I live by three rules…
Don’t trust anyone
Don’t get involved in other people’s shit
Don’t get tangled up with a woman
The day I met her, I broke all three
I’m on the hunt for Conrado Villa. Positioning myself at the café his mother frequents, I’m hoping she’ll lead me right to him. Instead, I witness Bonnie, the beautiful café owner, walking in on a robbery. Unable to help myself, I sprint in to rescue her.
Learning this isn’t the first theft she’s endured, I realize there’s far more to this story than meets the eye.
While tracking down Conrado is my top priority, Bonnie sways my attention with a tempting offer: I keep her safe and she’ll grant me an all access pass to that luscious body of hers. Can I honor my obligations while keeping the dazzling beauty safe? Or will she be a distraction I pay for with my life?
**This is a Dark Mafia Romance containing mature themes, adult situations, and graphic violence. If you are not prepared to deal with this, please pass on the opportunity.
**The story starts with Stealing Iris, continues in Saving Bonnie, and ends in Seducing Mattie.
Lightning streaks across the night sky, illuminating a nervous face at the café across the street. As the storm continues to turn night into quick flashes of day, his gaze repeatedly darts around, searching for what he can feel but can’t see. He leans over to whisper to his partner before checking again. Fool doesn’t realize the danger isn’t on the street. I’m on the second floor of the church directly in front of him.
“What’ve you got?” Marshal Cord Marson’s voice comes across the radio.
“Burglary in progress,” his partner, Frank, replies from a car parked a block away. “Two males, mid-twenties.”
Burglars. Fumbling around in the dark, giving away their presence with every move. The skinny one moves like he’s got some experience. The heavy guy still has his cherry.
“Hold position.” Law enforcement, always dealing with nonessentials.
“What the hell, Tino?” Frank barks over the radio. “These guys are about to break into the café.”
“Aww, shit,” Cord cuts in. “What’s the status, Frank?”
“Suspects checked the door and windows. Now they’re in front of the gate, trying to look inconspicuous. Gonna wait for one to go over the fence so I can move in,” Frank reports.
“I’m on my way.” Cord’s voice comes across, a slight huff breaking his words. He’s already on the move.
“Hold. Your. Position,” I order.
“Criminal or fugitive apprehension is one of the most dangerous parts of law enforcement,” Cord starts.
Spoken like a true marshal.
“One man can’t—” Cord continues.
In the years I hunted men, tracking those who carried out atrocities, I always hunted alone. Partners get in the way, chatter creates distraction, and there’s always a clash for position. Cord thinks I’ll get involved in apprehension—this is exactly why he’s sitting on the south side of town. He’s better off watching the apartment where Conrado Villa’s buddy lives while we look out for his mother at Bomberos Café.
I’m not used to working with law, at least not honest law. With their nonstop chatter, to “keep things lively,” I’m ready to cut them both loose.
“Hold on, man,” Frank interrupts while the skinny guy goes over the three-foot fence, nearly losing his pants as he lands. The heavier one uses the chain-link as footholds and gets his shoe stuck. Hanging on the fence creates enough pressure to lift the latch, letting the gate open. Just then, Skinny realizes the gate isn’t locked.
Damn stupid criminals. Still, I can’t complain. If they weren’t so common, high-end services like the one I work for wouldn’t exist.
Frank scoffs into the radio. “I think we’re good.”
“Suuure.” Cord’s got that note in his voice that makes me want to punch him. “What’s a little B&E among friends, right?”
This stakeout is a test of my patience. If it weren’t for Dante, I’d do the world a favor and get rid of this asshole. Three days of his shit. I should put in for sainthood! If God existed, I’d believe he was fucking with me, I muse while lying in the balcony of the Catholic church across the street from the café. Thanks to a “generous donation,” the area has been blocked off, so I can stay hidden while waiting. Intel has Olga Villa coming by at least once or twice a week, but so far, she’s a no-show.
“Building’s empty,” I remind them. Bonnie Bustos, or Bunny, as Iris and Dante call her, is out. She’s not due back for at least a couple of hours. “They’re gonna head toward Frank. He can stop ’em then.” Though Frank’s got a badge, he understands what goes on at the border and why we do the things we do. “Just don’t fuck with my stakeout.”
“Yes, sir, sir,” Cord replies with condescension.
Great. Now I’ll have to deal with Cord being an asshole for hours.
“You call if you need a hand, bud.” The last part is obviously not for me.
“Nah, they’re punks,” Frank adds, dismissing the offer. “Shouldn’t need more than a Taser.”
“Great. Don’t want Ms. Bonnie Boo-hooin’ if they take anything.”
The first inklings of exasperation hit me. I’ve spent three days listening to his bullshit about Bonnie. He’s been playing up her name way past the joke dying. It started with Busty then Busty’s got back. Frank had to tell him her name’s pronounced boo-stows. So he started on Bonnie Boo, needing a boo, and now he graduated to Busty’s got boo-ty. Not that the guy’s wrong—on any account. Just the sight of the woman will remind any man he’s alive.
Though if he figures out she goes by Bunny and starts on that, I’m going to kill him.
A light suddenly stretches along the ground like a beacon in the pitch-black night. Dumb and dumber must have gotten through the door.
My phone vibrates in my pocket. I have half a mind to ignore it, but Frank may want to go offline. Reaching for it, I pull the screen around to see who’s on the line. Kassy, our IT and security specialist. Frowning, I hit the home button.
“You all right?” she asks, getting straight to the point.
“Yeah.” I check the area again, in case I missed something. “Why?”
“Montoya got one of his vibes, and—”
“Oh-oh,” Frank exaggerates the syllables. What the hell is going on now? “We got a problem,” he confirms.
Gathering patience, I force a question between clenched teeth. “What?”
“She’s back.” Grabbing the binoculars, I focus on the car coming in at the end of the street. Sure enough, the electric-blue Mini Cooper has a damn Uber sticker on the windshield.
It’s times like this where Montoya disturbs my goddamn calm. How the hell can Dante’s business partner be ahead of us when he’s on the ranch a couple hundred miles away?
“I have movement,” Frank announces. “They left a lookout in the car. Guy’s on the phone, likely giving a heads-up.”
The Uber stops in front of the café, and the driver fully turns in his seat. The door opens, and a pair of white, high-heeled sandals pops out above the door, held by Miss Bonnie herself. White ruffled top, little peach shorts that hug her ass, and some lime-green foam sandals they use for pedicures.
The fucking driver takes his time pulling away, checking his mirrors for one last look at Miss Bustos’s assets. Fuck if I don’t want to just go push the car down the street on my own.
“What’s happening?” Kassy whispers.
“Two guys in the building, and she’s back early.”
“Oh damn. Why is she early?” Her nails do a rapid-fire tap across the keyboard then come to a sudden stop. “Baka! Forgot, there’s no security system. I’m blind,” she finishes, sounding helpless. Kassy did the research on Bonnie. Every Sunday, Bonnie takes an Uber to her mom’s house, coming home after ten o’clock. For whatever reason, she chooses today to break routine.
“So what are we doing?” Frank drops a tangled mess on my shoulders.
I don’t break protocol—ever. It’s kept me alive, and from being discovered, for all these years.
A shadow of unease settles over me, driving me to check on Miss Bonnie. She’s Iris’s best friend, practically a sister. And Iris, one of the few people I give a damn about, lost her mother and still has to deal with her missing father. Not sure how she’ll take losing someone else, especially when I could prevent it. Instinct kicks in as I spring up, turn on my heel, and fly down the stairs then jump across to the next landing.
“Got your back.” Frank’s voice comes in low and meaningful. I know I can count on him to watch what he says around Cord.
I’m breaking cover. If this goes wrong, neither of them can be involved. I jam the earbud in as I bust through the door and streak across the street. “May need you.”
“Got ya,” Kassy gives a curt acknowledgment as a disgruntled cat complains in the background.
I grip the top bar and kick off of the body of the fence. Redirecting my momentum, I’m in the air, hurdling the fence. Gravel. Unexpected, but I stick the landing, and I’m clear. Drizzle starts to fall. Perfect, what else can go wrong? Hopefully, with the rain, anyone in the area will decide to stay in tonight. If not, Frank’s gonna have to step up for as long as he can.
“Maybe they’ll hear her and run off,” Kassy suggests hopefully.
I dash along the side of the building, through the parking area, but somehow I know that isn’t gonna happen. The closer I get, the more my gut is screaming at me that things are gonna go sideways.
I sidle along the edge of the kitchen, blending into the darkness, and peer into the corner of the window. The jerkoffs are across the building, in the dining area, facing me. Bonnie’s in the kitchen, frozen in place as Skinny raises a Beretta nine mil, by the looks of it. “Never killed anyone before.” He grins and looks Bunny over as if he’s got a prize coming.
“Call maintenance,” I mutter to Kassy. “I’m going to work.”
They say when you’re about to die, your life flashes in front of your eyes. I got nothing. For me, it’s just tunnel vision.
I can’t see the kitchen, where I spend the first two hours of the day, even though I’m standing in it. Objects fade, colors are blending together, and everything in the background goes dark. Little by little, the world closes in, creating a halo around the muzzle of the gun pointed at me. My own personal Bond moment.
“Hey, man.” Another voice. There’s two of them. “Nah. Nah. Don’t do that.”
Yeah, what he said. I’ve joked about being found dead in my kitchen, but that was from working myself into an early grave, not this. My tombstone will read Here lies Bonnie Bustos and her rolling pin because she never gave herself time for a life.
I could have driven to the casino with Mom, but no, I was afraid Manny and Noah would have an issue in the morning since we’re shorthanded. The church crowd can be brutal. You’d think people would be more understanding after spending an hour contemplating their sins.
The world comes into focus, and the guy with the gun grins. Hot, humid air rushes in behind me like a tidal wave. My stomach turns. Oh God. I’m going to hell.
The grin disappears as his eyes shift away from me and widen. He’s focusing somewhere behind me, and the color is draining from his narrow face.
Pain explodes along my left side. I’m falling. Then an odd noise sounds next to me. Pop-pop, like an old plastic water bottle being crushed. My life turns to slow motion, and I swear I’ve been falling for the longest time.
He stares into the distance then down at himself. A red spot pops up in the middle of his chest, growing longer, then another appears right beside it. He stumbles, and a shot rings out.
Horrified, I clutch at my arm and chest, but I’m clean. I turn, expecting a line of blood smeared along the wall to where I’m sitting. Nothing. No signs of injury anywhere on me.
Someone’s yelling in the next room. Shuffling. Thump.
A shadow falls over me, and I glance up, up, up to find what scared the robber. Lord, the demon’s tall.
Dark jeans, legs moving in a purposeful stride as he passes me. The long-sleeved, black shirt hugs his body, outlining the muscles at his biceps. One hand is stretched toward me, the other is holding a huge gun. I can only see a bit of his profile, but he’s the image of a real-life terminator.
“Stay down,” he orders, without turning in my direction. His voice is calm, eerily so. If I could manage any words, I’d say yes, but he doesn’t seem to need the affirmation.
Meanwhile, the bell over the entrance chimes as the front door opens. The metal bolt on the screen door slams, but I can’t hear much else over the blood rushing through my system. A second later, tires screech, and a loud thunk filters in from outside.
“Goddammit.” Though the curse sounds more like annoyance than anger. The vehicle peels out, going way too fast. He must have jumped in a car and gotten away, leaving his buddy to his fate.
“She scared them off,” the demon in the next room declares. Confused, I search around me for whomever he’s talking to. With no one else in sight, I grab the table and haul myself up.
The dining area goes dark, and I freeze, unable to see a thing. What little strength I mustered is fizzling, leaving me weak.
“Told you,” comes a hollow voice. “Punks.” The beep tells me he’s on a handheld radio. They go off often enough when the immigration guys come in from the bridge. So, who is the man in black? And why is he here?
A moment later, he strides through the dining area. One arm is stretched behind him, dragging someone by the foot. So, he didn’t get away.
My eyes widen as the guy on the floor is yanked past the doorway, leaving a dark trail. It happened so fast, you’d think this is a horror movie and he’s the victim taken by an unseen, sinister force.
“I really need to get off Netflix.” I manage to steady myself on the table. My nice stainless steel table I was finally able to buy so I can roll out flour tortillas in the morning. That was before I learned I’m broke. Realization slams into me. After this, who’s going to come? This will become known as the place where two guys were killed. My stomach clenches, and I bring my palm to cover my mouth.
My breath rushes out, and my mind flips through images like I’m swiping through the camera roll on my phone. The dishwasher I need to replace, the dent on the commercial freezer door that got me a discount, containers prepped for service, tortillas cooking on the plancha, and the deliveries shipped in from across the border twice a week.
This is the flashback of my life? Should I be upset or disappointed? I reach for the wall because everything’s shaking, or maybe I am. Why didn’t I stay on the floor?
A strong arm reaches around me, anchoring on my waist to hold me steady. “I got you,” he murmurs against the side of my forehead. “You’re okay.” But as I weave, leaning into him, I’m not so sure. “She’s fine,” he says in a curt statement. That’s right, he’s on the radio with someone, but there’s no beep. How many people is he talking to? “The adrenaline’s hitting her.” He pauses. “No, I pushed her out of the way. The shot came later, but his arm jerked, and it hit the ceiling as he was going down.”
My face is buried in his chest, and the rest of me is holding on for dear life. Absently, I focus on the space between the buttons on his shirt. The spot beneath my cheek is just warm, hard muscle. He walked in front of a gun, and he isn’t wearing a bullet proof vest.
“Maybe you are a terminator.”
His chest hitches, like he’s suppressing a laugh. I must have said that out loud.