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Allison Brennan is the author of ten bestselling romantic thrillers, including The Prey, Speak No Evil, Killing Fear, and Playing Dead. For thirteen years she worked as a consultant in the California State Legislature before leaving to devote herself fully to her family and writing. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She lives in Northern California with her husband, Dan, and their five children.
“They’ll fire you.”
ICE Agent Sonia Knight gave her partner a sideways glance and rolled her eyes. “Not if we succeed.”
Trace shook his head. “I want this bastard as much as you, but we’re walking a very fine line here.”
“We’re so close.”
“We could both end up dead.”
“Our witness has risked everything to give us this information. If Jones gets even a whiff that Vega is turning state’s evidence, he and his pregnant wife are dead.”
“Don’t think it.”
“You know it. He hasn’t checked in for three days, which isn’t like him.”
“Kendra Vega is fine. We checked on her yesterday afternoon.”
“For now. But Vega could be getting spooked. It’s one thing to talk about getting out of the business, but doing it is another story. These people are ruthless. Vega knows it.”
“And you pulled every string and called in every favor to get them into witness protection when he delivers the goods. You can’t do squat for him unless he comes back with the promised intel.”
True, but Sonia feared that Xavier Jones was untouchable. He’d been getting away with trafficking in humans for years because his instincts were sharp and he trusted no one. That one of his top security men came to her three weeks ago to make a deal was a miracle. She wasn’t going to blow it—she wanted Jones in prison and the Vegas safe. That’s why not hearing from Greg Vega for the last three days disturbed her. Where was he? Why hadn’t he checked in?
“I wish we had better information,” Trace said, not for the first time.
They were hiding among the pine trees near Devils Lake, appropriately named considering the son of the devil, Xavier Jones, owned hundreds of acres in the Sierra Nevada foothills abutting the lake. She could see his house with field binoculars, and tonight, like the last two nights, it was dark.
“It will happen this week.”
“This is our third night watching Jones’s place. He’s out of the state, like Vega reported last time he checked in. The kid could be wrong.”
“He’s not.” They’d contacted the Transportation Security Administration. Xavier Jones hadn’t used his passport. He usually traveled by private plane, both retaining a pilot and having a license himself. Tracking small craft was much more difficult, making the last few days even more frustrating. He could be back in northern California now for all they knew.
Sonia had spent long days talking with ten-year-old Andres Zamora just to get him to trust her. He told her everything he remembered about his family’s abduction and his brother’s murder. It all held together, and he had the scars to prove it.
“I should never have run.”
“You did the right thing. Your brother told you to go.”
“I should have stayed to find Maya. She is all I have.”
“Don’t give up on your sister.”
“How could she survive what they do to her? I don’t even know where they took her.”
Sonia didn’t have an answer, because she didn’t know if she could find his sister. Eight days was a long time in the vile underworld, and thirteen-year-old Maya had most likely been sold before she ever set foot in the United States. If she even ended up here. They’d been separated during the journey, and Andres had no idea where they’d been when she’d been taken away. He’d ended up being smuggled in by truck, then boat.
Sonia frowned at Trace. “If you’re worried about a reprimand, I’ll tell them I lied to you like I lied to the rest of the team.” She hadn’t wanted to be dishonest, but she felt as if she had no choice. Her boss wouldn’t have authorized this stakeout on the word of a pint-sized illegal immigrant.
Trace slammed his fist on the ground. “I can’t believe you said that.”
“I’m sorry.” She stared through the binoculars at the dark house. She didn’t want to hurt Trace, but he hadn’t been in the trenches long enough to know how brutal this business was. That the buying and selling of humans was even thought of as a business angered Sonia and kept her focused on the prize: slapping cuffs on Jones and getting him into an interrogation room.
“No you’re not. You think you’re protecting the team, but you’re only hurting yourself. Don’t be the martyr, Sonia. You’re too damn good. I’m a big boy, and I could have told you to fuck off, or told Warner that Vega didn’t give you this intel. I backed you up because I trust your instincts. I just don’t want you to be blinded because—”
Their earpieces came to life.
“Beta Two reporting three vehicles approaching from the west at approximately forty miles per hour, headed toward the residence.”
Beta Two was stationed at the fork, and there were only two private homes off this road, one being a vacation home belonging to a Silicon Valley executive who came up here quarterly.
Adrenaline flushed her system and she was ready to rock and roll. This was what she lived for. It was 0100 with a near-full moon.
“Ninety seconds to our post.”
“Stand down. Do not engage—Beta Four, circle—”
She was cut off mid-sentence. “They’re Fibbies,” Beta Two said.
“Grille lights just went on. Red, white, and blue.”
Sonia slammed her fist against the nearest tree trunk. She watched the road and seconds later red and blue lights flashed intermittently through the trees lining the private road off Lake Amador Drive. She heard someone—it sounded like veteran Joe Nicholson—say, “She’s gonna fuckin’ blow like Mount Vesuvius.”
“Wish I could see it,” his partner replied.
“Wish I were on vacation.”
They were talking about her, and they were right. She had had more problems with the fucking FBI than any other law enforcement agency. And now they’d blown her operation. How did they get wind of the stakeout? Why didn’t they call and find out if anyone was investigating Jones? They acted as if they were the only federal law enforcement in the country. Jones was ICE territory, and Sonia was going to make damn sure the FBI knew it. Innocent children were going to die if they screwed this up.
She watched as three black Suburbans drove onto the wide, circular drive in front of Jones’s towering home, lights flashing, screeching to a halt as if they were in some B movie.
Federal heads were going to roll. Sonia would see to it. Personally.
She issued orders to her team, then turned to Trace. She was about to tell him to stay put, but shut her mouth. He was no longer a rookie, having been with her team for two years. “Ready?”
He nodded. “Don’t be rash.”
“This isn’t the first time the Fibbies have screwed up one of our ops.”
“You don’t have to tell me that, but don’t forget: more flies with honey, right?”
“I don’t want to catch them, I want to swat them.”
She and Trace ran low to the ground toward the residence. They were a good hundred yards or more off, but made it to the rock-strewn edge of the drive through sparse foliage without being seen by the feds. They halted behind a boulder where they could watch the action. Doors opened and at least eight Fibbies oozed from the interior, black bulletproof vests with bold white letters proclaiming their authority: FBI.
Homeland Security trumped the FBI every time, and she’d make sure the idiots who had driven into her stakeout damn well knew it.
They were dressed in black tactical gear, and she pulled her hat from her pocket that identified her as ICE, peeled down the flap on Trace’s back revealing the same acronym, and clipped her badge to her belt. Trace did the same. She motioned to her partner and mouthed “On three.” They emerged from the large, decorative rocks only feet from the nearest agent. If she had been one of the bad guys, she’d have an ideal head shot. Hell, with her weak hand she could have taken out three of them without breaking a sweat. Incompetent jerks. Did they know who they were up against in Xavier Jones?
She strode toward three agents surveying the layout. One black-vested agent tried to stop her, flashing his badge and saying, “Ma’am, we’ll have to ask you to speak with—”
She pointed to her badge, glanced at the name sewn onto his vest. “Who’s in charge, Ivers? Elliott? Richardson?”
A black-haired agent approached. Sonia recognized Sam Callahan, Sacramento FBI’s SSA for white-collar crimes. Political bribery and money laundering. What was he doing here when Jones’s crime was far more international—and deadly—in scope? “Callahan. Surprised to see you here.”
“Right back at you, Sonia.” He nodded at Trace. “Anderson.”
She couldn’t hold back her frustration. “You just destroyed nearly two years’ work! Is covert not in your vocabulary? We’re in the middle of a major investigation. Did you just not feel like contacting us?”
Callahan straightened and reddened. “We have a subpoena.”