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Adam Holbrook stood and faced the bench of the Honorable Judge Hankins A. Wallace. The man seated there didn't look anything like what he'd expected. He'd envisioned the judge in a small rural town like Dover, Mississippi, to be a balding, overweight, quirky character with horn-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose. One look at this magistrate had given Adam his first moment of concern.
Judge Wallace was stern-faced and imposing, and it had nothing to do with his being elevated behind the bench. Broad shoulders, steely brown eyes and a set to his jaw that made it clear he was in charge. Adam's throat went dry. He glanced over at his court-appointed attorney. He'd considered calling his own attorney yesterday after he'd been arrested for reckless endangerment and destroying public property, a result of his accidently running his car into the town's park and damaging a small building. But his attorney was also his most recent girlfriend and the relationship had ended badly, so he'd chosen to go with a court-appointed lawyer. Now he questioned that decision.
"Yes, Your Honor." He put as much respect and sincerity into his tone as possible.
"Were you driving drunk in my town, Mr. Holbrook?"
The judge's dark gaze pierced him from across the room. "So, then what were you doing when you decided to destroy our beloved landmark?"
He opened his mouth to protest, then changed his mind. Better to eat crow and be on his way. In twenty-eight days he had to be seated at the board of directors meeting of his father's company, Holbrook Electronics, or lose the yearly allowance from his trust fund forever. There were no excuses acceptable. Either be in Atlanta on time or face financial ruin. "I was trying to use the GPS on my phone."
The judge nodded knowingly and glanced at the papers on his desk. "Uh-huh. Well then, let's get straight to it. I'm sure you're anxious to get this over with."
Adam allowed a small grin. "As a matter of fact I am. I have interests in Atlanta that require my immediate attention." He was pleased with his calm, respectful tone. Hope rose. All he had to do now was meet the bail, pay any fines and he could be on his way.
"Do you now?" Judge Wallace took the folder in front of him in his hands and scanned the contents. "It says here you're some kind of minor celebrity. That you like to indulge in all manner of extreme sporting adventures." His tone was thick with disapproval.
Hope took a nosedive. He might have grossly underestimated this small town's justice system. He waited, a heightened sense of anticipation sparking his nerves, similar to the sensation he experienced right before he jumped out of a plane or dived off a cliff.
The judge leaned back in his chair, frowning. "We do things a bit differently here in Dover, Mr. Holbrook. We believe in the punishment fitting the crime."
"I'll be more than happy to have the structure repaired, Your Honor." That should score a few points.
"That's good to hear. That's what I had in mind, as well. You see, that wasn't any old structure you crashed your flashy silver car into. That was an historic landmark. It's the symbol of this town. It's one hundred and thirty years old and we're rather fond of that gazebo."
A small bead of sweat trickled down his back. "Yes, sir."
"So, here's what you're going to do." The judge straightened in his chair and banged his gavel on the bench. "You're hereby sentenced to thirty days under house arrest. And you will spend those days rebuilding the gazebo you damaged. Any spare hours will be spent doing community service."
Adam struggled to grasp what the judge had just said. He couldn't be serious. "Your Honor, I have urgent personal matters in Atlanta that require my presence."
The judge shook his head. "That's unfortunate. Thirty days."
No. Thirty days would mean he'd miss the deadline. There were no contingencies with the rules of his trust fund. No leeway. He either showed up for the meeting or he was cut off. Permanently. Once Arthur Holbrook made a decree it was carved in stone. Especially something like this. "Your Honor, what about bail? I'm able to meet any amount you deem equitable."
"Yes, I'm sure you're more than able. That's the point, Mr. Holbrook. I suspect buying your way out of things is a bad habit with you. No bail."
"Your Honor "
The judge held up his hand. "I figure that gazebo damage is well within the felony limits. You're fortunate that no one was injured in your little stunt or you could be facing manslaughter charges."
Dryness in his throat made it hard to swallow. He had been greatly relieved that no one had been injured, but he couldn't afford to be stuck in rural Mississippi for a month. He searched frantically for a way out of this mess. He looked to his attorney, who shrugged and shook his head. He was on his own. A surge of anger rushed through his veins. What else was new? Adam faced the bench again. He flashed his most engaging smile. "With all due respect, sir, I don't know how to repair that building."
"I suspect not. That's why I'm assigning an expert to help you out. And because you're such an unusual case, you'll be housed with a local family instead of the jail, and you'll be wearing an ankle monitor at all times until you've completed your sentence."
The tone of the judge's voice and the look in his eyes told Adam there was no point in trying to press his case. He'd have to find some other way to get home in time. Missing the yearly meeting with his father was out of the question. He had to be in Atlanta on time or lose everything.
Laura Durrant shut the tailgate on her truck and walked to the cab, pulling herself up into the driver's seat. She'd stopped by her workshop to pick up the tools she would need to get everything secured at the gazebo.
Her heart ached when she thought about the damage the accident had caused. Some daredevil rich guy had lost control of his sports car and driven through the fence surrounding the courthouse square and rammed into their historic gazebo. Now it was up to her to fix it.
As a licensed contractor and builder, her company, LC Construction, specialized in restoring old homes and buildings. Her job was physically and mentally stressful, but she loved every second of it. At least she usually did. At the moment she had more work than she could handle and more problems, too.
She was still kicking herself for agreeing to this project. Her uncle, Judge Wallace, was fond of sentencing those who passed through his court to unusual punishments. Normally she applauded the idea, but this was the first time the punishment had included her. When her uncle had requested her help, she'd been eager to repair the gazebo. No one would do it more lovingly or more accurately than she would.
What she disliked was having to work with Adam Holbrook for the next thirty days. She didn't have time to rehabilitate some spoiled rich guy who had nothing better to do than tool around the country in his vintage sports car. He would only get in the way and slow things down. Unfortunately, she had no choice. But she would make sure he pulled his weight.
One thing she knew for certain. The gazebo would be restored in time for the Founder's Day Festival, Dover's most important event of the year. She'd do whatever it took to make sure that happened.
Adam followed Officer Don Barnes down the hallway, the weight of his newly attached ankle tracking device a grim reminder of his fate. He'd been processed for his house arrest. Now he was being taken to meet his jailers.
Once seated in the back of the patrol car, Adam tried to think of some way out of his predicament. He touched the bandage on his jaw where it had hit the steering wheel when he crashed. He'd been lucky. No major injuries. A scraped jaw, a bruised shoulder and a seriously wounded ego were all he'd suffered. He'd gotten off better than the little gazebo had. He glanced down at his once-elegant silk shirt and the dirt marring his tuxedo pants. He probably should have changed when he left the party in Dallas yesterday morning, but he'd been anxious to get his newly purchased '63 Porsche 356 out on the open highway. He sighed, letting his gaze drift to his feet. He tugged up his pant leg and looked at the ugly black monitor. He was trapped. In a prison without bars.
Turning his attention to the scenery outside the vehicle, he shook his head with bewilderment. The streets along the town square were lined with what most people would see as charming old buildings and an even more charming old courthouse. To him they were just old, out-of-date and dull.
He liked things big and wide open. Dangerous. Risky. For fifty-one weeks a year he was his own man. He went where he wanted and did what he wanted. He'd surfed the big waves in Waimea, heli-skiied in British Columbia and raced a car at Daytona. He lived a life of danger and excitement other men only dreamed of.
At least he used to. Lately, he'd been finding it harder and harder to catch that high. The adrenaline rush wasn't coming as quickly, and the satisfaction from each thrill was missing. He'd been restless and irritable for over a year now and he could find no explanation for the sudden change.
The cruiser pulled to a stop in front of a large two-story white house on the corner that resembled something from a Norman Rockwell painting. Tall columns braced the wide porch. Broad front steps were decorated with pumpkins and fall flowers. Maybe this was a bed and breakfast. He could handle that.
The officer got out of the car at the same moment a man emerged from the house. He stopped at the edge of the porch steps and waited. When the officer opened the rear door, Adam got out, making a quick scan of the neighborhood. The street was lined with giant trees, the stately homes positioned in manicured lawns. Maybe staying with this family wouldn't be so bad after all. Still, he didn't like the idea of being watched over by strangers like some errant teenager.
He glanced up at the man on the porch. His stern expression said it all. He'd tolerate no nonsense in his home. Adam hid the smirk that fought to emerge. Just like his dad. My way or the highway. It was beginning to look like a very long thirty days ahead.
"Don, how's it going today?"
The officer kept a firm hold on Adam's upper arm as he led him to the foot of the steps. At least he'd been spared the handcuffs. "Doing good. I brought your houseguest." He turned to Adam, a disapproving scowl on his narrow face. "Mr. Holbrook, meet your jailer, Mr. Durrant. This here is Adam Holbrook." Without waiting for either man to speak, the officer released Adam and placed his hands on his hips. "His ankle monitor is set for one mile. If LC needs more range, just have her call and we'll adjust it. You need me to go over anything before I go?"
"No, Don. Hank and I worked it all out. Thanks. I have it from here."
The officer offered a small salute and walked off. Adam squared his shoulders and faced the man. Whatever it was, he would endure. He'd jumped out of helicopters. Surviving a month in a small town should be a piece of cake.
The man came closer toward him, a warm smile on his face. Adam's guard went up. What kind of people would welcome a prisoner into their home?
"I guess Don was in a hurry to get back to work. I'm Tom Durrant. Welcome to our home, Mr. Holbrook." He held out his hand.
Adam grasped it, surprised to find the hand strong and calloused. It didn't fit with the stately old home. Adam had always been good at knowing when someone was conning him. Something was going on here.
Durrant turned and went back up the steps, motioning for Adam to follow. Mr. Durrant looked to be late fifties, early sixties. Tall, broad-shouldered, with silver-gray hair, his quick movements spoke of a man in good shape physically. So what was the catch?
Inside the house, Mr. Durrant stopped in the foyer and waited for him to enter, that same pleasant smile on his face. "I know you're anxious to get settled, but I think we need to have a little talk first. Are you hungry? Did you get breakfast this morning?"
"No, sir." Adam followed him into a bright sunny kitchen at the back of the house. The room was large with a round table positioned in a cozy corner filled with windows.
"I thought not. Have a seat and I'll get you fixed up. Coffee?"
He nodded, growing more confused by the moment. Was this where he'd stay? What was going on? Were they trying to kill him with kindness for damaging the little gazebo in the square? Cruel and unusual punishment for sure.
Adam sat down, realizing how out of place he looked in his bedraggled tuxedo. This kitchen was more suited to the jeans and polo shirt his jailer was wearing. Mr. Durrant returned to the table with a plate of cinnamon rolls and a steaming cup of coffee, which made Adam's stomach growl. He'd barely touched his food since being arrested yesterday.
"Here ya go. Eat up. Those rolls were homemade this morning by my wife. She's a great cook."
Adam eyed the man suspiciously. "Thanks." Mr. Durrant waited while Adam doctored his coffee with a little cream and sugar and took a roll from the plate.
"I imagine you have some questions. Let me go over the high points and then I'll show you to your room. Number one, this will be your home for the duration of your sentence. You will be allowed to wander anywhere on our property, but nowhere else. Check-in is whenever you stop work for the day, and you're required to call the police station within five minutes of your arrival here. You'll be picked up for work each day and brought home each night. Oh, and only one phone call per day."
He pulled a cell from his shirt pocket that Adam instantly recognized as his own. He started to reach for it. Mr. Durrant shook his head.
"Sorry. I know how you young people live and die by these things, but we'll keep it down here on that table over there. You can make your calls in here." He smiled. "Don't worry, we'll give you all the privacy you need."
Adam swallowed a bite of cinnamon roll. It was the best he'd ever tasted, but he wasn't in the mood to truly enjoy it. "Is that all?"
Clasping his hands on the table, Mr. Durrant leaned toward him. "Treat my wife and me with respect, behave yourself and everything should be fine. Any other questions?"