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The Flavor of Love
 
Japanese District Court Judge Keigo Kyou, has the fortune or misfortune
to meet renowned Psychic Chef, Etta Jones after an irate customer hauls
her into his televised courtroom. When she refuses to adhere to the
rules of his court, she leaves him no alternative but to charge her a
fine and have her arrested. What does one do with a sassy psychic chef?
Hire them of course. The only thing is Etta, may be a little more than
his well-organized lifestyle can handle. When the cooking flour settles,
Keigo and Etta will learn unanticipated romance comes from unpredicted
places, in the most astonishing flavors.
The Flavor of Love
PROLOGUE
 
San Francisco, 2004
 
“What is it Mom?  You’re having a vision aren’t you?  I can tell.”  Etta clasped her mother’s cool hand in hers.  Before her mother could reply, she let go of her fingers and moved towards the glass window of the waiting room as the double outside doors opened in the corridor.  “They are bringing in someone else!”
Her mother came to stand beside her.  Etta moved to the opening of the reception room door and waited for them to come by.  She looked on in horror, her breath catching in the back of her throat as the third hospital gurney in the past fifteen minutes rolled through the automatic doors of the hospital emergency room.  Fisting the ample skirts of the wet and stained white taffeta wedding gown she wore, she lifted them and rushed forward towards the approaching gurney.
“Oh God…don’t let it be him,” she prayed.  Her mother grasped her arm to pull her out of the way as they rushed by. 
“Mom, did you see all the blood?  I know it wasn’t Toby because I could tell the man wasn’t a Black man, but it could have been Neil. Could you tell?”
“It wasn’t Neil, Etta dear,” her mother, Fay Jones, announced placing a hand on her arm.
“If it wasn’t Neil, why did you have that look on your face when the gurney passed?” she argued.
“Etta, sweetheart, calm down,” her mother crooned.  “It wasn't Neil.  The man was Asian.”
“Did you have a vision?”
A light frown puckered the older woman’s brow.  “Yes, about the man that just entered the emergency room.”
“Is he going to make it?”
“Yes, but I’m afraid the people with him didn’t make it.”  She tugged on Etta’s arm.  “Come, let’s go back into the waiting room and have a seat.  We are just in the way out here.”  
“I don’t want to sit down.  I can’t” Etta fretted, strolling back inside the sitting area.  Her shaking fingers twisted at the delicate ivory-laced trimmed handkerchief in her hands.  She looked at the kerchief.  It was the “something old” because it once belonged to her great-great grandmother who hand-stitched the trellis of blue roses sprouting from the center.  The color also gave her the “something blue.” 
It was her dream to carry on the traditions of the women in her family and carry this most precious heirloom down the aisle with her. It also represented the “something borrowed” because it currently belonged to her mother until the day she passed away.  All of the women that carried this token of love had remained with their husbands until death did them part.  There had never been a divorce; however the women in her family always outlived the men they married.  So that could be why the divorce rate was low and the widow rate was high. 
Etta reached up to finger the “something new.”  Neil had gifted her, as a pre-wedding gift, a pair of squared diamond-studded earrings that she now wore in the second piercing of her ears.
“Dammit, someone should have told us something by now.  Didn’t they call because they were on the way here?  If so, why aren’t they here?”
If her emotional outburst disturbed the others in the waiting room, they didn't let on. 
“Etta, keep your voice down.  This is a hospital emergency room,” Fay chastised.  “Everyone here is suffering along with you and getting angry at the medical staff is not going to change what has happened.  This is a big hospital and if they came in by helicopter, they most likely came in through another entrance.”
Etta took in a long breath of air and blew it out slowly.  Her mother was right.  They could be here somewhere in the hospital being helped and this wasn't just happening to her.  This awful moment in time was happening to everyone from her family to Neil's and others that were involved in the accident.  Her eyes trailed over to her brother's girlfriend.  Each of them had someone they love to lose.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized to her mother.  “Still, if you do sense that Neil or Toby has left us, you would tell me, wouldn’t you?”
“Etta…” her voice trailed off.  Tears welled in her soft brown eyes.  “Don’t ask this of me, please.  With the wedding and all, it…I’ve been an emotional wreck all day.  I don’t trust all of what I’m seeing.  Let’s just wait it out like we would if I didn’t have visions.”
“Mom, I can tell you’re dancing around my question.  You knew Daddy had passed away in his sleep before we left the hospital cafeteria and went back up to his room.  Don’t start lying to me now.  Not today, when I need you the most,” she begged.
“Etta.”  Fay’s expressive face changed and became somber.
“I knew it.  You do know.”  Etta's voice grew flat.  “Who is it mom?  Neil?  Toby?”
“Etta, don’t make me say it aloud,” she sobbed, biting on her bottom lip.
“Is it both of them?  Mommy, noooo!” 
“No…no, not both of them…it’s…” Her mother's lovely face crumpled in grief. 
“Who?”  Etta hissed.  “Just say it!”
“What’s going on over here?”
Etta looked up through tear-filled eyes at Neil’s father, Frank Tutillo, as he approached and placed a comforting hand on her mother’s arm.  “What’s going on?  You’ve heard something?”
“Mom has had a vision about Neil and Toby.  One of them didn’t make it.”
“Is that true?” Frank’s shaggy eyebrows came together in a frown. “I respect your gift Fay, but if you don’t mind, I rather wait and hear what the doctors have to say.”
“This is why I didn’t say anything.  At this time, I don’t believe my visions will benefit anyone in my current state of mind.  I don’t feel I can rely on my own visions as the moment and I tried to explain this to my daughter.  It would be best if we wait and see what happens,” Fay murmured.
Etta grew still.  She heard her mother’s words but she knew from experience her mother’s visions about death were never wrong.  She also knew if the one that had died affected only their family she wouldn’t avoid saying it aloud.  It had to be Neil.  Her mother didn’t want to dash away what little hope his father was holding on to. 
She didn’t know if she could take another breath knowing Neil was gone.  How could she pretend to be oblivious in front of Frank when she felt as if she was dying inside?  
“I can’t breathe.”  Etta moved off to the side and leaned against the wall.
“Etta, don’t do this.  Baby, please don’t come to any conclusions,” Fay said and walked over to where she was standing.  “Let’s wait and see what the doctor will say, okay?”
Neil…Neil…Neil.  His name played over and over in her mind like a scratched place on his favorite jazz album.  There was no way he would leave her on their wedding day.  He wanted this as much as she did.  They were in the midst of the beginning of an awesome future.  Neil signed a new six-year football contract.  They’d just placed a down payment on a new house with enough room for the three children they’d planned on having.
She closed her eyes for a moment and a wretched moan tore from her throat before she whispered, “I can’t do this.  Your visions aren’t ever wrong when it comes to death.  We both know this and if it had been Toby, you would have just said so.  But because it’s Neil, you didn’t want to tell his father the truth.”
“It’s not my place.  I promise you, we can get through this together,” Fay assured her.
“Mom, how will I be able to go on without him?”
“Sweetheart--”
“I need him and he needs me.  You know he’s color blind and without me how is he going to pick out matching socks?”
“Come Etta, you’re shaking,” Neil’s father stepped forward and placed his hands on her shoulders.  “Sweetheart, why don’t you have a seat over here?”
She moved away from his hands.  She couldn’t bear to look at him.  He was an older version of Neil.  “Don’t worry about me.  Why don’t you go to the reception desk and remind them that we are still waiting on news.”
“Yeah, it has been about an hour since I asked last,” Frank’s deep voice cracked with emotions.  “I think I will go down the hall and get another cup of coffee.  Either of you want me to bring you back anything?”
Both women declined.
As soon as Frank left the room, Etta looked at her mother.  “I can’t believe this his happening,” she sobbed.  “I woke up so happy this morning.  I haven’t seen Neil for two days.  I missed sleeping with him, touching him and now I never will again!  What am I going to do?  How am I going to finish getting through this day without him?  What if I won’t be able to see him again and say goodbye?  What--”
“Etta, you must stop this sweetheart.  It’s not good for you or anyone else,” Fay Jones voiced, caressing the tears from her daughter’s moist cheeks.   “
“It's got to be okay, Momma.”  One corner of her mouth twisted upward.  “Don’t you see what this is?  You’re right, you could be wrong.  Neil and Toby probably forgot to turn on their cell phones.  They might even be at the chapel right now wondering where we are!”
“Etta, what about the phone call we received from the hospital?”
“How do we know it came from the hospital?  What if this is some kids prank?  They heard about the car pileup on the causeway through the news and started playing pranks on people.  Watch, Frank will come back in here and tell us it’s all some big misunderstanding.  Neil and Toby are fine and waiting for us at the church.”
“I see Frank coming down the corridor.  Let’s go find out if he has any news,” Fay suggested.
“You will see I am right,” a smile trembled over her lips.
Etta walked towards Frank.  He came close and looked down at her intensely.  A glazed look of despair began to spread over his face.  She felt the nauseating sinking of despair.  He dragged her against him and wrapped his arms about her, binding her arms to her sides as he whispered in her ear. 
“I’m so sorry sweetheart, our boy is gone.  Neil is gone,” he said in a moist low, tortured sob against her ear.  His hold tightened as she swooned against him.
“No!” She protested.  Her breath came in shallow gasps as her senses shattered.  A suffocating sensation threatened to choke her and when she released her breath, it came out in another heart wrenching scream.  Etta’s teeth chattered, her body trembled and her knees knocked together beneath her wedding gown.  Only Frank’s body and arms kept her on her feet. She wept aloud, her nails biting into her palms leaving bloodied crescent shapes. 
The happiest day of her life turned out to be the worst.
 
 
 
CHAPTER 1
 
 
San Francisco, 2007
 
Keigo Kyou rubbed his aching abdomen. 
“That ulcer acting up again, Judge?”
“It’s been a long day.  Longer than usual since we are trying to wrap up the last four episodes of the season.”
“Well, this is the last one; maybe it won’t be too difficult.”  Keigo held his arms back to allow his judicial robe to be slipped on.  She smoothed her hands over his shoulders and smoothed out the material.  “I was thinking, Judge.  Since you’re wrapping up the season and will be going on summer vacation, how about you allow me to buy you a drink to celebrate the renewal of twenty more episodes?”
The director called out, “Everyone take your places; we are about to begin!” 
The makeup artist pressed the sheet of rice paper to his forehead and nose to prevent camera shine.  “Sorry, but I already have plans.  Maybe another time, Caroline,” he gave her a polite smile.
“You always tell me the same thing,” she pouted.
“Yet you keep asking,” he pointed out.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying,” she whispered and winked at him before stepping aside.
“Nope, as long as you don’t mind my continuing to say, ‘no’,” he grinned.
“All quiet in the courtroom.  Key announcer!”  The director gave a hand gesture to start the music. 
“You are about to enter the courtroom of Judge Keigo Kyou.  The people are real.  The cases are real.  The rulings are final.  This is his courtroom.  This is Judge Kyou.”
“Enter Bailiff on 1, 2, 3…” 
Bailiff Williams took his place next to the bench.  In a deep booming voice, he announced to the courtroom, “This court is now in session, all rise.”
Keigo stepped out of his chambers and made his way to the bench.
“Key announcer.”
“Tanesha Lewin is suing personal chef and owner of the online business Food Aura for the money she paid to cater her wedding.”
“Bailiff on 1, 2, 3…”
“Be seated!”  He leaned over, handed the file to Keigo and said, “Your Honor, this is case number DC-07-4335, Lewin vs. Jones.  All parties have been sworn in.”
“Okay, let’s get on with it then.  Now, Mrs. Lewin, you hired catering services from this woman.  And you were not happy with the meal, is that correct?” 
“Uh…excuse me, Judge.  First, let me say you are much cuter in person--”
He glanced at Miss Jones long enough to say, “Miss Jones, you do not speak in my court until you're called upon to do so.”  Keigo interrupted automatically, barely giving the speaking woman a second glance. 
This was not the day for dramatic outbursts or anything else.  This was to be his last case before embarking on a two-month long awaited leave. From what he read in this case file, it should take less than ten minutes for him to render a judgment. 
“Your Judgeship, you'll have to forgive me.  I was wondering why she gets to tell her side first?  I'm sure if you just let me explain the unpleasant situation, you will just throw her petty ol' case right out of your courtroom.”
Keigo, with a scowl, pulled his reading glasses off his nose and placed them on top of the papers giving the uncouth woman his full attention.  His dark eyebrows lifted in surprise as he took time to look at her.  She was thin, toffee colored skin and of medium height.  Her dark hair was worn in a natural wild style like a halo about her face and shoulders, and if he squinted hard enough he would swear he could make out the darkness of her nipples beneath the white stretch neck peasant blouse.
The first thought that came to mind was a crazed gypsy fortuneteller he'd seen in some “B” grade horror film.  The only difference was the woman in the movie wasn't a Black woman that didn’t know how to keep quiet in his courtroom.  Sometimes being on television brought out the worse in people.
“If we may continue,” he mumbled and rubbed at the throbbing in his stomach.  “Miss Jones, I can assure you there is a method to how I do things around here.  You will get your turn in due time.”  Keigo’s dark eyebrows lifted in disbelief.  The woman had the gall to shake her head at him as he was speaking.  What the hell?  Shouldn’t the director yell cut or something?  Of course not, this has the potential for “great TV” and what the director didn’t want to keep, he would edit out later.
“Nope, Judge Cutie, it's my reputation and character coming into question here and I reserve the right to defend myself.”  His mouth dropped wide in surprise when she moved from behind the podium with a swirl of scarlet and white-layered skirts swaying about her slender ankles and bare feet? 
“Miss Jones, you need to go back to your podium, please.  This still happens to be a court of law.”
“By the way, call me Etta.”  She gave him a dimpled grin and winked.  His second wink within the past fifteen minutes.  He wasn’t impressed.  His stomach hurt and he was quickly losing reign on his patience.
Releasing a loud sigh, he forged ahead.  “Miss Jones, you may address me as Judge Kyou, Mr. Chief Justice or Your Honor,” Keigo corrected her before proceeding to ask, “I may regret asking this, but tell me please, why are you standing in my courtroom without shoes?”
“Oh, Your Judgeship, I have them with me.  I’m just not wearing them.”
“I can see that,” he stated.  “What I don’t know is why?”
 She shrugged.  “I hate shoes and every chance I can get, they come off.   I’m inside, so it’s okay.  I think it started when I moved into my new house three years ago and the decorator my friends hired surprised me with this awesome place where I could find inner peace.  So it’s decorated in an Asian style and I have tatami floor mats.  Seeing how you’re Japanese, I don’t have to tell you what tatami flooring is made of...do I?”
“Miss Jones, true I am Japanese but aren’t you being a bit presumptuous?  I was born in San Francisco,” Keigo pointed out, not sure why he felt it was necessary.
“So you don’t know what a tatami floor is?”  She asked.
“I didn’t say that.”
“Then what’s your point in saying it at all?” She huffed.  “I’m not Japanese nor was I born in Japan, but I respect and have learned about your culture.”
“Miss Jones, this is not your home and there are no tatami floorings in here, so please put back on your shoes.  It’s not sanitary.”
“My feet are okay.  I will wash them when I get home, so I’m not worried about germs,” she explained to him as if he was a dense child.
“I am.  From your feet.”
“You can eat off my feet, thank you.  I clean them just as much as the average person washes their hands.  Would you like to see them?  Let me--”
“Ms. Jones, don’t you dare move any further away from your assigned podium!”
The people in the audience laughed. 
He blinked once…twice, the muscle in his cheeks worked over time as he bit down on his back teeth.  “Miss Jones, need I remind you that you are currently in a court of law.  It is appropriate that while you are in public you should wear shoes on your feet, and several places will not allow you entrance without shoes.  This is one of them.”
 “First, I didn’t ‘enter’ without my shoes.  I just removed them a moment ago.  Secondly, I understand how the conventional world—that I must suffer on a daily bases—works.  I also can read and I didn’t see any signs on your courtroom door that require me to keep on my shoes.”
“You also didn’t read a sign to keep on your clothes, but I see you’re still wearing those,” Keigo pointed out.
She gave him an impish grin.  “If it’s a problem, I can start shedding.  I have a membership at the nude beach, so if you thought to intimidate me with that statement…”
Keigo thought about her being nude.  He knew it was a mistake when it crossed his mind because it had been awhile since he’d been with a woman.  So the mere thought of seeing her naked up close and personal brought on an unexpected semi-erection.  He shifted in his chair, clearing his throat loudly.
Keigo simmered a little longer in silence before saying in a calm voice meant for a child, since she insisted on misbehaving like one, “Miss Jones, I believe we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot.”
The viewers in the courtroom laughed.
She cocked a perfectly arched eyebrow at him and placed her long slender fingers on her hips.
“No pun intended,” the corner of his mouth tipped up in a grin.
“Of course not,” she murmured.
“Miss Jones, how about you move back over to stand next to your shoes and allow me to proceed uninterrupted.  If you can not abide by the rules of this court, I will be forced to do something I do not wish to do,” he reprimanded.
  “I will do as you ask, if you do as I ask and call me Etta.  I gave up all the trappings of my former life three years ago, including the use of my last name.  Now I’m know legally as “Etta,” you know like, Cher.”  Her full lips spread into a wide grin.  “Since you’re throwing out threats, tell me Judge Handsome, what exactly are you threatening to do, exactly?”
His breath caught.  She has a beautiful smile, he thought.  He shook his head deciding he needed to get this over with and quick.  His body was betraying him! 
“You don’t want to know,” he murmured.  “Now get back over there,” he pointed.
“Yeah.  I do.”
“This is madness!  Where is the director?  Shouldn’t you be yelling cut or something?”  Keigo bellowed with a deep scowl.
“Stop film!”
The director nearly skipped up to his bench.  It was apparent he was pleased by the woman’s antics in his courtroom.
“Judge Keigo, just keep going like this.  This is priceless!  I couldn’t have done better if I had chosen an actress to come in here and stir things up.”  He slapped the top of the bench and chuckled.  “She is wonderful and she looks great on camera.  That impish dimpled smile of hers caught us off guard.  It was a priceless close-up shot and free to us.  What more could you ask for?”
“Okay, I give you that.  She does have an unassuming prettiness, but--” Keigo saw her laughing and shaking her head along with the chuckles of the audience and realized the entire courtroom was hearing everything.  His face flushed red and he threw his hand over his attached microphone.  “Dammit, Marco, I’ve had a long freakin’ day, my gut is killing me and I’m in no mood to continue this dancing with her any further.  This should have been a cut and dry case, so just let me make my ruling and let’s call it a day!”
“Look, we’re friends so you know I’m not going to bullshit you on this.”  Marco stated.  It was a sign to Keigo that his friend was in a creative mode, seeing Emmy awards on his shelf.  There was no way he was going to allow him to wrap this us quickly.
“Keigo, I know they’ve already spoken to you about renewing for twenty more episodes, but you know how fickle this business is.  If I don’t pull off something grand, they may get a new director.  Hey trust me.”
“Uh oh, you’re playing on the friendship and the ‘trust me’ card,” Keigo moaned.  “It’s going to be a long afternoon isn’t it?”
“Come on, buddy.  Haven’t I made you the hottest Judge on television?  You have a huge viewing audience of women.  They are going to love this episode!”
Keigo simmered.
“Keigo, you know I’m talking the truth, man.  This episode will push you over the top.  A real battle of the sexes!  Sort of like Jerry Springer but real, you know.”
He knew Marco was right, but he didn’t have to be happy about it.
“After we get this finished and edited, I’m going to see if I can convince the network to air this as the last show of the season and make it like a cliffhanger.  Your viewers won’t know the results until the first episodes of next season.  It will be all the talk for the summer break and when you have your season premiere, the ratings will be dancing on the roof!”
“Hey!  Excuse me!  I know this is a TV show, but being one of the ‘real people’ in a ‘real case,’ I would like us to get on with it!  I have a nail appointment scheduled.”
“Oh shit, now Mrs. Lewin is stirred up.  That is all I need,” Keigo groaned.
“Oh, I was wondering why she was sitting on sideline!  This is great.  If she is good and pissed, then we are bound to hear more out of her.”
“Marco,” he called his name in a warning voice.
“No man, this is great.  Go at it with the Ella chick a little longer.  The later the Lewin broad is for her appointment, the more pissed she will be.” Marco slapped his hands together.  “Quiet on the set!  Rolling in 1, 2, 3…”
“Excuse me!  Screw this!  It’s my turn to say something,” Tanesha voiced. “I wrote in my complaint that this Ella woman was a nut case, Judge Kyou.  Now you now see for yourself what I’ve been going through trying to get my freakin’ money back!  I swear the mental bitch needs to pay me more for my mental stress!”
“Mrs. Lewin--” Keigo began and once more to his amazement— yet not really surprising— was the very vocal and saucy, Miss Jones, interrupting him.
“You’re spouting such hogwash Tanesha and you know it,” Etta yelled.  “You know how I do.  Now you are going to come up in this courtroom and pretend like you don’t know the deal.”
“Don’t talk to me you Redbone Bitch, tell it to the judge.”  Tanesha threw up a hand and turned her head. 
Keigo wondered if they were for real.  He had seen stuff like this happen on other’s shows, but never his.  He was beginning to wonder if indeed Marco had staged all of this.  Of course the case was real he had the official documents to prove it, but where did they find these people, in line at the Jerry Springer audition?”
“Ladies, please--”
“Tanesha, I told you several times that I needed to meet with you and the groom before the big day in order to get an accurate reading.  It’s not my problem that he was too busy to show up in planning his own wedding,” Etta huffed.  “You should have told me that the man you were marrying was Jewish.  I can’t believe you would order pork knowing you were having a Baptist and Jewish styled wedding.  I told you some people don’t do pork because it’s got a bad rap; go with something neutral like beef and chicken.”
“Pork has a reputation?”  Keigo snorted on a laugh.  Both women turned mean eyes on him and he clamped his mouth shut.  He had completely lost control of his courtroom.  He cut mean eyes towards Marco, sitting in the shadows.  He hoped he was getting some good footage because he wasn’t going to allow this to continue much longer.
“Why in the hell should I have to tell you anything?  Aren’t you the one with your own cooking show called The Psychic Chef?”  Tanesha screeched.
She has her own show?  That’s the reason she is so comfortable in front of the camera.  Keigo thought.  She probably was on his show trying to get free publicity.  The nerves of this woman never cease to amaze him.  He looked over at Marco again.  He smelled a dirty directing rat.  If he found out that the same company that produced his show was producing her show, he was killing Marco.
  “Oh please, Etta.  My husband’s last name is Lewin for freakin’ sake.  Even I would have known he was Jewish!  Stomach reader my ass!”
“Ladies…” Keigo tried once again to intervene, politely.
“Food Consultant, thank you!” Etta shouted.  “Look, I never professed to be a freakin’ mind reader.  Also, as for the last name, you’re a Lewin now and everyone can see you aren’t Jewish.  The way you barfed down the ribs at your wedding; it’s obvious you aren’t living a kosher lifestyle.  Hey, why don't you tell us what your husband was saying when he was getting barbecue kisses off your greasy lips,” Etta clucked her tongue loudly.  “See, if you’d listened to someone else besides your own porker snout, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“Meaning what?”  Tanesha bellowed.  “You trying to say I’m fat.”
“No, I’m not trying to say anything except your nose looks like a pig snout.”
”Why you bitch!”
“Call me what you want but we both know the truth.  You’re the one who insisted on ribs and pulled pork smoked tender in brisk chips, with Cajun hot barbecue.  Now, I don’t care who ate the meat.  All I know is there was nothing left at the end of the night.”
“Miss Jones…”
“I was humiliated.” Tanesha pouted.
“Mrs. Lewin…”
“If wearing that dress cut down to your navel was humiliating, nothing else should have been,” Etta quipped.
“You whacked-out crack hoe,” Tanesha argued.  “You owe me.”
“I don’t owe you a damn…errs…you know!”
“Oh yes you do and you going to give me back my money!”
“What money?  I swear you got nerve!”  Etta blew out a long breath.  “Tanesha, how do you think you can give a sister, $4400 dollars to buy $3800 worth of food and even consider that I got what my services are worth?  If anything, you still owe me.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Tanesha rolled her eyes at her.
Etta’s face became flushed and Keigo grinned.  If Mrs. Lewin was getting under Etta’s skin, he was happy.  All of this started because she couldn’t follow the rules.  She deserved to feel a taste of his frustration.
 “I don’t do these types of affairs anymore.  Do you have any idea how much I could charge you for my services?  Hell, I get paid big dutchies just to put in an appearance!  I did all the work myself so you wouldn’t have to pay extra for my assistants.  All you had to do was supply the servers and you decided to go buffet style to pinch a dime.”
 “Humph!  A favor?  I don’t think so.  You see this is what you get when you mess with a ghetto catering business,” Tanesha mumbled.
“Oh no, you didn’t,” Etta made a smacking sound of disbelief. “What rights does a Hood Rat--“
Keigo spat out the sip of water he took from his cup on a laugh.
The ladies barely gave him a glance as Etta continued, “Have to call me ghetto?  You don’t know me like that.  I may be a Carney Brat--”
“Carney Brat?”  Bailiff Phil interrupted in his booming voice.
“A kid that grew up in a traveling carnival,” Etta explained.
“Thank you, Phil,” Keigo grinned at the bailiff.  “That explains a lot.”
“Yes it does, Judge Kyou,” Phil chuckled in agreement.
Etta turned her attention towards him but before she could say what she was thinking, Tanesha intervened.  He released a relieved sigh. 
“You know you’re jealous because I got a man and my Momma told me what happened on the day of your wedding,” Tanesha said smugly.  “That’s the real reason you don’t do weddings any more isn’t it, Ms. Goody-Goody.”
The entire courtroom seemed to grow still as they waited for Etta’s snappy comeback.  Keigo was taken aback to see the color practically drain from her generally animated face.  His expression darkened with an unreadable emotion and he realized he had allowed this to go on long enough. 
Keigo stood abruptly, picked up his gavel and struck the dark oak wood a few times.  The vein in his forehead was prominent as he bellowed, “Enough!  I want order in this damned courtroom or I will hold you both in contempt!”
Surprised gasps went out through the courtroom followed by dead silence, all eyes forward on him.  Keigo’s face reddened with embarrassment.  Marco was laughing at his expense.  Never in his eleven years on the bench has he made such an outburst in his courtroom.  He was sure it was because his stomach was killing him.  Tiredly, he cleared his throat and mumbled his apologies while reclaiming his seat.
“Don’t worry about it, Judge Handsome.  I can hear your poor belly screaming so I can understand why you’re in such a foul mood.”  She clucked her tongue at him before adding in Japanese, “Genki dashite, nantoka naru-yo.”
He looked up at Etta in amazement, not because she had spoken in Japanese, but because she seemed to have recovered quickly and once again was talking out of turn in his courtroom. What would it take to keep her quiet?  What had Mrs. Lewin said?  Something had happened on the day of her wedding?  What happened?  It was obvious from her case file information the marriage didn’t happen.  She marked the single box.  Not, divorced or married.   His eyes narrowed.  What was her story?
“Excuse me, Judge Kyou, I don’t know how to type Japanese,” the stenographer interrupted his thoughts.
“Oops, sorry, your Honor’s Secretary,” Etta giggled.  “I said, ‘cheer up, it’ll be okay.’  As a matter-of-fact, this is Judge Uptight’s lucky day because Etta knows what he needs.”
Keigo’s didn’t realize his mouth was open until he nearly choked on his own dry tongue.  He struck the gavel to the wood on the desk. “Et…err…Miss Jones, you give me no choice.  I’m holding you in contempt for disrupting my proceedings time and time again.”
“Holding in contempt?  What does that mean?  You’re pissed at me?”
Phil and the courtroom of people laughed. 
“Uh, it means that you will be charged a fine and if the Judge so wishes it, spend time in jail for disrupting the court.”
“Thank you, Phil,” Etta smiled at the tall muscular Black man.
Keigo frowned, “Yeah, thank you, Phil.”
Phil cleared his throat, threw his shoulder back and with hands crossed in front of him, resumed his stoic appearance and stared straight ahead.  Only the slight tugging at the corner of his mouth hinted at his true humorous nature.
Keigo was just feeling irritated.  Was she charming all his friends?  Even Marco was giving him a “thumbs up” sign.  He was going to kick his ass when this was over.
“Doesn’t anyone appreciate free help these days?  First I do this girl a favor because her Mother knows my Mother, then I try to be understanding about your attitude.”  She paused and gave him a grin, “Tell me, why does it seem that I’m the only one that seems to be out of money?  How much of a fine are we talking about?
“Do you always talk this much?” He asked over her chatter.
“I don’t think so, but some say I do when I get nervous.”  She placed a finger to her chin.  “I don’t feel nervous, do you?”
“Miss Jones, from now until the end of these proceedings, each time you interrupt me, I will add a day for each word along with an additional thousand dollar fine.  So it would be feasible if you kept your mouth closed.”
“Five days of what?”  Etta sputtered.  “Also, since you’ve already charged me a thousand dollars, I should be allowed to finish speaking my piece!” 
“It’s because you insist on speaking your ‘piece’ that you are in this mess in the first place!”  Keigo slammed the gavel down once again.  “Now you owe me fifteen days!”
“More like eighteen, Judge.”
“Thank you, Phil.”
“Yeah, thanks Phil,” she mimicked sarcastically.
“That brings you up to twenty-one,” Keigo announced.  “You want to try for twenty-five.”
“How about, K.M.A!”  She yelled at him.
Keigo face showed his confusion.  “KMA?” 
She looked at Phil.
“Kiss My Ass, Judge.  Not my ass, uh...her--”
“I get it Phil.”
The courtroom erupted in laughter.  Keigo hammered against the wood.
“You get an even thirty for that one, Miss Jones.”
Etta raised her hand.
He rolled his eyes and sighed.  “What now?”
“Since you’re giving me permission to speak, this doesn’t count,” she reminded.  “May I ask thirty days of what?  Jail time?  I can’t do jail time.  They might pull my show if the advertisers start pulling out.  You know how the networks are.”
Indeed Keigo understood all too well.  This is why he kept his nose clean, and didn’t bring any added attention to his personal life than necessary.  He took this job to live an easier and quieter lifestyle.  He didn’t do interviews or skits on other shows.  He came in, did his job, allowed marketing to create this mysterious persona of him and went about his business.
“Tell me, why should I be concerned about your career?  You obviously haven’t been.  Look at your actions in my courtroom today.”
 “Well, if you feel that way,” she pouted prettily.  “Then you might as well throw me in jail right now, but make sure if the media gets a hold of my mug shot, they get the picture with my good side and not one of a front face shot.  No one looks good in those.”  She held her arms out and put her wrists together.  “Take me.  I’m yours.”
Keigo winced as the tick in his left eye matched the dull throbbing in his stomach.  The tinkling of the numerous bells around her dainty wrist tinkled with each movement.
“Go back to your assigned stand and put your shoes on, Miss Jones.  I’m going to make a ruling,” Keigo said, his voice dangerously soft. 
“Does this mean I’m not going to jail?”  She asked.
The woman was clueless.  “Now you owe me thirty-eight days Miss Jones, so you’re not helping your case.  Do you want to make it forty-one and offer me your ass again?”  He smirked.
Everyone laughed.
She rolled her eyes and dropped her crossed arms to place her hands on her hips.  Her head bobbed on her long slender neck as she said, “Oh what the hell, I might as well go for broke since I’m going to rot in jail anyway, right?”
He watched her stomp over to the podium where she was suppose to be standing in the first place and snatch up her purse. 
“What are you up to?”  Keigo asked.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” she fussed.
“Phil, make sure she doesn’t have a weapon of some sort.  I don’t trust her.”
The courtroom laughed.
“She’s clean Judge.  You know we check everyone out before they come in here,” Phil answered with a grin. 
“Even breath spray would be a dangerous weapon in that woman’s hand,” Keigo commented. 
More laughter erupted and Keigo grinned.  He saw all the other shows and they all seemed to have a comedic relief in the midst of seriousness.  It never happened in his court.  It was a refreshing change.  People were actually finding him humorous.  There’s a first time for everything he supposed.
“What does she have there?”  Tanesha asked loudly.  “She can’t go bringing evidence into this case I don’t know about!”
 “What I have here on this camera proves that Tanesha was not dissatisfied with the food I prepared for her wedding.”  She moved towards the bench and came up on her tiptoes before him to place the small video camera on his bench.
“Will you please…please go back to your podium and for God’s sake, keep quiet Miss Jones,” Keigo moaned, placing a hand on his stomach.
He wasn’t surprised when she ignored him.  Again.
“Also, you should already have copies of the contracts.  There are initials at the bottom of each contract page, her initials.  Tanesha had no special specifications such as family members who are allergic or don’t eat nuts, seafood, pork, vegetarians, etc.   As you can, see none of those boxes were checked off.”
Keigo grimaced and rubbed his stomach.
“I apologize for giving you a hard time,” she whispered softly.  He assumed it was for his ears only, but she forgot as long as they wore microphones, nothing was private.  “It wasn’t my intention to bring you added stomach pains.”
His eyes locked on her face, pleasantly pleased by the genuine and sincere tone of her voice.  She fluttered beautiful long dark eyelashes at him and gifted him with another one of her mesmerizing grins.  Once more his body betrayed him and hardened.
“Uh…uh, apology is accepted, Miss Jones.”
“Now, sweetie, this is between me and you,” she said softly tweaking her forefinger for him to come closer. 
His interest peeked.  He stood, placed one hand over his microphone and nodded at hers to do the same.  He leaned over his desk.  “Now, what you say will remain between us.”
“You know what Judge Handsome?”
The sweet seductiveness of her throaty voice caused all kinds of thoughts to run through his head.  He was thankful for the fullness of his judicial robe.  “What, Miss Jones?”
“I think you’re gorgeous, especially when you’re not so serious.  I just needed to say it.”
“Thank you.  Now can we finish this so we can call it a day and go home?”  He asked in hushed tones.
A probing query came to her eyes and he suspected she had an ulterior motive for giving him honey sweet compliments. 
“Mmm, does this mean I’ve made my case?  Are you going to dismiss the twenty days of service?”
He was right.
Keigo released a disappointed sigh, “Forty-one days, Miss Jones, and the answer is no.”
Keigo tried not to smile at her pretty pout but he couldn’t help it.
She narrowed her brown eyes on him and said, “What if I offer you a deal?  What if I give you fifteen days of my chef service?  Free of charge, of course.”
“Of course,” Keigo repeated.  “No, thank you.”
“Twenty days and I promise to heal your bad tummy?”  She continued to bargain.
“Thirty days and you got a deal.”
“Deal!”  She beamed and held out her hand. 
Keigo ignored the offer of a handshake.  “My word is enough, Miss Jones. Now return to your proper place and we will wrap this up.”
She let her hand drop and her right eyebrow arched at him.  “Say, ‘pleas’” and apologize to me for making this entire process more difficult than it had to be.  As you can see the case is cut and dry.  There’s a contract; she signed it.  There’s video evidence of her at the wedding with her arm wrapped around my shoulder thanking me and telling everyone how wonderful everything was.”
“Oh, for goodness sakes!”  Keigo groaned in frustration, rubbing at his stomach and temple.  He didn’t care if this was “good TV” as Marco put it.  He wasn’t an entertainer.  He was a District Court Judge and he was tired of her running his courtroom. 
As if she hadn’t caused enough disruption for one day, she was actually waiting for him to apologize.  His eyebrows shot up almost to his hairline.  The irritating minx had the nerve to wink at him and flash those silly dimples.  Dimples like that shouldn’t be on a grown woman!
“Miss Jones, I swear you are crazy lady,” he muttered. 
“Oh, now you can see she’s a nut!”  Tanesha yelled at him.  “You couldn’t just take my word for it.  I’m thirty minutes late for my appointment because--”
“Do you want to end up in the same predicament that she is in, Mrs. Lewin?  If not, continue to keep your mouth shut,” Keigo stood and pointed gavel at Etta.  “As for you!  I realize as long as you are in here, I will not be allowed to do my job,” he stated in a low menacing voice.  “Bailiff, take Miss Jones to a holding cell.  Maybe a few minutes alone in her own company will do her some good.”
“What?  Wait, I’m sorry, okay.  You don’t have to apologize!  Look, I really can’t go to jail.  I don’t like confined spaces.  I--”
“You’re still talking?  Phil.  Enjoy the jail cell, Miss Jones,” Keigo stated while the Bailiff grabbed Etta by the upper arm and reached for his handcuffs.  “No!”  He stopped him by raising a hand.  “I don’t think those are necessary, but if you happen to have a muzzle I’m sure everyone would appreciate it.”
The audience laughed.
“Oh you…you bully!”  Etta called out.  “You know what?  You may be cute, but you’re an ass for putting a woman in jail!”
“Calm down and walk this way, Miss Jones.” The bailiff tugged at her until they were out the side door.  The door closed but he could still hear her ranting.
Keigo squared his shoulders.  His grin grew wider.  Softly a chuckle escaped his lips and he murmured, “Boy, I pity the man that has to wake up next to that mouth every morning.” 
The audience laughed. 
He smirked.  He could be amusing, sometimes.
The smug grin left his face.  A brief picture of him waking up next to Etta seized his thoughts.  Keigo could imagine the heaviness of her eyes gazing over at him; the fullness of her lips, moist and begging to be kissed, moaning his name.
He pushed aside the thoughts.  The pain in his stomach must be causing a numbing in his brain for thinking such a crazy thought.  She wasn’t even his type.  Whatever that was.  It had been three years since he had been with any woman.  He didn’t know if he was ready yet to get back in the dating world.
Once Phil returned to the courtroom with his customary stern and practiced exterior then quietly returned to his place to play the tape on the monitors.
“Enough, I’m ready to rule,” he turned his attention to the courtroom and announced.  “In light of this tape and contracts that you did indeed place your initials on each paper approving of the menu, I hereby declare this case dismissed!”  Loudly he slammed down the gavel and moved to step down from the bench.
“Hey!  Wait a damned minute!”  Tanesha bellowed.  “What about my money!  She is a crazy ass woman!”
“I won’t disagree with that, but it obviously has nothing to do with her ability as a chef, Mrs. Lewin.  You made that fact clear in the wedding video. 
“So she just walks away from everything, just like that?”  Tanesha Lewin stated. 
“No, unfortunately Miss Jones owes my court a fine and thirty days for her disruption,” Keigo stated.  “If I had been allowed the opportunity to do my job, I was ready to dismiss the case on the contract and recommendation letters submitted by guests that had attended the wedding.”
“Court is dismissed,” Phil announced.
While the others completed the day’s production wrap and interviews with the plaintiff and audience members, Keigo made a quick exit to his chambers and slammed the door shut behind him.  He wasn’t in the mood to sign autographs and chat with fans.  Of course, his producers would have something to say about it but after today, he was about to tell them where to shove the entire show. 
For a while now, he had been wondering if this was what he wanted to do anymore.  There was a time when all he wanted was to someday sit on the Supreme Court.  He was considered a boy genius graduating from Harvard Law School at the tender age of eighteen.  His father had mapped out his entire life and when he died his dream had become his own.  That was until the accident changed his entire life and limited his options.
With a soft curse, he shrugged out of his robe and hung it up on the assigned hook to let Nan, his personal assistant, know it needed to go to the drycleaners.   Don’t do this.  Don’t dredge up the past.  Just let it go, he told himself. 
Dropping down tiredly into a black leather chair behind the oversized cherry wood desk, he leaned back and lifted his feet to rest on his desk with one ankle crossed over the other.   His hand dropped onto his stomach, rubbing the dull ache.  The pain was a gentle reminder that he wasn’t following the doctor’s advice by cutting back.  He didn’t know how much more cutting back he could do.  His illustrious judicial career had turned into a joke for late night comedians.  The only recourse was to retire from the field of law altogether.  He wasn’t sure it was something he was prepared to do.  He’d already lost everything else he gave a damn about.
“Can that crazy woman really cure my stomach woes?”
 
 
CHAPTER 2
 
Keigo was ready to hit something or someone, Marco in particular after listening to his praise of Etta Jones' cuteness and vibrant personality.  He continued his boisterous regaling of the show and had the nerve to tell him that he and Etta had superb chemistry.
“Thank God it's a reality show or I would be supposing you're suggesting we make her a permanent part of the show,” Keigo sighed. 
“Wouldn't it be great?  We can have her predict the result of the trial at the start of the show and have the audience vote if they agree or disagree.  We can--”
“She's not that type of psychic, Marco,” he interrupted.
“Huh?”
“From what I understand, Etta has an uncanny ability to know what you want to eat before you do.  The last place she worked didn't have menus.  She would send out the meals without anyone ever placing an order.  My understanding is that it was highly successful.”
“I can’t believe that would fly.  People actually paid for that?  I usually don’t go to certain restaurants until I know what I want,” Marco reasoned.
“It’s California; everything flies out here,”  Keigo snorted on a laugh.  “It’s completely baka, foolish, and I don’t see how anyone can believe that psychics are real.” 
“Oh really?  Then why are you allowing her to cook for you?  She is going to be yours for thirty days, right?  I suppose you can find out first hand if it’s real or fodder,” Marco teased.   
“I only agreed because putting her in jail would only bring bad publicity for us,” Keigo protested.
“What do you mean by that?”
Keigo simply arched an eyebrow that dared him to deny it, “Meaning she has a following of her own.  She’s listed all over the Internet.  First, it seems she was part of a team with her mother.  They took the act on the road with a traveling carnival and now she has her own online cooking show and business. So with her being somewhat of a local celebrity, I didn’t want to be known as the judge who threw her butt in jail.”
“You’ve always been a softy disguised as an ass,” Marco said playfully.  “I think this lady is just what you need.  It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the old you.  I’ve missed him and if this woman can breathe life back into you, I’m already one of her biggest fans.”
Keigo had reached his limit.  “Marco--”
Marco’s cell phone vibrated at his waist and he held up a finger.  “Hold that thought, Bro.  Let me take this call.”
Damn, why did Marco have to be so blunt about everything?  He was annoyed at hearing it, but it was the truth.  For one brief and crazy moment he was able to laugh without feeling guilt for it.  He’d been angry and depressed so long, he completely forgot how exhilarating it could be sharing carefree witty banter with a woman.
 A smile came to his lips.  “She never did put on those damned shoes.  That’s all I need, the stupid woman catching pneumonia and blaming me for locking her up.”
Marco clicked his phone shut.  “What was that?”
Keigo blinked.  “Huh?  Oh, nothing.  I was just thinking aloud.”
“I would stay and chat a bit longer, but I need to go wrap up some stuff before I can call it a night.  “Are we still meeting up at Bent Arrow next week?”
“Same as every year,” Keigo nodded.
“Etta coming with you?”
“You say her name as if you’ve known her for years,” Keigo snapped.  His eyes locked with Marco.  “Tell me why I’d bring Miss Jones to Bent Arrow with me?”
Marco shrugged his broad shoulders.  “Maybe because we don’t have a cook this year and now you have one in your possession for thirty days.  Seems to me that the angels are smiling down on you, Bud, and answered your prayers.”
“I don’t think I can handle being around that crazy woman in such close proximity for a month.  Her stopping buy to drop something off or a few hours each day is one thing.  This is something completely different.”
“It’s not like you have to share a cabin with her.  I can bunk in with you and she can bunk in with Nan,” Marco suggested.
Keigo gave him a sly grin.  “Won’t that throw a wrench in your and Nan’s plans?”
“Man, don’t even pretend like you already don’t know I’ve been spending the last month in my own bed, alone!  Talk about a fickle ass woman.  She’s always finding ways to push my button.  One day the relationship is on and hot as hell, the next I’m sleeping in an icebox.  Currently, my dick is on ice,” Marco scowled.  “Don’t try to change the subject.  Etta is our best bet.  I know for a fact Nan has called at least fifteen people.  Everyone is either booked or too cheap to volunteer their services,” Marco shook his head.  “Seems to me your time is running out.”
Keigo arched a brow at his old friend.  “I rather pay someone.”
Marco sighed.  “Very well, but if you aren’t going to be here, you might as well cut her loose and forget the entire thing.”
“Let her off, without any reprimand?  You must be kidding,” Keigo snorted.  “Heaven forbid if she ends up in my court again someday.  She will think she could pull more nonsense.”
“Mmm, sounds like there is only one thing for you to do because we know how small the odds are that she would make a second appearance on your show.”
Keigo saw the humor in Marco’s eyes and bit down on the back of his teeth.  “Don’t you have something you should be doing?”
“I do, but this is more interesting.  I’ve been meaning to ask you if you arranged for me to have this case on my show because you knew about her reputation of being a handful.”
“Hey, I read something to that effect, but you can’t always believe what you read,” Marco admitted.  “She seemed to be reasonable in the interview.  Besides, I didn’t go seeking out the case.  I don’t even get to choose; that’s all on the producers.  That Lewin Lady went through the website and emailed her complaint and information to the show.  They started to pass it up until they saw that the complaint was against a psychic chef.  They decided it should be a hoot.  They were on the money with this one.”
“So none of today was staged?”
“Hell no, that’s why I enjoyed it,” Marco laughed.  “You two were smoking hot.  It set my handheld monitor to sizzling.  Boy, I can’t wait to do the edits.  You have to see some of the facial expressions you were making!  Priceless!  I--”
“Marco!  Didn't you say you had something to do? Get out of my office.  I have things to take care of before I knock off.”
“Is taking care of Etta on that list, Bro?”  Marco snickered.  “I'm serious.  If you haven't considered how you're going to make her serve her thirty days, invite her to cook for us at Bent Arrow.  Nan and I will graciously help out in the kitchen as usual, but you know our skills are limited and we have a full house this year.”
“Why can’t you let this go?” Keigo shook his head, his broad brow creased in a frown.  “Are you sure you don’t won’t Miss Jones to join us so you can make a move on her?”
Marco got a mischievous gleam in his eyes before adding, “Would it bother you if I did?”
“Marco, get out,” Keigo practically growled out the words.  His hand massaged his stomach.
“Okay, I will see you up at Bent Arrow, Bro.  You sure you don’t want me to swing by and pick you up?”
“I’m sure.  Once I find the cook, I will see if they can drive the terrain vehicle and if not, then I will just hire us a driver.”
Marco’s animated face grew somber.  “You know, Keigo.  It’s going on four years.  If you won’t even try, you’re never going to overcome your fears.”
“Save this discussion for another day, Marco.  I’m just not up to discussing it now, okay?”
“Deal; if you invite Etta to Bent Arrow, I will never speak on it again,” Marco challenged.  A grin stole back to his lips.
“Out, damn it and let me work in peace!”
“All right, Bro.  I’ll ease up on ya,” Marco smirked and shook his head.  “I’ll call you later.”
“Please, don’t; at least not this evening.”  Keigo stifled a yawn.  “I just want to go home, take something for my stomach and sleep for the next twenty-four hours.”
“Tomorrow then.  Have a goodnight and think over all I’ve said.  Etta will fit in perfectly and I think the kids will love her.”
Keigo glared at Marco until he conceded by throwing up his hands and backing out of the room with a snicker.
Invite Etta to Bent Arrow?  What was Marco thinking?  He barely agreed to her silly offer in the first place, now his best friend wanted him to welcome her into his personal space.  Still, he was a man of his word.  They agreed on thirty days of her services.  He wasn’t sure what that entailed, but Marco was right.  He was going to be in the mountains for a month and he needed to find a chef for the camp kitchen.  He wouldn’t be able to open the camp until he met all the requirements before the students arrived.
With a soft curse, Keigo picked up the telephone and dialed security.  “Hey Phil, Judge Kyou here.  You can bring Miss Jones to my chambers now.  Make sure she brings along all her personal stuff.  Has she quieted down some?  Really?”  Keigo released a heavy sigh.  “She’s probably saving her energy for round two with me.”
He rolled his eyes heavenward as he listened to Phil sing her praises, his booming voice heavy with humor.  It seemed Etta had managed to gain yet another fan in him.  “You don’t have to stay.  Go home and get to bed early, you have that drive tomorrow.   Just show her the way and tell her to let herself in.”
 “Thank you, Phil.  I don’t know how we would do the show without you.  I will see you at Bent Arrow.  No, I can’t get away right now.  I still have some issues to deal with before we can open for inspection.”
He listened to Phil.
“No, that won’t be necessary.”  Keigo rubbed his temple and stifled a yawn.  “I’ll find a way up there even if I have to hire a driver to drop me off.  I might need to catch a ride back with you, though.  I’m sure.  Go on up and get things started tomorrow as planned.   Marco and Nan will join you and I will be up by the end of next week.  Thanks again and drive safely.” 
He replaced the phone back on the cradle.  Walking over to the bar, he removed a cold bottle of water from the mini-fridge and took several deep swigs.  Thoughtfully, his gaze wandered at the downtown San Francisco view.  He’d always loved living in the city, but it wasn’t as appealing as it used to be when he had someone to share it with.  It wasn’t as if the pickings were slim.  On the contrary, they had become various and broad since his face became well known from the show.
Keigo threw the empty plastic bottle in the recycle bin and made his way back to his desk.  Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes.
 
***
 
“He’s waiting for you, just go through that door.”
“Thanks for everything, my brother, Phil.  I promise to keep it a secret that you let me camp out in the security office while he had this time chill,” Etta grinned and winked at the burly older black man.”
“Just cut him a break.  Judge Kyou is cool,” Phil advised.  “He’s just low key and over the past few years been through a lot.  But he is a key player in making sure today’s youth stay on track.  He’s known for giving people a second chance.  So go in there, be straight and don’t be too hard on him.”
“I tried to be easy on him in the courtroom, but he makes it too easy to agitate him,” she chuckled.
Phil laughed in a hushed tone.  “You’re right, but ease up on the man, especially when his ulcer is acting up.  Keep your shoes on,” he advised.  “If Judge K calls me back up here to take you back down, I won’t have any choice but to lock you up Etta and I’m sure none of us want to see you in jail for real.”
“I’m sure your Judge K would,” she murmured sarcastically.
“Actually, he wouldn’t,” Phil debated.  “I’ve known him for about five years and I haven’t witnessed an unfair bone in his body.  Etta, give him a chance.  You might find that the both of you have a lot in common.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Etta argued.  “I’ve been through heartaches I wouldn’t wish on even Tanesha Lewin,” she chuckled.  Her features grew more serious as she said, “Nevertheless, you’re right.  I was angry because my reputation was being brought into question, but now I know I shouldn’t have taken my anger at Tanesha out on the Judge.”
“The man is just doing his job and he is an honest man.  Trust him to do the right thing, Etta.”
“The right thing would be to let me go home with just a warning,” she snorted, looking at her sandal-clad feet. 
“You really don’t think your actions today require some form of penalty?” 
She looked up to see Phil’s staring at her in question.
“No,” she shook her head sheepishly.  “I deserve whatever he deems necessary, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
Phil laughed softly.  “I need to get going.  Don’t forget to tell your Mother I will be calling her when I get back in town.  Maybe we can catch up on those old school days.  I was so sorry to hear about your father passing away several years back.  We all were pretty close as children, but lost touch after my parents moved out of the old neighborhood.  I did get an invitation to the wedding, but I didn’t feel right about going.”
“Why not?”
A sad grin came to his full mouth.  “Another story for another time.  Don’t keep the judge waiting much longer.  He’s usually out of here ten minutes after he retires to his chambers.”
“Great,” she moaned.  “Something else he can blame me for. Take care Phil and have fun at the camp you’re heading to.” 
Etta waved farewell and turned to look at the closed door before her.  Squaring her shoulders, she realized it was time to pay the piper.  Did she want to deal with this right now?  Of course not.  Keigo Kyou was an obstinate stick in the mud for having her bullied out of the courtroom.  In spite of what Phil says about the man, she felt he really wanted her locked up at the time he ordered it.   Yet, he didn’t want her handcuffed.  What was that about?
She would be lying if she said she wasn’t curious to know more about this man.  She hasn’t had a man to peak her interest since Neil and although three years have passed, she felt guilty for feeling anything for any man that wasn’t Neil.  Her mother and brother assured her that he would want her to find love again, and have the home and children she’d always dreamed of.  But how could she when she only wanted those things because of him?   
Etta closed her eyes and recalled Neil’s face.  With each passing year, it was getting harder to visualize his smile as clearly as she had for the first year after his death when her memories of him nearly drove her insane with grief.  The familiar pain weighed heavily in her chest and she rubbed the place above her heart.
Her eyes reopened and a soft closed lipped smile played around her lips.  Keigo had a nice smile when he wasn’t being an ogre.  The few times he unconsciously smiled at her, she felt warmness spread in the pit of her stomach.
She thought he had the kind of smile that reached and crinkled at the corner of his midnight colored eyes.  Several times she desired to reach out and hug him.  Especially when his hands would snake down behind the bench to knead at his nagging stomach or the times when his unconscious grins would melt into heart wrenching sadness.  A moment so briefly exposed, one would believe they were mistaken at seeing it. 
Was the sadness the reason Phil said they had something in common?  Had Keigo lost someone he loved?  
With a resigned sigh, Etta knew what she had to do.  Her Momma didn't raise her to disrespect the judicial system even though working with the carnival during her childhood had pushed the envelope a few times.  Oh boy, if she were years younger, her mother would have busted her bottom for her behavior today.  In a few weeks, not only would her mother hear about it, the entire viewing audience will bear witness on her foolishness.  She wouldn’t be surprised if the network didn’t drop footage of the upcoming episode on You Tube, to build the hype. 
Tonight she would post an apology letter to her Internet following on her website before everything got blown out of proportion.  She didn’t want her fans to think she felt she was above the law and did not follow rules because of her somewhat celebrity status.   
With that in mind, Etta knew time for all silliness was over.  She was no longer dealing with Tanesha who didn't have a legitimate complaint against her.  She was now dealing with a judge that could put a dent in her checking account, increase her time and order her to serve some jail time to boot.  If she play her cards right and kept her mouth shut, she might get out of here tonight with some light duty of community services.   She doubted Judge Handsome would feel the need to uphold their initial agreement after kicking her out of his courtroom.   She could start by thinking of him as Judge Kyou.   
Taking one more deep breath and blowing it out slowly, Etta placed her hand on the cracked open door and eased it open further so that she could peek inside before entering the dragon’s lair.  The one thing she hadn’t expected to find was a sleeping dragon.  She imagined he would be sitting behind his desk with steam shooting from his ears and his gavel posed to strike her over the head with it. 
Etta quietly stepped inside and eased the door closed behind her.  Her feet brought her closer and her eyes feasted on the sleeping man.  With eyes closed and features softened like this, he really was more than handsome.  He was adorable.  His dark lashes, girlishly long, cast shadows over high cheekbones.  His lips were firm and sensual while the set of his chin hinted at stubbornness she’d already had a taste of.
She wondered how old was he exactly?  She surmised he couldn’t be no more then thirty-five, or he could be, because she was never good at guessing anyone’s age.  However, she could predict what a person ate for breakfast.  For instance, the Judge here had poached eggs, cantaloupe and dry toast with hot tea instead of coffee.  Boring.  Which led her to wondering about the double chili hot dog she could see him indulging in her mind’s eye for lunch?  No reason his stomach was acting up. 
Etta continued to study his face.  Why would a man have such a bland healthy breakfast and ruin it with a heavy spicy fat driven lunch?  Her mouth twisted wryly.  It could mean someone else was ensuring he ate healthy at home.  A wife?  Girlfriend?  Housekeeper?  If so, why would he agree to her offer to cook for him?  Wouldn't she be stepping on some other woman’s toes?
Well, in fairness to the feminist movement, it didn't have to have been a woman.  It could be a male housekeeper or a male lover.  Etta blanched at the thought.  It suited her needs to think the person that cooked for him in the mornings was his sweet aging mother that he took care of.
Whoever it was, she wondered if they knew he ate junk food on the sly or that he had a wicked sweet tooth?  She covered her mouth with her fingers to prevent the laugh from spilling forth and disturbing him.
She wondered if she should go back out and knock.  If he catches her watching him while he slept, he’d probably tack on another day to her sentence.  Instead of walking away, she moved closer and her eyes fell on his full bottom lips.
He had lips that made a woman think about long hours of just kissing alone.  Etta leaned closer.  She could feel the steady warm breath from his regal nose against her face.  She was near enough that her eyes crossed and fluttered close.  “Damn, why you have to be so freaking adorable?” she complained in hushed tones.
“Miss Jones, please tell me you’re not about to do what I think you’re about to do?”
Keigo voice pulled her from her stupor.  Her long lashes swept open in surprise.  Once again her eyes crossed before clashing and settling eye to eye with him.  “Err…ohm; you ordered me to come here, didn’t ya?” 
“Yes, I did.”  His deep voice rumbled in the tingling pit of her stomach.  “What I want to know is, why are you leaning over me, like--”
“Like what?”  Her voice grew louder.
“Like you were about to kiss me.”
“Huh?” Etta gawked and stood straight, looking down at his upturned face.  She took an unsteady step back.  “Why on earth would I want to kiss you?”  She giggled nervously.  The warmth blossoming in her cheeks, she figured gave her away, but she was keeping mum. 
What would she say if she confirmed his suspicion?  “Yes, I was about to kiss you, but I have no idea why.”  Yeah, right! 
A thoughtful smile played at the corners of his mouth.  “If not to kiss me, tell me why were you leaning over me?”
“I was just looking to make sure you were still breathing.”  She shrugged her shoulders looking over his head so as not to lie to his face.
“Hmm, I see,” he grunted and sat up in his chair and adjusted the collar on his white shirt.  “Wishing me dead are you?  Well, no such luck Miss Jones I’m afraid.  I’m still here to make sure you serve your time for disturbing my courtroom today.”
Etta’s arms crossed over her breasts in a haughty stance.  “I’m sure you spent your time planning something dreadful.  I should have known I couldn’t depend on you to keep your word.”
“Excuse me?” His glaring stare was incredulous.  “You have the audacity to call my honor into question?  You were the one who struck the bargain and proceeded to disrupt my proceedings.  What will you have me do, Miss Jones?  If I allowed everyone to behave the way you did today in my courtroom and walk away from it, I would lose credibility.”
Etta released a long sigh.  “I’m sorry.  You’re right.”
“Huh?” His head jerked back as if she struck him.  “Did I hear a sincere apology and did you just agree with me?”
Etta chuckled.  “Don’t look at me that way.  When I’m wrong, I’m wrong and I don’t mind owning up to it.”
“Then, I will accept your apology,” he returned her smile.
She tried to taper the dizzying current racing through her.  He was so disturbing to her in every way and she wasn’t sure she was ready to go down this road again.  Attraction was one thing, but to allow herself to ever love again was another.  She wasn’t sure she knew how to trust in love again.
“So tell me, Judge Kyou.”
His grin turned to soft laughter.  “I must still be asleep.”
“Excuse me?”  Her head tilted in question.
“You're being amicable and you just called me by my name,” he pointed out.
Slowly and seductively, her glance slid downward.  He had a beautiful smile.  She looked up to find his gaze riveted on her face and then it moved over her body slowly as if he was mentally peeling away her clothing.  She wondered if the tell tale hardening of her dark nipples beneath her white blouse were noticeable.
Neither spoke aloud about the awareness that was developing between them. 
She watched Keigo as he pushed himself up from his desk.
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