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And Judge Kendra Rutherford is guilty of letting handsome architect Reid Maguire become a tempting distraction, and allowing his legal battle to become entirely too heated and personal.
But after losing his reputation in a bitter courtroom fight with his ex-wife, Reid is determined to clear his name and rebuild his career. Now only the sexy judge presiding over the trial can give him back everything he lost. But sh's making it hard for him to keep his priorities straight, especially when their passion and rival ambitions collide, and they're both guilty of losing their hearts—.
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Gwynne Forster is an Essence bestselling author and has won numerous awards for fiction, including the Gold Pen Award, the RT Book Reviews Lifetime Achievement Award.
She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology and a master’s degree in economics/demography and has traveled and/or worked in sixty-three countries.
She lives in New York with her husband.
"I'm fed up. I deserve a life, and I'm going to have one," Kendra Rutherford said aloud minutes after she awoke that cold December morning. So resolute was she that, without waiting to brush her teeth, she wrote a letter to the Chowan County, North Carolina, court clerk.
For the last five years, I have gone once monthly to every hamlet in Chowan County to judge the cases awaiting trial. I am tired of it. I am bored with it. I want a change, and if you cannot assign me to a single, permanent jurisdiction, expect my resignation.
Yours sincerely, Kendra Rutherford, JD, Esq.
She addressed, stamped and sealed an envelope, thinking, I can always return to law practice. Arguing some of these petty disputes is less boring than judging them anyway.
"But being a judge is an esteemed position," her sister, Claudine, said when they spoke later that day.
"Big deal," Kendra replied. "It's been so long since I had a date that I wouldn't know how to act on one. ing yours and our parents', of course. In the first place, people who know I'm a judge practically genuflect when they see me, and in the second, I don't stay any one place long enough to make friends with men or women. Half the time, my family has no idea where I am unless I telephone."
"Good grief, Kendra, I hadn't thought of it that way. Papa loves saying, "My daughter Kendra, the judge.' He'll be unhappy if you quit."
"He'll be even more unhappy if I go nuts. Fourteen years after getting my law degree, I don't have a single thing to show for it. As a judge, I'm at the bottom of the pile. Socially, I'm not even in the pile. There'll be some changes made. And soon."
"It isn't like you to do anything rash, Kendra."
"That's the worst thing you could have said to me. Hell, Claudine, I don't even remember being a teenager. my life since I remember it."
"Yeah? And it paid off, didn't it?"
"Depends who's looking at it. Look, sis, I'd better pack," Kendra said. "I have to try cases in six towns before I get back home. Last time I was on this circuit, I ran out of stockings and underwear, so I have to concentrate on what I'm doing right now. Talk to you soon."
Reid Maguire propped his left foot on the bottom rung of a ladder that leaned against Philip Dickerson's stables and looked eye to eye at the owner of the largest agricultural enterprise in southeastern Maryland.
"It's time I left Dickerson Estates and got on with my life," Reid told Philip, the man who had saved his life and, in due course, become closer to him than his own brother. "I've saved enough to get started, and I have a job. I'll be an assistant architect in a noted firm, but after what Brown and Worley and that class-action suit did to my reputation, I'm fortunate to get that."
"It isn't going to be easy for you, Reid. You were one of the foremost architects in that part of Maryland, and you had your own firm. You were the one giving the orders. This will be a terrible comedown."
"I know, Philip. And I've reconciled myself to it. But by all logic, I should be dead, and if it hadn't been for you, I would be. It had to be a blessing that I stopped you on the street in Baltimore that day and asked you for a dollar and a half. I meant to buy a razor with it and finish myself off. One day I was on top financially and professionally, and, thanks to the biggest lie ever propagated in a court, a day later I was flat-broke and even my home and my car were taken from me. Worst of all, with my reputation destroyed, no one would hire me. I slept on the street, and lived off the kindness of strangers.
"If my beautiful wife had sold the jewelry I'd bought her or gotten a job and taken care of us until I could ride out the storm, it would have been different, but no. The lady walked. You didn't give me the money I asked you for, Philip. Instead, you offered me a job and a second chance. If you ever need me, just call. You will always know where I am."
"Thanks, friend," Philip said. "Just stay in close touch. I know you'll be back on top. If you need me, you know where to find me."
They embraced each other, and Reid gazed around him at the prosperity that was Dickerson Estates, culti-vated land as far as he could see; fruit and nut orchards. He painted in his memory the big white Georgian mansion, stables, barns and the dormitory he had designed that allowed the eleven men who lived and worked on Dickerson Estates to have privacy within the context of communal living—men of different races, languages and religions whose lives Philip Dickerson had turned around when he gave them a second chance.
It had been his home for six years. Years during which he'd come to accept that the woman he'd loved, who'd sworn that she loved him and who bore his name, had divorced him because he could no longer care for her in the manner to which he had made her accus-tomed. He gripped Philip's shoulder and, for a moment, stared into the man's eyes, sky-blue eyes that he'd always seen as gentle and caring.
Without another word, he walked away. As he headed down the lane to the big iron gate that bore the letters DE, Max, Philip's foreman, drove past him and stopped.
"Hop in, Reid. Where you headed?"
"The bus station. Trains and planes don't go to Queenstown, North Carolina, where I have a job."
"Never heard of it. What part of the state?" Max asked as he drove through the gate.
"It's over on the Albemarle Sound toward the border with Virginia."
"It won't be the same here without you, man. We'll all miss you. Good luck to you."
Two hours later, Reid sat on an interstate bus headed for the next chapter in his life.
Kendra drove through the sleet and slush to get to the post office. No matter how many times she asked the court clerk to send her mail to her home address, the man sent it to the post office box that she used only to prevent certain people from knowing where she lived. To her delight, she found the clerk's letter and opened it before she closed and locked her box. "Dear Judge Rutherford," he wrote.
I am happy to inform you that as of January eleventh, you will preside at criminal court in Queenstown. If I may be of any further assis-tance, please let me know.
Ethan Sparks, County Clerk
Hmmm. So she had only to ask. It was a lesson she did not plan to forget. Inasmuch as she'd had few reasons to spend her salary, apart from rent and a few personal items, she decided to buy a house. She packed her belongings, had them stored, drove to Queenstown and rented a room in a bed and breakfast, then began her search for a house. After a week, she settled on a town house in Albemarle Gates, a new, elegant Queens-town community on a hill overlooking the Sound and within walking distance of Courthouse Square where she would work. The back of the house afforded an un-obstructed view of the Sound. Delighted with her choice, she signed and received the deed, had her fur-niture and other belongings moved to her new home and settled in at Number 37A Albemarle Heights, Albe-marle Gates.
The second morning Kendra was in her new home, exhausted from moving and arranging furniture, the sound of drums, at least one bugle and a trumpet brought her to her second-floor window facing the street. She dropped the pillows she had been changing on the bed and raced down to the front door to see what she thought was some kind of ceremonial parade. Native Americans, some in full tribal regalia, danced along in traditional tribal steps, and as many African-Americans, including the bugler and the trumpeter, danced with them. When they stopped in front of Albe-marle Gates, she was delighted, but when a neighbor standing nearby groaned, "Oh, Lord. Here they are again," she got a feeling of apprehension.
"What's the problem?" she asked the young woman. The woman rolled her eyes and threw up her hands as if in exasperation. "Honey, you don't want to know." "They're picketing the builders, Brown and Worley, because they built this community on top of sacred Indian burial grounds, and in this town, whatever riles the Indians upsets the blacks and vice versa. They stick together, and they get things done, but not this time. Besides, I hear Brown and Worley are fixing to build another one of these communities over near the park. Where you been you don't know about this?"
"I've been in Queenstown exactly ten days." She turned to introduce herself, but the woman had left. Hmmm. Nice to meet you.
She went back into the house and sat down to con-template what she'd just learned. How would the con-troversy affect her in her role as judge? Obviously, many local people would think that, by living there, she had taken sides with Brown and Worley. She didn't like it, but she'd signed the deed and taken the mortgage, and she didn't see a way out.
In the supermarket the next day, Kendra received a sample of small-town hospitality when she put her gro-ceries on the check-out counter. "How are you today?" she asked the clerk. "Pretty cold out, isn't it?"
"Push your stuff forward. The belt's not working." She scrutinized the woman, making certain that she was a sister. "Do you live here in Queenstown?" Kendra asked her.
The woman stopped work and gazed at her. "I live here. My mother and father live here, and so did my grandparents and great-grandparents. Anything else you need to know?"
Taken aback and angered at the woman's insulting tone, Kendra said, "Pardon me. I didn't expect a nasty response to my graciousness. I don't care where you live." She paid for the groceries and drove home. In front of her house, she took the bags of groceries out of the trunk of her car, closed the lid and lost her footing, slipping on the ice. Her packages fell to the ice, spilling the contents, and she struggled unsuccessfully to get enough traction to heave herself to her feet. Not certain whether to laugh or cry at the spectacle she suspected she was, she relaxed and lay there.
To her amazement and eternal thanks, two large hands gripped ...
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