Since high school everyone thought Jake Bender would end up behind bars; after all, he comes from a long line of bad boys. He spent years away from the place he called home. When he finally comes back, everyone thinks he's just a punk kid all grown up who’s now running a dive bar called The Night Club. What they don't know is he heads up a special task force, which cleans up neighborhoods and makes them safe again. Stormy Ryan has always felt more comfortable with her books than with people. She loves to spend her days within the pages of her books. When her second-hand bookstore is robbed for the third time in as many months, her employees quit leaving her to run the shop on her own. With the pressure of having to deal with her shop and people, not to mention the declining neighborhood, she is at the end of her rope. When closing up her shop late one night, she is held up and the neighborhood bad boy saves her, putting both of them at the forefront of a psychotic’s obsession. Being bad has never looked so good.
Eighteen year old Jake Bender sat slouched over in a chair in the principal’s office listening to the asshole saying over and over and over how he’d end up in jail or dead. Blah, blah, blah. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard a thousand times before. He was thankful this one wasn’t followed up by fists like his old man liked to do.
“Are you listening to me, boy?” The principal slammed his fist on the desk and walked around wagging his finger in Bender’s face. “You mark my words, boy; you’re heading for jail or the cemetery. Either way this world is better off without you. You could disappear and no one would care. We don’t need you.”
He sat there and slowly looked up at the principal raising an eyebrow. He’d been hearing this for years from his old man; that song was stuck on repeat. Bender was counting down the days until he could leave this place behind. He’d go full time at the garage, find a place to live, and try to stay alive. Once he was on his own he’d be the one who came first, no one else, just like he’d been raised, look out for number one.
“Don’t give me that look, boy.” He raised his hand as if to slap him.
Bender sighed and leaned back. He knew there was no way he was actually going to hit him. Besides, if for some reason he did, it wouldn’t hurt as much as what his dad did on a daily basis. “Do it. I dare you.”
They stared at each other before the principal backed down. “You’re not worth it. Get out of here and don’t come back for a week.”
“What, no Saturday detention?”
“Never worked for you before; sure isn’t going to work now. We just have to get through the next two months, unless you want to drop out now. Then you’re society’s problem.”
Bender stood up. “Way to inspire the youth there, sir. You may want to write that little speech down for future reference.”
“Get out, Bender. Just get out.”
Bender slowly walked home kicking a rock hoping the old man was out getting drunk somewhere and wouldn’t be home until later. He wasn’t worried about his mom; she’d been beaten down so much over the years she didn’t care about anything as long as his dad wasn’t beating on her.
When he saw the man sitting on the steps to his house he paused. There was something familiar about him, but Bender couldn’t place him. He knew he’d seen him before, but couldn’t remember.
“We need to have a talk son.”
“You’re not my dad.”
The man leaned back and crossed his ankles looking relaxed, but Jack knew he wasn’t. This man didn’t look like he ever let his guard down. “No, thank God for that. I’m here to help you.”
“Yeah, well I don’t want your fucking help.”
“Listen, you punk ass kid, do you want to end up like your old man? Nah, I can see from the look in your eyes you don’t. Well, I’m offering you a way out. A way you can hold onto that tough kid attitude while helping people.”
“Fuck them. They never helped me.”
“What do you think I’m doing? You sure as hell aren’t the first I’ve gotten out of here, and you won’t be the last, but you’d better listen up, boy, before it’s too late. This is your one shot at redemption. I suggest you take it.” He held out a card.
Bender stood there on shaking knees, thoughts going through his head. He wanted to escape the wrath of his father and the scum of the neighborhood. He knew if he stayed, he’d be dead within a year. Slowly, he reached out and grabbed the card, feeling deep down in his gut his whole life was about to change. Now, if it was for the better was yet to be seen.
M. Stratton is an International Amazon bestselling author in the romantic suspense and mystery suspense categories for her debut novel After the Storm. She is a self-proclaimed dork that loves to make people laugh and can trip over nothing. Her inner rock star is always on stage performing to a sold out crowd but is quiet and shy on the outside. She lives with her husband and son in Arizona, which is a big difference from where she grew up north of Chicago Illinois. As an only child she learned to tell herself stories to make the long winters go by quicker while dreaming of summer vacations. Now as an adult she still makes up stories to pass the time, but now she writes them down to share with other people. When not writing you can find M. watching football (Go Bears!), NASCAR, or classic movies, watching her husband and father restore classic cars, and seeing who can be sillier, her or her son, and of course reading.