(Short novel)DEA Agent Ricardo Cruz has a lead in Maine to the cartel that killed his brother, but his missing suspect’s loyal sister, Juliana Paris, refuses to cooperate. Threats force her to accept Rick’s protection, and their search sends them into deadly danger and each other’s arms.
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In hot pursuit. For years, DEA Agent Ricardo Cruz has pursued El Águila, the gun-and-drug-smuggling cartel that killed his older brother. When Rick finally has a lead in Maine, his suspect goes underground and the sister refuses to cooperate. Beautiful Juliana Paris’s quick wit and loyalty draw him but he can’t afford involvement with his suspect’s sister.
With no way back. Because Juliana’s father suffered injustice that led to his early death, she intends to find her troubled younger brother and ensure the law treats him fairly. She’s determined not to fall for the sexy agent, even if he is dedicated and honorable. Threats by the cartel, who plan to use her to lure out her brother, force her to accept Rick’s protection.
The only choice is . . . surrender. Juliana wants no charmer like the men her mother keeps marrying, and Rick wants no strings. Although attraction sparks between them, the two are at odds and their personalities are polar opposites, but they must work together while evading the thugs. Their hunt for the brother and the cartel’s American connection leads them into each other's arms and into deadly danger.
Ricardo Cruz shook his head. Shit, another dead end. “That’s it. The bird has flown.”
He and the other Task Force Eagle agents had driven three hours from Boston to Portland, Maine, por nada. He unzipped his raid jacket and placed his SIG-Sauer P239 in the holster.
Holt Donovan turned his DEA cap around backward, the lid a switch from his usual cowboy hat. “Our quarry’s beat-up Ford Focus is still parked out in the snow. Abandoning his wheels looks odd.”
“Search warrants won’t be good after today,” ATF Agent Jake Wescott said, his Maine drawl softening his downer message.
“Good point.” Rick directed the others to re-interview the landlord and question the other tenants while he searched the suspect’s apartment.
Upstairs, he shot the deadbolt behind him and frowned at the dingy one-room garret euphemistically termed a studio. He wouldn’t need long. Someone had beaten him to the search. Whatever the dump contained lay in the middle of the floor.
Stuffing from the cheap futon mattress was scattered around like dirty clumps of the snow outside. Unmatched flatware and utensils formed a tangled heap on the grimy linoleum. Yesterday’s Portland Press Herald rested undisturbed on the stained coffee table.
Aside from the clumsy toss, the place resembled a college dorm room more than a drug smuggler’s digs. Rock posters tacked to the walls. Beer bottles and peanut butter jars alternated on the one set of dusty shelves.
Jordan Paris might have gotten caught up in the drug operation without knowing the score until it was too late.
Hands shielded with latex gloves, Rick picked up the newspaper. The front page had his boss announcing the indictment of two Mexicans captured last month.
Two little fish. With one dead exception, the big ones had gotten clean away. Leaving them with a minnow, the Paris kid.
“Mierda.” Rick tossed down the paper.
He looked around a few more minutes. Worthless. He’d learn little until the fingerprint report. Wescott and Donovan must have finished downstairs. He switched off the light, and March’s early darkness drenched the small room. The stairway below creaked.
He sucked in a breath. Adrenaline surged. He flattened himself against the wall behind the door.
Three knocks rattled the apartment’s thin paneled door. He waited. If it was Wescott or Donovan, they’d call his name. He held his breath and gripped his nine millimeter.
The doorknob jiggled. A key clinked in the lock. Then the knob turned, and the door eased open.
In the spill of light into the room, he saw a gloved hand at the door’s edge. A hand holding a small automatic.
Before the intruder could make a move, Rick knocked away the pistol.
A sharp gasp of shock and surprise. Then the intruder slammed his chest with something hard, knocking the breath from his lungs. Before he recovered enough to get a good hold, the smaller man swung a kick.
Letting his thigh take the blow, Rick flipped his attacker and slammed on top of him. Darkness prevented a clear look. He jabbed his gun barrel at the guy’s throat. “Federal agent. Give it up, and you won’t get hurt.”
The intruder cocked his head in a careful nod.
Easing off his captive, Rick reached inside the unzipped coat to pat down for weapons. A wool sweater covered a slight torso with curves and soft, round . . . breasts.
What the hell?
As he lifted his gun from her throat and sat back on his heels, the woman dragged in a deep breath. “You . . . you,” she gasped, “Nazi bully. This is what I pay taxes for? To be crushed and then groped?”
At her outburst, his lips twitched with a smile. The kid’s girlfriend? An accomplice? She sounded irate, but not street tough. He kept his gun on her and flicked the light switch.
In the glare of the bare overhead bulb, the woman blinked. She had a turned-up nose and wide mouth, lips clamped in displeasure. Her eyes shot green fire at him.
He leaned across her to retrieve her gun, but found instead a more innocuous item. Chagrinned, he handed her the small flashlight.
Beside the woman lay a voluminous purse. Her ramming weapon.
He quickly checked the contents. Wallet, zippered day planner, hairbrush, and various other female junk, but no weapons other than the leaden bag. “I expected to see bricks inside.”
“I wish.” Her chin shot up a notch. It was gently pointed, emphasizing the heart shape of her face.
“You can get up now.” Rising, he offered her a hand. “Who are you?”
Refusing his help, she scooted backward before leaping to her feet in an agile motion. Reddish curls threatened to spring free of a carnivorous-toothed clip. Little butterfly earrings dangled from her earlobes. “First I want to see ID. You have a badge, don’t you?”
He tucked away his gun and refrained from pointing out the word POLICE on his raid jacket. “Yes, ma’am, Special Agent Ricardo Cruz of the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration.” He held up his ID case.
Juliana Paris’s racing heart gradually slowed to a jog. Gathering poise, she took her time studying the official card. DEA? For all his self-absorption and impulsiveness, Jordan was a straight arrow about drugs. It made no sense.
The agent regarded her with professional suspicion. Mocking her efforts at cool control, her cheeks burned under the scrutiny. She made a production of stashing the flashlight, cracked and probably useless, in her bag.
“I suppose you’re who you say you are, but what are you doing in my brother’s apartment—in the dark?” Straightening to her full five-foot-three, she folded her arms.
“Your brother.” The DEA agent rubbed his knuckles on his jaw. “Can you prove that Jordan Paris is your brother?”
She would not be reduced to jelly by a good-looking man with a sexy voice. “Prove? Not really.” She rummaged in her bag. “But here’s my driver’s license.”
Agent Cruz didn’t take the license from her, but framed the hand holding it with his own. “Portsmouth, New Hampshire? You drove here this afternoon?”
He continued to grip her hand. His tanned fingers contrasted starkly with her pale redhead’s skin. When he released her, she snatched back her hand as if from a flame.
“Why the flashlight?”
“Sometimes Jordan forgets to pay his electricity bills. My brother has issues but he’s no criminal.” For the first time, the condition of the room registered. Everything strewn around. One hand flew to her throat. “What’s going on? What have you done?”
“First explain why you’re here and what you know about Jordan’s recent activities.” He gestured for her to take a seat.
Until he sat, she would stand. She wasn’t about to have him looming over her. “I’m not sure what Jordan’s been up to lately. That’s sort of why I came.”
“You must know where he works.” His gaze concealed whether he knew the answer.
“Until two months ago, he worked for Vinson Seafood on a dragger. When the boat went in for repairs, he was laid off. He’s been out of work since.”
Juliana wished he wouldn’t keep looking at her with such concentrated focus. It was unnerving. She licked her lower lip.
As if too warm, the agent threw off his windbreaker. His black flak vest emblazoned with the yellow letters DEA confirmed his status. His black turtleneck and pants displayed a trim yet powerful build. With a cape, this man would make a better Zorro than that Spanish actor. No, she wouldn’t think of him that way. She blinked away the image.