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By Lynn Emery
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Lynn Emery
All right reserved.
Monette gazed at the scenery as the Lexus cruised along. Hardly a bump penetrated the luxury ride. What a contrast between how she'd arrived to start her prison stay almost fifteen years earlier and how she was leaving. The whisper-quiet air conditioner pushed the scent of leather mixed with fresh cut grass from outside. Nothing like the earthy smells of the prison bus she'd ridden to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. Not to mention what she'd endured during her stay there. Warden Yvonda Taylor's sour expression had made Monette's day even brighter. Warden Taylor had never believed her story or supported her applications for parole.
"See ya later," Warden Taylor had drawled as she'd stood watching Monette leave.
"Hold your breath and wait." Monette had started to give her a final wave good-bye with only one finger extended, but Lucy had caught her arm.
Though her lawyer had scowled, Monette had merely shrugged. She'd shown restraint in her view. What she'd really wanted to say had involved several colorful expletives. They had managed to elude the three reporters hovering outside the prison gate. With Jim Rand on her right and his law clerk Lucy Chen on the left, he'd made sure they'd marched lockstep to the car, giving Monette no more chances to comment. Now, miles away, he seemed to relax. At every highway marker Monette glanced back. Each mileaway from LCIW was that much sweeter. Jim drove straight to the NBC affiliate television station in Baton Rouge to give an exclusive first interview. Ten minutes later, Monette was on her way to her new life in the world, the real world.
"God bless America," she murmured.
"What was that?" Jim asked, turning his head for a second before looking ahead at traffic again.
"She's glad to be out," Lucy commented from the backseat with a wide smile. The twenty-five-year-old looked crisp in her white cotton shirt and bloodred skirt.
"Amen, sistah. To think last night I was in a prison cell. This morning I'm smiling into a television camera talking to Katie Couric on national TV." Monette laughed and gave Jim a playful swat on the shoulder. "The warden probably spit out her coffee when she saw me."
Jim didn't join in their laughter. "The director of New Beginnings probably isn't amused one darn bit. We're over an hour late for your admission."
"It will be alright," Monette said.
"Let's hope so. We need her on our side when we go before the Pardon Board," Jim replied. His dark brows pulled together. He gazed at Monette hard.
"I'm going to be on my best behavior, follow the rules and be so full of 'Yes, ma'am,' 'No, ma'am' and 'How high you want me to jump, ma'am?' that y'all won't recognize me," Monette answered with a nod.
"You got that right," Lucy quipped. She merely smirked when Monette darted a glare at her over one shoulder.
"I mean it, Jim. I'm not going to mess up, so don't worry. I'm sure Ms. Sherman will understand. Just relax." Monette gave him a reassuring smile this time. When Jim smiled back he seemed to loosen up.
Monette did not want to betray his trust in her. After all, Jim Rand and The Justice Project were the biggest reason she'd gotten out at all. He'd put in long hours building the case for her parole, giving media interviews and taking a lot of heat on her behalf. Monette only hoped his reputation and career hadn't been irreparably harmed because of her.
"Here we are." Jim shifted into park but didn't turn off the engine.
Monette looked at the neighborhood. In the distance she saw the modest skyline of downtown Baton Rouge. The houses were old-fashioned wooden structures built back in the thirties, forties and fifties. Most had wide front porches. This area had obviously been more prosperous once. Although some were neatly kept, most of the homes showed their age in a bad way. A few of the houses were downright shabby, with trash strewn in the scrubby front yards.
"You would think they could choose a better part of town for a halfway house," Lucy said. She glanced around as though unwilling to leave the car. She put a hand on her small, fashionable handbag.
"I know that part of L.A. you came from. What about those Asian girl gangbangers?" Monette said.
"Which is why I don't live there anymore, thank you very much."
"So now you're all refined. Don't act like you so scared. Anybody look at that tiny purse too hard and you'd put some of that ancient Chinese butt kickin' on 'em," Monette wisecracked. Lucy started to laugh, then stopped.
"Wouldn't try it with them." Lucy nodded as she looked through the car window.
Monette followed her gaze. She eyed a group of swaggering teenagers. One of them puckered his lips and made a kissing sound at Lucy as they walked by. "You've got a point. Jim, maybe this isn't such a good deal after all."
"I checked. The crime statistics for this area show few serious police calls," Jim replied with a calm expression. He did not bother to glance at the boys. He turned to Monette. "New Beginnings is around the corner. I wanted us to have one last talk."
"No more lectures. For the tenth time--I will blend in and not get involved in any controversy. Now let's go," Monette said firmly, struggling to be patient with her jumpy attorney.
"I just wanted to suggest that we make this entrance as low-key as possible," Jim replied just as firmly.
"Then we'd better go. Like you said, I'm already over an hour past the time I was supposed to report," Monette shot back.
"Right." Jim frowned as he faced forward again and shifted into drive. They turned onto Louisiana Avenue. Three blocks down they stopped in front of a large, two-story house with a wide stone porch.
Excerpted from Soulful Strut by Lynn Emery Copyright © 2006 by Lynn Emery. Excerpted by permission.
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