Story Blurb from the back cover:
A woman must think and fight her way to freedom through the Amazon, only to find that New York is even tougher.
It’s been fourteen years since Angel Harris was orphaned in Colombia. Raised by a ruthless woman known to the world as Godmother, Angel has been given no choice about staying. Now she’s grown up and she wants out. Do-or-die mode comes when Drake Mason shows up on a paid mission to bring her home. But he screws up on the front end, making her think he's with the DEA and out to arrest her.
Angel escapes into the jungle where Godmother’s men force her to stand and fight—and she fights dirty. Then she learns Mason’s team is in trouble because of her and has to choose. Should she head on to Cali and a plane back to the States, or down the Rio Caguan to help the man with the haunting blue eyes? Going down the Caguan will mean facing the FARC militia—the same men who murdered her parents. But saving Mason brings a chance for vengeance, unexpected truth and help finding her family in America.
Back in the U.S., Angel soon learns she still isn’t free and what she doesn’t know could hurt her. Surviving the Amazon might be easier than staying alive in the concrete jungles of New York. It will all come down to Mason returning the favor and Angel’s special skills—one a gift from God—the rest honed from a fierce need to survive, and for freedom at any cost.
The key to her freedom sat at the bar with a beer in his hand. He appeared to be alone and settled in, back to the wall, eyes on his drink. From the door, there wasn’t much to look at anyway. The small cantina was dark and quiet, with shuttered windows blocking the sunlight and a few customers spread along the bamboo counter. Some faded posters and curls of cigarette smoke.
The man’s gaze shifted her way when she crossed the room. With her pulse kicking up, Angel slid onto a wooden stool, leaving an empty seat between them. A breeze came from paddle fans spinning above, lifting napkin corners and cooling her damp skin.
“Cerveza por favor.” It felt strange to be in public, ordering a drink.
“Please, allow me.”
The blue-eyed man handed a five-dollar bill to the barkeep, nodding toward her.
From his plain English and his money it was easy to see why there were whispers about an American hanging around town. The whispers had driven her here. At face value it looked like they were off to a good start, but anyone could get hold of a five-dollar bill, and most people could fake an accent for three simple words.
The bartender set the bottle on a napkin, giving her a squint-eyed look, but said nothing. She forced herself to hold his gaze, breathing stalled until he turned to help another customer.
“Thank you.” She lifted the beer in a small salute to the stranger. The cold glass felt good against her sweating palm, and the salty brew quenched her dry throat. Maybe the alcohol would help slow her heartbeat. It raced with the clock ticking in her head. With luck, she’d have thirty minutes before hard trouble set in.
She glanced over the handful of scruffy men leaning against the bar. None of them worked at the compound, thank God. But they were all looking at her and knew who she was. She recognized the one on the end, had been to his house a few weeks ago. He acknowledged her with a barely visible tip of the head, as friendly a gesture as she could expect considering the circumstances. The bartender clinked a liquor bottle out of the well and she turned to watch him serve another customer. She’d been to his house too, last April. Maybe this would work the way she hoped.
Hiding in plain sight was a new strategy and a huge risk, but she had to seize the chance while she could. Americans rarely came to Cartagena del Chaira—not unless they were military or DEA—and for good reason. Colombia was no place for tourists. Not this area.
Living here had turned her into a savage too. She’d done things to escape the compound that she’d hate herself for later. Used her body, her knife. Syringes, rope, tape. She’d made a lot of enemies today. Maybe more to come.
A shudder hit at the thought and she struggled to keep it from showing.
“How’s the beer?” the stranger asked.
She would have to do better than that, but fear and need each had a hand on her throat, blocking her ability to make small talk. Drawing in a long breath, she fiddled with the napkin, considering the best way to proceed.
What should I say to him? How should I start?
Instinct told her not to just blurt out a plea for help. She didn’t know if she could trust him. And why should he help her? It was asking a lot. He might say no. Or he could be in town waiting for the very thing she was trying to get away from. The timing was either a coincidence or a reason to panic.
Either way, she needed to hurry. Escaping would bring freedom, or a lot of pain—if they caught her. She had a trail of scars and bad memories to remind her. And here she was, chance in hand, feeling tongue-tied. This was trickier than she’d thought.
She gave herself a mental kick and studied the stranger from the corner of her eye. Jeans, white polo shirt and black motorcycle boots made him look American. He was the only way to minimize the collateral damage from leaving. Lives were at stake, including her own, and she’d made herself wait for the right opportunity this time. Thank God the chance has finally come. The shipment would be ready next week, then her fate would be sealed.
“I’ll take another.” The man wagged his empty bottle at the bartender. Listening to him order the beer gave her an idea.
Time to get to work.
It helped that he was almost as handsome as the cooks said. She liked his dark blond hair and light eyes. Thirty-something, tall and trim. He stuck out in the bar like a lizard’s red throat.
Regardless of his looks, she was willing to spend time in the arms of someone who spoke English without a Spanish accent if he would help her. But she needed to learn more about him before she risked asking and liquor loosened a man’s tongue. With adrenaline pushing her courage button, she ordered tequila for both of them.
“Dos tiros de Cuervo, por favor.”
The bartender poured the shots with a frown then stood there wiping the bottle, watching.
She ignored him and slid one of the small ceramic cups in front of the American.
“I’m celebrating today. Care to join me?”
“What are we celebrating?”
“My twenty-second birthday.” My freedom.
“Well, happy birthday.” He tapped his cup to hers.
Empty cups hit the counter in unison. He waved two fingers at the bartender, pointed down at the shot glasses.
“I’m Angel. What’s your name?”
“John.” His smile was like the sun popping out from behind a cloud.
“What brings you to Cartagena?”
“Business.” He took a swig of beer, then pointed it at her. “And you? Why are you here?”
His question made the back of her eyes sting. Instead of answering, she tossed down the second shot and concentrated on the burn of the tequila, on reining in her emotions.
It was hard to resist the urge to beg for his help right then. But that wouldn’t be smart. He could be a mole with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Or worse, he could be a plant, sent here by Godmother to test her. If that were the case, her plans would be ruined before she got one foot outside the bar. There would be pain, a lot of pain. And blood. Not just hers. She’d make sure of that. Her fingers wrapped around the metal nestled in the pocket of her sundress, seeking reassurance. I can do this, I have to do this.
But first she needed to know this man’s story before revealing herself and her needs to him. And she had to get him alone to do it—no way could they have that conversation in front of the bartender.
She looked the American in the eye and realized he was still waiting for an answer. A sliver of truth would have to do for now.
“I’ve been here much longer than I expected.”
“How long would that be?”
“I came here when I was eight.”
His hand stopped midway to his mouth. “That is a long time. Especially in this place.”
He sounded as though he felt sorry for her. Was it her imagination? This man didn’t know her or anything about her. But maybe he knew enough about del Chaira and the things that went on here to know it was no place for a young girl. Maybe he had a daughter, or a sister like she did. Thank God Emily hasn’t been stuck here too. The image of her little sister’s face tugged at her heart and stiffened her resolve. She swallowed hard and focused on the man beside her.
“How about you? How long have you been here?”
“Five days. I’m hoping to leave soon. Maybe later today, if I can finish my business.”
His words sent another blast of adrenaline through her. She needed to leave as soon as possible—Godmother was due home this afternoon. But was it too much of a coincidence that he could suddenly conclude his business today? She had to take the chance. It was get a ride from the American or leave on foot through the jungle, and that method hadn’t worked out in the past. She had to get him alone—now.
Nerves skittering like water on a hot grill, she reached out and rubbed her palm along his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re here.” She gave him a slow smile, focused on keeping her voice steady. “It’s so nice to spend time with an American.”
He gave her a long, quiet look, watching her eyes while her fingers ran down his thigh. She tried not to flinch when he leaned across the empty barstool and gently stroked her cheek.
“You are beautiful.”
His thumb brushing over her skin sent an unexpected throb of heat through her. It didn’t last long, but it was enough to push her past the fear and on to the next step.
She stood up.
He opened his mouth to say something, but closed it when she leaned against him and put her lips next to his ear.
“I want to be alone with you,” she whispered, “and get to know each other better, okay?”
She took his hand long enough to slip him the small fold of paper without the bartender noticing. Saying a prayer in her head, she slid from his grasp, pulse like a shooting fountain.
“I have to go now. Thanks for the drinks.”
The American rose from his seat as though he planned to follow her. That would be a disaster. It would complicate getting out of town. People would talk, starting with the bartender—he’d have no choice.
She glanced at the surly man standing behind the counter. The barkeep was scowling, walking toward them looking at her, silently asking whether she wanted help with the American.
John slowly sat back down, eyes steady on her.
She held his gaze for a beat, then turned and headed for the door without looking back.
Outside, sunlight and humidity engulfed her. She hustled across the small gravel lot toward an alley, seeking the shadows. The guards would be coming around soon. They would start looking for her, weapons in hand, and she needed to make it several blocks without being seen. She slipped behind the building with thoughts of John playing in her head.
Would he come? Would he help?
Whether he did or not, she was getting out. Lips pressed tight, she reminded herself she’d been preparing for this opportunity for months. She was ready. Plan A, plan B. It would be one or the other. Plan A made her willing to spend time in the American’s arms, but she was also ready to handle him if he turned out to be something other than a simple businessman.