The Proviso

By: Moriah Jovan




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





Dude and our Tax Deductions #1 and #2





Monica Tachibana, Elizabeth Palmer, Julianne Weight, Jan Leonard, Sheila Reams, Jeanne Johnston, Deb Lefler, Jennifer Cavanaugh, Janice Feldman, Teresa Alexander, and Dawn Triplett





Lorna Lynch for her critique and Elizabeth Palmer for her proof





Nick and Katherine Senzee, and Andy and Chad Livingston





James McKinley (sorry ’bout that “romance novel ending,” Prof) and Lois Spatz, Professors Emeriti, UMKC Department of English Language and Literature





My critique group in ’94 who, I’m pretty sure, would not appreciate being named here. They suffered through a Knox who was far, far more cruel, knew a Bryce and Giselle who were vastly different, and only started to get to know Ford.





The rest of my family (most of whom won’t read this because they’ll know that since I wrote it, it’ll be filthy), who love me no matter what





Vince Melamed, Gary Barnhill, Trisha Yearwood, and Don Henley, for the song “Walkaway Joe,” which, in 1994, made me start wondering about how much a mother might sacrifice to save her child . . .





* * * * *





OKH ENTERPRISES

SUCCESSION PROVISO





April 3, 1985

Upon owner and president Oliver Lake Hilliard’s death, OKH Enterprises (hereinafter referred to as the Company) shall be managed by a chief executive officer appointed by the Board of Directors at will and whenever the need arises. The Company shall then revert to the full control and ownership of F. Knox Oliver Hilliard on December 27, 2008, his fortieth birthday, provided he has married and produced an heir.





Oliver Lake Delano Hilliard

Kansas City, Missouri

4/3/85





* * * * *





AUGUST 2004





“Check out the way he walks. I wonder if he fucks as good as he looks?”

Miss Justice McKinley looked down at the textbooks on the desktop in front of her and felt violated by the predatory tone coming from the woman in the row behind her. Really, she’d thought she’d left all this junior high queen bee business when she graduated from college, but apparently, some girls just never grew up.

She was very beautiful, Sherry was, glossy black hair, very thin, very well dressed—and she knew it. She stood out in the lecture hall full of students who watched and listened to Chouteau County prosecutor Knox Hilliard’s bon mots in between student introductions.

Sherry’s worker bees laughed and slid comments back and forth about Sherry’s tastes, most of which, in Justice’s opinion, were unprintable. Justice even flinched at one particularly nasty remark that she couldn’t avoid hearing, then the back of her chair was kicked and she tossed a glance over her shoulder in irritation.

“Sherry,” Worker Bee Number One whispered, “stop it. She’s gonna get mad.”

“What’s she going to do, read me Bible stories? Look at her! She’s drooling all over her pretty little dress. She wouldn’t know what to do with him if she had him.”

Justice swallowed at the cruelty in the girl’s voice, the nanny-nanny-boo-boo singsong close in her ear, and she cringed at the whisper. “I bet she wants to fuck Knox Hilliard as much as I do. Pay attention, little girl.”

It was a good thing Justice was in front of Sherry and her courtiers because her face flooded with color. She averted her gaze from Professor Hilliard and tried to cool the hot rage and mortification that welled up inside her. It wouldn’t have bothered her so much if Sherry hadn’t cut so close to the truth.

Then it was the Queen Bee’s turn to introduce herself. She kicked Justice’s chair again and Justice blinked away stinging tears before looking up at the handsome attorney.

“Miss Quails,” Professor Hilliard said, his deep voice resonating from the front row of the lecture hall all the way to the most remote corners of the back. “Your turn. What kind of law do you want to practice?”

“Corporate,” she said shortly, “but what I really want to talk about is what you’re doing this weekend? All weekend?”

The room held its collective breath at her brazenness and the professor stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. Then a smile, quick and blinding, flashed across his face. Justice stared at him in awe, as she had for the entire two hours she’d been in this class. If Justice had ever needed to see an example of male beauty and masculine grace, Knox Hilliard was it. Too bad he was only subbing for the real professor.

He began to chuckle as he came closer to Sherry and therefore, closer to Justice. “See me after class and I’ll see what I can arrange,” he murmured, his predatory tone matching Sherry’s perfectly.

“Certainly . . . Knox.”

He still chuckled as he continued with the next person down the row. Justice averted her eyes. Soon she heard, “And what about you, Miss McKinley?”

Justice started, and looked up at him; he watched her expectantly. She could feel her face burn and she cleared her throat. Her nerve endings tingled and she felt slightly nauseated. “I—I want to be a prosecutor,” she said and then, to her horror, she added, “like you.”

Sherry and her clique snickered openly.

Surprise flickered in the man’s ice blue eyes and he smiled in kind bemusement. “Why?”

Justice swallowed again. She felt as if she were on trial, as if her answer would determine her whole future. In three years, half the people in that classroom would be competing for the coveted coup of being hired and trained by Knox Hilliard. Yes, her answer today would determine her whole future.

“I—I want to help people,” she began, caught up in the suddenly changing colors of his eyes and for a brief moment, she forgot all about Sherry. “I think that criminals . . . that they have too many rights. It’s too easy to hurt others for fun and profit.” She went on, gaining confidence in her opinion and strength in her voice as she always did when she spoke on something she believed in.

“There’s no sense of right and wrong anymore. Um, personal property rights—meaning oneself and one’s belongings—were meant to be held sacred. That’s what the Founding Fathers wanted. Life and valuables are cheap now, partly, um, because of the eroding family base and partly because the legal system doesn’t punish criminals well enough. I want to help make the law a deterrent again—to, oh, legally avenge those whose lives are violated by someone else.”

Silence reigned throughout the lecture hall, and Justice could not quite meet the probing gaze of the professor. She stared at her books and tried to hold back tears of frustration and embarrassment.

Then Sherry laughed. Her friends laughed. The room exploded in laughter—raucous, jeering guffaws aimed at Justice, who was only now aware that she had displayed an appalling naïveté for her entire class to see.

This was going to be a long three years.

“ENOUGH!”

The roar was violent, livid, and thoroughly effective as it echoed off the walls of the abruptly silent room. Justice’s head snapped up to see Professor Hilliard leisurely stroll across the dais away from her, his hands in the pockets of his fine gray suit. His face was hard as he glared up at the rows and rows of open-mouthed students.

“How dare you,” he murmured, his tone dangerous. His lazy syntax and country twang were gone. He spoke with precision, his diction flawless. His easygoing manner had disintegrated to hard cynicism in the blink of an eye and Justice stared at him, confused—his outrage had been so immediate, so effortless.

“How dare you denigrate the career goals of a fellow student. I daresay none of you have thought that deeply about what you want and why you want it. None of you have displayed that kind of passion or expressed yourselves so eloquently that the room was enthralled with what you said. None of you were courageous enough to say what you really thought. How dare you sit on your pretentiously cynical asses and laugh at idealism. Idealism is what created this country; it’s what drives it; it’s what allows you to be here on daddy’s money.”

He pointed to different sections of the room in turn. “You. You. You.” He began the trek back across the platform toward Justice. She caught the faintest whiff of an elegant cologne as he leaned alongside her toward Sherry. “And you, Miss Quails,” he purred, and it was not a nice purr.

Justice gulped, glad she was not on the receiving end of the latent violence in his voice. “You can go fuck yourself, because I certainly won’t.”

The collective gasp was palpable. Sherry stammered in confused outrage, even as Professor Hilliard’s regard softened and settled upon Justice who, with tears of mixed gratitude and mortification in her eyes, looked away from his large harshness and golden darkness.

Fingertips under her chin gently forced her face around and up. She blinked to get rid of her tears before his clever ice—no, now dark—blue eyes saw them.

“Do you believe in vigilante justice, Justice?”

She gulped. “No,” she whispered.

“What about theft versus crimes against the body?”

“Property is to be held as sacred as the body and vice versa,” she responded in a voice made stronger after clearing her throat.

“Revenge?”

“No excuse.”

“Biblical and all that.”

“Yes.”

“Black and white?”

“No. Right and wrong.”

Justice followed his line of reasoning without effort because she knew these things, believed these things, believed in the brilliance and genius of the Founding Fathers.

They had touched, somehow, this experienced attorney somewhere in his mid-thirties and Justice, a twenty-two-year-old (today) law student who’d been in classes for a whole five days.

His thumb drifted across her cheekbone as he stood looking down at her; Justice was only minimally aware of the lecture hall full of spellbound students. His mind connected with hers even as his fingertips connected with her skin.

“Very good, Justice,” he murmured.

She stared up into Knox Hilliard’s sapphire eyes and fell in love.

* * * * *

Giselle Cox reached out and brushed the girl’s shoulder. She started, turned, nearly cowering in fear of whatever cutting remark she assumed Giselle would make, her hazel, almost amber, eyes wide.

“You were very good in there,” Giselle said quietly, aware of the wary glances cast their way because she got attention wherever she went whether she wanted it or not. Today, she wanted it; no one who knew any better would bother this girl now that Giselle had marked her just by talking to her.

Giselle inspected Justice closely. Her appearance needed some serious help. She was taller than Giselle by at least three or four inches. An early ’80s-type shirtwaist dress made of printed chintz with a wide white collar hid a body type Giselle could only guess at, but if the legs were anything to go by, she had a lot of potential.

Her hair was a mess. It was a dull dark red mahogany color, frizzy, in a French braid that went to her waist and did nothing to contain the out-of-control frizz.

Her face was odd. That was the only way Giselle could describe it. She had a strange color of foundation on as if she were trying to hide acne, but the skim coat of makeup was smooth, so she must be hiding freckles. That’d go with the hair. Too bad, too, because the girl had exquisite bone structure. Giselle was tempted to take the girl for a makeover just because she’d been so fabulous in class, but cracking open her chrysalis and letting that butterfly loose would have some serious and long-lasting complications.

Heaven only knew, Professor Hilliard didn’t need any more complications at the moment, especially considering what had happened in class. For a variety of reasons, no one would believe for a moment his initial response to Sherry’s proposition had been anything other than an attempt to let her save face, but he’d be lucky not to get fired or sued—or both—over how he had spoken to her after that and then actually touched a student. The F-bomb in class, even.

Giselle snorted. Professor Shit-for-Brains.

No, better Justice look like this for as long as possible in case he was tempted to do something even more stupid.

Justice continued to look down and she mumbled something Giselle couldn’t hear, then her eye was caught just over Justice’s shoulder. Knox stared at her from a staircase across the hall. He slid a cold glance over to Sherry and her brood who huddled together, their outrage palpable. Giselle looked at them, looked back at him and raised an eyebrow. He nodded once and left.

Still mumbling. Dammit, she wished she didn’t have to talk to the top of the girl’s frizzy red head.

“Justice,” Giselle murmured, dipping her body down so she looked up into the girl’s face. She smiled gently as Justice raised her head. “You just go about your business. Believe in yourself and your opinions. Have faith. I don’t know you, but I’m very proud of you.”

Another encouraging smile, then she left the building.

To lie in wait.

“Sherry!” Giselle said brightly as the bitch came around a corner. “Can I, uh, talk to you a minute?”

“Sure, Giselle!”

Giselle’s lip almost curled at the girl’s delight at having finally caught her attention. There were only two reasons Sherry would know her name after only one week in class.

Ten years older than most of the other students, Giselle was a third year on the five-year plan. It wasn’t the most prestigious position to be in, that was for sure, but given her age, the fact that she already had a PhD, and, oh, the fact that she and Professor Hilliard clashed loudly, publicly, and often, she garnered a certain deference—even from other professors.

It also made her a target for crushes of both genders.

Leaving her giggling friends under a tree, Sherry followed Giselle eagerly to an out-of-the-way spot in a thick stand of trees. Giselle turned only to find the girl backed up to a big tree, preening for her. She smiled seductively and approached her slowly with a swing in her hips.