The police say Kaylene Adams was a murderer—but Emilie Wesley will stop at nothing to clear her client’s name and protect the innocent daughter Kaylene left behind.
To the world it seems obvious: Kaylene Adams killed her daughter before taking her own life. Attorney Emilie Wesley knows a different story: Kaylene would never hurt anyone and was looking for a way out of a controlling, abusive relationship. Her death shakes Emilie’s belief that she can make a difference for women in violent marriages. Self-doubt plagues her as she struggles to continue her work in the wake of the tragedy.
Reid Billings thought he knew his sister—right up until he learned how she died. He discovers a letter from Kaylene begging him to fight for custody of her daughters if anything should happen to her. No attorney in her right mind would support an uncle instead of the father in a custody case, but Kaylene’s letter claims Emilie Wesley will help him.
Thrown together in the race to save Kaylene’s surviving daughter, Emily and Reid pursue the constantly evasive truth. If they can hang on to hope together, can they save a young girl—and find a future for themselves in the process?
“This is the way legal thrillers are meant to be—compelling, intelligent, and deeply satisfying.” —Randy Singer, author of Rule of Law
“A legal thriller that takes on a burning social issue and the role of faith and strength in meeting that challenge. Like all good storytellers, Cara Putman makes you care. She is at the top of her game with Imperfect Justice.” —James Scott Bell, bestselling author of Romeo’s Rules
- Legal romantic suspense with inspirational elements
- Second book in the Hidden Justice series but can be enjoyed as a standalone
- Book length: approximately 92K words
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
About the Author
Cara Putman is the author of more than twenty-five legal thrillers, historical romances, and romantic suspense novels. She has won or been a finalist for honors including the ACFW Book of the Year and the Christian Retailing’s BEST Award. Cara graduated high school at sixteen, college at twenty, completed her law degree at twenty-seven, and recently received her MBA. She is a practicing attorney, teaches undergraduate and graduate law courses at a Big Ten business school, and is a homeschooling mom of four. She lives with her husband and children in Indiana. Visit her website at CaraPutman.com; Facebook: Cara.Putman; Twitter: @Cara_Putman.
Read an Excerpt
Emilie Wesley glanced at her watch and frowned. In fifteen minutes her client would take a critical step toward freedom. It was a step that had taken months of preparation and more than a little bit of counseling and backbone stiffening. Now all that work, time, and effort would culminate in a protective order. Emilie would step to the background, her role in helping Kaylene Adams alter her abusive present finished.
When she'd finally received the text saying her client was ready to file, Emilie had jumped into action. She wanted to file it before Kaylene changed her mind. Emilie knew from hard experience that could happen in a moment.
But before the judge would grant a protective order, Kaylene had to appear in court.
Without her testimony, the motion was a complete no go.
Emilie stopped pacing and tapped the face of her watch, then pressed it to her ear. The steady tick, tick affirmed it was working. What wasn't working was Kaylene's promise to meet her forty-five minutes before the hearing at the Haven, the nonprofit that served women who wanted to escape difficult domestic situations.
She had waited in her office as long as she could before calling Kaylene's cell phone, a call that went directly to voicemail. She'd left a message and then told Taylor Adele, her paralegal, that she was headed to court. Maybe Kaylene had misunderstood where they were meeting. She could be a nervous wreck, waiting outside the courtroom for Emilie to arrive.
Emilie had almost convinced herself that was exactly what had happened until she reached the broad hallway outside the courtroom and couldn't find her client. She pulled her cell phone from her briefcase and called Taylor.
"Any sign of Kaylene?"
"You're sure? She's got to be somewhere." There was a churning in her gut that left Emilie unsettled, fearing what could have happened.
In the practice of law, clients were people you served during normal business hours and then forgot about when you left the office. Somewhere in her three years at the Haven that had stopped working. She sometimes woke up in the middle of the night panicking over a client's situation — and this was such a case. Kaylene's situation bordered on tenuous even after all the detailed planning and careful work. Her home life was one spark away from erupting, and there was so little Emilie could do to prevent it or protect Kaylene and her girls.
"Want me to keep calling?" Taylor's words penetrated her worried mind.
"Yes. I need to know she's okay."
"She probably got snagged in traffic somewhere. You know how 66 is."
"Stop-and-go all hours of the day." That was exactly why she'd bought a town house that was ridiculously expensive but also incredibly close to where she worked. Vehicles were made to move, not sit in lanes of traffic. "You're likely right. Let me know if you reach her."
Meanwhile, Emilie would check the courtroom just in case Kaylene had slipped around her. An unlikely scenario, but she felt ripples of desperation.
The courtroom was quiet, the dark wood lining the walls somber and weighty. It was surprisingly empty for a Monday morning, a circumstance that would change in the coming minutes unless the judge had canceled the general motion hour. That happened if the court had a jury trial or series of hearings calendared. This morning the only people in the courtroom were a court reporter seated at a computer near the front of the room and the judge.
Judge Emma Franklin had served the people of Alexandria City for fifteen years. She glanced up from the file resting on the large desk in front of her and acknowledged Emilie. "You ready, Miss Wesley?"
"Not quite, Your Honor. My client is on her way." She hoped. "Can we have a few more minutes?"
"The hearing is slated to begin in five, and I have ten minutes after that."
"This won't take long. I'm sure she's looking for parking."
The judge slid reading glasses down her nose and eyed Emilie, her gaze direct and not without warmth. "You understand your client has to be here to receive a temporary protective order."
"Yes, Your Honor." Emilie fought to keep her tone respectful — the judge knew she understood that. "I'll check the hallway for her again. The courthouse can be intimidating."
"It's easy to forget that when one works here. Good luck." Judge Franklin turned back to her files, and Emilie hurried to the doors leading to the hall.
The moment she exited the courtroom, she stepped to the side and pulled out her cell. A text from Taylor flashed on her screen. Still no answer
Emilie frowned and pulled up Kaylene's number. She hit call and waited for what felt like forever for anyone to pick up. Something was wrong. She hit redial and still no one picked up. The call finally went to voicemail, and she left a brief message: "Kaylene, tell me you're okay."
When she'd started working with domestic violence victims, Emilie had naively believed she could fix their lives — or at least take her skill with words and use it to help these women navigate their turbulent lives.
She'd learned the hard way it wasn't that simple.
If she wanted hope, she should have focused on adoptions.
Instead, she dealt with the real-world dysfunction that kept two people from sustaining a relationship. Where one or the other, sometimes both, fed off a destructive cycle of control and pain.
Did any of Kaylene's neighbors have any idea what happened behind her closed doors?
One or two might suspect, but it wouldn't have risen to the level of intervention.
That was one tragedy of relationship violence. If you didn't see the bruise, you could pretend it didn't exist. If you never thought about the disproportionate number of broken bones, you could believe someone simply had a string of bad luck. Happens to the best of us. After all, a grown woman could always flee if her situation got dangerous, unlike a child trapped in the power of someone bigger and stronger.
It was a fiction, but a fiction people chose to embrace.
Emilie walked down the side staircase to the first floor and checked with security. Then she searched the bathrooms on each floor. Still no sign of Kaylene.
She glanced at her watch as she hurried back to the courtroom. They were out of time, and she'd have to beg Judge Franklin for leniency in the hope Kaylene would eventually appear.
Had Robert, her husband, somehow found out what she was doing?
That was a worst-case scenario, one that could lead only to even worse scenarios. Emilie dislodged the thought as she reentered the courtroom.
"There you are, Ms. Wesley. Did you find your client?"
"No, Your Honor. I'm afraid we'll have to ask for a continuance."
Judge Franklin watched her for a moment, but Emilie refused to shift or fidget. "All right. You can handle that with my clerk."
"Thank you." She hurried from the room and scanned the hallway again as she walked around the corner to the judge's office. It only took a moment to reschedule for the next morning, and then she called Taylor. "I'm going to search the courthouse one more time, then head back."
"All right. I'll call you the moment I hear from her."
"Thanks." Emilie slipped her phone into the side pocket of her Italian leather briefcase. For a moment her thoughts flitted to her graduation trip to Florence and the open-air market where her mom had insisted she buy the briefcase so she'd look the part of an attorney. She shook her head. The memory of her hope and optimism that day disappeared in a wave of fear.
There were a few more people about as Emilie looked into courtrooms and checked the bathrooms one more time. Kaylene wouldn't be the first client who'd had the courage to start the process only to have it fail when she most needed it.
As Emilie walked down the first floor toward the exit, a detective strode toward her. She didn't know Detective Gaines well, but the man had been around a long time and might be able to help. She hurried to him, her heels clicking against the stone floor.
"Detective Gaines, do you have a moment?"
"Not really." His gaze was intent, if slightly unfocused, as if he was preoccupied with whatever matter had brought him to the courthouse.
"My client was supposed to meet me here to get a protective order in front of Judge Franklin. She didn't show."
"I'm sorry, but how can I help? Your client has to want the protection."
"Yes, I know." She blew out a breath, stemming a wave of annoyance. "I'm worried her husband found out and did something."
"Has he been violent before?"
"Yes." Kaylene had caught her husband in an affair, which had been the proverbial straw that destroyed her ability to carry on as though nothing were wrong. When he beat her for confronting him, she knew she must escape and had shown up at the Haven.
"Give me her name, and I'll check after I take care of something else."
"Thank you." She gave him Kaylene's name and headed outside. In fifteen minutes she was back in her office at the Haven comparing notes with Taylor. "I don't understand."
"That makes two of us." Taylor's usually smiling face wore a mask of concern as she meet Emilie's gaze. "Kaylene was as committed as any of our clients."
It was true, and that was what had Emilie tied up in knots. She moved to her desk and tried to focus on other case files, but her thoughts continued to stray to Kaylene. A news alert beeped onto her phone: Multiple shooting at Ravens Park home. She ignored it. Just another sensational headline.
Her desk phone intercom clicked to life.
"There's a Detective Gaines for you."
"Thanks." She grabbed the phone. "Thanks for getting back to me, Detective."
"Your client's name is Kaylene Adams?"
"She won't be meeting you at court. She's headed to the morgue, and suspected of shooting her daughters."
The shadows lengthened outside the office as Emilie stared at the blank screen. After the Haven closed she sometimes took advantage of the quiet to get out her laptop and work at her other job: freelance investigative journalism for an online newspaper that wanted to be the next must-read. Almost no one beyond her tight circle of girlfriends understood she had dual roles, but each fed a separate part of who she was. Lately, though, the writing didn't flow. It felt stymied, and she hoped by staying late she could knock out her next article.
Instead, she kept imagining Kaylene's body covered by a sheet. Her body heaved onto a gurney. Her body thrust into the ambulance.
If only Kaylene had called her Friday rather than Saturday, so they could have gone to court immediately to file the protective order. Maybe then Kaylene would be alive. Emilie's head knew she'd had no choice but to wait, but her heart felt as though she'd betrayed her client.
The online headlines screamed that the police believed Kaylene had killed one daughter and critically wounded the other. It felt like a waking nightmare. A grainy video that appeared on a couple of the local news station websites seemed to support the theory. One viewing, and Emilie felt her stomach rebel against the lunch she'd eaten as she'd scrambled to find any explanation for the tragedy.
She'd tried to watch it a second time, but she couldn't face it.
Now she had to get this article written, but the words wouldn't come. Even terrible words would be better than none — she could always edit it later.
But the blank screen taunted her ... the cursor blinking her failure at the top. This was not normal. Had the Muses abandoned her? She leaned across the surface of the desk. The coolness of the pressed wood felt good since the air-conditioning automatically slowed after hours.
After a moment she groaned and pushed back upright. There was no point staying any longer. She should go home, where she could at least stare at the computer screen from her bed in comfy clothes and with bare feet. The ridiculous heels she wore pinched her toes. They were a torture device, but part of her uniform and the identity she presented to clients. She wanted to remind them that they could be both strong and feminine. They could know who they were and be confident. It was possible, if one portrayed the right image. It might be an illusion, but no one else had to know. Tell yourself that, Emilie, she thought, wondering where her ability to help people and her words had gone.
She shoved a couple files in her bag, grabbed her car keys, and turned off the lights. The hall was quiet, the faint hum of the refrigerator whispering in the darkness as she passed the kitchen. One of the safety lights buzzed, as annoying as the mosquitoes that swarmed along the Potomac.
She felt a vibration against her side, and she stopped to rummage through her bag. How was it that the pockets always deepened when she scrambled to find a ringing cell phone? When her fingers finally clasped it, the call was gone. All that remained was the screen showing a number she didn't recognize. Oh well. If it was important they'd leave a message. She'd learned if they didn't, she shouldn't call back. No need to invite conversation with strangers who were usually telemarketers.
She jiggled the back door as she walked past. Good, it was already locked. Occasionally the cleaning crew forgot or, more likely, assumed the last staff member would lock it. So she always checked.
After that it was a quick lap through the rest of the warren of hallways to turn off lights. She loved the cheerful framed artwork, drawn by clients' children, that brightened what would otherwise be a boring beige hall. Inexpensive interior decorating with a message. It had been the receptionist's idea, when she first arrived, to soften the space and make it more inviting, but Johanna soon realized that a nonprofit's funds didn't allow for splurges. Then she landed on the idea of dollar-store frames filled with artwork children created. The result was charming and colorful. Then a donor noticed and wrote a check for larger pieces to be framed and displayed in the entry and conference rooms.
The result was unique and perfect.
Emilie stopped to examine an acrylic Kaylene's daughter Kinley had painted. The girl had been delighted to wait for her mom in the children's room, once she'd spotted the art supplies. When Emilie and Kaylene returned an hour later, Kinley hadn't heard them come in. Tongue protruding past her teeth, she was concentrating on adding a thin brush of white along a tree trunk.
Tears filled Emilie's eyes at the memory.
Kinley had glanced up. "That white edge is meant to add highlights." The words sounded so self-assured coming from a nine-year-old.
Kaylene had grinned and tugged her daughter's ponytail. "Guess all those art lessons are worth it. You've created something beautiful." As she looked down at Kinley, the worry lines seemed to fade along her eyes, and the tightness at her mouth eased. "Kaydence is our math and science gal," she'd told Emilie. "Kinley is our creative."
"And you love me for it." Kinley's grin was big enough to split the sky.
There was nothing in the child's face that day to indicate she feared her mom. Nothing at all.
Emilie walked out the front door, checking to make sure it locked behind her before proceeding down the sidewalk to the parking lot. She could have used the back door, but when she left after dusk she preferred to walk along the busy road before darting into the lot and unlocking her car at the last moment.
It might seem paranoid, but she didn't want to give anyone an opportunity to sneak up on her or into her car because she'd carelessly unlocked it while she was fifty yards away. That wasn't a good idea in her line of work.
She tried to peer into all corners of the parking lot before entering it. Even then it wasn't until she was almost to her car that she saw a person in the shadows. She hurried to unlock the car and climb inside and then quickly relocked the doors from the inside. The person stepped forward as she turned the car on and put it in reverse. Then they — she couldn't tell through the lens of the rearview mirror if it was a man or woman — let the weakened light from the street brush across their face, a safe move thanks to the hoodie that cloaked their features.
Emilie wanted to scream in frustration. Who was this person? Before she could do something, anything to fight back — but what? call the police? could they arrive in time? — the person was gone. Vanished in the shadows. If she could see who it was just once, she could do something to fix this and make them stop.
She pulled out of the parking lot and turned onto the street.
She needed to get home. Somewhere safe.
Someplace where she could pretend no one stalked her and made sure she knew it.
FIVE MONTHS EARLIER
He buttoned the top button of his tuxedo shirt, then adjusted the bow tie. Tonight's fund-raiser for the Haven would be his first step into public view since the business trades released the amount he'd been paid for InterIntell. The dollars were large enough to have those who wanted to be his friends circulate where before they hadn't acknowledged him. Tonight he simply had to smile and endure. Shake a few hands. Feign interest and leave as soon as he could.
He'd never quite fit into the social scene, a fact he could trace to middle school when his interests diverged so completely from those of his mindless classmates.
Today would be different. He knew he could exceed expectations. A few extra zeros in his bank account helped with that.
He was no longer the skinny, nerdy kid who sat in the back row drafting code and forming ideas while the rest learned useless information like the dates of wars and theorems he'd mastered as an eight-year-old. He was the celebrated CEO of a company that revolutionized the way people lived. Where most people looked around the world and saw colors and shapes, he saw zeros and ones. He saw programs that could affect the world around him.
Excerpted from "Imperfect Justice"
Copyright © 2017 Cara Putman.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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