Authors: Christine Wenger
Stuck On You
Copyright © 2012 by Christine Anne Wenger
E-book and Cover Formatted by Jessica Lewis
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ALSO BY CHRISTINE WENGER
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why did it have to be him?
Kate Kingston stiffened at the metallic sound of chains dragging echoed throughout the halls of the courtroom. As the ornate wall clock ticked off the seconds, the racket grew louder, as if old Jacob Marley's ghost would suddenly appear and warn them that three spirits were about to visit.
But it wasn't a ghost who materialized in the doorway of Rose Lake, New York, County Court, Part Two. It was Sergeant John Mackowitz, and he was very much alive.
Why does Mack have to be my first client?
Nudged forward by one of the four burly deputies surrounding him, Sergeant Mackowitz shuffled to the front of the courtroom, dragging the leg irons and heavy chains that kept his stride short. Another chain linked his handcuffs to his shackled ankles.
Mack raised his manacled hands toward the black-robed judge, a slight twist of amusement touching one corner of his soft-looking lips.
"I'd shake hands with you, Pete, but I'm a little hog-tied at the moment."
Even in court, weighted down by chains, Mack seemed impudent. He stood tall and confident in spite of his chains, a defiant tilt to his head.
His left eye was swollen and had a purple-yellow bruise under it. Unruly chestnut waves brushed his shoulders and a shadow of a beard made him look like the desperado he was accused of being. But laugh lines at the corners of his eyes and his mouth tempered the bad boy look.
Although Mack seemed as comfortable in wrinkled prison garb as he had in his high school football jersey, Kate could tell by the pulse at his temple that he was keeping a lid on his anger.
It hurt her to see him in chains. He’d always seemed so carefree and lived life to its fullest, even when it landed him in study hall detention. She envied those qualities in him, so lacking in herself. But she never thought that he would make such a mess of his life.
“Let’s get this show on the road, Pete. Release me from that rat hole, or at least set bail that I can afford.”
"Let’s wait for your lawyer."
"Forget him. He's the union lawyer on retainer to our local. He's too chummy with the cast of characters at the department to be of any use to me. I plan on clearing my own name."
Judge Nash cleared his throat and motioned to Mack to come closer to his bench. "What are you insinuating?” he whispered. “Are you trying to tell me there's a conspiracy against you?"
"Of course there's a conspiracy! I've been framed. I'm not a damn coke dealer! And someone wants me dead. Either someone I busted before, or someone else—someone who doesn't want me around."
"Do you suspect that whoever framed you is a co-worker?" Judge Nash asked quietly.
"I don't know yet." Mack stared at the floor as if it hurt him to even think such a thing.
Kate strained to hear their conversation. She’d heard enough to think of Mack in a new light. Normally, he would blow off such a question with a wisecrack, but it bothered him to think that another cop might want him dead or in jail.
Did he suspect someone in particular?
Kate shifted on the hard chair, sensing the exact second Mack spotted her. His eyes, always the color of the summer sky, flashed even bluer.
Their gazes locked for a tense moment and it seemed that they were both holding their breath. The ticking of the clock matched the pounding of her heart.
Deep inside, Kate felt it happening again. She was turning to mush. Mack had always done that to her. One look and he reduced her from a professional woman starting her own business, to an adolescent with overactive hormones.
“Kate?” A small frown drooped the corners of his mouth. "What are you doing here?”
She couldn’t find her voice. Instead, her face grew warm as it always did when he looked at her, so she stared down at the papers in her hand, papers that Mack had to sign to get out of jail. Once he signed the papers, he'd be released to her program—a program with rules that he wasn't going to like one little bit.
Kate knew that Mack never followed anyone’s rules but his own.
Mack blinked and shook his head. Turning to Judge Peter Nash, he said, "What's Kate Kingston doing here?"
"I'm getting to that." Judge Nash shook his head. "It seems like an eternity since we were all in high school. Now we’re all together again.”
Kate wondered what on earth Pete was talking about. She wasn’t “together” with either of them in high school. They were popular and football stars. She was an intellectual nerd.
In high school, she’d had a terrible crush on John Mackowitz. Maybe it was because he helped her, a lonely Army brat, fit into the senior year of a small, close-knit school.
Judge Nash cleared his throat. “Kate has just started a house arrest program. I’ve given serious consideration to releasing you to her.”
"To Kate?" Mack turned to Pete, obviously puzzled. "I get my own personal probation officer?"
Involuntarily, she reached for the top button on her blouse and popped it open. For some reason, it was getting hot in the courtroom—real hot—especially when his eyes seemed to look right through her.
"I'm not a probation officer anymore," she mumbled, fanning herself with his release papers. "Budget cuts."
Mack had helped her get the job as a probation officer. She owed him a lot. She had loved it and had a caseload of youthful offenders. She enjoyed helping them and watching them grow and change, and she'd expected to retire from it someday, but it wasn't to be.
She imagined she would love her new venture even more. "I'm in the electronic monitoring business now. That's why I'm here."
Judge Nash leaned against his high-backed leather chair and pushed up the voluminous sleeves of his black robe. "I'm sorry we have to see each other under these circumstances, Mack. Usually, when you're in my court room, you're here for the prosecution."
"Yeah, well, now I'm the one who's being prosecuted, huh? These charges are bull, and you know it. Pete.”
"You'll be given due process like everyone else," said the judge. "But right now, let's discuss your release from jail under certain conditions which Kate and I will outline for you. Then, I'm going to recuse myself from this case, and turn it over to Judge Clark. Conflict of interest."
A judge was the last thing Kate ever thought Pete Nash would become. She would have expected him to end up running his own car repair business and marrying Darlene Culligan like everyone expected, but that never happened, and Dar had married someone else a short time after Pete left for college.
Kate took a deep breath as Mack glanced her way again. He could be very intimidating when he wanted to be, not to mention sexy as hell, but she could handle him. He was just a client. Her first house arrest client.
“I think it's time we adjourn to my chambers." Judge Nash smiled down at her. "Are you ready?"
She nodded aware that she was holding her breath, aware that Mack was watching her every move. She gathered up her equipment and exhaled slowly.
Mack shook his head. “Just set a decent bail, Pete–I mean Your Honor. I can’t be on house arrest. I have some investigating to do. I have to find out who framed me and who shot my partner.”
Kate's heart started to pound. She couldn’t handle him as her first client.
She wanted–no, she
–her program to be a success.
She repeated that at warp speed in her head and willed herself to relax. Just as she began walking to Judge Nash's chambers, her heels slid on the marble floor and her briefcase flew out of her hand. It hit the table, landed with a loud thud, bounced off the table and came to rest at the feet of the fettered Sergeant Mackowitz.
They both bent to pick it up at the same time and their heads slammed hard against each other. Losing his balance, Mack toppled over like a cut Christmas tree, and landed with a thud on the floor. The deputies scrambled to pick up their prisoner as Mack's expletives bounced off the walls of the courtroom.
Kate snatched the briefcase and papers from the floor. "I’m sorry, Mack. I’m so sorry."
“Don’t worry about it,” he mumbled, then turned to Judge Nash. He raised his hands, shaking the heavy chains. "Pete, will you at least tell them to get all this iron off me?"
"Not a prayer. Not until you agree, in writing, to carry out my court order putting you on house arrest. If you don't agree to do what Kate says, I'm going to have no choice but to put you back in jail. I don't want to do that. Understand?"
Mack didn't answer. He just shook his head and stared at the cuffs and the chains that led to his ankles.
Kate's heart went out to him again, but she didn’t know what she could do to help, other than to offer him her fledgling program. Pete Nash was hot on it for Mack, so it pretty much was a done deal.
But Mack had to agree to do it.
Judge Nash looked over at the guards. "Gentlemen, you may wait here. Make yourselves comfortable."
"But Your Honor–"
"Don't worry, Deputy. I'll take full responsibility for Sergeant Mackowitz."
"Yes, Your Honor."
Judge Nash gestured toward a large wooden door at the left of his bench, indicating that Kate and Mack should follow him. His black robes billowing, he opened the door and disappeared through it.
Kate straightened her back, trying to look more confident than she felt with a purse hanging from one shoulder and a smaller black nylon case hanging from the other. Struggling with a heavy briefcase and another case that contained her laptop, she looked at Mack, waiting for him to go first.
"Go ahead, Kate." He grinned as he jingled the chains. "It's going to take me a while."
She looked again at the heavy metal cuffs on his wrists and ankles. He looked very tired and there was a hint of sadness in his eyes that she hadn't noticed before. The county lockup must have been unbearable for him. At one time or another, he had probably arrested every inmate he’d been incarcerated with.
She tried to imagine what it had been like for him, a cop in jail. That bruise he sported was from a fight, and Pete said that someone actually tried to smother him while he slept. She shuddered. An inmate or two must have jumped at the chance to get revenge on him.
She hated to see that bruise on his handsome face. He didn't deserve that. Up until now, Mack had an unblemished record. He was responsible for several major drug busts in Rose Lake. He started a teen center, and he spoke at schools about the dangers of drugs.
And yet here he stood, in chains, accused of selling them and getting his partner shot in a bust gone bad.
Once inside the mahogany paneled room that was Judge Nash’s chamber, Kate set her equipment down on the floor and took a seat on a burgundy leather wing chair. Mack sat on the other. They both looked at the judge, waiting for him to proceed.
Pete moved some papers away from the middle of his desk and tossed them on a table behind him. Looking at Mack, he took a deep breath. "Listen, Kate has this new program called–" He turned to her. "What is it called again?"
"Your Home is Your Jail," Kate said.
"The idea is that you wear an ankle bracelet at all times and you don't leave your home," said Judge Nash.
Kate met Mack’s gaze. "And the ankle bracelet can't be removed unless I do it or you will break the circuit and be in violation of your release."