Jackson Stiles, Road to Redemption

ROAD TO REDEMPTION

 

This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual people or events is a coincidence and not at all associated with the fictional town of Redemption.

 

This edition published September, 2016

Copyright 2016 © Jo Richardson All Rights Reserved

Edited by Jeanne McDonald

Cover art by Mayhem Cover Creations

 

Scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the author is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic or paperback editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

 

ISBN 13: 978-1530103669

ISBN 10: 1530103665

 

 

Jackson Stiles is used to having bad days, but they’ve been especially bad since a certain tabloid reporter seems to have it out for him.

Emma Green doesn’t mean any harm. She simply sees it as her duty to report the misdeeds of certain Private Detectives who charge too much in a society where people need more superheroes and less villains; something even Jackson has convinced himself he deserves to be called, deep in his gut.

When the two of them realize they’re investigating the same suspicious circumstances, Emma makes Jackson an offer he only wishes he could refuse. But can the man who trusts no one allow the one woman he can’t stand help him get to the bottom of a murder he feels responsible for?

Exposed and unsure, these two unexpected allies come together to unmask the mysteries cloaked in plain sight while uncovering secrets within each other. A lost soul and a seeker of truth travel down the road to redemption and discover more than they bargained for.

 

 

Warning:
This book contains strong language, sex, lies, conspiracy, murder, and
sarcastic banter between characters.

To fuckery that is always in progress.

 
Thanks so much to my family, for continuously supporting me on my writing journey and for thinking I’m going to be a best seller one day. I love you guys.

To some exceptional women who have continuously encouraged me to write the best Jackson I could.  They accept my morbid love for the ellipsis with open arms. I thank you with all my blackened heart (and his): Corie O’Brien (as per usual, every hour of every day), Jami Denise, and special thanks to Chrisann Bradley because in my darkest hour, you texted me and said,
let’s talk about Jackson
.

To a lady who has been as excited about this guy as I am, Jeanne McDonald. Your support, enthusiasm and personal touches on this story, in my humble opinion, have helped to make him ready for the world. I couldn’t ask for a better friend and editor. I’m so glad to know you.

To my awesome pre-readers: Olena Cherkaska, Cynthia Belechak, Lachrisha Britt, Sarah Canady, Sally Hopkinson, and Sue Bartelt: your early reviews and suggestions for this guy and his story have been a tremendous help. You are all priceless to me.

 Many thanks to L.J. Anderson at Mayhem Cover Creations for bringing Jackson to life on the cover of this book. It is perfection.

To my family of talented authors at Enchanted Publications, the guidance, support and comradery we have is rare. I am forever grateful to have found you all. Thanks for being such great women and great authors.

And to anyone who reads this story and is able to overlook this gruff, sarcastic, curses too much, drinks too much, and has a boatload of baggage to deal with private eye with an attitude to find a hero with a heart of gold, even though he doesn’t believe it to be so . . . Welcome to my world.

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN I WAS A KID, my parents told me to be good. They urged me to play nice, study hard, and treat others like I wanted to be treated. They said if I followed the rules and kept my nose clean, great things would happen for me.

Problem is, I never was a very good listener.

WELCOME TO MY WORLD

 

 

 

 

 

MY HEART IS BEATING like a motherfucker.

Why didn’t I tell anyone where I’d be tonight, again?

Redemption isn’t the most considerably sized city in the U.S., but it’s big enough. If someone wanted to get lost, or wanted to lose someone, they could.

Hindsight’s… blah blah blah.

Not that it matters. I’ve got bigger problems to worry about. Such as the large group of would-be gangbangers I’m surrounded by, who might very well crush my skull like it’s a tomato if they find out I’m not who I say I am.

When they find out.
The when is inevitable.

A lone cigarette calls out to me, promising to make it all better. To make the stress of my situation go away. Its very existence torments me, most days, in a schizophrenic kind of way. My head says it’s not worth it to take a drag. My lungs, however, they long for the sensation of nicotine like a kid longs for candy.

I inhale, long and deep, followed by a slow and steady exhale. It’s something my therapist is trying to get me into the habit of doing. She says it’s some kind of yoga bullshit I need to try more often.

Breathing is good, Stiles.

Breathing clears your head.

Breathing is
not
going to bring me the cool, satisfying calm that only the deep drag of a smoke can, dumbass.

My fingers curl around the steering wheel as my thumbs tap a familiar beat to one of the songs off Van Halen’s
Eighty-four
album.

It doesn’t help.

My hands twitch.

My jaw clenches.

My determination is…
eh
.

You will not pull the cancer causing item out of your pocket and smoke the fuck out of it, dammit.

“Shit.”

Despite the headlights and loud music that surrounds me, I can’t seem to distract myself from wanting to take a drag.

Sucks to be me, sometimes.

A lot of times.

Okay,
most
of the time.

Finally, I concede and retrieve the damn thing. I give it a hard look, then I tap it against the dash.

I glower at it.

I want it bad. But after a never-ending stare-down with the inanimate object between my fingers, I don’t light up. Instead, I purposefully slip it back into my pocket.

Slow and easy.

Sometimes, the simple act of touching it is enough to quench the need. To remind me who’s boss. Not that it’s working perfectly at this particular moment, mind you, but it’s enough.

“Screw you,” I tell the devil wrapped in onion paper, peeved I even thought about giving in.

I sneak a peek around to make sure no one witnessed my moment of weakness even though it doesn’t matter. I don’t know a damn soul here.

Except for one.

Not that I really know him. It’s more that I know
of
him.

Damn, when did it get this dark out?

The sun goes down earlier and earlier these days. Then again, it’s about that time of year.

Don’t be scared, Mikey. Nighttime’s not all that bad.

A short blast of a painful memory surprises me and disrupts my focus. It throws me off my game for a split second, then I shake it off. ‘Cause that’s what I do.

Serpentine Road has been poorly lit for as long as I can remember. Hell, I’ve driven down this stretch too many times to remember and know where every pothole is by heart. On a good day, that is. But with the moon hiding behind the trees and the fog rolling in, I can’t see shit much more than ten, maybe fifteen feet in front of me.  Even with the faint glow of low beams from my car—and the one next to it—I still feel blind as a fucking bat.

One more deep breath in and I close my eyes while I let the air out.

Settle down.

My fingers rub against each other, aching for something to hold between them. I relieve my lips of their dryness and glance outside, looking for anything else to hold my attention. Silhouettes of people line the shoulders of the road as they wait for their show to begin.

I’m surprised there aren’t more potheads in attendance, to be honest.

Huh
.

Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve seen one doobie light up since I got here.

Weird.

I rev the V-8 engine for dramatic effect. The over the top, blinged out, cherry red Dodge Charger RT I borrowed from a buddy of mine can take it. Plus, she needs to get warmed up. I want her in good spirits for what I’m about to do to her.

And, of course, when I say “borrowed,” I mean without permission. And when I use the term “buddy,” I mean ex-con who owed me a favor.

Same, same.

Muffled cheers outside seem to grow silent until all I hear is the beating inside my chest. And then, the buzzing inside my jacket.

“Dammit.”

I pull out my cell phone and check it, even though I already know who it is, seeing how it's been a good hour, hour and a half, since I last heard from her.

Answer your phone, Jackson.

The text is short and sweet, as usual. I put it away because I don’t have time for guilt trips—even from the woman who gave me life roughly twenty-eight years ago.

I push the sound of my mother’s voice out of my mind and concentrate on what’s about to happen.

A shadow moves outside next to my passenger side door. It’s my opponent stealing a moment with a woman I have to assume is his girl. Thank God he’s not groping her, or pushing her up against his car to dry hump her, for crying out loud. That shit would be awkward. No, this guy is classier than that. He takes her chin, and he kisses her gently for about half a minute.

Awesome. Even more awkward.

Clearly, I’m invading their privacy, but honestly, what in the hell am I supposed to do? I’m trapped here like a rat.

She whispers something to him before she leaves him. He only lets go of her hand when he has to. After that, the two of us watch her while she disappears into the crowd.

I literally just witnessed a fucking scene straight out of
Hope Floats
for crying out loud.

Not that I’ve seen it.

I follow her shadow into the mass of silhouettes until he raps his knuckles against my window and leans into the door. He’s patient as he waits for me to roll it down.

I’m convinced he’s about to give me shit for ogling his girl, so I try to come up with a good comeback for him, but I don’t have to.

“Good luck.” He’s got what appears to be a sincere smile.  Like he’s known me his whole life and this is just another day on the road for us.

For a second, I believe him.

This kid isn’t what I expected at all. He’s clean cut, respectful, and seemingly intelligent.

Happy go fucking lucky.

I’m not sure what to make of that observation. It conflicts with my intel.

Doesn’t matter. A job’s a job.

I give him a half-nod.

“You too.”

There’s a smirk that pulls at the sides of his mouth.

Apparently, he’s also cocky.

After he yanks his car door open, he slides in smooth like a good jazz song.

I roll my eyes and adjust the rearview mirror as the crowd spreads out on either side of the street.

I tighten the bandanna wrapped around my head and take in a few more healthy breaths for good measure.

I won’t lie; I’m anxious. I’ve been tracking this guy for a couple weeks now. Why he’s still in town, considering the rap he’s wanted for, I have no idea, but what I do know is this is my best bet on bagging him. Considering the number of people in attendance at this function, though, I suddenly question whether or not the Smith & Wesson I have holstered at my waist is enough back up.

Too late, now.

A curvy girl in ripped jeans, way too much makeup, and purple hair tied into a ponytail holds up a white rag. She gets a nod from my mark, then her eyes move to mine to see if I’m ready.

I’m fucking ready.

She lets her stare linger long enough for me to notice. There’s a part of me that wants to hop out of the car, call a delay of game, and get her number despite the clumps of mascara that weigh down her lashes.

You don’t wanna go there, Stiles.

I’m dealing with barely legal aged kids here, so I break the connection I have with the Goth princess and take one last glance over at my perp; he gives me a confident grin. My foot taps against the gas pedal, and once again I’ve got my eyes on the rag. When the cloth drops, I forget who I am and think about how I wish I could drive this car a hell of a lot farther than the five-hundred or so feet we’re about to scream across.

I stomp on the gas pedal and the tires spin.

Bad idea.

"Mother of . . ." I let off the gas until the wheels catch some friction, and then punch it again. The Charger flies to catch up with my adversary.

The turns in the road are barely visible and not until I’m right up on them, which sucks. A couple close calls make me question my judgment in signing up for this fucking race, but when the road straightens out, I hit the gas and let out a victory cry akin to Tarzan, king of the mother fucking jungle.

“Ha!” The wind vibrates against the hood and adrenaline rushes through my veins as I pull past
Dale Earnhardt
over there on our turn to head back.

“Not so arrogant now, are ya?” I howl even though I know he can’t hear a goddamn word I’m saying.

The entire length of this competition is probably less than a minute, but within those sixty seconds, there’s a part of me that can understand the attraction these kids have toward the drag. Something about speeding down a strip of road to see whose piece of machinery can outwit, outrun, and plain old outlast the other is primal. Just about everyone has to feel that on some level or another.

My mouth pulls into a wide grin when I cross the finish line almost a half car length ahead of him.

“Yes!” I fist pump behind tinted windows. A few times. I’m damn near giddy when I pull to a screeching halt.

Alright, so I’m full on giddy. Sue me.

Not only am I not going to have to fight this asshole for the thousand dollars I put up just to be here tonight, but I just scored double that.

I pull myself together as I slide out of the Charger with a neck crack and shoulder roll.
Cool like Alaska in the dead of winter.

I don’t like to gloat. Most of the time.

People run toward us.  They’re hooting and hollering for me even though I don’t know a single one of them. Their voices echo off the trees, and I feel like we're in the middle of nowhere even though the interstate is only about a half mile up the road.

I have to give it to this kid, he’s not half bad. Disappointed, though. I can tell by the way he’s walking slower than before. But being who he is, he comes over to congratulate me anyway, impressed.
As well he should be.

The money chick jogs up to us, handing me tonight’s take. The kid smiles as he praises me, in a solemn kind of way.

“Good race, man.” He shoves a hand toward me, and I debate it, sure, but I shake it in the end as I add another characteristic to his profile.

Respectable.

I find myself letting the moment hang there between us. A nice, firm grip holds onto him as I stuff my winnings into my front pocket with the other hand.

The bottom drops out of the pit of my stomach for a second. Damn if I don’t almost feel bad for what’s about to go down.

Almost
.

He seems like a good kid but that's not my problem. And it’s not my job to feel bad. It’s my job to find the bad guys, take them in, and get paid. So I shove the doubts to the back of my mind.

“Thanks.” I point at him. “You’re Don Leary, right?”

Gotta get some confirmation. Just in case I’ve been following the wrong guy for half a month. Not that it’s likely.

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