Authors: Toni Anderson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense
By Toni Anderson
Sorcha Logan is looking for peace.
Recently returned to her hometown on Scotland’s craggy coast, Sorcha wants to tame the spirits that made her flee. When she finds a corpse in the surf, however, she can’t suppress the memory of discovering her father’s body. Nor can she suppress the ghosts that haunt her—or the town’s conviction that she’s dangerous, and a witch.
Ben Foley is looking for a killer.
An American DEA agent, Ben is in town to investigate the suspicious death of his partner. He’s sure that Sorcha knows more than she’s letting on—but the more time he spends with the sexy suspect, the less he can fight their illicit attraction. And the less certain he is she’s involved with a drug cartel.
But can Ben protect Sorcha from being set up? Or worse—killed?
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Executive Editor, Carina
Dedicated to the lifeboat crews of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution who risk their lives to rescue others.
And to the Oliver family who semi-adopted me as a child even though I had a family of my own. They accepted me as I was—short, semi-mute, awkward, shy, “not as green as you are cabbage-looking.” And, between them and my own family, fostered a friendship that in 30 years has never faltered—Deb, you made school fun and stopped me from being a nerd. Thanks for always being my friend.
Last but not least, to my wonderful husband and children who believe in me, no matter what.
Early drafts of this story benefited from the generous input of many critique partners and beta readers, most especially the inestimable Kathy Altman and Kim Daniel—thank you all.
I wanted to acknowledge a dear friend, Dr. Alex Jones, with whom I shared a house during our halcyon student days. She was a bird behaviorist who taught me all I needed to know about studying for a Ph.D. in that field. Thanks Alex and co., for the good times and fun times.
I’d also like to send a nod of appreciation to the towns of Anstruther and Cellardyke where this story is set, and where we spent six glorious years raising babies and puppies. If you’re in Fife you have to go!
And finally I’d like to acknowledge the eagle eye and endless patience of my editor, Deb Nemeth at Carina Press. It’s a cliché, but she’s the best.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ve been running from them my whole life.
Edgar Allan Poe.
Standing beneath the blades of a ceiling fan in a drug lord’s mansion, Ben felt sweat gather between his shoulder blades and sizzle as it rolled down his back. He didn’t know what was going on but instinct told him this op was going south faster than a hooker on a deadline.
Emilio Santayana sat behind his massive desk on an ornately carved chair, spitting out orders. Not for long though. They just needed to track down the one arm of the operation DEA hadn’t yet cracked. They had enough on Santayana to roast his balls in hell and smile as he begged for mercy, but he hadn’t yet given up his contacts across the Atlantic. If Ben didn’t know him for the murdering, double-crossing, soulless sonofabitch he was, he’d think he was actually scared of his associates there.
Except something was up. An air of expectation and suppressed excitement crackled through the room. Santayana could barely keep still, squirming in his seat, a half smirk pinned to his pudgy lips. Unease skittered rat-like along Ben’s spine.
Damned if he was going to be the agent to screw up the biggest drug bust in history. He leaned against the windowsill to take advantage of the cool breeze wafting through the open window. Santayana’s mansion on the outskirts of Magangue, Colombia, was surrounded by lush undergrowth. He eyed the distance to the ground and figured he could make it, get to the safe-house and call backup. He might take a bullet but it beat the hell out of standing here waiting for execution from a man with the scruples of a pit viper.
what would you do if you discovered you had an American DEA agent spying on you?” Santayana’s tone was light and friendly, as if they were discussing what to drink with lunch.
Inside, Ben froze. Outside, he shrugged a lazy shoulder and concentrated on not giving the game away. No flicker of eyelids, no fiddling fingers, no ragged breathing. He dismissed the sweat that drenched his shirt because this close to the equator, this close to drug lords, everyone sweated.
He ran his gaze over the six men standing around the room. All heavily armed. All ready to kill. None of them meeting his gaze.
“What would you do with a piece of worthless American garbage?” An elaborate carriage clock ticked on the mantle.
“Kill him.” Ben coiled his muscles, ready to spring.
“Ha!” Santayana barked a laugh, the noise booming joyously off the white plaster walls of the gargantuan office. “You are a hard man.”
A terrible thought uncurled in the pit of Ben’s stomach. What if they weren’t talking about him?
“That’s why I like you.” Santayana sighed and leaned back in his leather chair. Imperiously he snapped his fingers. “Bring up the prisoner.”
Hot sweat turned into a river of ice along Ben’s spine.
No, no, no.
He didn’t have a weapon. Undercover operatives weren’t authorized to carry firearms on foreign assignments, and only Santayana’s goons were allowed to carry in this household. He glanced over at Santayana’s desk and spotted the sharp dagger the sonofabitch used to open his mail.
His best friend, DEA agent Jacob Marks, was dragged into the room—barely conscious, nose broken, face battered, blood and snot coating his ragged shirt.
The man was almost unrecognizable.
Anger and dismay churned and Ben concentrated on not turning his hands into fists.
How had they discovered Jacob? He was a computer nerd who lived in the safe-house and rarely saw daylight. Who the hell had tipped Santayana off? The local girl Jacob was screwing? Or did DEA have a leak?
Jacob’s lids slitted open. He looked straight at Ben, silently communicating the game was up. The phone rang shrilly, drowning out the hoarse breaths of the tortured man, and Ben used the distraction to move a step closer to Santayana.
Santayana raised his hand for silence and lifted the receiver. Ben wanted to be close enough to hear whoever was talking on the other end of that line, but the damn clock was ticking so loud now he could hear nothing but the slow roar of impending death.
“¡Oye ese, mi escocés amigo!”
Santayana, turned slightly to face him, his expression grim.
“You received the last shipment?…
The next one is leaving port as we speak.” The man’s black eyes gleamed as he nodded and listened.
Ben hoped to hell the call was being traced because this investigation was over.
Santayana flicked a surreptitious glance at him. “
, we uncovered the problem…
you were right, as always.
Quien a hierro mata, a hierro muere
They who live by the sword shall die by the sword.
Ben inched closer to the desk. The moment Pablo reached for his weapon, Ben lunged for the dagger and had the sharp edge pressed flush to Santayana’s jugular before anyone could get off a shot.
All six of Santayana’s henchmen hesitated, semiautomatics pointed at his head. Thankfully none would risk hitting Santayana. Enrique edged left. “Take another step and your boss gets a free tracheotomy.” Ben jerked Santayana’s head to expose more flesh.
“Stay still, you fools!” Santayana gasped as the knife slid across his skin. Fear popped out of the little man’s pores.
Jacob knelt on the floor, barely conscious.
“Get over here,” Ben said to him. They had to move quickly. Right now Santayana’s men were in a dilemma, but the deadlock wouldn’t last long.
“Jacob, get the fuck over here!” Ben worked to keep the fear out of his voice. Fear would get them all killed—if they weren’t already dead.
To Ben’s relief the man started dragging himself across the floor.
Holding the drug lord tight against his chest, Ben removed the phone from his fingers and brought it to his ear. He listened to deep silence and the indrawn breath of someone listening right back. A moment later the dial tone reverberated through his eardrum, and he swore he heard laughter echoing down the line.
“Benjamin, my friend, what are you doing?” Santayana asked, his fat fingers grasping Ben’s forearm.
“I guess you’d say I’m living by the sword, Emilio.” Ben dropped the receiver and pressed the knife deeper against Santayana’s neck, drawing blood as he rifled beneath the Colombian’s designer jacket. Retrieving a pistol, he flicked off the safety and pressed the barrel against Santayana’s temple. “United States Drug Enforcement Administration at your service.” His mind raced to figure a way out of this mess. “Emilio Santayana, you’re under arrest.”
Enrique raised his gun. Ben was outnumbered seven to one and handicapped by Jacob, who lay panting on the floor beside him.
“Benjamin, think. Think!” Santayana trembled beneath the pressure of the knife. Ben felt the vibrations all the way through his arm. “We can come to a deal—your lives in exchange for immunity from prosecution.”
Yeah, like that was gonna happen.
Ben put the knife down, liberated Santayana’s backup weapon and nudged his friend with his foot. Jacob took the gun with his left hand, cradling his right gingerly against his chest. When Jacob met his gaze, shame and fury shone brightly from his eyes, the residue from some unmentionable trauma swimming in the depths.
He frowned. If he didn’t know better…“Jacob. No!”
Jacob shot the nearest goon in the gut and the standoff shattered. Everyone started shooting. Jacob took a round in the leg before he darted for cover. Ben grabbed the knife and dragged Santayana down behind the desk. Heart roaring, lungs bellowing, Ben nailed Enrique with a head shot. Using the desk as a shield, he placed bullets in two other men, cursing his best friend with every breath he took. Explosive percussion pounded his eardrums. The noise was unbearable. Santayana started to struggle, but Ben pressed the knife deep enough to gain his full cooperation.
A bullet scraped Ben’s scalp and he felt the burn along his skull. He shifted position and fired back, wounding another man. Gunpowder discharge filled the room, stinking, making Ben’s eyes water. Sirens burst to life in the distance.
The cavalry. If they could just hold on.
“Jacob. Get down!”
But Jacob staggered, struggling to shoulder an AK-47 with what looked like a broken wrist.
Ben fired, finishing off the man who wouldn’t give up despite the bullet hole in his chest, even as Jacob stood like an avenging angel and fired wildly at the one remaining bodyguard. The guy went down in a hail of bullets, but not before nailing Jacob with a single shot to the heart.
“Jacob!” Ben cried. Rage swamped him. Jacob fell, his finger pressed to the trigger, firing a barrage of bullets as he twisted around in a macabre pirouette. Ben launched himself and Santayana back as the bullets headed toward them in an unstoppable wave of death.
Santayana screamed as lead hit, his body jolting violently. Ben braced himself for the same searing insult to flesh but nothing happened.
Suddenly the room went quiet. Not even the clock ticked. Ben pushed himself off Santayana’s still form, automatically feeling for a pulse. Dead. Slowly, he checked each bodyguard, kicking their weapons out of reach. Finally he walked over to where Jacob Marks lay twisted on his back, the AK-47 welded to his hand in a death grip.
Ben’s hands shook as he crouched down and closed the lids over Jacob’s staring blue eyes. What the hell had happened to make a good agent forget all those years of training? Ben ground his teeth and fought back a surge of emotion.
The first police officers tore into the building. Tears streamed down Ben’s face as he held his hands in the air. He didn’t resist when they laid him out on the floor and roughly patted him down. A cavernous hole of grief welled up inside him. He’d messed up. He hadn’t protected his partner.
A pair of familiar black shoes came into view. “Let him up. He’s one of mine.”
Ben stood numbly, bones stiff with the weight of failure.
“You hurt?” asked Special Agent Granville Beaufort.
Ben ran a palm over his skull, which was still bleeding. “No.” His ears rang with the sound of gunfire, his mind reliving the moment of Jacob’s death over and over again.
“What the hell went wrong?” Beaufort spoke around an unlit cigar, sharp blue eyes missing nothing—not the knife wound on Santayana’s neck, not the battered remains of Jacob’s face, not even the shattered clock on the mantle.
“I don’t know how they got on to Jacob.” If it was a DEA leak they’d have known about Ben without needing to torture the information out of Jacob—then they’d have just done it for fun. He held his boss’s hard stare with one of his own. “We almost fought our way out, but…” He swallowed and looked down at the body of a man he’d thought of as a brother. He could never betray him—not even in death. He cleared his throat. There was work to do. “Did you start rounding up the associates?”
“As we speak.”
Ben narrowed his eyes at the phone, mentally sorting through the earlier conversation.
“Whoever was on the end of that line betrayed Jacob.”
Beaufort nodded. “We’re tracing the call. Time for you to call it a day, Foley. Go home, you deserve some rest.”
“No.” He didn’t deserve a damn thing after this fiasco. “Not until this is finished.”
“You need debriefed. We’ll talk about this back in Washington.”
“We can talk about it all day and all night, sir—” Ben held his superior’s gaze, “—but I’m not done. After we bury Agent Marks, I’m gonna hunt these bastards down.”