Authors: Michelle St. James
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #New Adult & College
“See that?” Luca said as their taillights disappeared around the corner. “That’s the bullet you just dodged. Now you’re going to give me an address, and I’m going to leave you here with two of my men. When I call to tell them that I have Sofia, they’ll let you go. And if you don’t cooperate, I’m going to make whatever Sanchez was going to do to you look like a trip to Disneyland.”
“How do I…?”
Luca punched him again. He couldn’t stand to hear one more word out of his mouth. Not unless it was an address where he would find Sofia.
“13354 Northeast Tenth,” he gasped. “But you better not be fucking with me, Cassano.”
He rose and turned to Marco and Elia. “Don’t let him move until you hear from me.”
They took up position over Diego while Luca and Farrell hurried for the car.
up on the sofa, her phone buzzing from the coffee table. She’d worked frantically on her list of things for Sofia. She’d paced the house a thousand more times. She’d tried to eat, then scraped her food into the trash when she couldn’t get down a single bite. She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but the tension of the day must have caught up with her, and she sat up with a start when she saw Luca’s name flash on the screen of her phone.
“Luca,” she breathed into the phone. “Do you have her?”
He hesitated, and she braced herself for bad news. “Not quite yet. But I’m going to get her.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, fighting the panic that threatened to boil over.
“We got Diego, but he wouldn’t give us Sofia’s location until we agreed to let him go.”
“But… what about Sanchez?” she asked, pacing the floor again. They had an agreement with Lorenzo, and if he was anything like Diego, he wasn’t about to get sentimental about a kid when money and revenge were on the line.
“He agreed to the terms," Luca said.
She sensed something in his pause, some kind of information she wouldn’t want but needed to hear. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“I can’t guarantee Diego’s safety after the fact. We’ll let him go like we promised, but Sanchez will go after him, and I told him I’d give him the information he needs to find him. I’m sorry, Isabel. It was the only way.”
She thought about her brother. Not the little boy who had played with her on the lawn or searched the beach with her for seashells, but the man who had imprisoned her. Who had abused her and allowed others to abuse her. Who had taken their little sister from a place of safety and security and exposed her to cruelty and violence.
“I don’t want to think about that,” she said. “Getting Sofia home safe is the only thing I care about.”
“I’m in the car now,” he said.
She grabbed an envelope and a pen off the end table. “What’s the address?”
“Isabel… You can’t be part of this.”
She paused, pen poised over the paper. “What are you talking about, Luca. I am part of this. It’s my sister that you’re going to save, remember?”
“I know that, but we have no idea what we’ll be up against, if there will be men guarding the house or some kind of trap, or… anything. We just don’t know. It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s not too dangerous for you,” she said.
They were close, so close to Sofia. She had no idea what condition her little sister would be in when Luca got to her. She’d already been through a horrible ordeal. Isabel wanted to be there when she was rescued to tell her everything would be okay.
“That’s different.” His voice was hard, and she knew he was digging in his heels. “I’m armed and trained to handle this kind of situation. You aren’t.”
She chewed her lip. He was right. And she didn’t want to be a burden on him, something else for him to worry about.
“I can wait outside. In the car.” He didn’t say anything, and she took advantage of the opportunity to continue making her case. “Please, Luca. Sofia will be scared. She’s going to need me.”
She heard her victory in his sigh. “Okay. The address Diego gave us is 13354 Northeast Tenth in North Miami. But you need to be there in ten minutes. We’re going in right when we arrive.”
“I will,” she said, already moving toward her bag by the front door.
“You promise to stay in the car?”
“I promise,” she said breathlessly. “I’m leaving now.”
She disconnected the call and left the house.
ill she be alive
?” Farrell asked from the passenger seat.
Luca kept his eyes on the road, trying to work the traffic lights to get him to the house faster without attracting the attention of any patrol cars in the area. “Yes. She has to be.”
“She has to be?” Farrell repeated. “That’s not the kind of answer I’m looking for.’
He resisted the urge to slam his fist against the steering wheel. Farrell was a practical man. A man of reason. He was putting his life on the line to rescue Sofia, and he wanted to know the odds.
“I think she’ll be alive,” Luca said. “Diego’s a twisted fuck, but I don’t see him killing his little sister.”
“And the other stuff?”
Luca knew what he was asking; had Sofia been abused? Had she been hurt?
“I think she’ll be scared,” he said honestly. “And I think it will take awhile for her to really be okay, but I don’t think Diego did anything to her. That’s not his game.”
Farrell seemed to settle more comfortably into his seat. “Good. Let’s go get her.”
up next to the curb behind the SUV, just out of range of the nearest street light. They were a couple houses down from the address he’d given her, but she assumed that was no accident. She waited as Luca emerged from the driver’s seat and made his way to her, trying not to weep with relief. She’d been so focused on Sofia she hadn’t realized how scared she’d been for Luca. But he was alive. And now they were going to get her sister, and everything would be okay.
She lowered the window and he leaned down, touched his lips to hers. “You okay?” he asked, running knuckles dried with blood down her cheek.
It was so like him. He’d been at the dock all day waiting for Diego, and his knuckles spoke volumes about what he’d been through since she’d last seen him. But he was asking about her. Worried about her.
She lay her palm against his cheek. “I’m fine,
How are you?”
“Fine.” He shook his head, calling himself on the lie. “I don’t like that you’re here.”
She tipped her head in understanding. “I know, but it’s for Sofia. You’ll save her, and I’ll be here to make sure she knows she’s safe when it’s all over. We’re a team, my love. Do you understand?”
He hesitated. “I understand,” he finally said. “I just need to know that you’re safe.”
“I’ll be right here,” she promised.
He withdrew a gun from its holster inside his jacket and handed it to her. “Use it if you have to. The safety’s here,” he said, indicating a tiny hammer at the back. “Point and shoot.”
The gun felt heavy in her hand. She didn’t want to hurt anyone, but she wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone to get to Sofia. She leaned out, kissed his cheek.
“Go. I’ll be fine.”
He looked at her for a long moment, his blue eyes piercing hers. Finally he stood. “See you soon.”
She tried to smile. “See you soon.”
He walked away, joining Farrell who stood next to the SUV.
he house was
small and seedy, with crumbling brown stucco and bars on the windows. Overgrown bushes blocked the front windows, and half-dead palm trees lined the side of the property. Luca heard rats scurrying in their fronds as he made his way to the back of the house. Farrell would take the front. They would meet inside.
The soft blue glow of a TV shimmered against closed curtains toward the back of the house. Did that mean someone was inside? Someone besides Sofia?
He had no way of knowing. On the one hand, if someone had been left behind to keep watch over Sofia, the house probably wasn’t booby-trapped. But if they had, Luca and Farrell would have to get through them to get to Sofia.
So be it. He’d taken one of the AKs from the arsenal at the dock. He would do what needed to be done.
He skirted the back of the house, staying low under the windows until he turned the corner. He stepped onto a cracked concrete patio leading to a sliding glass door. It wasn’t ideal. If it was locked, he’d have to shoot the glass, and that meant a lot of noise.
And a lot of warning to whoever was inside.
But it couldn’t be helped. It was now or never. He tried the door and was surprised to find that it was unlocked.
He slid it open as quietly as he could and stepped inside.
her fingers on the steering wheel, her gaze straying to the gun on the console. She was surprised to find that it made her feel better. She’d never shot a gun before, but she knew now that she could do it — would do it — to save her sister.
She looked through the windshield at the house farther down the street. The house holding the two people who mattered more to her than life itself.
She looked at the gun again. She could go. She could peek through the windows or stand outside, waiting to see if they needed help.
She shook her head. It would only be a distraction to Luca if he were to see her, and she needed all his focus to be on saving Sofia and getting out alive.
She settled back into her seat with a sigh and continued tapping her fingers.
onto a peeling linoleum floor and followed the sound of the TV to a room at the front of the house. He stopped outside the living room, instinctively raising his weapon when a figure moved into the shadows beyond the room.
He lowered it when he realized the man was Farrell.
He dared a glance around the door frame into the room and saw the back of someone’s head — dark hair, a little long — on the sofa. He leaned out and pointed to Farrell, then into the room. Then he pointed to himself and the long hall leading to the bedrooms.
Farrell nodded and moved into position while Luca headed down the hall. The sound of the TV grew fainter as he got farther away from the living room. There were five doors — three on one side of the hall and two on the other. One of them was open — a bathroom. The others were closed.
Bedrooms, he guessed. But which one was Sofia in?
He slowly turned the knob of the first one, then raised his weapon as the door swung open.
He kept his breathing steady as he moved down the hall, stepping carefully on the linoleum, trying not to make any noise. When he got to the next bedroom, he reached out and slowly tried the knob.
Now he’d have to make some noise. He wished they’d thought to use communications equipment so he could warn Farrell, but they’d been expecting more cooperation from Diego in getting them to Sofia. He’d have to kick down the door and trust that Farrell knew what to do from there. He counted down to three in his head, then gave the floor a kick hard enough to send it flying open on the first try.
The room was dimly lit by one small lamp on the bedside table. It looked empty at first, but a moment later he heard a whimper from the other side of the stained, bare mattress. He kept his gun up, just in case, but when he rounded the end of the bed, he saw Sofia up against the corner, clutching the stuffed animal he’d seen in the video, eyes wide with terror. He wanted to soothe her, but he needed to keep them both alive first and foremost.
“Is anyone else in this room?” he asked her.
She hesitated, shook her head, then pointed behind him.
It was almost too late. He was still turning to look when the first bullet flew over his head. He dove to the floor, crawling toward Sofia as more gunfire erupted around him. But it wasn’t just from the hall outside the bedroom, it was from the front of the house, too, which meant Farrell was dealing with the first man.
He crawled to Sofia, and covered her body with his own. “It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’m going to get you back to Isa. Just stay down until I say to move.”
As soon as the gunfire paused, he rose from the floor and returned fire just in time to see Eduardo duck behind the door jamb in the hall.
He fired anyway, just to keep him from entering the room. He was surprised when his fire wasn’t returned, but a few seconds lated he heard gunfire from the front yard, and then he understood.
Farrell had dealt with the first man and come after Eduardo in the hall.
Eduardo was on the run.
He scooped Sofia into his arms. She was shaking, and he smoothed her hair back from her head and looked into the eyes that were so like Isabel’s. He kissed her forehead. “It’s okay, I promise. Isabel is right outside. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. You’re safe now.” He put her arms around his neck so he would have a free hand. “Hang on.”
He moved cautiously toward the door, Sofia in one hand, his weapon in the other.
behind the bushes in front of the house. She said she’d stay in the car, and she had until the gunfire stopped. She thought it was over, and she wanted to be the first person Sofia saw when she emerged from the house.
But then a man stumbled out one of the windows, his arm bleeding profusely. She didn’t have time to move before he barreled into her. They went down in a tangle of limbs, and her gun went flying onto the lawn. The big arms around her held her immobile, and she instinctively kicked and thrashed, her body going into fight mode, remembering the last time she’d been made immobile by a man.
” Eduardo said in her ear, “or I’ll have to kill you on my way out.”
She spotted her gun on the lawn, and stopped moving, her mind trying to work out a way she might get to it. He dragged her back toward the bushes just as Farrell emerged from the house.
“Stop moving,” Eduardo called out, his voice shaking. “I’ll kill her.”
She felt the cold butt of his gun press into her skull. She thought Farrell might stop, or at least slow down, try to negotiate with Eduardo. Instead he kept walking toward them, stalking them like an animal not the least bit afraid of an adversary that was no match for it. Everything seemed to slow down as he raised his weapon. It seemed like minutes before she heard the blast of his gun, as she waited to feel Eduardo’s bullet enter her skull, but it must have been only seconds.
The pressure around her released all at once, something warm and sticky spraying the back of her head. She was paralyzed, unable to even look behind her to see what had happened. A moment later, Farrell was lifting her off the ground, steadying her as she stood on shaky legs. When she looked back at Eduardo, she saw him sprawled in the bushes, blood seeping from a round wound right in the center of his forehead.
In the distance, sirens wailed, but when she turned around to face the house, she saw Luca emerge with something in his arms. Everything else fell away as she rushed toward him, her heart squeezing painfully in her chest.
The bundle in his arms was immobile, her face hidden against Luca’s big chest. Tears were streaming down Isabel’s face when she finally reached them, turning Sofia’s face toward her, praying to any god who would listen that she was alive.
Her heart stopped when she saw that Sofia’s eyes were closed, her face pale and thin. But then her lashes fluttered, and she opened her eyes, her gaze coming to rest on Isabel. A second later, a small smile touched her lips. Then her tears fell.
A sob wrenched free from Isabel’s lips and she wrapped her arms around her sister and the man she loved, both of them safe.
Both of them safe.