Authors: Kelly Lynn Parra
Tags: #Romance, #Fiction, #Suspense
Five years in prison or five years working as an undercover agent?
Not the easiest choice for Ana Moreno, who has a history of B and E convictions and a problem with authority. But it’s a decision she and four other felons are willing to make to stay out of a jail cell.
When a deadly shipment of Ecstasy heads for San Francisco, Ana’s team is sent to stop it. Ana’s task: get close to the handsome and dangerous Jonas Saven, right-hand man of a suspected drug dealer with a deadly agenda. As Ana uncovers a web of secrets, betrayal and revenge, her heated attraction to Saven grows.
But with time running out to stop the dangerous drug lord, Ana
complete her mission—even if it costs her everything…
Thank you for purchasing this Carina Press launch title. During our journey these past months to acquire manuscripts, develop relationships with authors and build the Carina Press catalog, we’ve been working to fulfill the mission “Where no great story goes untold.”
If you’d asked me what I’d be doing a year ago, I never would have conceived I’d be working with the brilliant team behind Harlequin’s digital program to bring you a new and exciting digital-first imprint. I have long been a fan of Harlequin books, authors and staff and that’s why I’m so pleased to be sharing these first Carina Press launch titles with you.
At Carina Press, we’re committed to bringing readers great voices and great stories, and we hope you’ll find these books as compelling as we do. In this first month, you’ll find a broad range of genres that showcase our promise to Carina Press fans to publish a diversity of content. In the coming months, we’ll add additional genres and continue to bring you a wide range of stories we believe will keep you coming back for more.
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Executive Editor, Carina Press
This novel is dedicated to the two awesome writers who helped me to build and nurture these characters when they were merely figments of my imagination, Tina Ferraro and Dianna Love. Thank you, Ladies!
Six months ago…
“How long has she been out of the hospital?”
Miles grunted, staring through the interrogation room’s two-way mirror at the young woman sitting in the metal chair. Bruises rose in angry welts on her face, her dislocated arm hung in a sling, and judging from her expression, the terrifying experience remained fresh in her mind.
“Report states she’s waking up screaming in the night. We should wait until she’s fully healed to offer the deal.”
Miles shot a look at Jay. “Now.” Perfect timing. She was weak, beat to shit, and getting the feel of a jail cell. “Besides—” he shifted his attention back to the woman, “—I’m running out of time getting this program off the ground.”
All he wanted, all he needed, was SIDE to be a success.
Jay shook his head. “Wouldn’t know by looking at her that a hundred and fifteen-pound wisp of a little lady could take such a beating from a one-ninety-pound, mad-as-hell man.”
“She’s tough. Works in her favor.” That’s why he wanted her. Tough recruits, tough job.
“Might turn us down, Miles.”
“I’ve studied each of these recruits. Know their demons like the back of my hand. I won’t hesitate to use their deepest fears to get what I want.”
Body heat and cannabis stench suffocated the air inside the crowded public bathroom, making her feel as if she were sucking tainted oxygen through a straw.
Trying not to inhale too deeply in order to avoid a contact high, Ana Moreno finger-combed the irritating strands of hair stuck to her face. Her lips and throat were dry, but her body was slick with sweat, pasting the screen-printed I’ll Try Being Nicer, If You Try Being Smarter T-shirt to her stomach and back. She didn’t pull at the black material, didn’t fidget. Nothing to call attention to the wire taped between her breasts.
She kept her line of vision open as much as possible given the dimly lit area and group of stirring bodies. Enough to spot the thick rusted door that stood as a barrier between the bathroom and the decrepit theater vibrating with techno music and gyrating youths high on a variety of mood-altering drugs.
And enough to keep tabs on Stephen “Boner” Johnson, twenty-two-year-old drug dealer, and idiot.
In the light of a faint gas lantern set on a broken sink, Boner’s rangy body twitched as he worked an illegal sale with two teenaged Candy Ravers—suburban kids decorated with candy necklaces, fake tattoos and body paint.
Boner was small-time. A couple of possession charges with the intent to sell and a tendency to shoplift. Nothing major. In the last six months, she’d assisted in the arrests of plenty low-status dealers just like Boner. She’d strolled the streets as an undercover buyer, attended parties and learned who distributed the purest goods.
The thing was, none of her prior arrests had been the core focus of a SIDE—Secret Informant Drug Enforcement—mission before. At no time had she been given an actual file on one specific dealer with the explicit instructions to find him—only him—and initiate a transaction.
This entire set-up gave her a bad feeling.
There hadn’t been time for questions. Even if there had, it wouldn’t have mattered. Sarge, her boss, lived by a follow-orders-no-questions-asked motto. Just one of the several reasons they bumped heads as often as a junkie chased the dragon.
Paul Galvini, codename Skates—the newest member of SIDE and her partner for the night—lurked five feet away in the center of the room. Tall and thin and just past twenty, with his blue Kool-Aid-colored hair and the crotch of his pants sagging to his knees, he blended in among the other partygoers. His usually vibrant blue eyes were now dark shadows flicking around the room, pale cheeks curved taut against high cheekbones, wide mouth tightened in a straight line. He played the lookout, in case something went wrong. Too bad the kid turned into a shivering puppy at any hint of conflict.
Boner finally turned toward her, rubbing his rigid nose. The dim light didn’t catch any dilation in his pupils, but it did reveal the bumps of acne on his face and the way he continuously smacked on a piece a gum. Characteristics of a dealer who likely dipped into his own supply. Just what she needed. A strung-out target could be as unpredictable as any wild animal.
“Now,” he said, his wide eyes scanning her up-and-down. “Anything you want, I probably got.”
She took a step toward him. Gave the fool the impression she trusted him. Gave her concealed wire a clearer transmission. “You sure about that?”
He jerked his thin shoulders. His black trench coat swayed around his knees with the movement. “Let’s find out.”
“Eight ball. Zoot.”
He scrunched up his face. “It’s a rave, man.” A thick bead of sweat ran down the side of his shaved head. “Ya want to feel good, ya go for X, Batmans, Toonies. Crank’s only gonna get ya tweekin’.”
She shifted her weight to her right foot, the soles of her boots sticking to the grimy floor. “Do you have it or not? I don’t got all night.”
“All right. Take it easy, half pint.” His tone mocked her. “I have somethin’ better for ya.”
He opened the right side of his trench coat.
Ana stilled, her pulse skittering.
Boner flashed the butt of a Glock shoved inside the waistband of his jeans.
Pushing the streets strapped with a gun sent a direct statement
: double cross me—you’re dead
One would think she’d be comfortable with the risks of her job by now. Apparently not. She’d have given pretty much anything at that moment to wave a middle finger over her shoulder and walk away.
Wouldn’t happen. Not until she paid her debt to society.
Boner extended his hand, palm up. A small chunk of substance resembling roofing tar was twisted in plastic wrap on his palm. Had to be Mexican Black Tar.
“MBT,” Boner confirmed. “The Blue Light Special for heroin. Low-cost, but still does the trick.”
The guys from the Narcotics Division, listening from a van outside the abandoned theater, likely wore wide, vicious smiles. Any involvement with heroin would mean jail time. Narcotics already sported—she had to say it—a serious hard-on for Boner. Maybe they wanted his supplier, which would explain the importance of the mission. Bigger fish plucked from the dirty pond of drug trafficking were like trophies to them.
She gave Boner a nod. “I’ll take it.”
Boner let out a sound somewhere between a snicker and snort. “Thought you’d say that.”
She made the switch. One hand drugs, the other money. His fingers lingered on hers with a deliberate caress, leaving behind a trail of sweat.
“Maybe we could hook up sometime,” he said.
Yeah. Right. And maybe someday there’d be world peace. “No thanks.”
“Come on. I could give ya a discount for the right favor. I’ve got important connections. There’s gonna be prime shit comin’ to the city.” A grin cracked across his face. “Somethin’ big—
than ya’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah? Who’s your connection?”
His jaw moved restlessly, munching on his chewing gum as if his life depended on it. Swiveling his head left to right before zeroing back on her, he said, “Ya heard the name Saven?”
So Boner wanted to brag about his supplier. Strange. When a drug dealer was eager to talk about his source, it usually stemmed from an arrest and a deal with the District Attorney’s office.
She frowned. “Saven?”
Boner nodded and stepped closer. His body odor invaded her already suffering senses.
Muscles tightened down her spine, stilling her body. He kept enough distance that their bodies didn’t touch, but he loomed close. Close enough if he became a threat, she could grab the Glock. She’d been trained for scenarios like tonight and lived by her own internal instinct, one she’d picked up living off and on in the Frisco streets. She knew never to bring a weapon into play unless she held the advantage—or as Sarge always said, “If there are no other options.” This wasn’t the case.
In her peripheral vision, she glimpsed Skates shuffling closer. Anxiety trickled in her gut. She halted the kid with a barely moved finger.
Don’t play hero, kid. Don’t blow the deal.
Ignoring a tear of sweat crawling down her neck, she lifted her chin, then moved her gaze to Boner’s nose. Staring into his eyes, those empty pits, was too personal. She never made it personal. “Haven’t heard of this Saven. Tell me about him.”
“Get down on your knees and I might,” he whispered softly. “You Mexican chicks like things hot, right? ’Cause I’ve got plenty of heat.” Another irritating laugh scraped through his mouth.
Bitterness pricked her insides. The idiot didn’t know she didn’t care for anything hot, let alone a disgusting loser like him.
Her eyes belligerently traveled from his acne-pitted face to his sagging chest and back again. “You trying to make me puke all over my favorite boots?”
Boner bared crooked teeth. “Ya wanna know why they call me Boner,
. The telltale sign, the shift of his body.
Heart pounding, she braced for it.
His chest smacked hers, knocking her backward. Spreading her feet apart, she found her balance. But when he rammed up against her, his hard-on nudging her stomach, she jerked, repulsion devouring her caution in one giant swoop.
Her knee flew up—quick and on target. Pure reflex.
“Bitch!” Boner cringed away, sucking in a hard growl, shoulders vibrating. One hand shot to his groin, the other fumbled with his coat.
Ana’s stomach tightened into a solid knot.
” Skates called out her codename.
She didn’t look back.
Gripping her left hand over her right fist, teeth clenched, she cocked back her arms and slammed a punch into Boner’s solar plexus, the force of the blow quivering through her arms.
His body snapped back, mouth gulping for air.
Someone shoved open the bathroom door and screamed, “Raid!”
Bodies scattered like startled ants, some trying to dump their drugs, most rushing out the bathroom’s exit.
Boner, still gasping, reached out to shove her aside. She gripped his arm, twisted as he past, and shoved. He tripped, skidding on the soiled floor, before staggering up toward the bathroom exit.
Adrenaline swam through her blood. The sounds of muffled scrambling feet and yells of fleeing kids rushed in her ears. Ignoring her throbbing hand, Ana shoved the drug in her pocket and bee-lined for Skates. She took a firm hold of his wrist. “Don’t leave my side.”
Like the others, they headed for the closed restroom door. Crazed, Boner yanked the rusted handle, gritting his teeth as he strained to open it. A frenzied fat kid pushed him aside and tried himself.
The bastards had barred the entry
. She blinked in disbelief, a wave of trepidation rippling through her.
Strict protocol for an undercover op stated to always have a means of flight or safety. Narcotics had taken that option away, sending a clear message: SIDE undercover operatives were nothing more than disposable bait.
“Th-They…” Eyes wild with panic, Skates paused, probably to swallow. “…Locked us in.”
“Got that.” Her insides quaked, but she didn’t let the dread out. She locked it in tight, gripping her left fist into her tender hand. Thumb pushing against the top of her forefinger, she cracked one knuckle then moved to the next one. She glanced at Fat Kid. Sweat ran down his doughy face in a stream. “Locked in a civilian kid with us. Idiots.”
Would Narcotics hear her warning before they barged in, guns cocked?
“Nah, man! Nah.” Boner rubbed his hand over his stubbled hair, over and back, over and back. Trying to get the dead brain cells to rejuvenate? “This is wrong,” he hissed.
He whirled toward her, catching her off guard, grabbing her T-shirt. “Stupid bitch!” He tossed her away like a piece of trash, and she fell on her ass.
“Gotta get out of here.” He repeated the words like a mantra. His panicked eyes darted to the far wall opposite the exit, a compact window embedded over rusted urinals.
He ran over and boosted himself like a nimble cat, bent his elbow and struck a blow, cracking the glass. Pulling out the Glock, he smashed broken shards.
The door burst open—armed officers jammed in the doorway. “Freeze, police!”
Ana regained her footing, seized Skates’s arm, and pulled him out of the line of fire.
Shouts blasted from the cops, more from Boner.
Fat Kid huddled against the wall.
“Take cover!” she hollered at him. He cowered under a sink.
Boner, hanging on the wall, swung his weapon toward the door.
She jerked Skates’s arm. They dove into a stall behind them. Skates cursed as his head knocked the ceramic bowl on the way to the floor.
Gunfire echoed off the ancient walls. Her body flinched as if invisible bullets riddled parts of her own huddled form. A wounded scream followed, then deathly silence.
Slow seconds passed. Someone cursed. Bodies moved. Voices rose.
Skates trembled next to her. Her eyes watered from the foul sewer fumes drifting from the toilet. She reached across the filthy tile, hesitated, then placed her hand over his cold one and squeezed.
“It’s over,” she managed to whisper before someone hauled her from the floor by a firm grip on her arm. Her hair slapped her face, covering her eyes and sticking to her sweaty skin. Careless hands forced her body against one of the scummy walls. Her feet were kicked apart.
Gritting her teeth, she held herself still when deep within she wanted to shove back.
The officer patted her down, found the smack. “Going away for a while for this one, little girl.” His voice sounded both gleeful and condescending.
Ana didn’t say a word. He’d fallen for her appearance, like most people. What she wouldn’t give at the moment to say, “Kiss off.”
Through the veil of her hair, she caught a glimpse of Boner—sprawled out like a broken doll, eyes frozen in a stare of horror, glazed with death. Blood pooled on the cracked floor beneath him.
So much blood. She swallowed as familiar visions fogged her mind.
Touch us and you’ll regret it.
Little wetback bitch.
She whipped her eyes away. Her stomach swirled, turned over. Her lungs grew tight.
. She shook her head, fighting for even breaths. Not now,
Bile surged up her throat. She gagged, choked back the sourness.
Chaotic sounds from the Narcotics Division and the ravers echoed around her, fading in and out like someone placing their hands over her ears and then removing them. Prickles of tiny needles danced under her skin.
Her head fell forward, hitting hard against the tiles. The sticky wall felt cool, a welcome reinforcement for her dizziness, and a life preserver in a stormy turmoil of a nightmare. Her body sagged.
“Hey, kid.” The cop hauled her up. “Don’t pass out on me now.”
Can’t get sick
. A rush of air emptied from her. She
beat it. Nothing would get the best of her. Nothing.
With her eyes squeezed shut, Ana envisioned a blackness covering any unwanted visions in her head. Sort of like taking a spray can and painting over the blood from Boner’s body, over his lifeless form, until it turned into one big void. Black and empty.