Scorned Justice Excerpt by Margaret Daley
The pain in her neck and shoulders sharpened its grip on District Court Judge Rebecca Morgan as she left the courtroom. She headed for her office, welcoming the quiet in the corridor. Inside her sanctuary from the madness of this new trial, she shed her black robe and hung it up in the closet. Finally, the end of the day—the weekend was here and she could escape to the ranch. Two glorious days to spend with her brother and his family. She could forget for a short time the case before her—the murder of a businessman by a high-level member of the Russian mob.
With a sigh, she grabbed her purse and started for the door. The ranch was almost an hour away from San Antonio, and as it was, she would be in traffic for a while.
Before she could reach for the knob, the door swung open and her law clerk stood in the entrance. A frown etched deep lines in the forty-year-old woman’s face.
Rebecca stiffened. “What’s happened?”
“You got a delivery half an hour ago from a florist.”
“I did?” She couldn’t think of anyone who would send her flowers. It wasn’t her birthday or any other occasion for a celebration. Then Rebecca focused on the deepening scowl on Laura Melton’s face. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I’ll show you.” Laura turned into her office, which connected with Rebecca’s, and strode to her desk. Lifting the lid on a long white box with Blooms and Such stamped on its side, she tilted it toward Rebecca.
To reveal a dozen long-stem roses—all dead.
Rebecca gritted her teeth. “They are not going to succeed in ruining this trial the way they did the last one.” The first trial, under Judge Osborn, had been declared a mistrial when it was revealed there was jury tampering. “This new tactic will not be tolerated.” As she spoke, though, she tried to decide how she would handle this. “Is there a card with it? Anything to give to the police?”
“Just this box. It was sitting on my desk when I came back in here right before you ended the trial for the day. I called Detective Nelson. He’s on his way over here.”
Rebecca checked her watch. “I need to leave. My brother’s birthday party is in less than two hours. Can you handle it by yourself?”
Laura’s frown relaxed into a neutral expression. “Sure. Charlie has a special interest in this trial and wants to make sure justice is done here. And he isn’t too bad to look at either.”
Rebecca laughed. “Leave it up to you to turn this into checking a man out.”
“I could always give you tips if you’re interested.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I’ll pass.” Especially a cop. She’d been married to a policeman who had died in the line of duty three years ago. She wouldn’t go through that again. She made her way toward the door. “If Detective Nelson needs to talk to me, he can reach me on my cell. Otherwise, I don’t want to deal with any type of business until Monday morning, when jury selection continues.”
“Forget this place. I’ll make sure the detective doesn’t have any questions for you. I’ll use my womanly wiles on him.” Laura winked.
“You do that.” As Rebecca hurried toward the elevator, she realized how fortunate she was to have such a good law clerk and friend in Laura. She made her life so much easier, especially now, with this difficult trial. She would have to take Laura out to dinner next week as a thank-you.
* * *
When Texas Ranger Brody Calhoun let himself into his house, Dallas, his black Lab, greeted him at the door, wagging his tail and nosing Brody’s hand. He stopped and knelt to pet Dallas, knowing if he didn’t, his dog would hound him until he did it properly.
“Did you and Dad get along all right today?”
“So this was a good day, then?” Brody rubbed behind his ten-year-old dog’s ears.
“Of course we got along okay, Son. I told you he was growing on me.”
Brody looked toward the den, where his father was standing, instead of using his electric scooter. The deep lines on his face revealed a man who appeared to be ten years older than he really was. But three months ago, at sixty-eight, he’d had his second heart attack, and his recovery had been much slower than the last one six years before.
“Gone for the day.”
“I must have just missed him.”
“No, I told him to get out after lunch. I don’t need anybody watching me take a nap. A waste of good money.” His dad swept his arm down the length of his body. “See, I don’t need my scooter. I’m capable of getting around under my own steam. You can turn it back in.”
Brody rose slowly, using the time to suppress his anger. Why hadn’t Ted called him to let him know what his dad had done? He pulled out his cell and . . .
“Put that thing up. I told him he’d better not call you. He works for me, not you.”
A denial of that fact was on the tip of Brody’s tongue, but instead of saying anything and causing yet another argument, Brody gritted his teeth and stuck his cell back in his pocket.
“Ted is here to keep you company, make sure everything goes all right.” To give me peace of mind. I almost lost you.
His father scowled. “As soon as the doc says, I want him gone. I don’t need a babysitter.”
Brody ignored his father’s usual complaints. “Ted is a nurse, not a babysitter.”
His dad’s eyebrows slanted down even more. “I’m no fool. I know exactly why Ted is here. I’ve been taking care of myself for more years than you’ve been alive.”
“Samantha is bringing dinner for you tonight.”
“Where are you going?”
“To Thomas Sinclair’s birthday party. It started out as a small affair, but it’s turning into a big deal now that Foster Sinclair is coming. Although I’m not officially on duty, I’ll be keeping an eye on the governor. Can’t have anything happen to Foster at the same party I attend.”
“There was a time when I would have been invited when Thomas’s dad was around. At least Tom wasn’t put out to pasture like I’ve been.”
“Dad, Thomas would love to see you. Do you want to go with me?”
“No,” his father quickly replied, “not until I’m back to being 100 percent.”
“That’s what I told Thomas when we talked about it.”
“No reason to leave, especially like this. And for your information I don’t have to have my granddaughter take over for Ted. I can put a dinner in the microwave.” His dad swung around and shuffled into the den.
Brody followed him. “We’ve been over this. Until the doctor thinks you can stay by yourself, you need someone checking up on you throughout the day. I have to work and sometimes get caught up in a case—”
His dad turned up the volume on the television set. Its blaring sound negated any possibility of having a reasonable conversation with the man. Brody stared at him, sitting in his lounge chair in front of the TV with some game show on. His dad had gone from being an invalid part of the time to thinking he could do anything he had done before his heart attack.
Brody headed to his bedroom to change his shirt. He had come back to his hometown of San Antonio to fill a ranger’s position in Company D because his father’s health had taken a turn for the worse six months ago. Then he’d had a heart attack and his dad had required a lot more care than Brody, checking with him every day, could give him. When his dad was released from the hospital, he came to live with Brody.
And to test my patience every day since then.
As Brody finished dressing, the doorbell rang, the sound competing with the TV. He quickened his pace and let his niece into the house. “Are you ready for duty?”
Samantha clicked her heels together and saluted. “Aye, aye, sir. How is he?”
“I’m just peachy.”
Samantha leaned around Brody and grinned at his dad. “Hi, Grandpa. Are ya ready for me to beat you at chess tonight?”
His old man snorted. “When the tropics freeze over.”
“I’ll leave y’all to hash out who’s the best chess player in the Calhoun family. I can’t be late for the governor.”
“Don’t worry about Grandpa, Uncle Brody.” Samantha stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “After I beat him at chess, I think a rousing game of dominos will be fun.”
“In your dreams, Samantha,” his father said with a chuckle.
Brody left, realizing his nineteen-year-old niece was just what his dad needed. Dad had a hard time resisting a pretty female. Maybe that was Brody’s mistake. Maybe he should have hired a woman to nurse his dad back to health, especially now that he could get into and out of bed by himself. His dad was also walking more and only used the scooter when he got tired. Maybe he should think about returning the scooter they’d rented. To his dad it was a symbol of his invalidism. He’d also call the agency tomorrow and check into requesting a female nurse. He had to have someone who wouldn’t let his father dictate what he did. Ted should have called him today and let him know that he had left hours before he should have.
* * *
Rebecca parked next to her brother’s F-150 and slid from her car as her two nieces flew out of the back door of the ranch house and raced toward her. Bracing herself, she hugged both of them to her.
“We thought you would never get here,” Kim, her ten-year- old niece, said, leaning back to look up at Rebecca.
Aubrey still clung to her leg. At five, she did everything her big sister did. “Yeah, Aunt Becky. What took ya so long?”
She cringed at the name Becky. The only other one who used that name besides her nieces was her brother. Probably because she still called him Tommy to irritate him. “Traffic.
Everyone was leaving San Antonio for the weekend, all at the same time.” She hugged them to her and started for the house. “Where are Tory and your dad?”
“Tory’s in the kitchen freaking out about the food and the fact that Dad isn’t here yet for his own birthday party.” Kim reached for the door and opened it.
“He isn’t? I imagine Tory is upset.”
“Daddy forgets the time.” Aubrey entered first.
Tory stood at the island counter, putting one hand on her waist. “And he must have forgotten his cell again. I can’t reach him on it. Or his ringer is off. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him to take it with him and have it on so he can hear it when it rings.”
Rebecca chuckled. “You two still arguing about that?” Her brother wasn’t a big fan of cell phones because he loved getting away for a while by himself to think, which was usually when he was riding his horse, Rocket.
“The governor is coming tonight, and Thomas is out riding the fences.” Tory’s gaze flitted from one stepdaughter to the other. “And you two need to go get your good clothes on. Go. I laid them out on your beds.” Frowning, she waved her hand toward the doorway. “Now.”
Rebecca kissed the top of Aubrey’s hair and then hugged Kim before they scurried off to follow their stepmother’s directions. “See you two later.” When she turned to her sister- in-law, she continued. “You know, he does his best thinking while riding.”
“Yeah, worrying about the drought and forgetting he’s turning one year older.”
Her older brother had hated his thirtieth birthday. His thirty-fifth had been even worse, and now he was thirty-seven. “He does know Foster Sinclair is coming?”
“Yes.” Tory frowned, taking the decorated, Texas-shaped sugar cookies off the cookie sheet and placing them on a platter. “He’s one of his cousin’s biggest supporters, so this is a treat for him. I can’t understand why he isn’t back yet.”
“Have you sent someone out after him?”
“The hands are in front helping set up the barbecue.”
“Then I’ll go out and try to find him. And I’ll take my cell with the ringer on so you and I can communicate. Okay?”
Tory pointed her fingers at Rebecca. “You aren’t dressed for riding.”
“But I will be when I change. It won’t take me five minutes. You know how I love to ride. As much as Thomas does. This gives me a reason to do it before tomorrow.”
“That’s one thing I’ve not gotten into since coming here a year ago.” Tory held up both hands, palms outward. “I know. Thomas doesn’t understand. But I’m not comfortable around horses. Thankfully, he loves me in spite of that flaw.”
Hattie, her brother’s housekeeper, rushed into the kitchen. “Everything is looking good out front. Why don’t you let me finish up in here, and you go get ready for tonight?” The fifty- three-year-old woman, who had been with the Sinclair family for thirty years, edged Tory away from the cookie sheet and took the metal spatula from her hand.
“I think I will. Then I’ll do one final check. I’m much better at planning and hosting a party than riding a horse.” Tory left the kitchen.
Hattie watched Rebecca’s sister-in-law until she disappeared, then switched her full attention to Rebecca. “Ever since Foster accepted the invitation, she has been a basket of nerves. You would think the president of the United States was coming, not the governor. Wait ’til she sees him arrive with his security detail.”
“I’d better go find my brother. It would help if the man wore a watch.”
“How many times have we heard Thomas say he can tell the time by the sun?”
“Too many to count. Do you think he is purposely staying away until the party has started? He hates anyone making a fuss over him.”
“Then he really should have made that point clear to his wife,” Hattie muttered as she finished placing the cookies on the platter.
After Rebecca retrieved her bag from the trunk of her Mustang, she quickly changed into comfy jeans, a casual shirt, and boots. Ten minutes later, she rode Angel Fire from the stables and headed in the same direction the foreman, Jake, said her brother had gone. The sun almost kissed the tops of the hills to the west, bathing the terrain in golden hues.
Making a beeline for the fence line on the eastern edge of the property, she leaned forward and urged her gelding faster, the warm September breeze blowing her hair, put up in a ponytail. The scent of the outdoors, with its hint of sage, laced the air. She loved that smell.
All the worries of the new trial started to flee her mind. No gangland shootings. No vague threats. Nothing but peace. The presence of the Lord surrounded her as she let go of her worries and enjoyed communing with the natural beauty God had created.
But that didn’t tell her where her brother was. Knowing him, he was probably taking care of some problem with the cattle. The ranch was his life.
In the distance, she glimpsed a black horse that was like the one her brother rode, rider less and galloping across the pasture toward her, his run odd-looking. Where’s Thomas? Did he fall off his horse?
Rebecca urged her mount faster, her heart pounding as fast as Angel Fire’s hooves against the hard ground.
* * *
Brody climbed out of his blue SUV and scanned the area in front of the Sinclair’s large, two-story adobe house, where the barbecue would take place in less than half an hour. He’d come a little early to make sure security was in place for the governor’s arrival. Although he wasn’t officially a part of the security team, he couldn’t not be a Texas Ranger and make sure nothing happened to Foster Sinclair. One area of his expertise for the Rangers was security. Having been trained by the U.S. Marshals and the Secret Service, he was often involved in the protection of people in need.
He was at the barbecue as a friend to the Sinclair family, especially Thomas. They’d reconnected when he moved back five months ago. They had grown up as best friends and only lost touch with each other when he moved to Amarillo, and then to Dallas as a highway patrol officer and later a Texas Ranger. He’d welcomed the change. He couldn’t stay and watch Thomas’s sister, Rebecca, marry another man.
Three waiters came out of the house with Hattie right behind them directing them in their duties. He approached the housekeeper as the young men left to take their places.
“My lands, Brody Calhoun, you have grown even taller than the last time I saw you. What, six feet four or five inches?” Hattie greeted him with a hug, his large frame dwarfing her petite one.
“Still six three.”
“Are ya sure? What was it ten years ago?” She cocked her head to the side. “And why has it been ten years? One day you’re around a lot, then all of a sudden you’re gone.”
“I became a highway patrol officer. They sent me to Amarillo.”
“Why did you leave the San Antonio Police Department?”
“Because I wanted to be a Texas Ranger.” Because I was too late. Rebecca loved another.
“How’s your dad? Did he tell you I visited him a couple of times in the hospital?”
“Yes. We kept missing each other, but I’m glad you did. It brightened his day.”
“I bet he gave you and his doctors a tough time about staying in the hospital. I imagine you’ve had your hands full corralling your dad, so I’ll forgive you for not coming here until today.”
Brody reflected back to that week, tension clamping around his spine. “You imagined right. He wasn’t too happy being trapped in the hospital being a human pin cushion, as he put it.”
Hattie’s chuckle reminded Brody of the good times he’d spent at the Circle S Ranch. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. He reminds me of my husband. He insisted on coming home to die. He wasn’t going to stay in the hospital and have the last thing he saw be that room with its beige walls and every machine in the world hooked up to him. His words. I still miss him after five years.”
“I didn’t even know about him dying until a week after the fact.”
“I got your letter, and it meant a lot to me. I had a small memorial service before I scattered his ashes over the land he loved so much.”
“The Circle S Ranch?”
“Yep. He was foreman here for thirty years. He’s the reason I’m here taking care of Mr. Sinclair’s two adorable children. It doesn’t look like my daughter is going to get married anytime soon and give me grandchildren.”
Tory stepped out onto the front porch to survey the yard, from the lights strung up, to the tables set with red-and-white checkered tablecloths, to the grills set off to the side behind the buffet area.
Hattie leaned close to Brody and whispered, “She wanted a fancy party once she found out about the governor. Thomas had to put his foot down.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. He’s the least pretentious person I know. Besides, Tory must not know Foster well. He’s a lot like Thomas.” Brody pivoted toward Thomas’s wife, who was walking across the manicured lawn.
She stopped beside Hattie. “Your daughter said the brisket is ready to come out of the oven.”
“I’d better go and put the finishing touches to the food.” Hattie clasped Brody’s arm.
“Don’t be a stranger now that you live in San Antonio and your dad is getting better. I don’t want it to be another ten years before you come back to the ranch.”
As Hattie hurried into the house, Brody said, “I’d forgotten how much I love this ranch. I spent many days exploring this place with Thomas. Where is he?”
The corners of Tory’s mouth twisted into a frown. “Out checking fences. I don’t know what gets into that man’s head— he knows he needs to be here when the guests start to arrive.” She looked down the long drive and moaned. “Two cars full of guests who are here for his birthday. What do I tell them?”
“The truth. He had a situation he needed to take care of on the ranch, which I’m sure is what has kept him away. A lot of the guests are ranchers and will certainly understand. If he’s not back in twenty minutes, I’ll go out looking for him.”
Tory’s forehead grooved deeper. “You don’t think he really ran into a problem?”
“Knowing Thomas, he’s forgotten the time. I can gently remind him he has guests.”
“Rebecca already went out after him.” Tory started toward the two cars now coming to a stop. “Call her on her cell. You don’t want to cover the same ground that she has.”
“What’s her number?” Glad Tory’s back was to him, he doubted he was doing a very good job covering his reaction to hearing Rebecca’s name.
Tory rattled off the number, then greeted the first set of guests while Thomas’s daughters raced out of the house, dressed in their Sunday best. He wondered how long Aubrey would stay clean in her pretty white dress. According to Thomas, his youngest loved to don her fancy clothes even when going out to play in the yard. His gaze swung to Kim with her matching outfit, but her face reflected her discomfort. She was Thomas’s tomboy and probably only wore a dress when Tory insisted.
Kim threw him a glance as she crossed to her stepmother. He smiled at her, only having seen her a handful of times in the past five months when Thomas brought her into town with him on the weekend. He’d only been around Aubrey once, when the girls went with their father to Sea World and he had tagged along. Aubrey was the very image of Thomas— and Rebecca. A picture of Rebecca materialized in his mind: medium height with just the right curves, auburn hair, thick and wavy, framing a beautiful face dominated by blue eyes that were the color of the sky on a clear sunny day.
As another SUV pulled up, the picture of Rebecca vanished, and he quickly oriented himself to the task at hand. He waved at two fellow Texas Rangers, then strode toward the barn while digging out his cell to call Rebecca. A thin film of sweat coated his forehead and upper lip. Listening to the phone ring, he swiped his hand across his brow.
Get over it, Calhoun. You knew she was going to be here.
* * *
Rebecca neared Thomas’s stallion, who was coming up a small incline, his pace slowing. Rocket’s ears twitched back and forth, independent of each other and his eyes were wide, their whites showing. His nostrils flared.
Something’s wrong. What spooked him?
She slowed Angel Fire so as not to spook Rocket further and kept shortening the distance between them. When her cell phone rang, she gasped and pulled back on the reins with one hand while fumbling for her phone with the other.
Rocket came over the rise as she answered, “Rebecca.”
“This is Brody Calhoun. I’m at the house and told Tory I would help you look for Thomas.”
That was when she saw that Rocket was dragging a rope. Her gaze latched onto what the stallion towed. A scream erupted from deep in her throat, and the cell phone slipped from her fingers.