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Eddie Munro was the kind of man who reminded narcotics detective Greer O'Brien of the Aurora police department why she'd joined the force in the first place. To put low-life scum like him away.
The least acrimonious way to describe Munro was to say that he was a career criminal with a rap sheet that was longer than he was tall and, at five feet eleven inches, that was saying a great deal. There apparently was no hint of remorse in the man's heart, no well-buried twinge of guilt associated with any of the victims who he had harmed during his ambitious climb up the drug-dealing ladder. He was, and always had been, the most important person in his universe.
Greer could tell that simply by looking into the drug dealer's eyes. They were flat, cold and calculating, and could have just as easily belonged to a reptile as to a flesh and blood human being. She saw it now, in the courtroom, and she'd seen it then, when the sting she'd been part of had gone down, successfully snaring Munro in its net. They were dead eyes, silently telling her that this arrest was merely a temporary aberration, an obstacle to be surmounted.
He looked, she thought, as if he had some secret guarantee that he would be out again soon, pushing his people to hook naïve, thoughtless teenagers in search of diversion on drugs, eventually turning large numbers of them into wraithlike creatures willing to sell what was left of their souls for the next fix.
Greer could see that same look in Munro's eyes now, as she looked at him across the marginally populated courtroom. He was sitting at the defense table, dressed in a suit his attorney was hoping would transform him from a minor kingpin in the organization into a respectable-looking member of society.
But nothing could transform his eyes. They were looking at her and there was murderous contempt in the brown orbs.
Contempt and more than a small amount of anger that he was being inconvenienced this way.
It made Greer long—just for the tiniest of seconds— for the days of vigilante justice that had thrived in the Wild West before law and order had prevailed. Because vigilante justice would have disposed of worthless creeps like Munro without so much as a fleeting second thought.
There were no second chances with vigilante justice.
But even as she thought it, Greer knew in her heart that if such a thing as vigilante justice was alive and well, she would have been part of the first line of defense against it. It was inherently in her blood to uphold the law.
But that didn't mean she didn't find this whole tedious "due process" of crossing t's and dotting i's trying, she thought irritably.
Because it wasn't enough to catch vermin like Eddie Munro in the act and arrest him. He had to be convicted, as well—and that was always tricky. Despite the fact that the man was as guilty as sin, conviction was never a foregone conclusion, because there were lawyers involved. Lawyers who earned their fees—and possibly a rush, as well—by digging through technicalities, searching for that one little "something" that had been overlooked, some obscure loophole that would somehow serve to set the Eddie Munros of the world back on the street to prey on the defenseless.
The need to present the case against him and prosecute Munro to the full measure of the law was why she was here, sitting in a place she avoided like the plague whenever possible. More than half an hour ago she had solemnly sworn to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me, God." She would have willingly sworn to almost anything if it meant locking away one more evil vulture for as long as legally possible.
It wasn't that courtrooms—or testifying—made her nervous. What they did was make her angry. Angry because, like it or not, all the hard work that she and the men and women she worked with in the narcotics division could be thrown out on one of those aforementioned technicalities. One overzealous movement by a wet-behind-the-ears rookie cop could jeopardize months of hard work.
But she knew that this was part of the game, part of the system, and she was determined to do everything she could to put that soulless pseudo Drug Czar of Magnolia Avenue, as Munro liked to refer to himself, away. She would have preferred putting him away for good, but ultimately, she would take what she could get. Every day Munro wasn't on the street was another day someone else potentially avoided becoming addicted.
Greer was well aware that every victory counted, no matter how small.
The sound of a door sighing closed registered and she glanced toward the back of the courtroom, just in time to see the chief of detectives, Brian Cavanaugh, make his way down the far aisle and slip into one of the near-empty middle rows.
What was up?
Greer couldn't help wondering if the well-respected chief was here because of the case in general, or because his daughter, Janelle Cavanaugh-Boone, was the assistant district attorney prosecuting this case.
Or if, by some remote chance, he was here to lend her his support. Brian Cavanaugh was, after all, her newfound uncle.
The thought would have coaxed an ironic smile to her lips if the overall situation hadn't been so grave. And if she wasn't currently on the stand, testifying and being relentlessly grilled by Munro's defense attorney, Hayden Wells, an oily little man who, despite his posturing, was not all that good at his job.
The latter discovery—that Brian Cavanaugh was her uncle, that she, Kyle and Ethan were actually related to the numerous Cavanaughs who populated the police force—still boggled her mind a bit, as she was fairly certain it did her brothers. Triplets, they tended to feel more or less the same about the bigger issues that affected their lives and learning that they had been lied to by their mother all their lives was about as big an issue as there was.
It was only on their mother's deathbed that the twenty-six-year-old triplets learned that the man they had believed was their late father, a war hero killed on foreign shores nobly defending freedom, never even existed. He had been created by Jane O'Brien in order to make her children feel wanted and normal. In truth, they were conceived during a brief liaison between Mike Cavanaugh, the sullen black sheep of an otherwise highly respected family, and their mother, a woman who had fallen hopelessly in love with the brooding policeman.
Angry, hurt, bewildered, the day after the funeral Kyle had marched up to Andrew Cavanaugh, the former chief of police and family patriarch, and dropped the bombshell that there were three more Cavanaughs than initially accounted for on the man's doorstep.
Rather than rejection and scorn, which was what she knew Kyle was expecting, she and her brothers had found acceptance. Not wholesale, at least, not at first, but rather swiftly down the line, all things considered.
Taken in by the family, that left Greer and her brothers to work out their own feelings regarding the tsunamic shift that their lives had suddenly experienced. To some extent, they were still wrestling. But at least the angst was gone.
Pacing before the witness stand as he addressed her, Munro's defense attorney paused. The slight involuntary twitch of his lips indicated that he wasn't satisfied with the way his round of questioning was going. At the outset, it seemed as if he was winning, but now that conclusion was no longer cast in stone. The balding attorney's voice rose as his confidence decreased.
The momentary lull allowed Greer to shift her eyes to the side row again. She was surprised to make eye contact with the chief of detectives. And even more surprised to see the smile of approval that rose to his lips.
He mouthed, "Good job," and at first, she assumed that Brian had intended the commendation for his daughter's efforts. But Janelle had her back to the rear of the courtroom—and her father.
The approval was intended for her.
Greer realized that a smile was slowly spreading across her own lips. She'd always told herself that, like her brothers, she was her own person and that approval didn't matter.
But it did.
She could feel the warmth that approval created spreading through her, taking hold. Ever so slightly, she nodded her head in acknowledgment of her superior. Of her uncle.
The next moment, she heard the judge's gavel come down on her right. Her attention returned to the immediate proceedings.
Alert, Greer waited to hear what the judge had to say, trying not to dwell on the fact that she was sitting far closer than was comfortable to Judge Blake Kincannon.
It wasn't that she had anything against Kincannon— she didn't. In her opinion, Aurora's youngest judge on the bench was everything that a model judge was supposed to be. Fair, impartial, compassionate—but not a bleeding heart—he was the kind of judge who actually made her believe that maybe, just maybe, the system could actually work. At least some of the time.
Added to that, Blake Kincannon even looked like the picture of a model judge. Tall, imposing, with chiseled features, piercing blue eyes and hair blacker than the inside of a harden criminal's heart, Kincannon was considered to be outstandingly handsome and quite a catch for those who were in the "catching" business.
No, Greer's discomfort arose for an entirely different reason.
She was certain that whenever Judge Blake Kincannon looked at her, he remembered. Remembered that she was the patrol officer who had been first on the scene of the car accident two years ago. Remembered that she was the one who had tried, unsuccessfully, to administer CPR to his wife as she lay dying. And remembered that she was the one who, when he regained consciousness at the hospital after the doctors had stabilized him, broke the news to him that his wife was dead.
Not exactly something a man readily put out of his mind, she'd thought when Detective Jeff Carson, her partner for the past year, had told her who the presiding judge on the case was going to be.
She'd been dreading walking into the courtroom for months. And now, hopefully, it was almost over.
The sound of the gavel focused attention on the judge. All eyes were on him. Kincannon waited until the courtroom was quiet again.
"I think that this might be a good place to call a recess for lunch." The judge's deep voice rumbled like thunder over the parched plains of late summer. And then he glanced in her direction, his eyes only fleetingly touching hers. "You are dismissed, Detective. The court thanks you for your testimony."
But I'm sure you would rather it had come from someone else, Greer couldn't help thinking even as she inclined her head in acknowledgment.
She rose to her feet at the same time that Kincannon did.
And then the commotion erupted so quickly, it took Greer a while to piece it all together later that day.
One moment, the courtroom was buzzing with the semi-subdued rustle of spectators gathering themselves and their things together in order to leave the premises, the next, terrified screams and cries pierced the air.
And then there was the sound of a gun being discharged.
But the tiny half heartbeat in between the two occurrences was what actually counted.
Greer had immediately glanced away from Kin-cannon the moment their eyes made contact when the judge dismissed her. Which as it turned out, she later reflected, was exceedingly fortunate for the judge. Because if she hadn't looked away, she wouldn't have seen Munro leap up to his feet and simultaneously push the defense table over, sending the table and everything on it crashing to the floor. That created a diversion just long enough for Munro, in his respectable suit, to lunge at the approaching bailiff, drive a fist to the man's gut and grab the doubled-over bailiff's weapon.
"Gun!" Greer yelled and, in what felt like one swift, unending motion, she leaped up onto the witness stand chair where she had just been sitting a second ago, propelled herself onto the judge's desk and hurled herself into the judge, sending the surprised Kincannon crashing down to the floor behind his desk.
Scrambling, she was quick to cover his body with her own.
The desk obstructing her view, Greer heard rather than saw what was going on next. There was the sound of terror, of people yelling and running and ducking for cover. And then there was the sound of a gun being discharged again—one round. Whether the gun belonged to the other bailiff or was the one that Munro had seized from the first bailiff she had no idea.
At this point, everything was registering somewhere on the outer perimeter of her consciousness.
What she was acutely aware of was that she was lying spread-eagle over the judge, that he was on his back and she was on his front. And that all the parts that counted were up close and personal.
The infusion of adrenaline sailing in triple time through her body had her heart racing so hard she was certain that some kind of a record was being set. Greer felt hot and cold and light-headed all at the same time, a reaction definitely not typical of her. She struggled to regain control over herself and her surroundings.
Her eyes met Kincannon's. As if suddenly pulled into the belly of an industrial vacuum cleaner, all the noise and chaos surrounding them seemed to have faded into oblivion for just the slightest increment of a second.
And then she blinked.
"How long have you been under the illusion that you're bulletproof, Detective O'Brien?" Kincannon asked her gruffly.
The question instantly pulled her back into the eye of the courtroom hurricane. "I'm not," she heard herself answering.
"Then what are you doing on top of me?"
"Saving your life, Your Honor," she snapped.
Her heart slowed down to a mere double time. There was a criminal to subdue. The thought telegraphed itself through her brain. Greer scrambled up to her feet. As did the judge.
"Stay down!" she ordered sharply, circumventing his desk.
Kincannon clearly had no intention of being ordered around or of staying down, cowering behind his desk. His court had just been disrespected.