It dawned on her. Ephraim lived in the dudgeon. He lived in one of the tiny cells she looked at now. He survived years of torture and somehow came out whole. She couldn’t believe it. It broke her heart to think of the things he lived through.

“Are you okay?” a voice whispered.

She jumped, startled and looked up into kind green eyes. Chris was leaning over her desk watching her. She cleared her throat. “Yes, I’m fine, Chris. Why?”

He picked up the box of tissues on the desk and handed them to her. “You’re crying.”

“Oh!” She wiped her face quickly. “Just a sad story on the web.”

Chris nodded slowly. He didn’t believe her, but he wasn’t going to push. “Stick with puppies and rainbows then, Miss. Soloman. I don’t like seeing you unhappy.” He walked back to his friends.

A loud knock at the door sent the kids scrambling for their text books, except for Chris that is. He leaned back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head.


Principal Mason stepped inside. “I’m sorry to do this, but it seems that we have a bit of a problem.”

She stood up cautiously. “Problem?”

“Yes, seems Carol’s parents came home today from their vacation. They saw her face and demanded to know what happened. So they called me and the police. We need to settle this now.” He addressed everyone in the room.

Madison watched Chris’s jaw clench. She knew what he was thinking. He was about to get the finger pointed at him. “It’s okay everyone,” she spoke to the class, but looked at him. He nodded firmly.

“The six of you I want on this side of the room and behave yourself,” Mason said.

Carol walked in huddled by her parents. They brought her to the other side of the classroom. Mike, his parents, a man Madison had no doubt was a lawyer judging by his expensive three piece suit, and several of the boys Chris liked to call “preppy” walked in.

“Please have a seat,” Mason said.

The lawyer gestured for his clients to go to the end of the room. “I’m sorry this should be cleared up soon.” Mason glanced at Chris.

This could not get any worse. Correction, it could. Ephraim strolled into the room looking very much like a man not to cross seconds later.


Ephraim walked into the room. He walked past Madison, taking a deep breath as he passed her. He missed her. It surprised him, but he did. He never missed anyone. He’d outlived his family and every friend he ever made and never once thought of them once they were gone, except for Marc. He missed his brother when he allowed himself any emotion.

It was the way things were supposed to be. He understood it and accepted it. Everyone’s time would come, except his. Hers would come, too. He would have to deal with that one day. His chest tightened every time he thought about that. This woman was killing him.

He sat behind her desk and leaned back looking relaxed. His eyes slowly ran over everyone in the room. He knew a few of the boys to his left. They were good kids, troublemakers but good. The last two on that side he would guess were bookworms. His eyes met Chris’s for a mere second before moving on.

The football players in the back had his attention, but he wouldn’t show it. With less than a half hour after his call they lawyered up. He did a quick search before he left his office and found several domestic violence calls that went nowhere. There was talk about the boy. His eyes passed over the computer screen on her desk quickly before fixing on the young lady who looked like she went nine rounds with Tyson.

His jaw clenched as he looked back at Madison’s computer. It seemed he wasn’t the only one that did his research today. Without taking his eyes off the group he clicked the back button to see what else she’d discovered.

What he found didn’t make him happy. It only added to his temper. She knew. He knew it had been a mistake to write his full name on that note. He clicked again and sat up straight.

“Hey, can we get this over with I have practice,” Mike, one of his suspects, said.

“Shut it,” Ephraim said. He forced himself to relax as he got up. He strolled over to Madison, giving his back to the room.

“You’ve been busy,” he said softly.

She swallowed loudly. “Yes, you wouldn’t answer my questions.”

“Print the pictures for me would you?” he asked softly.

“Are you going to answer my questions?”

He groaned.

“Hey, I have practice!” his main suspect complained.

Ephraim looked over his shoulder in time to see Mike being pulled back down by his father. The little shit thought he was going to walk out on him, did he? Interesting. “Get out of that seat again and I’m hauling you in for questioning.”

“Don’t move,” his father whispered harshly. “And shut your mouth.”

Ephraim looked back at Madison. “Well?”

“What do you mean, well?”

“Will you do it?”

“What’s in it for me?”

His eyes dropped to her lips. “Whatever you want.”

“Tonight, we talk for two hours and you answer my questions.”

His eyebrows arched. “Two hours?” He could do a great deal in two hours preferably with her beneath him. Shit. He had to stop thinking about her.

She nodded. “Two hours, and I’ll have those pictures blown up for you.”

“Okay,” he said slowly.

“Hey, should we have a lawyer too?” a boy asked.

Ephraim turned around. It was Chris. A funny laid back kid who found his way under arrest every now and then for petty shit. Mostly for beating his mother’s boyfriends after they laid a hand on him or for defending himself on the street. Three years ago the kid caught his attention and he’d made it a special point to keep an eye on him.

“No, right now no one is under arrest. I have a few questions to ask. Since your parents aren’t here I’ve asked Mr. Mason and Miss. Soloman to stand in to make sure that your rights are not trampled. Is that choice fine with you?”

Chris shot a look at Madison. The boy trusted her. Good. He was smart. “If I feel I need to question you further after this then we will make sure your parents are involved. Is that understood?”

“Yes,” Chris said. He was the clear leader of his group. The other boys looked at him expectantly.

“This is bullshit,” Mike said. “I’ll miss practice.”

“Yes, you’ve said as much,” Ephraim said dryly. He looked over at the young girl. She refused to go to the hospital until after this was settled, but she wouldn’t name anyone. That was interesting too.

“I’m going to ask you again before I talk to these boys. Who hit you?” He’d rather ask her in private again, but her parents demanded they do it this way. They expected their daughter to be strong and do the right thing. They obviously didn’t understand real fear.

She shook her head.

“That’s what I thought.”

Mike shot to his feet. “See, this is a waste of time. I’m going to practice.” He ripped his arm away from his father’s grip and stalked down the aisle towards Ephraim.

The boy was six feet tall, large and obviously an ass**le. Ephraim was used to dealing with ass**les. With his jaw set tightly he walked forward. Mike paused, unsure what to do. He probably wasn’t used to people staying in his war path.