“Miss Doe, what purpose is served by putting you in prison?” Wechter asked, equally quietly. “And I might add, this is the only get-out-of-jail-free card you will ever get from this office. If in the future you’re caught stealing so much as a rice cake, I will prosecute. And,” he added with the first smile Jared had seen, “I’ll win.”
“Kara,” Jared said, turning toward her, “you can’t throw yourself on the mercy of the court if the D.A.
doesn’t have enough to prosecute you.” And clearly doesn’t want to prosecute you, he added silently.
“Give it up.”
“But…” She sounded dazed. She looked dazed. About as dazed as he felt, frankly.
“Thanks for stopping by,” Wechter said briskly, picking up a pen and pulling a pile of papers toward him. The meeting was clearly over. “It was nice meeting you, Miss Smith.”
Kara opened her mouth to correct him. Jared kicked her in the ankle, then grabbed her arm and hauled her up from her chair. “Nice meeting you, too, Mr. Wechter,” he said warmly. He could have kissed the man. On the mouth, even! “We’ll see ourselves out.”
Engrossed in paperwork, Wechter only grunted. He looked up just once, when Jared was ushering Kara out. “Remember,” he said, completely deadpan, “crime doesn’t pay.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Kara said for the fourth time. “I can’t believe he let me go. All those years…tracking me…and I was avoiding him…do you think he’s worked so hard, risen so fast, so he could be in a position to help me when the time came?”
They were in the same small park where Kara had polished off Carlotti’s goons a few days earlier. It was a seedy, disgusting little place, but it was “their” place, so he didn’t mind as much as he should have.
He considered her remark. “I hadn’t thought about it like that. It’s something to consider, huh? It would explain a lot. I mean, the guy’s a legend. He never loses a case. He’s the most popular D.A. the state’s ever known.”
“And the handsomest,” Kara added demurely.
Jared scowled. “Forget it. You belong to me, sunshine. All he can do is keep you out of jail. I can keep you healthy.”
He felt her small hand curl into his, felt her squeeze. “Of course I belong to you. But now what? I spend the last day psyching myself up to lose everything. Now…”
“Now you’re going to have the life you deserved. Don’t you get it? You can do anything you want. No more running. No more being afraid. It’s almost like you’ve been reborn.”
“What in the world am I going to do for a living? I never went to college…I don’t have any societally-correct skills. Not that the cops could catch me if I did decide to keep hacking,” she added thoughtfully, ignoring Jared’s scowl, “but it’d be pretty rotten to reward Wechter’s show of good faith by keeping up my old habits.”
“Damn straight. Besides, you’ll be too busy making a life with me to worry about cracking safes,” Jared declared, tightening his grip on her hand. “I want you to marry me.”
“Oh, yes,” she said casually, “of course we’ll get married. As soon as possible, I think.”
She giggled at the look on his face. “Christ, that was easy! I figured I’d have to spend the rest of the year talking you into it. Maybe shoot you up with Demerol and haul you before the judge myself.”
“Noooo…” She paused, then slowly continued. “I finally figured it out the night before. And again this morning. You thought— we thought—I’d go to jail for years and years. But you stuck by me anyway.
You were sure you were going to lose me. But you didn’t leave. You…you don’t leave when things get hard. You risked yourself—needlessly, but it’s the thought that counts—for me. You endangered yourself because you didn’t want me to get hurt.”
“What you’re saying,” he cut in eagerly, “is in the face of all that, it was pretty goddamned stupid of you to be afraid of making a life with me, right?”
“I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms,” she said dryly, “but essentially, yes.”
He grabbed her and hugged her fiercely. Her breath exploded against his ear and she wriggled ineffectively. “Please, Jared, I can’t breathe,” she protested, but she was laughing. “Besides, before you get all excited, I have a request.”
“No, you can’t knock over Tiffany’s on our honeymoon.”
“Ha, ha. I need to use Mr. Wechter one more time…I hope he’ll cooperate. Do you think he’ll figure I only had one chip with him and I already cashed it in?”
“Kara, sweetie, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What do you want with Wechter?”
“You’ll be approved, no problem, but me…I want to join the foster parenting program. From the parenting side, I mean,” she added darkly. “I’ll give my word about no more hacking, but nobody said I couldn’t teach wards of the state how to protect themselves. Nobody said I couldn’t teach them that there are houses where nothing bad happens when the shades are drawn.”
He smiled sadly. Someday he’d have to ask her about her entire childhood, beginning to end. He hoped he could hear the entire story without crying…or putting his fist through a wall. “I’m sure Wechter would help you get approved,” he said gently.
“You won’t mind? The kids will come and go, you know. And they’ll be…damaged. Some of them.
They probably won’t like us much.”
“Me, probably not. You…” He rested a finger on the tip of her nose. “What’s not to like?”
Kara sat down at the kitchen table somewhat heavily. At five months pregnant, getting around was definitely trickier than usual. She’d never been so heavy in her life. So clumsy in her life! It was a good thing she’d given up hacking, because she probably couldn’t fit through the front door of a lot of her old targets by now. Slow as she now was, she’d probably trip the alarm a dozen times before so much as touching the front door.
She poured Gary more cereal, knowing he was still hungry and knowing he wouldn’t ask for seconds.
It was amazing, she thought, that the great Avenging Angel, scourge of city scum, the feared burglar who could crack any lock and bypass any security system, didn’t know her own ovulatory cycle. In the warehouse closet, on Jared’s—their—living room floor and in their bed the night before she’d gone to see Thomas Wechter, it had indeed been her time to get pregnant. Two months later, Jared had laughed like a loon when she’d told him, then kissed her on the mouth and immediately taken her to bed.
Afterward, he’d charged to Babies R Us like a man possessed.
She grinned, remembering, and Gary looked up at her questioningly. “I was thinking about something happy,” she explained. “Something about Jared.”
Gary nodded and kept eating. He had no comment to add and Kara didn’t expect one. Gary was small for his age and his medical records were a nightmare of too many burns and broken bones. He didn’t talk much and tensed whenever Jared—or any adult male—entered the room. Kara knew what that meant and ground her teeth in silent rage for what the child had been through.
Jared knew what it meant, too and did his best not to startle the boy. Since the man tended to bound through their home like a kangaroo on uppers, that wasn’t always successful. But in the three weeks Gary had stayed with them, he seemed to gradually relax, even around her husband.
The boy had stopped eating, she noticed and was watching her silently. She poured herself another glass of milk and mopped the last of her egg yolk from her plate with a piece of toast. No wonder I’m so fat I can hardly see my feet , she thought with in inward chuckle. “Gary? Did you want to ask me something?”
He nodded. “I was wondering…how long…will I stay here?”
“Well.” She considered the answer carefully. “Your stepfather will go to jail. And your mom has to follow some rules to get you back.”
“Like stop drinking?”
“Like that and some other stuff. But the thing is, she really really wants you back. She misses you a lot.
She didn’t know her husband was doing bad things to you.”
“I didn’t tell her,” Gary whispered.
Kara nodded. “But the way the judge looks at it is, she should have figured it out, you know? That’s why you have to stay somewhere else for a while. She’s trying awfully hard, Gary, only it’ll take time.
The judge has to be sure, absolutely sure that you won’t be hurt in her house anymore. And it’ll take a while for her to follow all the rules so you can live with her again. I would guess you’ll be with Jared and me for at least six months.” She paused. “Is that okay?”
“Because if you would rather stay somewhere else, that’s totally okay and Jared and I won’t be mad, I promise. You don’t even have to say it to me, you could tell your case worker—”
“I like it here,” Gary said casually and stood to put his cereal bowl in the sink. Kara was cheered that he’d felt confident enough to interrupt her. She started to get up to put her own plate in the sink when she heard the crash of Gary’s cereal bowl hitting the tile.
All the color drained from the boy’s face and he cringed away from her. “I’m sorry!” he cried. “I didn’t mean to!”
“Hey, Gary, relaaaaaaaaaax,” she said casually, inwardly wishing the boy’s stepfather would stop by just long enough for her to break all his fingers. “I drop stuff all the time. So does Jared.”
“It’s no big deal.”