ALTERED BEGINNINGS by Destiny Booze
The headline in the small town newspaper read Young Woman Missing, Presumed Dead or Worse.
Leigh Lawson returned to Nags Head, <state>North Carolina after four years with a huge shock. That big and bold headline was about her! Everyone thought she was dead!</state>
The truth was that she was doing well. While gone, she had gotten clean from drugs and worked hard to get her bachelor’s degree in engineering. With her life back on track, she returns home in hope that she will receive a warm welcome. Instead, she gets the townsfolks' disdain.
Everyone hates her, everyone except Jason Altarez, an ambitious and resilient reporter with his sights locked on Leigh. He chases her with oozing charm and romance, but does he really want her or is he after his next story?
Leigh’s life soon spirals out of control when the police recruit her for an undercover assignment. They want her to go back to the life of her troubled teenage years, back into the drugs, and help them to bring the local drug supplier to conviction. It may be Leigh’s only chance to redeem herself with her family and friends. If she can complete this one assignment, the town will forgive her. The only problem is that she needs to figure out how to stay alive in the process…
Jason is her continuous partner through it all, proving his dedication to her as he struggles to keep her safe. Leigh wants to believe he is a man of his word. She wants to believe that her heart isn’t completely foolish for falling for him, especially when she discovers evidence that Jason may be working for the very drug dealer that Leigh is trying to have arrested. Will he betray her in the end or will he demonstrate the most romantic notion of all – that love at first sight truly exists?
“I’ve got to find her. She could be in danger,” Emma mumbled and turned to leave.
“No, Emma, listen to me. You have to stay out of the middle of this!”
She glared at him. “She doesn’t have anyone, Shawn.”
He groaned loudly, and cursed again. Emma needed to stay away! Why was he always unable to say no to this woman?
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll come with you.”
He had to convince her to try Jason’s house before going after Freddie Garrett like the crazy woman had a mind to do. He thought she was unreasonable and overemotional and impossible to please, but he also knew he was madly in love with her. “I’m pretty sure she’s with Ice. She took off the earrings earlier, but the team said they were sure she was with a guy.”
It didn’t take them long to make the trip. A Lexus pulled up behind them in the driveway. It was Jason. “What are you guys doing here? What’s wrong?”
Emma answered. “We’re looking for Leigh.”
Jason swallowed back the panic that those words immediately caused. Leigh was probably just inside. Why the hell hadn’t he come straight home like he’d wanted to? Because Nate said he needed your help and you couldn’t say no, and you convinced yourself that she was smart enough to wait for you. “I just got home. Let’s see if she’s here,” he said calmly.
No one expected to see the house in shambles or Leigh on her knees in Jason’s living room when they walked in. Slick stood in front of her where it looked as if he’d just pushed her there. The air of the house grew thick with expectation as Slick pointed a gun at the three in the doorway. “Come in and shut the door,” he said.
They did as they were told. Instinct directed everyone’s hands up in the air. Leigh was staring at the floor, her face hidden behind her thick, black hair.
Shawn took a step closer, but made no move to draw his own weapon. No one spoke at first, afraid to disrupt the scene or upset the man with the gun.
Slick directed his attention to Jason. “I did a little redecorating. Hope you don’t mind, Ice.” Then, he looked to Shawn. “Just the man I’m looking for. My boss would like to see you, Shawn.”
Emma gasped. Jason’s eyes remained glued to Leigh. Shawn said, “Let my sister go.”
The look in Slick’s eyes never wavered. He continued to look Shawn in the eye when he suddenly backhanded Leigh across the face so hard that a noise echoed in the room as if he’d hit a wall.
Leigh moaned softly. She still did not look at anyone, eyes shut and head bent to the floor.
Jason reacted without thinking when he charged Slick. He was brought up short when the gun redirected to point between his eyes. “Don’t be a hero,” Slick’s velvety voice murmured.
The emotion could be seen surging through Jason as veins popped from his neck. “Stop this!” he roared.
Slick kicked Leigh in the side and repeated, “My boss would like to offer you a job, Shawn.”
Emma began to cry.
Shawn only stared.
Leigh took another kick that made her scream in pain.
Shawn broke his silence. “What do you want from me?”
“You’re a pretty smart guy. I’m sure you can figure out what it means to be on Freddie’s payroll.”
Slick jerked Leigh back to her knees and punched her. “I need an answer, Shawn.”
Emma cried out, “Please, stop this!”
Shawn stepped forward. Tears glistened in his eyes. “Okay, okay, I’ll do it.”
Slick withdrew a wad of cash from his right pocket and threw it on the floor. “That will get you started. Freddie will expect to see you at the club to confirm that answer. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that I’ll be back to finish this if you don’t cooperate, and I mean soon.”
As soon as the man was gone, Jason was by Leigh’s side. “Leigh, talk to me, sweetheart.”
She was unconscious.
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