At eleven he was my first crush. At sixteen he became mine. At nineteen he broke my heart and destroyed me. That was ten years ago and the last time I saw Cole Ryan.
They say you never get over your first love…I beg to differ. I left my shattered heart buried in a town I never expected to return to. I erased every thought of him and buried the memories never to be found.
I moved on…now ten years later I have the perfect life, the perfect fiancé, the perfect career. Everything I ever wanted until I’m forced to go back and face my past and the man that destroyed me.
He won’t stop until I know the truth no matter how hard I fight it. In the end, lies will be uncovered, hearts will be broken, and my life as I’ve come to know it destroyed.
Pushing through the doors to Manny’s, I see everyone assembled near the bar. Friends and colleagues that I have worked with throughout the years have been waiting on me to arrive to celebrate today’s verdict.
“Congratulations!” Everyone cheers as Ted and I approach the bar. I toss my purse on a bar stool and reach for the glass of white wine that Eduardo, my co-counsel, is holding out for me.
Pressing the cool glass to my lips, I let the smooth wine settle on my tongue before swallowing.
“I’m so damn proud of you.” He leans in and whispers, wrapping one arm around my shoulders.
“I couldn’t have done it without you. I mean that.” I smile at him and squeeze his arm in a gesture of gratitude. Eduardo took me under his wing when I joined the county attorney’s office a little over four years ago. I was an experienced trial lawyer, having learned the ins and outs of trial law with Ted’s firm, but this is new. I’m on the prosecuting end now. This is where I always dreamed to be. Ted’s firm helped me get here and Eduardo has been my mentor and basically my best friend since I arrived.
“I’d be surprised if they even try to appeal,” he says, taking a sip of his vodka tonic. “You were that good. There were no holes in your closing arguments. You presented solid evidence and left nothing for them to come back at us with.”
“She learned from the best,” Ted says, leaning over my shoulder.
Eduardo’s eyes glance away from mine and up to Ted’s. “Mr. Winters,” Eduardo says, reaching out to shake Ted’s. “Nice to see you again.” It’s hard to miss Eduardo’s visible disdain for Ted. His jaw ticks and he swallows hard, but as always, he is the epitome of professional and is always gracious.
“I’ve learned a great deal from both of you.” I smile and wish for the pissing contest to end. “Let’s enjoy our victory.” I hold up my glass of wine to toast, raising my eyebrows, a silent plea to Ted to be nice and he obliges.
“To guilty verdicts,” Eduardo cheers, raising his glass.
Ted gives his head a little shake but reiterates Eduardo’s sentiments.
“To guilty verdicts,” we all repeat and take a drink.
I notice Ted step away to take a phone call and I turn my attention back to Eduardo.
“First and only time I think I’ll ever hear him say that,” Eduardo jokes.
“I think that’s the first and only time I’ll ever hear him say that, too.” I laugh.
My fiancé, Ted Winters, is partner in Winters and Seldon, one of the smallest yet most prestigious law firms in Los Angeles County. Ted is known for representing some of the most high profile, and even dangerous, criminals in California. What cases he doesn’t win, he prides himself on reduced charges, jail time, and fines.
Not guilty—those two words drive him to be the greatest. He’s the best of the best, and he hired me right out of law school. He taught me the way around a courtroom, the best oral arguments, and the tricks to dissect evidence and to look for what everyone else is missing. I took what I learned from Ted and am finally putting it to use as a Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County. I always wanted to be on this end of the law, finding justice and doing right by the law.
To avoid any conflict of interest, I avoid all cases where Winters and Seldon is concerned. There are plenty of other prosecutors to try those, and it’s best, both professionally and personally, if I avoid any cases Ted or his firm are involved in.
As I look around the bar at my friends and colleagues, I can’t help but smile proudly at how far I’ve come—and for the people who’ve been with me on this journey.
As my smile fades, I feel the exhaustion hit me like a freight train and, with a few glasses of wine on top of that, I find the need for fresh air. I weave through a sea of bodies in the bar area and push through the large glass door, which leads out onto the rooftop patio. Los Angeles has far from quality air, but pulling the mild summer breeze into my lungs feels good. A sense of calm falls over me as the adrenaline from the day wears off. Carrying the stress of this trial on my shoulders for weeks has wreaked havoc on my sleep, my diet, and exercise, and I can feel the toll it’s taken on my body.
I watch the cars below, crawling along the busy Los Angeles streets, and the hustle and bustle of the city just fifty stories below me. It’s windy up here on the patio, and the soft afternoon breeze whips my hair around. I tilt my face to the sky and let the setting sun cast its warm rays on me when my phone buzzes in my hand. I hesitate, wanting to indulge in a few more moments of silence, but I think better of it.
Glancing down, I see my mom’s home number flashing on the sleek screen of my oversized mobile phone.
“Hi, Mama.” I take a deep breath, excited to hear her voice.
My heart sinks when I hear a man’s voice. A voice I could never forget. A voice so familiar that it still haunts me to this day.
Cole. The only person to ever call me Frankie. My heart stills as I wait for him to say more.
“You need to come home,” he says gruffly.
My stomach drops as his voice takes my breath away. The pull it still has on me shakes me to my core. Before he says anything else, I close my eyes and find myself lost in time, back to when I was eleven years old, spending my afternoons down at the fault line, soaking up the last of the days sunlight with Cole by my side.
Crescent Ridge, Nevada resides right on top of a fault line, a town with less than eight hundred people, and sits on the California/Nevada border. A town I left ten years ago and haven’t returned to—because of Cole.