Jared BelaForte spent his life protecting the people he loves and the place he calls home working for a government appointed task force called The Greater Wilmington First Response Team or GWRT. A group comprised of his friend and half brother, Dylan Spencer. his father’s old partner on the Police Force, Alex Kelley and his cousin Jules Devereaux. Rounding out the team was Shay McElroy, a profiler who also happened to be the love of his life. Everything seemed perfect in his life, he had love, friends and family surrounding him and his team was on the verge of putting an end to the reign of a known trafficker who dealt in drugs and women. But in one moment, the man Jared had spent years trying to put away interrupted that life. Sergei Dolenov is that man. He deals in drugs and dolls, a family business you might say. He had been able to stay under the radar in the sleepy port of North Carolina that he called home these days. But when the Governor put together a task force to disrupt his business, he took on a new target. Jared BelaForte. After two years of torture and pain, Jared believed he would die in Dolenov’s “care”. But just when all hope is lost, an opportunity to escape presents itself. Two years to the day, Dylan got the phone call. Jared was in the local ER, and he was alive. Jared also learns that there was one other person that was left behind when he went missing, his little girl Sera, just 17 months old. She was the glue that held Shay together when all seemed lost to her. Can he pick up the pieces before the man responsible returns to finish the job he started?
Twenty-four months. It had been exactly two years since Shay had last seen Jared BelaForte, the man that she loved. Some days, it felt like an eternity. And in others, she would wake up and smell his scent surrounding her like he had been at her side moments before. The only thing she could count on from day to day was that she missed him.
There had been so many things she had wanted to tell him. Things she no longer believed she would ever get to say. He wasn’t coming back.
She had spent the last twenty-four months reassuring herself that there was hope. But, today she woke up with the sinking notion that he would never again look at her with his cerulean eyes. She would never hear him laugh or admire his beautiful smile and he would never get to meet his daughter, Sera.
When she woke up this morning, she cried. She cried the tears she had been keeping to herself for the last two years. She cried tears for all the things he had already missed. And she cried tears for all the things she knew her daughter would never have.
She would never know her daddy. His half brother, Dylan had stepped into the role of Daddy to Sera. Though he adored her as if she had been his own, they both knew that her little girls’ daddy could not be replaced.
In spite of the hardship, Dylans’ little girl Ellie had become like a big sister. She spent afternoons on the beach with Sera, Shay and Dylan as they splashed in the surf and Sera loved watching Ellie bury her daddy in the sand. Her little girl was the glue that held her mom together. She was the only reason Shay had not crumbled and they all knew it.
Shay felt his presence everywhere she went. Some days, she even thought she saw him on a busy street corner, down the beach or even outside her window when she looked down at his truck that she drove to work. Her heart ached every time she felt it idle, but at the same time she found it impossible to let go of any of the possessions that she knew he loved, especially his truck. Even if he wasn’t coming back.
In this moment, she sat outside of their offices. The headquarters for the task force Jared had been responsible for forming along with the Governor and his old training officer in the Marines, The Greater Wilmington Response Team. She looked up at the window of his office. How she wished she could have seen him peering out as he watched for her arrival. He would have been so angry with her for being this late. Even his anger was better than his absence.
She had no doubt that Dylan, Jules and Alex were already in their offices waiting for her arrival, but somehow today she just couldn’t make the walk into that building knowing Jared wouldn’t be there waiting.
Two years ago today, Shay had been sitting in this very same spot. They had been dating for about 8 months. Though the team had no idea, things were already starting to get serious and she had been talking with Jared about telling the team before he disappeared.
“Baby, I know that you think this thing between us won’t last,” Jared had said as they chatted over their cell phones. “But, you have to believe me when I say this is real. I love you and I don’t want to keep it from our friends. Hell, they’re detectives, they probably already know. “
“I know, but I am afraid that if this doesn’t work out things will get awkward for the team and I love this job. I can’t handle losing you and my job.” She said.
Her heart had been broken so many times that she was afraid to put herself out there, but Jared always knew just how to put her at ease.
“Shay, the moment I met you, all the walls I had used to barricade my heart came crumbling to the ground. There was no way I couldn’t let you into my heart. I feel like you were my first taste of oxygen since my father died and I have no intentions of ever letting go. I will fight for us. I will fight for you.” He said as tears streamed down her face.
“I love you Jared BelaForte.” She cried.
“I love you, too sweetheart. Now, I am running into the house to change and then I’ll meet you in the parking lot at HQ. We’ll tell them together. And then you my sweet girl are moving in. No more excuses.” Jared said.
She waited in that parking lot for half an hour that day.
Jared was never late. She had run up to their offices thinking maybe he had made it past her. She ran in expecting to see him standing at the computer table laughing with Dylan and Alex, or leaning against the doorframe chatting with Jules.
When she didn’t see him there, she rounded the corner to his office. Her heart began to race when she saw that his office had still been dark. She spun around quickly and said, “Have you seen Jared? It’s not like him to be late. “
“No, we thought he might be with you.” Jules said as she walked out of her office.
“I talked to him about forty minutes ago. He was on his way here. It only takes ten minutes from his house though.” Shay stated as all eyes landed on her. “ W hat?”
They all stared, but they were all too worried to make a comment on her revelation. Dylan reached for his cell and dialed Jared. It went straight to voicemail. Odd considering the man never turned his phone off.
“Shay, did he say he was stopping anywhere on his way in?” Dylan asked.
“No, he said he was going to change and head straight here. I caught him as he was coming in from a run.” She said as she struggled to keep the panic from rising.
“Okay, Alex call the Commander and see if he talked to Jared. Maybe he asked him to do something this morning. Shay and I will go out to the house and see if we can figure out what’s going on.” Dylan said as he put his arm around Shay and ushered her out to his car.
“Call us if you find anything out. Otherwise meet us at Jared’s.”
“Shay, we’ll find him. He probably just had an errand to run.” Jules said with a smile as they were leaving the building.
The ride out to Jared’s was silent. Shay was choking on the panic that had taken hold of her. And Dylan was staring straight ahead trying not to think about the worst-case scenarios. He truly hoped they’d find him locked out of the house or sitting on the couch. Of course, he was also thinking about how he’d yell at his brother for the scare he’d given them when they found him. He hoped they’d find him.
When they pulled into the drive. Both Dylan and Shay let go of the breath they had been holding as soon as they saw Jared’s truck in the drive.
“Oh thank god.” They both said, each letting out a sigh of relief.
Shay ran to the front door and swung it open without paying attention to the fact that it had not been locked. She ran straight for the stairs as she heard the shower running. As she turned through the door to his bedroom she called out, “Jared. You scared us half to death.”
She turned into the bathroom and stopped dead in her tracks when she saw a pool of blood on the floor. Jared’s blood she was certain.
Dylan was in the kitchen when he heard Shay scream. He hit the landing at the top of the stairs within a few seconds and ran into the bathroom. He found Shay kneeling on the floor beside a pool of blood staring at the stain and clearly in shock. He walked by her careful not to disturb the evidence and turned off the water as he texted Alex.
Call WPD and have them send a crime scene unit and get here ASAP Done, what’s going on?
There was struggle. Looks like kidnapping. Violent struggle. Shay is in bad shape.
Dylan put his phone in his pocket and squatted down in front of Shay putting his hands on her shoulders.
“Come on Shay, let’s go sit in the other room and wait for back up. WPD, Alex and Jules are on the way.” He helped her off the floor and led her to the bed as they sat down. He put his arm around her and felt her shaking.
“We have to find him Dylan.” She said in a shaky voice. “We have to.”
“Shay, we’ll find him. We’re going to find him.” He said as he looked into her eyes.
It was unclear whether he was trying to convince her or himself.
Twenty minutes later, Alex and Jules walked in followed shortly by WPD. Jules walked into the bathroom and saw the blood and the evidence of a struggle. She looked back at Dylan and Shay noting her fears mirrored in their faces.
Several weeks had passed without a single clue that could lead them to Jared. It was as if he had just vanished.
Shay was sitting in his office looking at his case file for what seemed like the thousandth time that week, when all of a sudden she felt nausea creep up her spine. She felt her skin flush as she got up and sprinted past the team for the nearest bathroom.
When she got there, she emptied the contents of her stomach and sat on the floor. Dylan knocked on the door that she had neglected to lock in her haste to get to the toilet a few minutes later.
When he saw her sitting on the floor, he walked to the sink and soaked a towel in cool water. He sat beside her and laid the towel against her neck and said, “When Rachel was pregnant this was the only thing that made her feel a tiny bit better.”
Shay looked up at Dylan with surprise in her eyes. “You know?”
“I know that you’re pregnant. Is there anything else I need to know?” He asked. Shay looked down at the tile and whispered, “It’s Jared’s.”
Dylan was speechless. He suspected something had been going on between Shay and Jared. But this, he had not expected at all. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest. “It’s going to be alright Shay. We’re going to find him. And we’re all here for you until we do.”
They sat in the bathroom for over an hour. Jules and Alex sat on the floor outside the room. All of them hoping that Dylan’s promise was a promise that they could keep. They needed to find Jared.
Today, as she sat looking up at the building it felt different. She had finally let go of Jared’s ghost. He wasn’t coming back.
As the minutes ticked by, she wondered what her life would have been like had he not been stolen from her? Would they be married? Would he want more children? She knew he would have been an amazing dad.
As she got caught up in the daydream she missed Dylan running towards the truck. He knocked on the window startling her out of her thoughts. Quickly she rolled the window down. “Where’s the fire Dylan?” She asked.
“Scoot over. We have to get to the hospital!” He all but screamed.
Once he got in the truck, he glanced into the back seat.
“She’s with Melina. I can’t very well bring her to work with me.” Shay answered.
She was confused by his behavior since either his ex-wife Rachel or Alex’s wife Melina watched her nearly everyday when she had to work.
“Why are we going to the hospital? Is Ellie okay?” Shay asked.
“Yeah, El . . . Ellie is fine. Listen, I need you to stay calm. There is a man in the ER. He is in bad shape, but they told me that his name is Jared BelaForte.” Dylan said.
Copyright© Kristi Loucks. All rights reserved.