tagRomanceSix Weeks of Grace Pt. 10

Six Weeks of Grace Pt. 10

bywrite4food©

This is the final installment of "Six Weeks of Grace". I was taken to task for my misspellings and improper word usage. So I thank "nthusiastically" who volunteered to help with the last few parts. I was surprised that some thought that just because an author makes a mistake, he must be stupid and not know better, I found that accusation quite presumptuous! The reality is, in typing 60 -- 70K words, a few do end up sideways, and I'm sorry for that.

There were also some great comments that really made me think, especially one about wanting more conversations between Don and Grace, I had thought of that but I mused that some would find that too "sweet". Maybe . . .

I learned a lot from this story, mainly that you can't please everyone, some hated the short parts and cliffhangers, some loved it. Some thought it was slow, some loved the characters going through the many circumstances that they went through. Some thought it was too much of a cliché but really, aren't almost all romances? Some claimed that the characters should have figured it all out sooner, but remember written in third person, it gives the reader more information than the characters have. Plus it's always easy to second guess what people should have done . . . I damn sure wouldn't have gotten on the Titanic, everyone knows icebergs are dangerous! So in the end, if I had to do it over, I probably would have made it 3 or 4 parts, without the cliffhangers, but it was a great experiment for me as a new writer. Please forgive me that decision!

But one universal theme was that everyone loved Grace, and that was truly my wish when all this started, because if you, the reader don't fall in love with Grace than the rest of the story won't draw you in. I know this from the volume of emails and comments I received that threatened me with death and dismemberment if something happened to Grace! Just kidding . . . kind-of!

So thank you for your patience with us here in Grace's world! Now, the conclusion of "Six Weeks of Grace".


*****

"What?" Anne blurted out, stunned by his words.

"Look around, do you see her?" He said quietly.

Anne spun her head around, frantically searching for the little girl that she had grown to love so much.

"That's right, Mrs. Bell has her tucked away."

Anne stared back at him. "There's no way she's involved in this." She sputtered out, her voice filled with disbelief.

"Oh Anne, of course she isn't, but she knows of Duncan, so it was easy to persuade her that Grace needs protection."

"What?"

"That's right, I have a pager in my pocket, one misstep from you and she is on orders to hand her over to someone who she believes will protect the girl."

"Oh my God," Anne whispered out, stunned by what he was implying. "You wouldn't?"

Looking straight into her eyes he answered defiantly. "If you screw this up, no matter what happens to us, that brat will be dead before you leave this room, understand?"

Anne could only nod and stumble to her seat, her heart breaking as she realized that she was now totally out of options.

Bobby watched the exchange and looked at Bryce quizzically but he shook his head to indicate he noticed also, but couldn't hear the conversation.

"All rise!" Ben Roberts began. "This court is now in session, the Honorable Judge Joseph P. Baker presiding."

Don stood with everyone else as the Judge entered and took his seat.

"Be seated everyone." Judge Baker said firmly as looked around the courtroom.

"Mister Winters?" The Judge started and the smartly dressed attorney immediately rose to his feet. "I am surprised by the attendance of all three of the senior partners of your firm."

"It's an important case, Your Honor." He answered back smoothly.

"Hmmm, a child custody case demands all of this attention?" The Judge asked cryptically.

"Ah . . . our firm takes its responsibilities seriously, Your Honor." Mark Winters answered with a bit less confidence.

"So I see." The Judge concluded with a smirk that made all three of the partners worry.

"And Mister Duncan, how are you?" He asked with a huge smile and a friendliness that was not lost on his opponents.

Rising to his feet slowly, still feeling the effects of the weekend, Don answered carefully. "I'm fine Your Honor."

"Better dressed today I see." The Judge asked with a grin. This was the first time he was laying eyes on Donald Duncan since that day in his office. He couldn't help but notice the well-groomed and impeccably dressed young man sitting where a violent criminal had sat only a few weeks ago.

"Yes, Your Honor, it's a very important day for me." Don answered with a nervous smile.

The Judge returned the smile and motioned for him to sit back down.

"All right everyone, this is not a trial but simply an informal hearing to determine the permanent placement of the minor Grace Warren. I am ready to hear your argument Mister Winters."

Winters was a bit caught off guard by the Judge's comment and jumped to his feet. "Yes Your Honor. Ah . . . we do not believe that placing the girl with Mister Duncan is in her best interest."

"Is that so, Mister Winters?"

"Yes, Your Honor." Winters replied, his nervousness increasing with the Judge's obvious attitude towards him.

"Mister Winters, I'm confused. I gave your associate very specific instructions to contact me in the event of any and I meant any problems with the girl being in Mister Duncan's care; is that right?"

"That's right, Your Honor."

"Well, Mister Winters, if she has not contacted me in six weeks, why would your firm suddenly argue that Mister Duncan is not capable of taking care of the child?"

Mike Duncan smiled to himself as he listened to the exchange. While he and Bobby had been very careful not to say anything to the Judge that would be considered out of line, it was obvious that the old boy had read between the lines.

For Don, his heart was beating wildly, he had tried to catch Anne's eye but she seemed to be avoiding him. The fight, kissing Anne, had he screwed up? How could he have been so stupid?

"Well, Your Honor, there have been some recent developments that have called into question whether Mister Duncan can be trusted with a child. It seems that his violent nature has resurfaced and put the child in danger. We feel that if he has custody, it will only be a matter of time before she is hurt." Mark Winters explained.

"YOUR HONOR!" Don was back on his feet now and furious. He was not going to allow this asshole to claim he would ever harm his daughter.

"Mister Duncan, SIT DOWN!" The Judge said to him loudly and Don sank back in his seat.

"As you can see Your Honor, Mister Duncan is obviously unable to control himself." Winters said calmly, delighting in how easy it was to bait the big man.

Don sat in his seat stewing, he could not believe that he had walked right into that. Gripping the sides of his chair, he vowed to stay calm no matter what happened today.

"Mister Winters, what developments are you speaking of." The Judge asked with obvious curiosity.

"Well, Your Honor, Mister Duncan was involved in a fight this weekend that resulted in a man's death, I would think the court would consider that significant grounds to end his contact with any child."

Once again, Don felt the adrenalin pumping through him and he started to jump up before he caught a glance from the Judge. For some reason it instantly calmed him and he wondered if he had more of an ally than he realized.

"Mister Winters, I appreciate the suggestion of what the court should do but I believe I am capable of making my own decisions."

"Of course Your Honor." Winter replied sheepishly.

Don couldn't help but smile a bit as he realized that his decision to stay in his seat was a good one, obviously the Judge had things well in hand.

"Now as to the matter of this weekend's events," the Judge stated firmly, "I will admit to learning of it from the news. Because of this hearing I felt I needed to be briefed on the circumstances. I have a report before me signed by the Chief of Police, the County Sheriff, and the District Attorney."

"Your Honor, the Sheriff is Mister Duncan's cousin, hardly an unbiased source." Winter's spat out.

"Mister Winters, if you have evidence that you wish to present that shows that the Sheriff has colluded with the Chief of Police and the District Attorney to present a falsified report to this court, I will hear it now." The Judge said sharply.

"Ah . . . no Your Honor, I have no evidence to that."

"Then I suggest before you make any further allegations, you have your evidence handy!"

Winters looked around at his two partners before facing back to the Judge. "Yes, Your Honor." He answered solemnly.

"Now as to this report, I have entered it into evidence and it states that three men, known felons, attacked Mister Duncan, your Associate Anne Summers and the child Grace Warren with the intention of kidnapping the girl. Both Miss Summers and Mister Duncan responded to the attack. In the course of that defense, one attacker was killed and two others were severely injured."

The Judge paused and seemed to sort through the report for a moment. "I have here a statement from the District Attorney, that although a formal coroner's inquest has not been held, he feels that the actions taken by Mister Duncan were clearly in defense of himself, Miss Summers and Grace Warren. His findings are backed up by the Sheriff, the Chief of Police and over twenty witnesses."

"So Mister Winters, what I have before me is a report that says that Mister Duncan and Miss Summers risked their own lives to save the little girl from kidnapping."

"Your Honor, a man is dead because of Mister Duncan." Winters pointed out smugly.

The Judge just shook his head. "Mister Winters, is it your contention that Mister Duncan would be a better candidate for fatherhood if he had allowed his daughter to be kidnapped, than if he fought to save her from that fate?"

"Well no, Your Honor."

"Then what exactly is your claim?" The Judge asked quickly.

Mike and Bobby were enjoying watching the attorney squirm as the Judge kept hammering him. But just when they thought things were going well, Winters changed tactics.

"Your Honor, we have more information that has been provided to us by our Associate Miss Summers. At this time we would like to have her provide testimony."

The Judge seemed to consider his request for several seconds before finally agreeing. "Miss Summers, please be sworn and take the stand."

Don was shocked as he took in Anne's appearance as she walked up to the stand. She looked tired and rung out, her face filled with despair.

Ben Roberts administered the oath and Anne seemed to hesitate before answering. After a long pause she finally did so and took a seat on the witness stand.

Mark Winters strode up to the stand confidently. "Miss Summers, do you believe Mister Duncan should have custody of Grace Warren?" He asked.

Anne's head hung down and she seemed not to hear the question. "Miss Summers?" He asked again.

"No," She said weakly.

Bobby and Mike looked at each other at the same instant, stunned by her answer.

"Hold on here, Miss Summers." The Judge said, his voice full of surprise. "I don't understand, I gave you instructions to contact me if the girl was not being cared for. Are you saying she was not?"

Again Anne hesitated before answering. "Yes, Your Honor."

"Your Honor, if I may?" Mark Winters interjected.

"Proceed, Councilor, because I want to know what is going on here." The Judge said, obviously unhappy with the situation.

"Miss Summers, can you explain why you did not come forward until now."

"I . . . I was afraid of him." She answered quietly.

"Miss Summers, speak up." Winters told her forcefully.

Anne just looked back at him, seemingly fixated on him. "I was afraid of him." She answered louder this time.

"Can you explain that?"

"He . . . he threatened me."

Bobby quickly turned to his dad. "She's lying!" He hissed out under his breath.

"Yeah, but why?" Mike quickly shot back.

Bobby just shook his head until he remembered the exchange he watched when she came in. "They must have something on her, blackmailing her!" He whispered.

"What?"

"I saw Winters talking to her when they came in, she didn't look happy."

Mike shook his head. "No, I don't believe it, she would never protect herself over Don and . . . damn!"

What's wrong?" Bobby asked as he saw his dad's head spin around.

"Grace isn't here!" He whispered out at Bobby as they both looked around trying to find the little girl.

Suddenly he grabbed his son and pulled him close to him. "She would die to protect Grace, I know it. They must have her, but she can't be far . . . you have to find her now!"

Bobby nodded and sprung to his feet. Bryce noticed the movement and swung his head around. Bobby caught his eye and motioned for him to follow him out.

After the doors closed behind them Bryce blurted out. "She's lying!"

"Dad and I realized it too. He thinks they have Grace and are threatening her!"

"Fuck!" Bryce exclaimed.

"Look, we don't have much time. Grace has to be here, they wouldn't have taken her far in case the Judge wanted to see her."

Bryce nodded his understanding. "Makes sense."

"You take from the top floor down, I'll start at the bottom and go up. There's probably only twenty or so conference rooms, she probably wouldn't be in an office but quick check them. Radio me if you find her!" Bobby told him and then headed for the elevators as Bryce turned and ran towards the stairs.

Inside the courtroom, Don sat stunned. He wanted to jump up again but he couldn't even summon the energy. He just slumped back in his seat as he listened to the woman he thought he loved talk about how bad of a father he was. The worst part was she was lying and the thoughts he had long ago came rushing back to him.

She wanted Grace! That had to be it, if she could convince the Judge that he was a bad parent, then she could get custody. He just hung his head as he realized that he had been taken in by her.

"So Miss Summers, you have testified about the many times that Mister Duncan failed to act properly as a father, what can you tell us about how Grace feels about him?"

For the first time Anne took her eyes away from her tormentor and glanced over at Don. She could see his head was down and she knew what her betrayal must be doing to him. She could feel her eyes were wet and she was struggling to hold in the tears.

Finally she steeled herself, she couldn't let them kill Grace no matter what she had to say. "She is afraid of him."

"Your Honor, in view of Miss Summers' testimony I ask that the minor child Grace Warren be placed back into the care of our firm." Mark Winters said smugly as he concluded his questioning.

Turning to Don, the Judge addressed him. "Mister Duncan, do you have any questions for the witness?"

"Your Honor, I object, it is obvious that Miss Summers is frightened of Mister Duncan, we feel it would be too intimidating to have him question her." Winters threw out quickly.

"Mister Winters, she is going to have to just hold up because he has every right to question some of the things that are being sworn to here today." The Judge answered with obvious cynicism in his voice.

For Don, his initial thought was 'what's the use' but then he decided that he wanted to know why she was lying!

"Mister Duncan?" The Judge asked again as Winters returned to his seat, getting sly grins from the other two partners.

"Yes, Your Honor, I do have some questions." Don stated flatly as he stood up and approached Anne.

"Miss Summers, why are you lying?" He spat out at her.

"Objection Your Honor!" Mark Winters yelled out as he came to his feet. "The question is argumentative and he is obviously trying to intimidate her into silence again."

"Your Honor, I'm not an attorney and I made no objections to Mister Winters' questions. I ask for a little leeway here." Don pleaded.

"Mister Duncan, you can have a bit of leeway, but your questions must be about events or circumstances that the witness would have knowledge about."

"Yes Your Honor." Don said quietly as Winters sank back into his chair.

"Miss Summers, did you ever accompany my daughter and me out in public?" Don asked.

"Yes," Anne replied carefully, her head still down.

"Well Miss Summers, if you were afraid of me, why would you go out with me?"

"I . . . I . . . you said I had to." She finally stammered out.

"Or what Miss Summers?"

"You would hurt me."

"But Miss Summers, once we were out in public, didn't you have a chance to just walk away?"

Anne hesitated as she tried to come up with an answer. "I was afraid to tell anyone." She finally said softly.

Don just stood silently as he wondered what to do. It seemed like he was already out of questions and it was obvious that he really had nowhere to go, as long as she was willing to lie, he knew he would never get to the truth.

Finally he shrugged his shoulders and started walking back to his table.

"Are those all your questions Mister Duncan?" The Judge asked Don, obviously surprised.

Don stopped and turned back around as another memory came to him. "Miss Summers," he began forcefully. "Did you ever stay the night with Grace and me?"

Anne finally looked up. "Yes"

"Why?"

"Ah . . . I was sick." She answered quietly, trying to figure out where Don was going with this so she wouldn't get trapped.

"Where did you sleep?"

"Objection, relevance, Your Honor?" Mark Winters quickly threw out.

The Judge just shook his head. "Overruled, proceed Mister Duncan."

"I . . . slept in the guest room." Anne finally replied.

"With who, Miss Summers?"

Anne hesitated again, analyzing the question, trying desperately not to get tripped up. "With Grace."

Don moved closer to her. "While you were in bed with Grace, did you ask me to tell you a bed time story?"

"Your Honor!" Winters bellowed out.

"Sit down, Mister Winters." The Judge said quickly, cutting him off before he could raise his objection.

"Yes, I did." She answered carefully.

Don stepped closer and was only a couple of feet in front of her now. "What was the story?" He asked carefully.

"Your Honor, I don't think the court has time to waste on a bedtime story." Mark Winters blurted out.

The Judge looked oved at the three partners seated at the table and smiled. "This court has plenty of time Mister Winters. Was it not you who said that this was an important case?"

"Ah . . . yes Your Honor." He answered sheepishly.

"Well, then we have time to get this important case right." The Judge said firmly as he glared at them.

"Yes, Your Honor." Winters said as he slumped back in his seat and gave his crew a nervous look.

"Proceed Miss Summers, I enjoy a good bedtime story." The Judge said with a grin.

"Well," Anne began as she looked up and saw Don staring at her. "The story was about a beautiful princess in a small kingdom."

Don kept his eyes locked on hers as she started to tell the story. But when he caught her eyes in his, he was surprised that he didn't see deceit.

"She was sad even though she lived in a big castle. She was looking for a prince to marry but there were none around." Anne said as she looked back at Don.

"But in the valley there lived a huge and evil man." She continued, but as she spoke something started tickling at her.

Don watched her carefully as he tried to understand what was in her eyes, then it hit him. It wasn't deceit, it was fear. She was scared, but of what he wondered. He refused to believe it was him. Then if not him, what?

"The huge man was in love with the beautiful princess." She said as she looked at the man before her. "He . . . he decided to change himself into a prince in order to get her attention."

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