The Best Is Yet to Come - Debbie Macomber

Prologue

“All rise,” the bailiff announced, as the judge stepped into the courtroom. “Judge Walters presiding.”

John Cade Lincoln Jr. rose to his feet next to his court-appointed attorney. He’d met the woman only once and had agreed to plead guilty. He faltered as he stood. His balance was off, as his leg had never properly healed from the shrapnel wound he’d suffered in Afghanistan. He caught himself by grabbing hold of the edge of the table where he sat as a defendant.

His attorney, Ms. Newman, a young woman who appeared to be fresh out of law school, leaned close to whisper, “The judge altered the agenda from the clerk’s office so you would be the last case of the afternoon,” she whispered.

“What does that mean?”

“I…don’t know.”

It didn’t sound like it was good news. With the way his life was spiraling downward, he didn’t expect anything less.

The silver-haired judge with piercing blue eyes took her seat, and everyone in the courtroom followed. Cade watched as she picked up his case file, and silently observed as the prosecutor read through the list of charges against him. Judge Walters slowly raised her head and looked directly at him. Her eyes narrowed at the long list, as she closely studied him. Cade met her gaze and squared his shoulders, as if standing before his commanding officer.

Disorderly conduct.

Assault and battery.

Destruction of private property.

Resisting arrest.

What captured his attention was a gasp that came from the back of the courtroom. He knew that voice. Knew the woman who’d made it. His mother. Groaning inwardly, he dropped his head, humiliated and humbled that she would turn up on the second-worst day of his life. He sank, grateful to take the weight off his leg, back into his chair as shock waves rolled over his shoulders because his mother sat in this very courtroom.

Sara Lincoln, his mother, was the last person he expected or wanted to see. The last communication, if it could even be defined as communication, had been nearly six years ago. The conversation consisted of his infuriated father yelling, his face red with anger, as he lambasted Cade. After calling him spoiled and ungrateful, he made sure Cade knew he was a major disappointment, a disgrace to the family name. And that had only been what Cade heard before he slammed out of the house. He had never gone back.

Maybe enlisting in the army had been a mistake, but it was his to make. As far as he was concerned, the choice between serving his country and attending law school following graduation had been a no-brainer. From the time he could remember, his father, John Senior, had expected his son to follow in his footsteps and join the family law firm.

From the moment he was born, it was assumed Cade would become an attorney. No one had bothered to ask him what he wanted. His job was to fall blindly into his family’s expectations. He’d been given no choice in the matter. It had all been arranged. Set in place as soon as he’d drawn in his first breath.

Unable to resist, he looked over his shoulder. It was indeed his mother, and she was alone, which relieved him but at the same time hurt. He knew better than to hope his father cared enough to support him when he’d hit rock bottom. What he did notice was the love emanating from his mother’s gaze. He quickly returned his attention to the front of the courtroom. If she was sorry for that final scene, it was too late now to make amends. If she’d said one word, one single word, in his defense, he could forgive her. Instead, she’d remained silent, and her silence had said everything.

He could only guess how his mother had learned he’d been arrested. He hadn’t spoken to anyone in his family since the day he left for basic training in California. He hadn’t even listed their names as next of kin on his enlistment papers, and he’d never looked back.

Six long years.

It went without saying: His parents would have nothing to do with him until he was willing to admit how terribly wrong he’d been. Once he realized his mistake, his parents would then be willing to welcome him back into the family fold.

Judge Walters looked up from the papers and again met his gaze, holding it for a long moment, as if gauging his character.

“Mr. Lincoln, have you been informed of your rights?” she asked.

Cade rose to his feet with the same awkwardness