Time passed, and Sebastian reluctantly awoke. At first he was only conscious of pain, but gradually he became aware of a muffled snickering. He blearily opened his eyes and saw Isaac standing by the door, talking to two grinning cops. Even in his disoriented state, he knew that nothing good could come of expressions like those. He was growing more aware by the moment, and had by this time realized that he was in a hospital room. He was also beginning to notice that something soft and warm was engulfing his right hand, but that was low on his list of priorities at the moment.
"The hell's going on?" he rasped, grabbing the attention of Isaac and his colleagues.
"You got beaten up by the hospital parking garage," said Isaac, entirely too cheerfully for Sebastian's taste. "Speaking of, do you remember who did it?"
Sebastian's forehead wrinkled as he tried to recall the events that had led to him waking up in a hospital bed. Slowly his memories started to piece together, until at last he remembered that final moment before he fell unconscious. He cringed as he recalled Sophie's sadistic smile as she swung her Bible at his head.
"Don't remember a thing," he lied slowly.
"Well, we haven't got any other leads at this point," said the policeman closest to him. "You were found in a spot that the security cameras don't cover and apparently you and your attacker were the only ones in that area at the time. If you can't remember who it was, then there may not be a lot we can do."
"Oh, goo—er not good," Sebastian replied blearily.
Isaac glared at him suspiciously, then waved the other cops out of the room. "It was Jess' aunt, wasn't it," he said, when they had gone. It was not a question.
Sebastian hesitated, then shrugged. No sense in trying to go forward with the charade.
"Yeah, it was her."
"And I take it you don't want to press charges?" Isaac asked as he successfully fought back a grin.
"That would mean she'd have to stay here in L.A. for the duration of the trial," Sebastian replied.
"So that's a no. All right, I'll see what I can do. I'll let you know how it works out when I come by with Raina and the others later on," he said, turning to leave.
He paused at the door and turned back to Sebastian with a smile. "By the way, congratulations," he said, and left.
Sebastian wasn't sure what he meant by that, but before he could really wonder about it, he felt the warm pressure on his hand increase, and turned to see what it was. He saw right away that it was another hand, but it took him a moment to realize that the hand was attached to another person, and then another to realize that this person was both female, blonde, and wearing the ring he'd gotten for Jessica. It was a few moments after that that his recently-jarred brain was able to add these facts together and come up with the conclusion that Jessica Devlin was holding his hand. The realization hit him harder than Sophie Talbot's Bible.
Slowly, a grin that would rival that of any sea-dwelling shark began to spread over his face, and he vowed then and there that he would never, ever let Jessica live this down. To his eternal delight, she began to stir, and soon her eyes fluttered open.
"Good morning, beautiful!" he said cheerfully, his pain momentarily forgotten.
Jessica instantly jerked her head around to look for the source of the disquieting words, then emitted a gasp of pain. Her grip on Sebastian's hand tightened like a vice, eliciting a grunt from him as well.
"Sorry," she hissed when she finally caught her breath, though she was not yet sure what she was apologizing for.
"It's okay, just let go!" he yelped.
She quirked an eyebrow at him in confusion, then, as realization began to dawn, she glanced down at their still-joined hands. With a speed that was quite surprising, given her condition, Jessica yanked her hand back and stared at it in horror.
"Shit, no one saw that, right?" she asked in a panic.
"Just Isaac and some cops, maybe a few nurses," he replied, wincing as he cradled his own battered hand.
Jessica paled. "Please tell me you're kidding," she begged.
"Shit, shit, shit!" she moaned, raking her fingers through her hair in frustration.
"C'mon, Jess, everyone knew you were bound to succumb to my good looks and charm eventually," he teased.
"This isn't funny, Sebastian. We've got a big problem on our hands," she said urgently.
"What, because a few people saw us hold hands? Don't you think you're over-reacting a little-"
"We're married," she interrupted.
He snorted in amusement, causing her to scowl. This was not the response she'd been aiming for.
"Are you still tripping on your pain meds or something?" he asked. "'Cause in case you don't remember, that wedding was a farce to get rid of Aunt Bitch, though I can understand why you'd want to believe you're married to me."
Jessica sighed angrily and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Sebastian, those papers we signed…the whole thing was legal. And binding. Warren was kind enough to tell me so before he left. I tried to call you and tell you, but-"
"But I was too busy getting the shit kicked out of me by an old lady," he finished, his face paling as the realization sunk in.
They both fell silent as they tried to figure out what to do next. Finally, Sebastian rallied and spoke up.
"Okay. This isn't the end of the world. All we have to do is either find a judge who doesn't hate us too much to agree to grant us an annulment, or we find a way to blackmail Warren into doing so. No one else has to know," he said resolutely.
"Everyone knows," Jessica replied.
Sebastian's shoulders sagged in resignation. He sighed. "Of course they do."
"Still, I think we should go ahead with your plan as soon as possible. No offense, but I think it's the only way to salvage what little reputation I have left," she said.
"None taken. It's a fair point," he acknowledged. "Besides, this hurts my reputation, too."
This got a laugh out of her. "How? Everyone knows you've been dying to get in my pants for nearly seventeen years. If anything, it'll boost your rep," she said defensively.
"True, but I can't have people thinking I'm the marrying type, when I'm very clearly not. Learned that the hard way," he replied, sounding entirely too cheerful for Jessica's taste.
"Don't let Claire hear you say that," she said irritably.
"Ha! She'd be the first one to agree with me," he replied, relishing her frustration.
"About what?" asked Claire as she strolled into the room, carrying an arrangement of peace lilies and followed by Julie, who was holding what looked like a couple of homemade greeting cards.
"That I'm not made for marriage," he said breezily.
"Psh. You're telling me," she replied, rolling her eyes.
She set the lilies on Jessica's bedside table, then turned and placed a hand on her good shoulder. She smiled at the other woman sympathetically.
"I was so sorry to hear about your injury, your aunt, and your wedding. If there's anything I can do for you, please let me know," she said sincerely, giving Jessica's shoulder an encouraging squeeze.
"Thanks," Jessica said wryly.
"It figures that when you finally got remarried, it was an accident," Julie said to her father.
"Yup," said Jessica, as Claire nodded in agreement.
"Oh, sure, gang up on the guy who just got beat up by an old lady," he groused half-heartedly.
"Seriously though, what are you going to do?" asked Claire.
Both Sebastian and Jessica considered this for a moment.
"I think we should ask Madeleine for help," Sebastian said finally. "She'd never pass up the opportunity to have us owe her."
"And if anyone on our team is capable of convincing a judge to help us, it'd be her. And Danny, but I'm still not talking to him," she added.
"Now wait a minute. Put aside your grudge for a moment and think about it. The two of them working together have a much greater chance for success than Madeleine alone, and besides, can you think of a better way for Danny to finally make this up to you? And really, hasn't he been punished enough anyway? For God's sake, he went to lunch with Aunt Sophie at your behest. I'm pretty sure that falls under cruel and unusual punishments."
"Well, all right," Jessica replied after a moment's pause. "But I seem to remember you saying something along the lines of how sexy I was as I sent Danny out on that little excursion."
This earned knowing giggles from Claire and Julie, who had sat back to enjoy the show.
"Yes, and I stand by what I said," Sebastian said. "But you've got to admit, that was a really harsh punishment. It's not as if he fell on you on purpose, you know."
Jessica sighed and hung her head as much as her injuries would allow. "You're right. I shouldn't have even been so hard on him to begin with, much less sent him out alone with Aunt Sophie. I guess it's my turn to apologize to him."
"And the nurses?" asked Sebastian.
Jessica scowled. "They had it coming."
"But-" he began.
"They know what they did," she snapped.
And that was the end of that line of conversation.
Claire cleared her throat, shooting a nervous look at Jessica as she did so. "So, about the plan?"
Sebastian and Jessica exchanged glances.
"I'll get on the phone with Madeleine," said Jessica crisply. "You should call Danny and see if he's up to helping out after what he did to his hand. We'll tell them to start digging up any information they can on Cleary that may prove useful in persuading him to grant us an annulment."
"Anything we can do?" Julie asked eagerly.
"Nothing that I can think of," said Jessica.
"Keep your fingers crossed for us," added Sebastian. "Danny and Madeleine are our only hope at this point. Raina and Isaac sure as hell aren't going to help us."
"How come?" Julie asked, cocking her head to the side.
"Well, for one thing, I owe Isaac way too much already," he began.
"And for another, Raina refuses to be involved in anything that seems remotely underhanded," Jessica finished.
"Also, they're having way too much fun at our expense," she added.
"Yeah, that too," he said, nodding.
Julie and her mother stared at them, bemused.
"Has anyone ever told you how screwed-up your lives are?" Julie asked.
"You do every day," Sebastian replied.
"True," said Julie, grinning.
"If you're done," Jessica said, "I'm going to go ahead and call Madeleine."
She grabbed her phone and hit Madeleine's speed dial. When it was answered, Jessica skipped the greeting and launched straight into the explanation of what she wanted her to do, with scattered promises that it all would be made worth Madeleine's while.
Madeleine, for her part, listened eagerly for her chance to butt in and tell her that, in anticipation of such orders, she had already dug up a particular file on Cleary, one that would ensure his swift return to the hospital to grant the unhappy couple an annulment.
"Jess…Jess!" she cut in over Jessica's offering of first chair for the next five cases.
"Of course I have complete confidence in your abilities, and there's no question that you're ready-I'm sorry. You were saying?" said Jessica upon realizing that Madeleine was trying to get a word in edgewise.
"I was trying to say that I anticipated your request and already found some dirt on Cleary. He bought a house in Costa Rica with taxpayer dollars. Danny and I are going to go confront him about this and with any luck, he'll be declaring your marriage null and void before dinnertime," she finished smugly.
"I love you so much right now," Jessica said as relief washed over her.
"Don't I wish," Madeleine replied wistfully.
Jessica laughed and exchanged goodbyes with Madeleine, then hung up. She turned as much as her shoulder would allow and grinned at her companions.
"Judge Cleary's been a naughty boy," she said cheerfully.
"That's wonderful!" Claire replied sincerely. "I'm so happy for you!"
"Well, it was fun while it lasted," Julie sighed.
Sebastian sagged with relief. "I've never been so happy about judicial corruption," he said, then paused, remembering the time he'd arrested a judge during a court session. "Well, except maybe for that one time," he amended.
At this point neither he nor Jessica could have cared less if Judge Cleary had been murdering people, as long as he could be blackmailed into undoing the damage he'd done. For his part, Sebastian hadn't realized how much he appreciated the freedom of being single until he was suddenly, forcibly deprived of it, and though he didn't think he'd be up to dating anytime soon, it made him more comfortable to know that it was always an option. Jessica, meanwhile, just wanted to forget that the whole mess had ever happened and focus on regaining the use of her right arm.
Ten minutes later, Jessica's cell phone rang again. She checked the caller ID and smiled. It was Cleary.
"Hello," she said cheerfully.
"I'll be over with the papers in ten, just call off your dogs!" he begged.
"Consider them called off. It's been a pleasure doing business with you," she replied, and hung up.