We had just arrived at the IPNW office Christmas party, something that was open to all paid employees, volunteers, law students, and exonerees. Claire was excited over all the decorations, the lights being her favorite. She spotted Edward through the glass office walls, and bounced up and down in my arms.
"Yep, there he is. Let's wait until he's done with what he's doing."
"No, Daddy now!" Claire insisted.
She definitely didn't get her stubborn nature from me. "Not yet. Let's see if they have cookies."
"I have cookies?"
"Yes, you can have cookies. Daddy will join us when he's done; everybody will quit working in a few minutes."
Edward and I worked different days of the week so we could both still put in time with the IPNW. Our positions were paid now, and I worked three days to his two, with an occasional weekend thrown in. Sometimes my mom came over to watch Claire if Edward and I worked together on a case. Those were actually my favorites times, because we both felt such a connection to these people we were helping, and we worked well together.
"Hello, ladies," I heard from my left. I had just stepped into the conference room where the party was being held.
I looked up and smiled hugely. "Hey, Ben. I haven't seen Angela yet."
"That's okay. She told me she'd be tied up until party time."
"Same with Edward. He's finishing a meeting, and busybody here wanted to go in and see him immediately." I laughed as I indicated my preschooler.
"Well, I know Ang will be happy to see you," he said.
Angela and Ben had married shortly after Claire was born, and they were currently expecting their first child. Angela volunteered at the IPNW sometimes, and I knew she'd been on a specific case for a little while now that she was hoping to wrap up before the baby came.
"I'm looking forward to this party, you know? Familiar faces of exonerees."
"Have you ever found out after putting someone away that they were innocent?" Ben asked as he took a seat.
"Well, I did mostly tax law at the firm I was with before, but of course I did plenty of second chair on cases when I was in law school." As I spoke, I filled a paper plate with some of the goodies spread out and sat with Claire in my lap.
"It would feel horrible, I guess. Maybe it would depend on the level of the crime and the amount of time served," Ben mused. "I've had more than a few arrests that turned out to be nothing, but the nature of my job is different than yours. I don't actively work to convict anybody."
"That's true," I agreed.
"Hi!" Angela came into the room then, and I smiled at her as she rushed over to greet her husband. She turned to me after she hugged Ben. "Hi, Claire!"
"Hi, Angewa!" Claire said, trying her best to say my friend's name.
Angela laughed. "Looks like someone likes the snowball cookies I made."
I glanced down and found that my daughter was covered in powdered sugar. I groaned, grabbing a napkin and brushing the worst of it off.
"Daddy!" she squealed, and I knew he'd just come in the room.
I looked up at my handsome husband; he was in a green plaid button up and khakis, and he looked good enough to eat. He leaned over me and we kissed before he pulled Claire up and out of my arms, heedless of the food she was wearing.
"Claire bear! I'm so happy you came to see me."
"Mama gave me cookies!" she said and offered him one. He took a dramatic bite, pretending to chew something giant before swallowing hard and making a gulping noise. She laughed and laughed at his antics.
Angela told me about how she'd completed her work and she was now free to take maternity leave. I knew that she would not have really rested mentally if she'd taken time off before the case was completed, because we had that in common. Ben had saved up enough vacation time to have two weeks with Ang after the baby was born.
I looked up at my own child as she chattered at Edward. She was almost three now, and I couldn't imagine our life without her. I had no idea how much my heart would expand when she was born, not just to love her but to love my husband more than I ever had before. To watch him being such a good father to our daughter never failed to make my heart throb and melt.
We spent several hours at the party before heading home, getting reacquainted with exonerees I'd helped in years past. I was able to introduce Edward and Claire to some of my favorite people, and Lara praised my services as the party wore on. Eventually we left, and the three of us plopped down on the couch to watch The Polar Express when we got home. The tree lights were blinking steadily, and Claire was almost asleep on her father's chest when my cell rang from within my purse. I ignored it at first, but then the rarely used landline rang, too. I sighed before sliding out from under Edward's arm to get to it before it stopped.
"Hi, Bella?" It was Lara Zarowsky, my boss.
"Yeah, Lara." I was confused, because I'd just seen her. The office was officially closed for the holidays.
"I just had a call from Washington's attorney general. Seems there's a problem with a certain case that we're involved with." I heard her sigh, and I still didn't see what this had to do with me. "There was an inconsistency in a case one of the teams is working on, and we had to report it to the district attorney. The result of the error was that a criminal walked, while someone else was convicted."
"Well, that's terrible. Did you tell them you'd take a deeper look after the holidays?" Edward was watching me now, and I resisted the urge to pace.
"You see, it's a case you worked on many years ago. The error was yours. I'm going to be honest, it's not looking good for you."
My knees buckled, and I sank to the arm of the couch before I collapsed. "What-what do you mean?"
"There's been a warrant issued for your arrest, pursuant to tampering with evidence on a federal case. I wanted to give you a heads up."
My mind went blank as I heard my cell ring again, and then Edward's lit up on the side table. There was a knock on the door, and Edward frowned at me as I stood frozen, not letting go of my death grip on the portable phone.
"Bella?" I heard Lara say. It sounded like she was at the other end of a long tunnel.
"Bella, what's wrong?" Edward said as the person knocked on the door again. He got up, holding a sleeping Claire with her head on his shoulder. The doorbell rang, and I heard a muffled voice through the door.
"Isabella Swan Cullen? Seattle Police, we have a warrant for your arrest."