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It's Time! Writing my own star sign, Libra, for this series was so much fun! I can't wait for you to meet Taylor & Ethan!

 

⭐️ ⭐️ Live Now! ⭐️ ⭐️

Exclusively on Amazon for the release week price of 99¢ & availalble on Kindle Unlimited

 

Balanced in Love | Written in the Stars #9

 

Ethan

 

Everyone knows the rules. Don't make a move on a friend's ex. Always take a friend's call at 2 a.m., and whatever you do, never sleep with your best friend's sister.

 

Okay, so I got two out of three right.

 

I've known Taylor since I was seven years old. The cute, feisty kid who used to follow us around is now a gorgeous, grown woman. One night, I gave into the temptation to find out what kissing her would be like.

 

Big mistake.

 

Now, with all our friends heading to the beach to celebrate her birthday, I'll be spending a week under the same roof with the woman I can't stop thinking about, and my best friend—her older brother.

 

Longing glances. Stolen moments. I shouldn't be taking these chances, but I can't resist. Now, I have to figure out how to make things right.

 

Because watching her torn between what she wants and her loyalty to her family is more than I can take.

 

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Chapter One

 
Taylor

“Mrs. Deveraux, do you admit to having shot Mr. Gaston on the date in question?”

Judge Conroy nearly yells the question at the eighty-two-year-old defendant in an effort for her to hear him.

“Well, of course I did.” Her hand swats at the air in exasperation. “I told you, he keeps trying to steal my puss-puss!”

The gallery tries unsuccessfully to hold in a collection of titters, resulting in awkward coughs into palms and snorts into handkerchiefs.

Conroy pulls off his silver-rimmed glasses and tosses them on the desk before dragging his plump palms down his face to dislodge the beads of sweat peppering his brow.

“Mrs. Deveraux, I have asked you to stop using that expression. And as for you,” he grabs the head of his gavel and waves the handle through the air, pointing at the snickering gallery. “If ya’ll don’t stop laughing and making faces, I will clear this courtroom, understood?”

I catch the eye of my friend Nick, who sits in the first row. He has his lips sucked in between his teeth, mouth shut tight, trying to hold in a laugh. I draw my brows together, feigning admonishment. It wouldn’t do for the sketch artist to get thrown out of court, so he narrows his eyes to glare at me and quickly turns away, trying to keep it together.

“Look, Your Honor, I came home from bingo, and there he was, right on my front step. He was stroking her right in front of me. What was I supposed to do? So, I took out my gun and shot him right in the face. Puss-puss flinched—she was startled, you see, by all his flailing around.”

Mrs. Deveraux punctuates her description by throwing her arms in the air and gyrating wildly.

The assembled crowd can’t control themselves. They all start roaring with laughter.

“They’re laughing at you, ya know.” Mrs. Deveraux jabs a bony finger in the air toward the Mr. Gaston. “You looked ridiculous.” She crosses her arms, turning her nose up triumphantly.

“You shot me with Tabasco sauce, you lunatic!” Gaston puts his hands out, palms up, and gestures between Mrs. Deveraux and Judge Conroy. “You see what I deal with, Your Honor?”

Conroy bangs his gavel repeatedly. “Order! Order in this courtroom and I mean now.” He tilts his head in my direction and meets my gaze. I grin and give him a subtle half-shrug.

He rolls his eyes, turns back to the courtroom and bangs his gavel again. “I’ve heard enough. Defendant, please rise.”

Mrs. Deveraux looks around for a moment. Gaston points at her. “He means you.”

“Oh!” She puts her gnarled fingertips on the edge of the table. Her stance is unsteady, but her demeanor belies a confidence as solid as the hundred-year-old courthouse we’re standing in.

Judge Conroy casts a stern look in her direction. “Mrs. Deveraux, this is a very serious matter. You could have caused grievous injury to Mr. Gaston here, or had he not known you, he might’ve perceived you as an imminent threat. Had he been armed, none of us would be in this courtroom today, and instead, your family would be visiting you out at Forest Lawn. Do you understand the seriousness of your actions?”

“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t have shot him.” She looks down, like a scolded child, before pleading her case. “But he should leave my puss-puss alone, too.”

Gaston rolls his eyes, folding his arms across his chest in a huff.

“Do you wish to add anything before I impose sentence, Mrs. Deveraux?”

She opens her mouth to speak, raising one finger in the air, then closes it again, and shakes her head.

“Josephine Deveraux, I find you guilty of simple assault against Raul Gaston on the fourth of May at your residence, number eight-twenty-two Landis Avenue in the city of Charlotte. I hereby sentence you to time served. I am releasing you on your own recognizance, and you will pay restitution for the pain and suffering of Mr. Gaston in the amount of one thousand, five hundred dollars, plus the fees of this court.” Judge Conroy leans forward, looking the octogenarian assailant square in the eye. “And Jo, I don’t wanna see you back in my courtroom, now, you understand?”

“All right, Emmett.” She quickly puts her fingers up to her lips, realizing her slip. “I mean, Your Honor.”

He nods once and strikes his gavel against the sound block decisively.

“Do I get my gun back?” She asks, raising her finger in the air.

Conroy turns to the bailiff. “It is further ordered that Mrs. Deveraux’s weapon, one blue and green Super Soaker water gun, be destroyed so it can bring no further harm to the fine upstanding members of Mrs. Deveraux’s community. We are adjourned for lunch.” He bangs his gavel once more and nods in my direction. “Miss Tarver, my chambers.”

I follow the judge through the back exit of the courtroom, my heels clip-clopping furiously against marble tile floor as I try to keep pace.  A moment later, we step through the large oak door of his chambers.

“Millie, can you order…”

“On your conference table.” His assistant of the past twenty years flashes a smug grin and winks at me as we pass. “No pickle. I checked.”

“Better not be a damn pickle in there.” He mumbles, absent-mindedly waving a hand in the air as we walk into his office. He hangs his robe on the coatrack by the door, grabs a box from the table and sits down in the large, leather chair behind his desk, expelling an exasperated groan as the chair creaks under his considerable size.

I drop my files on the table, walk over to the mini fridge, and grab two bottles of water. Setting them down on his desk, I grab my boxed lunch, and sit down in the guest chair across from him.

“That was a doozy.” I say with a sigh.

“How many this afternoon?” I swallow the first swig of water and quickly stand to grab my iPad from the stack of files and pull up the calendar. “Three this afternoon. Tomorrow’s worse, I’m afraid. Seven.”

“Seven?!” He exclaims through a bite of turkey sandwich, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth as he swallows. “Jesus, be a fence!” He casts his eyes upward to accompany the exclamation. “How Wallace and Humphries are both out the same week is beyond me, but I will not stand for it again, I can promise you that.” He nods once and tucks back into his sandwich.

“So, since she called you Emmett, I take it you know Mrs. Deveraux?”

He chuckles. “Well, she has wiped my ass a time or two, so you could say that.” He raises a brow, his eyes dancing as he looks over to see if I’ll take the bait.

I think for a moment, then snap my fingers. “Your babysitter? That’s it, isn’t it? She was your babysitter when you were little.”

“Damn. Nothing gets past you anymore Taylor. I may have to see about getting a new clerk who doesn’t know all my stories.”

“No one else will put up with your shenanigans. Besides, you love me, and you know it.” I scrunch my nose and take another bite of egg salad.

“You got me there. I do like having you around.” He grins. I really have grown on the old curmudgeon.

He’s the gruffest judge in the lower court and went through five clerks in the three years before I came on board. In reality, he’s a total teddy bear once you get past that tough exterior. He just expects excellence from everyone. I wasn’t sure I’d make it through that first week in his courtroom, but four years later, I’m still here.

There’s a rap at the door, and Millie cracks it open. “Your appointment is here.”

“Show her in.” The judge’s eyes glimmer with excitement as he kicks off his shoes and leans down, with some effort, to peel out of his socks. As he does, a familiar blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail comes in and starts setting up beside his desk. “You doing all right, Judge?”

“Good, Sara. You? How’re the boys?”

“They’re little hellions. I keep telling ‘em they’re gonna end up in your court if they don’t watch their asses.”

She busies herself unfolding a collapsible stool and plugs in the cord to the small foot bath in the wall socket behind her.

I decide now, while he’s on the cusp of his weekly indulgence in relaxation, is the best time to remind him about my upcoming time off.

“Damn. I forgot all about that. You sure you don’t want to push that back? Take your time the same week I’m out next month?” He arches a brow, mustering all the charm he can with his grin. “That box of cheesecake I send you for the holidays might be twice as big this year.”

I chuckle, crossing my arms as I sit back in my chair. “I always appreciate your holiday gift, but I’m afraid my mind is made up. My friends and I are all going to the beach. You’ll be in very capable hands with Levi.”

I know Conroy is set in his ways and isn’t a fan of the court clerk who fills in whenever I’m absent.

His face screws up into a scowl and he shakes his head. “I suppose I can’t stop you from taking your time.” He looks off for a minute, as if searching his brain for some statute that will let him cancel my vacation. “No, no I don’t suppose I can. Well, I hope you enjoy yourself while I’m stuck here with some blithering idiot taking your place.”

Sara pours water from a large thermos and begins rolling up the judge’s pant legs. “Now, you tell me if it’s too hot.”
The pale skin on the bottom of Conroy’s feet hit the foamy water of the pink bath that’s barely big enough to contain them. He lets out a long, slow breath and his hulking form softens as the wave of relaxation takes over him. “No ma’am. It’s perfect.”

“Good.” She smiles at him, patting the side of his knee, and unrolls her kit. She cranes her neck a bit, looking down at my feet, which are crossed at the ankle under my chair. “I’ll be at the shop when ya’ll finish for the day if you wanna come by, Taylor. I got some new pinks in—that brand you and your friend like.”

“Not today, but I’ll see if Gabi and I can make it by the shop tomorrow night.” I smile, taking the last bite of my sandwich as I scroll through the rest of the week’s calendar.

Sara gets to work on Conroy’s feet, and he slumps back in his chair, a goofy grin across his usually stern face. I grab his phone, unlocking it with the passcode I’ve known for years, and set an alarm for ten minutes before we’re due to be back in the courtroom.

“Alarm’s set, sir. I’ll be back before it goes off.” He gives me a half-hearted wave off without opening his eyes and I head to my office to prepare for the rest of our day.

When I sit down at my desk, I indulge in a quick social media fix. When I open Facebook, the photo that pops up under memories from this day is from five years ago. Brody, Ethan, and me, stand, posing for my dad. I’m in the middle, arms around both their waists. Brody is leaned in close, his head cocked to the side, resting against mine. On the other side, Ethan has his arm around my shoulders, and is pressing a kiss to my temple.

Shit. I’d forgotten all about that picture.

My pulse quickens as I try to reel myself back in, try to stop my brain from going to a place where this affectionate moment meant more than it did. I don’t want to read into this image as a precursor to what happened last weekend.

Last weekend was a mistake. I am not the kind of girl who does random hookups. My best friend Gabi? She has mastered the no-strings-attached good time. I’m jealous of that, in a lot of ways. For me, though, sex isn’t a sport. It’s not a quick release I can have with just any attractive guy. I have to be connected to the person.

And that’s the problem.

I’ve been single for a while. Maybe my physical needs got the better of me, or maybe it was the afternoon spent drinking beer and having fun with my friends that got me a little too relaxed. Maybe it was a little bit of a crush from my teenage years, come to life. In any case, a one-night stand was not a good idea.

A one-night stand with my brother’s best friend? Disaster.

If Brody finds out, he’ll kill Ethan, then probably kill me, too.

My phone buzzes in my hand, startling me from my thoughts.

GABI: Let’s go shopping tonight. Need to pick up some last-minute things for the beach next week.

I sink back against my chair and groan.

Next week, all my friends are heading down to Isle of Palms. We go down every September, just before fall really kicks in, and celebrate my birthday. Gabi’s cousin owns a big house right on the beach, and we’ll all be there for a week. And when I say we, that includes Brody and Ethan.

ME: Sounds good. My house at six?

GABI: I’ll pick you up. Can’t wait to get my beach on!

Perfect. Now all I have to do is spend a week in the same house with my brother and Ethan and pretend that the best night of my life never happened. What could possibly go wrong?

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© 2019 by Jennifer Woodhull.