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Near Her

Summary:
The latest installment in the For Her series, sequel to Protect Her, Love Her, Hold Her, Keep Her, From Her, With Her, and Beside Her. Quil and Claire have finally triumphed. Despite the obstacles littering thier way, they are at last happy. What happens when the darkest secret of their past comes back and threatens to seperate them forever?


Notes:
I disclaim. Y'all should read the sequels first.


11. Chapter 11

Rating 5/5   Word Count 996   Review this Chapter

She sighed and shifted a little in the chair. “In all honesty, no, I don’t. I believe he was talking to my father. Confronting him, as it were. And getting him to sign the papers, or picking up my stuff, or something. He went to my father’s house. I do not believe that is why my father died.”

“Thank you. Your Honor, no more questions for this witness.”

The man in the black robes raps twice on the gavel. “Do you have any questions?”

“Yes. A few. Mrs…” Paul caught sight of my face. “Dr. Ateara, tell us about your husband. What kind of person is he?”

If anything, the nervousness was redoubled. It’s a bit like the first time I asked her to be mine, combined with the anxiety of being on trial for murder.

But, as I probably should have expected, Claire had nothing but kind words to say of me. No, that’s an understatement. She lavished praise I couldn’t possibly have earned. A part of me disbelieved her, while the larger whole swelled with pride.

“Quil is… the best person I know. He is kind, and compassionate, and infinitely gentle, and incredibly patient. For some reason, he saw something in me that made him decide to wait. And he did. He waited for me to choose to love him. He waited for me to stop being afraid. He waited, and waited, and loved me through it all. He’s always been there for me, always. You know, he moved with me all the way to North Carolina so he could get a job and pay for me to go to college there? So I could be a doctor. Fulfill my dream. Nothing about him. Nothing’s ever about him. He is incredibly selfless. He has never hurt me or anyone else, as far as I know… he looks kind of scary, but he’s harmless.

“When he asked me to marry him, I said no. The next day, I left him. For a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with this case at all. If he were a violent person, he wouldn’t have stood there and watched me walk away. He wouldn’t have wished for me to be happy, or keep working so I could live in the apartment with him and go to school with his money—even while I was breaking his heart. He wouldn’t have been able to. But he did.”

Oh, Claire.

Could she really think I could hurt her? Lash out against her? No matter what she did?

If it makes her happy… How could I blame her, when all I want is the same goal she worked towards?

I cleared my head carefully. This wasn’t what she meant. I was myself enough to know she doesn’t think I would hurt her. She’s trying to convince them of the same truth.

“He is romantic. Loving. Unbelievably and unquestionably devoted. I am proud to say that he is my husband, my best friend, the father of my children. He is simply a good person. Good people, as a general rule of thumb, don’t commit murder.”

“Thank you, Dr. Ateara. That’s all.”

“Any more witnesses?” the judge looked from face to face. “No? All right. Make your closing statements, please.”

The other guy stood up first. “I am not debating that Quil Ateara is a genuinely good man who loves his family. What I’m saying is it’s a more than reasonable assertion to ask what lengths he would go to in order to protect that family. He was in town at the time of the crime. He admits himself to having been at the victim’s house.”

I restrained a snarl. Jack Denson was not a victim. No one could deserve what he got more than that monster did. He was a criminal who I was able to punish to a fraction of the extent he deserved.

Paul gave me the ‘really not helpful’ look, and I sighed and silenced myself.

“He was in town at the time the murder was committed. He had a motive. He had the means—sheer physical violence. The victim, as Claire’s earlier testimony established, was not a large man. Her husband clearly is.

“I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to consider the evidence and do justice. It is not right for a man to take the law in his own hands this way. You are the law, and I ask you to do what is right.”

He sat down. Paul stood, giving me a final cautioning look. I stilled the tremors in my hand. “I have personally known this man all his life. And what I’m asking you to do is look at the evidence. Look at the facts, and see the holes there. Yes, he was in the right place at the right time. Yes, he loves his wife.

“But we require more than that circumstantial evidence to convict someone. And there is reasonable doubt. Jack Denson did not die from injuries caused by a human’s violence. He was mauled by a wild animal, likely a bear or a wolf. That may be the only evidence I have to offer, but it’s all I need. If justice is done, this reasonable doubt will be what you consider when you give your verdict.

“We cannot conclusively prove that this father and husband, this kind and upstanding man, somehow turned into a wild beast and committed murder. And that is precisely what a guilty verdict is evidence of believing.”

I snorted a little into my hand. That’s exactly what I did do.

“Thank you.”

Paul looked at me.

“Good job, man,” I whispered to him. I’m impressed by his uncharacteristic eloquence.

“Thanks.”

The judge rapped the gavel three times.

Now… there was nothing to do but wait.