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Authors: Julie Miller

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Crossfire Christmas

BOOK: Crossfire Christmas
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An injured undercover agent must keep an innocent nurse from getting caught in the crossfire in the latest installment of The Precinct

With his life bleeding out from bullet wounds and a car crash, Charles Nash’s best option is to kidnap the innocent nurse who stops to help him. At gunpoint, the jaded DEA undercover agent offers Teresa Rodriguez a desperate deal: if she keeps him alive long enough to find out who’s blown his cover and set him up to die, she’ll be home for Christmas.

As the two go on the run from an unknown killer, the Good Samaritan gives Nash a bad case of unprofessional desire. He’s drawn to the sexy little spitfire for her bravery, boldness and attitude. But how can he count on kissing her under the mistletoe when so many enemies are working to ensure they don’t make it to the holidays?

“Nash—”

He shushed her with a finger over her lips. “You have the most beautiful mouth I’ve ever seen on a woman. When I’m alone in this room with you, and the rest of the world is some distant nightmare outside that door, all I can think about is that kiss we shared yesterday.”

“You were delirious with fever. You probably aren’t remembering it accurately.”

At last those firm lips crooked up with a dangerous grin. “How’s my temperature now, Nurse Rodriguez?”

“Normal. Your fever hasn’t come back.” Was that hushed quiver of anticipation really coming from her throat?

Nash brushed the calloused pad of his thumb across her bottom lip, sparking a dozen different nerve endings. “My eyes are focused? My thoughts are sane? No delusions?”

Her mouth was parched with anticipation. “As far as I can tell, you’re…healthy.”

“Good. I just wanted to make sure we’re clear on this.” Then he leaned in, replacing his thumb with his mouth.

CROSSFIRE
CHRISTMAS

USA TODAY
Bestselling Author

Julie Miller

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

USA TODAY
bestselling author
Julie Miller attributes her passion for writing romance to all those books she
read growing up. When shyness and asthma kept her from becoming the
action-adventure heroine she longed to be, Julie created stories in her head to
keep herself entertained. Encouragement from her family to write down the
feelings and ideas she couldn’t express became a love for the written word. She
gets continued support from her fellow members of the Prairieland Romance
Writers, where this teacher serves as the resident “grammar goddess.” Inspired
by the likes of Agatha Christie and Encyclopedia Brown, Julie believes the only
thing better than a good mystery is a good romance.

Born and raised in Missouri, this award-winning author now
lives in Nebraska with her husband, son and an assortment of spoiled pets. To
contact Julie or to learn more about her books, write to P.O. Box 5162, Grand
Island, NE 68802-5162 or check out her website and monthly newsletter at
www.juliemiller.org
.

Books by Julie Miller

HARLEQUIN INTRIGUE

  841—POLICE
BUSINESS*
  880—FORBIDDEN CAPTOR
  898—SEARCH AND
SEIZURE*
  947—BABY JANE DOE*
  966—BEAST IN THE
TOWER
1009—UP AGAINST THE WALL§
1015—NINE-MONTH
PROTECTOR§
1070—PROTECTIVE INSTINCTS‡
1073—ARMED AND
DEVASTATING‡
1090—PRIVATE S.W.A.T. TAKEOVER‡
1099—KANSAS CITY
CHRISTMAS‡
1138—PULLING THE TRIGGER
1176—BEAUTY AND THE
BADGE‡
1201—TAKEDOWN*
1245—MAN WITH THE MUSCLE
1266—PROTECTING
PLAIN JANE^
1296—PROTECTING THE PREGNANT WITNESS^
1321—NANNY
911^
1350—THE MARINE NEXT DOOR¤¤
1367—KANSAS CITY
COWBOY¤¤
1391—THREE COWBOYS
                  “Virgil”

1408—TACTICAL ADVANTAGE¤¤
1427—ASSUMED
IDENTITY¤¤
1444—TASK FORCE BRIDE¤¤
1462—YULETIDE
PROTECTOR¤¤
1509—KCPD PROTECTOR*
1530—CROSSFIRE CHRISTMAS*

*The Precinct
§The Precinct: Vice Squad
‡The
Precinct: Brotherhood of the Badge
^The Precinct: SWAT
¤¤The Precinct:
Task Force

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Agent Charles Nash—
When this Texas DEA agent’s cover is blown, he vows to find out the truth about who murdered his fellow agents and marked him for death. Wounded and alone in a city he doesn’t know, he kidnaps the beautiful nurse who stops to help him. Before long, the only ones they can trust are each other.

Teresa Rodriguez—
When a sexy cowboy kidnaps her at gunpoint and forces her to treat his wounds, she’s plunged into a perilous adventure. But her captor quickly becomes her hero when he saves her life. Feeling a pull toward this man, she makes a dangerous deal—keep him alive until he can find answers, then he’ll let her go home for Christmas. Surviving the holidays will be hard enough. Guarding her heart? Impossible.

Berto Graciela—
The crime boss will make any deal necessary to secure his position as heir to his brother’s drug cartel.

Santiago Vargas—
The Graciela lieutenant is challenging Berto’s claim to power. And he’s bringing the turf war to Kansas City.

Laila Alvarez—
A very brave little girl.

Captain Jesse Puente—
Nash’s superior officer in Houston.

Agent Cruz Moreno—
Brand-new to Nash’s team. Can this hotshot be trusted?

Agent Tommy Delvecchio—
Like a kid brother to Nash. He wasn’t ready to be a field agent.

Angel and Julian Sanchez—
For the right price, these brothers will kill anyone.

For the cast and crew of Grand Island Little Theater’s production of
Twelve Angry Men.

I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a show I’ve directed.

With particular thanks to Jeremy Johnson and Liz Boyle for the title idea for this book!

Chapter One

“You’re a dead man, Nash!”

DEA agent Charlie Nash slammed his back against the metal shelves that had blocked the spray of bullets and saved his life. One step slower and he’d be bleeding out on the floor like the young man lying in the open aisle beside Thug One.

“Kid?” He wasn’t really expecting a response.

He didn’t get one. Check one more black mark in the loss column of his soul.

Yet there was no time for guilt or regret or even grief. He’d spotted the trap the moment he’d pulled into the parking garage and would have backed out then, evading the threat that had trailed him seven hundred miles from Texas to Kansas City, Missouri. But with the rookie handler climbing out of his car without a clue, Nash had been left with no choice but to stay put and warn the young agent back into his vehicle.

Revealing himself to the three goons lying in wait hadn’t made a damn bit of difference.

The kid was still dead.

And he was still the Graciela cartel’s most wanted man.

The cop who’d put together the plan to stop them.

Nash pulled a bandanna from the back pocket of his jeans and tied it around his left thigh, trying to slow down the blood seeping from the wound there. As he tightened the makeshift bandage, he listened to the clomp of running feet, pinpointing the locations of the two remaining assailants as they tried to flank him. He ignored the throbbing burn in his leg and fought to calm his labored breathing so the clouds of stress and exertion in the open warehouse’s wintry air wouldn’t give his position away. He figured he had about two minutes—three if he was lucky—to find a way out of this mess.

The desk agent who’d met him in this run-down auto-parts warehouse near the Missouri River to try to help him reestablish his undercover persona hadn’t been so lucky. He’d wager most of the car parts in this place weren’t legal, and that Tommy Delvecchio had never been in the middle of a real firefight before. Stupid kid must not have been wearing his flak vest, judging by the size of that puddle of blood pooling beneath him.

If Delvecchio had been one of Nash’s operatives, he’d have trained him better than that. Hell. If he’d been one of Nash’s undercover operatives, he’d probably still be dead. Just like the other embedded agents whose covers had been blown.

Glancing over at the still figure crumpled on the floor between storage racks, Nash felt his gut twist with anger and remorse. “Damn it, Tommy. Told you I didn’t need backup.” All he’d asked for was cash and a new ID to be sent to a PO box. He hadn’t needed a personal delivery. He hadn’t wanted the kid to come all the way to K.C. “You should have stayed at the office.”

You can’t risk hiding out for more than forty-eight hours, boss. And you said you can’t trust anyone in the field. You need someone who isn’t part of the Graciela-Vargas turf war to do this for you.
Nash could imagine Agent Delvecchio rising to attention beside his computer, eager to get on the next flight to KCI and prove himself.
I’m not a field agent. They don’t know me. I can help.

Smart kid. Good logic. Still dead. Just like Torres and Richter back in Harlingen and Houston. Nash’s team was another man down, he had no ID on the traitor who’d marked them as cops, and he was on his own in this nightmare.

Pushing aside the distracting emotions that could get him killed, too, Nash quickly evaluated his options. The stinging smell of sulfur in the air told him the three shooters—down to two now—had used up a lot of their bullets coming after him and Delvecchio. But that didn’t give him the advantage it should have.

He kicked out the magazine from his Smith & Wesson and checked his own ammo supply before reloading the clip. Three bullets left. The rest of the ammunition and backup weaponry he needed were in the go bag lying on the floor beside Delvecchio. The only chance of a getaway was his truck, parked a good thirty yards from his position. And as far as he could tell, there were still two of Berto Graciela’s thugs in the warehouse with him.

Unless these were Santiago Vargas’s men. Vargas had been loyal to Berto’s older brother, Diego. Ever since Diego’s death two years earlier, the two had been vying for power within the organization. What did a few cops mean to either of them? Just collateral damage in a war to control a drug-trafficking pipeline that funneled cocaine, pot and an assortment of designer concoctions across the border—or straight into the U.S. at import traffic hubs like Houston, K.C. and Chicago.

But Nash’s team had been making progress. They’d fed the DEA precious intel, helping the agency shut down some key distribution centers. Now Nash and his men were dying.

How had they found him here in Kansas City? Who had found him? He was over ten hours away from his last encounter with Graciela’s men in Houston. Had they followed the kid? If so, how had they connected computer geek Thomas Delvecchio to him? Was there a hidden tracking device on his Ford F-250 he’d missed? Unlikely. He’d gone over the thing with a fine-tooth comb at a truck stop in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the last time he’d checked in with his captain in the Houston office and made the arrangements with Delvecchio.

There had to be a leak somewhere in the system. One of the DEA’s confidential informants wasn’t keeping things so confidential. Torres or Richter had let something slip in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or worst-case scenario? One of Graciela’s or Vargas’s men had infiltrated the Houston office and Nash’s men were at the mercy of a double agent.

That had to be the answer. A team didn’t lose three agents in a week unless someone was leaking inside information.

“You’re outnumbered, Señor Nash!” one of the thugs taunted, his accent rolling his
R
s and making the gibe sound like a joke instead of a promise of death. “You are the mouse and we are the
gatos.
When you come out of your hole, we’ll be waiting to pounce.”

So at least one man had taken up position near the open garage door.

Time to stop speculating about who had betrayed him and deal with the threat at hand. Nash craned his neck to peer through a stack of sports car bumpers to gauge the distance and amount of open ground he’d have to cover before reaching his truck.

On a good day, he could do it in a matter of seconds. But this was far from a good day. And he didn’t have a location on the second shooter.

Time to go old school.

After slipping off the black felt Stetson that the years had shaped so perfectly to his head, he kissed the crown and set it on the shelf beside him, nudging it into clear view near the end of the row. Then he pushed to his feet and pulled down the pile of bumpers, creating a noisy diversion while he ducked into the next aisle and ran for his truck.

Boom.
His hat flew off the shelf, giving him a twenty on Thug Three. The angle of that last shot told Nash the man was running parallel through the stacks with him.

Well,
running
was a relative term. Thug Three was an overweight man who moved with the grace of a lumbering buffalo, while Nash was hobbled by the wound on his leg.

But Nash was still faster.

Sorry, kid. I owe you one.
He scooped up the heavy nylon go bag from the floor beside Delvecchio and limped toward the open garage area with a galloping gait. Twenty yards. Fifteen. He could feel the blood running down his leg and filling his left boot. Thank God the shot hadn’t taken out his knee or ankle.

Ten yards.

The damp wind and flakes of blowing snow pelted his face as he broke into the open garage area.

Ah, hell.

Thug Two stepped out from behind a rolling toolbox and shot at him. Either the guy had piss-poor aim or Nash was lurching on his gimpy leg more than he thought. One bullet smacked into the side of the truck bed, punching a hole through the black metal. The second shot went wide and shattered the driver’s-side window.

Nash raised his gun and squeezed the trigger.

Thug Two didn’t get off a third shot.

Nash swore when Thug Three stumbled out from shelves near the dead body by the garage door. Couldn’t a guy catch a break? Nash swept the broken glass off his seat, tossed the bag into the truck and climbed in behind the wheel. The big man silhouetted against the sunny glare of the snow outside was panting hard. But he wasn’t relying on perfect aim to stop Nash. He pulled out a second handgun and fired both in a smoky barrage of sparks and firepower.

Nash started the engine and stuck his left hand out the broken window. Bracing his wrist on the mirror to steady his aim, he pulled the trigger. With a flurry of Spanish curses, Thug Three dropped one of his weapons and shook his fingers. Lucky shot. Nash must have hit the gun and stung his hand.

But two shots and he was done. No way could he reach his bag on the floorboards across the truck and reload in time. Dropping the gun into his lap, Nash shifted the truck into Drive. He’d only irritated Thug Three. The big man clasped both hands around his remaining weapon and fired.

Nash stomped on the accelerator. A bullet smacked the windshield on the passenger side, splintering the glass into a web of cracks. The wheels spun until they found traction on the smooth concrete. A second bullet took out his side mirror. The truck lurched forward and barreled toward the exit. A third bullet found the open window and ripped through his left shoulder, spinning downward through the muscle, oblivious to the protective vest he wore.

The explosion of pain in his shoulder and back was instant and intense. Damn lucky shot robbed him of breath and jerked his grip on the wheel, sending the truck into a sideways skid. Squeezing his elbow to his side, Nash collapsed into the steering wheel, hugging his right arm around it—regaining control of the truck and making himself a smaller target. He was close enough to see the yellowed teeth of Thug Three’s smile as the man steadied the gun and took aim at Nash’s head.

But what good ol’ Texas boy didn’t know how to play chicken?

“For Tommy,” Nash wheezed, stomping on the accelerator. Before Thug Three could pull off the kill shot or dive out of the way, Nash plowed into him.

With a sickening double jolt, the truck bounced over the body and burst into the sunshine of the clear December afternoon. Nash raced away from the warehouse, clipping a couple of junker cars and jumping the curb out of the back alley before pulling onto the street.

“Brilliant plan, Nash,” he muttered through gritted teeth as he slowed to merge with a line of cars. His entire left side was on fire and the pain doubled every time he tried to catch a deep breath. No way to tell yet if the bullet had gone through or had clipped a lung and was bouncing around inside him. But he knew from the light-headed haze he had to shake off that he was losing a lot of blood. Delvecchio was dead and, like him, any hope that Nash had escaped to Kansas City undetected had literally been shot to hell. He was no closer to finding out the identity of the traitor who had exposed his men as undercover cops and marked them, and now him, for death.

Worse, he was on his own. He’d better report in to Captain Puente and tell him he was going off the grid until further notice. No more help from the remnants of his team. No more deaths on his conscience. He wasn’t putting any more of his people in the line of fire until he could figure this thing out.

Nash slowed to a stop at a traffic light and unsnapped the cell phone on his belt. After wiping away the clammy sweat that dotted his forehead, he searched the screen for Jesse Puente’s office line, punched it in and tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder so he could twist around and untie the blood-soaked bandanna on his thigh.

The light turned green before the number picked up.

“Captain?” Nash dropped the bandanna in his lap and gripped the wheel again as he pressed on the accelerator. The responding silence raised every suspicious hackle Nash possessed. Puente liked the sound of his own voice too much for him not to start talking. “Who’s this?”

“Agent Cruz Moreno, Drug Enforcement Agency, Houston office.” Like Nash, the officer spoke with a hint of suspicion coloring his tone. “Who is this? How did you get this number?”

A quick grunt of relief clouded the cold air leaching in through the truck’s shattered window. Cruz Moreno was the newest man Puente had recruited. He’d transferred over from the San Antonio office and was being trained to replace the slain officers working in the Graciela organization. Thank God Nash had convinced Captain Puente to hold off sending Moreno into the field. Although not as green as Tommy had been, he wasn’t up to speed yet on the intricacies of their long-term investigation. “This is Nash. Put the captain on.”

“Puente isn’t here right now.” Urgency replaced the caution in Moreno’s tone. “Where are you, man? The captain booked it out of here as soon as we lost contact with Delvecchio’s phone. Tommy missed his call-in time. Did you two meet up?”

Nash pulsed his grip on the wheel, his body feeling hot and chilled at the same time. And it wasn’t just his injuries messing with his ability to focus right now. “Tommy’s dead.”

“Dead? I knew that kid couldn’t—” Moreno’s bilingual curses pretty much summed up the grief and rage Nash felt. “I’m calling Puente on the other line. You need backup? An extraction?”

“No. I need to disappear. I need time to find this guy before he finds me. I’m gonna put a stop to this.” Nash released the steering wheel at the next stop and wadded up the bandanna to stuff it beneath his vest to stanch the wound. Pain knifed through him at the added pressure and he swore. “Tell Puente he can claim Tommy’s body in Kansas City.”

“Is that where you are?”

The agonizing jolt cleared his head for a split second, and Nash got the feeling he’d already said too much. Someone had leaked his name, along with Torres’s, Richter’s and Delvecchio’s, to Graciela’s or Vargas’s men. That someone could be listening in on the line right now. And even though Cruz wore the same badge Nash did, trusting anyone—even a fellow agent—just wasn’t going to happen. “Not anymore, Moreno. I’m halfway to Chicago,” Nash lied, wondering how far away he could get before another thug or the hole in his chest stopped him. “I’ll call again when it’s safe. Until then, I’m going off the grid.”

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