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Authors: Allison Leotta

Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Romance

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BOOK: Law of Attraction
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Anna turned back to Laprea. “So tell me—when did this happen?”

Laprea struggled to put a time to the flurry of violence this morning. The kids had just left with Rose, and Laprea was getting dressed for work, so it must have been—

“Just after seven this morning, ma’am,” Green answered.

“Almost an hour ago.” Anna looked at the officer with surprise. “Why hasn’t she been to the hospital?”

“Ms. Johnson refused medical treatment, ma’am.”

“What? Why?”

“If we called an ambulance, she’d get charged for it. It’s a couple hundred dollars a call.”

At least the policeman understood the system. He looked pretty boyish, with his cropped light brown hair and scrubbed-pink baby face, but Laprea guessed he was around thirty. And he was cute—although he could probably lay off the Ben & Jerry’s. The buttons on his blue uniform shirt strained against his stomach.

“Anyway,” Green said, “she stopped bleeding before I brought her over here. But she started crying again, and it got her nose bleeding all over again.”

“We have a nurse here in the courthouse,” Anna said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

Laprea didn’t need a nurse. She would put some Neosporin on her cheek when she got home. For the rest of it, there was nothing a nurse could do. She’d been through this enough before. Her body just needed
time to heal. She just wanted to go home and lie down in her own bed.

“No,” Laprea said. “I want to get this done now.”

Just then her mother walked into the room. Laprea exhaled with relief. “Sorry I’m late,” her mother said. “I got somebody to watch the kids.”

Rose Johnson wore her favorite pink tracksuit and a pained expression. Laprea had called her as soon as D’marco ran off. Rose was the one who had called 911, put an ice pack on Laprea’s face, and shepherded the twins to the back porch so they wouldn’t see their mother covered in blood. Rose was great in an emergency—but Laprea dreaded the lecture she’d get when they got home.

Anna introduced herself as Rose and set her wide body down with a grunt. Rose kissed her daughter’s head, then rested her elbows on her knees and leaned toward the prosecutor.

“What you gonna do about this, Ms. Curtis? D’marco Davis is outta control. You gonna keep him in jail this time?”

“I’ll do my best.”

“The
hell
does that mean? That man done this before and he just keep getting away with it! Does my daughter have to be dead before you people will lock him up? If he kills her, it’ll be
your
fault!”

Anna grimaced, and Laprea felt sorry for her. Her mother was taking her anger out on the only available target. The person Rose really wanted to yell at was D’marco. Or her.

“We’ll
ask
for pretrial detention, Ms. Johnson. But it’s up to the judge.” Anna paused to thumb through some paperwork. “Since D’marco’s already on probation for a prior conviction, he’ll probably be kept in jail until trial. Even if he’s released, we’ll get a restraining order so he can’t contact your daughter.”

“Piece of paper can’t stop a fist.” Rose harrumphed. But she sat back and let the lawyer continue.

Anna looked at Laprea. “I know this is hard, but I need you to tell me what happened. First, what’s your relationship with D’marco Davis?”

A simple question, but Laprea didn’t have a simple answer. What do you call the man who used to be the boy of your dreams? They’d been sixteen when they met. He was fine. All the other girls had been jealous when they saw him waiting for her after school. Back then, when D’marco got mad about her talking to other boys, it seemed romantic, a sign of how much he cared about her. She’d been crazy about
him—heart-pounding, hand-sweating crazy. She got pregnant her junior year. She thought it would bind D’marco to her forever. Instead, as she got bigger and needier, his mean streak came out. He started hitting her when she was six months pregnant. Laprea realized—just a little too late—that they weren’t going to live some modern fairy tale. Then the twins arrived. They were beautiful, and for a minute, everything was okay. But the reality of being teenage parents set in. D’marco didn’t come by much. When he did come around, she needed so much from him: money for diapers and formula, baby chores, but mostly his attention. He pulled away. But the less D’marco was around, the more he thought she was with other men, even though she was stuck in a house with her mother and two babies. He started drinking more, and the beatings got worse. He always apologized afterward. He cried about how sorry he was; he begged her to forgive him. When he was apologizing, he was the nicest he ever was to her. He lavished her with attention and finally said all the things she wanted to hear. It was like he only realized how much he loved her right after he’d hit her. She always took him back.

Laprea put a hand to one throbbing eye.

“He’s my babies’ father,” Laprea said at last. “We been on and off since D’montrae and Dameka was born. They twins—a boy and a girl. Four years old. Anyway, since D’marco been out of jail, we was on, I guess. I thought it’d be different this time.”

Anna nodded. “What happened this morning?”

“I was getting ready for work. I’m a cashier at the Labor Department cafeteria.”

Laprea looked at her watch. She was over two hours late for work. She would call them as soon as she got out of here. She hoped they’d understand. She needed that job.

“My mom left out—she was taking the kids to visit family in Baltimore. D’marco came over after she was gone. At first, I was happy to see him. But he was drunk and suspicious because I wasn’t home last night, on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t have no plans—I was just at my girlfriend’s! But he ain’t believed me.

“I told him he was being crazy, and that put him over the edge. He started hitting me. Once he started, he wouldn’t stop. He was just punching me everywhere, my arms and chest and legs. I couldn’t get away.”

Her mother cut in. “Show her the bruises.”

Laprea rolled up her sleeves to show the nasty welts on her arms. She spread apart her shirt’s neckline, where a big bruise was forming on her chest. She grimaced as she remembered the thudding sounds D’marco’s fists made as they landed on her body.

“He must’ve been hitting you very hard,” Anna said.

“I think he been working out in jail.” Laprea let out a short, bitter laugh. “I ran out the house, but he caught me right outside the door. He smooshed me right there, out on the front porch, for all the world and God to see.”

“‘Smooshed’?” Anna asked.

“To grab by the face and push, ma’am,” Green said.

“It was so embarrassing,” Laprea continued. “I wasn’t even thinking about how much it hurt right then—I was thinking I didn’t want my neighbors to see. I just wanted him to go away. So I told him I
should
see someone else, ’cause he don’t deserve me.”

Laprea began crying again. Anna handed her another napkin.

“Then he grabbed me and threw me against the side of the house and started punching my face. My nose was bleeding, and I couldn’t hardly see out my eyes. He mashed my face into the brick wall so hard, I felt the skin on my cheek burning.”

Laprea dabbed her swollen eyes delicately. The worst thing about this beating wasn’t the pain, or the shame, or even the heartache. It was how she was going to explain her face to her kids. Other times, she’d told them she walked into a door or fell on the sidewalk. But they were getting old enough that they were questioning her “accidents.” They had seen D’marco lay hands on her. It terrified them.

She swore to herself that they would never have to see that again. She would do whatever it took. For now, she just had to finish this terrible story. She took a ragged breath.

“He was holding my face against the wall, and he came in real close. He put his mouth to my ear, like he about to tell me some sweet nothing. And he whispered if he ever caught me with another man—he’d kill me.”

3

A
t five-thirty that night, Anna and Grace closed up the Papering Room and walked across the street to the U.S. Attorney’s building. Anna still had hours of work ahead of her, but at least she’d have quiet and privacy in the office she shared with Grace. As a rookie prosecutor, Anna was responsible for a caseload of about two hundred misdemeanors, the lowest-level crimes. Even cases like Laprea’s were relegated to misdemeanorland. There was so much crime, the victim had to get shot or seriously stabbed for it to be considered a felony.

A wall of scuffed filing cabinets dominated their cramped office. Anna immediately began to file the twenty-one new cases she’d been assigned that day. Organizing her new files was the only way she could keep up with the caseload. Her officemate had a very different approach. Files, 911 tapes, and designer shoes covered Grace’s desk and the floor around her desk. Despite her crisply tailored appearance, the woman was a complete slob. She was also the best friend Anna had in D.C.

Collapsing into her chair, Grace kicked her conservative courthouse pumps into a corner and pulled a pair of scarlet patent-leather stilettos from her desk drawer.

“Those shoes’ll be doing something more exciting than I will tonight,” Anna guessed.

“Charles is taking me to the opera.”

“Nice!” Anna had to force the enthusiasm into her voice. She’d be alone tonight, as usual.

Grace’s husband was a partner at a big law firm, and she could’ve spent her days lunching with ladies and organizing charity events. She’d chosen this job the way some women might take up quilting or belly-dancing lessons—because it was an interesting way to fill the time.

Anna had taken it as a form of penance.

“Don’t work too late tonight,” Grace scolded, as she headed out the door. “Get a pedicure, or watch
The Bachelorette,
or do
something
frivolous and girly.”

“Have a great time! I won’t be here much longer.”

“Liar. But at least you’re a cute liar.”

Grace left a faint cloud of expensive perfume in her wake.

As Anna filed, she thought about Laprea’s situation. Of all the cases Anna had seen in her short tenure, this one stuck out. Part of it was the age of Laprea’s children. The other part was Laprea’s injuries. Would Anna always be this upset when she saw someone with a gash on her cheek?

Anna shoved another folder into the drawer, channeling her anger into the act of filing. She wasn’t a helpless little girl anymore. She was in a position to stop the violence.

Her thoughts turned to Nick Wagner. He’d seemed like a decent guy. How could he keep defending his monster of a client? She understood the system needed defense attorneys, but she couldn’t get why anyone would want that job.

Sure, it was a coveted position. Public defenders often got a bad rap, but Washington’s Office of the Public Defender was the most prestigious defender’s service in America. Like the U.S. Attorney’s Office, OPD had hundreds of applicants every year for a few openings. Both offices were famous for providing young attorneys with the best litigation training and trial experience in the country. Both organizations took their pick of graduates from the best law schools.

But brains alone didn’t get anyone a job at OPD. The organization prided itself on being one of the most zealous defense shops in America. D.C.’s public defenders believed that the system was stacked against their clients; that the police were racist, fascist, or corrupt; and that mass imprisonment, not crime, was the real problem with D.C.’s poor communities. OPD lawyers were famously devoted to getting their clients off—in any way possible.

The result was bitter acrimony between OPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In other cities, it was common to have friendships between prosecutors and public defenders, casual softball games, happy hours. But not in D.C. They were adversaries in the tradition of cats and dogs, Montagues and Capulets, Angelina and Jennifer.

That morning, for just a moment, Anna had felt a real spark between
them. Now Nick Wagner was just one of a hundred lawyers she had a case against. She would have no problem treating him just like any other defense attorney.

Anna’s phone rang, and she stepped to her desk to pick it up. “Hello?”

“This is security calling from downstairs. A Mr. Nicholas Wagner is here to see you.”

Her heartbeat sped up—which wouldn’t have happened if it was any other defense attorney.

Damn.

•  •  •

“Come on in. Have a seat.” Anna gestured to Grace’s desk chair and pulled a box of 911 tapes out of the way.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Nick said, stepping over a pile of Grace’s shoes.

“We were going for a postmodern, deconstructionist look.”

“If this was any more deconstructed, you’d need a FEMA trailer.”

She laughed. They both sat down and faced each other across the cluttered office. “Seriously, to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

“I just wanted to touch base with you, since we’re going to be working together on this Davis case.”

“Not together, exactly. More like against each other.”

“Maybe so.” He smiled. “But still, I wanted to check in. It was a rough morning. For everyone.”

“Everyone except D’marco Davis.” Anna’s words were sharper than she intended.

“I know prosecutors don’t believe this, but a day in the central cellblock is no picnic. It’s a filthy, dangerous place. And now D’marco’s behind bars for the next few months, at least until trial. I’d say that’s a pretty bad day.”

“I doubt a few more months in prison will mean much to a thug like him.”

“He’s a human being, Anna. He just hasn’t had all of the advantages you and I have had.”

“Oh, come on.” Anna thought about the trailer home her family had moved into after they lost the house. What advantages did Nick imagine she’d had?

“There’s another side to the story, you know,” Nick said. “You saw how aggressive Laprea got this morning in the courthouse, just from seeing me. She could’ve started the fight with D’marco.”

“Oh come on. I’ll bet D’marco didn’t have a scratch on him, did he? She’s tiny! How much of a threat could she be to him?”

BOOK: Law of Attraction
4.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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