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Authors: Joan Swan

Intimate Enemies

BOOK: Intimate Enemies
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INTIMATE ENEMIES

JOAN SWAN

 

Copyright 2012 by Joan Swan

Cover art and design by
Kim Killion

Electronic formatting by
http://www.formatting4U.com

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in encouraging piracy of copyrighted materials in violation with the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

 

PRAISE FOR

INTIMATE ENEMIES

Book 1 Covert Affairs Series

 

“Joan Swan combines pulse-pounding tension, sharp witted dialogue and wicked hot attraction in this can’t miss romantic suspense.”

—Elisabeth Naughton, Double RITA® Nominee

 

If you like your characters angsty, sexy, and with a sense of duty and honor then you
have
to add
Intimate Enemies
to your "Must Have" list.

—Adria, Breath of Life Reviews

 

“…non-stop action, intrigue and heat.”

—Kimberly, Book Obsessed Chicks

 

FEVER
Book 1 Phoenix Rising Series

 

"Swan's gutsy, jaw-dropping style will have readers talking!"

--
New York Times
bestselling author Larissa Ione

 

"Gripping, gritty, no holds barred romantic suspense. . ."

--
New York Times
bestseller Stephanie Tyler

"Fever is brilliant."

--USA Today
Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

For Elisabeth,

 

for walking me through all the steps to get here…

without killing me along the way.

 

Elisabeth, thanks for letting me live to write another day
.

 

 

 

One

 

Cassie Christo navigated the desolate stretch of northern Baja highway, surrounded by the darkest night she could ever remember.

She should have waited until morning to make this drive, but God, that parole hearing at Ironwood State Prison… Cassie rocked her shoulders and shifted in her seat, but the pressure in her jaw, her neck, and her shoulders remained. So did the sight of Blake Sharpe in that Popsicle-orange jumpsuit.

She’d needed to get away from that place. As far as possible. As fast as possible.

Cassie had crossed the US border into Tijuana before dusk. She had passed through the highway running between the Sierra de Juarez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean by twilight. But she still hadn’t made it to her destination by dark.

Now, the sea spread like spilled ink into the distance. The coal-black mountains loomed against a plum sky. Behind, nothing but darkness reflected in her rearview mirror. Ahead, nothing but asphalt shone within her headlights. And with each mile, the deepening isolation crept over her, making her skin feel tight and uncomfortable.

Her fingers flexed and released around the steering wheel. Her gaze darted toward the dark roadside. Her knee bounced. Mexico’s rising violent crime took center stage in her thoughts. All those malicious, unnecessary, brutal murders over territory. Over the need to control. It was all so senseless. So terrifying.

She lowered the window and inhaled the cool crisp sea breeze. The salty tang lay heavy on the back of her tongue. She tried to relax. It had already been one piss-perfect shitty day, and it was only half over. The worst was still to come.

Cassie turned her thoughts in the same direction she always did when fear or stress overwhelmed her—to the stranger she’d been thinking about since she’d last been home; the man who had stayed beside her during the funerals. She didn’t know his name. Didn’t even remember what he looked like. But she’d never forget how kind he’d been.

She didn’t experience true kindness often. As an emergency physician, Cassie received more curses than compliments. And since her attempted rape by Blake Sharpe years before, relationships had been difficult. When her mother and stepbrother died, the last real portal to her heart had closed.

Locating the man who’d supported her, extending a proper thank-you, would be, she hoped, one of the highlights of this trip. She held on to that now, just as she’d held on to what he’d given her in the cemetery—compassion, hope…something. Something she couldn’t name but that had kept her functioning in her darkest moments over the last several months. And it gave her something to look forward to now, because confronting her stepfather would be…testing. Trying. More taxing than even the most brutal month in the emergency room.

The bastard expected Cassie to ignore his use of estate funds to buy prostitutes? And bring them into her mother’s home? Cassie’s childhood home? Seriously?

She laughed out loud, the sound pleasantly wicked to her ears. She hoped the whores had been worth it, because that would be his last power play. His days of residence at the estate, where she’d been raised by her mother alone in blessed splendor, were numbered. In single digits.

The road swayed toward the ocean’s edge. Northbound lanes headed straight for her until the last minute, when the highway veered east with only a narrow strip of dirt separating the lanes.

In the distance, lights teased her eyes into that restricted center space. She looked away, then back, and refocused. The lights hadn’t moved. Her chest tightened. Another quarter mile closer and she saw a small moving van overturned on the divider strip.

Her tension morphed to resignation. “Shit.”

She eased off the gas, but suspicion had her studying the situation hard. Anywhere in the US, she wouldn’t hesitate to stop. Here in Baja, there was no telling who was involved in the accident. Or if it even was a true accident at all.

She assessed the scene as she passed. The wheels on the truck still spun; dust still whirled. Several people, looked like mostly women, wandered the site like haphazard zombies, but a few also lay on the ground.

Damn.
It was real. And she was almost home. Another two miles and she’d be passing through Terra Del Mar’s security gates, just outside Ensenada.
Damn, damn, damn.

Had they all been walking wounded, she could have coaxed her conscience into letting her pass with a quick call to emergency. Now, she had to stop. There was no other option. She clicked on the flashers. Her piss-perfect day had just turned piss-poor.

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel and braked hard, angling the BMW sport coupe onto the median south of the overturned van. Another dust cloud kicked up. Gravel pinged and scraped along the wheel wells.

She came to a complete stop and turned in her seat to survey the scene, murmuring, “What have we got?”

The truck lay on its side and at an angle to the freeway, its cargo door partially open. A light shone from within, but Cassie didn’t have a clear view inside. Three victims lay on the ground—one unmoving by the truck’s rear wheel, two more, writhing, ten feet from the first.

With the vehicles’ headlights shining in opposite directions, the scene hung in heavy shadow cast by weak moonlight and filtered side beams. Some of the victims huddled in groups of two or three; some sat on the ground beside the injured.

She reluctantly downshifted into doctor-mode.

“Shit, shit, shit.”

After popping the trunk, Cassie grabbed her cell and dialed emergency. She called in the accident, slipped her phone into one pocket of her shorts, and the pepper spray from her glove box into the other. She left her keys in the ignition…just in case she needed a quick exit.

She grabbed her medical bag and a Maglite from the trunk and started toward the victims. Even from twenty feet away, the heavy-duty flashlight’s beam illuminated the scene as if Cassie were standing over the injured. By the time she reached the group, she’d identified three head wounds and several likely broken bones.


Hola
.” She spoke to the group using her emergency room greeting, voice friendly but businesslike. The switch to Spanish was natural. These were her people. “
Soy una doctora Americana. Estoy aquí para ayudarles
.

“What the fuck you doing?”

The bark of heavily accented English came from Cassie’s right. She stopped short, flash fire in her chest. She swiveled, the crunch of gravel beneath her heels loud, and hit the man with the Maglite’s beam. He had a big chest. And big arms hanging wide at his sides. And a big gun stuffed in the front of his jeans. Clean jeans. He definitely wasn’t one of the victims.

She fell back a step. Then another. Her heart thumped at her breastbone, an urgent warning, as if she didn’t already know she was screwed. So fucking screwed.

Her brain lit up like a circuit board, synapses exploding like firecrackers.

Her gaze darted toward her car. Too far. It was too far.

She took in the scene again: one truck, a dozen women, headed toward the US border.

This wasn’t any ordinary accident. She’d walked in on a human-smuggling deal. In the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere. Alone.

Shit.
She shouldn’t have stopped. She
knew
she shouldn’t have stopped.

Cassie judged the distance to her car again. Still too damn far.

“I ask you what the fuck you doing.” His hard, sharp words stabbed at her like arrows. Cassie’s muscles contracted with each hit. The man stepped forward and leaned in, crowding her.

She looked at the man’s face for the first time. Middle-aged and rough. Acne-scarred skin, dark eyes, dark hair. Nondescript. Just plain old fucking scary.

“I’m a doctor.” That had sounded confident enough, but what now? She licked her lips. Took in air. Forced the next words forward. “I called for help. An ambulance and the police. They’re coming.” She gestured to the group. “Is this everyone? Are there any more victims?”

Behind him, a wail escalated to a high-pitched keening. The man swung around, a rigid arm outstretched, and pointed at a girl who couldn’t have been more than sixteen. “
Cállate perra o te voy a matar
.

Another woman gathered the distraught girl into her arms, muffling her cries, and Cassie repeated his words in her head, sure she’d heard him wrong. But she hadn’t; he’d just threatened to
kill
the girl.

A double dose of emotion shot straight into her veins—fury and fear.

Cassie had to show strength and guts. Any hint of weakness and she’d find herself in a stateside brothel by morning. But she also had to hold her temper. If she crossed the line, he could kill them all.

“Step back.” She kept her voice level but direct. “I need room to work.”

He cut a cold, challenging gaze back to her and took a marginal step out of her way. “If you here to fix them, do it.”

Cassie’s heart pounded so hard her ribs felt bruised. But she was in it waist-deep now, with no way out. She only had to hold tight until emergency service arrived, but in this remote area, that could take up to an hour.

She sidestepped the smuggler and flicked her flashlight over the older woman on the ground. From the size of the bloodstain beneath her head and shoulders, Cassie had little hope.

A younger woman bent over the victim, stroking the blood-matted hair from her face. “
Despierta, Tia Rosa. Despierta. Por favor respondeme.

She knelt next to the victim’s niece, who begged her aunt to wake up and talk to her. Something bit into Cassie’s knee—gravel, glass, metal—she didn’t know. She pulled on gloves and pressed two fingers against the woman’s carotid artery—and found a pulse. A little zing of shock traveled up her arm. The beat was weak and erratic, but the woman was still alive. Thoughts clicked through Cassie’s brain, fast, haphazard. How could she keep the woman alive with so much blood loss? What would her quality of life be even if she could be saved? How far out was that ambulance?

She spread her fingers and gently inched both hands over the woman’s head, starting at the front and working back. Just past the ears, bone gave beneath Cassie’s easy pressure. The softness and warmth of brain tissue surrounded her fingers. Cassie’s stomach plummeted. Twisted and revolted.

She pulled her hands away, rocked back on her heels into a crouch, and stared at the ground. Swallowed back the bile. Breathed. Swallowed. Breathed.

BOOK: Intimate Enemies
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