Justice Delayed(3)

By: Patricia Bradley

Her friend shook her head. “I’ve never seen what you two see in him. Jillian says it’s because he’s exciting and she’s never bored, but how about you?”

“No one else ever made me feel the way he did,” she said. That was hardly an explanation, but she didn’t know how else to explain her attraction to JD. It wasn’t so much his good looks, which he had plenty of, but the way he carried himself, the confidence he exuded. He was the kind of man mothers warned their daughters to stay clear of. Her friends didn’t understand why she seemed to be drawn to men with bad-boy attitudes.

She understood. These men, who could have anyone they wanted, chose her. And she believed she would be the one who would reform them.

Except it hadn’t worked. Especially not with JD. Stephanie doubted anyone could tame him. He’d caught her in a vulnerable moment and then used that mistake to continue a relationship in secret once he and Jillian reconnected.

She turned into the drive and pulled to the back of the house to her pottery studio. “Be careful you don’t make the same mistake with Adam Matthews.”

“Adam is not like JD.”

Stephanie snorted. “He’s a man, isn’t he?” She opened her car door.

Lacey put her hand on Stephanie’s arm. “Wait. I’m your friend, and I hate to see you get back in this mess. You stopped once, don’t get involved again. If I had your courage, I would stop too. So would Jillian.”

She sighed. “I don’t know how to be any clearer. I. Am. Not. Smuggling. Diamonds.”

Lacey’s eyes narrowed. “If that’s true, then you better watch your back. JD can be very vindictive.” She bit her bottom lip. “And I don’t think you should talk to the cops. They might not believe you once they know you smuggled a package of diamonds through customs.”

“It’s the only reason I’ve kept quiet. My dad would be so disappointed in me if he ever found out. But I’m not doing it again.”

“Good.” Lacey opened the passenger door. “I’m going upstairs to take a nap.”

“And I have work to do in the pottery shop,” Stephanie said as she climbed out of the small car. Although as tired as she was, resting a bit tempted her, but she’d been commissioned to make a horse sculpture, and it waited.

At the shop door, Stephanie rummaged for the brass skeleton key in her purse, and it slipped from her hands. She tried to catch it but only succeeded in turning the purse upside down. With a huff, she knelt to gather the scattered items. Her fingers hovered over a soft velvet pouch.

Where had that come from? It wasn’t hers. Gingerly, she picked it up and peered inside at three dirty-looking pieces of glass. Stephanie closed her eyes and tamped down the nausea that rolled up from her stomach.

How had JD gotten the uncut diamonds in her purse? The window. When she’d gazed out the window at the Eiffel Tower. She ground her molars until pain shot to her ears. What if customs had gone through her purse?

She once more bent down and retrieved the key to the studio. Inside the darkened room, she sat at her worktable.

The police. Yes. That’s what she’d do. She’d go to them and explain everything, and she would take the journal where she’d documented every step of the smuggling process. But first she’d have to get it from her bedroom. She glanced toward the fireplace, where she’d hidden sheets torn from the middle of the journal. No, that was her ace in the hole. She rose to go get the journal, then sat back down.

JD had said he had friends in high places. He would deny everything and point out she was the one with the diamonds. What if they didn’t believe her?

She buried her face in her hands. She needed time to think. Wait. JD wouldn’t be home for a day or two. If she could just get some sleep, she could think more clearly. But she needed to hide the diamonds. She lifted her head, and the first thing she saw was the wrapped sculpture.

Stephanie dumped the three diamonds on her worktable and then unwrapped the half-finished horse sculpture. With deft hands, she pressed two of the diamonds between the wires supporting the belly and slid the third one between the withers, then smoothed clay over them. When she finished, she examined her work.