A RACE FOR SURVIVAL
Stranded in the Colombian jungle after a mission goes bad, Drake has only one objective: evade the mercenaries hot on his trail and deliver "the package" to U.S. officials. But "the package" has a mind of her own, and she has no intention of trading one set of captors for another. Madeline Reynard is beautiful, headstrong, and hell-bent on escape after years as a crime lord's pawn. She'll risk everything for freedom, even if it means deceiving the dark, handsome operative who now holds her life in his hands.
Drake has been burned too many times to let a woman manipulate him, especially a secretive one like Madeline. Even so, they cannot deny the attraction between them. Now as enemy forces close in, Drake and Madeline must trust each other with their lives or face certain death.
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By Davis, Dee
ForeverCopyright © 2010 Davis, Dee
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San Mateo Prison, Serrania Del Baudo, Colombia
Madeline Reynard squinted in the bright light. After three days of total darkness, the dappled sunlight hurt her eyes. She flinched as the guard shoved her forward, losing her balance and careening into the exercise yard.
“I’ve got you,” Andrés said, his voice raspy, his English heavily accented as he steadied her. “I’ve been worried.”
“They put me in solitary,” Madeline whispered. “I have no idea why.”
“Sometimes there is no reason.” Andrés shrugged. “The main thing is that you’re out now. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. It’s getting easier.” This was the third time she’d been relegated to the dank, windowless cell in the far recesses of the prison. “I just try to think of somewhere else and let my mind carry me away.” She’d spent a good portion of her childhood locked in a closet only slightly smaller than the solitary cell. Her father had clearly believed the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” But the experience was not without value. If Madeline could survive living like that, she could survive anything. Even San Mateo.
A place for political prisoners, the prison lacked creature comforts. In point of fact, it lacked most everything. Which meant that days loomed long, the only bright spot the minutes spent outside under the canopy of trees. The surrounding jungle reminded her of the cypresses back home, their gnarled arms curving downward into gray-green umbrellas of whispering leaves. The bayou had meant safety. And now the Colombian jungle offered the same.
“It’s best if you find a way to separate yourself from the reality here,” Andrés was saying. He nodded toward the people scattered about the yard. It was nearly empty, this hour relegated to women and the infirm, her friend falling into the latter category. It had been a long time since she’d had a friend. There’d always been too much to hide. Too much to risk. But now—here—her past didn’t matter.
“Are you sure they didn’t hurt you?” Andrés asked, his voice colored with worry.
“I told you I’m fine,” she reiterated as they walked slowly across the yard, her muscles protesting the movement even as her mind rejoiced in her newfound freedom. “I’m just a little stiff, that’s all.”
She’d met Andrés on her second day in the yard. At first, his matted hair and filthy clothes had been off-putting. But after almost a week in this hellhole, she’d been desperate for human contact.
When he’d spoken to her in his halting English, it had felt like a gift, as her Spanish was limited to schoolgirl verbs and useless nouns. Which didn’t matter when she was alone in her cell, or being leered at by the guards. It didn’t take a vocabulary to interpret their catcalls. But real conversation, without English, was impossible. And it was conversation that kept the mind sharp. She’d come to need Andrés as much as she needed food and water.
Madeline closed her eyes, shutting out the small, barren exercise yard, its occupants wretched in their filth.
“You need to keep moving,” her friend said, his hand warm against her back. “It’s important to stay strong.”
“I know you’re right, but sometimes when I think about spending the rest of my life here, it doesn’t seem worth it.”
“You won’t be here forever,” he said, his tone soothing. “Someone will come for you.”
Madeline laughed, the sound harsh. “I killed a man. There’s nothing anyone can do to change that.”
“But there were extenuating circumstances.” He frowned. “That should count for something.”
“Maybe in a fair world.” She shrugged, shivering as memories flooded through her. Her sister’s screams, her fear cutting through the haze of the drugs. The big man pinning her to the wall of the flophouse in Bogotá, one hand gripping her wrist as he tore at her clothes. Madeline had acted without thinking, the gun in her hand an extension of her anger. She’d told Jenny to run, and then checked the body, cringing as she touched his lifeless skin. Then she’d tried to follow, but it was too late.
The Colombian police had found her. The man was a prominent politician. Jenny was a drug addict. No one believed Madeline’s story. Her sister disappeared, and Madeline had wound up here at San Mateo. But if she had it to do over again, she’d do the same. Her mother had made her promise. With her last breath of life.
“Take care of your sister, Maddie. She’s not strong like you.”
Madeline had only been ten, but she’d promised. And she’d kept her word. She sucked in a breath, pulling her thoughts from the past. Jenny was safe now. She had to believe that. It was the only thing that kept her going.
“Anyway, even if it would make a difference, there’s no one to come,” Madeline said. “What about you? You told me you have family. Why aren’t they trying to help you?”
“They think I’m dead.” Andrés shrugged.
“How horrible,” she said, shuddering at the thought.
“Believe me, it’s better this way.” His expression was guarded. “For them. And for me. Sometimes the truth is better left buried.”
“I suppose you’re right.” She nodded as they stopped by the far wall of the yard. “Anyway, we have each other now, right?”
His smile was gentle. “You have been a good friend. But I’m afraid all good things must come to an end.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’m a marked man,” Andrés sighed. “My days are numbered.”
Madeline dipped her head, tears filling her eyes. She’d heard the shots fired late at night.
“The only reason I was allowed out here with you is that I was so sick. But I am better now, and that means I will be returned to my original cell. I overheard the guards,” he said. “I’m being moved back. Which means this is my last time in the yard.”
“No. I won’t accept that.” She shook her head, panic mixing with dread. “Maybe you can pretend to be sick again. Something, anything that might keep you here—with me. I… I can’t make it without you.”
“Of course you can,” Andrés said. “You’re much stronger than you know.”
“Señor?” A guard called from the doorway, his machine gun held at the ready. “Ven conmigo ahora.”
Madeline turned to the guard, then back to Andrés, heart pounding. “What does he want?”
“He wants me to come with him.” Andrés shrugged. “It’s time.”
“No. You can’t go. I can’t do this on my own.” She waved at the yard, and the guards.
“Yes, you can.” His smile was gentle, his teeth white against the dark growth of his beard. “You’re a survivor. Never forget that.”
The guard moved impatiently, his lips curled in a sneer. “Apurate!”
“Uno momento,” Andrés said, holding up a hand. “Here, I have something for you.” He reached into his pocket and produced a grimy card. “Take this. It may be of help to you.”
She took the card, the battered face of the Queen of Hearts staring up at her. “I don’t understand.”
“If you can get this to the American Embassy, they’ll help you. No questions asked.”
“But it’s just a playing card.” She shook her head.
“Trust me,” Andrés said, closing her fingers around the card. “And keep it safe.”
“But if this truly does have some kind of significance, shouldn’t you be the one using it?”
“Señor, ahora,” the guard called, his eyes narrowing with impatience.
Madeline ignored him, her gaze locked on her friend’s. “Andrés, tell me. Why not use it yourself?”
“Because it is too late for me. I have accepted my fate. And it gives me pleasure to think that perhaps I can be of some service to you. No matter what you have done, you don’t belong here.”
“Neither do you,” she whispered, her voice fierce now. “Keep the card.”
“It is yours, my friend. I give it freely. Now I must go.” He shook his head, waving a hand toward the guard. “Use the card to find your way home, Madeline. And then forget this place ever existed.”
“I can’t do that,” she said. “Because if I did, that would mean forgetting you.”
Tears slid down her face, the first she’d shed since landing at San Mateo. She wasn’t the type to get sentimental. Andrés was right. She was a survivor. But something about the man had touched her heart. Reached a place she’d thought long dead.
And now they were taking him away.
When he reached the guard, Andrés stopped and turned, lifting a hand to say good-bye. Madeline’s heart stuttered to a stop, her breathing labored as she clung to the wall, watching as her friend disappeared into the prison.
She sank to the ground, her back sliding against the rough-hewn stone of the wall, and opened her fingers, the mottled face of the Queen staring up at her. It was just a card. Unless of course she’d somehow fallen down the rabbit hole. A bubble of hysteria washed through her.
San Mateo wasn’t Wonderland. And she was no Alice. She was simply a woman who’d run out of options. Life wasn’t fair. It was as simple as that. Angrily, she dried her eyes. There were two kinds of people in this world. The ones who survived. And the ones who did not.
She’d learned that lesson long ago.
Sopron, Hungary—three years later
He’d had the dream again—his brother alive and well and giving him hell. As always, it had seemed so real. And he’d hated to wake. To lose this last connection with Tucker. But there was no denying reality. His brother was dead. Had been for five long years.
Drake Flynn sat up, running a hand through his hair, wondering when the pain would stop. Street light filtered into the hotel room, the resulting shadows shifting with movement on the street. The bedside clock glowed an eerie green. Three-thirty-five. Too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep.
He frowned, wishing that Cassandra was still here. He’d have liked to lose himself in her heat. Forget his losses. Concentrate on the here and now. He couldn’t remember when exactly she’d left. Probably hours ago. She wasn’t big on cohabitation, which, in the beginning, had suited Drake just fine. But now, he wasn’t as certain. They’d been together, off and on, for almost a year, and for the first time since Tucker died, Drake actually felt a stirring of hope.
Which was goddamned ridiculous when he thought about it. He and Cass might both be operatives in the same game, but they played for different teams. And although their objectives coincided for the moment, he’d been around long enough to know that that could change in an instant.
He knew that was why she kept him at arm’s length, even agreed with her on some intellectual level. But the ache in his groin wasn’t interested in logical arguments. He needed her. It was as simple as that. And although he was loath to admit it, the need might be turning into something more than just physical.
Pushing out of bed, he pulled on a pair of sweats and grabbed the room key from the bedside table. No sense in overthinking the issue, and even less point in denying himself unnecessarily. Their operation was technically over. They’d secured the information they’d been sent to retrieve. It was locked safely in the next room. Later today they’d transport it to a safe house, a neutral facility where both their governments could access and analyze the data they’d acquired.
Score one for the good guys.
Drake grinned, thinking that now might be a good time for a little R&R. And not just here in the hotel. He wasn’t big on vacations, but with Cass it just might be worth it. Maybe they’d go to an island somewhere. His mind trotted out an image of Cass in the surf, her sun-warmed skin glowing as he lifted himself over her, the water caressing them as he thrust into her tight, wet heat…
Damn. He shook his head. I have it bad.
He shoved the key into his pocket and started for the door, but then froze as a sound filtered through his lust-filled reverie. Tensing, every nerve in his body on alert, his mind cleared in an instant. Scooping his gun from the table, he released the safety, his finger on the trigger, and moved from the bedroom into the living room.
He squinted into the shadows, trying to find the source of the noise he’d heard. Something or someone moved in the foyer, the darkened shape of the closet door taking form as his eyes adjusted to the dim light.
He took a step forward, his muscles tightening in anticipation, and then relaxed as he recognized Cass, his arm dropping harmlessly to his side. “Jesus, darlin’, you sure know how to scare the hell out of a guy.” He grinned, dropping the gun on the bureau. “You must have read my mind. I was just wishing you were here.”
“Drake,” she whispered as she swung around, her full lips parting in surprise, the street light playing on the gun in her hand. “I was hoping you wouldn’t wake up. It certainly would have made this easier.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” His smile faded to a frown as his mind grappled with the meaning of her words.
“Complications.” She shrugged. “At least I’ve managed to maintain the upper hand.” She waved her gun, the motion adding emphasis to her words. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I actually enjoyed our little interlude.”
“Interlude?” he repeated. And then he saw the flash drive in her hand. “You’re stealing the drive.”
“You always were quick on the uptake,” she said, her smile not reaching her eyes.
“But why?” He lifted his hands in supplication and inched toward the bureau and his gun, thankful that it was hidden in the shadows. If she didn’t know he had a weapon, he might just have a chance. “We’re supposed to be working together. Our countries have an agreement.”
“So they do,” she acknowledged. “But, you see, I don’t actually work for my government. And the people I do work for would very much prefer that the information on this drive not fall into the wrong hands.”
“You’re a double agent?” It was a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but he needed to buy himself a little time.
“More of a plant, I’d say. My work with Mossad gives me access to things I might never have had the opportunity to obtain. And your involvement”—she paused, her fingers tightening on the gun as something that might have been regret played across her face—, “well, let’s just say it was serendipitous in more ways than I can count. But, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.”
“So you’ve been planning to kill me all along?”
“Those were my orders,” she sighed. “But I’ll admit you’ve made it more difficult than I’d anticipated.”
“So don’t do it,” he said, turning slightly so that the gun was just behind him, within reach but out of her view.
“And what? Turn myself in?” Her laugh was hollow. “Please. You know as well as I do that’s not the way it works.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way.” He shook his head, still holding up his hands. “You admitted it yourself; there’s something between us. Let me help you. Maybe there is a way out.”
“Right. You’re going to come over to the dark side.” This time her laughter wasn’t forced. “You’re not the kind to turn traitor, Drake. And I’m not the kind to play noble. So I’m afraid we’re at an impasse, and since I’ve got the gun…” She shrugged, her expression resigned as she tightened her finger on the trigger.
Drake dove for the bureau as Cass’s weapon exploded, the bullet grazing his arm as he grabbed his gun, hit the floor, and came up firing. His shot found the mark and Cass’s eyes widened in surprise as she slammed back into the closet door.
For a moment, she held his gaze, and then with a soft exhalation she slid to the floor, the gun falling from lifeless fingers. His gut churning, he walked over to the body, kicking away the Walther. For a moment he stood, and then with a wave of self-revulsion, he bent over the body to retrieve the flash drive.
There should have been some other emotion. Regret maybe. Or some sense of loss. Not ten minutes ago he’d actually been thinking that there might have been something between the two of them. Something beyond the world of espionage. But clearly he’d been a fool to believe Cass was different. To let her lure him into thinking they’d had something more than just sex.
He should have known better.
Cass’s betrayal only served to underscore what he already knew—women were liars.
It was as simple as that.
Di Silva Coffee, Bogotá, Colombia
Madeline was depleted. Bone-deep, soul-shatteringly hollow. Some days she wondered if there was any part of her left that was untouched by the things she witnessed every day. The things she’d done. She’d become someone she despised. And yet, she’d had little choice. Her sister’s life depended on her pleasing Jorge di Silva, or more specifically his man Ortiz. But after three years, she had to admit that she had her doubts.
The men continued to promise freedom. To hold it out like a gold-plated carrot. One more job. One more piece of information. But it never ended. They always wanted more. And she had no choice but to acquiesce. After all, they controlled Jenny.
Currently, Madeline’s sister was sequestered in a seaside rehabilitation facility in northern Colombia, but it had been almost a year since she’d seen her sister and almost seven months since they’d talked. Instead of leaving Colombia after Madeline’s arrest, Jenny had sunk deeper into the dark side of Bogotá. Penniless and desperate, she’d gone to work for di Silva—as a mule.
But in the end her hunger for drugs had rendered her useless, so she’d bargained for her life using Madeline—or more accurately her sister’s connection to a prominent diplomat living in New Orleans. Henri Marton had been Madeline’s first employer, the man who’d offered her a way out of Cypress Bluff.
It had all seemed so easy sitting there across from Ortiz in the dank holding room at San Mateo. Then, his request had seemed simple. In return for Madeline’s release all she had to do was get information from Marton. Information that would aid di Silva’s organization. Once she’d accomplished the task, her sister’s drug debt would be paid, and the two of them would be free to return home. In the meantime, Ortiz promised, Jenny would go into treatment.
But men like Ortiz lied as easily as they breathed, and Jenny hadn’t been interested in rehabilitation, her need for a fix outweighing any desire for freedom. So Madeline had continued to work for di Silva, seducing other men into giving up their secrets, while Jenny, with her addiction, had kept digging them deeper into debt.
Madeline sucked in a breath and slipped into Ortiz’s office. Officially, Jorge di Silva ran the drug cartel she worked for, his aristocratic roots giving him entrée into all levels of Colombian society, his name adding legitimacy to the most illegitimate of businesses. His family, ostensibly in coffee, had run drugs since the days when clipper ships provided the fastest mode of delivery. He was the old guard. And Hector Ortiz was the new.
It was Hector who’d shifted the cartel’s focus from drugs to weapons, the former providing cover for the latter. What had been a profitable organization under di Silva had become an even more powerful force under Ortiz’s influence. Basically, Hector made the money, staying under the radar, while Jorge took all the credit.
And Madeline hated them both.
Which was why she’d been stealing documents for the past two years. Ortiz had taught her well. Information was better than currency, and she’d managed to secure some pretty damning evidence. But as long as they had Jenny, her efforts were pointless. Still, her mother had always said it was best to be prepared.
Somehow Madeline didn’t think working for a drug cartel was what Candace Reynard had had in mind. But then, her mother had been dead for more years than Madeline cared to remember. She’d left her girls when they’d needed her most. And Madeline was still struggling to fill the void.
Ortiz’s office was quiet, the only sound the steady ticking of the clock on the wall. It was early yet, only a few overachievers already hard at work. Ortiz had a breakfast meeting. She’d overheard him discussing it with di Silva, which meant that for the moment at least she had the office to herself. It was always a risk coming here. But she was so rarely in Bogotá, she wanted to make the most of the opportunity.
Usually, when she wasn’t working, she spent her time at di Silva’s compound near Cali. It was the center of operations, but he kept offices in Bogotá as well. And it was here that she hoped to find something to document the recent influx of munitions into the country. She had evidence to prove that the cartel had been buying arms, but nothing that documented their arrival in the country. She’d seen the stockpile herself—once or twice when there’d been no option but to bring her along. But if she was going to bring down the cartel, she needed more than her word. She needed proof. A paper trail.
Maybe her efforts were futile. Maybe she’d never find a way to get Jenny free. But hope was all she had. That and the burning need to make Ortiz pay for everything he’d put them through.
A noise outside the office interrupted her thoughts. If Ortiz caught her rifling though his things, she was dead. It was as simple as that. Madeline’s heart beat staccato against her ribs as she ducked beneath the desk, holding her breath. Footsteps echoed as they approached and then faded.
Counting to ten, she waited to be sure the coast was clear, then pushed to her feet and sat in Ortiz’s chair. The desk was a monstrosity, carved oak with drawers on either side. She pulled the first one open. There were the usual assortment of office supplies and a few harmless invoices. Nothing that would help. She reached for the bottom drawer, smiling when it refused to budge.
A locked drawer almost always meant pay dirt. At least she hoped so. Producing a pick from her pocket, she made short work of the lock and slid the drawer open. The files looked promising, and she reached for the first one, pulling it upward, dislodging an envelope in the process. Frowning, she bent and picked it up, the return address indicating a physician. Maybe Ortiz was sick. A girl could dream.
She glanced again at the door and then pulled out the sheets of paper inside, forcing her mind to translate the Spanish. She’d become quite fluent in the time she’d spent in di Silva’s organization. Andrés would have been proud.
Her smile was bittersweet as she thought of her friend. She’d tried to get word of him, but to no avail. Most likely he was dead. But at least she’d always remember.
She shook her head, concentrating on the letter, the words forming into sentences, the sentences into a horror she couldn’t begin to contemplate. Cold sweat broke out on her forehead, her eyes swimming with tears as her heart dropped to her stomach, her lungs no longer capable of taking in air.
With shaking hands she read the letter again, its meaning still the same.
Her sister was dead.
Madeline shuddered. The word was so final. Drugs had ruled Jenny in life. And now it seemed they ruled her in death as well. She’d died from an overdose. No, Madeline amended, her grief turning to burning rage, she’d died because Ortiz had killed her. As surely as if he’d administered the drugs himself.
She wiped away her tears, glancing at the document that accompanied the letter, a death certificate from a hospital in Bogotá, dated six months ago. Jenny was supposed to have been in a treatment center in Barranquilla on the other side of the country. Swallowing a sob, she slid the letter back into the envelope, her fingers still shaking. There was nothing to be gained by losing it here. She had to maintain control.
She put the envelope back into the drawer, and then carefully relocked it. It was tempting to run. She craved her freedom, but she wanted Ortiz more. And to bring him down, she needed the information she had ferreted away, the files hidden at di Silva’s compound. Which meant she’d have to wait. Pretend that she didn’t know.
But there was one thing she could do now. One thing to set the wheels in motion. There was nothing to hold her back anymore. Jenny was dead.
She pushed away from the desk, her mind made up.
It was time to play Andrés’s card.
Excerpted from Dangerous Desires by Davis, Dee Copyright © 2010 by Davis, Dee. Excerpted by permission.
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