A Recovered Innocence Novel #1
Cora. . . . I got my driver’s license on my sixteenth birthday so I could visit my brother in prison. Five and a half years later, he’s stilllocked up for a murder he didn’t commit and I’m still trying to find a way to set him free. Then I hear about Nash Security and Investigation, a private detective agency that helped exonerate a wrongfully convicted man after thirty-nine years in prison. The problem? They’ve already taken on the one pro-bono case they’ll accept this year.
Leo. . . . I’m this close to finishing law school—and never working another day at my dad’s P.I. office—when Cora Hollis walks through the door. She’s got a box of files, a handful of leads, and an independent streak a mile wide. She fascinates me and I can’t say no. Suddenly I’m volunteering to help her find a missing witness who could be the key to her brother’s case. But nothing is what it seems and giving in to the attraction between us could be more dangerous than finding the real murderer.
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~~Praise for Vindicate~~
“Rich in angst with a strong romantic suspense plot, Vindicate is a solid start to Yarnall’s Recovered Innocence series.” ~ RT Book Reviews
“Suspense filled, passionate and humorous, Vindicate was an extremely captivating read.” ~ Tome Tinder
“As a whole this was an entertaining and action packed book and nice bit of escapism. Definitely recommended. ” ~ Pop Kitty Reviews
I got my driver’s license on my sixteenth birthday so I could visit my brother in prison. California Institute for Men in Chino, California, sounds like one of those super-snooty colleges you have to be rich to get into or else be the next generation in a long line of alumni. But this is no college. Chino Men’s, as it’s referred to, is one of the most violent prisons in the state.
That’s where they sent my brother to serve out his life sentence.
Five and a half years later, I’ve made the nearly two-hour trip from San Diego to Chino and back close to a hundred times. Four hours of driving to spend an hour—or more, if I’m lucky—with my brother. If I’ve gotten too late a start and visiting hours are over before my number is called or if Beau’s visitation has been revoked because he’s done something stupid, I don’t get to see him at all.
I don’t count those times.
“Seventy-three,” one of the corrections officers intones.
I stand and give my number to the guard, like I’m in a deli about to order lunch or something.
“Name,” he says.
“Sister.” You’d think he’d recognize me by now. I’ve been here so many times. But every time he acts like it’s my first visit and puts me through the same drill.
I’ve already been through the metal detector, searched, and patted down so thoroughly I’m questioning my sexuality. Another guard comes over to lead me to a room full of lockers where I stow my cellphone and car keys. Then I finally get to follow him to the visiting room, where Beau is already waiting for me.
Sometimes it takes me a moment to recognize him. He looks so unlike my brother. This bullshit prison has stolen more than years from Beau’s life. It’s robbed him of his dignity and anything resembling happiness.
I want to give him a hug, but that’s not allowed. Instead, I drop into my seat opposite him. “I put twenty extra dollars in your commissary account this month.”
Beau looks away, picking at the side of his thumb with his index finger. Even as a kid he always did this whenever he was agitated or annoyed. “I don’t need it.”
His narrowed gaze swings back to me. It’s his mean big-brother look, the one he always tries to intimidate me with. It didn’t work when we were kids and it doesn’t work now.
“I don’t need a present,” he says. “You need the money more.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t take it back out, so you’re stuck with it. Happy birthday.”
“Some fucking birthday.”
“I’d have brought some pointy hats and balloons, but they wouldn’t fit up my ass.”
“Watch your fucking mouth.” He’s barely two years older than me, but he’s always taken the job of big brother seriously. Even after all he’s been through.
“You’re a fantastic example,” I tell him.
I mean it as a joke, but it falls flat as Beau’s ever-roaming gaze takes in the room around us. Since being incarcerated, my once fun-loving prankster of a brother has turned into a suspicious, twitchy, hypervigilant, hardened I don’t dare comment on the fading bruise under his left eye or his freshly sheared hair. He always looked like he needed a haircut even after an appointment with the barber. But that was
Before he was arrested, then convicted for the brutal rape, sodomy, and murder of his ex-girlfriend Cassandra. Before our family was torn apart and life as we knew it changed forever. Before I watched, helpless, as my brother turned into someone I hardly recognize anymore.
“Yeah, I’m not exactly winning Best Big Brother of the Year this year or any year, am I?”
I hate it when he puts himself down. “You’re at the top, as far as I’m concerned.”
He makes a rude noise, but doesn’t comment.
“Did you get my card?” I ask.
“I got it. Thanks. How’s school going?”
“I’m taking a really great online class this summer.” I never got around to telling him that I quit school last year to work and save money for a possible appeal of his case. Or that the job I took is in a law office, where I have ample access to the law library and case reviews.
“It’s not on something stupid like criminal law or how to be a private investigator, is it?”
I shift in my seat.
“Aww, shit, Cora. You promised you’d give up on the stupid idea that you could get me out of here. Why are you wasting your time? I’m a lost cause. Everyone knows it. Take those beauty classes like you always wanted. Face the fact that you can’t do what Mom’s and Dad’s lawyers and the public defender couldn’t. I’m done. You’re not. You still have a life.”
“I don’t believe that, Beau, and neither should you. Those charges were bullshit then and they’re bullshit now. You didn’t kill her. There’s no way I’ll ever believe it and I’m never going to stop looking for a way to get you out of here.”
“Doesn’t really matter if I did it or not. I’m convicted, aren’t I?”
“I wasn’t going to tell you this because I knew what you’d say, but I think I might have a new lead.”
He holds up a hand. “Stop it. Stop it, right now.”
I ignore him and continue. “I think I found a witness who could—”
“Damn it, Cora! I told you to stop.”
His outburst has a couple of the guards coming off the wall where they’ve been leaning and looking at him hard. Beau waves them back and takes a deep breath, scrubbing his hands over his face.
“My life is ruined,” he finally says. I hate it when he talks like this. I refuse to believe that he’ll never get out of here. I refuse to believe that the criminal justice system that failed him won’t ever redeem itself by righting its wrong and setting him free.
“Your life isn’t,” he continues. “I don’t want any more of this to touch you. For fuck’s sake, let it go.” He leans across the table at me. His look and tone turn threatening. “Let it go.” Then he gets up from the table and heads for the door that will take him back to his cell, ending our visit.
“Happy birthday!” I call after him. “I love you!”
He doesn’t respond or acknowledge me in any way. His mind is already back on the cell block. I’ve screwed up this visit and his birthday. I have to find a way to make it up to him, but I know nothing short of getting him out of this hellhole will make it right.
As I stand to leave, I wonder why I bother with these visits. He never seems to enjoy them, is never glad to see me. If anything, he appears to be annoyed and inconvenienced by my visits. He’s given up on himself just as our mother, then our father, gave up on him. Maybe, I think, as I burst out of the prison and into the blazing mid-afternoon sun, I keep up the visits to give us both something we haven’t had in a long, long time—hope.
But hope is a dangerous thing to court when there’s nothing to support it. Sometimes it almost feels as if I’m tipping headfirst into a kind of vicious insanity where I keep doing the same things over and over, expecting different results. It’s no way to live, but it’s my life. And it’s Beau’s until I can figure out a way to get him out of here.
I climb into my car and curse its lack of air-conditioning. I have the money to fix it, but it’s not my money—it’s Beau’s. So I roll down the windows and crank up the radio over the sound of the wind and head for home.
Some NPR talking head begins the hour with one of those feel-good stories that people like to repost over and over on social media. About how there really is good in the world and good in people. But with the prison behind me, and a long, hot drive ahead of me, I’m finding it hard to believe there’s anything good or just here or anywhere else in the world.
Something the host says has me cranking up the sound on my crappy radio as high as it will go.
“—your work with The Freedom Project led to the release of Maurice Battle after he spent nearly forty years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.”
I jerk the wheel and skid to a stop on the shoulder. A cloud of dust comes up around the car and into my rolled-down windows. I cough, scrambling for the notebook I always keep in my bag, as the man being interviewed answers.
“Our agency takes on one pro bono case per year. We devoted as much time, energy, and effort toward this case as we do all of our cases. We’re thrilled that our work led to the exoneration of Mr. Battle.”
“ agency?” I scream at the radio, my pen poised to write it down.
They talk a little bit more about the case and the evidence the agency found that made all the difference, and I feel like I was meant to hear this story. That my fight with my brother was part of a grander scheme that put me in my car at the exact moment when the information I needed to help Beau would be handed to me.
The story is winding down and I still don’t know who this magician is who freed a wrongfully convicted man. A truck honks at me just as the host is thanking his guest and I catch only the last part of his sentence before they cut to the next segment.
“—Nash Security and Investigation.”
“What city? ” I yell at the radio as the commercial starts. Something about getting lower insurance rates that I couldn’t give two shits about.
I’m thankful to have that much, at least, as I grab my cellphone to test my Google-fu and see if I can figure out where in the U.S. this Nash agency is. But I’m in the middle of the godforsaken California desert and there’s no service.
I stuff my phone into my bag and pull back out onto the freeway, thinking about what I just learned. I never look for signs or believe in fate or angels or anything I can’t touch, taste, see, smell, or hear, but I can’t ignore the feeling deep in the pit of my stomach that I’m onto something big here. That finally there might be someone who can help me help Beau.