First Temptation(2)

By: Joan Swan


Zoe didn’t know how many times they rolled before her boot finally dug into the earth. Finally stopped their forward motion. All she knew was lying against the hard ground, then Number Three straddling her and pointing a handgun at her forehead.

Her brain didn’t go instantly sharp as she’d expected. Her thoughts pinged first to irrational places, contemplating bizarre, useless things.

When it did focus, everything inside her body chilled. And she thought of Cody. But instantly forced him from her mind.

She pulled in a breath to request cover but realized Nighthawk was already speaking.

“More to your right, Trigger,” the pilot said. “The weapon is in his right hand, against her head.”

Don’t think.

But memories trickled in anyway. Cody’s smile. His laugh. His blood spilling over her hands.

She dragged herself back into the moment and forced words out of her mouth to make him consider the consequences of killing a Border Patrol agent. “Ya sabes lo que te va a pasar si usted mata a un agente de la Patrulla Fronteriza?”

“If I kill this Border Patrol Agent…” Number Three’s English held a heavy Spanish accent, and his voice was rough with fatigue. Zoe focused on his face in case she needed to identify him again, but he was covered with mud. “Then we won’t have to worry about La Perra Blanca no more.”

“Drop…the…weapon.” Trigger’s voice behind the smuggler filled Zoe with so much relief, she almost closed her eyes.

Then someone else moved on their right. Another person on their left.

“You’re surrounded, gilipollas.” Smoke’s dark voice rasped amid the thick whap of Nighthawk’s blades.

Zoe’s mind slipped. Back to Cody. To the way the sound of gunshots traveled in the night like wavelets. To the speed with which blood left the body from a gunshot to the head. To the way the sunbaked soil soaked it up like a sponge.

I’m not going to die tonight. Or like that.

She tore her gaze from Number Three’s face, homing in on his exact position above her. Her sleeve had ripped and flapped in the gust from the chopper’s blades, hitting her face. She squinted past, found the hand holding the gun in her peripheral vision, and let her adrenalin surge.

She brought her knee up with all her strength at the same time she grabbed the wrist of the hand holding the weapon. She tilted the gun toward the ground and rammed her knee into his crotch. When his hand released its grip, she twisted the gun away.

While he curled into a ball, holding his nuts, Zoe flipped him to his back, jammed a knee to his chest, and pointed the weapon at his face.

“This white bitch,” she rasped heavily, “ain’t going nowhere, cabron.”





Two

ZOE PARKED HER BORDER PATROL RIDE at the back of the café’s lot and pulled her uniform ball cap off. Leaning forward, she rested her cheek on the steering wheel and let the air-conditioning bathe her face.

She was still sweating. Still shaking. For Zoe, the fear always came after. In the moment, under pressure, she was solid. But later, when she had time to think and reflect, that was when all the what-ifs hit.

“I have to get out.”

She’d needed to get out of this job since her teammate Cody had died. Could probably have gotten out faster if she’d admitted to the trauma his death had caused her. But—right or not—that would make her look weak. And as a cop, especially a female cop, weakness was the quickest way to lose alliances, respect, and opportunities. Besides, she didn’t want to take just any job.

She wanted the job she was here to talk to Rio about.

She wound her hair back into a bun and pulled her ball cap on, then shut down the engine and climbed from the SUV, wincing at the aches in her body—shoulders, hips, knees, hands.

“Damn,” she breathed through the pain.

“Good morning, Agent Brooks.”

Zoe spun toward Rio’s voice and found him strolling toward her. He had a big grin on his handsome face, and those pretty green eyes scanned her from shoulders to boot tips. Then his gaze moved to her SUV.

“I’m not sure who had more fun last night, you or your vehicle.”

“That’s nothing. You should see my ATV.” She made herself relax. Made herself smile back. Made herself push the memory of staring into the dark muzzle of a gun out of her mind. “I got held up and had to come straight from processing a rough group. I promise I did shower and change, but…” She held her arms out wide and shrugged. “This is my spare uniform, if you can believe that.”

Rio’s grin widened as he turned toward the café. “Come on. And call me Rio, please.”