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Authors: Rachel Dylan

Incriminating Evidence

BOOK: Incriminating Evidence
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FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE

When rookie prosecutor Jessica Hughes crosses the son of a major crime boss, she’s determined to bring him to justice—if his family doesn’t kill her first. And with newly minted FBI special agent Zach Taylor protecting her, she believes she can succeed. Zach will do anything to stay ahead of the crime syndicate and guard Jessica while she builds her case. The more time he spends with her, the more personal the assignment becomes. It’s bad timing for falling in love, but as the threats against her life escalate, Zach realizes Jessica is everything to him—and he will do everything he can to make sure she has a future.

Her breath caught, and she winced slightly as he reached out and grabbed onto her hand. She wasn’t expecting the contact.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he let go of her hand.

“No, it’s not you. I appreciate you being here.” What was she supposed to say? That she didn’t like anyone touching her because she was skittish from her violent past? And now she was understandably on edge?

“I was just petrified that you weren’t going to make it, Jessica. I prayed that God would intervene. It was a direct one-two punch between the Escalade behind us and the other truck that slammed into your side of the car.” His eyes showed his deep concern, and he leaned closer to her. “I didn’t want to fail you.”

“You didn’t fail. You did what you could.”

“The FBI is working on a safe house. It’s not safe to try to stay at your place. Not after this. I was wrong and I underestimated the threat against you. A true rookie mistake. But I won’t let it happen again. I can promise you that.”

Rachel Dylan
writes inspirational romantic suspense. Although a Georgia girl at heart, she traded in the sunny South for the snowy Midwest. She lives in Michigan with her husband and five furkids—two dogs and three cats. She’s an animal lover and enjoys adding furry friends to her stories. You can find Rachel at
racheldylan.com
.

Books by Rachel Dylan

Love Inspired Suspense

Out of Hiding
Expert Witness
Picture Perfect Murder
Incriminating Evidence

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INCRIMINATING
EVIDENCE

Rachel Dylan

I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
and delivered me from all my fears.

—Psalms
34:4

To my husband, Aaron.
Thank you for always believing in me. I love you.

ONE

G
uilty
... That’s the word Jessica Hughes longed to hear after each case she argued before the jury. For now, she walked out of the Miami prosecutor’s office after another long day. Although she had graduated from the University of Florida law school only nine months ago, she had a clear goal in life. Prosecute criminals and seek justice for innocent victims. And she’d known that was what she was signing up for when she had applied to work in the Florida state attorney’s office. Or at least she’d thought she had a good idea of what was in store for her.

As she walked to her car in the Miami summer heat, she realized just how late it was. The sun had probably gone down an hour ago. She dug into her small pink purse, trying to locate her car keys before she got to her old black Chevy compact.

She had parked in the flat lot a few blocks away and now started walking more quickly as she was suddenly eager to get home. Even if the only things waiting for her were her orange tabby cat, Tiger, and a microwavable meal. As she approached the parking lot, she heard loud footsteps come up behind her.

Instinctively, she gripped her purse and picked up the pace. But the heavy steps hitting the pavement behind her only sped up and got closer. With each long step Jessica tried to take, the person followed her stride for stride and was gaining ground.

She was now on the edge of the parking lot, but her car was located in the middle. Fear gripped her body even as she kept moving. She’d grown up under rough circumstances. Bounced from foster home to foster home. She’d been forced to learn how to defend herself, but it wasn’t something she liked doing or wanted to do right now. She wasn’t a fighter—except by necessity. In fact, she’d freely give up her wallet and the five dollars she had in it.

She hadn’t heard the person behind her come closer, but the next thing she knew, strong hands grabbed on to her shoulders and pushed her hard into the side of the nearest car, a large white SUV. Turning to look at her attacker, Jessica discovered he wore a dark mask.

Immediately she started to struggle against him. He was much stronger and well over six feet tall, but she refused to just sit back and let herself be accosted. Maybe if she put up enough of a fight, he would give up.
Why is he coming after me? Was this related to a case? Dear Lord, please give me strength to protect myself.
She fought off violent flashbacks from the past and tried to focus on the present.

Taking advantage of her heels, Jessica lifted up her right foot and slammed it down onto the assailant’s foot as hard as she could. He howled in pain but didn’t fully loosen his grip.

“Stop it!” he said, his voice deep and commanding. He reached into his side pocket.

Her breath caught. She could clearly see the knife that he’d pulled out as the parking lot lights reflected off it. He pushed the knife up toward her neck, and immediately she stilled. She could feel the pointed edge jabbing into her tender skin. The hand was poised to use the knife to slice through her throat—one sudden move and she’d be dead.

Jessica tried to slow her breathing and stay calm. She’d been through violent situations before when she was younger and untrained; now she knew better, knew more. She just had to use what she’d learned to try to stay alive.

She made direct eye contact with the man’s menacing brown eyes. The only part of his face that wasn’t covered by the mask. What did he want from her? Was he going to kill her right there in the parking lot?

“Please,” she said. “Don’t hurt me. You can take whatever you want.”

He pressed the edge of the knife into her neck a little bit more, and she feared he’d soon be drawing blood. “I’m not here for your purse.”

“Then what do you want?” Dread poured through her body as she tried to figure out why this man had attacked her. If he didn’t want her cash, credit cards and phone, did that mean he was after her? And what was he going to do?

“This is a warning.” With his left hand he grabbed her neck and squeezed tightly. He held the knife in his right, keeping the edge of the blade against her skin.

“For what?” she croaked, barely able to get air because of his vice grip.

“You’ve messed with the wrong family. We won’t warn you again. We know who you are. We know where you live. We know everything about you. If you want to live, you need to walk away. Just walk away.”

Her vision started to blur from the lack of oxygen. Her mind tried to comprehend what the burly masked man was saying. This had to do with her work. The prosecution of Simon Hernandez. There was no other explanation. As his grip tightened, her world started to fade.

Just as she thought she was about to pass out, he loosened his grip, took a few steps away from her and then ran off into the dark of the night. Jessica stood there, stunned. Touching her neck and trying to figure out if she was actually breathing in and out. After a moment, she knew she had to do something more. But what?

One side of her knew she should call the police, but the last thing she wanted was to get taken off this case. She’d worked too hard on Simon’s prosecution and wanted to see it through.

After taking a few deep breaths and walking the rest of the way to her car, she realized she had no choice. She pulled out her phone and called the police. Because if it came out that she hadn’t followed protocol, that would be a ding on her record she couldn’t afford as a new prosecutor. She’d just have to deal with the consequences.

* * *

FBI Special Agent Zach Taylor walked into the Miami police department at around midnight. He’d gotten called in because a prosecutor believed she’d been attacked by a member of the Hernandez organized crime syndicate. The Miami police must have thought her story credible enough to pick up the phone and call in the FBI.

Fresh out of Quantico, he’d been at the FBI field office in Miami for a month. And he’d been assigned to work the ongoing investigations of the Hernandez family. A family that was involved in more illegal businesses than he could fathom.

Of course he was working under a more seasoned agent, but the grunt work and the day to day was all given to him. It was every rookie’s dream to be a part of a case like this, and he wasn’t the kind of guy to back down from a challenge.

Zach was ushered back and stood outside one of the conference rooms where he would meet the victim. All he knew about her was her name—Jessica Hughes.

Miami PD detective Will Lang walked out of the room and greeted Zach.

“Nice to see you again,” Zach said. He’d met Will once before, right when he’d moved down to Miami.

“If it involves anything related to Hernandez, we always call in the feds right away.”

“Thank you, we appreciate that,” Zach told him.

“I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of each other,” Will said. “There’s always something going on with these guys. They have their hands in every criminal enterprise known to man, including money laundering and drugs. There’s no part of Miami untouched.”

“Yeah, I’m learning that quickly.”

“She’s all yours.” Will opened another door, and Zach walked into the conference room. Seated on the other side of the table was an attractive young woman dressed in a black suit. She had long wavy blond hair and bright green eyes that focused on him like laser beams.

“Ms. Hughes, I’m Special Agent Zach Taylor with the FBI.” He stretched out his hand and greeted her. She gave him a solid handshake. He examined her demeanor as he’d been taught to do at Quantico. She didn’t appear to be under any duress. The only thing he noticed were the slight dark circles under her eyes.

“Agent Taylor, I don’t know what all you’ve been told, but the FBI might be a bit of overkill.”

“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Are you sure you’re all right? Did you receive medical attention?”

“I’m fine. I don’t need to see a doctor.”

Her toughness impressed him. Most people wouldn’t be so calm under the circumstances. “I want to hear directly from you what happened.”

She explained her attack in detail, but he had more questions than answers when she was done. This wasn’t just a random woman who’d gotten on the wrong side of the Hernandez family. The fact that she worked at the DA’s office added another complex dimension that he had to investigate.

“Ms. Hughes, you’re working on the Simon Hernandez prosecution, correct?” She looked a little young to be an attorney—especially one working on such a high-profile case.

A deep frown pulled down her lips. “Yes. It’s my primary case right now. Even though I’m a junior attorney, I’ve been tasked with the lead role because of some extenuating circumstances.”

“I’m not making any judgments, Ms. Hughes. I’m not exactly a veteran FBI agent myself. And I can tell you that I’m here speaking with you about what happened because I’m working several investigations into the Hernandez family.”

She let out a breath and adjusted her suit jacket. “Actually, it’s pretty rare that a young prosecutor has this type of opportunity. We generally do a training stint when we first start at the office and then move onto two rotations in misdemeanor and juvenile court before moving onto felony prosecution. But after my training, I got enlisted to help a senior attorney on the Simon Hernandez case. I’m sure you’re familiar with it?”

“Yes, I’m very familiar with it. Multiple charges of money laundering that encompass things like tax evasion and other financial crimes. Am I missing something?”

“Those are the current charges we have. At least with regard to Simon. We didn’t have enough on the drug trafficking to prosecute him specifically for that, but we’re using that as part of the money laundering case.”

He noticed that she’d used the word
current
, and that made him think she could have something else coming down the pike. He would need to get looped in eventually because he had his own investigatory work. “So you’re saying that you got brought in to help with the prosecution?”

“Yes. But unfortunately the senior attorney I was working for became seriously ill. He was diagnosed with cancer. So instead of taking the case away from me and reassigning it to another senior attorney, it was decided to let me stay on. I know the file inside and out because I’ve been working the case for the past six months, and fortunately the powers that be are letting me run with it. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

This was critical information. This young lawyer sitting in front of him was the lead prosecutor in a very important case against Simon Hernandez—the son of Mick Hernandez, the leader of the powerful family. “And now the Hernandez family has found out who you are and what you’re doing and they are trying to scare you off.”

“Exactly. But I should tell you, Agent Taylor. It’s going to take a lot more than hiring a muscle-bound thug to get me to back off. They are not going to scare me that easily. There is no chance I’m just going to walk away from this case. The Hernandez family threatens the entire city as they spread their network of crime and violence on our streets. The first step to taking them down is to get to Simon. And besides that, I’ve had to fight my entire life for opportunities, and something like this doesn’t come along every day—especially for a new prosecutor.”

He felt exactly the same about his work at the FBI. This was a time for both of them to prove themselves. But as much as he empathized with her, it was his job to make sure that she was safe and was not going to be a continued target of the Hernandez family.

“I totally understand your desire to stay on this case, but the FBI will want to conduct a threat assessment.” That wasn’t all the FBI would want to do, but he didn’t want to scare her off right now. She already had that look in her eyes that said she was more than willing to face this threat alone, and he couldn’t have that.

She threw her hands up in the air, becoming much more animated by the minute. “Agent Taylor, we can’t give in to these criminals. If it’s not me prosecuting the case, another prosecutor could step in. There’s no way I’m dismissing the charges. This will move forward one way or another.”

“But they could make it very difficult on you. I’m afraid this is probably just the beginning. Do you live alone?”

She nodded. “Yes. Well, me and my cat.”

He thought about her current situation. “You’re probably not in any immediate danger tonight. I’m guessing the guy who came after you thinks he got his message across. Although I’ll talk to the guys here and get a police officer to escort you home to be on the safe side.”

“Thank you,” she said coolly.

“How far away are you from the trial starting?”

“One week.”

He grimaced. That was even sooner than he expected. For some reason he’d thought it was in a couple of months. Hadn’t he just double-checked the date last week? Something was off. “Did you move up the trial date?”

“Yes, at the end of last week. The defense didn’t have any issue with it. I think they believe he’s going to get acquitted given his power and influence in the community. They are banking on the jury being in his back pocket. And on them being afraid to find someone in the Hernandez family guilty. I can’t even imagine what they’re going to do to try to intimidate or influence them.”

“Okay. For now I’ll get you the escort home. Then tomorrow we’re going to need to speak again and go over how we’re going to handle this. I’ll need to bring in the senior agent on the file, Brodie Wilson, and get his opinion. And I assume you have to report this up the chain, as well.”

“Unfortunately, I do. It’s not a discussion I look forward to having. But I’m not planning on cutting and running. They’ll have to remove me from this case.”

He could see that this meant a lot to her and he understood that. While they were both rookies, their work was their top priority. “Who do you report to?”

“Ultimately everyone in my office reports to the Miami-Dade state attorney, but I report to one of the chief assistant state attorneys. His name is Ian Lopez. He’s one of the best, and I’m hoping I can convince him to let me see this thing play out.”

“You’ll have to let me know how that conversation goes. I’m sure he has a vested interest in all of this.”

BOOK: Incriminating Evidence
11.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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