DISORDER IN THE COURT . . .
Connie Wilkerson has worked her butt off to go from heartbroken paralegal with a drinking problem to becoming Pineville, Michigan’s fiercest new lawyer. But she’s still short on luck. Exhibit A: her very first case is against bad-boy contractor David Carelli.
Carelli has been a thorn in Connie’s side since high school, getting away with whatever he dreams up. He’s blond, handsome, and he dresses like a model. But everyone in town knows he cuts corners. Just the way he looks at her really gets Connie’s goat. She’s going to get him into chambers and settle the smug right out of him.
There’s just one problem. Exhibit B: Their supposedly hostile negotiations are turning hot instead. Now the jury is out on whether a second chance is recommended . . .
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Read an Excerpt
Why Did It Have to Be You?
By Allyson Charles
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Allyson Charles
All rights reserved.
She knew he was trouble the moment he crossed her path. Big caramel eyes. Shaggy dark hair. An attitude as big as Lake Michigan. Head lowered, legs wide, he stood in the middle of the road like he owned it. The brakes of her Jeep squealed as she rolled to a stop and put the vehicle in park. She met his suspicious glare with one of her own.
Connie Wilkerson peered down her narrow drive. It was about an eighth of a mile from her home to the main road along the bumpy dirt road, and no one else was in sight. What the hell was he doing here? And how had he gotten onto her driveway? Those were mysteries she didn't have time to deal with. She had twenty minutes to make it to the courthouse for her first ever case as an attorney, and she couldn't be late.
Big and hairy didn't look like he planned on moving out of her way anytime soon. Connie eyed the tuft of coarse brown hair jutting from his chin, and then the rows of rough-cut stones forming close walls around this stretch of driveway. Her fifteen-year-old Jeep had taken her over some rough terrain before, but attempting to roll over a two-foot rock wall would be foolhardy.
Leaning on her horn, she made shooing motions at him through the windshield. He dipped his head lower. Connie dug her nails into the steering wheel, her breaths coming short and fast. The clock on her dashboard told her she had eighteen minutes until court would be in session. She wiped away the dust covering the plastic clock face to confirm it. Yup, she was going to be late. Why did this crap always happen to her? She honked again, but the obstacle stood firm. She had to face the beast. Connie opened the door and lowered her sensible navy pumps to the ground, her two-inch heels sinking into the dirt. She reached into the backseat for the old steering wheel lock she never seemed to get around to throwing out, and held the metal bar in front of herself like a cattle prod.
"Move along." She shook the club at him and took a small step forward. "Time to go on home."
The goat cocked its head.
Connie narrowed her eyes. Sure, the mongrel might not understand her words, but any animal could understand from her waving a bar around that she wanted it to move. He didn't have to look at her like she was crazy. Choking up on the club like a baseball bat, she swung it back and forth in the air. Unfazed, the goat snorted and pawed the ground.
He must have escaped from a local farm, but she didn't know of any that kept goats. Where the hell did he belong? She didn't know that either, except it wasn't on her driveway — or anywhere on her forested lot, for that matter.
"Well, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." And now she was giving the stupid animal the bartender talk.
The goat reacted to it about as well as she had in her heyday. He blew her a big raspberry, a string of drool dripping into his chin hair.
Connie's foot paused inches above the ground. She looked down at her double-breasted silk skirt suit, the one that she'd spent her first paycheck as an attorney on, and back at the slobbering beast. She took a step away. Retreating to her Jeep seemed like a much better idea. Maybe if she nudged him with her bumper he'd scamper off? And really, if he decided not to move and worse came to worst, would anyone miss the scruffy animal? Goats went missing every day.
Her butt bumped the hood, and the animal chose that moment to charge. Throwing her torso on the Jeep, she reached for the seam where the hood met the windshield to pull herself up. The metal bar in her hand slammed into the windshield. A crack splintered along the glass, and her jaw dropped with each inch. She had barely a second to process the damage when something tugged sharply at the back of her skirt. Connie craned her neck and shrieked in outrage when she caught sight of the navy silk caught firmly between the goat's teeth. He smiled around his mouthful.
"No!" She kicked out, and the animal danced sideways, avoiding her foot while maintaining his grip. He backed up.
"Oh shit." Abandoning the club, she gripped the waistband of the skirt being pulled down her hips. "Let me go!"
He lowered his head and took another step back. Something had to give: either her skirt or her position on the Jeep. Connie slid off the hood and landed in a heap on the dirt. She pulled a dark lock of hair away from her mouth and looked up at one pissy goat. The animal blew a foul-smelling breath across her face, and nausea coiled in her stomach.
"I didn't mean it about running you over. I swear."
He jutted his chin, appearing unconvinced.
A branch broke, and both Connie and the goat swung their heads around as a deer walked through the pine trees about fifty feet away. The goat took off, leaping over the low wall, spraying clumps of dirt onto Connie's lap. He trotted toward the buck, looking like he'd found his new best friend. Short black tail perked up straight, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, he pranced around the deer, apparently forgetting the woman he'd just assaulted. The buck continued its stroll, ignoring the goat.
Connie's heartbeat thundered in her ears, and she pressed a hand to her chest. "What just happened?" Neither animal answered. Connie was used to wildlife around her home. She'd bought the small house out in the woods because of its rundown back porch where she could sip her coffee and watch the mourning doves and woodpeckers flit about. She'd even seen an elk and a fox roam her property at different times. But a goat with anger management issues was definitely a first.
A little freaked out, Connie sat frozen until the animals disappeared from view. Her heart had just begun to level out when she remembered her court date.
She scrambled to her feet and jumped behind the wheel. Tires spinning, the back end of the Jeep fishtailed toward the low wall. Easing off the accelerator, she unclenched her grip on the steering wheel, and tried to relax. Even though her clock said she had six minutes to make a ten-minute drive, she had to make it there alive.
Luckily, the only things that could slow down her morning commute in Pineville, Michigan were two stop lights and Harper Smith's tractor. Passing him, she gave the young man a wave and headed for the town's main square.
She didn't waste time looking for a space in the county parking lot. Pulling into a twenty minute spot along the curb in front of the courthouse, she prayed for forgiveness from the parking gods and jumped down from her high seat.
Her nylon portfolio clutched close, she raced up the front steps and through the doors of the two-story brick courthouse. Leon, the bailiff for Crook County's Pineville courthouse, was finishing up a call in front of the double doors that led into the courtroom. He took one look at her and stepped in front of the door, barring her path.
"I'll tell Judge Nichols you're here, but that you need a couple more minutes. You should, uh" — he made little circular motions with his finger as he pointed at her — "go fix yourself up."
Sucking down air, Connie thought about pushing past him. This was her chance. Her first case after five long years of night school and online classes while holding down her fulltime paralegal job. But now she was here, fully certified, with a new lease on life, and she just wanted to get her career as a lawyer started. She didn't want to wait one second more. Still, her skirt was a dirty, wrinkled mess, and she smelled more than a little bit like wet goat. A trip to the restroom was only prudent. She nodded her thanks to Leon, found the empty ladies' room, and got a look at herself in the large mirror above the bank of sinks.
Leon had done her a huge favor by blocking the doors. Connie would have been laughed out of the courtroom looking like this. Tossing her portfolio and purse down on the low table by the door, she dug through her bag until she came up with a lint roller. She took off all the loose dirt she could, then wet some paper towels and worked on the rest of the stains.
Her hose were ruined beyond repair so she tore them down her legs. Luckily, her legs were still tan. And — she ran her hands up her calves — thank God, she'd remembered to shave the night before. With a quick reapplication of some bobby pins to tame her long hair, and a couple of spritzes of the travel-size perfume she always carried, she was ready to lawyer. She hoped.
Pushing through the double doors, she got her first glimpse of the courtroom as an attorney. She'd been here before, delivering briefs for the lawyers she worked for. But it seemed bigger now. More stately. The gallery was empty save for two local attorneys she recognized, chatting quietly in the back row. The low gate separating the gallery from the well of the courtroom swung shut behind her as she strode to her table.
Opposing counsel and his client sat at the defendant's table to the left. Connie ignored the men's raised eyebrows, and nodded at Leon as she settled at the plaintiff's table. He walked out a back door and came back thirty seconds later, the judge behind him.
"All rise. The Honorable Judge Nichols presiding."
Chairs scraped against linoleum as the older man hopped up the steps to his bench to sit in front of the seal of the state of Michigan. Settling wire-rim glasses on the edge of his nose, he opened a folder. "Sit, sit. Since we're running a little behind today, let's get started."
Heat crept up Connie's cheeks. She cleared her throat. "Your Honor, I apologize for my tardiness. I had a, uh, livestock issue."
A snort came from the defendant's table. She didn't know if it was from Craig Evers, her opposing attorney, or his client. She snuck a glance. David Carelli looked as arrogant as ever, but at least he wasn't rolling his eyes like his attorney. David ran a hand through his thick sandy-blond hair, and it fell in layers across his forehead, every strand landing back in its proper place. His haircut probably cost more than her suit. She had to admit, it looked good.
Connie pressed her lips together, and turned to the bench. "As you can see, I've filed a preliminary injunction on behalf of my clients, Citizens Concerned for the Wellbeing of Pineville. Defendants want to construct a new animal shelter in the heart of Pineville, in a neighborhood zoned for both commercial and residential use. My clients are concerned about the potential odor and noise pollution such a facility would bring, and would like to halt construction until we can have our own environmental impact report conducted. By a reputable company."
David's broad shoulders tensed beneath his designer jacket. His attorney patted David's arm, and pushed himself to his feet. "Your Honor, this suit is harassment, pure and simple. My clients have already gone through the permitting process —"
"Snuck the paperwork through, more like." Connie pulled a signed affidavit from her portfolio. "Your Honor, I have here —"
The judge held up a hand. "Ms. Wilkerson, this is just a preliminary hearing. It's not time to present anything of an evidentiary nature."
"But ..." She looked down at her files. Her documents, neatly tabbed with colorful stickies, called to her. A rainbow of organized evidence. She'd been up late the past two nights preparing for any question that she might be asked. All her ducks were in a row and she wanted to take aim.
David smirked at the judge's rebuke, the curl of his perfect lips bringing her right back to her high school days. To when Carelli would mock her, looking too handsome by half as he made her feel small. Until she'd started dating Caleb. No one had messed with her after that.
She gripped the edge of the table. David was the duck she wanted to take down most. Pineville's leading general contractor, he was as dirty as he was hot. Everyone in town knew of his unethical business practices. He'd never been caught breaking the law, but there were too many whispers, too many greased palms for Connie to doubt he'd crossed that line.
She'd eagerly accepted this case as her first when she learned that one of the co-defendants was Carelli Construction. There was no downside. She'd get to fight against one of the most disliked men in town. The other codefendant was the Crook County Animal Shelter, normally a sympathetic organization. But a solid base of opposition to the shelter's new location had formed. Public opinion seemed to agree that there was a lot of empty land outside the downtown area where a new shelter could be built instead.
She smoothed her hands down her skirt. By the end of this battle, she'd wipe that smirk right off David's face.
Mr. Evers glanced at a large gold watch on his wrist. "Your Honor, as I was saying, the defendants have already filed their environmental impact reports with the city and have been issued the permits to build. I see no need —"
Judge Nichols cut him off. "Mr. Evers, the variance is missing a signature."
"Excuse me?" The attorney shuffled through some papers. "The permit is properly signed —"
"The permit was conditioned upon the zoning board's variance. It's a five-person board, so three signatures are needed. This" — he held up a piece of paper — "only has two."
"Samantha Beswick has been out on maternity leave for two months." Evers shifted in his tasseled loafers. "And Jack Delgado was out sick that day. So we had a majority."
"And do you have the zoning board's bylaws that state a quorum of three is all that's needed instead of the full board to conduct business?" The judge raised an eyebrow over his cornflower blue eyes.
Evers blustered. "Your Honor, a copy of the bylaws isn't necessary. The city accepted the variance. They issued the permit based on that belief. And they wrote the rules for the board. If they didn't question the signatures, I hardly think you or I should."
Connie sucked in a breath. She admitted she didn't know much about being a lawyer yet. She was as green as the forest of pine trees that gave this area its name. But even she knew it wasn't smart to cop an attitude in a court of law.
Judge Nichols smiled, his cheeks rosy, his expression deceptively sweet. "Mr. Evers, I'm so happy to hear you have complete faith in the competence of city hall. But I seem to remember you arguing before my court just eight months ago that the city of Pineville had 'egregiously and flagrantly disregarded the dictates of Measure B.' I'm paraphrasing, of course, but I'm sure Ardele" — he nodded his head at the court reporter — "could find your exact words. It's duly noted in my courtroom that you now believe city hall to be beyond reproach."
He took off his glasses, folded them, and slid them into a breast pocket behind his robes. "I'm allowing the temporary restraining order until such time as you can prove that city hall regulations allow a quorum of the zoning board to sign a variance. And if at that time, the plaintiff has her own environmental impact report to present, she may." Pushing to his feet, he strode for the back door. "Ardele, calendar another hearing in two weeks. Before that hearing, I expect both sides to meet and try to mediate their disagreements. Is that understood?"
Both Connie and Evers nodded.
"I think that's all then. And Ms. Wilkerson" — he paused, one hand on the door — "welcome to the Michigan bar."
The door to his chambers hissed shut. Connie's shoulders sagged. Her first hearing as an attorney was over. And had been somewhat successful. She wanted to go celebrate with a caramel mochachino. Extra whipped cream. She rubbed the back of her neck and wished she had friends in this town to celebrate with. But she'd burned too many bridges.
Putting her papers back in the portfolio, Connie blew out a big breath. Screw it. She was making a fresh start with her career. She could make one with the people of Pineville, too. Everyone deserved a second chance. And the people of this town were kind enough to give her one.
A wooden chair scraped against the floor. David shook hands with his attorney, his face grim. Evers clapped him on the back, a big grin splitting his face like he hadn't just screwed the pooch in court. But he must have known. After one more full-wattage smile, the attorney picked up his briefcase and hightailed it out of the courtroom, leaving David and his sour expression behind.
New beginnings, Connie told herself. Everyone deserves a fresh start. With that mantra in her head, she stepped forward and stretched out a hand. "It's nice to see you again, David. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances."
Okay, so getting a fresh start obviously didn't include complete honesty. The only way she'd want to see David Carelli again was under just these circumstances: him, defeated by her, in court. But this was only a preliminary hearing, and a lot of battle remained ahead. She kept the gleeful smile off her face.
Excerpted from Why Did It Have to Be You? by Allyson Charles. Copyright © 2017 Allyson Charles. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book truly “gets” what happens in small towns or neighborhoods…everyone knows everyone else’s business. Of course, I should also mention that it has a long memory as well, and very often reputations survive for years and years and years, even if they are undeserved or downright wrong. Connie Wilkerson is one of those folks that people think they know who she is but she is hiding a very big inferiority complex that smacks her in the face every time she runs into one of her town’s residents. And David Carelli, from the same small town, has a bad-boy reputation that will not go away. He, too, has trouble dealing with the town’s residents seeing who he truly is, not what he was or was perceived to be. At times I was uncomfortable with the feelings going back and forth, but only because I grew up in a small town and the author hit the nail on the head! People are people, no matter who you are or where you live. Connie and David are on opposites sides of a court case and the book is about how they find their way to each other. Of course, they have a little help from a goat named Milo…where he comes from, who knows! Why Did It Have To Be You has much angst, humor (a lot of it because of Milo!), and love… Good read.
Very mixed feelings on this one. First let me say I LOVED Milo. That goat's antics had me laughing all the way through. Then there is David and Connie. Individually I liked both of these characters but I just didn't feel them together. They are both working to change public opinion of them but Connie is a little too obsessed with that. I felt the story overall was good but it did drag along in several places. In general this was just an ok read for me.