Justice Delayed

By: Patricia Bradley

PROLOGUE

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Paris, France. She should be ecstatic to be here on the cusp of a new year. Stephanie Hollister pushed aside the hotel’s heavy brocade curtains and looked out over the city. The setting sun provided a beautiful backdrop for the Eiffel Tower. She didn’t have to ask how her ex-boyfriend afforded such a room.

Stephanie turned from the window, and her mouth dried as she stared at the diamonds on the crimson duvet. Briefly, she closed her eyes, but the image of the stones remained, and she opened her eyes again.

“Beautiful, aren’t they? Not a one under three carats.” JD’s voice was as slick as snake oil.

Stephanie clenched her jaw. She had promised herself after the last shipment that there wouldn’t be another. She drew her gaze away from the bed.

“I told you last time was it.” She hated the fluttering in her voice. She hated, too, the way her heart pounded just from being this close to him. Get a grip. He used you.

“It’ll be ten thousand cash, like before.”

Ten thousand dollars could not buy peace of mind or wash away the shame of breaking the law. “I only came here to tell you to leave me alone. If you don’t, I’ll . . . turn you in to the authorities.”

“That would not be a wise thing to do.” He ran his thumb down her cheek.

The suggestion in his eyes sent shivers through her body. He only wants what you’ll do for him. She scooped the diamonds into the velvet pouch beside them and slapped the bag into his hands. “Get Jillian to do it—what’s a few more diamonds for her to smuggle? And don’t ever ask me to smuggle diamonds for you again. I’m not doing it.”

He grabbed her wrist. “Don’t get any bright ideas about going to the authorities. I’d hate for anything to happen to that pretty little sister of yours.”

“You touch my sister and I’ll kill you.”

He laughed softly, the menace in his face vanishing as he released her arm. “You know I wouldn’t hurt her. So, when’s your flight leave?”

His personality changed like a chameleon. She wanted to step away and escape the seductive scent of his aftershave, but his gaze kept her feet from moving. “Two hours. You’re not on it?”

“No. I’m not going back until the weekend. So I have a couple of days to see the sights of Gay Paree.” He fingered the top button of her blouse, sliding it open. “Too bad you can’t hang around.”

“Yeah, too bad.” Stephanie jerked away from him and turned again toward the view of the Eiffel Tower. Not in a million years. She fastened her button, then gathered her purse and jacket. She would not come under his spell again.

“See you in the States.” His voice held a promise.

Not if she saw him first. She shut the door firmly behind her.

On board the 747, Stephanie’s fingers shook as she adjusted a passenger’s carry-on and closed the overhead bin. As hard as saying no had been, she’d done it. Then why didn’t she feel . . . free?

Because he’d crooked his little finger, and she’d gone running to him. Had she really believed JD wanted to see her? It was never about her, always about him. He didn’t take the risk. No, he had his network of flight attendants to do the dirty work for him.

Stephanie shivered. That first, and only, time she’d been standing in line to go through customs, she realized if they caught her smuggling the diamonds into the States, she would face jail time. The thought scared her so much that she almost fainted. She’d seen JD for who he really was that day, and she didn’t like what she’d become because of him.

But that hadn’t been the only reason she refused to smuggle again. She hadn’t known a lot about conflict diamonds because she chose not to, but one day while she was flipping through the TV channels, she stopped on a story about the diamond mines in Sierra Leone.

When she saw the emaciated children mining for the rough stones, the horror of what she’d done hit her. It was because of people like her who looked the other way that children were forced into slave labor, working twelve hours a day or more to pan for the stones. And it didn’t end there. The documentary went on to show thirteen-year-old boys bent over a table for hours, squinting through an eyeglass as they cut and polished the gems. She couldn’t be a part of that again.