Dakota Hearts, Book 10
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Chapter One Excerpt:
“You’re going to have to take your informant with you to South Dakota.”
Julian McKinnon listened to the voice over the phone. Kelly Montgomery, the head of the Chicago office, had only recently contacted him about his missing son.
“You’re serious,” he replied.
“I can’t have her hanging around here. We’re being watched. And if we’re not, we will be. This development is too sensitive to risk having Georgie Garcia slip through our fingers. You understand what I mean.”
He did. But it only complicated an already tenuous situation he’d put himself in with his family. “Sir, the only reason I’m going home is because my brother is getting married. If I show up with a woman…”
“What? You’ve never brought a girl home to meet your mother before?”
Julian shifted his jaw to one side and glanced out the window of his motel room. Motels had been his home for the better part of six months. He was looking forward to going home. Looking forward to Aunt Kate’s good cooking and his mother’s pampering. He needed it.
“Don’t make me laugh. I’m still stunned. None of us, bar my sister, Grace, would ever think of bringing someone home until there was a ring involved. The second we do, my mother has us married off.”
Kelly laughed. “Your mother sounds like my wife. To some extent, that’s the reason we’re having this conversation. Given what happened to her sister, I wouldn’t blame her for wanting to disappear. But she is the only link I have to finding my son’s whereabouts in Colombia. I can’t risk that Georgie Garcia will slip through our fingers.”
“Make it happen, Julian. If you’re going home, she’s going with you. It’s either that or skip your brother’s wedding. I don’t care what you tell your family. I don’t care what she tells your family as long as she never mentions Eduardo Sanchez’s name to them. You know that wouldn’t be safe.”
* * *
“Remind me again why I have to drive all the way from Texas to South Dakota with you? Haven’t you ever heard of an airplane?”
Julian glanced over at the woman sitting in the seat next to him. She was pulling at her seatbelt to give it slack and then letting it tighten again. It was a nervous habit. He already knew that about her. Just like she played with her long black hair and pulled it to one side of her shoulder when she was thinking.
“You’ll never get on a plane undetected.”
“You mean the FBI can’t pull that off?”
“Not even a private one.” He flashed her a smile but his expression quickly turned serious. “We can’t risk anyone knowing who you really are and who you’re talking to. It’s a lot harder to track you on the road than through a heavily guarded airport.”
“And you really want me to be your date?”
“Yes. For a family wedding.”
“Was this Kelly Montgomery’s idea?”
“Look, Georgie, none of that has changed since we left Galveston. It’s for your own safety.”
She paused a moment to look out at the road and then turned to him. “Then why go at all? I mean, if it’s so dangerous, why are we even going to this wedding?”
Julian felt the ache in the center of his chest grow. “Because I haven’t been home in the nine months since I’ve been working this case and…”
“And because my big brother is getting married. He’s finally happy again.”
“He wasn’t before?”
“He was wounded while in the military. He went through a touch and go time when he returned home. None of us could have imagined his life turning around like this three years ago. I want to be there to support him. I’m sure you can understand that.”
She sunk a little lower in her seat. “Do I get to talk to anyone there?”
Julian McKinnon chuckled. “You’ll have a hard time not talking. My family won’t let you be quiet.”
“Oh. One of those types of families.”
He took his eyes off the road just long enough to glance at the shocked expression and quickly dismissed it. He’d already gone through his own shock about how he was going to make the next seven days’ work and recovered from it. Georgie would as well. And they had a long ride for her to do it.
She was right. It was a little odd for him to be bringing her home to meet the family, especially since he hadn’t been home since his father had a heart attack nine months ago. And even then it had only been for a day or two to make sure his father would survive and recover. Over the past nine months Julian had revisited the memory of his mother’s bewildered face when he’d said he was leaving. Yet, she’d let him go without a fight. She didn’t have it left in her to stop him. But his sister, Grace, had and he’d gotten an earful from her on the drive back to Oklahoma where he’d had a lead about one of Eduardo Sanchez’s men trying to set up shop in the US.
Deep down, Julian knew his mother had been keeping her fight to get through his father’s recovery. And Grace hadn’t liked his disappearing act one bit. It was convenient for Julian to let them all think he was just being irresponsible and selfish. Only he knew the truth. But it still made him feel like a bastard.
The timing of Ian’s wedding was beyond awful giving the assignment he had. But none of them knew that and he intended to keep it that way. He couldn’t exactly expect the world to stop spinning just because he was working a job.
“It won’t be that bad. Technically you don’t even have to go to the wedding if you don’t want. You could stay back at the house.”
Her eyes widened. “House? What house?”
Julian kept talking. “But if we’re going to be staying together, it makes sense for you to be my date. I can’t very well tell my family who you really are.”
It didn’t matter that Georgie was his prime informant in a case he’d worked nearly a year on with the Chicago FBI office. Kelly Montgomery wanted him to stick to Georgie twenty-four/seven. What started out as routine had become deeply personal to Kelly. The bastard they were after had kidnapped his son.
“Wait a minute. I want to get back to this house thing. Whose house?”
“We’re staying at your parents’ house? What am I supposed to tell your family who I am exactly?”
Julian McKinnon had thought about that and came up empty. He hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with his family about his current line of work. He had his reasons. But this little…complication of having to guard Georgie made this homecoming a bit harder.
“That does create a problem. They’re probably going to make more out of this than it is. My brothers will pretty much accept anything I tell them. My cousins…they’ll probably buy it easy enough, too. My parents will probably just be thrilled I brought any woman home to meet them.”
“Any…what? You mean, you never have?”
He shook his head. “I have a sister.”
“Lots of people do.”
“Not like Grace. I can fool just about anyone in my family except Grace. It’s like she has radar. And my aunt Kate. She has this sixth sense, too.” He laughed. “None of us were ever able to get anything past Aunt Kate growing up.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. If it’s going to be this hard, maybe you should just skip the wedding all together?”
“No can do. I tried that. My sister said she’d hunt me down and drag me back home by my collar. And she’ll do it. I’m surprised I’ve been able to stay away from the family this long. We’re too close, Georgie.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that. I don’t have any siblings.”
“No, I mean with Eduardo. I know you’d rather stay put at that hotel with the big indoor pool, but it’s too dangerous. There are people who are counting on getting the information you have, or can get. I can’t let them down.”
“Nor should you. But what makes you think that my going to South Dakota is going to bring us any closer to finding your friend?”
He was silent a moment. “Cash Montgomery isn’t a friend. He’s a colleague. We barely know each other. But he was onto something big. Eduardo Sanchez was at the heart of it. Quite frankly, until you came to us, we’d assumed he’d been killed. It isn’t like him to stay quiet this long. Your Intelligence was the first clue we’ve had that he may still be alive. Cash Montgomery is Kelly’s son.”
“It wasn’t Intelligence. It was a conversation that was overhead. I don’t even know if it’s true.”
“You must have thought it was true. Otherwise, why did you come all the way to the United States to ask the FBI to help you get your cousin out of Colombia?”
“Because Angela is scared. I have no more family in Colombia now that my mother is dead. But Angela does. It’s not as easy for her. And if she quits her job at the compound, Eduardo will know something is up. You don’t just give up a job like that without a reason.”
“Which is why I’ve stayed away from my family while I’ve been investigating Eduardo Sanchez. I know what he’s capable of.”
* * *
Georgie listened to Julian talk about a monster that had been responsible for the deaths of so many people she knew. Sure, he wasn’t directly responsible for her mother’s death. But he had a hand in it through Diego.
No, Julian didn’t need to elaborate any further. Georgie knew full well what Eduardo was capable of doing. She’d seen it first hand and escaped with her life without drawing suspicion. At least, she hoped she hadn’t. If not for the baby, she’d have disappeared and never made contact with Eduardo again.
“I don’t understand why I have to go with you. That’s all,” she said. “I can stay at a hotel and sit by the pool in some small no-nothing Southern town until you’re done with your family time up in... Where did you say this wedding was going to take place?”
“Freeze country. I’m no pampered gal, but it’s not very appealing for a woman like me who is used to the hot weather. Look, if anything comes up, I’ll call you.”
“I’ll be too far away. That’s not how it’s going to happen. We’re too close to breaking this thing open. Between you and your cousin we’re going to find where Cash Montgomery is being held. I won’t risk his life.”
He was right not to risk it. But Julian didn’t really know just how much. Or maybe he did and he didn’t care about the odds. The chances of this mission succeeding was zero based on what people had done to infiltrate Eduardo’s operation in the past. People had tried and died. Julian was savvy about military operations and about the drug trafficking trade. He knew more than she did about Eduardo’s operation and over the years she’d learned a lot. But Georgie was counting on what she knew being her ace in the hole to help Angela and her family get out of Colombia the way she had.
“You came to us, remember? You asked us for help to get your cousin out alive. This is how we’re helping you.”
Georgie twisted her lips into a grin. “By making me go to a wedding?”
Julian shrugged. “That can’t be helped. Look, if you really don’t want to come then I can send you to Chicago and you can stay with Kelly and his family.”
She sighed. “Another family?”
“You definitely have a thing about families.”
“Maybe because I don’t have any other than Angela. I don’t understand why I have to stay with anyone at all. Despite the fact that I’ve lived most of my life in Colombia, I’m still an American citizen. I’m in America now. I could lose myself anywhere here. I should be safe.”
He shook his head. “And what if Angela calls? What if Eduardo calls? What if he becomes suspicious? Anything could happen and if you don’t have someone right next to you to protect you, you’re dead. We all lose. We don’t find Cash. Your cousin will most likely end up dead, and so will you. Deep down, you know I’m right. Eduardo has deep ties with a lot of organized crime in America. Sure, we could stay away from Providence. We could stay away from Texas. But I found you in Oklahoma. And if I can find you, so can he.”
A chill raced through her. “Kelly said something about witness protection.”
“That’s probably going to happen eventually if word gets out of your involvement. It will mean leaving everyone and everything behind.”
“I already did that.”
“Not really. There’s still Angela.”
Sadness filled her. “There’s no one left but her. Eduardo made sure of that.”
“Precisely the reason why I can’t let you out of my site. Not until we get the information we need and then get you to a place where you can have a normal life.”
“Do people like me do that? Have normal lives?”
Julian took his eyes off the road for a second to look at her. “I don’t know. But it’s worth trying. Don’t you think?”
She turned her eyes to the road ahead and slumped back in the seat. “How long before we stop for the night?”
“No, my butt is falling asleep.”
Julian chuckled and quickly glanced down to her seat. On more than one occasion, his gaze had drifted to the swell of Georgie’s bottom despite his every attempt to stay professional and see her as nothing more than an informant in an investigation. She’d caught him glancing at her. She wasn’t a fool. She knew when a man found her attractive. Most times she didn’t give a damn. The men she’d known in her life had no respect for women and she wanted no part of them.
But Julian had been different. She could complain all she wanted about being forced to go to South Dakota to spend a week with people she didn’t know. But part of her was intrigued by the idea of seeing how a normal family lived.
Every so often while he was driving he’d glance over at her and his gaze would linger. There was no reason for him to do it. But he did. And when he did, like he was now, she’d feel a warm sensation flow through her as if he were caressing her with his penetrating blue eyes. There was nothing sleazy about the way he looked at her. He probably was a man who genuinely enjoyed a pretty girl. That’s all. But it still affected her.
She’d worn her loose almost black hair down today and it hung past her shoulders. She reached up to the back of her head and combed her hair over to her left shoulder and played with the ends. She’d done this on their first meeting, when she’d been near tears and afraid to say a word. It was hard to believe that had been a month ago. Harder to believe that Julian had been following her for months and she’d never even known he was there.
Looking at him now, it was hard to believe she hadn't noticed him. On their first meeting, she’d noticed his eyes first. They were a dark blue. So much different than her hazel eyes, something she’d inherited from the father she’d never known. She’d seen a picture. Julian had said he’d known who she was, that he’d learned about her from Kelly.
He’d been tracking her for months, and when they’d met, he knew things about her and her life that she’d actually forgotten. She was so scared that she nearly bolted. But the sound of his voice, his reassurance that she’d finally be free from Eduardo Sanchez when the investigation was over, gave her so much relief that she nearly flung herself in his arms and wept. Nearly. Only someone who truly understood the long reach Eduardo Sanchez had beyond borders could understand her reaction. Julian had.
“I planned on stopping in Amarillo. From there it’s another full day’s ride though Colorado and Nebraska until we get to Rudolph. Is that okay?”
“Do I have a choice?”
He didn’t say anything in response to her obvious irritation. She was tired. So was he. When they finally had a chance to stop it would be a relief. But he probably wanted to put as much time behind them as he could before they made the stop. She forced herself to remain calm and asked, “How much longer before we can stop for a bite to eat?”
“We past Abilene about an hour ago. Can you wait until we get to Lubbock?”
Her stomach grumbled with the thought of food. “I guess.”
“It’s about another hour and a half from here. Amarillo will be about another two hours after that. Then we can stop.”
She nodded and then smiled. “I’m picking the restaurant. I don’t care how famous Texas is for its beef. We’re not stopping for a burger off the highway. I want something good.”