|In His Own Defense|
Series: Lawyers in Love
When Tony Landry sees his legal opponent across the courtroom, he knows he has to have her. Kristine feels the heat as well, but she's determined to do what's right, and Tony's on the wrong side of this case. When the barriers between them evaporate into a night of steamy passion neither can deny, Kristine promises herself it's just for one night -- to get the infuriating man out of her system. But Tony has other plans. To win his heart's desire, he'll have to make the most compelling argument of his career -- to Kristine. in his own defense.
“Harper wants this case to go to trial. Can you handle it on your own?”
“Yes.” Kristine Granger met the questioning gaze of her boss, Andi Young, one of three chief assistants to State Attorney Harper Wells.
Adrenaline pumped through her body. Finally. The opportunity she’d waited for. Eight years of grueling preparation. Nearly a hundred months of positioning herself to be able to rid the community of one of the drug lords whose poison had robbed her of her family. Kristine pictured this bastard rotting in a cell somewhere, his filthy coke and heroin off the Tampa streets because of her. The prospect made her want to jump up and yell out loud.
“You’ve got a week to prepare your case.”
Andi smiled. Kristine found it somehow right that her boss had a name uncommon for women. After all, Andi had made it in a man’s world—on her own terms.
“It’s hardly murder one. Just a simple case of possession with intent to distribute. Garcia’s lawyers will probably try to get us to let him to cop a plea and take probation.”
“Probation? Garcia’s been bringing drugs into Tampa longer than I’ve been alive.”
“Allegedly. Kristine, I understand you have personal reasons for wanting to bring dealers down, but you’ve got to maintain your—”
“Andi, I can handle this.” No way would Kristine let Andi snatch back this opportunity.
“Just keep things in perspective. Remember, you’ll be prosecuting Garcia on the charge before the court—not for every crime he ever allegedly committed.”
What had Andi said? Perspective? That was it. She’d keep her perspective, and she’d win. “I’ll get the job done.”
“Garcia’s lawyers won’t cut you any slack. And Manny spares no expense, hiring the best of the best.”
Kristine flipped through the case file, saw no evidence that any other attorney than Hank Ehlers was involved. “Hank? He’s just a junior associate at Winston Roe.”
Andi nodded. “Yes, he is. Frankly, I’m surprised Manny accepted an associate representing him at arraignment. When he goes to trial, though, I’ll lay odds Tony Landry himself will be sitting at the defense table.”
“But he’s in Miami.” Bile rose in Kristine’s throat. Just a few months ago Landry had come to Tampa for a high-profile drug trafficking trial and hung their former boss, Sandra Giancone, out to dry. And she recalled reading about several big criminal trials in Miami during which Landry had won acquittal for his clients.
What a waste of talent, she thought. Talent a man like him should be using to put criminals in jail, not keep them out.
“He’s not in Miami anymore. Winston Roe promoted Landry to partner and transferred him here to head their criminal defense division after Tom Ellis retired last month. Word has it, he moved into his corner office last Monday.”
Andi grinned. “He’s a hunk—and from what I understand he’s single, which makes him fair game,” she mentioned as she turned and walked away.
Kristine couldn’t care less if the man looked like Mel Gibson and Brad Pitt rolled into one. Tony Landry had built his reputation by getting accused criminals acquitted with nearly no-miss precision. There was no way he’d ever look good enough to mask the black hole that passed for his heart.
Besides, she wouldn’t let anything or anybody distract her from her goal, she told herself as she hunkered down at her battered metal desk in its wobbly, temporary cubicle.
Kristine flipped open the file and began to study the police report on Manny Garcia’s most recent arrest. It didn’t take long for her to figure out why Andi had passed along the case. As cases went, this was two on a scale of ten. Maybe.
The only concrete evidence they had was a couple of pounds of cocaine, found stuffed into a case of lettuce during a raid on Garcia’s produce warehouse. A raid made because apparently someone had phoned in an anonymous tip.
Kristine saw nothing in the report to tie Garcia himself to that cocaine—other than that he’d been seen in the warehouse shortly before the cocaine was found, and he had prior arrests for dealing.
No wonder Andi had dumped the case. Ambitious and savvy, Andi liked to try cases she was certain she could win, and she avoided bad press like the plague. Kristine imagined local reporters would crucify the prosecutor who let Manny Garcia walk or plead to lesser charges.
She was to become a sacrificial lamb.
Too bad there had to be political implications from the cases the state attorney’s office took to trial. Kristine shook her head. State attorney, indeed. A strange name for the lawyers elected to prosecute criminals in state courts in Florida, the official most people knew as “district attorney” from the cop-and-lawyer shows on TV. Beads of sweat collected on Kristine’s upper lip.
She glanced at her watch. Six o’clock. Nerves hadn’t caused the sweat—at least not entirely. The air conditioning in the building shut down promptly at five, a response to some county commissioner’s clichéd suggestion for “trimming the fat.”
Time to pack it in, before the office turned into an oven.
Kristine stuffed the file into her briefcase. She’d dig deeper into it when she got home. If she looked hard enough, surely she’d find some shred of evidence she could use to send Garcia away, something she had missed at first glance.
Shedding her suit jacket as she stood in the elevator, she tried to figure angles she could work to turn what looked like a sure acquittal into a conviction.
When she stepped outside the building, the heat stole her breath. Too hot today, even for dope peddlers. The breeze didn’t begin to evaporate the sweat from her body before more formed and dripped between her breasts and down the crack of her butt, making her itch in places she couldn’t scratch in public. The heat also made her wish she’d chosen anywhere else on earth to be this August day.
She got into her car and jammed the key into the ignition. The steering wheel burned her palms, and the vinyl seat toasted her backside. More sweat trickled between her breasts and down onto her belly, making her crank down the windows to release the worst of the hot air.
The car’s air conditioner labored, and a steamy breeze blew in through windows she’d opened to let out the trapped heat. Nothing made a dent in the misery.
Tampa, Florida—kissed on three sides by the waters of the bay and bisected by the meandering Hillsborough River—had to be the hottest place this side of hell, but Kristine was used to it. Except for the seven years she’d spent in college and law school at Gainesville, less than a two-hour drive away, she’d lived here her whole life.
Storm clouds gathered to the south, foreshadowing rain that would cool things off only marginally and add to the humidity.
Kristine hated summer. Hated the dying flowers and crops that wilted in the fierce heat. She hated remembering the losses she would always associate with the sweltering season eight summers ago when she’d found herself suddenly and terribly alone.
As she drove by a clump of stores west of downtown, she glanced at the shady spot under a sagging awning. Deserted now, the place usually served as headquarters for a half-dozen wild-eyed teenagers who dealt death to support their own killer habits.
Today, Kristine imagined they’d crawl out of their holes after the temperature dropped. After dark, like the cockroaches they were.
Her resolve deepened. Andi might have assigned her to the Garcia case because she didn’t think there was a chance in hell anyone could get a conviction, but Kristine would prove her wrong. She had to.
For years she’d waited for a chance to strike back at the bastards who’d as good as killed her sister Helen with their poison, and caused her dad’s death as certainly as if they had actually aimed a gun at his head and shot him. She might be short on admissible evidence, but she figured she could appeal to the jurors’ emotions as well as anybody.
Better than most. She was glad the state attorney, Mr. Wells, had decided he wouldn’t let this defendant cop a plea.
Not even the prospect of sparring with the defender who’d amassed an almost unbelievable win-loss record in Miami’s courts dimmed Kristine’s enthusiasm.
* * * * *
“The state attorney’s office won’t bargain?” Tony Landry found that hard to believe.
He got up from behind his massive mahogany desk and stared out the window at what looked like toy boats bobbing on a trench no wider than his hand. The Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa buildings with their sparkling minarets beyond made for a great view from his fortieth-floor corner office—far more peaceful than the busy street he’d looked out on from his office window in Miami.
“What do you know about the prosecutor?” Tony asked.
Hank Ehlers, the young associate he’d inherited from Tom Ellis when he’d retired, shrugged. “Her name is Kristine Granger. She assisted the attorney of record on a couple of cases Tom tried. This may be her first solo case. She’s young, not more than a year or so out of law school. Local Tampa girl.”
Tony got the picture of a kid a lot like Hank, raring to go and looking forward to trying that first case on her own. “This isn’t the kind of case I like to take to court. I wanted to talk our client into pleading on reduced charges and settling for probation. Think she’ll change her mind?”
“I doubt it. And I don’t think it’s Ms. Granger that’s refusing to deal. Word is, Harper Wells himself wants Garcia to go to trial.”
Politics. There couldn’t be any other reason for the state attorney to refuse to plea bargain a lousy case like this one. “Son-of-a-bitch.”
Maybe he could let Hank handle Garcia’s defense. No. Garcia demanded the best, and he had no problem paying for it. If this case went to trial, it would be his, even if it stuck in his craw that his first case in Tampa, and as a partner in Winston Roe, would involve his getting a reputed midlevel drug kingpin off on the ignominious charge of possession with intent to deliver.
“This Granger woman has to know her case has holes I could drive my car through.” Maybe she’d mount a cursory prosecution, Tony thought, his spirits brightening.
Hank shifted from one foot to the other and fixed his gaze on the carpeted floor. “Word has it she’s obsessed with throwing the book at every defendant who’s ever been within a mile of controlled substances. Something about her sister dying of an overdose.”
Damn! A crusader. Just what Tony needed to herald his arrival on the local scene. He pictured the press making Kristine Granger Little Red Riding Hood and casting him in the role of the big bad wolf…