Hey, everyone! Sorry I’ve been MIA the last couple of weeks. I had some family come in from out of town, so the end of January was insane. Anyway, I wanted to share a snippet from the upcoming third book of my Step Into Darkness series, The Future Looks Forward. It’s publishing March 3rd.
Blurb: Justine Leonard is determined to hold her head high in the wake of all Dirk Martin did. When the weight of the world is thrust onto her shoulders again, she embraces it for the love of her family. Though her scars run deep, Dad always told her the future looks forward and that’s exactly what she’s fighting to do through the good and the bad, but will her determination be her undoing?
The Future Looks Forward:
1:15 p.m. Adnerba, Ohio
Out in the stillness of the hall, Justine waits with her heart in her throat. Images of Mom’s last moments mingle with Dirk’s howls of laughter in her memories, while the sunlight filters through the stained-glass window above her in a pattern of ruby and sapphire. One silent officer, his mouth set in a grim line, guards the hefty wooden door to the courtroom and a rotund man in a suit and tie shares the bench she waits on. She licks her chapped lips. You’re an idiot for not taking even one anxiety pill. If you break into sobs on the witness stand, they’ll assume you’re crazy. Maybe they’d be correct. Her vision blurs as it’s done often and without warning for the last two months. Pull it together. She swipes the tears away. You must do this for Mom and Arthur. From her pocket, she slips and unfolds a printed copy of the digital collage Eric put together of images of them. She smooths her thumb over her brother’s bright eyes the color of pewter, and her heart swells. She would have loved him. Her belly rumbles. I wish I hadn’t been too nervous to eat when they broke for lunch.
For what seems an eternity, she waits in the silence. Overhead the heater kicks up a notch to belch more hot air into the still corridor. You must be kidding me. A single drop of sweat rolls down her spine.
Without warning, the heavy wooden door gives a loud click and almost sends her through the roof. It swings outwards in slow motion and sends a ripple of panic through her veins.
She gulps the acid in her throat and rises on unsteady legs.
Entering the courtroom, her heart thrashes against her ribs as she scans the rows of onlookers for Eric.
When she finds his jade gaze, his smile steels her nerves. Mr. Mitchell inclines his head to her even while her body seems to move on its own.
You’re not alone. You can do this. When she’s sworn in, her mind blurs for a moment, a pair of unblinking amber eyes latched on her. They drill through the walls she’d fought to build to heal what he’d done. She scratches at her smoky pencil skirt and refuses to pay him any attention. Each night since the police had taken him away, she feels his eyes and he haunts each dream. She blinks and takes a deep breath, to shut out the flashback which threatens to overwhelm her. Not here. Not now. Do. Not. Let. Him. Win.
The prosecutor approaches her, the way he did when they practiced, his movements slow but confident.
“Ms. Leonard, will you please state for the record your relation to the defendant?”
“Mr. Martin—Mr. Earl was my stepfather.” Her leg quakes and she presses her palm into her thigh to concentrate on the sensation. When someone clears their throat, it draws her attention and she meets Dirk’s gaze. He smooths his mustache and her gut rolls as if she’s in a freefall, careening toward the ground without a parachute.
“Ms. Leonard, you called the defendant by the name of Mr. Martin, can you please explain to the court why?”
She tucks her hair behind her ear and clears her throat. You can do this. “When my mother met him, he told us his name was Dirk Anthony Martin. It was the name he signed on their marriage license. The name on his driver’s license. And the name engraved on their wedding invitations. It was who he told her he was. We believed he was, without question, Dirk Anthony Martin.”
“Is the court to imagine your mother did not have a clue who she married?”
“Objection! Hearsay, the witness cannot speak for her mother, nor does one’s imagination have any place in the law.”
“And, Your Honor, her mother cannot speak for herself. She has passed and our condolences are with Ms. Leonard, but she is here today to tell us her connection to the defendant.”
The jury members shift in their seats; more than one leans toward her and she twists her fingers into the hem of her skirt.
The judge raises a palm to settle the room. “The prosecutor will rephrase the question.”
“With pleasure, Your Honor. Were you aware of his true identity and do you have any reason to suppose your mother knew?”
“No, neither of us did until the night the FBI took him into custody.” I worried Mom would lose Arthur the way she hyperventilated.
“Ms. Leonard,” the prosecutor’s voice echoes off the rafters, “as the defendant’s step-daughter, you had ample opportunity to observe his behavior, correct?”
“Would you mind telling us your first impression of him?”
She chews her lip and her mind gropes for the right words. “I didn’t understand how he made me feel.”
The prosecutor bobs his head and his brows dip above his nose. “Can you describe for the jury what you mean?”
“He always made me uncomfortable, but I couldn’t explain why. There was something not quite right about the way he looked at me. He’d brush his fingers on the small of my back, or let his hand linger on my arm for a bit too long. Even though it made me uncomfortable, at the time I couldn’t latch onto why. I had no frame of reference for it. No one jumps to the idea someone who claims to love their mother might be capable of something at the levels of deception he operated at.” A bead of sweat trickles down her neck.
“But you eventually realized why he made you uncomfortable, as you put it, correct?”
“Yes.” Her vision blurs and she swallows the lump in her throat to find Eric again in the crowd. You can do this.
“Ms. Leonard, your stepfather’s actions didn’t stop with a few lingering touches, did they?”
She takes a deep breath and shakes her head. “No, sir. He began to make…overt advances toward me anytime my mother wasn’t home. When I refused, he chased me through the house, but he wouldn’t catch me. I had a pair of knives I kept from my father and I began to keep one of them with me at all times. When he came for me, I locked myself in a room or by the grace of God someone stopped by to visit or my mother came home, and I’d be able to escape. He told me this happened because he allowed it, and he allowed it due to his certainty I would come to him of my own free will in my own time.” Her voice breaks but she pushes through. “He snuck into my room to watch me while I slept.”
“And this behavior continued for some time, correct?”
“Yes, for roughly a month and a half.”
“Can you take us through the breaking point of your experience with Mr. Earl?”
“One night after he, my mother, and I arrived home from a party at a friend’s house, where my mom fought with her best friend; he encouraged her to make amends with her friend in person.”
“And at this point she still was unaware of the situation?”
“Yes, she was in love and viewed everything through that lens. The moment she was out of the house—” tears slip from her eyes and her vision blurs, “he ran up the stairs. I was on the staircase listening to them and I barely made it to my room. I barricaded the door with my dresser.” Each word brings her memory to life. The choking fog of his cologne. His howl of laughter. His breath hot on her neck when he told her she would be his. When she reaches to wipe her tears, her fingers come away covered in mascara. She licks her lips and smooths her hair.
“He’d a plan beyond that night too, correct?”
“Yes. He purchased a pair of undated airline tickets with a private airline—”
“Objection, Your Honor!” Dirk’s weasel of an attorney leaps to his feet. “The alleged tickets are not in evidence, and furthermore we cannot say he did not purchase them to take a trip with his former wife.”
She grinds her teeth and an adrenaline spike makes her heart race.
“Your Honor, there must be a mistake. The tickets go to show the defendant’s thought process and his capability to plan ahead.”
The judge nods. “Yes, but to what end? The jury will disregard any statements about the defendant’s possible purchase of airline tickets.”
The prosecutor purses his lips for a moment, his head tilted to one side. “One last question, Ms. Leonard, did you, or did you not, find a safe beneath the defendant’s bed which he used your birthday as the code for?”
“And what did you find in the safe aside from the aforementioned unmentionables?”
The defense attorney’s knuckles whiten, but he stays quiet.
“Careful, counselor,” the judge growls.
“I found a picture of a young girl and a bracelet with the name Jenny on it.”
“Objection!” He lets out a long breath and heaves himself from his seat as if it’s the most bothersome action on the planet. “Relevance?”
“Make the connection, counselor.” The judge scowls.
Stepping behind his table, he picks up a huge board covered in an onyx sheet. “This goes to show the defendant’s capability of mind when hiding his actions, Your Honor.” He places it on a medium sized easel beside the jury she hadn’t observed beforehand and pulls away the sheet to reveal an image of the picture and the bracelet. The airline tickets clearly visible in a clear plastic bag in the upper left corner of the photo.
“Your Honor,” the defense howls.
The prosecutor raises his palms in surrender. “Your Honor, this was the sole picture taken of these items which are in evidence. I have no control over the quality of it. If I cropped anything out of the image, I would have been guilty of tampering with evidence.”
The judge’s eyes narrow, his face aflame. “I’ll allow it.”
“The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”
With a sigh, the judge waves the defense forward. “Redirect?”
As always, thank you so much for reading! To purchase The Future Looks Forward, click here.