Opening scene from Peggy Henderson's time travel historical romance--
“Didn’t I warn you that girl was trouble? Now look at the mess you’re in. First degree murder, Jake. You’re facing the death penalty.”
Jake Owens held the phone to his head, staring through the acrylic shield that separated him from the man glaring at him from the other side. He clutched at the phone until his knuckles turned white, and ground his teeth. He leaned forward, his nose almost touching the acrylic. The bright orange color of the jumpsuit he wore, marking him as a convict, reflected off the clear material.
“I only told Mama you got into a little trouble with the law before I flew out here. I sure as hell can’t tell her the truth.”
“I didn’t kill anyone, Tom,” Jake said, his tone clipped and harsh. He glared at his brother, his gaze unwavering. At least he didn’t think he’d killed anyone. He couldn’t be absolutely sure, though.
“The evidence says otherwise,” Tom said, his face just as hard. “I was at your arraignment yesterday, Jake. I heard what that lawyer said. You killed a clerk while robbing a liquor store.”
“And I’m tellin’ you I didn’t do it. That bitch set me up.” Jake’s voice grew loud and adamant, and he stood up from his seat. He leaned heavily on his right arm, his hand flat on the table, while the other gripped the phone. He wanted to leap through that barrier and wrap his hands around Tom’s neck, choke and shake some sense into him, and make him see the truth. Dammit! His own brother didn’t believe him. But what else was new.
“I don’t know how or if I’m gonna be able to raise that bail money, Jake. I know Mama and Daddy would sell the ranch to get you out of here, but I’m not gonna let them lose everything they’ve worked for their entire lives. Just because you had to go running off to the big city, because we weren’t good enough for you anymore.”
Jake cursed under his breath. He was tired of this argument. He’d left the family’s ranch in Montana more than six months ago, sick of slaving from morning til night wrangling horses and steers, just so a bunch of city folk could get their jollies and pretend to live in the old west. He wanted out. He didn’t know what he wanted, but of one thing he was certain: his future didn’t include busting his butt on a Montana dude ranch for the rest of his life, catering to rich vacationers pretending to be cowboys. He was twenty-four years old, and even with his college degree in American History, had nothing to show for his life but calloused hands, several broken bones over the years, and a sore back. Surely there had to be another life out there for him, somewhere.
“I warned you not to go off with her,” Tom said, his eyes blazing in anger. Jake’s mind snapped back to the present. “But you refused to listen. That’s always been the trouble with you. Chasing skirts and having a good time. When are you gonna grow up and start using that brain in your head rather than the one between your legs?”
When that pretty little blonde filly from California had shown up to spend a week riding trail and playing cowgirl, Jake had seen his chance to get away. She was from Los Angeles, a world vastly different than his simple country upbringing in a small Montana ranching community.
Sandra. Jake was in lust with her the minute he set eyes on her. All the other hands ogled her, too. She drove him crazy in her tight jeans, and over the course of her weeklong stay on the ranch, fed his desires with wild abandon, and pleasured him in ways he’d never even imagined possible.
When she asked him to come with her to the big city, he hadn’t thought twice about it. Finally, he’d found his ticket out of a dull and uneventful life, and Jake seized his chance. Tom, his older brother by four years, tried to talk him out of it when Jake announced he was leaving the ranch for good. He’d stuffed as many belongings as he could fit into his black duffel bag, and hurried out the front door to Sandra waiting in her red Mustang Convertible. His luck had finally shifted. That 300 horsepower car was the only thing remotely reminiscent of an equine he wanted to be associated with from hereon out.
Jake remembered his mother standing on the porch, a look of disbelief on her face, the tears shimmering in her eyes. He’d chosen to ignore it. His father’s face was set in a grim line, his disappointment clearly written on his face. He’d turned away and walked back into the house without a single word. Jake steeled his heart. The only one who had physically tried to stop him was Tom. He’d grabbed him by the shirt collar, and bared his teeth at him, a dark scowl on his face.
“What are you doing, boy?” he’d said. “You’re killing Mama and Daddy. After all they’ve done for you, suddenly we’re not good enough for you anymore? You’re just gonna up and run away with that --” he’d pointed his finger in the direction of the Mustang – “that city girl who you don’t even know?”
Jake could tell his brother wanted to use some choice unflattering words in his description of Sandra, but kept his thoughts to himself. Tom was always the calm and reasonable one, much more restrained and levelheaded. Jake clenched his jaw.
Jake flinched at the sound of the warden’s stiff voice behind him. He relaxed his stance, and stood up straight, pushing the chair he’d sat in further back with the heel of his foot. In a way he was glad the conversation with his brother was over.
“Your lawyer’s here to see you,” the warden said. “Say your good-byes to your visitor.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that bail, Jake,” Tom said into the receiver on his side of the plexiglass.
“Sure,” Jake said listlessly. “Gotta go. Tell Mama and Daddy I’m doing fine.” He didn’t wait for a reply, and hung the phone on the receiver. He turned and held his hands out to the warden, who wordlessly clipped the handcuffs around his wrists.
“Why is my public defender here to see me?” Jake turned to the warden, who ushered him out of the visitor room. “Yesterday at the arraignment, he acted as if the case was already lost.”
“Don’t know.” The warden shrugged in complete disinterest. He stuck a piece of chewing gum into his mouth, and the way his jaw moved up and down and in circles reminded Jake of a steer chewing on its afternoon cud. He led Jake down several corridors to what looked like another interrogation room, opened the door, and motioned for Jake to step in. Without following him inside, the warden closed the door behind him.
Jake looked around the sterile room. He moved toward the plain table in the center of the windowless cubicle. A man in an expensive-looking business suit stood from where he sat facing Jake. This wasn’t the man who had represented him yesterday at his arraignment. With a bright smile, the lawyer reached over the table, extending his hand. Jake leaned over the nondescript chair he stood next to.
“Jake Owens, it’s good to meet you,” he said brightly. Jake stared at the man. He had to lift both hands to shake the lawyer’s because of the handcuffs. The man’s grip was firm when he took Jake’s hand in his, and shook his arm up and down. The chains on the handcuffs rattled in response. Releasing his hand, the lawyer made a motion with a flick of his wrist for Jake to sit.
“You ain’t my lawyer.” Jake’s eyes narrowed, and he remained standing.
“Your public defender relinquished your case to me,” the man said. His cheerfulness grated on Jake’s nerves. “Have a seat, Jake. We have a lot to talk about.”
Jake’s lips curled in a mock smile. “What’s to talk about? I’m being accused of armed robbery and murder. The evidence says I did it.”
The lawyer eased back in his chair, looking up at him. He pressed the tips of his fingers together, creating a tent shape with his hands in front of him. His icy blue eyes stared directly into his soul. As if some invisible force compelled him, Jake sat on the chair behind him.
“Well, did you do it?” the lawyer asked, raising his bushy gray eyebrows. The top of his head was covered with a thick mop of salt and pepper colored hair that matched the expensive gray suit he wore. His tie was an electric blue that enhanced the color of his eyes. He leaned back in his chair, apparently in no hurry for Jake to reply.
“No, I --” The lawyer’s eyebrows rose even higher, cutting Jake’s words off as if he’d been gagged. The man’s stare became more intense. Jake clenched his jaw, and inhaled a deep breath. “Hell, I don’t know,” he said coldly, and looked past the man to study the whitewashed brick wall behind him, just to avoid looking into the old man’s eyes.
“Your blood tests revealed cocaine in your system and a blood alcohol level of 0.20,” the lawyer said casually. “What do you have to say to that?”
Jake already knew what his blood tests revealed. He hadn’t been able to convince anyone yet that he hadn’t touched any drugs. Sandra had often coaxed him to try it, and he’d adamantly refused each time. One thing he was not going to do was poison his body with drugs.
True, he’d gone with her to her all-night drinking parties, and gotten drunk more than he’d ever gotten drunk in college, in an effort to please Sandra. An occasional beer with supper at home, or a couple of times when he’d been invited to a keg party at school, had been the extent of his alcohol consumption. He preferred to be sober when he was in the company of a girl. Sandra had introduced him to more exotic versions of alcohol than he could possibly remember. Doubt etched his mind. Could she have persuaded him to take drugs while he was drunk? He swore under his breath.
Anger consumed him, and his heart rate increased as the rage in him boiled. The blood vessels throbbed at his temples. Anger at his weakness where Sandra was concerned raged in him, but more so because his brother had been right. Sandra had turned out to be nothing but trouble. His life had spiraled downhill the minute he got to Los Angeles. Through his association with her, he’d gotten involved with the wrong people, and now he was paying the ultimate price.
“I don’t know what happened that night,” Jake grumbled, glancing back at the lawyer. “I don’t remember how cocaine got in me. I sure as hell don’t remember sniffing the stuff.”
“You were found passed out in the driver’s seat of a Ford Mustang that witnesses saw speeding away from the liquor store. The murder weapon was in your lap, your hand prints all over it.”
Jake knew all that. Shit. Why did the lawyer have to rehash everything that he’d already been told over and over again?
“Yeah, well, all I can think of is that that bit . . . Sandra set me up.” Jake vowed he was done with women. They were all conniving and manipulative, especially since his latest flame had turned out to be nothing but a whore and a lying bitch.
The lawyer sat up straight, and leaned forward. Damn! Those icy blue eyes were downright frightening. Why the hell did the guy have to stare at him like that? It was as if he knew exactly what was going on inside Jake’s head.
“You have experience with horses and cattle, don’t you?” the lawyer asked.
Jake coughed in surprise. He cocked an eyebrow. Where the hell did that question come from all of a sudden?
“Yeah, and if I never have to see another cow or horse in my lifetime, it won’t be soon enough.”
“You also have experience with shooting guns? Rifles? A colt?”
Now that question made more sense. He was being asked if he had the know-how to fire that murder weapon.
“Yeah, I’ve gone big game hunting with my pa and brother since I was a little kid, and later on did some trick shooting to entertain the city slickers who came to my parents’ ranch.”
“You’ve led cattle drives through Montana? Showed inexperienced people the ropes? You’re familiar with the history of the westward movement along the Oregon and California Trails?”
Jake rolled his eyes. He ran a hand over his face. “Yeah, I done all that stuff.” He rested his arms on the table and leaned forward. “Look, I don’t see what any of that has to do with my case right now.”
The lawyer’s stare became more intense. “How would you like to make your troubles disappear?”