From New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan comes the next installment the Lucy Kincaid series, Breaking Point.
“IF YOU HAVEN’T BEEN READING THIS TRULY EXCEPTIONAL LUCY KINCAID SERIES, THEN YOU HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT…MIND-BLOWING.” RT Book Reviews
Bella Caruso survived a nightmare of abuse and betrayal. Today, she has dedicated her life to saving other young women from the hell that almost killed herfirst as an officer of the law, then by stepping outside the law and into the darkness where true evil dwells. Now, it appears that the darkness has taken her once again.
JT Caruso often worries about his sister, given her line of work. This time, when he learns that Bella is working undercover to find a missing girl involved in a dangerous prostitution ring, JT asks FBI Special Agent Lucy Kincaid for help.
Even with Lucy’s extensive experience in running down human traffickers, finding Bella will not be easy. Not only because she is in too deep. But because Bella, who will not rest until she saves the girl, doesn’t want to be found…
“BRENNAN [IS] A MASTER.”
Associated Press“CAN’T-PUT-IT-DOWN SUSPENSE.”Fresh Fiction
About the Author
Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Lost Girls and Make Them Pay, among others. She was nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award by Kiss of Death. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Northern California with her husband, five kids, and assorted pets.
Read an Excerpt
Bella Caruso had often found herself in prickly and dangerous situations where she faced impossible choices. Every time, she handled the situation to the best of her ability. Sometimes her skill and training had saved her, and sometimes luck kicked in. Usually a combination of both.
It appeared that her luck had run out, and the thousands of hours of training would do her no good. In the end, she was going to have to rely solely on her instincts.
Even then, she might end up dead.
She'd been roused from sleep — such as it was — by a pounding on her motel room door.
"Doc, get up, we have a situation."
It was Damien, Hirsch's enforcer.
She slid jeans over the boxer shorts she slept in and opened the door. It was barely dawn. Even though they were in Arizona, the early spring morning brought chills to her skin.
Damien slipped inside, shut the door. "We're pulling up stakes. The 10th Street house was compromised last night."
She knew what had happened because she'd set the plan in motion, but she had to protect her cover. That was always the hardest part of this job. Not only did she stay far away from the house, but she had a solid alibi if Hirsch looked. She'd been playing poker in an illegal gambling hall downtown. Her gambling "problem" was one of the two reasons Hirsch knew she wasn't a cop. Illegal gambling was also the best way for her to keep in contact with her partner.
"Just get your black bag, you're going to need it."
Her heart raced. Declan had confirmed that he'd taken the two girls to the hospital, and that he'd gotten word to Laura. The hospital was the safest place for them until they could be put into protective custody. But it worried her that Roger hadn't made contact — with either her or Declan. Especially since he was supposed to extract three girls.
"I need to pack. It'll only take two minutes."
"We'll get what you need when we settle. Now, Doc."
She picked up the medical bag that had become her tether. "I need my shoes and jacket at least," she said.
He nodded. "Thirty seconds. The boss ain't happy."
Bella had worked months to gain the trust of these people. She'd saved some of their miserable lives, earned their respect — at least as much respect as any of them could give a woman. But she had no doubt that if they knew why she was here, they would kill her.
Bella put the bag on her bed, quickly slipped on her tennis shoes, and stuffed a page torn from a Bible under the filthy mattress. She didn't have time to write a note, but Declan would know what the verses meant.
She pulled a sweatshirt over her head, slipped a switchblade into the front pocket of her jeans, grabbed her last two water bottles and put them in her medical bag along with a clean shirt, and followed Damien out to his car.
She wasn't part of the inner circle and she never would be. That was okay — her cover was solid, but there were some things she couldn't do, and she didn't want to go too far. She'd crossed the line, but not too far over — nothing that she couldn't justify to save the life of an innocent. But sometimes it depended how the op ended, and right now she was worried everything had gone south.
She'd figured out Martin Hirsch pretty quickly — he hated women. Many of the men who worked for Hirsch were abusers, rapists, and had no respect for females, but they came at their jobs as a way to exercise their heman dominance. They didn't hate women, they simply used them because they didn't respect or like anyone. Whores were a business, and they were just doing a job.
It had taken Bella months before she got her foot in the door. It had gotten to the point where Hirsch needed her — and relied on her — and he hated that. If he could find someone — preferably a man — to replace her he would, but he was a businessman first. She kept his girls healthy and working. She extracted bullets from his men when they crossed the wrong people, and she'd once saved Damien's life. That had been one of the hardest things she'd done. Not only because she wasn't a real doctor, but because Damien was a killer.
Damien glanced at his watch as he drove fast — but not too fast — through the shithole Bella had called home for the last four weeks. He went the long way to the freeway — the only reason was to avoid driving by the 10th Street house where nine girls had been living. There were three houses in Phoenix, all on Hirsch's circuit, but 10th Street was the newest. The girls in all three houses were prostitutes. Some came into the business because they felt they had no other options, some were forced into the business by boyfriends or family. And some were bought and sold like property, taken far from anyplace they might have known.
Bella knew exactly how they suffered.
In Phoenix, two of the houses were well established and Bella didn't trust any of those girls not to betray her, so she hadn't even attempted to extract them. It saddened her, because some were underage, but at sixteen and seventeen, they'd been seasoned and put out by Hirsch and men like him for years. They were broken and put back together the wrong way. They'd turn on Bella for a new dress or bubble bath or just another fix.
Bella wanted to kill Hirsch so badly she could taste it, the thirst for vengeance oozing from her pores. But she was patient and she wouldn't make a move before she found Hope. She wouldn't kill him unless she had to. She wasn't an assassin and she wasn't a vigilante.
But deep inside, in a dark spot where she didn't like to look too carefully, she wished that Hirsch would make the wrong move so Bella could justify putting a bullet in his head.
Or in his gut so she could watch him bleed out. A small suffering for how he tortured the girls and women he turned out.
Hirsch was a supplier. He ran a human pipeline and procured and moved "merchandise" — in this case women, girls, and sometimes boys — for the purposes of the multibillion-dollar sex trade. He'd been buying up small, independent trucking companies throughout the southwest to the Louisiana border to make it easier to move his products and launder his money. Bella had been collecting evidence on his operation for the last year, and she suspected if she turned everything over to the FBI they might be able to make a solid case against him.
Might was the operative word. But even if they could shut down Hirsch, Bella knew there was someone bigger and badder than him — which was saying something. And she had no idea who he was, where he was located, or exactly what his role was.
Besides, calling in the feds too early wouldn't help her find Hope. The people Hirsch supplied would go to ground, disappear, and likely kill anyone connected to the man, should he end up in prison.
Hope first — then Bella would share her intel. Maybe by then she'd know who was holding Hirsch's leash.
The 10th Street house was newly established, run as a temporary way station. The girls had been brought from Los Angeles, though they had originally come from all over the country. These girls Bella had the best chance of saving. They hadn't chosen this life, some new and some clearly underage. Girls who wanted to walk away but deep fear rooted them in the life. Fear of being caught, fear of hunger, fear of being alone, fear of going back home. Hirsch and his people played on that fear to keep them in line, and it worked.
It worked very, very well, as Bella had learned firsthand many years ago.
As soon as Damien turned onto the freeway heading east, he tossed her a black cotton hood. "You know the drill, Doc."
"I thought we were beyond this shit."
"Boss's orders. We lost two girls last night, no taking chances." Even Damien wouldn't have put a bag over her head, except on orders. "Climb in the back, put on the hood, and just veg, Doc. Everything is fucked and I don't want you to get hurt."
It almost sounded like he cared. Damien didn't care about anyone — but he didn't hate anyone, either. He just did what he was told.
Bella climbed in the back of the SUV and put the bag over her head. She had a suspicion that she knew where they were going, but she couldn't let on that she had figured out how Hirsch transported his girls across state lines. She was alive because she kept her mouth shut.
She went along with it because she really had no choice. Damien would put a bullet in her rather than let her walk away. She hoped that she'd gained his trust enough that he would hesitate if ordered to kill her, and his hesitation would be enough time for her to get the upper hand, but she couldn't be certain. She still had a job to do.
If she died today, at least she'd saved two girls from a horrific fate. Two girls who now had a real future ahead of them. But she needed to find Hope.
She believed Hope was still alive. She wanted to believe. Fifteen months ago Hope had been sold by her stepfather to one of Hirsch's operatives. Three months later, a video surfaced through one of Bella's contacts, and that was what had prompted Bella's foray into the deep dark. But fifteen months was a lifetime when you were thirteen. Fifteen months could break even the strongest of girls. Just last week Hope had turned fourteen ... was she already gone? Lost to the violence? Despair? Or worse, turned. Too many girls broke and accepted — even embraced — their fate. Those girls posed the greatest risk to Bella and anyone she tried to save because they could turn on a dime. It had taken Bella years of working with underage sex slaves to know who could be saved, and who was already lost.
She didn't focus on the lost. She couldn't and still do her job. But this time, she had to believe she could still save Hope.
Hirsch had multiple locations throughout southern California because his key to survival was to spread his assets around. Each group had a supervisor, as Hirsch called them. He preferred that term to some of the cruder slang used by traditional pimps. They were jailers as far as Bella was concerned. Some were worse than others, but they all did their job because Hirsch picked his men — and women — well. Yet if one cell was taken out, Hirsch had two dozen other permanent relocations spread along his pipeline. He'd been operating like this for years, he knew the ins and outs of the business, he had a sixth sense about when to move or cut his losses with one operation, and Bella was certain he had one or more cops on his payroll.
If she ever found a cop who had taken money at the expense of these girls, she would take him down hard.
Initially, Hirsch's operation was focused in the southwest, no farther east than Phoenix. But after getting inside Hirsch's operation, she realized he'd started to expand. Her organization initially believed he was the number one guy, and maybe he had been for a while, but at some point between Hirsch landing on their radar and when Bella infiltrated the group, he'd aligned himself with a far more powerful broker on the East Coast known only by the letter "Z."
The information she'd put together was thin, even after months of deep cover. But it was clear that Hirsch was using his growing trucking network to create a larger organization from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and that this Z was instrumental to the process.
Less than ten minutes after he merged onto the freeway, Damien exited and kept going straight. Count of fifteen. Turn right. Three, two, one. Right again. Five, four, three, two, one. Left. One minute. The SUV stopped.
She was right, they were at Hirsch's trucking company.
Damien spoke to someone, then a rolling door went up and Damien drove in. A minute later, the door closed and Damien shut off the ignition. "Stay put," he told her.
She did as he said and listened. At first, she only heard people moving around, muffled voices, a few girls complaining. A cry when one of the girls complained too much.
Bella's fists tightened.
Bella had started her undercover operation a year ago, almost to the day, once she had connected Hope to Hirsch. It took a few months, but she'd gotten in and now — after seven months working deep undercover — her total rescues equaled five.
Five out of hundreds.
Stop. If you save one it's enough. One is worth the sacrifice.
She repeated her mantra. Breathed deeply. Focus on survival. The search for Hope was not over. Bella had looked at the weary, fear-strained faces of Hope's maternal grandparents and knew that, dead or alive, she had to give them answers.
And for herself, exact justice on those who hurt the innocent.
Damien was talking to someone next to the driver's door. Bella didn't recognize the other voice.
"Where?" Damien was saying.
The guy mumbled. Bella made out "Seventeen North."
"And we're sure he's a cop?"
"Yep. The boss wants the Doc."
Bella's heart skipped a beat. Had she been compromised?
"You sure you can handle the move?"
"I got it." He mumbled something else, then walked away.
Damien got back into the car. He backed up and out. "Change of plans," he said.
"What's going on? Can I take off this damn hood?"
That was it. Sorry. What did that mean? Sorry that he was going to have to kill her? Sorry that she couldn't take off the hood? Sorry that there was a change in plans? Information had been Bella's weapon, and now she had none.
"We're sure he's a cop?"
They had ID'd Roger. Had they figured out that Bella was working with him? She didn't think so. She'd never been seen with him. She and Roger had met years ago, but once she went deep cover, they communicated only through Declan. Declan had his own cover, and she'd been seen with him at poker tables. But by necessity, last night they had kept the extraction team small and Declan had to get the girls to safety. Had they traced Declan to Roger? Figured out their communication channel?
She didn't see it. Damien wouldn't have been so nice when he picked her up at the motel if he knew the truth. And if Declan had been compromised, he would have warned her.
Unless he was dead.
She couldn't lose her cool. She didn't know what Hirsch knew, but she had to believe that Damien wouldn't be this nice if he thought she was working with the cops. She had to stick it out — there were more lives at stake than hers.
Damien drove thirty, thirty-five minutes. By the turns and elevation it felt like they were heading to the hills north of Scottsdale. Though she had the hood on, light was coming in through the passenger side. East, because it was early morning. Hirsch had a warehouse outside Cave Creek where he kept an extra fleet of trucks. That had to be where they were heading.
One of Hirsch's moving companies had gotten her hooked up with Hirsch in the first place. She'd created a solid fake identity — Doctor Isabella Carter, who'd lost her license for malpractice. She used an informant to get in with the company in order to set up an illegal mobile clinic. She'd patched up more than a dozen gang bangers before Hirsch used her for one of his men who'd been attacked by a wired john. The john was dead, the gang banger sliced pretty bad. Then she patched up a bullet wound, no questions asked. Then another. Then getting antibiotics on the black market. Fifth time was the charm and she was offered a "real" job with Hirsch, seven months ago. Keeping his girls clean and healthy. Patching up his men. Being his doctor, not working for anyone else. No more mobile clinic.
She'd made sure Hirsch "learned" that she had a gambling problem, that she needed the money and she didn't care much how she got it. She made it clear from the get-go that she had no scruples but wouldn't kill anyone. When one of Hirsch's men had skimmed off the top, he'd handed her a gun and told her to take care of it.
"I'm a doctor," she'd told him. "I don't care what the fuck you do to this asshole, but I'm not pulling the trigger. You have a problem with it, I can walk. Go back to being my own boss."
She'd had to establish early on that she wasn't scared of him, that she would do what was necessary to feed her gambling habit, but she was a doctor first, and she saved lives, didn't take them. He seemed to be okay with that.
He'd shot the thief in the arm and told her to patch him up.
"Julio," Hirsch had said, "the next bullet goes through that pea-sized brain of yours."
Excerpted from "Breaking Point"
Copyright © 2018 Allison Brennan.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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