Amanda Travis is a high-powered, twenty-eight-year-old lawyer whose greatest likes are spinning classes at her Palm Beach gym and a compliant jury. As for the things she hates, they include nicknames, the color pink, clients who don't follow her advice ... and memories. Unfortunately, running from her past becomes a lot harder when one of her ex-husbands calls from her hometown of Toronto with the alarming news that her mother has shot and killed a complete stranger. Now she must return to face her demons--a love that once consumed her and a mother who seems to hold a strange, dark power over everyone she encounters. But Amanda is no longer willing to acquiesce to her mother's fatal whims--no matter what the cost.
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Joy Fielding is the New York Times bestselling author of Heartstopper, Mad River Road, Whispers and Lies, Grand Avenue, The First Time, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Some of the things Amanda Travis likes: the color black; lunchtime spinning classes at the fitness center on Clematis Street in downtown Palm Beach; her all-white, one-bedroom, oceanfront condo in Jupiter; a compliant jury; men whose wives don't understand them.
Some of the things she doesn't: the color pink; when the temperature outside her condo's floor-to-ceiling windows falls below sixty-five degrees; clients who don't follow her advice; the color gray; being asked to show her ID when she goes to a bar; nicknames of any shape and size.
Something else she doesn't like: bite marks.
Especially bite marks that are deep and clearly defined, even after the passing of several days; bite marks that lie like a bright purple tattoo amidst a puddle of mustard-color bruises; bite marks that are all but smiling at her from the photographs on the defense table in front of her.
Amanda shakes blond, shoulder-length hair away from her thin face and slips the offending photographs beneath a pad of lined, yellow legal paper, then picks up a pencil and pretends to be jotting down something of importance, when what she actually writes is Remember to buy toothpaste. This gesture is for the jury's benefit, in case any of them is watching. Which is doubtful. Already this morning, she's caught one of the jurors, a middle-aged man with thinning Ronald Reagan-red hair, nodding off. She sighs, drops her pencil, sits back in her chair, and pushes her lips into a pout of disapproval. Not big. Just enough to let the jury know what she thinks of the testimony being given. Which she would like them to believe is not much.
"He was yelling about something," the young woman on the witness stand is saying, one hand absently reaching up to tug at her hair. She glances toward the defense table, pulls the platinum curls away from their black roots, and twists them around square, fake fingernails. "He's always yelling about something."
Again Amanda lifts the pencil into her right hand, adds Stouffer's frozen macaroni and cheese to the impromptu list of groceries she is creating. And orange juice, she remembers, scribbling it across the page with exaggerated flourish, as if she has just remembered a key point of law. The action dislodges the pictures beneath the legal pad, so that once again the photographic impressions of her client's teeth against the witness's skin are winking up at her.
It's the bite marks that will do her in.
She might be able to fudge the facts, obfuscate the evidence, overwhelm the jury with irrelevant details and not always reasonable doubt, but there is simply no getting around those awful pictures. They will seal her client's fate and mar her perfect record, like a blemish on an otherwise flawless complexion, detracting from almost a year of sterling performances on behalf of the poor, the unlucky, and the overwhelmingly guilty.
Damn Derek Clemens anyway. Did he have to be so damn obvious?
Amanda reaches over and pats the hand of the man sitting beside her. Another salvo for the jury, although she wonders if any of them is really fooled. Surely they watch enough television to know the various tricks of the trade: the mock outrage, the sympathetic glances, the disbelieving shakes of the head. She withdraws her hand, surreptitiously rubs the touch of her client's skin onto her black linen skirt beneath the table. Idiot, she thinks behind her reassuring smile. You couldn't have exercised even a modicum of self-control. You had to bite her too.
The defendant smiles back at her, although thankfully, his lips remain closed. The jury will soon be seeing more than enough of Derek Clemens's teeth.
At twenty-eight years old and a wiry five feet ten inches tall, Derek Clemens is the same age and height as the woman selected to represent him. Even their hair is the same shade of delicate blond, their eyes variations of the same cool blue, although hers are darker, more opaque, his paler, sliding toward pastel. In other, more pleasant circumstances, Amanda Travis and Derek Clemens might be mistaken for brother and sister, perhaps even fraternal twins.
Amanda shrugs off the unpleasant thought, grateful, as always, for being an only child. She swivels around in her chair, looks toward the long expanse of windows at the back of the courtroom. Beyond those windows is a typical February day in south Florida -- the sky turquoise, the air warm, the beach beckoning. She fights the urge to wander over to the windows, to lean her head against the tinted glass, and stare out past the Intracoastal Waterway to the ocean beyond. Only in Palm Beach does one find an ocean view from a courtroom to rival the view from the penthouse suite of a top hotel.
Perversely, Amanda would rather be here, in Courtroom 5C of the Palm Beach County Court House, sitting beside some lowlife accused of assaulting his live-in girlfriend -- five counts, no less, including sexual assault and uttering death threats -- than sunbathing on the cool sand next to some underdressed, overnourished snowbird. More than a few minutes of lying on her back with the surf washing over her bare toes is enough to send Amanda Travis screaming for the hot pavement.
"I'd like to retrace the events of the morning of August sixteenth, Miss Fletcher," the assistant district attorney is saying, the deep baritone of his voice drawing Amanda's attention back to the front of the courtroom as easily as a lover's seductive sigh.
Caroline Fletcher nods and continues playing with her overly bleached hair, her surgically amplified bosom straining against the buttons of her perversely conservative blue blouse. It helps the defendant's case that the woman Derek Clemens is accused of assaulting looks like a stripper, although in fact, she works in a hairdressing salon. Amanda smiles with the knowledge this is less important than the image being projected. In law, as in so much of life, appearance counts far more than substance. It is, after all, the appearance of justice, and not justice itself, that must be seen to be done.
"August the sixteenth?" The young woman uses her tongue to push the gum she's been surreptitiously chewing throughout her testimony to the side of her mouth.
"The day of the attack," the prosecutor reminds her, approaching the stand and hovering over his star witness. Tyrone King is almost six feet six inches tall with chocolate brown skin and a shiny bald head. When Amanda first joined the law firm of Beatty and Rowe just over a year ago, she heard rumors that the handsome assistant district attorney was a nephew of Martin Luther King's, but when she asked him about it, he laughed and said he suspected all black men in the South named King were rumored to be related to the assassinated leader. "You've testified that the accused came home from work in a foul mood."
"He was always in a foul mood."
Amanda rises halfway out of her chair, voices her objection to the generalization. The objection is sustained. The witness tugs harder on her hair.
"How did this mood manifest itself?"
The witness looks confused.
"Did he raise his voice? Was he yelling?"
"His boss yelled at him, so he came home and yelled at me."
"What was he yelling about, Miss Fletcher?"
The witness rolls her eyes toward the high ceiling. "He said the place was a mess and that there was never anything to eat, and he was sick of working the midnight shift only to come home to a messy apartment and nothing for breakfast."
"And what did you do?"
"I told him I didn't have time to listen to his complaints, that I had to go to work. And then he said there was no way I was going out and leaving him with the baby all day, that he needed his sleep, and I told him that I couldn't very well take the baby with me to a hairdressing salon, and it just went on from there."
"Can you tell us what happened exactly?"
The witness shrugs, her tongue pushing the gum in her mouth nervously from one cheek to the other. "I don't know exactly."
"To the best of your recollection."
"We started screaming at each other. He said I didn't do nothing around the apartment, that I just sat around on my bony ass all day, and that if I wasn't going to do any cooking or cleaning, then the least I could do was get down on my knees and give him a..." Caroline Fletcher stops, straightens her shoulders, and looks imploringly at the jury. "You know."
"He demanded oral sex?"
The witness nods. "They're never too tired for that."
The seven women on the jury chuckle knowingly, as does Amanda, who hides her smile inside the palm of her hand and decides against objecting.
"What happened then?" the prosecutor asks.
"He started pulling me toward the bedroom. I kept telling him no, I didn't have time, but he wasn't listening. Then I remembered this movie I saw on TV where the girl, I think it was Jennifer Lopez, I can't remember for sure, but anyway, this guy was attacking her, and she realized that the more she struggled, the more turned on he got, and the worse things got for her, so she stopped struggling, and that kind of threw him off guard, and she was able to escape. So I decided to try that."
"You stopped struggling?"
Again Caroline Fletcher nods. "I kind of went all weak, like I was giving in, and then, as soon as we got to the bedroom door, I pushed him out of the way, ran inside the room, and locked the door."
"And what did Derek Clemens do then?"
"He was so mad. He started banging on the door, yelling that he was going to kill my ass."
"And how did you interpret that?"
"That he was going to kill my ass," Caroline Fletcher explains.
Amanda stares directly at the jury. Surely, her eyes are saying, they can't consider this outburst a serious death threat. She grabs her pencil, adds bran flakes to her makeshift list of groceries.
"Go on, Miss Fletcher."
"Well, he was banging on the door and screaming, and so, of course, Tiffany woke up and started crying."
"Our daughter. She's fifteen months old."
"Where was Tiffany during all this?"
"In her crib. In the living room. That's where we keep it. The apartment only has one bedroom, and Derek says he needs his privacy."
"So his yelling woke up the baby."
"His yelling woke up the whole damn building."
"And then what?"
"Well, I realized that if I didn't open the door, he was just gonna break it down, so I told him I'd open the door, but only if he promised to calm down first. And he promised, and then it got real quiet, except for the baby crying, so I opened the door, and next thing I knew, he was all over me, punching me and ripping at my dress."
"Is this the dress?" The assistant district attorney maneuvers the distance from the witness stand to the prosecutor's table in two quick strides, retrieving a shapeless, gray jersey dress that has obviously seen better days. He shows it to the witness before offering it up for the jury's inspection.
"Yes, sir. That's it."
Amanda leans back in her chair, as if to indicate her lack of concern. She hopes the jury will be as unimpressed as she is by the two tiny rips to the bottom of the dress's side seams, fissures that could just as easily have resulted from Caroline Fletcher pulling the dress down over her hips, as from Derek Clemens pulling it up.
"What happened after he ripped your dress?"
"He threw me down on the bed, on my stomach, and bit me."
The incriminating photographs appear, as if by magic, in the hands of the assistant district attorney. They are quickly introduced into evidence and distributed to the jury. Amanda watches the jurors as they examine the impressions of Derek Clemens's teeth branded into the middle of Caroline Fletcher's back, disgust flickering across their faces like flames from a campfire as they struggle to maintain the veneer of impartiality.
As always, the jurors are a decidedly mixed lot -- an old Jewish retiree squeezed between two middle-aged black women; a clean-shaven Hispanic man in a suit and tie next to a ponytailed young man in a T-shirt and jeans; a black woman with white hair behind a white woman with black hair; the heavyset, the lean, the eager, the blasé. All with one thing in common -- the contempt in their eyes as they glance from the photographs to the defendant.
"What happened after he bit you?"
Caroline Fletcher hesitates, looks toward her feet. "He flipped me over on my back and had sex with me."
"He raped you?" the prosecutor asks, carefully rephrasing her answer.
"Yes, sir. He raped me."
"He raped you," Tyrone King repeats. "And then what?"
"After he was finished, I called the salon to tell them I'd be late for work, and he grabbed the phone out of my hands and threw it at my head."
Resulting in the charge of assault with a deadly weapon, Amanda thinks, adding a legitimate question to her list of groceries. You called the salon and not the police?
"He threw the phone at your head," the prosecutor repeats, in what is fast becoming a tiresome habit.
"Yes, sir. It hit the side of my head, then fell to the floor and broke apart."
"What happened next?"
"I changed my clothes and went to work. He ripped my dress," she reminds the jury. "So I had to change."
"And did you report what happened to the police?"
"When was that?"
"A couple of days later. He started hitting me again, and I told him if he didn't stop, I'd go to the police, and he didn't stop, so I did."
"What did you tell the police?"
Caroline Fletcher looks confused. "Well, what the officer already told you." She is alluding to Sergeant Dan Peterson, the previous witness, a man so nearsighted his face virtually vanished inside his notes for most of his testimony.
"You told him about the rape?"
"I told him that me and Derek had been fighting, that Derek was always slapping me around and stuff, and then he took some pictures."
Tyrone King lifts long, elegant fingers into the air, signaling for his witness to pause while he locates several more photographs and shows them to Caroline Fletcher. "Are these the pictures the police officer took?"
Caroline winces as she looks over the various pictures. A nice touch, Amanda thinks, wondering if she's been coached. Don't be afraid to show some emotion, she can almost hear Tyrone King whisper in his seductive baritone. It's crucial that you appear sympathetic to the jury.
Amanda looks toward her lap, tries picturing the photographs through the jury's eyes. Not too damning really. A few scratches on the woman's cheek that could easily be the result of her daughter's groping fingers, a slight red mark on her chin, a fading purple blotch on her upper right arm, either of which could have come from almost anything. Hardly the stuff of a major assault. Nothing to directly implicate her client.
"And that's when I told him about Derek biting me," Caroline continues, unprompted. "And so he took pictures of my back, and then he asked me if Derek had sexually assaulted me, and I said I wasn't sure."
"You weren't sure?"
"Well, we've been together for three years. We have a baby. I wasn't sure about my rights until Sergeant Peterson told me."
"And that's when you decided to press charges against Derek Clemens?"
"Yes, sir. So I pressed charges, and the police drove me back to my apartment, and they arrested Derek."
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