Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2) (2 page)

BOOK: Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2)
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Evan yanked my body against his, gathering me into a tight embrace. “Thank God,” he murmured next to my ear. “You’ll see. This party is going to be good for us. It’s the first step to taking our life back.”

I hoped like hell he was right because I couldn’t stand my life anymore. Something had to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Ryker

 

“What in the hell are you doing here, Rever?”

I tossed my keys on the table in my entryway, and they slid across the empty surface, hitting the wall. My home wasn’t much of a home, more like a pit stop between jobs. After five years, I still hadn’t hung a single picture or bought one rug to cover the hardwood floors. In truth, I thought it was a waste of money and time. I hadn’t found a true home since I graduated from high school. I’d been too busy making a name for myself.

Rever shrugged and crossed one ankle over his thigh. He looked like a younger version of our dad, Ignacio Vargas. Dark hair. Dark eyes. A long, angular nose. Same height. Same build. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I had traveled back in time. He even moved his body the same way.

“I was out of options.”

“What made you believe showing up at my house was an option?” We’d never been on friendly terms. We’d come to blows more than once in our life. We were nearly the same age, but we had different mothers, and that made all the difference in the world. Rever was legitimate whereas I was a bastard. His legitimacy entitled him to everything the Vargas Cartel had to offer. My illegitimacy entitled me to nothing. I didn’t even use the Vargas name except when I traveled to Mexico. In the United States, I was Ry Fallon. Fallon was my mom’s maiden name and the name on my birth certificate.

“The process of elimination.” He stood up and crossed the room. “I couldn’t stay in Mexico, and you’re the only other family I have.”

“Why can’t you stay in Mexico?”

“Don’t play dumb.”

I folded my arms across my chest. I hadn’t seen Rever in over three years, and I couldn’t claim I’d missed him. “I’m sure Ignacio will forgive you. He always does. This time won’t be any different.” My words were unintentionally bitter. I didn’t envy Rever. I never truly wanted what he had. The burden of leading the Vargas Cartel wasn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, and even with our never-ending feud, Rever didn’t qualify as an enemy. He was something in between.

Rever had caused more than his fair share of trouble in the last ten years. Rather than following in Ignacio’s footsteps, he barely showed a passing interest in becoming the successor to the Vargas Cartel. He overindulged in everything.

Drugs.

Women.

Gambling.

His arrogance landed him in a U.S. prison three months ago for money laundering, and I had to negotiate his release.

“I’m done with the Vargas Cartel. I don’t want to play by Ignacio’s rules anymore.”

I snorted. “You never played by his rules. That’s how you ended up in jail.”

Rever fisted his hands, and he smiled coldly. “You want to be the heir apparent for the Vargas Cartel? Well, you can have it. I don’t have any interest in killing people for perceived slights and smuggling drugs—”

“Exactly. You’re just interested in using the drugs and spending the money. You don’t want any of the responsibilities that go along with it.”

He snatched his black leather jacket off the back of a chair. “You’re right.”

I rocked back on my heels and narrowed my eyes. “Right about what?”

“I shouldn’t have come here.” His gaze drifted to the floor. “For some reason, I got it in my head that you’d help me, but apparently, I was wrong. You don’t consider me family. You never have.” Rever stuffed his arms into the sleeves of his jacket.

“That’s not true,” I growled. “I negotiated your release. I didn’t have to do it, but I did. I got you out of that prison. I could’ve walked away and told Ignacio to find someone else to help you.”

“You should’ve left me there. Ignacio is going to kill me.”

“No, he won’t,” I said with absolute certainty. Ignacio had done a lot of horrible things in his life, but he’d never purposely hurt his children. As much as he loved the cartel, he loved his children more—especially Rever. Sure, he’d make Rever pay for what he did, but he wouldn’t kill him.

Rever shoved his hands into his pockets. “Once he knows everything, he will kill me,” he said quietly.

I didn’t say anything for a drawn out second as I ran my hand down the side of my face. “Everything? What do you mean by everything?” I finally asked, pushing my apprehension aside. My sources confirmed Rever’s account of the events from the time he was arrested until he was released. According to them, he hadn’t revealed Senator Deveron’s connection to the Vargas Cartel, but what did I know? Sources lied all the time.

“Anna Alvarez is pregnant.”

“Am I supposed to know who that is?”

“Juan Alvarez’s daughter.”

My brows furrowed. “Juan Alvarez…as in the head of the Alvarez Cartel?”

He paled momentarily and then squared his shoulders. “Yes.”

Swallowing the dread inching up the walls of my chest, I shifted on my feet. “I’m going to ask the question, even though I think I already know the answer. Are you the father?”

“Yes.”

My blood ran cold. “Fuck, Rever. We’ve barely tolerated each other our entire life. Why would you come to me? Why do you think I can save you? I don’t have any influence over Ignacio, much less Juan Alvarez. My hands are tied.”

I didn’t want to deal with this. When I drove out of the Vargas Cartel compound over three weeks ago, I never intended to go back. I planned to sever every last string tethering me to that place. That world. That life. Negotiating Rever’s release from prison was supposed to be my last job for them.

“I need you to help me get Anna out of there.”

“What? How?”

“I don’t know. You abducted the attorney general’s daughter. Find a way to abduct Anna and bring her to me. I’ll figure out the rest.”

A laugh nearly escaped my mouth, but I bit my lip, stifling the urge. Rever was deadly serious. He actually expected me to fly back to Mexico, abduct a drug lord’s daughter, and smuggle her where? To the United States. It was fucking crazy. Bat shit crazy.

“Do you have any idea what is going on between the Vargas and the Alvarez Cartels right now? They are tearing each other apart as we speak. Dead bodies are piling up. The feud has even made its way into the U.S. newspapers a few times.”

“I understand what that means better than you do.” He rubbed the back of his neck as he paced back and forth. “I’ve lived that life for almost thirty years. Do you know how much blood is on my hands?” His voiced cracked on the last word.

I shook my head. “Ignacio protected you from that side of the cartel. He never made you kill anyone.”

A shadow crossed his face, and he paled. “Not with my hands, but I did it with my words too many times to count. Why do you think I ran? It was for her. For our child. I refuse to continue the cycle.” He shook his head slowly back and forth. “The Vargas Cartel will not claim my child.”

“Why now? Since when do you give a shit about anyone but yourself?” I’d heard the stories. Rever had a gambling addiction and a recreational drug problem. So many women had drifted through his life over the last ten to twelve years, he probably didn’t remember a third of them.

He tugged on the collar of his shirt. “Since I met her. She changed everything. She changed me.”

My eyes flickered to the window behind him. A couple of months ago, I would’ve laughed at his words, but not anymore. Not after Hattie. Hattie had infected my mind and poisoned me with her smile and golden eyes. She changed me, but I hadn’t decided if it was a good thing. In my line of work, attachments complicated everything.

“Fine. I’ll help you,” I murmured as I plopped down into a chair in my living room. Even as I said it, I knew I’d regret getting involved in Rever’s life. Nothing good would come out of this, and if I abducted Anna Alvarez, everyone would know. The border between the U.S. and Mexico wouldn’t mean a damn thing if the Alvarez Cartel traced her disappearance back to me. I’d be as good as dead.

“How fast can you do it?”

“A month, maybe two.”

“No,” Rever yelled. “It has to happen within the next week or two.”

“Things like this take planning. I can’t just snatch her from Alvarez territory and put her on a plane. I need to know her habits, her friends’ habits, her family’s habits.”

Rever slammed his hand on the back the chair. “I can give you all the information you need.”

“I need a viable plan or she won’t make it out alive.”

“I have to get her away from her family and out of Mexico before she starts showing.”

“How long is that?”

“Fuck. I don’t know. One to three weeks. Not long.”

I glanced at my wristwatch, then shook my head. I didn’t have time for this tonight. “I don’t know if I can pull it off. Are you planning to stay here tonight?”

“I can’t go anywhere else. In case you forgot, I’m not exactly a welcome visitor in the U.S. I need to keep a low profile.”

I cocked my head to the side. “How did you get across the border, anyway?”

“The border is more porous than it has been in years, but to answer your question, I used a drug smuggling tunnel from Sonora, Mexico to Naco, Arizona. Once I made it to Arizona, I borrowed an associate’s car.”

My eyes narrowed. “Borrowed or stole?”

Rever lifted one shoulder and dropped it. “The details aren’t important.”

“Out of curiosity, how much does it cost to smuggle someone across the border these days?”

He smirked. “We charge thirty-five hundred to smuggle a person on foot, and eight grand using loaded eighteen-wheelers. It’s easy money. The Vargas Cartel made about six million dollars smuggling people over the border last year, and it diverts law enforcement’s attention away from our drug smuggling activities.”

“How’s that?” I asked, even though I didn’t want to know. The depravity of the drug smuggling business stopped surprising me years ago.

“You leave a group of people on the river bank or an open area where border patrol can easily find them. They draw all the attention while the drug smugglers slip over the border undetected.”

I stood up and headed for my bedroom. “I have to get ready.”

“Where are you going?”

“I have plans,” I answered without glancing over my shoulder, suddenly feeling older than I had in years. Once again, I was being sucked into a life I wanted to leave far behind. I should’ve shoved Rever out the door or called the authorities and had him arrested, but I wouldn’t do it. Ignacio had drummed the need for family loyalty into my head for as long as I could remember. As much as I wished I could abandon them, I wouldn’t.

“Don’t you think you should cancel and spend the night strategizing with me?”

“No. I have an engagement party to attend.”

“An engagement party? For who?”

“Hattie Covington.”

Rever’s dark eyes narrowed into glittering slits, and his mouth pressed into a firm line. “You’re playing with fire. This game is going to blow up in your face.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

He groaned under his breath. “Then why are you going?”

“Because I want to see her.”

“That’s a dumb reason.”

“You asked a dumb question.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

 

Hattie

 

“Hattie,” my mom said the minute Evan and I walked into Senator Deveron’s home for our engagement party.

She air-kissed my cheek, a frozen smile on her face. She looked as perfect and as icy as I remembered. Every strand of her blonde hair was immaculately groomed into an elegant twist, highlighting her sharp cheekbones and the curve of her jaw. She wore an ivory
t
ailored suit with subtle fringed trim, buttoned flap pockets, large jeweled buttons, and princess seams. She looked like the perfect politician’s wife. She
was
the perfect politician’s wife. Unfortunately, she was far from the perfect mother, or at least my idea of the perfect mother.

Some small portion of me had believed my mom would behave like a normal parent after I returned from Mexico. Less than fifteen minutes into our first conversation, I realized nothing had changed. She truly subscribed to the notion that you shouldn’t let a crisis go to waste. She scolded me for going to Mexico, for breaking up with Evan, and for being abducted.

“Mom. It’s nice to see you,” I said, taking a few anemic steps away from her.

As my eyes drifted over the smiling faces of our family, friends, and business associates, I felt nothing. Not happiness. Not sadness. Just a complete lack of interest in everyone and everything around me.

“Where’s Dad?”

“He and Senator Deveron had a few things to discuss before the party gets into full swing. He should join us any minute.”

I nodded absently as Evan slid his arm around my hips. As irrational as it sounded, I wished he’d stop touching me. Instead of saying anything, I leaned into him, pretending for the moment he meant something to me and I still loved him.

I scanned the white flower arrangements advantageously placed all over the Deverons’ home. I hated white. If my mom or Evan’s mom had consulted me, I would’ve never picked white anything. After spending too many days staring at the white walls and floors at the Vargas Cartel compound, I hated the absence of color.

If I had my choice, I would’ve selected red roses. Red seemed more appropriate given the circumstances of our engagement. Red was the color of blood, the color of anger, the color of sacrifice—and tonight marked the moment when I’d sacrifice everything.

The future I wanted.

My heart.

My soul.

My dreams.

My dignity.

All of it would evaporate into a pile of used up pixy dust the minute Evan announced our engagement, and I couldn’t even be mad at Evan. He wasn’t the one keeping secrets and living a lie. I fell in love with another man, but he didn’t want me enough to fight for me, for us. I may have looked fine on the outside, but on the inside I was bleeding and broken.

Smiling, Evan handed me a glass of champagne from a small round table draped in white fabric. “Here they come now. My dad’s going to give a toast.”

Senator Deveron lifted his glass into the air, and the low murmurs stopped as all eyes focused on him. His trademarked veneered grin slid into place, and he cleared his throat. “When Evan first brought Hattie to our house, my wife and I fell in love with her. She’s smart, beautiful, and kind. We knew she was the right woman for our son. So when Evan told us that Hattie agreed to marry him, we were thrilled. Evan, we are so proud of the adult you have become. With the love of your life at your side, nothing will be impossible. To Evan and Hattie.”

Clapping, cheering, and congratulations floated through the air, and I felt disconnected from the moment. It didn’t seem real. Nobody acknowledged my abduction. Nobody cared about my mental withdrawal. My life kept moving day after day.

My engagement party was planned.

Evan selected my ring.

Invitations were sent.

A therapist was hired.

My parents moved all my belongings into Evan’s house.

Even my dress—an ivor
y
silkcrepe dress with a blouson silhouett
e
—was ordered and delivered to Evan’s townhome by my mom. It didn’t look like something I’d pick, but then again, neither was my life. Not anymore. I’d lost control of everything.

“It’s bad luck not to take a drink,” Evan whispered next to my ear.

Not making eye contact with him, I lifted the glass to my lips as my eyes scanned the room, but I didn’t take a sip. I didn’t know why. It was childish, but I considered it my final symbolic rebellion before I entered a loveless marriage. One I didn’t want. One I wouldn’t want no matter how many days passed.

Suddenly, time froze. My muscles tensed the minute I saw
him
, Ryker Vargas. Just whispering his name inside the relative safety of my mind caused my heart to knock savagely against my breastbone. For a fraction of a second, I thought I was hallucinating, that my brain was playing vindictive tricks on me. My vision tunneled until all I could see was him, standing across the room—a wicked smile dancing at the corners of his lips, an island all to himself, sucking the energy out of the room. Our eyes locked and nobody existed except the two of us.

I swayed on my feet, and I realized I hadn’t taken a breath in over thirty seconds. The shock of seeing him had sucked every last molecule of air from my lungs. Numb, the champagne glass slipped from my hand, and the bubbly liquid splashed on my legs and the top of my nude-colored heels.

“Are you okay?” Evan whispered next to my ear as he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. His mouth swept across the corner of my lips and my stomach churned with acid.

I tugged at the suddenly too tight collar of my dress. “I don’t feel good. I need to sit down for a minute,” I said absently, my eyes anchored to Ryker’s in a silent battle. He looked exactly as I remembered, only better.

A black suit hugged his muscular body, barely containing his broad shoulders. Rough stubble shadowed the rugged angles of his golden skin, and my fingers itched to trace the strong line of his jaw. His gray eyes were hooded, a knowing smirk on his face. With his legs crossed at his ankles, he relaxed against the wall in a way most people would mistake for languid elegance. I knew better. He was a predator ready to attack. Conquer. Take what he wanted.

With his hand on my lower back, Evan guided me out of the room. I followed his cues for a few steps, then I froze mid-stride. “No. You stay here and talk with everyone. Both of us can’t leave the party. I’ll slip to your dad’s study and sit down for a few minutes.”

“No. I’m not leaving you.” He squeezed my arm. His fingers were like daggers digging into my skin. On some level, he probably thought I’d disappear if he didn’t keep me close. Maybe I would.

I twisted out of his grasp, and my legs moved rapidly, eating up the distance between the study and me. I didn’t know if I was running to or from Ryker, but I needed space. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes. Maybe less. Nobody will notice.”

“Hattie, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

My stomach somersaulted. He was right. Being alone wasn’t a good idea, but neither was having a full-blown panic attack in the middle of our engagement party. I painted an overly bright smile on my face, and the corners of my lips protested their disuse. I couldn’t remember the last time I had smiled. Really smiled from joy or anything that made me happy.

I pushed open one of the heavy double doors to his dad’s study. The hinge creaked. “I’ll be fine. If I’m not back in twenty minutes, you can come and get me.” I waved my hand in the direction of the camel-colored loveseat near the bay window. “I’ll be right there.”

He scrubbed his hand down the side of his face, and then kissed my forehead. “Okay.”

He turned around, and I watched until he disappeared around the corner. Then, I closed the door. When I heard the slow click of the door latch, my body sagged. Too many conflicting thoughts stumbled through my mind.

Why was Ryker here?

Did anyone know who he was?

Did he come back for me?
My heart rate spiked at the thought.

Less than five minutes later, the door cracked open.

“Evan, it hasn’t been twenty minutes,” I said without turning around.

“Hattie?”

My lungs contracted, and I rotated on my heel.

“Ryker,” I said, my voice barely a whisper as I backpedaled. “What are you doing here?”

His gray eyes glittered in the dim light as he stalked to me. Blood thundered through my veins, echoing in my ears. Every inch of my skin tingled with awareness. My nipples pebbled in anticipation of his touch.

Oh shit. This was not good.
I shook my head from side to side. My lips wobbled. I couldn’t let him touch me. If he did, I’d crumble like Humpty Dumpty. My razor-thin hold on sanity would vanish, and nothing could put me back together again.

“I wanted to see you.” His velvet voice rolled over me like a caress.

“No.” I folded my arms across my body like a shield, burrowing my fingernails into the flesh of my arms, striving to ground myself in reality. “You have to go. We agreed. You shouldn’t be here.”

“We didn’t agree on anything.” With a faint smile on his face, he reached out his hand casually. Too casually. My heart pleaded with me to grab his hand, launch myself at him, and never let go. But I didn’t. Nothing good would come of this. We couldn’t be together.

Like a broken record stuck on repeat, I continued shaking my head back and forth. “You told me to give Evan a second chance. That’s what I’m doing. If you haven’t noticed, that’s what tonight is about. This is my engagement party.” My voice trembled on the last word, showing a chink in my armor.

He planted his hands on the wall beside my head, imprisoning me. “I noticed, but I changed my mind about us…about being with you.”

His body slanted against mine until his lips were inches from my ear. I closed my eyes as his warm breath billowed along my neck, ruffling my hair. A shiver shot down my spine and goosebumps erupted on my arms.
This was bad. Really bad.

Confused and on the verge of crying, I inhaled, desperately trying to track down every last ounce of my wilting willpower, but I regretted it instantly. His spicy, sea-salt scent filled my lungs, intoxicating me, weakening my defenses. I wanted him.

I opened my eyes, and he was close. Too close. I could see every individual eyelash and the charcoal rim around his irises. “You think it’s that easy? That you can just declare you changed your mind, and I’ll run back into your open arms?”

His eyes raked over my body like a predator inspecting his prey. “I know it is. I can see it on your face. You still want me.” His lips playfully ran along the side of my neck, sucking on my pulse point, and I moaned. My brain took a leave of absence and my body went on autopilot. I unfolded my arms and looped them around his waist.

I condemned the familiarity of his touch and the sensation of his body against mine to hell. Every slide of his lips against my neck was a pleasurable form of torture. I shouldn’t crave something so toxic to my sanity, but couldn’t resist him. I never could. Time hadn’t changed my reaction to him; it only made him more potent.

The air around us crackled and buzzed with unrestrained lust. My body felt like it would go up in flames any second, even as my ego still wept from his dismissal almost four weeks ago. I was standing on the edge of the cliff waiting for him to tell me to jump.

His hands bit into my hips, drawing me against him. Hip to hip. Chest to chest. Our lips only inches apart, my breathing quickened as I waited for him to make the next move. If he kissed me, claimed me, all bets were off. Everything would change. I didn’t think I could give him up again. I’d fight for him.

“I missed you,” I whispered more to myself than him.

Then, his lips crashed against mine, and I jumped into the rabbit hole of my destruction, surrendering to my inexhaustible weakness for him. I moaned as his tongue slipped through my parted lips. His hands tunneled into my hair, tilting my head back, demanding more, and I willingly gave him everything.

His forbidden, familiar taste made me lightheaded. I wished—not for the first time—that I could take a vaccine and make myself immune to him.

To his charm.

To his smile.

To his smell.

Fuck…I missed his smell. Nobody smelled like him. It was even headier than I remembered. My senses whirled every time I inhaled. I felt as if I had tumbled head first into his bed.

He groaned, and the sound ignited a frenzy inside of both of us. Static hummed in my ears. I didn’t care that we were in my fiancé’s childhood home celebrating my engagement to another man. We could’ve been in a room full of people for all I cared. My driving need for him made me delirious and impulsive. I buried my betrayal of Evan and our engagement deep in the convoluted chambers of my mind.

I needed him. I needed this more than anything else. It had been too long. We staggered even closer to each other, and he braced his hand on the wall behind me to stop us from falling. I wanted to climb inside him and lay claim to his heart and soul, melding us together like two atoms in a nuclear fusion.

BOOK: Unveiled (Vargas Cartel #2)
11.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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