TEASER:

Mina’s Choice book two: THE CONTRACT

“As I jumped from that cliff into the black abyss below there was no way to know what I would find at the bottom. Perhaps it was my destiny. for whatever reason, I rode that wave as if my life depended on it. What I eventually discovered surprised everyone who thought they knew me. Though mostly, it surprised me.”

-Wilhelmina Green

     Prologue

One year ago:

From heights of sixty to eighty feet, it took up to three and a half seconds to hit the water. In that brief moment of time, a thousand thoughts images, or feelings rush through your mind. If I hadn’t been trained—if my body didn’t know exactly what to do—fear would overcome me. With three seconds to hit the water, you enter at such a force that if any part of your body is out of line, it will break. Sometimes during that freefall, I’d wonder if I’d forgotten how. The air rushed past my body, forced me into unnatural shapes. I’d keep my eye on the landing—growing closer each second—as I’d tuck and somersault or straighten into an arrow. Then . . .when I hit the water? Profound silence—as near to death as I could imagine—allowed me to forget what I’d done.

I had a suitcase packed and ready. The prosecutor Aaron Stroheim and I gave our closing speeches, and the jurors went to deliberate. They didn’t take long to come up with a verdict, my case was solid. My client was acquitted.

As soon as the foreperson read the verdict, I lowered my head and began to gather my things. I alone knew Martin Liebert was guilty of raping his young associate. I wanted to get as far away from Cook County Courthouse as I could.

“Thank you Miss Green.” Martin’s congratulatory tone sickened me. He opened his arms.

I avoided his embrace, nodded, and politely congratulated him. Then I turned my back on the courtroom and dove through the crowded hallway. Reporters shoved microphones into my space as I dodged one question after another. The security guards cleared the way for me. Four officers escorted me through the crowd of journalists and female protesters throwing hateful words like stones. I felt shamed like Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones.

I ducked into the nearest cab. “O’Hare International, please. Delta departures.” A week of vacation was exactly what I needed to put my head back on straight.

Martin Liebert, aka Slippery Marty as the media nicknamed him, was an investment broker. He had been arrested and charged with raping his young associate, Leeann Reigns. Other victims had accused him of inappropriate conduct and assault in the workplace. It was his fourth offense like this, the first to go to trial.

I didn’t like him from the start, but I was a young attorney working for a big firm. Allegedly, Slippery Marty had gotten in an argument with Leeann about an investment client, a local politician. Leeann had given this politician financial advice and subsequently ‘stole’ him away from Liebert. As a result, Marty lost hundreds of thousands in projected income.

He threatened Leanne in front of her eight-year-old daughter, then took Leanne to her bedroom and raped her. In my defense arguments, I discounted the child’s witness testimony and maintained that Leeann had wanted Marty’s job. I painted her as a power-hungry, ladder-climbing bitch. I told the jury that she led him on. That her nuances couldn’t be understood by an eight-year-old. The jury sided with me, a female defense attorney. No wonder Milton,  Wallace & Edwards appointed me.  

Marty confessed to me. He would have confessed to God if he believed in such a thing. I tried to refuse him the opportunity, but not quickly enough. He told me how he’d pinned her to the bed and unbuckled her pants while she squirmed. His wasn’t my burden to bear.

Yet, . . . I’d helped exonerate him. I needed to pay penance.

Milton, Wallace, & Edwards assigned to me the most high-profile rape and sexual misconduct cases. I didn’t get to choose. I took these controversial cases with the promise of a long and successful career. So far, I was on a winning streak. My reputation of acquitting bad men was growing. And now, I had seven days to consider my sins against humanity. Seven days alone with my cell phone turned off. Seven days to escape the hell in my mind.

Towing a small carry-on filled with essentials—a sundress, bathing suit, personal hygiene products, athletic shoes, and a wet suit—I checked in on the airline kiosk. In line for TSA checks, I avoided people’s gazes and kept my eyes on the floor. Once through security, I changed my shoes and caught my breath before heading to my departure gate. The only people who knew I was traveling were my boss Jim Milton and my paralegal, Christina. They had no idea where, though. I told Christina I’d be someplace with no service.

Anonymous, I wandered the streets of Dubrovnik and admired the quaint and beautiful, ancient coastal city in Croatia. Centuries-old buildings with red tiled roofs and cathedrals from bygone eras lined the streets. No one here knew me. Bright sunshine washed away the storm cloud of post-trial negativity. With no commitments, and no cellphone, I could breath. On these cobblestone streets I was simply one of a thousand tourists with a Game of Thrones guidebook. Long lines of visitors filed into Fort Lovrijenac, the home of King’s Landing, made famous by the HBO series. Though these sites thrilled me, recalling the magnificent cinematography of the famous series wasn’t why I’d come.

During the nearly direct flight to Croatia, I killed time in-air researching my tombstoning jump site. After placing third in the National Diving Championships in college, I discovered a way to cleanse my soul—metaphorically—by jumping into the arms of God and into water several dozen meters below. Tombstoning freed me from mental torture, chains I wrapped around myself after the trials.

The rocky coasts surrounding this area jutted over clear, azure water. The private tour guide and his translator drove me around numerous Croatian islands in a speed boat. From the water, I looked up at the tortuous cliffs surrounding Stiniva Beach, and the Blue Cave. Uninhabited rocky outcrops, like the peaks of a sunken mountain range, dotted the Adriatic Sea. I surveyed the cliffs for ideal diving location. During the day-trip, we anchored near Mana Island. Here, I climbed the pale, square rock formations and dove three dozen of meters into the green-blue sea. My audience of two gave me a standing ovation. I tipped them a thousand euros because their applause didn’t feel earned. I wanted a higher cliff. Something more dangerous.

At Dugi Otok Island, a wall of tan and orange rock met the sea. This location provided the tallest cliffs, some reaching one-hundred-and-sixty meters above the ocean waves. My crew reluctantly stood lookout while I climbed the face to a tiny ledge. Twenty meters above the turquoise water, I faced the wall. With just enough room to bend my knees in preparation. From there, I sprung backwards.

The rock crumbled beneath my toes as I pushed off, diminishing the force of my kickoff. Because of the weak launch, I had no time to arch my back and entered the water feet first at an angle. The crooked entry snapped my left ankle to the side, tearing the extensor tendons on the top of my foot. Disheartened, I swam slowly back to the boat.

For the rest of my trip, I wrapped my foot and babied it. I applied heat and ice every few hours and massaged medicated salve that I found in a local drug store.

Late on my fifth day I dined at a five-star restaurant overlooking the Adriatic Sea. A pair of gentlemen flirted with me from across the patio. On their way out, they sent a bottle of Champagne to my table. I didn’t finish even one glass, so before I left, I gave the bottle to a couple who seemed to enjoy the night and each other. I had no idea that those two gentlemen would play a greater part in my life the following year.

By taxi, I returned to the hotel, donned my bathing suit, and wrapped my foot in waterproof Coban. I gathered a few tools and walked from the hotel to the pier. My tour guide and I left Pile Bay at midnight. His translator assured me that this was not the best time to see the area, but I didn’t want a visual spectacle. I wanted to be alone when I dove.

Stiniva Beach offered the best opportunity for my dangerous mission. Towering rock formations encircled a white sand beach, protecting it from the elements. In the cove, my guide dropped anchor about thirty feet from shore. I paid them double their rate and tipped them another thousand euros then told them to leave me. Money in hand, they reluctantly agreed. I slipped into the salty ocean and swam to the beach.

Dull pain throbbed in my ankle as I scaled the cliff. Despite it, I maintained control. With the kind of control that eventually beats a person down, I convinced myself—just as I had convinced the jury—that there was no doubt, no pain, and nothing wrong. I craved to have that control taken away. I wanted to be punished for playing god with another’s life.

Fragrant rosemary grew wild in these rocks and as I hiked through the knee-high plants, their piney scent filled the air. A sliver of moon rose to the east. Dark shadow enveloped the rocky wall all the way to the water below. During daylight, I had found the deepest water to safely plunge into. I hadn’t anticipated how black the night would be. Uneven footing jostled my swollen ankle. Dislodged stones tumbled down the cliff. A loose pile of rocks collapsed under my weight causing me to fall on my butt and slide about ten feet. I caught myself but scraped the heels of both hands. I pressed onward. Adrenaline made me impervious to the pain in my bleeding palms.

I crept upward, step by cautious step. If I could locate it, the ideal jump site dropped straight into the tepid water below. Where I approached the point, the sky turned from black to cerulean blue over the Sea. While checking the stability of the stones beneath my feet I stepped out on the ledge. Visibility increased with the light of dawn. Quickening my forward progress, I finally reached the edge and looked into the black waves below. During daylight, the water was so clear that rocks beneath the surface were apparent. Their location beneath the surface obvious. I recalled that I needed to propel outward about fifteen feet to avoid collision.

Salty breeze whipped my hair into my mouth. Dark water splashed below. Saltwater promised to wash away my sins. Euphoria, fear, excitement, all mixed together in my personal brand of escapism. In the time it took to hit the water below, I would have no control. My burdens would remain on this ledge. And when I hit the water. . .quiet forgiveness would silence my mind.

My arms rested at my side. I curled my toes over the edge of the stony cliff and looked downward. Three seconds of freefall. It was enough. I looked toward the horizon where black water met purple sky, then closed my eyes. I inhaled deeply, bent my knees, placed my arms at my side and propelled outward, away from the rocky ledge.

The launch was a perfect six-point-oh. In flight, I twisted into a somersault then hit the cool water with minimal splash. As I went under, something tore at my leg.

I misjudged.

The force of the impact told me what my senses could not. I didn’t feel the gash as I should have, as I kicked away from the unseen rock and rose to the surface. My fingers found the side of my thigh where sharp coral tore my leg wide open. But cool water and cortisol still denied me the onset of pain.

Winded, I floated on my back and gently kicked my way toward shore. In the shallow water, I limped to shore. I needed to sit but couldn’t afford to get any sand in the wound. In the dark night, I couldn’t see the extent of it. Air stung the bleeding gash and now pain registered in my nervous system. I collapsed on a beach lounger and groaned. My vision clouded, and I knew I lost a lot of blood. As darkness threatened my consciousness, I pulled the Ziplock baggie protecting my cellphone out of my belt bag and called my translator.

In the dim light of the streetlamp, a bloody trail connected me to the sea.

 

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