Stone Cold Undercover Agent

Harlequin Intrigue

(Gabby Torres & Jaime Alessandro)

This undercover FBI agent is her last, most dangerous chance.  

Jaime Alessandro fears he’s been undercover too long. Now his only shot at destroying one of Texas’s largest crime organizations is Gabriella Torres—a “gift” from The Stallion and his longest-held captive. Her inside info and inspired moves are helping Jaime take the gang apart. But what he’s starting to feel for the brilliant, tough-minded Gabriella could get them worse than dead…

Gabriella learned early to put her emotions on lockdown. She has no reason to trust Jaime. But every moment together, every stolen glance, kindles a desire she hungers to explore. And now trust is the only weapon they dare risk—even if it proves lethal.

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Chapter One

Gabby Torres had stopped counting the days of her captivity once it entered its sixth year. She didn’t know why that was the year that did it. The first six had been painful and isolating and horrifying. She had lost everything. Her family. Her future. Her freedom.

The only thing she currently had was…life itself, which, in her case, wasn’t much of a life when it came right down to it.

For the first four years of her abduction, she’d fought like a maniac. Anyone and anything that came near her—she’d attacked. Every time her captor got up close and told her some horrible thing, she’d fought in a way she had never known she could.

Maybe if the man hadn’t so gleefully told her that her father was dead two years into her captivity, she might have eventually gotten tired of fighting. She might have accepted her fate as being some madman’s kidnapping victim. But every time he appeared, she remembered how happily he had told her that her father had suffered a heart attack and died. It renewed her fight every single time.

But the oddest part of the eight years of captivity was that, though she’d been beaten on occasion in the midst of fighting back, mostly The Stallion and his men hadn’t ever forced themselves on her or the other girls.

For years she’d wondered why and tried to figure out their reasoning…what their point was. Why she was there. Aside from the random jobs The Stallion forced her and the other girls to do, like sew bags of drugs into car cushions or what have you.

But she was in year eight and tired of trying to figure out why she was there or what the point of it was. She was even tired of thinking about escape.

She’d been the first girl brought to the compound and, over the years, The Stallion had collected three more women. All currently existing in this boarded-up house in who knew where. Gabby had become something like the den mother as the new girls tried to figure out why they were there, or what they had done wrong, or what The Stallion wanted from them, but Gabby herself was done with wondering.

She had moved on. After she’d stopped counting every single day at year six, the past two years had been all about making this a reality. She kept track of Sundays for the girls and noted when a month or two had passed, but she had accepted this tiny, hidden-away compound as her life. The women were as much of a family as she was ever going to have, and the work The Stallion had them doing to hide drugs or falsify papers was her career.

Accepting at this point was all she could do. If sometimes her brain betrayed her as she tried to fall asleep, or one of the girls muttered something about escape, she pushed it down and out as far as it would go.

Hope was a cancer here. All she had was acceptance.

So when just another uncounted day rolled around and The Stallion, for the first time in all of those days, brought a man with him into her room, Gabby felt an icy pierce of dread hit her right in the chest.

Though she’d accepted her fate, she hadn’t accepted him. Perhaps because no matter how eight some years had passed, or how he might disappear for months at a time, or the fact he never touched her, he seemed intent on making her break.

Quite honestly, some days that’s what kept her going. Making sure he never knew he’d broken her of hope.

So, though she had accepted her lot—or so she told herself—she still dreamed of living longer than him and airing all his dirty laundry. Outliving him and making sure he knew he had never, ever broken her. She very nearly smiled at the thought of him dead and gone. “So, who are you?”

The man who stood next to The Stallion was tall, broad, and covered in ominous black. Black hair—both shaggy on his head and bearded on his face—black sunglasses, black shirt and jeans. Even the weapons, mostly guns, he had strapped all over him were black. Only his skin tone wasn’t black, though it was a dark olive hue.

“I told you she was a feisty one. Quite the fiery little spitball. She’ll be perfect for you,” The Stallion said, his smile wide and pleased with himself.

The icy-cold dread in Gabby’s chest delved deeper, especially as this new man stared at her from somewhere behind his sunglasses. Why was he wearing sunglasses in this dark room? It wasn’t like she had any outside light peering through the boarded window.

He murmured something in Spanish. But Gabby had never been fluent in her grandparents’ native language and she could barely pick out any of the words since he’d spoken them so quickly and quietly.

The Stallion’s cold grin widened even further. “Yes. Have lots of fun with her. She’s all yours. Just remember the next time I ask you for a favor that I gave you exactly what you specified. Enjoy.”

The Stallion slid out of the room, and the ominous click of the door’s lock nearly made Gabby jump when no sounds and nothing in her life had made her jump for nearly two years.

While The Stallion’s grin was very nearly…psychotic, as though he’d had some break with reality, the man still in her room was far scarier. He didn’t smile in a way that made her think he was off in some other dimension. His smile was… Lethal. Ruthless. Alive.

It frightened her and she had given up fear a very long time ago.

“You don’t speak Spanish?” he asked with what sounded almost like an exaggerated accent. It didn’t sound like any of the elderly people in her family who’d grown up in Mexico, but then, maybe his background wasn’t Mexican.

“No, not really. And apparently you speak English, so we don’t have a problem.”

“I guess that depends on your definition of problem,” he said, his voice low and laced with threat.

What Gabby wanted to do was to scoot back on the bed as far into the corner as she possibly could, but she had learned not to show her initial reactions. She had watched The Stallion get far too much joy out of her flight responses in the beginning, and she’d learned to school them away. So even though she thought about it, even though she pictured it in her head complete with covering her face with her hands and cowering, she didn’t do it. She stayed exactly where she was and stared the man down.

He perused the bedroom that had been her life for so long. Oh, she could go anywhere in the small, boarded-up house, but she’d learned to appreciate her solitude even in captivity.

The man opened the dresser drawers and pawed through them. He inspected the baseboards and slid his large, scarred hands up and down the walls. He even pulled at the boards over the windows.

“Measuring for drapes?” she asked as sarcastically as she could manage.

The man looked at her, still wearing his sunglasses, which she didn’t understand at all. His lips curved into an amused smile. It made Gabby even more jumpy because, usually, the guards The Stallion had watching them weren’t the brightest. Or maybe they’d had such rough lives they didn’t care for humor of any kind. Either way, very few people, including the women she lived with, found her humor funny.

He was back to his perusal and there was a confident grace about him that made no sense to her. He wasn’t like any of the other men she’d come into contact with during her captivity. He was handsome, for starters. She couldn’t think of one guard who could probably transfer from a life of crime into a life of being a model, but this man definitely could.

It made all of her nerves hum. It gave her that little tingle that mysteries always did—the idea that if she paid enough attention, filed enough details away, she could solve it. Figure out why he was different before he did her any harm.

She’d begun to wonder if she hadn’t gone a little crazy when she noticed these things no one else seemed to. She was pretty sure Tabitha thought she was out of her mind for having theories about The Stallion’s drug and human trafficking operations. For coming up with a theory that he spent three months there and split the other seasons at three other houses that would ostensibly be just like this one.

She’d been here for eight years and she knew his patterns. She was sure of it. Things puzzled together in her head until it all made sense. But the girls all looked at her like she was crazy for coming up with such ideas, so she’d started keeping them to herself. She’d started trying to stop her brain from acting.

But it always did and maybe she had gone completely and utterly insane. Eight years ago her life had been ripped away from her, but she didn’t even get to be dead. She had to be here living in this weird purgatory.

Wouldn’t that drive anyone to the brink of insanity? Maybe her patterns and theories were gibberish.

Finally the man had looked through everything in the room except her bed where she was currently sitting. He advanced on her with easy, relaxed strides that did nothing to calm the tenseness in her muscles or the heavy beating of her heart. She couldn’t remember the last time in her captivity she’d felt so afraid.

He didn’t say anything and she couldn’t see his eyes underneath the sunglasses, so whatever he was thinking or feeling was a blank-expressioned mystery.

Finally after a few humming seconds, he lifted a long finger up to the ceiling. She frowned at him and he made the gesture again until she realized he wanted her to get off the bed.

Since most of the guards’ preferred way of getting her to do something was to grab her and throw her around, she supposed she should feel more calm with this man who hadn’t yet touched her.

But she wasn’t calm. She didn’t trust him at all.

She did get up off the bed and, instead of scurrying away, tried to measure her steps and very carefully move to the farthest corner from him.

The man lifted every single blanket on her bed and then, in an easy display of muscles, the heavy mattress and box spring, as well. He got down on all fours and looked under the bed and, finally, she realized he was searching for something in particular.

She just had no idea what on earth he could be looking for.

“No bugs?”

She stared at him. What, did he have some weird fear of ladybugs or ants or something? Then she realized the intensity with which he was staring at her and recalled how carefully he had looked through every inch of this little room. Yeah, he wasn’t looking for insects.

“I’ve been here for eight years. As far as I know, he’s never bugged or videotaped individual rooms.”

The man raised his eyebrows. “But he films other rooms?”

Gabby trusted this man almost less than she trusted The Stallion, which was not at all. She offered a careless shrug. The last thing she was going to do was to share all of her ideas and information with this stranger.

“Tell me about your time here.”

There was a gentleness to his tone that didn’t fool her at all. “Tell me who you are.”

He smiled again, an oddly attractive smile that was so out of place in this dire situation. “The Stallion told me you’d be exactly what I was looking for. I don’t think he knew just how perfect you’d be.”

“Perfect for what?” she demanded, trying to keep the high-pitched fear out of her voice.

“Well, he thinks you’d be the perfect payment. A high-spirited fighter—the kind of woman who would appeal to my baser instincts.”

This time Gabby couldn’t stop herself from pushing back into the corner or cowering. For the first year she’d been held captive, she’d been sure she’d be sexually assaulted. She’d never heard about an abduction that hadn’t included that, not that she’d had any deep knowledge of abductions before.

But no one had ever touched her that way and she’d finally gotten to a point where she didn’t think it would happen. That was her own stupid fault for thinking this could be her normal.

The man finally took off his sunglasses. His eyes were almost as dark as his hair, a brown that was very nearly black. Everything about his demeanor changed; the swagger, the suave charm, gone.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said in a low voice.

Maybe if she hadn’t been a captive for eight years, she might have believed him. But she didn’t, not for a second.

“You’re just going to need to play along,” he continued in that maddeningly gentle voice.

“Play along with what?” she asked, pushing as far into the corner as she could.

“You’ll see.”

Gabby wanted to cry, which had been an impulse she’d beaten out of herself years ago, but it was bubbling up inside her along with the new fear. It wasn’t fair. She was so tired of her life not being fair.

When the man reached out for her, she went with those instincts from the very first time she’d been brought there.

She fought him with everything she had.

Jaime Alessandro hadn’t worked his way up “The Stallion’s” operation by being a particularly nice guy. Undercover work, especially this long and this deep, had required him to bend a lot of the moral codes he’d started police work with.

But thus far, he’d never had to beat up or restrain a woman. This woman was surprisingly agile and strong, and she was coming at him with everything she had.

He was very concerned he was going to have to hurt her just to get her to stop. He could stand a few scratches, but he doubted The Stallion was going to trust him with the next big job if he let this woman give him a black eye—no matter how strong and “feisty” she was.

God, how he hated that word.

“Ma’am.” He tried for his forceful FBI agent voice as he managed to hold one of her arms still. He didn’t want to hurt the poor woman who’d been here eight years—a fact he only knew because she’d just told him.

He shouldn’t have been surprised at this point. He’d learned very quickly in his undercover work that what the FBI had on Victor Callihan, a.k.a The Stallion, was only the tip of the iceberg.

If he thought about it too much, the things The Stallion had done, the things Jaime had done to get here… Well, he didn’t, because he’d had to learn how to turn that voice of right and wrong off and focus only on the task at hand.

Bringing down The Stallion.

That meant if she didn’t stop flailing at him and landing some decent blows, he was going to have to restrain her any way he could, even if it caused her some pain.

Though he had her arm clamped in a tight grip, she still thrashed and kicked at him, very nearly landing a blow that would have brought him to his knees. He swore and, though he very much didn’t want to, gave her a little jerk that gave him the leverage he needed to grab her from behind with both arms.

She still bucked and kicked, but with his height advantage and a full grip on her upper body, he could maneuver her this way and that to keep her from landing any nasty hits.

“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to help you, I promise.”

She spat, probably aiming for him but missing completely since he had her from behind. It was only then he realized he’d spoken in Spanish instead of English.

He’d grown up speaking both, but his work for The Stallion and the identity he’d assumed required mostly speaking Spanish and pretending he struggled with English.

It was slipups like that—not realizing what language he was speaking, not quite remembering who he was—that always sent a cold bolt of fear through him.

He needed this to be over. He needed to get out. Before he lost himself completely. He could only hope that Gabriella Torres would be the last piece of the puzzle in getting to the heart of The Stallion’s operation.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jaime said in a low, authoritative tone. Certain, self-assured, even though he didn’t feel much of either at this particular moment.

“Then let go of me,” she returned, still bucking, throwing her head back and narrowly missing head-butting him pretty effectively.

He tried not to think about what might have happened to her in the course of being way too long hidden from the world. It was a constant fight between the human side of him and the role he had to play. He wouldn’t lose his humanity though. He refused. He might have to bend his moral code from time to time, but he wouldn’t lose the part of him that would feel sympathy. If he lost that, he’d never be able to go back.

Jaime noted that though Gabriella still fought his tight hold, she was tiring.

“Be still and I’ll let you go,” he said quietly, hoping that maybe his outer calm would rub off on her.

She tried to land a heel to his shin but when that failed she slumped in his arms. “Fine.”

Carefully and slowly, paying attention to the way she held herself and the pliancy of her body, Jaime released her from his grip. Since she didn’t renew her fight, he took a few steps away so she could see he had no intention of hurting her.

When she turned and looked at him warily, he held his hands up. Her breathing was labored and there were droplets of sweat gathered at her temples. She had a pretty face despite the pallor beneath her tan complexion. She had a mass of dark curls pulled back and away from her face, and he had to wonder how old she was.

She looked both too young and too world-weary all at the same time, but he couldn’t let that twist his insides. He’d seen way worse at this point, hadn’t he? “I’m not going to harm you, Gabriella. In fact, I want to help you.”

She laughed, something bitter and scathing that scraped against what little conscience he had left.

“Sure you do, buddy. And this is the Taj Mahal.”

Yeah, she’d be perfect for what he needed. Now he just had to figure out how to use her without blowing everything he’d worked for.