First Temptation(5)

By: Joan Swan

But none of that suited her to this assignment. “Have you done undercover work before?”

Her gaze darted to Rio and held a moment. When Rio didn’t speak, Brooks glanced back at Taft. “No. I’ve been—”

“Look, Cordova.” He turned back to Rio. “This is your gig, and you know I respect your opinion, but I know these bastards. That’s why you asked me to come in on this—”

“So do I,” Brooks broke in, her voice a new blend of command and chill. “I’ve arrested thousands of them. Killed several. Taken billions in drugs and weapons off their backs. I know their routes, their methods, their organization. I know how they think. How they work.” She paused until Walker reluctantly met her gaze again. “I know these bastards too.”

He ran his tongue over his teeth. “So you can string a decent sentence together.”

She looked at Rio, circled her empty fork in the air. “Seriously?” Then turned back to Taft. “Why is counterterrorism interested in this?”

“If you knew these bastards, Brooks,” Taft taunted, “you’d know they’re trafficking more than drugs and weapons over the border. They’re trafficking terrorists. And if you had let me finish, I was going to say that these guys are extremely perceptive. They’ll spot the slightest glitch. I don’t doubt your abilities in the field. Cordova only works with the best. But this job isn’t about playing renegade in the dark. It’s about finesse. And grabbing Picasso is big.” He turned to Rio with his best take-pity-on-me-brother grin. “I know this is a partner-type deal, and I’m fine with that, but you know I’m not good with newbies. I’m no teacher, Cordova.

“And I’m no newbie,” Brooks shot back. “Is Picasso his real name or an alias?”

Taft sat back. “You’re a feisty little thing. I admire that. I know you do rough work at the border, and when you do your job well, you make my job easier. I just don’t want you on this job. It’s not personal.”

She turned fiery emerald-green eyes on Rio. Taft expected her to open her mouth and talk herself right out of a job. Rio liked spirit. But he didn’t take shit. And he knew the difference.

But she remained silent.

“Ernesto Picasso,” Rio said. “It’s his real name.”

“I’m sure she knows her shit when it comes to the border, Cordova, but undercover… Dude. You’ve been there. You know.”

She opened her mouth to argue, but Rio put up a hand.

“Just cool your jets. Both of you. Neither of you may be too eager to jump on this when I finish giving you the details.”

Taft let out a frustrated breath. He was ready to get going. This Brooks snag was just a pain in his ass. If he could just push her over the edge… He eyed her, then her plate. Just because he could, Taft made a stealthy grab for a piece of bacon and sat back.

“Hey—” she started, then pressed her lips together and glared at him.

He grinned with the bacon between his teeth, and her lips twisted into a reluctant, irritated smile.

Well, that had backfired, and he found himself smiling back.

“The smoke shop sits between an alley that leads to the parking lot and another store,” Rio said, cutting another piece of omelet. “The owner of the other shop has a brother doing time in Donovan State Prison. It took a lot of circus moves, but we got her to turn the store over to us for at least three weeks to use as a base for surveillance in trade for lightening the brother’s sentence.

“We’re using two agents because someone will have to be conducting surveillance of Fumar and someone will have to be working the store.”

Taft glanced back at Brooks as he chewed her bacon. If he had to get stuck with her… “Can you run a cash register?”

She rolled her eyes right back to Rio, her jaw clenching.

“Walker,” Rio said. “I’m not finished.”

He shrugged. Swiped half of Brooks’s English muffin.

She picked up her fork and fisted the handle, holding it over her plate with a go-ahead-make-my-day glint in her eye.

Taft laughed. At least she had a sense of humor. If nothing else, he’d get some entertainment value out of annoying her.

“Because of the nature of the store, you’ll have to work as a team,” Rio said, killing Taft’s idea of relegating Brooks to shopkeeper. “The cover is for a couple taking over new management of the shop.”

“Why?” Taft didn’t try to hide his disdain. He was so not going to couple with Brooks.

Rio picked up his coffee and sat back in the booth. He took a long sip and met both their gazes in turn.