The Price He Paid
Second Chances, Book 3
The golden boy and the rebel girl who cost him everything
Tough prosecutor Callie Hunter left the small town and never planned to return, but an unexpected inheritance requires her to return to the scene of her life’s greatest heartache.
One of the first people she encounters is the town’s golden boy who once captured her young heart—now newly released from prison. David Langley wants nothing to do with her or anyone else, except his nearly destitute mother. All he wants is to be left alone to scrape together a life unrecognizable to the boy who once carried the town’s dreams on his shoulders.
Until he let Callie Hunter derail him.
The draw between them is still there, but having her see how far he’s fallen is unbearable. The more she’s with him, however, the more she knows that who he was didn’t change. There has to be more to the story.
But second chances don’t happen for convicted murderers, and when old enemies conspire to send him back into the hell he barely survived, the only one who can help him is Callie.
The last person on earth he’s willing to ask for anything.
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The chapel was wall-to-wall strangers. All the better.
Callie Hunter had no desire to be connected to the hell-raising fourteen-year-old she’d been, bottle black, scarlet-tipped hair, piercings and all. The summer she’d been banished to Oak Hollow by her mother was one she’d shoved to the back of the closet.
One stiletto-clad foot swung impatiently from her crossed knees. As soon as the service was over, she was out of here. Only her feelings for Miss Margaret, as her great-aunt, Margaret Jennings, was known, could have dragged Callie back to the mountains of Georgia. She’d never come back one time in the sixteen years since she’d left. Memories of shame and sorrow clogged the valleys and hollows of this Smoky Mountain landscape. Agonizing reminders lurked on each rounded peak, waiting to pounce on her with the stealth of a wildcat.
Faint murmuring began to creep through the congregation like fog stealing over a riverbank, spilling up the nearest rise of land, and Callie could only assume someone had, after all, recognized her. She steeled herself. The funeral would be over soon. She’d deposit a generous donation with the minister and jump into her car. Be back in Philadelphia before morning, burrowed safely in her real life where she balanced the scales of justice, put the bad guys away. Where Callie Hunter was a rising star in the District Attorney’s office, with plans to one day run for election and replace her boss.
Assuming, that is, that she could reverse the damage she’d done to herself in the high-profile case she’d recently lost, a severe blow to the reputation of the wunderkind known in the tough Philly press as Lady Justice for her ardent prosecution of crime and her record conviction rate. She itched to get home and prove herself. Her job was her life; every second she had to be away at this critical period was torture.
The murmuring grew loud enough to drown the organ music that she found creepy. When mutters rose to a crescendo behind her, Callie gave up and turned, only to discover that no one was paying her an iota of attention.
Instead, every eye appeared to be focused on a man just entering at the back. Callie shifted to see who he was.
When she did, her heart stuttered.
No. It could not be. She examined the tall, powerful frame for signs of the boy she hadn’t let herself think of in years.
The man’s gaze flickered over her and onward. His stony expression never wavered.
She was seized by an impulse to get closer, to see if she was mistaken. Should she talk to him? But what on earth would she say?
He disappeared into a back pew before she could decide, and Callie turned to face the front again.
Just as well. There was nothing for her here. She couldn’t wait to be gone.
* * *
Why was he here? Hadn’t fifteen years in prison taught him hard lessons about caution?
Regardless of how intense those months together had been, he and Callie had parted ways as though strangers. There had been nothing to hold them together, it turned out, after the roller coaster of emotion, the drama and heartache. A boy’s damn-fool notion of honor had exploded in his face, had blasted his future to bits.
What had he expected to feel? He had no idea who she was anymore, except that she was beautiful—man, was she ever. The badly dyed black hair had given way to the natural blond he’d seen only at her roots, the profusion of curls she’d so often derided were now a shiny, straight cap. She’d grown a good three inches, he guessed, no longer that tiny rebel.
No rebel at all, from what he’d heard. A prosecutor—Fate sure had a nasty sense of humor. Their role reversals appeared to be complete.
Didn’t matter. Nothing mattered really, only biding his time, doing what he could for the one person who still held a claim on his shriveled heart. If not for his mother’s need of him, he’d never have set foot in Oak Hollow again. The road pulled at him, the longing to disappear, to start over somewhere, anywhere that no one knew him.
He’d come from good stock; his father had died a hero, rescuing two hikers from a fall. However desperate and defeated his mother was now, she once had raised a boy single-handed, struggled to keep body and soul together for both of them. An excellent student especially good at math and science with ambitions of being a pilot and astronaut, David had grown up under the caring eyes of an impoverished town where hardly anyone ever made it to college.
His mother had taken in sewing at night after long days of waiting tables to be sure he had basketball shoes and football uniforms. She’d grown vegetables and raised chickens to keep food on the table.
He wondered if she thought any of the struggle had been worth it when she’d been writing letters to a prison instead of the university where he was to have received a football scholarship.
He’d served his time, and he was supposed to be free now. Instead he was back in Oak Hollow, despised by everyone but his mother for dealing a mortal blow to the dreams of a town that had expected him to succeed for all of them.
Tough. The townspeople needed to get their own dreams.
The organ music swelled, yanking David from his musings. Just as well—the past was a hostile country to visit. He glanced toward the front and realized that there was nothing to say to the woman Callie had grown into. He should never have come.
Before the ushers began leading the mourners out, David Langley slipped into the shadows and through the side door.
With long strides, he left the past where it belonged.
…Excerpt from THE PRICE HE PAID by Jean Brashear © 2019