He's the only one who can save her...
ATF agent B.J. Carleton’s first priority is stopping the flow of guns into Mexico until sassy Callie Snowden finds herself in the sights of a ruthless gunrunner, a man B.J. suspects killed her husband. After the tragedy Callie retreated home to her small Texas town, thinking she’d found safety. Now secrets from the past plunge her into a nightmare.
When she and B.J. are kidnapped by ruthless cartel henchmen and taken into the Chihuahuan desert, B.J. must protect Callie from the killers and harsh terrain. As they run for their lives, the past continues to play itself out and catches them in its deadly spiral. And if B.J. gives in to his overwhelming attraction for her, he may lose everything...for both of them.
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Surrender at the Border
By Risa Leigh, Alethea Spiridon
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Risa Leigh
All rights reserved.
B.J. Carleton had a bad feeling about the meeting with Callie Snowden. She was about to be blindsided by a group of good ol' boys in a room that looked like a sixties lawyer show. Most of all, she was going to resent what B.J. had to ask her to do.
"Beej, settle down," his partner, Leo Scalfano, said out of the side of his mouth.
The sheriff, county judge, and lawyer all sat on one side of the shiny conference room table. He and Leo were from the Dallas ATF field office, and Josh Norton, the best IT expert from the El Paso office, sat with them on the other side of the table. The soon-to-arrive Callie Snowden was the library director at the county-funded public library in the small, dusty west Texas town of Rowdy.
"We're ganging up on her," B.J. argued to an unsympathetic crowd. "We want her to cooperate. This way she's going to feel bullied."
Sheriff Jake Ferguson looked up. "You're the one who said we needed to keep a low profile."
"Jake, this is my idea," Judge Larry Brown said. "We elected officials have to keep the constituents safe. If the citizens of the county knew a vicious gunrunner was in our midst, there'd be hell to pay."
For B.J.'s part, he didn't want any gossip to tip off the "vicious gunrunner." This was a small town, and news traveled fast. He wanted to get the last bit of evidence they needed from the library's computers and do it quietly so they could arrest the bad guy, not scare him into hiding.
All that would go better if he had the library director's cooperation. Even though he'd never met her, he felt like he knew her through his research. She deserved to be treated fairly.
Mel Garrison, the county's lawyer, leaned back in his chair. "I've known Callie since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. She won't feel threatened by us."
The way Counselor Garrison looked over his glasses, B.J. heard the insinuation. She will feel threatened by some big-shot federal ATF agents.
B.J. got up and paced to control his anger. To have something to do, he looked out the second-floor window. It was almost five o'clock, but the traffic around the town square remained almost nonexistent. B.J. hadn't known sleepy towns like this existed anymore. Ironic that the town's name was Rowdy.
"Who would've thought Karl Abbott would turn into a gunrunner? I thought he'd gotten his act together," Judge Brown said.
B.J. glanced over his shoulder at the remark. Ferguson's face grew red. As the chief law enforcement official for the county, no doubt the sheriff took it personally that a criminal acted so freely in his jurisdiction.
"Abbott has been cautious. It hasn't been easy to track him," B.J. said so Jake could save face.
Neither of his team looked up from their phones, but Leo chuckled. "B.J. got one hell of a tip, or Abbott would still be under the radar."
Jake caught B.J.'s eye. "What put you onto Abbott in the first place?"
B.J. stiffened and resumed pacing to hide his resistance to Jake's curiosity. "Confidential informant."
"Damned lucky," Leo said.
This wasn't the first time Leo grumbled about B.J. being secretive about his source. B.J. couldn't take any chances. His buddy, Rick Milan, worked undercover for the Border Patrol mostly in Mexico without backup. If certain details were revealed, the cartel could easily trace the information back to Rick and his mysterious cartel informant.
So far the only information B.J. had gotten had been about Americanos working with the cartel. He hadn't seen any big busts south of the border as a result of Rick's work. That raised a red flag for B.J. about this contact's end game and what that meant for his friend.
"Damned solid investigating." Jake's compliment acknowledged B.J.'s earlier support.
"Do you think Abbott's done anything else? I have a few cold cases I'd like cleared up," Brown said.
B.J. froze. The reason he looked at Karl Abbott in the first place was the CI's claim that Abbott killed a Texas state trooper. That was the piece that would put Rick in danger, but also the one that made B.J. pursue Abbott with such diligence. "Unless he confesses, I got nothing." He spread his hands.
"The blog is enough." Josh never looked up from his phone.
"This modern world," Judge Brown moaned.
"Nah, think of it this way. It's like the little black book or the second ledger, but this evidence is electronic. We found the blog address in the internet history that a couple of straw buyers had in their phones. The blog was written in code. We broke the code and tied it to gun shipments." Leo warmed up to his subject and put his phone away.
"You still have to prove Abbott is the author of the blog." Garrison used his half-moon glasses to point at them.
"When Abbott started his blog, the library didn't require a log-on. Now it does." Josh shrugged.
"Slam dunk!" Jake pumped his fist.
"But first you have to go through the librarian," Leo wisecracked.
B.J. gave him a sideways grin. "You're the one who can't get along with librarians. Remember the Fratelli case?"
Josh's eyes got big. "Dude, that was you?"
"Okay, okay, I handled that badly. But Callie Snowden is not the kind of battle-ax librarian that Mrs. Austen was." Would B.J. find it easier or harder to have to piss off Mrs. Snowden?
Leo started to say something else, but the sound of footsteps stopped him. Clicking in the hallway headed in their direction. Everyone stopped talking, and Garrison shot B.J. another look.
The footsteps stopped. "Hi, Betsy." A surprisingly low and melodious voice sounded through the open doorway. The voices dropped, keeping the conversation indistinguishable, but it was obvious Callie Snowden had entered the premises.
Ferguson cleared his throat. "Betsy and Callie will chitchat for a few minutes, so that gives me a chance to say one more thing. We're mighty protective of Callie. We all remember Jimmy."
Jimmy Snowden. B.J. knew about Callie's husband, a murdered state trooper ... a murder B.J. couldn't talk about. The echo of footsteps drew closer, and B.J. leaned against the wall to create the illusion of a calm he didn't feel.
"Hi, Linda." Once again she must have stopped to talk to someone else. "Serena was fabulous in the play last week."
Garrison shook his head and checked his watch. "We'll be lucky if Callie gets in here in two hours."
"Well, it is quitting time," Ferguson added. "She can't run into too many more people."
B.J. stared at the pattern the sunshine made as it slanted across the floor. Then the door creaked. Keeping his hands in his pockets, he pushed away from the wall.
"Larry? Betsy said —" Callie stepped into the room, and instantly B.J. felt his chest squeeze as if he were on a 14,000-foot mountain and oxygen-deprived. Okay, he'd expected a small-town librarian to be mousy, and she was anything but. Even as her lovely smile faded, her elegant eyebrows drew together in confusion, but her confident posture never wavered. He resisted the urge to straighten his loosened tie.
"Am I interrupting something?" Her warm honey voice was steady, but both hands gripped her large bag. Her gaze slid from the judge to B.J., his throat tightening with the demands he had to deliver.
"No, no." The judge stood. "We need to talk to you about something. Please have a seat."
She worked at a smile, but her stiff body movements screamed suspicion. With almost regal bearing, Callie straightened the white half-sweater she wore over her turquoise dress and eased into the chair without a rustle. He couldn't explain why he watched her, tongue-tied. He shook himself and began the task at hand.
"Mrs. Snowden, I'm Special Agent B.J. Carleton. These are Special Agents Leo Scalfano and Josh Norton. We're from the ATF."
Callie gasped, her luscious lips forming an O. "Is this about Jimmy?"
"No, ma'am." B.J. focused on his job in order to ignore the hope in her eyes. "This is about another matter. Someone has been using the library's computers to plan illegal activities."
Callie frowned in concentration. "Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms. And bombs, too, right? This is about Vernon McCloud, isn't it?" She relaxed and gave a little laugh. "We took care of that. Jake, didn't we take care of the Vernon McCloud thing?"
What was she talking about? Not only were the words foreign to him, he helplessly watched her eyes dance with amusement.
"What the hell does Vernon McCloud have to do with this?" Garrison exploded before B.J. could say a word.
"Vernon downloaded a recipe for making a bomb. He wanted to show how easily someone could find the information. Won't he be surprised when he finds out how long the ATF arm really is?" Callie sat back slightly.
"This isn't about the kid." Ferguson adjusted his gun as he leaned forward. "Let the man finish."
Callie stiffened and her assurance dissolved. "So real illegal activities, not just pranks?"
All eyes went to B.J. The only ones that mattered were hers. "Yes, ma'am. What we'd like to do —"
"Who is it?" she interrupted him.
Ferguson jumped in. "Callie, it's better if you don't know."
B.J. moved to the chair next to hers at the table. Breathing in her jasmine fragrance, he adopted a soothing tone. "Mrs. Snowden, I know you have concerns, and you can talk to me any time you want about them. For now, what we want to do is install software on your public computers that will monitor patron activity."
"Hold it right there." Callie shook her head, catching the streaming sunlight so that it flashed off the blond highlights in her rich brown ponytail. "That violates my patrons' privacy. That's why my computers wipe all the history when we turn them off."
"We can monitor current activity to get what we need."
She blew out her breath in exasperation. "But you'll get everybody's activity, not just your suspect's."
"Callie, it's done." Garrison weighed in to settle the matter. "Special Agent Carleton has done everything by the book. The search warrant has been served, and he's proven he has probable cause."
"Not to me he hasn't." Callie looked around the room. "Y'all knew about this, and you didn't say a word?"
Such a put-together woman saying "y'all" briefly distracted B.J.
Her tirade continued as she stood up and leaned toward the three officials she knew. "I am the library director, and as such I deserve at least the courtesy of being notified when something of this magnitude is happening in my department."
B.J. rather enjoyed her tearing into them. For their part, they looked genuinely surprised that this diminutive woman stood up for herself so fiercely.
"I can't believe you didn't involve me in the decision-making process." She crossed her arms under her pert breasts, scolding them like schoolchildren.
"You don't know the crimes involved." Ferguson squirmed in his seat.
"And you obviously don't care about constitutionally protected civil liberties."
"Okay, Callie, that's enough," Garrison huffed. "It's done. Stop your Constitution thumping. Your cooperation is expected. Even more than that, you can't say anything to your patrons. Hell, you can't say anything to anyone that an investigation is going on."
"You can't talk about this. I'll repeat that. Don't talk to anyone." Garrison jammed on his glasses and crossed his arms.
Callie sat down hard. "You're serious."
"As a heart attack. Special Agent Carleton, proceed." Garrison gestured to B.J.
When she looked at him, B.J. could see how betrayed she felt in spite of her brave front. He leaned in to win her cooperation. "We'll use a monitoring software and, when we have the evidence we need, we'll uninstall and be gone."
"What will happen to the information you don't need?" She still had a little steel in her tone.
"We dump it. It will be like it was never gathered." He almost touched her hand for reassurance, but decided that would be too much. For now.
Callie cleared her throat. "I'll hold you to that. A lot of kids will be in the library because research papers are due next week. I don't want to see you here in six months making life hard for a graduating senior because he looked up how an M16 works."
Leo snickered, and Callie pursed her lips in irritation. B.J. shot him a look, and Leo raised his hands in surrender. B.J. met her eyes. "We dump all information we don't need. You have my word."
"Okay, then." She gave him a quick nod. "When does all this happen?"
"Tonight after the library closes."
Callie sighed. "I guess I'll see you in about thirty minutes."
* * *
When Callie imagined challenges in her professional life, she always saw herself winning. She would go to court for her right to keep a banned book on her shelves, and she would champion the rights of those who couldn't speak for themselves. Now that it had happened in real life, it was over in the blink of an eye. She'd lost this fight before she even knew there was one.
She closed her eyes for a moment and heaved a deep breath. The library crawled with cops. Jake Ferguson shot the breeze with that short, stocky special agent with the slicked-back hair. Was she guilty of profiling when she thought he could be in a Sopranos episode? The whiz kid bent over the keyboard with the intensity that most IT types had when they stared at a computer screen.
Callie pretended to look at a magazine as she watched the scene unfold so when Special Agent Carleton looked her way, she could look busy. He sent her concerned looks every few minutes while he paced and took charge of everything. No one else gave her the slightest attention as they tore into her computers.
All those men lied to her, men who were like fathers to her. Agent Carleton was the only one who showed her any consideration. As her anger melted and left her with only anxiety, she found herself watching him as a gauge. She didn't know anything about this man, and already she relied on him to be straight with her. She shouldn't trust him even if he looked like the good guy here. Cops always put the case before anything — or anyone — else, even hot ones like Agent Carleton.
Callie picked up her magazine and paced. She shouldn't be thinking of Agent Carleton's hotness factor. She had a rule, after all, about cops being forever off-limits. As the widow of a cop killed in the line of duty, her whole life had been colored by that unsolved murder case. She'd never live with that fear again. She told herself it was the integrity she admired in his gray eyes when he promised to protect her patrons' privacy.
The special agent took up a lot of the space in the library's reading room. The strength in his athletic frame and broad shoulders filled out the jacket of his charcoal-gray suit. Men in this town didn't wear suits. He put his hand on his hip, revealing a starched shirt and a holster with a weapon, and studied whatever appeared on the computer screen. Controlled power. Then Special Agent Carleton caught her watching him. Again.
Callie tossed the magazine on the circulation desk and yanked her hair out of the holder so she could tidy her ponytail. The agent walked toward her, watching her run her fingers through her hair. Instead of binding it back up, she impulsively shook her hair around her shoulders.
"So, Mrs. Snowden, tomorrow just act normally. Don't worry about what anyone does. Try to forget about this." He tore his gaze away from her hair.
"Like that's going to happen. I won't be able to think of anything except how you're in everybody's business." In exasperation, she went back to her ponytail. Then she had a thought and let her hair fall again. "I could help you. Just tell me who to look for, and I'll give you a signal when they get here. I could save you a lot of trouble."
He grimaced. "I know this is hard for you. It goes against your principles, but I need you to act as if nothing is out of the ordinary. If you act jumpy or nervous, you could spook our suspect and jeopardize the entire investigation."
"Are you kidding? Act normal while you're spying on my patrons?"
"Just remember, you're helping protect yourself, your family and friends from a very nasty criminal." Agent Carleton suddenly gave her a lopsided grin. "If nothing else, take comfort from knowing it will all be over soon."
Excerpted from Surrender at the Border by Risa Leigh, Alethea Spiridon. Copyright © 2016 Risa Leigh. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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