Read an Excerpt
"I don't have a drinking problem, Your Honor. I have a problem drinking," Karan Kowalski Steinberg-Reece explained, though it positively hurt to justify herself to this woman.
"I'm listening, Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece." The judge gazed down from her superior height on the courtroom bench. She emphasized the Ms. and dragged out each syllable as though implying the marriages hadn't lasted as long as the names.
"I have low blood sugar." That was all Karan would say. The toxicology results would speak for themselves.
Her attorney, a close friend of her second husband, had coached her at length about behavior during the sentencing since she and the judge had a history.
Honorable Jennifer Sharpe-Malone had once been known as Jenny, a wannabe cheerleader who hadn't made the cut in four years at Ashokan High. Of course, Karan had made cheer captain all four years, so she'd been a judge at tryouts. It had been hard enough finding positions for her inner circle of friends.
Wannabe Jenny hadn't been in her inner circle.
Just Karan's luck that with all the judges in New York's Catskill Mountains she'd wind up in court before this one.
"I'm well aware of your medical condition," Wannabe Jenny informed her. "I've reviewed the deputy's report. The deputy also stated you appeared more impaired than the results of the field sobriety test and the toxicology report revealed."
More luck. Karan had gambled by cooperating with the deputies because she hadn't wanted her license automatically revoked for refusing the test. One glass of champagne. One stupid glass and her blood alcohol content had been .05. A fraction of a percent lower and she wouldn't be in this courtroom at all.
"State law doesn't require my client to consent to a field sobriety test, Your Honor." Her attorney seized the opportunity. "Only the chemical test, yet Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece cooperated with law enforcement and consented to both."
"Noted, Mr. James, and for the record I'm aware of the law." Wannabe Jenny turned a peeved gaze to Karan. "Did it ever occur to you to call a taxi?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Keep things simple and straightforward" her attorney had said. "Don't offer explanations unless the judge asks." "Why didn't you?" the judge asked. "Leaving my car at the resort presented a problem."
"I didn't have anyone to drive it home for me."
"You were at the Inn at Laurel Lake, isn't that right?" Wannabe Jenny glanced down at the documents before her.
"Yes, Your Honor."
"The Inn does have a parking garage. For a reasonable fee, they would have attended your vehicle until you were able to safely retrieve it."
No question. But retrieving her car hadn't exactly been the issue. Drawing attention to the fact that she hadn't driven her car home was. But Wannabe Jenny wouldn't want to hear that. She was already mentally filling in the blanks. Karan could see it all over her crab-apple expression.
"If you weren't happy with the idea of taking a taxi back to the Inn to rescue your car the next day, you might have refrained from drinking."
She made it sound as if Karan was a lush. "I didn't drink per se, Your Honor. I only toasted the senator when he announced his bid for reelection."
Her attorney shot her a withering glance. Entirely unnecessary. Karan knew the instant the words were out of her mouth that defending herself was a mistake and dropping the senator's name a wasted effort.
Wannabe Jenny was out for blood.
"If one obligatory toast impaired you to this degree, then you might have considered waiting for your liver to process the alcohol before you left the party, Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece. Or booking a room for the night since you were at a hotel." Her tone dripped with a sarcasm that couldn't possibly be considered professional courtroom behavior. "If that didn't suit, you might have asked the senator to drive you home."
It took every ounce of Karan's considerable willpower to keep her mouth shut.
"Since you obviously don't have any friends in this town who could have taken you." Wannabe Jenny seemed to be talking simply to hear herself. "Whatever the excuse, your decision to drive while alcohol impaired wasn't a good one. You should be thankful you didn't hurt yourself or, God forbid, someone else. Tragedies happen all too often on the roads."
A tingle started behind Karan's left eye, a familiar tingle that signaled an oncoming headache. She was very grateful she hadn't caused any accidents, in fact, but wasn't about to admit that to Wannabe Jenny. Another explanation wouldn't pass her lips.
The tables had turned in the decade and a half since high school, and Karan wasn't the judge anymore. Wannabe Jenny would assess the offense during this hearing and consider the mitigating factors before sentencing. The long-ago past aside, Karan was an upstanding member of this community.
She hoped that would count for something.
A fine would be best-case scenario. But even if she was ordered to attend a substance-abuse education class, she would smile graciously, thank Wannabe Jenny and hope the class was available online like other traffic violation programs.
This situation was humiliating enough without sitting in a windowless room with drug addicts and real alcoholics for hours on end. She already had a mug shot on the sheriff's website. One that anyone could pull up to view. Fortunately she'd been dressed for the senator's event. If not for the identification number around her neck, she might have been posing for any head shot.
"Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece," Wannabe Jenny addressed Karan in that I'm-so-enjoying-the-upper-hand tone. "Are you aware that one-third of the traffic fatalities in New York State involve impaired or intoxicated drivers?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"And that New York State has a STOP-DWI law?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"Do you understand the difference between driving while ability is impaired and driving while intoxicated?"
"Yes, Your Honor."
"What is it exactly?"
"DWAI is a traffic infraction. DWI is a criminal misdemeanor."
The smile suddenly playing around Wannabe Jenny's mouth, a mouth tinted with a shade of red that drew attention to the fine lines that could have benefitted from a good cosmetic surgeon, made Karan swallow hard.
"Very well then. Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece, the State of New York finds you guilty of driving while ability impaired. It is the judgment of this court that your driving privileges be suspended for ninety days. You'll pay a five-hundred dollar fine to the clerk when you are remanded into custody to serve fifteen days in the county jail."
Karan's best friend gasped behind her. Her attorney cursed under his breath, but she could only stare. Had Wannabe Jenny just said jail?
"Your Honor." Her attorney didn't bother to hide his annoyance. "That's the maximum sentence allowable."
"Again, I am aware of the law, Mr. James."
"This is Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece's first offense."
"It's not her first offense with low blood sugar," Wannabe Jenny replied. "She seems well aware of the potential effects of alcohol on her condition."
So was Wannabe Jenny. Not even the shroudlike black robe could hide the effects of sitting on the bench. Once upon a time Wannabe Jenny had been petite and fit. Not so much anymore.
On the other hand, Karan's condition forced her to eat small meals every few hours to steady her sugar, which had the added benefit of running her metabolism at full tilt. No complaints there.
"Yet even knowing the potential effects," Wannabe Jenny continued, "your client chose to toast the senator then get behind the wheel of her car before her body had adequately processed the alcohol. By serving the full sentence, I hope her first offense will also be her last."
Karan waited for her attorney to earn his astronomical feea fee she'd insisted on paying even though she'd hosted him in her homes many times throughout her three years of marriage to his close friend.
"May I approach the bench, Your Honor?" Her attorney waited until Wannabe Jenny nodded and then he crossed the courtroom.
Karan waited, too, barely daring to breathe, not allowing herself to react in any visible way. She reminded herself that her attorney was more than competent. The only thing she could do was trust him to do his job.
This situation was a nightmare. Of course she should never have gotten in her car tipsy. Not even to drive the few miles of lonely highway to her house. If she could relive the night over, she would make a different decision. Because Wannabe Jenny was right about one thingKaran knew the limitations of her condition. She didn't go near alcohol for that very reason. She drank club soda with lime to keep the servers busy at functions, but the only alcohol that ever passed her lips was the odd glass of champagne for toasts. And then only the very best champagne.
Sometimes she toasted with no trouble whatsoever and barely felt the effects of a glass, but when her sugar was low, even a few sips could hit her like a truck. So she always sipped cautiously until she knew what the effect would be.
That night Karan had broken all her usual rules and now paid the price. Resisting the urge to turn around, she sensed Susanna's presence behind her, a good friend who'd taken time off work to be moral support. At the rate they were going today, Karan might need Susanna to post her bail.
But she refused to react, refused to give Wannabe Jenny the satisfaction. So Karan stood her ground and watched silently as judge and attorney spoke in hushed tones, discussing her actions and punishment without any input from her. The minutes were marked only by the sounds in the courtroom.
A whisper of polyester from the bailiff's pants as he shifted restlessly from side to side.
The mechanical hiss of a vent when the air-conditioning cycled on, barely keeping the summer heat outside.
The creak of a hinge from the rear of the courtroom as a door opened and shut again.
The muted patter of footsteps as someone strode confidently between the rows of seats, nearer and nearer.
The sound of Susanna's urgent whispering was the final straw, and Karan glanced over her shoulder to find her best friend talking to Jack Sloan, who looked as handsome as ever in his official blue-and-brass uniform.
Well, well, well. Bluestone Mountain's police chief had decided to grace her with his presence.
Back in the cheerleading captain/Wannabe Jenny days, Karan had envisioned a brilliant future with this man. They'd dated through to the end of high school and well into college. Then Jack had switched his career from law to law enforcement. Karan had no intention of becoming a cop's wife when she'd been born to be a society bride to a high-powered husband.
Such a shame, too, as Jack had only grown more handsome in the years since college. And if his defection hadn't been criminal enough, he'd recently married the very woman who'd been a source of major irritation to Karan all through high school.
As far as Karan was concerned, Jack owed her big, and she'd told him as much at the station during booking. Of course, he'd promised to help but hadn't done a thing as far as she could tell. In all fairness, Karan knew he couldn't simply make her situation vanish as easily as he might have a parking ticket. Still, she'd hoped for something more than the busy, newly married police chief's appearance in the courtroom. Men. Not a damned one of them ever delivered.
Wannabe Jenny glanced up and noticed the new arrival. "Chief Sloan. Nice of you to join our little reunion."
Only Wannabe Jenny would point that out. What were the chances that her thirst for blood would be quenched after this nightmare was finally over?
Jack only inclined his head and said, "Judge Malone."
"Your ears must have been ringing because we were just talking about you. Thought for sure you'd decided to skip today." She motioned him forward. "Please approach the bench."
Jack came through the gate the bailiff held open. "Didn't want to miss the fun."
Fun? Karan positively hated this small town, hated the gossip mill and everyone knowing everyone else's business. Having everyone know hers. She had a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan and a bungalow on the Connecticut shore, so why did she even bother keeping a house here again?
A good question that she didn't have an answer for. But as she watched the Ashokan High reunion, Karan vowed to call a real estate agent as soon as she walked out of this courtroom. She'd had enough of this nonsense. Quite enough.
She waited for her invitation to the bench, but one never came. Obviously, she was expected to stand by while everyone else made decisions about her life. She tried to squelch her annoyance, knowing there was no one to blame but herself. But knowing didn't take the edge off. Not her anger at herself for this mess. Not her fear that Wannabe Jenny wanted blood for long-ago wounds to her pride. Not Karan's annoyance that the years hadn't turned Jack from high school football star into a balding cop with a doughnut belly.
Then Susanna's fingers slid against Karan's and gave a light squeeze. She wasn't much for overt signs of emotion, and her best friend since middle school knew it. But Susanna also knew Karan better than anyone in the world. She knew how much Karan hated feeling out of control because they'd been weathering life togetherboyfriends, graduations, weddings, divorces and funerals. Susanna didn't mind sharing how she felt. She actually liked overt signs of emotion. Unexpected hugs. Reassuring touches.
She seemed to like them even more since her husband had died. Karan wished she could be as open as Susanna. Always there. Always caring for the people she loved. Even when life threw devastating curves.
Of course all that emotion came with a dark side, and Susanna could worry like no one Karan had ever met. She got positively insane sometimes, but life wouldn't be life without Susanna. They were as close as sistersor what Karan imagined a sister would be like given she was an only child.
"Ms. Kowalski Steinberg-Reece," Wannabe Jenny announced in her I'm-the-shark-in-the-fishbowl voice. "With Chief Sloan's help, I think we've worked out an arrangement that may be more to your liking."
Susanna gave another squeeze then her hand slipped away. Karan faced the firing squad stoically. Her attorney narrowed his gaze, warning her to stay quiet. He didn't have to because Karan had a gift for reading people. She kept her mouth shut.