Chapter One

“YOUR HONOR, THE STATE strongly objects to the release of this convicted felon. Counsel from Release Initiative has produced inconclusive DNA results.” Gwen looked at the defense table to her left. Her nemesis, defense attorney Aaron Zimmerman, wore a rumpled wool-tweed blazer despite the summer heat. In the years she’d known him, he’d rotated through several hideous jackets at court appearances. She didn’t think he owned a suit, even though she’d recently made him laugh out loud by suggesting the name of a local tailor. She suppressed a sigh at what a cheerful mess he always seemed to be.

“Is defense counsel prepared to provide expert witness testimony on what these DNA tests mean?” Judge Tanner asked.

Aaron rose from his chair in that lazy, catlike way he had. “I am, Your Honor. Our expert witness will testify to reasonable doubt in the culpability of James Edward Conner, given there’s only a forty percent chance the DNA is his.”

“Your Honor—” Gwen began, but the judge slashed his hand in the air. She’d been about to remind the court that eye witnesses in the original case had placed the convict at the scene.

“I’ll hear your expert witness, Counselor, tomorrow morning at eight o’clock but this better not be a waste of time,” Judge Tanner pronounced. Then he hammered his gavel to conclude the session.

Gwen’s shoulders sagged ever so slightly as she gathered her files. She didn’t need to add another appearance to her already overloaded schedule. And John Fry, Chief of Criminal Appeals for the Maryland Attorney General, would not be happy that she’d been unable to make this one go away. Her boss took a dim view of wasting time on the endless efforts of certain organizations to get ostensibly innocent criminals out of prison. She didn’t like it much herself. Release Initiative, Inc., was one of their least favorite.

“Ms. Haverty, may I speak with you?” She looked up into the gray-green eyes of Aaron Zimmerman, counsel for that particular nonprofit.

“We need to prepare for this afternoon’s depositions.” Her colleague Logan Brown was being protective, certain she wouldn’t want to talk with Aaron. He was right.

“It’s about another case,” the defense attorney said. “If we could discuss a few details over coffee across the street, I’m hoping we can conclude at least one case quickly.”

She eyed him, amused and wary at the same time. Was he seducing her into a private meeting with the promise of an easy conclusion or extorting the time out of her with the threat of another drawn-out court battle? This invitation was a first, so she couldn’t be sure. Aaron had seemed direct and sincere when they’d worked against each other in the past, but she’d been fooled by men—particularly male attorneys—before. Her experiences forced her to suspect he was manipulating her in some hidden way.

“If you have hard evidence of a wrongful conviction, the State Attorney’s Office will cooperate in the release of the incarcerated individual,” she recited coolly. “Produce the evidence and there won’t be a drawn-out court battle. We don’t need to chat over coffee to make that happen.”

He smiled at her, which seemed as inappropriate as his attire. “C’mon. Please? It won’t take long and you’ll see why we need to talk when you hear the situation. And everyone needs a coffee break now and then.”

She almost laughed. But then he looked past her as Logan opened his mouth to protest again. “I promise I’ll have her back in time for the deposition,” Aaron said.

He made it seem as though she required Logan’s permission to have coffee. She couldn’t let her young and sometimes overly protective colleague believe he had anything to say about her activities. As manipulations went, Aaron’s ploy was stunning. And effective. She had to admire that.

Reconcilable Differences:

“Just don’t tell me you’re in love with him.”

“Don’t be absurd,” Gwen said.

“Ha. You are,” Melody crowed. “Aaron must be great in bed, because you two are complete opposites.”

“I haven’t slept with him, for God’s sake.” Gwen stood, tugging her suit jacket into place. “And I am most certainly not in love with him.”

Melody laughed. “Well, you’re in something with him. But be careful. This would not be a good time to lose your job.”

Gwen rolled her eyes at the other attorney. “I’m going now. And leaving our case in your hands. We have to get this right.”

Still sitting at her desk, Melody became serious. “We’ll do fine. Just promise me no more surprises like Aaron Zimmerman. Seriously, Gwen. Stay away from him until we get the hearing behind us.”

Gwen left without explaining how hard staying away from Aaron was proving to be.

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