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These Violent Roots
Author: Nicole Williams




“Justice is for all. Not the select few. Not the majority. All.” I whipped into the turning lane, faintly registering the blare of the car horn behind me. “At least last time I consulted the US Justice system.”

“God knows, with the Honorable Silas Payne as a father, the justice system is hardwired into your DNA.” Connor’s mutter was punctuated by the clatter of typing in the background. “Though you’d think with repeat offenders like Darryl Skovil, even a staunch defender of the law like your dad would be willing to turn a blind eye.”

A sound echoed in the back of my throat. “Innocent until proven guilty.”

“You’re adorable when you’re idealistic.” Connor clucked. “But not even you can claim a serial pedophile like Skovil deserves a fair trial. He deserves a life sentence with no chance of parole.”

“Everyone deserves a fair trial.” I waved at the car behind me after cutting it off to make the high school entrance. “And that’s what we’re going to give him tomorrow. By laying out our case against him and putting him into prison for as long as possible.”

A long sigh rattled on the other end. “It’s depressing to accept that even if we win this case, I’m busting my ass to prosecute a creep who’ll be back on the street molesting kids in a few years, best case scenario.”

My SUV screeched to a halt in front of the main office. “That’s a few years he’s not able to hurt anyone else. That’s better than nothing.”

I gave my reflection a check in the rearview, frowning. For being on the good side of forty—barely—I looked older than my thirty-nine years warranted . . . and exhausted. Worn out, as though I’d exceeded my expiration years ago. All of the money I’d spent over the past decade on aestheticians, doctors, and salons, fighting time’s decay, would have been better spent at a roulette wheel for the end results.

After sweeping a stray eyelash from my cheek—I couldn’t tell if it was my own or one of the expensive silk ones I had touched up every few weeks—I glanced away from the mirror of doom. “Listen, you know the game. You’ve worked with me long enough to know it as well as I do. We’re the last line of defense against these criminals. We charge them to the fullest extent of the law with everything we can, then leave it in the hands of the justice system.”

Connor grunted. “Some cases—some criminals—I wish there was a little more justice and a little less system. You know?”

“Connor, I need to go. I’m at the high school and I can practically feel Principal Severson’s wrath oozing through the brick walls.”

“Go easy on Andee,” he said, his tone softening. “She’s sixteen.”

“Exactly. She’s sixteen. She should know better by now.”

“It’s hard being a teenager in today’s world.” He paused. “It’s especially hard when you’re one of the troubled variety. Keep that in mind before dishing out her sentence.”

I stopped as I reached for the door handle. “What makes you think Andee’s troubled?”

“I thought the purple hair, dark music, and frequent trips to the principal’s office established that.”

“It’s a phase,” I argued, my tone the equivalent of waving it off. “Every kid goes through it.”

“You’re right.” The sound of Connor beating at his keyboard commenced again. “And I really like my job, so I’m going to shut up and get back to tying a pretty bow on this case so we can get the maximum sentence of a few years in prison, since the state of Washington isn’t a fan of the chair for criminals like Darryl Skovil.” A brief pause. “Pity.”

Stepping out of the SUV, I pulled at the waist of my pencil skirt. It fit better before I’d packed on fifteen pounds over the past few years in an attempt to binge my emotions away. The coping mechanism was not all it was cracked up to be, as my emotions, energy levels, and waistbands could attest to.

“What happened to the bright-eyed, unbiased, impartial paralegal I hired five years ago?” I asked Connor as I started for the school’s main entrance.

“He got himself good and jaded by realizing that winning a max sentence isn’t even half of what most of these scumbags deserve.”

“I’ll check in with you later.” I stopped outside the main doors, feeling the headache coming on. “Once I know the extent of trouble Andee’s gotten herself into this time.”

“Tell her hey for me.”

A huff sputtered from me. “You can tell her that yourself when I drop her on your doorstep and let you finish raising her since I’m failing on all parental fronts.”

“You are not failing.”

“No? This third trip to the principal’s office in one month suggests otherwise. And there’s Andee’s shrieks and mutters of me being the worst mom ever, not to mention her claims that a great white shark is more nurturing than me.”

“Every teenage girl hates her mother at some point or another.” His tone suggested he was blinking forcefully as he spoke. “It’s practically biblical.”

“I appreciate your efforts to make me feel like less of a disaster in the maternal realm, but that ship sailed years ago,” I replied, before exchanging a brief goodbye and whisking through the heavy front doors.

When my husband and I made the decision to send our only child to one of the top-rated—not to mention top-priced—private high schools in the state at the start of her freshman year, let’s say our vision for our daughter had been different than making regular appearances at the principal’s office. Honestly, I was shocked they hadn’t suspended her, though I knew my father’s hefty contributions to the school had more to do with that than the school’s leniency. More money equated to more tolerance.

No wonder the kids there had a skewed sense of right and wrong. The parents were screwing with the meanings.

“Mrs. Wolff,” the front desk secretary greeted me with a measured smile. “You can go right in. Andee and Principal Severson are waiting for you.”

I scribbled my name on the visitor sign-in sheet. “Thank you.”

I returned the same kind of smile before heading toward the office in the back corner. Through the window of the door, I could make out the back of my daughter’s head. I caught my back tensing when I noticed a few electric blue streaks mixed in with the deep purple stripes.

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