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Appealed: Chapter 15

“God . . . yessss.”

Kennedy’s hips jerk as she rides me—the smooth strokes turning rough and desperate. I palm one tit, pinching the pointed nipple, while I suckle the other enthusiastically.

“Oh . . . oh!

Her chin falls to the top of my head as she comes, her muscles milking my cock mercilessly—and I explode inside her with an unrestrained shout.

A few minutes later we lie tangled up—her head on my chest, our slick limbs and sweaty torsos clinging to each other in a soothing way. My fingers slide up and down her arm.

And I think.

Kennedy rested her case against Justin Longhorn a few days ago. I put my new computer expert on the stand the following day, to at least suggest some form of reasonable doubt. Now, all that’s left is Justin. He’ll testify in his own defense . . . and then it’ll be done.

And I wonder if this is how Serena Williams or Peyton Manning feel when they compete against their siblings. So fucking conflicted. I want to win the case—for Justin, for my own throbbing sense of competition. Yet I don’t want Kennedy to lose.

I blow out a breath and start with, “So listen . . . I know you think you’re winning the case . . .”

Kennedy’s voice is velvet to my ears, the way she always sounds after I give her three orgasms. “I don’t think. I know I am.”

I squeeze her arm gently. “Right. But, the thing is, tomorrow—your case is gonna implode. I’m going to put Justin on the stand, and there’s no way a jury will send him away for twenty years after they hear him testify. You haven’t given them the option of a lesser charge, so it’s going to be twenty years, or an acquittal. You need to make a plea deal with me, Kennedy.”

She sits up and stares at me like she doesn’t recognize me.

“You rotten bastard!”

And you know how the rest of that conversation went. She takes a swing at me, I toss her clothes out the window, etc., etc.

•  •  •

“Now listen up, buttercup.”

I look down at her beautiful, infuriated face, locking my eyes with hers.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

Kennedy goes completely still beneath me.

And I shake my head. “No, I am in love with you. When I look at you, think about you, I can’t decide if I want to fuck you, strangle you, or just hold you in my arms. Usually all three. And if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.”

She opens her mouth to argue, but I don’t give her the chance. “You’re everything I’ve been searching for, before I even knew I was looking. I pushed the plea deal because it’s the right thing to do for the case—and because I’m terrified if I win you’ll hold it against me. And I already have so much to make up for.”

Her chest heaves, like she’s sprinting—and in her head, she probably is.

“Let me up, Brent. Let me up right now.”

I release her wrists and climb off, sitting next to her, my leg hanging over the bed. Kennedy sits up, but doesn’t move from the space beside me. I can practically see the wheels spinning in her head.

I tuck her hair behind her ear. “You don’t have to say anything back.”

It’d be fucking nice if she did—but she doesn’t have to yet.

When she speaks, she focuses on her folded hands in her lap. “This is all happening so fast.”

“I know. It’s fast, but it’s real, Kennedy.” I take her hand. “We are real.”

She stares at our hands, but doesn’t hold mine back. It lies like a weight in my palm.

“I care about you, Brent—you must already know that. I don’t . . . I don’t know if I have it in me to love you. I’m not sure I’m capable of it. I dreamed about being with you for so long . . . and then, after school, I let that dream die. Cremated it. Buried it. Sunk it to the bottom—”

“Yeah, thanks—I get the picture.”

Her eyes tighten. “I think . . . I like it buried, Brent. It makes everything easier. My relationship with David and the relationships I had before were easy. I could enjoy them and then move on when they were over, because they didn’t affect me. They didn’t alter my life or who I am.”

I think about Waldo and frozen ponds.

“You like skating the surface.”

Her forehead wrinkles, not understanding. So I clarify.

“If you never dive in the deep end, you never have to worry about drowning.”

She nods slowly. “Yeah. It’s like that.”

Kennedy withdraws her hand and stands up. She rubs her eyes and sighs. “I’m going to go home and think, okay?”

Am I disappointed? As fuck.

Beaten? Not a chance in hell.

I know where she’s coming from—more than she’ll probably ever understand. And like I said before, I’m patient. I’m relentless.

I don’t believe for a second that she’s incapable of loving me. There’s too much passion between us—so much feeling. I think she might even love me already.

I just have to help her see it.

Kennedy faces me, her posture taking on a more professional air—even though she’s still gorgeously bare.

“And there’s not going to be a plea deal. I’m sticking to the plan I have. If I change that now, I’ll always wonder if it was because it was the best choice for the case, or because I let my feelings for you sway me.”

I nod, resigned but not really surprised.


She picks up my shirt from the bed, starts to slide her arms in, but I hold up my finger, stopping her. Then I open my bedroom door and there, in a neatly folded pile outside of it, are Kennedy’s clothes. Like I knew they would be.

Kennedy chuckles a little when I pick them up and hand them to her. Then she calls out into the hallway, “Thank you, Harrison.”

I should really pay him more.

We’re both quiet as she gets dressed—minus her bra. Just can’t bring myself to feel bad about that.

Then she approaches me, reaches up on tiptoes, and kisses me softly. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She will. It’s our final matchup. Our Battle Royale. And when it’s done, only one of us will be left standing.

•  •  •

“I call Justin Longhorn to the stand, Your Honor.”

Justin adjusts his navy tie, smooths his hands nervously down his tan slacks, and takes the stand. After he’s sworn in, he looks at me and I give him an encouraging nod.

“How are you doing, Justin?”

He swallows hard. “Not so good.”

I gesture around the courtroom. “It’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? How quickly the legal system can move . . . swallow you up in its cold, hard machinery?”

Kennedy rises. “Does Mr. Mason have a relevant question for the witness, Your Honor?”

I glance back at her—eyeing her sweet legs beneath her dark blue skirt. “I have several.”

“Let’s get to them, then,” the judge nudges.

“Yes, sir.” I look back to Justin. “How old are you, Justin?”

His voice is small and squeaky with youth. “Seventeen.”

“Do you have any interests? Hobbies?”

“Pretty much just computers.”

I walk him through his childhood. How his interest began with Xbox games and Game Boys, then escalated into online gaming and coding. How he became friends with anonymous posters on message boards, which led him to secret chat rooms where hackers gather. And there he developed his hacking skills. How they would brag about their accomplishments, always trying to impress and outdo each other.

“Tell me about First Security Bank,” I say.

He’s more comfortable now. More animated.

“First Security’s firewall was like legendary. The gold medal. Everyone wanted to crack it, but anyone who tried crashed and burned. Peeps started saying it really was impenetrable.”

“So you gave it a shot? You attempted to hack into their online banking system.”

His eyes jump to the jury, but then he admits, “Well . . . yeah. It was a challenge. Like the final boss level in a game.”

He explains how he went at it for three sleepless days, fueled by Monster drinks and Hostess Twinkies.

“And then?” I ask.

And he can’t keep the smile off his young face. “I was in. I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was right in front of me. The accounts were all there.”

“What did you do then? Hop on the message boards to tell the boys the big news?”

Justin’s brows draw together. “No. I didn’t tell anybody. For a while I just wandered around, checked things out. I kept expecting to get booted out when they realized I was there.” His voice goes soft. Almost sad. “But no one . . . no one saw me.”

“What happened next?”

“I set up my own account. A dummy account.”

I lean back against the defense table. “Why?”

“To see if anyone would notice.”

“And did they, Justin? Did anyone notice you?”

His head shakes infinitesimally. “No.”

Softly, I ask, “What did you do next?”

And here’s the gamble. The risk. Justin’s and mine, because he’s essentially confessing his guilt.

“It was a mistake. I didn’t mean to . . .”

“What didn’t you mean to do, Justin?”

He takes a deep breath. “I took a penny from an account.”

The corner of my mouth quirks. “A penny?”

He nods. “Yes. And then I waited twenty-four hours. To see . . .”

“To see if anyone would notice you?”


“Did they?”

He answers so quietly, the court reporter has him repeat his response.


“Then what happened, Justin?”

He stares at the microphone in front of him. “I took a hundred pennies. One each from a hundred different accounts.”

I peek at the jury. Eight women, all mothers; six men, four fathers, two uncles. Twelve of them will decide Justin’s fate, the remaining two are alternates. And every single one of them has their full attention focused on Justin. Watching his every move, hearing his every word. Noticing every nuance, just like I hoped they would. Not one of them looks pissed; their expressions range from curiosity to interest . . . to sympathy.


I choose my words deliberately. “And did anyone see you then, Justin?”


“So what did you do?”

He pauses, looks at me for guidance. And I nod.

“It’s fuzzy . . . I don’t remember the order exactly, but . . . I went back in. And I took more money from the accounts.”

“Did you have plans to spend the money? A weekend in Aspen? A party at a swanky hotel?”

He flinches. “No. I wasn’t going to do anything with the money.”

“Then why did you take it?”

He shakes his head, looking truly bewildered. Lost—like the young boy he still is.

“I . . . I don’t know. It was just . . . an accident. I didn’t want any of this to happen.”

I let the words hang for several moments. A meaningful pause. Then I walk back behind the defense table. “No more questions for the moment, Your Honor.” I look to Kennedy. “He’s all yours, Miss Randolph.”

She doesn’t spare me a glance; her razor-sharp gaze is fully centered on Justin. Like a predator with a wounded gazelle just steps away.

“Miss Randolph,” the judge directs. “Proceed.”

And Kennedy can’t charge forward fast enough. Her voice is almost unrecognizable. Sharp and clipped—slicing the air.

“It was an accident? Did I hear that correctly? You stole $2.3 million from the retirement accounts of a dozen innocent, hardworking victims, by accident?”

Kennedy’s choosing her words carefully too. Both of us trying to paint the picture for the jury we want them to see.

Justin blinks. “Yes.”

Kennedy paces in front of him, looking aggressive, dangerous. If this wasn’t such a pivotal moment, I’d definitely have a boner.

“How long did this ‘accident’ take you?” She asks.

“I . . . I don’t remember.”

“Longer than five minutes?”


“Longer than ten?”

“Uh . . . yeah.”

“An hour?”

Justin fidgets. “An hour sounds right. It probably took that long.”

She nods. “An accident, Mr. Longhorn, is an unfortunate, unforeseen event. Like when someone trips and falls on the sidewalk. Do you know the difference between your actions and falling on the sidewalk?”

Justin’s panicked eyes dart to me. “What?”

“It doesn’t take an hour to fall. That amount of time requires thought—deliberate, purposeful action.”

She crosses her arms and changes tactics, like a boxer switching from a left hook to an uppercut. “Two point three million dollars is a lot of money, Mr. Longhorn.”

His head nods hesitantly. “I guess.”

“What could one do with $2.3 million?”

“I . . . I don’t know. Almost anything, I guess.”

Kennedy’s finger jabs at Justin. “That’s right. Almost anything. That kind of money buys freedom. Power. And you wanted that power, didn’t you?”

“No. That’s not why—”

“You thought you were better than your victims, didn’t you? You didn’t have to work for that money. Or save it. You could just go in and take it, anytime you wanted, isn’t that correct?”

“I . . .”

She’s badgering him. I could object, but I don’t. I just sit back and let her do exactly what I knew she would.

“How did it feel when you breached First Security’s firewall, Mr. Longhorn?”

Justin’s brow wrinkles. “I don’t know.”

“Sure you do. Did it make you feel good?”

“I guess.”

“I guess isn’t an answer. Yes or no?”

“Yes. It felt good.”

“And how did it feel to take all that money? To know your plan was successful?”

“It wasn’t . . . I didn’t—”

“Did you think about the people you were stealing from?”

“Not really.”

“Of course you did. No one’s buying your stuttering charade, Mr. Longhorn. Because we know the truth. Cracking First Security’s system made you feel smarter than the other hackers, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, in a way . . .”

“And taking that money made you feel powerful. Those weren’t just accounts—they were people. People who you knew would be terrified to see their life savings drained away. And that made you feel good too, didn’t it?”

“No, I never meant—”

“You wanted to show them you were better. Smarter. You wanted to scare them. To hurt them. Innocent, helpless people like Mrs. Potter.” She points to the little old lady, who’s frowning in the front row. “And you succeeded. Because when it’s all said and done, you’re a bully with a computer. A cyberterrorist.”

Justin’s cheeks go bright pink, his eyes shiny with threatening tears.

“I’m sorry!”

“Yes, Mr. Longhorn, you certainly are. They never—”

“I just wanted someone to see me!” Justin yells. Kennedy’s mouth snaps closed. “I just wanted someone to know I was there!”

And he bursts into tears.

He sobs into one hand, his words muffled but heartbreakingly clear.

“No one sees me! I don’t have any friends. I walk down the halls at school, and I’m like a ghost. Like I don’t even exist.”

He gestures to the empty seats behind me, where his parents should be. “My own parents aren’t even here! They don’t care. No one cares.” Another sob breaks through and the entire courtroom watches with stunned eyes.

Including Kennedy.

“I . . . that’s . . .” she stutters, trying to regain her composure, but Justin’s words roll right over her.

“I could go to jail for twenty years, or die tomorrow, and it wouldn’t make any difference to anyone.” He looks at Mrs. Potter. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted someone, anyone, to know I’m here.”

The courtroom is silent except for the sound of Justin crying.

Kennedy stares at him, a thousand emotions playing out behind her eyes. And probably a thousand memories.

I hold up my hand. “Recess, Judge?”

“Granted.” He bangs his gavel and the jury is ushered from the room.

I walk past Kennedy, who’s standing stock-still, and meet Justin just outside the jury box. He wipes at his eyes and I tap his back.

“It’s all right, buddy.”

As we head back toward the defense table, Mrs. Potter glares at Kennedy. “You should be ashamed of yourself! Berating this poor sweet boy like that!”

“I . . . I didn’t . . .”

Mrs. Potter pushes forward to hug Justin, patting his back gently. “There, there. Come on now, I have some cookies in my pocketbook. Harold, get this boy a cookie!”

Since Justin looks like he’s in good hands, I take Kennedy’s unresisting arm and pull her out the door.


I walk her down the hall to one of the small, empty conference rooms. There I gently guide her onto the folding chair at the table.

“Oh my god,” she says, still stunned.

“Breathe, Kennedy.”

“I . . . holy shit . . .”

“Kennedy.” I say it stronger, gaining her attention. “Breathe.”

Her eyes go to my face. “He completely fell apart in there.”


“He’s . . . he’s not a criminal . . . he’s just a lonely little boy.”

“I know.”

She rubs her forehead. “Oh my god—and I broke him down.”

I nod. “Yep. You sure did.”

“Because it felt good, Brent.” She pats her chest. “It made me feel good. Strong.”

“Yeah . . . I got that.”

Her breath comes out quick and shocked. “I didn’t want to ever feel weak again. So I went out of my way to rip into him. Because it made me feel powerful to make him feel bad.”

“I know,” I tell her softly.

And her voice rises, with horrible realization. “Brent—I’m the bully!”

Tears are imminent, and I put my hand on her shoulder. “Kennedy, it’s okay.”

Her forehead drops to the table, banging it.

“Hey!” I put my hand on the table so she can’t do it again. “Easy there. I happen to like what’s in that head of yours, so let’s not damage it, okay?”

Guilty, wet eyes gaze up at me.

I sit down across from her. “Okay—look—Justin’s a good kid. A lonely kid, yes, but you didn’t break him. He’ll recover, believe me.” I hesitate, gauging just how freaked out she is. “I realize epiphanies are fucking exhausting—I’ve been there myself. But since we’re kind of under the gun, time-wise, how do you feel about discussing a plea deal now?”

It only takes a moment for Kennedy’s back to straighten and her chin to lift. And Federal Prosecutor K. S. Randolph stares back at me.

“What are you offering?”

“A guilty plea that stays on his juvenile record and won’t follow him to adulthood. And a sentence of two years of probation, to be served under the computer tech division of the FBI or Homeland Security. With an agent who recognizes Justin’s talents and wants him to use them for good.”

She leans back. “That’s a . . . unique arrangement.”

I shrug. “A friend of mine had a similar setup when he was a young delinquent. It worked out really well for him. This way, Justin won’t grow up into an evil cybergenius who hacks the nuclear codes because Mommy didn’t love him. He’ll have someone keeping an eye on him. He’ll matter, Kennedy—and I think that’s what all this was about in the first place.”

She taps her fingernail on the table, thinking it over. “Four years. I want him supervised until he’s twenty-one. And no more banking ‘accidents.’ He pulls anything like this again, he goes to prison.”

I grin. “That vengeful streak is definitely sexy.”

She smirks at me, then holds out her hand.

And I shake it. “You’ve got yourself a deal, Counselor.”

Kennedy moves to stand, but I hold on to her hand—’cause I’m not done yet.

“I had something delivered to your house today. It’ll be there when you get home. I want you to wear it tonight, when you come to my place at seven sharp.”

I squeeze her hand. “Please say yes.”

She does me one better. She leans over the table and kisses me.

Then she says yes.

•  •  •

After all the formalities are taken care of, I walk Justin out of the courthouse into the warm, sunny day. He’s got Mrs. Potter’s number in his pocket and a bocce date at the park with Harold this weekend. Since he needs a ride home, we head down the steps toward the corner where Harrison will pick us up.

Halfway down, Kennedy walks out of the courthouse to head back to her office for the afternoon. Two federal marshals in civilian clothes trail a few feet behind her when she’s approached by a reporter in a yellow pantsuit with a notepad in her hand.

“Miss Randolph, what are your thoughts on the upcoming retrial of Gino Moriotti?”

Kennedy’s tone is confident. Cocky.

It’s pretty hot.

“Our case is every bit as solid as it was the first time around. I see no reason why the outcome won’t be identical. Conviction on all counts.”

“And how do you feel about the rumored contract that Mr. Moriotti has put on you? Are you concerned about your safety as the case moves forward?”

“Gino Moriotti has made a lifelong career of intimidating people, of getting his way through violence and fear. In this case, he should prepare for disappointment.”

And as I watch the tiny blond badass practically strut away, I think proudly, that’s my girlfriend.


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