Read an Excerpt
By CJ Lyons
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2013 CJ Lyons
All rights reserved.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Caitlyn Tierney was glad she'd skipped her morning coffee. The adrenaline she mainlined when the Escalade's driver pulled a .45 was quite enough to jump-start her heart. Wide awake now, thank you very much, have a nice day.
"Lower your weapon, Commissioner Schultz!" Sheriff Mona Holdeman shouted from where she stood behind her cruiser stopped on the other side of the Escalade from Caitlyn's position.
The early-morning March wind cut down the lonely country road, bringing with it the promise of snow. A stray memory flitted through Caitlyn's mind even as she sighted along the barrel of her Glock 22, aiming at the driver. Waking up on mornings like this as a child, rushing to the window, ignoring the sting of the cold floor on her naked feet, and looking outside, searching for snow, only to be disappointed. Not by the weather, but by the fact that by the time she reached the window, she'd be awake enough to remember her father was gone. Dead. Buried back in North Carolina at the home they'd left behind.
Caitlyn shook free of the childhood memory and focused on their subject, a corrupt county commissioner with a penchant for weaponry. Holdeman's cruiser and two state trooper vehicles blocked Schultz's path forward, creating a barricade. Not that there was anywhere to run. They'd chosen their spot carefully, here in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, where the only civilians to worry about were a trio of horses grazing in the field across the road.
Caitlyn was here as backup — something the newly elected sheriff was in dire need of after discovering two-thirds of her force were on the county commissioner's payroll and that Schultz had ordered a hit on her.
When your county's population numbered twice as many cows as people, and most of the people didn't get involved in elections or vote, it made for interesting politics. Which was exactly how Schultz had been able to control this quiet patch of Pennsylvania countryside for the past decade, growing rich as he decimated taxpayers' coffers. Public corruption was one of the FBI's top priorities, so when Holdeman and the Pennsylvania State Police needed assistance building a case against Schultz, Caitlyn was happy to help.
She hadn't intended on being on the front line. But after two months in her new position as the FBI's Local Law Enforcement Liaison, juggling cases via phone, Skype, e-mail, and paperwork, it felt good confronting a bad guy in person. From what Caitlyn and the other investigators had dug up on Schultz, he was a very bad guy, into everything from taking bribes, extortion, and now, contracted murder.
Knowing that the commissioner always traveled armed and had a stockpile of weapons at both his house and office, they'd chosen the location for their takedown carefully: an empty road surrounded by farmland on one side and rolling hills covered in forest on the other. Schultz drove the road every day on his way into work.
"Place the weapon on the ground and back away," Holdeman's voice came over the loudspeaker of her patrol car blocking Schultz's vehicle from the front. "Keep your hands above your head."
Schultz hesitated. Turning his weapon on Holdeman would only invite certain death from Caitlyn positioned at the rear of his vehicle or the two state troopers behind Holdeman who both held long guns aimed at Schultz. Exactly how they'd planned it: Give the subject no reason to resist, and things would go quietly. Their plan called for a quick takedown and arrest, back at the sheriff's station in time for coffee and homemade doughnuts drizzled in maple syrup.
Slowly, with exaggerated movements, Schultz bent forward and placed his weapon on the pavement, keeping one hand in the air. He raised the second hand and turned to back away from the pistol on the ground.
That's when everything went wrong.
Caitlyn was in charge of covering the rear and passenger side of the Escalade. Easy duty since Schultz was supposed to be alone. At least that's what their intel said. No one was visible through the Escalade's tinted windows. Schultz stood at the driver's side of the vehicle, all guns and eyes trained on him except Caitlyn's.
She was too busy trying to figure out what to do with the little girl who had jumped out of the passenger door, aiming a rather large semiautomatic pistol at Caitlyn's heart.
Caitlyn's training had her sighting her own Glock at the girl, but she stopped herself from pulling the trigger. The girl was a skinny thing, looked to be around eleven, with twin blond braids and freckles on her nose. She wore a purple jacket with puffy sleeves decorated with a grinning kitty cat with impossibly long whiskers embroidered on the front. The cat's whiskers crisscrossed right over the girl's heart, making for a perfect target.
"Put the gun down," Caitlyn called to her.
"Let my daddy go!" The girl jerked her weapon at Caitlyn.
All eyes turned to the girl. Except her father's. Schultz used his daughter's diversion to attempt to escape by running into the woods beside the road. Immediately the sheriff and one of the staties followed, yelling at him to stop.
Caitlyn didn't move. Didn't even blink. Her entire universe was filled with the girl and the gun.
The girl had a good stance, looked like she knew how to use the semiautomatic. Even more reason why Caitlyn should shoot her — lethal weapon, not responding to commands, everything in her training told her to take care of the threat. Now.
She was just a kid. If she'd been endangering someone else's life, Caitlyn would have shot her. But it was only her and the girl on this side of the vehicle. Caitlyn knew it was stupid, risking her own life to save the girl, but she had to try.
"This isn't helping your father," Caitlyn told her. It felt like they were the only two people in the universe. Even the springtime serenade provided by birds pecking through the field alongside the horses had vanished, leaving just her and the girl. "What's your name?"
The girl frowned. For a moment Caitlyn thought she was going to start crying, lay the weapon down. But then Holdeman and the statie dragged Schultz back, now in handcuffs.
The girl straightened, eyes narrowed. With Caitlyn dead center in her aim.
"I said," her voice tight with anger, "let my daddy go. Now!"
"We can't do anything until you put the gun down." Caitlyn's vision eclipsed to a black-edged tunnel, but she forced herself to break through it and scan the periphery. The other statie had moved to cover the girl from behind. One wrong move and he'd take the girl down for Caitlyn.
It wasn't going to come to that, she vowed. Releasing one hand from her weapon, she stretched it out to the girl. Twenty feet separated them, but she wanted her to feel like she was closer.
"Your dad is going to be fine, sweetheart." Damn, she'd forgotten the girl's name from the briefing. "He wouldn't want you to get hurt, now, would he?" Or hurt anyone else, she hoped. "Just put the gun down and come here. Then you can go with your dad."
On the other side of the SUV, the sheriff moved to put Schultz in one of the squads. The girl whirled, stepping back at an angle so she had both Caitlyn and her father in sight. "Leave him alone! Back away, now!"
Time to play hardball. Caitlyn shifted both hands back onto her Glock and leaned forward. "Look at me," she commanded. The girl obeyed, squinting over the barrel of her pistol. "Feel your fingers going numb? How heavy your gun feels? That's adrenaline. Look at how your hand is shaking."
It was working. The girl glanced at her hands knuckled white around her pistol. The gun wavered and she hunched her shoulders to steady it, but it kept trembling.
Caitlyn continued, "Shaking like that, you'll never hit me. Pull that trigger and the gentleman behind you is going to shoot you dead. Worse, that will make your dad run to help you, and I'll have to shoot him dead, too. That what you want? Want your dad dead?"
What she wanted the girl to hear was: dead, dead, dead. It must have worked. The girl began crying, shoulders shuddering. She shook her head. But she didn't lower her weapon.
C'mon, kid. Don't take all day. Caitlyn wasn't sure how patient the staties would be.
She kept her voice firm and level. "If you want to stay with your dad, you need to put down the gun and come with me. Now."
The girl hesitated; blinking hard and fast, glanced at her dad, looked back at Caitlyn, then finally nodded and carefully set her weapon on the ground.
Caitlyn kept her in her sights as one of the staties moved around the front of the SUV and took the kid into custody.
Even after the danger was over, it took Caitlyn a few breaths before her hand was steady enough to holster her own weapon. She sent a quick prayer up into the clear blue Pennsylvania sky. Thankful she didn't have to kill anyone today. Especially not a little girl who only wanted to save her father.CHAPTER 2
Maria Alvarado's feet touched the concrete below the cruise ship's gangplank. Her first step — ever! — on the land where she was born. Tourists, mostly fellow college kids from the spring break "booze cruise" swarmed around her, jostling her as they rushed to grab tour guides or cheap souvenirs from native vendors hawking their wares. She inhaled deeply. Scents of cocoa and coffee and exotic spices tantalized her nostrils. Even the air here in Guatemala felt different: It tasted of freedom.
And danger. Because once her father found out what she'd done, how she'd disobeyed him ... It was worth risking his wrath, coming here to follow her dream. It had to be.
Besides, she was an Alvarado, and as her father was constantly telling her, Alvarados never retreated. No matter how fierce the enemy, no matter how great their fear.
Maria blinked against the bright morning sun. She might have half her father's DNA coursing through her veins, but she wasn't at all confident that she'd inherited any of his courage. Uncertainty flickered through her — she could still change her mind, go with her friends, cancel her plans to join Professor Zigler at the site.
A bird's raucous call cut through the air. Exotic, unlike anything Maria had heard before. Exactly the reason she was here. To decide her own fate, make her father proud. Always forward, no retreat.
"So, Maria, where's your hunky grad assistant?" Linda, one of Maria's friends, asked. Tracey and Vicky joined them, pocketing their passports.
"He'll be here," Maria said, trying hard to take in all the various elements. The port wasn't what she expected. She'd imagined something out of a movie, thatch huts and colorful bungalows, maybe a steel drum band to welcome the Caribbean Dream.
Instead, Santo Tomás was a working cargo port. Stacks of shipping containers towered past the horizon to the south, and the only building in sight was a thoroughly modern concrete warehouse with a utilitarian steel roof. It would have been right at home on the streets of Miami if not for the sign overhead that read: WELCOME TO GUATEMALA.
"You sure about this?" Vicky, always the worrywart, asked. "You could come with us, forget about this crazy treasure hunt."
"Miss my chance to meet Professor Zigler and work on the discovery of a lifetime? No way." Maria still couldn't believe how lucky she'd been, meeting the professor's grad assistant in an online archeology forum, helping Prescott decipher clues that might lead the professor's team to a Maya treasure trove that hadn't seen the light of day for two thousand years. It was her chance to redeem herself after being turned down to join her own university's dig. Not to mention proving to her father that at nineteen, she really could take care of herself.
He was going to be so angry when he discovered her deception — he thought she was here only to enjoy spring break with her friends. Served him right; she was certain he was behind the rejection of her application to join the UCF dig in Belize. Neither of her parents wanted her to continue pursuing a degree in archeology, much less her chosen area of interest: Preclassic Maya culture.
She'd been only a few months old when her parents fled Guatemala and made new lives for themselves in America. They never spoke of their homeland; never even spoke Spanish if they knew Maria was around. They insisted their family be true Americans. If they'd had their way, she'd be spending spring break just as she had last year: at home in Coral Gables, lounging by the pool or playing tennis at the club. That was her parents' idea of fun.
They were so boring. Maria wanted more. She wanted adventure, excitement, a chance to meet new people, see new places. A chance to explore the world, maybe even help people understand it better. She took a deep breath — so deep, it tingled the whole way down to her toes. Freedom.
"When my father asks where I am," she reminded her friends as they navigated through the crowd of tourists and natives, heading past the tour buses lined up on the concrete in front of the cruise ship, "tell him I'll call when I'm ready to come home."
"And he can send the company jet to pick you up," Linda said, rolling her eyes. "We got it, we got it."
Vicky wasn't so sure. Her eyes were wide as she took in the vista of jungle-covered mountains beyond the bustle of the town with its crowded, brightly colored buildings, none taller than two stories high. "I still don't think this is a good idea."
"Professor Zigler is from Cambridge. He's highly regarded," Maria argued. "He even came out of retirement for this dig. It might be my last chance to work with someone of his stature. Besides, I was the one who thought to combine Irfan View with the NASA imaging programs to isolate the exact location of the temple. I deserve to be here, a part of the archeological find of the century." Her travel pack slipped off her shoulder as she sped up to a jog in her excitement. She couldn't help herself; there were so many feelings spinning around inside her she might just explode.
Yes, fear was part of it. After all, she'd be heading off into the jungle with strangers — except they really weren't. She and Prescott had Skyped for hours. And she felt like she knew the professor, had read all his papers although he hadn't published in years and his methodology was hopelessly outdated — exactly why he needed someone more tech-savvy like her on his team. She glanced around, the foreign sights and sounds and smells leaving her light-headed. A little fear was good for the soul.
Even if her father would probably lock her up in a convent after she got home. She pushed the thought away, feeling guilty about disobeying him for the first time in her life.
A handsome man in his late twenties pulled up in an open-topped Jeep and honked the horn. He hopped out without opening the door, one hand balancing lightly on the roll bar, springing to the ground, graceful as a cheetah. Or jaguar, Maria thought. There were jaguars here in Guatemala. Fear tickled her senses once more but was quickly overruled by excitement.
"Maria?" he called as he weaved through the other vehicles, his blond Hollywood features a strong counterpoint to the darker-skinned Spanish and Maya surrounding the tourists. Without waiting for an answer he hugged her, lifting her off her feet. "It's so good to meet you! Sorry I'm late; the professor had me running errands. We don't get into town very often."
Maria struggled to regain her composure. He was even more handsome in person than he'd appeared in their Skype chats. She turned to her friends, proudly introducing him. "Prescott, this is Linda, Vicky, and Tracey."
"Pleased to meet you, ladies." He reached for Maria's bag. She'd filled it with all the necessities for living in the primitive conditions of an archeological dig: sleeping bag, ripstop shorts and pants, mosquito netting, mess kit. Unlike her friends, who wore casual, bright-colored tourist clothing, Maria wore khaki shorts, hiking boots, a tank top, and an ExOfficio long-sleeved shirt wrapped around her waist above her fanny pack. Despite her dark skin, she even had a hat — a wide-brimmed squishable khaki-colored sun hat that she wore at what she hoped was a jaunty angle.
"Now, don't you ladies worry about your friend here," Prescott said as if reading their minds. "We have a satellite phone at base camp — as long as the weather cooperates, she can call her boyfriend, tuck him in for the night anytime she wants." He laughed and turned to Maria, one hand pressed flat against his chest, mimicking a posture of lovesick despair. "But please, please tell me you don't actually have a boyfriend; it will break my heart if you do!" Maria blushed. "No, no boyfriend. Yet," she added with bravado foreign to her usual introversion. She hugged her friends as Prescott carried her bag to the Jeep. "Remember, not a word to anyone," she admonished as she gave Linda her cruise ship passenger ID. "And tell my parents not to worry."
Excerpted from Hollow Bones by CJ Lyons. Copyright © 2013 CJ Lyons. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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