Shift

Southern Werewolves Book 1

shift ebook cover.jpg

Chapter 1

 

“We, the people, find the defendant: not guilty.”

Yes.

The courtroom erupted with sound. Some in celebration, some in denial, but I sat there quietly.

This was my first case as lead attorney, and I’d knocked it out of the park. The jury had only deliberated for an hour before they’d returned with their decision. The only decision I’d left them with after the words I wove and the evidence I’d pranced before their eyes. Since the first day of this trial, I knew they’d be putty in my hands.

My lips pulled into a small, tight grin as the judge called for order. She dismissed the case with a bang of her gavel, and my lips stretched into a full smile.

I did it.

I packed my things in my brown leather briefcase and stood to face my colleagues.

“Nice work, Montgomery,” John Walsh said as he extended a hand for me to shake. The brittle smile on his face belied his sincerity.

“It was a team effort, John,” I lied.

He’d been expecting me to fail, like most of the other men I worked with as junior associates at our law firm. I’d had to work harder, stay later, and take on more cases to get exactly where that half-wit was standing.

But it had all paid off.

The other lawyers on the case offered their own brand of insincere platitudes and half-hearted handshakes, and I took them all with a smile. Just like the good southern girl I was.

When I got to the end of the line of lawyers, my defendant was standing there, seemingly lost in thought. I cleared my throat, and his dark brown eyes snapped to mine.

“You did it,” he said softly.

My smile returned. I wanted to pump my fist and make a celebratory lap around the courtroom, but instead, simply nodded.

“I did.” I was sick of sharing the win with the other attorneys. I’d done the research. I’d done the interviews and fact checking. I’d been putting in the overtime for the past few months, and damn it, I would take the credit.

“I don’t know how I can ever thank you. You saved my life.”

His words hit me hard, but I recovered quickly. That I’d had such a huge positive effect on this man’s life humbled me.

“I did my job and made sure you weren't convicted of something you didn’t do. It’s so tragic that your wife took her own life, but it would have been made worse if you’d gone to prison over it. I’m just glad it all turned out the way we’d hoped.” The way I’d planned all along.

Without warning, Henry launched his short, pudgy frame at me, and wrapped his stubby arms around my waist. I’d never been comfortable with displays of affection, and this was no different. My face burned with what I’m sure was a fierce blush as I awkwardly patted his back.

“There, there,” I muttered, hoping I’d placated him enough to get off me.

Henry pulled back with a sniffle, and I pretended to not see the wetness in his eyes.

“It was nice working with you, Henry. Hopefully, our paths won’t cross again professionally.” My attempt at dry humor did its job, and Henry’s face cracked into a small smile.

“Yeah, no offense, lady, but I hope so too.”

I gave him another smile and a nod before making my way out of the courtroom, and into the warm North Carolina day.

It was only May, but the air was humid and the sun was hot. I slipped my suit jacket off my shoulders and folded it over my arm as I made my way to my car.

I zipped across town, making good time in the light midday traffic. When I got to my office building, I rushed inside and over to my cubicle. If I could get out of here in the next thirty minutes, I could make it to my apartment and be on the road before rush hour.

“Heard about your win, Montgomery. Nice work.”

I froze at the voice behind me but didn’t turn.

“Thanks, Ben.”

“So, are you free Saturday night? There’s this new French Bistro that just opened downtown, and I thought you could accompany me.”

My eyes squeezed closed, and I took a steadying breath before facing him. “Sorry, Ben, but I have plans.”

His eyes narrowed, and his lips tightened. “Is that right?”

“Afraid so. I’ve rented a cabin out in Asheville. I’ll be away all weekend.”

“Who are you going with?” His voice had a touch of belligerence.

I straightened my spine and sent him a withering look. “Nobody. This is a solo trip. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get on the road.”

Ben was one of those guys that thought, since I was single, I was fair game. I was not. I didn’t have time to date, and if I did, it wouldn’t be with someone who gave me the creeps like Ben did.

I swiped the rest of what I thought I’d need into my briefcase and stood. Ben still hadn’t moved from his spot, so I had to walk around him to leave my cubicle.

My brisk pace took me through the office, and as I reached out a finger to call an elevator, I heard my name being bellowed from the corner office on my right. I slowly retracted my pointer finger and curled it into a fist. With a deep breath, I spun around and made my way to where my name had been called.

Mr. Hildebrandt was a hefty old man with only small tufts of white hair left on his shiny head, and liver spots on his hands. He looked up when I walked in, and a rare smile graced his withered face.

“Good work on the Walker case, Montgomery. That’s what we like to see around here.”

I nodded. “Thanks, Mr. Hildebrandt.”

“I know you’re heading out for the long weekend, but I expect you in my office Tuesday morning for an important meeting.  Eight a.m. sharp, got it?”

My palms began to sweat, and my stomach erupted in butterflies. This was it, I would finally make senior associate.

I nodded again. “I’ll be here.”

“Good, good. Now get out of here. Have a good weekend, Ms. Montgomery.”

He’d put the “Ms.” in front of my name. That was a good sign.

“Thanks, Mr. Hildebrandt. You too.”

I closed his office door before practically sprinting to the elevators. I needed to get out of here before someone else called my name or needed something from me.

When I finally stepped back into the bright Carolina sunlight, I let my lips stretch into what felt like the first genuine smile all day. With the windows down and my music blaring, I drove the fifteen minutes to my apartment on the other side of Raleigh.

The dash clock showed I had about half an hour to get changed, take care of Charlie, and get out of the city before hitting rush hour. I was up the stairs and in the cool darkness of my apartment in record time.

My briefcase was abandoned at the door as I called out, “Where’s my handsome man?”

The black and brown striped tabby cat poked his head out of a bright purple flower-shaped cat tree in the corner. He let loose a joyful meow before stepping onto a giant furry petal and leaping to the floor. Charlie came barreling toward me, smashing into my shins when he couldn’t stop himself in time on the smooth hardwood floor.

I picked him up and scratched his head as I walked toward my bedroom in the back of the apartment. “Boy, I swear, you are the clumsiest cat I’ve ever met.” He responded by rubbing his furry face against my jaw.

“Now while I’m away, I’m countin’ on you to watch this place, all right?”

I walked through the multi-colored strings of beads that hung in the hallway, and into my bedroom. He leapt out of my arms, and onto the rainbow zebra-striped bedspread, making himself comfortable in the center of my pillow.

“I’ll only be gone three nights, but I have this nice lady comin’ by every day to check on you. So, you’ll have to get along with her, Charlie.”

Turning to my white and turquoise painted dresser, I took off my everyday formal clothes, and traded them for a white polo shirt and khaki colored capris. I tugged on a pair of sneakers and faced Charlie.

“I know how you feel about strangers, boy, but this lady’s your meal ticket for the next few days. It would be in your best interest to make friends.” With a glance towards the feline, I saw that I was being ignored and let out a sigh.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

My bag was packed, so I shooed Charlie off the bed and out of my room, closing the door behind me. In the kitchen, I made sure he had enough food and water for the day and took a quick look around the apartment. Everything looked neat, and tidy, and colorful, and interesting. Just the way I like it.

“All right, bubba, I’m leavin’.”

Charlie rubbed the length of his body against my leg, and I relented by giving him one more head scratch. With my apartment locked up tight, I got back in the car, and pulled up my GPS app. As I typed in the address of the cabin I’d rented, I was interrupted by an incoming phone call. I recognized the area code as being from North Carolina, but not local.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Elizabeth Montgomery? It’s Mabel, with the house rental.”

“Ah, yes, of course. I was just heading your way now.”

“Oh, perfect! I’m fixin’ to head over there and drop off the key. It’ll be in the box on the doorknob. We could leave the key there all the time, but sometimes we go weeks without a renter, and I just don’t like the thought of leavin’ the key just sittin’ there. I know you need the code to open the box, but they got all kinds of gadgets these days to steal just about anything, don’t they? I don’t trust it. Besides, I can take a look around while I’m there and make sure nothin’s gone wrong. Most of the folks we get are good people, but there’s always a rotten one in the bunch every now and again. Ya’ know, one time we had a man leave a bunch of needles in the kitchen trash?” She sounded scandalized.

“Maybe he was a diabetic?” I offered.

“Ya’ know what, honey? That could be true. The man did look... well fed. Ya’ know, I had a girlfriend who had a diabetes spell, and it took her foot! Poor thing’s hobblin’ around now–”

“Ma’am? What did you say the code was? I want to write it down.” I knew she hadn’t offered it yet, but I needed to get her to stop talking without being rude. There was no surer way to make an enemy in the south than by forgetting your manners.

“Oh, sure, baby. You ready now?”

I rolled my eyes but smiled. “Yes, ma’am. I’m ready.”

“It’s 0-8-1-3-8-7. Ya’ got that, now?”

“Yes, ma’am. I got it.”

“Okay, sweetie. You need anything, you call me, ya’ got it?”

“Yes, ma’am, I got it,” I repeated. In situations like this, it paid to keep it simple. Taciturn.

“Okay, honey. Take care. I’ll talk to ya’ later.”

“All right, thanks. You too,” I responded and quickly ended the call.

Dang, that woman could talk.

I typed in the address and headed toward the highway while the directions finished loading. I had a three hour and forty-three-minute drive ahead of me. At a red light, I plugged the aux cord into my phone, and selected the new Nicholas Sparks novel I was listening to.

The narration sounded through the speakers, and I dug out my sunglasses with a smile. This long-fought-for weekend away was just what I needed. The pressure to work harder, be smarter, stay longer than all my male counterparts wore on me. I didn’t let it show, but I felt what the stress was doing to me.

I’d lost a few unnecessary pounds for that reason. Between working through lunch and being so tired after work I sometimes fall asleep before dinner, it was no wonder my clothes were loose. I’d always relished being a curvy girl, and unlike most women, wasn’t happy losing those few pounds. Even my honey blonde hair was looking duller.

This weekend, I’d promised myself no work, and I thought that was exactly what I needed. A few days to read, nap, hike, and take pictures. All the things I used to love doing before work consumed my life.

Wish I’d known then how much I should have appreciated my blissfully simple life. Wish I could have somehow prepared myself for how that weekend would change everything.