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Home > Complete Me (Stark Trilogy #3)(11)

Complete Me (Stark Trilogy #3)(11)
Author: J. Kenner

Though the gallery is already full of reporters who have come to watch the spectacle of Damien Stark on trial, the area behind the bar is empty with the exception of one man in a uniform who stands at attention and will, presumably, escort the three professional and two lay judges into the courtroom once the proceedings are ready to begin.

Ollie and I walk up the middle aisle toward the bench that sits behind the defense table. As we do, the noise level in the room increases as the occupants whisper among themselves and shift their positions to get a better look at us. Despite the fact that I understand next to nothing in German, I can pick out the sound of my name and Damien’s mixed in among the din. I concentrate on walking forward and on not turning around and slapping the reporter closest to me. On not screaming at the lot of them that this isn’t entertainment—this is a man’s life. This is my life. Our life together.

My back is still to the crowd when the room gets even noisier. I turn, certain of what I will see, and sure enough, the doors are pulled open and there is Damien standing at the threshold. He is flanked by Maynard and Herr Vogel, his German lead counsel, but they are little more than white noise in my vision. It is Damien I want, Damien I see. And now it is Damien striding toward me with such confidence and power it makes my knees go weak.

There are no cameras in the courtroom, so when Damien pulls me into his arms to kiss me, I know this moment will not be captured on film. I wouldn’t care if it was, though. My arms go around his neck, and I cling to him, fighting not to cry, and then fighting to let go, because I cannot clutch him forever.

He releases me and steps back, his eyes burning into me as he gently brushes his thumb across my lips. “I love you,” I whisper, and see the words reflected back in his dual-colored eyes. His smile, however, is sad.

His eyes shift, and I realize he is looking over my shoulder at Ollie. His expression is unreadable. After a moment, he nods in greeting, then turns his attention again to me. He squeezes my hand, then steps through the swinging gate in the bar to sit at the defense table next to his attorneys who have already moved past him and are now opening their briefcases and pulling out documents and files and the other accoutrements of trial work.

I collapse onto the bench, suddenly exhausted. Ollie settles beside me. He says nothing, but I hear the silent question, and I turn to him with a wan smile. “I’m okay,” I say, and he nods in response.

All too soon, the judges enter the courtroom and the proceedings officially begin.

The prosecutor stands. He begins to speak. I do not understand German, but I know what he is saying. He is painting Damien as a young, eager, competitive athlete. But more than an athlete. Because from a very young age, Damien was driven by ambition. He had a head for business, a passion for science.

What he didn’t have was money.

Oh, sure, he started bringing in the prize money, but how much is enough for a young man with dreams of founding an empire? And isn’t that exactly what he did? Isn’t Damien Stark now one of the wealthiest men on the planet?

And how did he get that way? How did he earn that first million?

Did he take out a patent as a young man while still on the tennis circuit? Did he convince his father—who had control over his income as a youth—to invest his tennis winnings?

Or did he inherit that first million from the coach who had trained him? Nurtured him? Doted on him?

And how did Damien repay that attention and affection? He saw dollar signs—and he killed Merle Richter. That first million was blood money, the prosecutor is arguing. Blood money for which the German people now want Stark to pay.

That is the story, and without Damien testifying in counter to it, I am afraid that it is a good one.

The prosecutor seems to speak forever. I watch the faces of the judges. They do not look sympathetic.

When it’s over, I realize that I have drawn blood on my knees. I don’t remember taking a pen out of my purse, but I must have, because I have been digging the point into my flesh.

“Nikki?” Ollie’s voice is sharp beside me.

“I’m fine,” I snap. I lick my finger and try to rub out the spot of blood and ink. Damien will see it, and he will worry about me more than he worries about himself.

As I watch, I see Maynard whisper to Herr Vogel, who is reputed to be one of the best defense attorneys in Bavaria, if not Germany. He’s a polished, practiced man, and I have been impressed with him so far, but now that we’re in court, I’m going in blind and I’m nervous. He rises, readying himself for his chance to speak, when the tallest of the professional judges accepts a piece of paper from his clerk.

He reads it, frowns, and then speaks in rapid-fire German before standing. He aims a hard look at the prosecutor and then at Herr Vogel. Maynard turns to face Damien, and from where I sit I can see the deep lines of his frown.

I have absolutely no idea what is going on, and I don’t think Damien does, either. As if he can feel my thoughts upon him, he turns. What? I mouth, but he only shakes his head, not in dismissal, but in confusion.

At the bench, the professional judges stand and the lay judges follow suit. They don’t look happy.

The tall judge points to Herr Vogel and the prosecutor, and says a few more words in German. Again, I’m left clueless, but considering how quickly the two move to follow him through the heavy wooden door to the court’s inner sanctum, I can tell that something important is going on.

Tense moments pass. Maynard leans over and says something to Damien. Damien shakes his head. The observers in the courtroom shift and mumble, and I know that all eyes in the gallery are on Damien. I am clutching the bench upon which I’m sitting, terrified that if I don’t hold on I will go spinning off into space. And equally afraid that I will dent the wood from my fingers pressing in too tightly.

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