“Kill the bastard!”
“He should fry in hell for what he did!”
“He’s an innocent man!”
The screams and chanting from both sides came fast and furious. Joelle Parker took the courthouse steps two at a time, avoiding the bank of reporters, family, friends and co-workers of both the accused murderer and his victims. The mob was growing in number, the case an ugly reminder of the increasing horrific crimes in Baltimore. They were all judging her on her performance or lack thereof. Even her boss had threatened to take over, stating she wasn’t qualified to handle such a high priority case. To hell with all of them. She was damn good.
When she was safely inside, she breathed out and wiped a single bead of sweat from her forehead. She refused to be on the news, fodder for some buxom blonde who would use the fifteen minutes of fame to parlay a career on national television. Not her style.
She hurried through the checkpoints and entered the courtroom, her head held high. She was early and few people were inside. Sliding into the seat, she almost laughed as her skirt rode up her thighs from friction, exposing the tops of her thigh-highs.
She fingered the thin lace and bit her lower lip. What if everyone in the courtroom knew she was wearing a silk thong and stockings? Closing her eyes, she allowed her mind to wander to the events of the night before. The BDSM club was new in town, considered hot and very exclusive. The invitation had been a scintillating surprise, a gift from one of her previous clients. She’d tossed the gilded envelope in a drawer, rejecting the offer for almost two weeks.
Joelle was the good girl, the one who had made straight As in high school and all through college and law school. She was the best friend, tutor, mentor and big sister. She was the one who followed every rule. Everyone thought of her as the girl next door, who never, ever had kinky thoughts. She’d stymied the vixen most of her life. Only two years before had she succumbed to her burning desires, frequenting several clubs in the seediest part of downtown Baltimore.
Experimentation had turned into dark cravings until the nights became days and she’d made a choice—her career or BDSM. The need for money, clothes, an expensive car and a condominium won out in the end. A girl had to eat. What a shame.
No one had any idea about the woman inside. The search for the perfect man had gone nowhere. What man could handle such complexity? She licked her ruby stained lips as she thought about the last date she’d been on. How long had it been? Oh yes, almost three years. No man held the muster, a perfect specimen of masculinity and dominance.
When the invitation had arrived, she knew she’d received a sign. However, accepting the sign had taken courage. The memory held mixed feelings. She’d gulped down a full glass of wine, held her breath and ripped open the envelope with flair. What she couldn’t understand is how had her client, a woman who fashioned herself a Domme, seen through her thick layers of bullshit to the girl locked inside a cage? On that very night and after two additional glasses of wine, she’d accepted the invite, happy as could be. After second guessing herself, she’d cowered in front of the television watching a documentary on The History Channel. Yeah, she had balls of mush.
The night at the club had been cathartic. Freeing. She couldn’t wait to return, even considering paying the one thousand dollar joining fee. She could afford a little luxury. She could even learn to be more careful in her methods of playtime, remaining in the shadows.
Why the hell did she care? What occurred in her private life was nobody else’s business. She was an adult, a very hungry adult and allowed to play. Then again, no one, not even her best friend knew about her penchant for pain, her desire to submit to a dominant man.
Meticulously she laid out her things, preferring an iPad to traditional pen and paper. This case wasn’t going to be easy, but she was prepared, well almost. The night before had been delicious, the event going well into the night. She snickered as she envisioned the neon lights, the pulsing music and the elongated bar. The dark and foreboding club was designed for anonymity as well as security. Anyone could be exactly who they desired to be.
She checked her watch—ten minutes to spare. After court she was going to dinner with friends, then back to the club. Whether or not she’d decide to join depended on the events of the night. A bit of show and tell was in order, complete with aspects of flogging. She tingled at the thought. Perhaps she’d run into Marco again. The stud muffin had shown her the ropes, literally. She giggled and eased her hand into her shirt, fingering the top of her push-up bra, remembering the delicious details.
“Welcome to Club Noir,” the man whispered, his face hidden behind a mask. “I’m Marco, very much at your service.”
Joelle eyed the tall drink of water and nodded. “Thank you. I’m Jewel.” She certainly wasn’t going to give him her real name.
“Jewel. A beautiful gem to be kept precious. I’m honored. I know that you’re new to our club. If you’d like, I’d be happy to show you around.”
As he held out his arm, she inhaled. His exotic scent was unrecognizable, the fragrance intoxicating just like the man. Tall and broad shouldered, his muscles were carved, his body long and lean. “I’d enjoy that.” Accepting his gesture, she clung to him as he walked her through the crowded space.
“Club Noir specializes in all aspects of BDSM. We cater to our customers, indulging them in their greatest fantasy. Tell me, sweet Jewel, do you have a particular desire, a bold hunger for aspects of kink?”
“I’m not certain.” Memories of other clubs crowded her mind. Her dreams were filled with yearning for domination as well as discipline.
“Ah, I understand. You may try almost anything you can imagine, from pain to pleasure. You are a submissive, yes?” Marco asked as he led her toward a series of closed off rooms.
Joelle could feel the heat rising from the base of her neck. “How did you know?”
He stopped and took both of her hands into his. “I’m good at what I do, Jewel. I advise, provide education and assistance for novices in every aspect. Come. Allow me to show you a spanking demonstration. This will be an excellent start in your journey.”
Journey. She’d never thought of her particular proclivities as a journey, but she accepted the word. “Yes.” Spanking. She shivered, her pussy clenching. How many nights had she lain awake craving a firm hand, a man controlling her, providing harsh discipline. Her mouth watered at the thought.
“Ms. Parker. Are you ready to present your case?”
Everyone has a dirty little secret. Everyone.
“Ms. Parker. Are you with us today?”
Jolted, Joelle shook the vivid images from her mind and blinked. The man’s brusque voice reverberated in her ears. “What?” Titters and coughs floated from behind her. She jerked her head toward the sound of the voice and grimaced. How in God’s name had she missed the judge’s entrance, standing out of respect?
This was the third time she’d been caught daydreaming in the last week. She needed a vacation. Get it together. You’re a professional. “I’m sorry, Judge Thompson. I’m more than ready to present.”
Judge Thompson narrowed his eyes and frowned as he leaned over the bench. “Are you certain or would you like a recess before we begin?”
She kept her curt smile, resisting giving the man of honor her finger. Some honorable judge he was. This was a murder case and already there were bets on the fact the criminal would never see a prison term. “No more than you, Judge.” Now there were gasps coming from the courtroom. Everyone knew she was a take-no-shit kind of prosecutor, but to continually push the judge’s buttons certainly wasn’t in her best interest.
His expression blank, his mouth thin lipped, he nodded. “Then by all means get on with it.”
Rising to her feet, Joelle pressed the flats of her hands down her skirt and eased from around the desk. She faced the jury, giving them her sweetest smile. They already didn’t like her. Half believed in the innocence of the man standing trial. The other half wanted to lynch him. All twelve had already determined that she was a bitch. She could see it in their eyes.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, thank you for being here. Today I’m going to prove to you that Ronald Taylor is responsible for the death of Tracy Riley. In fact, I’m going to prove to you that he strangled her with his hands and a rope in her bedroom on the night of October twenty-sixth, two thousand sixteen. The facts will state that Mr. Taylor entered the home of the deceased with full intention of raping and murdering her. The crime itself is heinous in nature and through photographs and the evidence collected, I’ll be able to prove my case.”
Joelle paused, making eye contact with every member. They were of mixed ages, race, and sex, and she suspected sexual orientation. She and the defense team had gone through over two hundred people before twelve and an alternate could be equally decided upon. Long hours were the norm.
There wasn’t a word said or a breath sound given. Everyone was listening to her intently. She moved back toward the table where Ronald sat with his three male attorneys. Eyes darted back and forth, sweeping the room, and two of the attorneys were writing furiously. Ronald was demure in his actions, looking more like a boy scout than a calculated cold-blooded killer. Only the lead attorney seemed to dare look her in the eyes, a smirk riding his carved face.
She could oh-so eat the man for breakfast. They’d sparred on more than one occasion. Gregory Brentwood was her absolute nemesis and a man she could strangle on any given day. Today, she winked and swished her hips.
“I’m going to prove to you that this man had motive, opportunity and a plan he’d developed for killing Ms. Riley weeks before.” She walked past the judge, giving him a respectful nod then turned to face Ronald, moving to the edge of the defense table. “Brutal. Bloody. Torture.” Her nipples hardened when she enunciated the three words. They had the desired effect.
Everyone was hooked, waiting for her next spoken words. They would wait. She certainly wasn’t going to tip her hand. Not now. Not ever.
Exhaling, she slowly walked back to her chair, sitting down with the poise of a ballerina, and folded her hands. You bet Greggie baby was confused as fuck. This wasn’t her normal method of operation. Maybe a night at the club had brought out the wanton woman.
“Thank you, Ms. Parker. Mr. Brentwood. Are you ready to proceed?” Judge Thompson asked after giving her a curious look.
Joelle heard papers being shifted. She didn’t bother looking toward Gregory or his team. She didn’t care what they were going to use as a defense. She only cared about the subtle but powerful facts. Today was her day to shine.
“Thank you, your honor. I am more than ready to provide proof that Mr. Ronald Taylor is a true victim, a creation of society and the internet.” Gregory walked past her without as much as a look. He believed himself to be a powerful man.
Power. Joelle craved power in all aspects of her career. Being an assistant prosecutor had been a fascinating switch from working in corporation law and a stretch of her expertise. Baltimore had many commanding women in charge, but in the manner of the law, the old boys’ club still reigned. She sat back in her seat, swiveling her chair so that she could cross her legs. Dressed conservatively, a blue suit and crisp white men’s style shirt, her hair woven tightly in a bun, only her nine hundred dollar Manolo Blahnik stilettos offered a chance of showing the woman hidden behind the mask. Her thoughts drifted back to the incredible experience.
Marco was certainly sexy, alluding an air of prowess, yet he was neither dominant or submissive. Still, she wouldn’t mind having him as her disciplinarian. She eased her pen to her lips, placing the tip just inside. The vivid image of the man standing with his legs apart, his arms folded and her between his legs sucking his cock flashed in her mind.
She would run her hands up on the insides of his thighs, caressing as he wrapped his fingers in her hair, the gesture keeping her in place. When allowed, she would wrap one hand around his swollen testicles and the other around the base of his cock. As he commanded her to open her mouth, she’d moan in anticipation, delighting in her requirements. If she was a very good girl, drinking every last drop of his sweet cum, perhaps he’d tie her to an “X” cross, spanking her ass and legs until they were covered in welts.
Joelle jumped and dropped the pen. “Sir? I mean, your Honor?” Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
“I asked you if you’d like to cross examine the witness,” Judge Thompson stated through clenched teeth.
Cross examination? What the hell? “I’m sorry, your honor I need to…” Her words trailed off as she fumbled to figure out where they were in the case. The girl on the stand she didn’t recognize at first. She was so fucked.
“Please approach the bench.” The judge waved her forward.
Holding her breath, Joelle rose to her feet and attempted to walk in a manner that would allow her to keep her dignity. She heard a slight chuckle coming from Gregory’s mouth and she wanted to turn around and rip out his eyes. That would be sensational news at five o ‘clock. When she approached the bench, she smiled. “Your Honor?”
Judge Thompson covered up the microphone and leaned over as far as he could. “Ms. Parker. I’ve had you in my courtroom a dozen times and I’ve never seen you so absent from your duties. Is there a problem? Do you need some assistance?”
“No! I mean, no, Your Honor. I apologize. I was merely going through details of the case and lost track of time. That won’t happen again.” Lying to a judge now. Perfect. She was on the fast track to being thrown out in the street.
He raised a single eyebrow and exhaled. Ten full seconds ticked by. “Very well, but see that it doesn’t or I’ll have to hold you in contempt of court. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir! I mean Your Honor, sir.” She cringed and slunk back toward the chair, able to see the delighted expression on Gregory’s face. As she sat down, she banished the sinful thoughts to another planet. She was going to have to learn to separate the two worlds one way or the other.
At three-thirty pm on the nose, Judge Thompson called the day. Weary from the brow beating, some of her own making, Joelle shoved the iPad and pen into her briefcase, fiddling in a hope that Gregory would leave first.
He didn’t. Instead, he waited for her, standing by the defense table with his arms crossed, his eyes twinkling. “Not on your game today?”
“I’m doing just fine, thank you very much,” Joelle retorted and walked past him.
“This case is out of your league.”
While she knew the man was considered on the fast track to move into politics, she didn’t give a damn. Gregory was a bottom feeder, preying on lost souls. He had no remorse for his tactics nor did he have a conscience. She stopped short and turned. “Just try me, big boy. You might be surprised.” The words were dripping with sarcasm, almost said in a purr instead of her voice. Without waiting for a reply, she headed out of the courtroom.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Press were camped out on the courtroom steps. Vans from the various news stations were everywhere. She froze and shifted toward the left side, praying she could find a way to slink through without being detected. She loathed reporters, hated this part of her job. She simply didn’t like recognition of any type.
The crowd was huge and even though she stood taller than most of the women and men present, she wasn’t able to tell what was happening. This was her chance to skedaddle out of dodge. She clutched her briefcase and lowered her head. Suddenly the group of reporters rushed the stairs at the opposite end, heading in her direction.
No, this wasn’t going to happen. Swallowing hard, she raced down the stairs, thankful she didn’t kill herself in the four-inch heels. When she was a solid half block down the sidewalk, she turned to see if any of them had followed her. She chuckled. “Way to go, idiots.” The reporters had no desire to talk to a prosecutor with a dirty secret. They’d found some other poor, dumb fool to prey on. She laughed all the way to her car.
* * *
Randolph Mitchell, Craze to his friends, faced the near mob like group as he always did, with ease. He’d been in front of cameras his entire life and knew the reporters were merely doing their jobs. He plastered on his politician smile and waited as they jockeyed for position. He was due in court in less than thirty minutes for nothing more than a continuation. He could afford to spend time preening in front of the camera. His assistant would be proud given Mark continued to chide him on his public appearances.
“Mr. Mitchell, is it true that you have your eyes set on the White House?”
Randolph gazed down at the diminutive female reporter and slid into his charming mode. “Ms. Tanner, let’s not get the cart before the horse. I’m considering a run for Congress, but I haven’t made up my mind as of yet.” He made it a point to learn as much as he could about the influential reporters in town. They could make or break a career or a candidacy.
“When are you going to announce your decision?” the older male reporter asked, pushing his way in front of the gaggle.
“Mr. Wild, nice to see you again. I anticipate making my decision in the next three weeks. Trust me, you’ll be the first to know.” Randolph winked as the group laughed. He had them eating out of his hands.
“If you run, have you determined your platform? I know you worked hard to defend those who otherwise would not be able to afford a top-notch attorney. Every step of your career has been about making certain criminals have their day in court. How will that affect your chances?” the blonde and blue-eyed girl was swooning.
He couldn’t help but glance at her cleavage. She would drop to her knees in an instant if he asked. Unfortunately, he was through with playtime with women who could be his daughter. Besides, he appreciated intelligent conversations, spirited if at all possible. “Ms. Jones. Everyone who knows me understands that I care about what happens to the good people of Baltimore as a whole. Defending innocent people remains important to me and always will. My platform will simply be that the city and the state needs to be able to place their trust in someone, a man of honor.”
The words resonated throughout the crowd. Randolph made certain he looked into the eyes of everyone who was close. He could tell they believed him, even adored the sentiment. If they only knew about the man underneath the expensive suits and polished shoes. His persona had been groomed since he was a boy, his parents raising what they considered the perfect child. He snickered at the thought.
A few claps could be heard coming from the back. “I have time for one more question,” Randolph stated, his baritone voice cutting through the traffic below him.
A young male reporter, one Randolph had never seen before, held his hand higher than the rest. Randolph pointed in his direction. Every kid needed a start in the business. “Yes, sir. And you are?”
“Michael Trent with the Baltimore Sun.”
“Well, Michael, what is your question?”
“Do you have any skeletons in your closet?” Michael was expressionless, but his eyes were dark, almost ominous.
A single bead of sweat trickled down the back of Randolph’s neck. He cocked his head and chuckled. “Doesn’t everyone?” With the vague answer, the crowd laughed with him. However, Michael wasn’t smiling. In fact, he held an expression that said in no uncertain terms he had dirt on Randolph, a scandalous tale that Michael would use to his benefit at the worst possible time during Randolph’s political run for office.
And there was certainly enough scandal to ignite the Press.
“Thank you all for coming. I’m due in court. Have a wonderful evening.” Randolph shook the required amount of hands before entering the courtroom. Only then did he hiss under his breath. He’d have to find out what, or if, the young man had any dirt on him as well as Michael’s intentions of using the information.
* * *
Randolph took long strides down the hallway and into his office. The continuation had taken a mere ten minutes so he was back in the building before five. As he walked past his assistant, he nodded toward his office. He dumped his briefcase on the desk and went straight to his mini-bar. He loathed sparring with reporters that he didn’t know. They always had a hidden agenda.
Mark hurried into Randolph’s office. “You look pissed.”
“Close the door. I have something for you to do.” He plopped two ice cubes in a glass and poured a half glass of whiskey.
After shutting the door, Mark advanced. “Let me guess, the continuation didn’t happen.”
“Oh no. The case has been pushed back as I knew it would be. That’s not the problem.” Randolph took a swig of the liquor, savoring the flavor, before turning to face Mark. “Do you know the name Michael Trent?”
“Never heard of him. Why?”
“He’s a reporter from the Sun. Find out everything you can about him. I think we may have a digger on our hands.”
“A digger?” Mark asked as he frowned.
“As in digging into my life, my past.”
“Oh. Fantastic. I assume that means you want him shut down.”
Randolph rubbed his eyes. “I can’t shut him down. Every reporter in town will want to know why. I do want to know everything about this kid, including where he goes to eat breakfast and the woman or man he fucks. Everything. I need to know what I’m facing.”
Mark inched closer. “May I ask you what you’re worried about?”
While his assistant was completely trustworthy and a man who kept his confidences, Mark didn’t know details about his extra-curricular activities. No one did and he refused to allow anyone into his private life. “We all have secrets, some dirtier than others.”
“Anything I should know about?”
“Nothing that matters and shouldn’t to anyone, but I daresay if Mr. Trent is out to find dirt, he’ll stop at nothing to do so. Just find out what you can.”
“Of course. I’ll get started right away.” Mark turned to leave.
“Mark, I don’t mean tonight. I might be a tough taskmaster, but I’m not a slave driver. Go home. This can wait until the morning.”
“Are you certain? I’m here for you every step of the way.”
Randolph lifted his glass. “Go have a drink. Enjoy friends and family. You deserve it.”
Smiling, Mark nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate it.” He backed away toward the door. “I don’t care what anyone says about you. You’re not a tyrant.”
“Get out of here!” He laughed and shook his head. Hell yes, he was a tyrant. No wonder he’d never been able to find the right woman. Few women could handle his attitude, his intense needs and his dark requirements. As far as family? He wasn’t into afternoon cookouts and holiday get togethers. He preferred his time alone.
After Mark left, he gulped the rest of his drink and made another. Tonight, he had no appointments, either for business or pleasure. He was a free man. Huffing, he sat down at his desk and clicked on the internet. He opened the Sun Times website and searched through their files. There was one article written by Michael Trent, an article on a new corporation coming to town. The rather benign article shouldn’t have afforded the reporter time with a political candidate.
He sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. What would the young man want from him? Then again, what could he find? Randolph had spent his entire life under the microscope. His father, a retired Senator from the state of Ohio, had made certain his son was educated at the most exclusive schools, receiving the best education money could buy. Randolph was used to the finer things in life: wine, clothes, cars and even women.
He was also absolutely freaking bored to death. However, he was a picture-perfect candidate for office—at least on the surface.
If anyone found out what lay hidden under the mask, his career in politics would be over. He swirled the whiskey and grinned. No one was going to uncover his secrets, no matter what he had to do.
Not even one tenacious reporter.