The Proviso

By: Moriah Jovan

AUGUST 2004





“Check out the way he walks. I wonder if he fucks as good as he looks?”

Miss Justice McKinley looked down at the textbooks on the desktop in front of her and felt violated by the predatory tone coming from the woman in the row behind her. Really, she’d thought she’d left all this junior high queen bee business when she graduated from college, but apparently, some girls just never grew up.

She was very beautiful, Sherry was, glossy black hair, very thin, very well dressed—and she knew it. She stood out in the lecture hall full of students who watched and listened to Chouteau County prosecutor Knox Hilliard’s bon mots in between student introductions.

Sherry’s worker bees laughed and slid comments back and forth about Sherry’s tastes, most of which, in Justice’s opinion, were unprintable. Justice even flinched at one particularly nasty remark that she couldn’t avoid hearing, then the back of her chair was kicked and she tossed a glance over her shoulder in irritation.

“Sherry,” Worker Bee Number One whispered, “stop it. She’s gonna get mad.”

“What’s she going to do, read me Bible stories? Look at her! She’s drooling all over her pretty little dress. She wouldn’t know what to do with him if she had him.”

Justice swallowed at the cruelty in the girl’s voice, the nanny-nanny-boo-boo singsong close in her ear, and she cringed at the whisper. “I bet she wants to fuck Knox Hilliard as much as I do. Pay attention, little girl.”

It was a good thing Justice was in front of Sherry and her courtiers because her face flooded with color. She averted her gaze from Professor Hilliard and tried to cool the hot rage and mortification that welled up inside her. It wouldn’t have bothered her so much if Sherry hadn’t cut so close to the truth.

Then it was the Queen Bee’s turn to introduce herself. She kicked Justice’s chair again and Justice blinked away stinging tears before looking up at the handsome attorney.

“Miss Quails,” Professor Hilliard said, his deep voice resonating from the front row of the lecture hall all the way to the most remote corners of the back. “Your turn. What kind of law do you want to practice?”

“Corporate,” she said shortly, “but what I really want to talk about is what you’re doing this weekend? All weekend?”

The room held its collective breath at her brazenness and the professor stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. Then a smile, quick and blinding, flashed across his face. Justice stared at him in awe, as she had for the entire two hours she’d been in this class. If Justice had ever needed to see an example of male beauty and masculine grace, Knox Hilliard was it. Too bad he was only subbing for the real professor.

He began to chuckle as he came closer to Sherry and therefore, closer to Justice. “See me after class and I’ll see what I can arrange,” he murmured, his predatory tone matching Sherry’s perfectly.

“Certainly . . . Knox.”

He still chuckled as he continued with the next person down the row. Justice averted her eyes. Soon she heard, “And what about you, Miss McKinley?”

Justice started, and looked up at him; he watched her expectantly. She could feel her face burn and she cleared her throat. Her nerve endings tingled and she felt slightly nauseated. “I—I want to be a prosecutor,” she said and then, to her horror, she added, “like you.”

Sherry and her clique snickered openly.

Surprise flickered in the man’s ice blue eyes and he smiled in kind bemusement. “Why?”

Justice swallowed again. She felt as if she were on trial, as if her answer would determine her whole future. In three years, half the people in that classroom would be competing for the coveted coup of being hired and trained by Knox Hilliard. Yes, her answer today would determine her whole future.

“I—I want to help people,” she began, caught up in the suddenly changing colors of his eyes and for a brief moment, she forgot all about Sherry. “I think that criminals . . . that they have too many rights. It’s too easy to hurt others for fun and profit.” She went on, gaining confidence in her opinion and strength in her voice as she always did when she spoke on something she believed in.

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