Authors: Sahara Roberts
On the thin line between life and death...
Tessa Marshal has fulfilled her long awaited dream of homeownership. She celebrates by taking a vacation with a friend but gets more than she bargained for when her adventure becomes a terrifying ordeal.
Deep cover agent Kristopher “Kris” Harmon has spent years climbing the ranks within the Mexican cartel. He walks a tight line between vicious drug runners with agendas of their own and working with the cartel leaders he’s trying to organize. Any distraction could prove fatal for him—and for the hundreds of undercover law enforcement officers his own cover protects.
Their worlds collide when Tessa is mistaken for a drug mule and taken captive. As time runs out for both of them, Tessa has to reach beyond her fears and trust a stranger while Kris must choose between his lifelong ambitions and saving Tessa’s life. If they want to survive, both must trust that there is more to the other than what meets the eye.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Sahara Roberts. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
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Edited by Terese Ramin
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition May 2014
To my darling husband, who I lovingly refer to as Brat.
Wide shoulders, flat stomach, muscled thighs…
Tessa Marshal clutched the wrought iron balustrade. Desire trickled down her body, melting over her like warm fudge on soft-serve.
contemplated her from the balcony of the trendy Monterrey night club. His heavy gaze caressed every intimate curve and hollow she’d camouflaged under black, wide-leg pants, returning up the placket of her charcoal top to the first button.
Having the clout to pass the Goliath at the second floor entrance proved he was
. Somebody she would’ve preferred not to notice.
. The man stuck out like a Jersey accent in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Back home in Texas, his height and coloring might have blended into the crowd. In Northern Mexico, he stood a head taller than most. His golden skin, close-cropped brown hair, and chiseled jaw drew glances from the women around him. But his sharp, blue eyes pinned her to the fifth step.
Tessa stood frozen, unable to look away. She bit her bottom lip as her nipples contracted into tight buds, standing proud and basking in his attention. Awareness vibrated through her, shaking every bit of substance from her knees.
She leaned against an ivy covered trellis to catch her breath. People continued along the steps, breaking her line of sight for a split second at a time. Long enough to keep her from making a complete fool of herself.
Once the club-goers passed, his gaze locked with hers. She swallowed hard, pushing past the lump in her throat. Lust, rich and finely honed, heated her from the inside.
Months of self-imposed celibacy hadn’t been an issue, until now. But if not for the sturdy balustrade, her legs would’ve melted away, leaving her to slip down the stairs. She’d end up an unremarkable puddle surrounded by private nooks, marble statues, and strategically placed foliage.
His left brow arched. Full lips turned up in a smug smile.
She straightened, hiding the way her body quivered.
This guy is way out of my league
The realization sobered her in a heartbeat. Monica, her best friend, had warned her to keep alert. Cartel members frequented clubs in the area, and Tessa’s light complexion and auburn hair brought way too much attention. Not an ideal situation in a place where people disappeared on a regular basis and the population continued, unperturbed.
She breathed deep and exhaled through puckered lips. Her mind raced to clear the fog of desire.
His expression wasn’t flirtatious, but self-assured and arrogant. She was the clueless bunny, and he the predator, eyeing her from higher ground. One who would likely devour her in one sumptuous bite before licking his fingertips contently.
She hadn’t thought of herself as an outright target, but suddenly she felt like she had a big, fat bull’s-eye sitting right between her—
“Tessa!” Heather’s voice broke into her musing. “You’re still here?”
Tessa closed her eyes, thankful for her ex-roommate’s impeccable timing. She swiveled around, frowning when she caught sight of the blonde.
Unbelievable. She’d spent half an hour searching the club for Heather’s hot pink halter-top, only to find the showy sequins hidden under a black leather jacket. “Of course I’m still here,” Tessa called over the music. “We’re supposed to stay together, remember?”
“Uh, okay.” Heather gave a dismissive shrug.
“Where’ve you been?”
“I was out…getting some air.”
Tessa lifted a skeptical brow.
Yeah. In some guy’s back seat?
“Um, I’m taking off with Javier.” Heather grinned and waved at a group seated in a secluded area behind the trellis.
Javier, a Jack Black look-alike with a soul patch, sauntered over. “Heeee-llo.” His eyes roamed over her before he continued. “Are we ready to go?” Latin music ramped up to a heavier beat, drowning out his accented English.
Tessa descended one careful footstep after another. She gave him a sugary smile while she pulled Heather aside. “Do you
what time it is?”
“Ye-heah!” The blonde danced in place, her black miniskirt swirling around her generous hips. “Time for a change of sce-ne-ry!” Her boisterous laughter turned a few curious heads. The stench of sour breath and cigarettes hit Tessa full force. She scrunched her nose and leaned away. Heather giggled and continued, wide-eyed. “I wanna check out this club Javier likes. He says it’s c
.” She squealed, bouncing on her tip toes. “That means
Javier sauntered over and dropped a kiss on Heather’s shoulder. “Everyone is leaving,
.” A boisterous throng of scantily clad women passed by, pulling him along.
Tessa held her ground. “You met this guy an hour ago. Now you want to follow him God-knows-where? Leroy would have a fit.”
“Come on, we’re on va-ca-tion. My boyfriend isn’t even in the same country.” Heather adjusted her breasts and winked. “Hey,
what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico.” Laughing, she grabbed Tessa’s arm and dragged her to the exit.
Tessa’s steps slowed. A desperate tug at her insides begged for one last glimpse of
. She held her breath and checked over her shoulder.
The railing he’d been leaning against minutes earlier was empty. Relief and disappointment wrestled within her. If his blue eyes left her tingling, what would those full lips do?
Resigned, Tessa followed the rambunctious group out the door. She palmed the car keys and frowned at her friend’s antics.
Heather stood on tippy-toes, staring after Javier with a lewd smile. “We’re right behind you, baby!” She fanned herself. “Mm-mm-mm, you bet I’ll follow that behind.”
The drunken crowd made its way across the moonlit parking lot. Some leaned into one another while they continued to belt out the lyrics playing in the building.
“Heather, it’s late,” Tessa reasoned. “We have no idea what suburb we’re going to or how to get back to the hotel.”
Heather stuck out her lower lip. “Just one more club before the sun comes up.”
Tessa’s face fell. She’d been on too little sleep for too many days. “There’s construction on every other street. Maneuvering through detours at this hour isn’t safe.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll drive.” Heather snatched the keys from her hand. “You can track us on your little map.” She shimmied over to the driver’s side, her head bobbing to the beat of the
Tessa exhaled, praying for patience. An array of nasty retorts flashed through her mind. She wondered, for the umpteenth time, why she’d agreed to let Heather come along on this trip. Oh yeah, because she hadn’t been given a choice. In typical fashion, Heather had announced she’d booked her flight without waiting for an invitation.
And I didn’t stop her.
“Get in, they’re leaving.” Heather brimmed with excitement.
Tessa bit her bottom lip, unconvinced. “We fly out tomorrow.”
. Like…more than twelve hours from now.” She started the car. “Come on! Tonight’s our last night in town. Maybe even the last time we hang out together.” She wiggled her eyebrows and gave a hopeful smile. “Let’s make tonight unforgettable!”
Tessa cupped her elbows and snuck a glance at the exit.
was still in the club somewhere. What if he’d come looking for her? Would she have walked away or followed her baser instincts?
She circled the car and opened the passenger’s door. “Okay, one unforgettable night coming up.”
Tessa dropped onto the seat with a long, suffering sigh.
I can’t believe I’m doing this
. She clipped on the seat belt while Heather zipped them out of the parking lot. A quick turn into the street pulled the restraint snug against her chest. Not a bad thing, considering Heather’s driving.
The three vehicles sped along dark streets to the outskirts of town. Heather tuned the radio to a party station and gyrated to the heavy beat. Tessa pulled her cell from her pocket and plugged in the charger. She slipped the phone into the nearest cup holder and slumped into the bucket seat to brood. Yellowed lamps streaked by at extended intervals. Their weak light skirted past the edge of the unmarked road into brush and cacti. The side mirror showed the majestic Sierra Madre Mountains peppered with lights and a fourth vehicle coming up behind them.
How many people did Javier party with?
The newcomers caught up, riding along behind them, way too close. Did this guy realize the danger he put them in? Any little hitch in the road—
Their car was jolted from behind. Tessa came upright, wide-eyed. “What the…?” Her brow furled. They hadn’t been hit hard, but who would mess around like this? “Is that one of your friends?”
The headlights fell back, showing a larger vehicle, an SUV or a truck.
Heather slowed down and turned to Tessa, her eyes huge. “I—I don’t know.” She pulled in a corner of her lips.
The SUV sped up. Tessa braced herself, struggling not to succumb to panic. The driver smashed into the bumper, pushing them forward. Fear shot down her spine to ricochet into her chest. High beams lit up the car before the driver swerved to come up beside them. The angry roar of an eight cylinder engine overwhelmed the drone of their little car. Heather clutched the wheel, looking lost and terrified. Blood flowed over her lip where she’d bitten through the skin.
“Go!” Tessa’s voice broke. “Hit the gas.”
Heather’s mouth opened and closed without a sound before she stepped on the pedal. She wasn’t fast enough.
The SUV swerved toward them. A hacking sob escaped Heather’s lips as she scrunched toward the center console. Fenders clashed with a deafening screech. The smaller rental veered off the asphalt as Heather screamed.
“Oh my God!” Tessa clung to the safety handles as they careened down the embankment. The compact fish-tailed, sending a deafening wave of dirt and rocks banging against the undercarriage.
Crap, crap, crap…
The car tilted precariously before coming to an abrupt stop, deploying the airbag and smothering Heather’s terrified cry. Momentum slammed Tessa’s head and shoulder into the passenger door.
She welcomed the sudden quiet. Her head pounded more violently than her heart. The few drinks from the club sloshed around her stomach, threatening to spew forth. Blood dribbled along her temple, leaving a cool trail in its wake. She shifted with the utmost care, ready to discover a broken bone somewhere in her battered body. Even that would be preferable to ending up dead beside a lonely road in Monterrey.
Brake lights shone bright and fuzzy along the highway above. Hopefully, Heather’s new friends, the ones she wanted to follow to “
just one more club
”, would call for help.
Why had she let Heather take the keys? She should’ve ignored her whining and driven to the hotel.
Headlights illuminated the car’s interior. The familiar rumble of the engine snapped her out of her stupor. Harsh reality cleared her mind. “Heather...wake up.” She struggled to free herself from the seat belt. “We need to go. Move—”
Tessa’s door rattled, pulling open with a spine-chilling creak. She cringed away from the widening gap only to be jolted back in place. “
! Stupid belt.” Her pulse skyrocketed. Tears of frustration threatened to spill over while Monica’s repeated warnings about the cartel echoed in her ears.
A man’s tattooed arm thrust in, the rest of him remaining in the shadow. Thick, blunt fingers dragged a stainless steel blade across the seat belt, splitting the harness. The jagged end hissed and danced like a wild snake before recoiling inside the panel.
Heather cowered against the driver-side door. Her ear-piercing shriek seemed to go on forever.
Tessa twisted and pushed off from the center console to hurl herself between the seats. She stretched, frantically reaching for the rear door handle while scrambling to the back. Every inch she gained might make a difference.
Blunt fingernails scraped her skin as he grabbed the waistband of her pants and yanked, hard. “Get back here!” he shouted in guttural Spanish.
The console banged against every body part between shin and jaw as he pulled her out of the car. Her knees landed on rocky ground while the seat smothered her terrified scream.
He yanked her up by the shoulder and shoved her against the chassis. A man’s round face loomed above hers. His triumphant grin melted into a canine-baring scowl framed by a dark goatee. He jammed his hand behind her neck and sent her into a nose dive, angling her toward the car’s lit interior.
!” He shook her, letting loose another string of curses. “Get the other one!” he yelled over the car.
Tessa swallowed hard, trying to keep nervous heaves from emptying her stomach. Great, now she’d puke over her new boots.
I’m worried about footwear in my final moments.
Cool air rushed into her mouth, hitting the back of her throat. She’d seen enough TV to figure out what would happen if she got into the SUV.
In a moment of clarity, she shifted into a familiar stance. They’d practiced the move a thousand times during karate class. She had to act now.
Use the element of surprise. Then run like hell