Reckoning for the Dead
Book #4 (2011) of the Sweet Justice Series
But Alexa Marlowehis ex-lover and most trusted agentisn't buying it.
Overnight, a new leader has mysteriously assumed control of the elite vigilante organization, a man Alexa Marlowe can't afford to trust. In search of Garrett and the truth, she goes rogue and off the grid, following a deadly trail that leads into Mexico, behind the fortress walls of a murderous drug cartel boss. Alone, Alexa has no one to watch her back, not even her new partner, Jessie.
Ex-bounty hunter, Jessie Beckett, has troubles of her own. Her world is turned upside down when her DNA turns up as evidence in a gruesome murder committed when Jessie was only a child, before her life was shattered by an infamous killer. Solving a very cold case may hold the key to who she really is or kill the only memory she has of a woman she believes is her mother.
For Alexa and Jessie, the dead must have a reckoning.
Read an excerpt.
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Praise for Reckoning For The Dead
"Reckoning for the Dead is vintage Jordan Dane with street savvy women who deliver justice with plenty of kick."
—Iron Mountain Daily News
"Jordan Dane crafts nail-biting thrillers. 21st Noir with guts, heart, and a wicked sense of humor."
—Jonathan Maberry, New York Times Bestseller
"A wonderful author who sets you up on a roller-coaster, rising, falling, twisting—she's not to be missed!"
—Heather Graham, New York Times Bestseller
"Reckoning for the Dead by Jordan Dane is a breathtaking blend of mystery, surprise and heart pounding adventure. A polished gem of riveting romantic suspense. A winner for fans of Tami Hoag, Andrea Kane, and Lisa Gardner."
El Paso, Texas—Nearly Midnight
After he'd sent a text message on his cell phone, twelve year old Ruben de los Santos did as he'd been ordered to do. He followed the man from a safe distance as he left the cantina, heading for his car. The parking lot was down two blocks and around a corner if the man stuck to the well-lighted streets. If he knew of the short cut, he would use the alley.
That's what Ruben prayed he would do.
When the stranger looked over his shoulder, Ruben ducked into the shadows of a doorway and waited until it was safe to move. With his heart racing, he counted to five before he emerged from the shadows. By the time he did, the man was gone.
"Ay, Dios mio," the boy muttered, with his eyes alert.
Ruben looked down the lit street and saw no sign of the man, but when he turned toward the alley, he caught a glimpse of movement. It had to be him.
He ducked into the alley and stepped up his pace to catch the man. When he got to the end of the alleyway, he stopped and held his breath. Slowly he inched closer to the corner and peered into the darkness.
That's when a hand grabbed his shirt collar and pulled him off his feet.
"Please ... don't hurt me," he begged.
Ruben covered his face with his hands and raised his voice higher, sounding more like the boy he was.
"Why are you following me, kid?"
The tall muscular man kept a hold of him. His body was cast in nothing more than a bluish haze. Ruben couldn't see his face. And although the boy felt the heat of the man's breath on his cheek, he tried not to be afraid.
Ruben de los Santos wasn't alone.
"You will see soon enough, senor." The boy forced a smile with courage he didn't feel.
The big man released his grip on Ruben and pulled away. He reached for his weapon, but it was too late. Members of Ruben's gang emerged from the shadows like ghosts rising from the grave. The stranger was surrounded.
"Who are you? And what do you want?" the man demanded. He aimed his weapon into the crowd, shifting his barrel from face to face. He was outnumbered and outgunned.
"Lower your weapon, pendejo. You will not be asked a second time." Arturo, one of the older boys, stepped forward and held his gun sideways, aiming between the man's eyes. Ruben held his breath, unable to take his eyes off the two men. If one of them fired, many would die. And Ruben had no doubt he would get caught in the crossfire.
In a stand-off, neither man backed down until the one Ruben had trailed into the alley finally lowered his weapon. The boy let out a ragged breath and made a quick sign of the cross, but it wasn't over.
After they'd taken the man's weapon, every gang member of Los Chupacabras beat and kicked the stranger until he dropped to the asphalt.
After he was down, lying unconscious and bleeding on the ground, Ruben searched his pockets for his wallet. He pulled out the few hundred dollars he had in cash and gave it to Arturo, the boy in charge. And Ruben got a look at the man's driver's license and saw his name and where he lived.
"I'll need that." Arturo held out his hand. "Cash is ours, but his ID goes with me."
One of the other boys pulled a van into the alley. They loaded the wounded man into the back and carried out the rest of their orders. The man was to be brought across the Mexican border and delivered to someone linked to the Perez cartel in Juarez. Ruben's gang in El Paso had powerful connections on the other side of the border, men who supplied them with drugs to sell. And in return, Los Chupacabras carried out execution-style killings, acted as drug mules, and bartered for weapons with their brother organization. It was why Ruben had taken the risk to follow an armed man into the alley.
He had passed his initiation. The unconscious man in the back of the van had been his ticket in, but what the American from New York City had done to piss off the cartel and earn him a one-way trip across the border, Ruben didn't know.
And didn't care.
Outside Ciudad Juárez, Mexico—Three Hours Later
The footsteps of Ramon Guerrero echoed as he walked the shadowy corridors of the rancho, guided by the meager light from flickering torches. The old hacienda belonged to his family, handed down through the generations. Although it had no electricity and its only source of water was an old well on the property, it served its purpose to shelter him and his men. It had been a good location to hide the many hostages that were held for ransom as a funding source for his drug operation. And being remote, the ranch enabled him to carry out the unsavory side of cartel business without anyone knowing what went on behind his adobe walls.
An armed guard stood at the end of the long passage. The man had been slouched in a chair, but now stood at attention as Guerrero approached.
In his native tongue, he asked the guard, "Has he admitted anything of value?"
The man only shook his head.
"Then it is my turn. Unlock the door," he ordered. The guard did as he was told.
A dark silhouette of a man was backlit by moonlight from the only barred window with eerie shadows undulating against the wall, cast from a single torch. The hostage had been stripped of his clothes. Completely naked, he sagged by the weight of his own body, hanging from a metal bar. Ropes cut into his wrists and blood had drained down his arms. Deep contusions were visible on his taut belly and ribcage, an aftermath of the beatings he had endured before and after he'd been delivered to the hacienda.
In the corner of the cell was a wooden bucket. Guerrero picked it up and threw dirty water at his prisoner.
"Ah," the man groaned and tried lifting his head without much success.
"My name is Ramon," he said in English. "Your fate is in my hands."
Guerrero grimaced at his lack of respect.
"You will make it there well before me. I can assure you."
When Guerrero got close, he held his breath. The stench of blood and other distasteful smells made it hard to breathe. He grabbed the man's dark hair and yanked his head back. The prisoner's face was battered and bleeding. And one eye was swollen shut. Guerrero had allowed his men first crack at the hostage.
The man had brought unwanted interest. He'd been asking too many questions across the U. S. border in El Paso, calling attention to Guerrero's Juarez operation. After receiving reliable intel from a number of sources, Guerrero figured he had an edge to exploit that could expand his reach. He gave the order to take the man alive and deliver him, and any identification he had on him, to his gate. Perhaps the hostage would be his way of gaining more power within the cartel.
Like many, Guerrero had ambitions. The hostage had crossed his path for a reason. His appearance could not merely be chalked up to good fortune. He preferred to think of the opportunity as his fate, his much deserved due.
"I am surprised you took such a risk. Did you not think we would find out what you were doing in Texas? Did you think being across the border would protect you?" Guerrero walked around the naked man, taking in every old scar that marred his body. One scar in particular had caught his eye. No doubt, the man had seen his share of fights, but the prominent burn scar on his back had betrayed him. And given what Guerrero already knew, he had enough to get what he wanted, without the man's cooperation. It was one thing to have the man's ID, but quite another to truly know who he was and what he did for a living.
"Surely someone of..." He paused for effect. "...your stature would have others to take such risk."
The hostage flinched only for a second, but Guerrero was certain he'd seen a reaction.
"I don't know...w-what you're t-talking about."
"That doesn't matter. Not anymore." He leaned closer and whispered. "You see, I know who you are...who you really are. And that will be enough to get me what I want."
"You don't know shit, Raymond."
"The name is Ramon." He gritted his teeth at the man's insolence. "And if you wanted your real identity to remain a secret, you should have removed that scar from your back."
The hostage glared at him, but didn't say a word. Even beaten as he was, he mustered enough contempt to provoke Guerrero.
"Why are you pissing on my turf?" he pressed. "What did you hope to gain?"
The man did not hesitate. "I'm looking for a man...to kill him."
Guerrero stared at the hostage in disbelief of his gall before he burst into laughter. The sound echoed off the walls of the cell—a foreign noise in a place where screams were more common.
"And how is that going for you?" Without waiting for an answer, he shook his head and said, "You Americans have such arrogance, but we shall see how long that lasts."
Under his belt at the small of his back, Guerrero pulled out a black hood and covered his prisoner's head. The hostage jerked and fought it, but he didn't say anything. The American didn't have the good sense to cower. He held his head up and the black cloth moved with every breath of his defiance. When Guerrero pictured the smug look on his face under the hood, he balled his fists to make his point of who was in charge.
In the stifling heat, he punched the hostage in the gut. Once. Twice. The prisoner clinched his stomach muscles and took the blows without uttering a sound, withstanding the abuse in silence.
"We shall s-see..." he panted, "...h-how strong...you are."
It took all his will power to lower his hands. He stopped the beating only because he had a call to make. "Th-there are far worse...things to endure."
When he had first communicated his part in the capture of such an influential American, his cartel boss had sent word promptly. He had ordered him to make a journey to a rendezvous point, bringing the prisoner with him. Guerrero would make a gift of the American and hopefully reap rewards for his efforts.
Gasping and winded, he walked across the cell and spoke to his guard on the other side of the door. In minutes, his man returned and handed him a loaded syringe through the bars. With a smirk on his face, Guerrero shoved the hostage's head aside and injected the needle into his neck. The man struggled, making a futile attempt to fight back. As his prisoner fought the drug, Guerrero hit speed dial on his cell phone and contacted the man he hoped would be very grateful...and generous.
As he listened to the phone ring in his ear—waiting to report he'd confirmed ID and give the details of how he would transport the prisoner—Guerrero wasn't done tormenting his hostage. Before the man drifted into a merciful oblivion, he leaned closer and whispered in his ear.
"Your name is Garrett Wheeler." He spat on the man's bare chest. "And I know who you work for, cabrón."
© Jordan Dane