The defense rested their case, and the judge inquired if the prosecution had anything further. With a quiet note of determination in his voice, Jack said, "We would like to call a rebuttal witness, Your Honor. Irene Kivinski."

"Your Honor, you ruled on this before the trial," Prescott reminded her. The judge looked between them and summoned them to the bench. Placing her hand over the microphone, the redhead turned her full attention to Jack McCoy as she said, "He's right, Mr. McCoy. I excluded Miss Kivinski's testimony as a prior bad act."

Shaking his head slightly, Jack pressed, "Only in the event that it established a pattern. The defendant testified that he never hurt anyone. Miss Kivinksi will state the alternative." He said nothing more, but relied on her good judgment to make the decision. His guess that it would be allowed was not made in vain, for as much as she might have objected to his personal attributes, there was a hearty desire in her to see justice carried out. He returned to Claire confidently, and Irene Kivinski was shown into the courtroom. She was a very petite young woman bearing a similar resemblance to the diseased.

Taking the stand and shooting a glimpse at the jury, she seemed relieved when Jack approached, wisely standing between her and the defendant. He blocked the man's domineering stare effortlessly, inquiring in a gentle tone, "Miss Kivinski, where did you meet Robert Hilton?"

"In a business meeting in Chicago, about fifteen years ago. We dated for a few months, and then I ended the relationship." Keeping her eyes fixed on Jack as he approached and leaned against the witness stand, Irene made a saintly appearance in the sunlight filtering through the room. Her long blonde hair was drawn back from a face so sweet that it nearly matched Hilton's for appeal. Jack inquired, "Why did you end it?"

"Because he started using me as his punching bag."

It was stated with such calm that even Claire was impressed, as if the young woman had recovered from the devastating emotional abuse he had raged on her. The longer she remained on the stand, the more concise she became and it was soon apparent that the defense's case had been weakened considerably. Closing statements were made with the appropriate amount of passion, and then they were released for the afternoon to wait. Jack had no intention of returning to the office, choosing to remain in the outer hall. Claire opted to stay with him, leaning against the wall and watching as he paced back and forth.

"You did well in there today, Jack," she remarked after a considerable silence. They were not alone in their corner, for individuals kept emerging from various courtrooms on errands. Jack looked at her and his expression softened. He did not speak, but ventured a hint of a smile. There was a note of sorrow in his countenance as the afternoon wore on, but soon they were called into the courtroom. The jury had been in deliberation for less than two hours. It spoke of an impulse verdict, one that promised nothing for the prosecution or the defense. It could have easily swung one way or the other.

The foreman was the minister, rising to his feet, his clerical collar gleaming beneath the afternoon light. Jack looked across at the defendant as the verdict was read. The judge dropped the hammer and dismissed them, as Hilton was taken into custody. Claire could sense her companion's relief as he packed up his things, and see the burden lifted as he took her to dinner. Adam had nothing more to say on the topic than an affirming grunt, as he dropped his hat onto his head and left the office. This time, Jack did not mind entering her apartment building. They encountered an older woman in the hall, holding her little dog beneath one arm, and Claire said hello to her as she fitted her key into the lock and let him into the apartment.

"That's my neighbor," she remarked as Jack stepped into the living room. It was a smart little place that suited her, for there was the same charm to her surroundings as in her nimble little form. "She loves to know everything about everyone, and if she cannot find out, she makes it up."

"Then let's give her something to gossip about." He held out his hand and hers slid into it, allowing him to draw her near. The apartment was silent as he kissed her, caressing her waist. Her pulse quickened as his lips wandered to her neck. She loved the way he smelled, a combination of cologne and law books. Both of them were relieved, a month's accumulation of work having come to frustration. There was still enough wine on his lips that she could taste it, allowing him to guide her across the room without removing his embrace.

"How is your work coming on the Branson case?" he inquired, without much interest. It was like him to feign interest. Claire had difficulty finding her voice, as her jacket came off, sliding to the floor. His hands were so warm, so comforting after a difficult day at trial. She had been tired walking home, her arm in his, but exhaustion was slowly melting away.

"I think I can win," she whispered. It was dark enough that she could no longer see his face, just feel the warmth of his breath against her chin as he responded, "Never think you can win anything, Claire. Be determined to win."

Instinct motivated her, responding to his caresses with yearning and allowing the intimacy of the moment to carry away her concerns. He was as much a tonic as part of the problem, a warm body that wanted her just as much as she wanted him. He lifted her off her feet. "Is that what drives you, Jack?" she asked with the last resistance she had. "Determination?"

There was as much natural instinct in his romantic confidence as in the courtroom, quickening her heart with possibilities as he teased all of her senses. He leaned her into the warmth of the pillows and felt her relax in his arms. She did not speak again, finding it impossible in the depth of his kiss. He rested against her, feeling the quickening of her heart beneath the silk of her blouse. Claire, who had fought him for so long, matching her wits against his in an eternal struggle for superiority, was no longer resisting. Dimly, in the darkness, the phone rang. She attempted to ignore it, to focus only on the sensuality of his embrace, but it was persistent, filling the background with a shrill, resounding echo that caused her to reach for the phone on the bedside table.

Jack's nimble fingers found her wrist, preventing her from picking up the cradle.

"Let the machine get it."

She kissed him again. And dimly, against the backdrop of customary noise for that time of night, the sound of taxis in the streets below and sirens in the distance, beyond the rapidity of their pounding hearts, the phone stopped ringing.

THE END