clothes. So, I want you right behind the lawyers and ready to get between them and Don in an instant."
"Okay, I got it, but if I have to get between them, I hope I get some help in a hurry!"
"You will, I just need you to slow him down, I really think he would hesitate before he'd take a shot at you, hopefully that'd be all the time we need for the cavalry to get there."
Bryce just looked at his boss for a few seconds as what he was hearing sunk in. "So I'm the sacrificial lamb?"
"Yeah, you could say that." Bobby replied with a grin.
"Bryce in all seriousness, I know you like the guy and the best way to keep him out of trouble today is to not let him get out of control to start with."
Bryce just nodded. "You're right, he's a good guy, I do want to help."
"One last thing, keep an eye on me, I'll be behind him with my dad."
"Got it boss." Bryce replied before heading off to wander around the courthouse for a while.
As the courtroom started to fill, all three senior partners sat stoically at their table. Mark Winters looked around carefully, waiting for Anne Summers to arrive. He had spent considerable time in the last twenty four hours making sure everything was set to ensure her cooperation, he just needed one last word with her before the court convened.
Bryce came in and took a seat behind them, trying to look inconspicuous. Most of the other law enforcement personnel drifted in and took seats in prearranged places.
"Mister Duncan?" An older lady questioned, as she spied the huge man and Grace walking towards the courtroom.
"Yes." Don answered hesitantly.
"Hi, Mrs Bell!" Grace said excitedly.
"Hi sweetie, how have you been" She replied to the smiling little girl.
"I've been fine." Grace replied with a giggle.
Mrs Bell looked up at Don and then stuck out her hand. "I'm sorry, I'm Mrs. Bell, I was Grace's nanny after . . . well . . . before she came to live with you."
"Oh, okay." Don replied with a smile and then gently shook the woman's hand.
"Mister Duncan, it's my understanding that the Judge asked that I take care of Grace while court is in session." She said with a smile.
Don started to tense up but then he remembered how the Judge had talked with them in chambers so they were away from Grace. "I understand." Don answered, assuming the Judge probably wanted to spare his little girl any sadness that may come if certain things were talked about.
Don slowly dropped to a knee, so he was face to face with Grace. "You go with Mrs. Bell and daddy will see you in a little while okay?"
"Okay Daddy." Grace replied before she moved into him for a hug.
Don took the little girl in his arms and hugged her tight to him. For an instant it flashed through his mind that this may be the last time he would be able to do this but he swept it aside. "I love you so much." He whispered to her.
"I love you too daddy." She whispered back as they broke part.
Mrs. Bell stuck out her hand and Grace took it and they started down the hallway away from the courtroom.
Don watched them until the rounded a corner before he whipped at his eyes and went to meet his fate.
Ben Roberts saw Don and motioned him forward to the same table he sat at weeks ago. Sitting down gently, still sore from the fight, he looked over and saw the three men at the other table. One he recognized, but the other two were new to him.
He was still looking around when he felt a hand on his back. "How we doing son?" Mike asked him as he gently squeezed his shoulder.
"You didn't have to be here." Don said to him, looking back at him.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world." Mike replied with a grin. "Besides, I haven't hardly spoiled her yet."
Don just laughed as Mike took his seat a couple rows back. Bobby soon joined him and he gave Don a nod as he sat down.
Mike looked around and then stood up, making his way back out into the hallway. He paced back and forth, still worried about yesterday and why Anne never showed back up at the house.
"Anne, is everything okay?" he asked as he finally saw her coming down the hallway.
"I'm fine," she replied but Mike could tell that something was very wrong.
"Are you sure?"
"Fine, just fine."
"Anne," he said as he took her hand and pulled her off to the side. "You don't look fine, what's wrong?"
Anne just shook her head and pulled away from him.
"Anne, stick with him." Mike said loudly as she walked away from him.
Suddenly Anne stopped and turned around and looked back at him. She couldn't believe what he said, 'stick with him', the same thing he told her the night they first met.
Turning back towards the door, she walked into the courtroom and up to the table. Mike's words were ringing in her ear as she addressed Mark Winters. "I won't do it."
Mark stood up and pulled Anne close to him. "Then you'll be going to jail." He hissed out at her under his breath.
Anne stood tall and glared at him. "Then so be it, I will not be a part of this, I'm going to get on that stand and expose you all, let the chips fall where they may. I will NOT allow you to take Grace away from him and I am willing to face the consequences . . . are you?"
Mark didn't even flinch. "Then Grace will die!" He said, his voice still low and full of menace.
Mar 1, 2018 in romance