“Hey, baby, where are you?” Quinn Hamilton merged into traffic going south on interstate 405 toward Huntington Beach, California.
“I’m still in Mexico, about an hour from the airport. God, I’ve missed you. It’s …”
When Alandra’s voice faded, Quinn thought the call had dropped. “Alandra? Hello?” He fiddled with the steering wheel’s volume control in his Escalade truck. “Hello? Lan?”
“Hey, I’m still here. The reception is awful. What I was saying is that it’s good to hear your voice. I’ve missed you.”
“Yeah, baby, me too. I can’t wait to see you. I have big plans for you tonight.”
“Mmm, I love it when you talk dirty, Papi. Tengo planes grandes para ti tambien.”
Quinn laughed. “Girl, don’t play with me. Somehow, I doubt your plans for me are as big as my plans for you. I already don’t think I’ll be able to control myself. We have five weeks to make up for.”
“I know, and I’m going to make it worth your while.”
“Oh, yeah, now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.” He’d just arrived in L.A. after spending a month in the jungles of Belize on a mission, and he needed some relaxation. He drove a little faster, anxious to get to his vacation home overlooking the Pacific Ocean where he and Alandra would spend the next five days in seclusion.
“I just hope I don’t miss my plane. Traffic is literally inching along,” Alandra said.
“Was there an accident or something?”
“I’m not sure. I’m still a ways back, but hold on. Let me step out and see if I can tell what’s going on.” Seconds later Quinn heard her say, “Oh crap.”
“There’s a road block or checkpoint ahead. They’re stopping people, and it looks like they’re searching cars. No wonder traffic is backed up.”
Quinn swore under his breath. He didn’t like the sound of that. A former Navy SEAL and now a special operative for the U.S. government, he was suspicious of anything that involved spot-checking cars, especially in Guerrero, one of the most violent states in Mexico.
“I know you know this, but make sure you’re in the far right lane, or whichever lane you can use to make the quickest exit. They’re looking for something…or someone. Are they federales?”
“I don’t know yet, but I should be able to tell when I get a little closer.”
“Lan, please tell me Harry didn’t put you on an assignment that has anything to do with dr—”
“Okay, I won’t tell you.”
Damn. Why the hell would he send her there by herself if it involved anything with drugs? As one of the CIA’s best counterintelligence agents, Alandra Pargas, could take care of herself, but that didn’t stop him from worrying about her or hating her job. Alandra’s boss, director Harry O’Brien, a total jerk in Quinn’s opinion, had given her the assignment that landed her in Mexico off and on for the past few months.
“Q, I will tell you this though. Something strange happened yesterday.”
“Strange like what?”
“Well, maybe not strange, but unnerving. Yesterday morning there was a scuffle across the street from my apartment. I looked out the window and three men were roughing up this kid, who was maybe…oh, I don’t know, seventeen or eighteen. Anyway, the kid handed over some money, but they kept saying ‘Where’s the rest of it? Where’s the rest of it?’ It definitely sounded like it was drug related.”
“Did either of them see you?”
“At first I didn’t think so. I had grabbed my camera so that I could get a better look and when I zoomed in, I recognized one of the men as being my neighbor, Tomás. Now this is where it got strange. A few hours later, I left my apartment, and he was standing against the wall outside my door.”
“Alandra, I don’t like this shit. Did he say anything to you?”
Seconds passed before she spoke. “He said, ‘I know who you are,’ and then he walked away.”
“What?” Quinn yelled. “Are you saying your cover is blown?”
“As far as I know, it’s not. I’ve only used the name, Selena McKenzie, since I first arrived.
There’s no way he could know my real name. I think he was just trying to scare me.”
Well, he sure as hell scared Quinn. “I can’t stand you being so far away by yourself.”
“Aww, are you worried about me? Will you come looking for me if I’m not at our secret rendezvous spot on time?”
He never thought he’d ever feel this way about a woman, but he’d move heaven and earth to get to her. “You just get here. We’ll talk more about this Tomás guy when I see you.”
The fine hairs on the back of his neck rose with those two words.
“What’s wrong?” He slowed down, not realizing he was going ninety miles an hour. “What’s going on, Lan?”
“I have a serious problem. I’m using the zoom on my camera and though there are a few cars ahead of me, from here it looks like the federales and some other men are showing my photo. And …oh damn, Tomás is one of them.”
Quinn swerved over to the shoulder of the highway and parked. “I need you to listen to me very carefully. Tell me exactly where you are. Tell me everything you see. Then you need to get the hell out of there.”
“I’m surrounded by cars. I can’t drive out of this mess.”
He heard rustling - and then, nothing. “Alandra!”
“I’m here. I’m here. I’m putting my camera away and gathering my stuff from the back seat.”
“All right, now tell me how many federales, or whoever the hell they are do you see? Are they carrying weapons? And where are you? Baby, I need as much information as you can give me before you exit that car.”
“Q, there’s no time.”
“Tell me, dammit!”
“Okay. Okay. I’m on Zihuatanejo, a two-lane highway going north. There’s a gas station, Pemex, and a storage unit next to it that has a lot of tires outside near the street. I see a half-wall on my right with advertisement of some sort. There are about six men going from car to car, two per car. Some are carrying machine guns and all are wearing military uniforms. Some look like federales, but the ones with purple bands around their left arms look harder…more dangerous. There are several SUVs with dark windows parked on the side of the road, near the checkpoint. Quinn, I have to get out now, or I’ll miss my opportunity.”
He darted back into traffic. A short distance ahead, he exited and returned to the interstate. He had to get back to the airport. Thank God, she had the phone he’d given her. The one with the tracking device his friend had invented. He’d be able to track her if the worst happened. But his goal was to make sure the worst didn’t happen.
“I’m glad you’re on the phone I gave you. Keep it on and put it in your pocket or somewhere I can still hear you.”
“But if I’m caught and they find it… it’ll lead back to you.”
“Don’t worry about it. Once we figure out exactly where you are, we’ll take care of the phone on this end.”
“Alandra, baby, please, just leave it on. Every so often I want you to shout out where you are or what you see.” He knew all of her training would kick in once she hit the ground running, but that didn’t keep him from worrying about her safety.
“Got it,” she whispered. “And Quinn, I love you.”
“I love you too, and I will find you.”