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Forged in Desire (The Protectors #1)

By´╝ÜBrenda Jackson

Forged in Desire (The Protectors #1)
Author: Brenda Jackson


"FINALLY, WE GET to go home."

Margo Connelly was certain the man's words echoed the sentiment they all felt. The last thing she had expected when reporting for jury duty was to be sequestered during the entire trial...especially with eleven strangers, more than a few of whom had taken the art of bitching to a whole new level.

She was convinced this had been the longest, if not the most miserable, six weeks of her life, as well as a lousy way to start off the new year. They hadn't been allowed to have any inbound or outbound calls, read the newspapers, check any emails, watch television or listen to the radio. The only good thing was, with the vote just taken, a unanimous decision had been reached and justice would be served. The federal case against Murphy Erickson would finally be over and they would be allowed to go home.

As far as the twelve of them were concerned, the prosecution had proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Erickson was the leader of a ring of organized crime that had resulted in over a dozen deaths. The majority of them so brutal it had taken everything Margo had to sit there, trying not to show any emotion, while listening to endless testimony about the deaths in gruesome detail. There had even been a family of four that included two children. Innocent victims who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It's time to let the bailiff know we've reached a decision." Nancy Snyder spoke up, interrupting Margo's thoughts. "I have a man waiting at home, who I haven't seen in six weeks, and I can't wait to get to him."

Lucky you, Margo thought, leaning back in her chair. She and Scott Dylan had split over a year ago, and the parting hadn't been pretty. He liked reminding her that, as a financial adviser on Wall Street making a high six-figure salary, he could take his pick of women and she should be grateful. When she'd felt the relationship had run its course, he hadn't wanted to end things and had made a damn nuisance of himself.

Fortunately, as a wedding-dress designer, she could work from anywhere and had decided to move back home to Charlottesville. And there was the bonus of being near her uncle Frazier, her father's brother and the man who'd become her guardian when her parents had died in a house fire when she was ten. He was her only living relative and, although they often butted heads, she would admit she had missed him while living in New York.

"What about dinner tonight?" a deep masculine voice whispered close to her ear.

Margo didn't have to turn to see who it was. Carl Palmer had made his interest in her known from the first. Because of that wedding band on his finger, she hadn't reciprocated.

She shifted in her chair to look at him. To keep others from overhearing their conversation, he'd leaned in close as if he was checking out the papers in front of her. Carl was handsome, she would give him that, but she was not a woman who messed around with married men. "I would think after six weeks you'd want to get home to your wife," she whispered back.

"Soon-to-be ex" was his quick, whispered comeback.

"Doesn't matter. Not interested."

Before he could give a retort, the knock on the door got everyone's attention. The bailiff had arrived. Hopefully, in a few hours it would all be over and the judge would release them. She couldn't wait to get back to running her business. Six weeks had been a long time away from it. Lucky for her she had finished her last order in time for the bride's Christmas wedding. But she couldn't help wondering how many new orders she might have missed out on while on jury duty.

The bailiff entered and said, "The judge has called the court back in session for the reading of the verdict. We're ready to escort you there."

Like everyone else in the room, Margo stood. She was ready for the verdict to be read. It was only after this that she could get her life back.

* * *

"FOREMAN, HAS THE JURY reached a verdict?" the judge asked.

"Yes, we have, Your Honor."

The courtroom was quiet as the verdict was read. "We, the jury, find Murphy Erickson guilty of murder."

Suddenly Erickson bowled over and laughed. He actually laughed, and it was the kind of laugh that made the hairs on the necks of everyone in attendance stand up. The outburst prompted the judge to hit his gavel several times. "Order in the courtroom. Counselor, quiet the defendant or he will be found in contempt of court."

"I don't give a damn about any contempt," Erickson snarled loudly. "You!" he said, pointing a finger at the judge. "Along with everyone else in this courtroom, you have just signed your own death warrant. As long as I remain locked up, someone in here will die every seventy-two hours," Erickson threatened at the top of his voice while looking around at the members of the jury, the prosecutors, the clerk reporter, the defense attorneys, media and all others in the courtroom. It was as if his gaze didn't miss a single individual.

Pandemonium broke out. The judge continued to pound his gavel, trying to restore order. Police officers rushed forward to subdue Erickson and haul him away. But even then the sound of his threats could still be heard.

Margo glanced around and saw everyone was just as stunned as she. She breathed in deeply, trying to control her racing heart. The judge finally established order in the courtroom and began thanking the members of the jury for their public service. His words were lost on Margo. Erickson's threats were echoing too loudly in her ears.


LAMAR "STRIKER" JENNINGS walked into the hospital room, stopped and then frowned. "What the hell is he doing working from bed?"

"I asked myself the same thing when I got his call for us to come here," Striker's friend Quasar Patterson said, sitting lazily in a chair w