I Know You’re in There – excerpt

I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE

 

PROLOGUE

 Was it so wrong?

One year ago.

The only thing Mike Holly knew for sure was that life was for living today. A dead fiancé does that to a guy. A heart so broken for so long you can’t feel it anymore does that to a guy.

Judge Allen banged his gavel and ordered Mike to the bench. He knew what came next, community service.  Hell, he’d cleaned and worked on damn near every public trail within fifty miles, and he’d enjoyed every minute of it. Not only did he love his little piece of this Colorado mountain, but kicking the shit outta assholes had been worth it.

Mike’s lip curled up and he breathed out a little laugh as he swaggered across the courtroom dressed in jeans, boots, and a flannel shirt. He hadn’t tied back his long hair, nor tamed the wildness he knew his dark looks projected. And he didn’t even try to hide the gratified sparkle of I’m above the law that he knew shined in his eyes—the look his father hated, because it meant Mike had quit listening.

Nor would he wipe the grin off his face. Women called it crooked and engaging, devastating, sinful. Men called it shit-eating and disrespectful.

His looks and ass-kicking ability were God-given gifts. He knew it, and so did everyone else. And everyone knew Mike was happy to take a little pounding himself if it got him into a good scuffle. Who didn’t love a good fight? Especially a righteous one.

Bea was sitting right beside him on an aisle seat half way into the courtroom. She grinned at him, and, swear to God, wiggled in her chair without moving a muscle.

He’d never even fought in defense of Bea—his date with her, right after court, was just an added perk of a rep for standing up for folks. Yeah, he had his enemies, but he had a fan club, too.

He smiled and nodded at Peter, the bailiff, and waved at his mom’s best friend Nancy, who’d been the court reporter for as long as Mike had known her.

No one really understood Mike’s personal mission. People knew why he defended the helpless, they just had a little trouble with the brutality involved in his method of meting out justice. That was because, in is opinion, they’d never been on the losing end of a beating. And Mike had a peculiar itch for justice.

In Mike’s view, there were laws worth obeying and laws that weren’t. People thought Mike had issues, and things did have a tendency to get out of hand around him. Those same folks had opinions about why his strong feelings ended in so many broken bones and bashed heads. Thank God Randy hadn’t died. He hadn’t pressed charges either, but only because Mike had taken pictures of June’s bruises.

It was depressing how many people and critters needed his help. Or how many assholes under estimated Mike’s ferocity because of his long hair—until they stared into his eyes. Mike knew how to use his eyes to send chills of fear or waves of lust, depending on the target.

Truth was, Mike didn’t need to know why to know he was right. And if he thought too much about it, he’d have to delve into the darkness of Anna’s death. He couldn’t go there again.

He well knew the law took a dim view of his passion for evening up the score, but he was still grinning and feeling cocky when he reached the bench. “Hello, Judge Allen, sir.”

The Judge huffed out a breath as a smirk of his own spread across his face. Mike understood concern and could wring a whole lot of forgiveness out of it. He didn’t do so well with the feeling of justified revenge that arose after others smirked at him, but it didn’t seem prudent to punch out Judge Allen.

“Mike, I understand you’ve had a lot of heartache in your past, especially for such a young fellow. I understand you think you can save the world one distressed damsel at a time. I know you like to fight.”

Mike’s grin faded as he listened. This didn’t sound like community service. He couldn’t believe he’d do jail time for a fight. It’d been a heck of a Halloween party, and all he’d wanted was the girl in the pink bunny suit. What he’d gotten was an up-close view of the flying fist of that wife-beating SOB, Jules Nowlin.

Mike had instinctively ducked when he’d seen the fist coming, and had immediately heard a scream right behind him. He’d slammed his fist into Jules’ nose, and blood had splattered into a spectacular pattern on the wall. When Mike turned toward the scream, he saw that Jules’ fist had smashed pink bunny’s nose and eye, and she was on the floor crying.

A split second before, the narrow hallway to the kitchen and the keg had been a moving flow of people, a kaleidoscope of music, laughter, color, perfume, and soft bodies.

That’s how fucking Jules had snuck up on him. Mike was checking out the boob his arm had just brushed. He’d kicked Jules’ ass a couple of weeks ago, revenge for Mandy Nowlin, because she was Mike’s friend.

Before Mike even got to say anything to pink bunny, there was a high-pitched, maniacal roar from the kitchen and a scratching, screaming Jules jumped on Mike’s back and tried to choke and bite him. The little bastard took a part of Mike’s ear with him to the floor.

Mike then picked him up and punched him so hard he fell out the front door. People had scattered and cheered them on.

Jules dove for the ground and had smashed a rock against Mike’s shin. Mike had fallen, and had barely deflected the fisted rock coming for his head.

Maybe he shouldn’t have thrown Jules into the street. Or rolled his head up in the car window. Or maybe he shouldn’t have started the car and put it in drive. But all Jules had to do to save his scrawny neck was run. A lot more chance than he’d given Mandy. Wuss.

The judge was talking again. “Son, I’m tired of seeing you in my court, so I’m throwing you out of my county. You got two weeks.”

Mike’s head jerked back. “What? You can’t do that!

“I just did, son. I’m giving you eight hundred hours of community service cleaning up around the Abuse Hotline office out of Gunnison. And finish your degree while you’re there.”

“What? Eight hundred hours! In an office?