Impacted by the recession, twenty-four-year-old artist Gina McKenna is down to her last few dollars and days away from living in her car when a successful businessman buys a painting and commissions another. As their relationship evolves, she’s seduced by his charm and mesmerized by his luxurious lifestyle until she discovers he’s a drug kingpin. As her world turns upside down, she struggles to survive vicious brutality.
Miguel Lopez is a cocaine supplier with a weightlifter’s physique and ‘the rules do not apply to me’ attitude. Maniacal and ruthless, he has no qualms about killing anyone who interferes with his distribution network, including Gina.
Dedicated to eradicating illegal drugs, DEA Special Agent Bobby Garcia spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars working undercover to buy his way up a dealer chain to identify the moneyman. When his fourteen-year-old daughter overdoses on cocaine, he traces the blow to Lopez. As Bobby’s mission becomes personal, he makes emotional decisions, which negatively impact civilians and his job. Unable to let go, he risks his career to orchestrate the biggest drug sting in Southern California. What happens isn’t what he expected.
When a deputy district attorney meets Gina at a party, he is smitten. As his attraction grows, so does Gina’s involvement with the DEA’s case, of which he is the designated prosecutor. Mindful of his professional ethics, he tries to stifle his feelings.
Sex and violence permeate the twists and turns of this cautionary tale about choosing one’s friends well.
Chapter 1 Gina: Movie-Star Smile
The next afternoon, Gina lugged her easels and canvases to the greenbelt in Heisler Park, determined to sell her paintings during the Thursday Evening Laguna Beach Art Walk. All day, she’d pinned her hopes on a prosperous local or a tourist buying an ocean scene. Taking a deep breath, she repeated her mantra for the hundredth time: “I will be successful.” She just wished she didn’t feel so darn vulnerable.
When she reached the bluffs overlooking the Southern California coastline, the May Gray had burned off, and the late afternoon sun cast an orange glow on the glassy water below. As she inhaled the salty air, she imagined the French Impressionists leaving their stuffy studios to paint outside and establishing the plein air style she embraced. Just thinking about her craft lifted her spirits.
“I’ll be successful,” she told herself again. But what if I’m not?
Where else could she live? She’d tried renting a bedroom or sharing an apartment, but no one wanted her messy oils stinking up their environment. When she’d found the converted garage with the broom closet-sized bathroom, a mile from the ocean in Corona del Mar, she’d been ecstatic. If she had to relinquish her studio apartment, then what would she do? Was couch surfing her future? She would in a pinch, but hated to impose. What was the alternative? The street? No, no way. Then where? Her car? In a million years, she never expected to live in her old tiny Toyota. Her stomach churned like the ocean’s waves.
She propped up the tripods on the grass along the snaking sidewalk. While arranging the canvases, she scanned the area. There were families with frolicking children and couples picnicking, but no artists. Perfect. No competition.
A middle-aged policeman strode up.
“Are you selling these?”
His accusatory tone caused her to hesitate. “Yes.”
“There’s an ordinance against transacting business in the park.”
She gasped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She and other artists had sold there many times.
“Laguna Beach doesn’t want street vendors competing with the galleries. There’s a $250 fine.”
Oh, no. How in the world would she pay it?
Loud voices captured their attention. Thirty yards away, a Hispanic man with a weightlifter’s physique and a tiger-face tattoo on his back shoved a taller, leaner guy wearing a white suit. The well-dressed man held balled fists by his sides and shouted. Red-faced, they looked as if they’d brawl at any moment.
As the cop sprinted toward the quarrel, he called over his shoulder, “Let this be a warning.”
Relieved at not being fined, she found herself captivated by the unusual brawl in the upscale city.
The officer intervened. Within a few seconds, the well-dressed guy’s demeanor changed and his body relaxed. He must have made a witty comment because the cop chuckled, shook his head, and walked away. A minute later, the thug stormed off. The white-suited man headed in her direction.
Detesting violence, she shivered at the negative energy and returned to stacking her canvases.
A buff bronzed man power walked past. In one hand, he held the leashes of two white standard poodles, a Golden Retriever, a black Lab and a German Shepherd. Unlike her, he was in control.
Yeah, like she could control the sinking economy. So if she couldn’t sell in the park, where else could she solicit business? She needed professional exposure, like an exhibit. She decided to pursue the local galleries and envisioned having a marketing piece professionally printed. Realizing she couldn’t afford it, she’d create it on her computer and produce it on her printer instead.
Selling had never been this difficult. She was fourteen when she’d made her first sale, and her art teachers had called her a prodigy. During college, as well as the last couple years, income from her art had supported her. She prayed the dry spell ended soon.
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