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Tough Target
(Novella #2 of 2)
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The Last Victim
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Camila Borrego, the vindictive head of a powerful Cuban drug cartel, is on U. S. soil to avenge the murder of her father and she will stop at nothing to carry out what the man started. She orders assassination hit squads to target the elite Omega Team and their families, to annihilate them in vicious simultaneous attacks. Blood is shed and the Omega Team is hit hard.

No one is safe, not even Sam Rafferty's mother.

Camila orders her deadliest executioners, identical twin brothers Amadeo and Tavio Vega, to seek and destroy retired Navy SEAL Sam Rafferty and his mother, and the ruthless cartel leader comes to witness the brutal carnage. As Sam's mother, Geneva Rafferty, prepares her isolated cabin in the Florida everglades to weather a fast approaching hurricane, she's caught in the crossfire of the deadly triad, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Kate Cypress, a Seminole tribal member and ex-lover to her son Sam. Geneva is gravely injured and narrowly escapes the death dealers by fleeing into the swamp with Kate.

But Camila will discover that Sam Rafferty of the Omega Team is one tough target.

When a massive hurricane hits land, the storm rages toward Sam as he desperately searches for Kate and his missing, wounded mother. Isolated and alone in the vast and treacherous everglades, Sam is trapped in the eye of the storm with a cartel hit squad in hot pursuit. With time his worst enemy, he has no choice but to take a terrible risk that could jeopardize the lives of his mother and Kate, a woman who branded him with her love.

Chapter 1

Tampa, Florida

Rafael Madero opened his eyes to an empty bed. He lay on his belly, feeling the tangle of bed linens on his naked body, until a lazy smile spread across his face. The tantalizing perfume of Jacqui Lyles mixed with the scent of her musk and lingered in the air of his bedroom after their unforgettable night of sex.

"Jacqui?" He called out to her, but felt the weight of her absence in the stillness of his loft until he remembered she'd gone to work early.

Rafe raised his body and rested his weight on an elbow to reach for her pillow. He took a deep breath of her fragrance and closed his eyes to remember. He pictured Jacqui's face in the throes of an orgasm. The warmth of her breath stroked his cheek as she gasped and writhed under him. Her pale skin blushed pink and her body clutched at him as he drove into her wetness.

Even now, the mere thought of her made him hard. He pushed his face into her pillow and groaned. When his phone rang, he grabbed it off the nightstand and after he glanced at the name displayed on caller ID, he grinned.

"If you knew what I was thinking, you'd turn your car around," he said.

Road noise muffled the sound of her sweet laugh.

"Oh, really. I like the sound of that." She sighed. "I wish I could. That's really why I'm calling. I can't stop thinking of you either. I love you so much, Rafael."

"Te quiero tambien, mi vida. Come to my place for lunch. I have a taste for something off the menu."

"Not off my menu. Whatever you wanna savor, I got the flavor, baby. I'll see you at—"

A loud crash made Rafael wince and he nearly dropped the phone. Something cold gripped him by the throat and his belly tightened into a fist.

"Jacqui? What's happening?" he cried and yanked off the sheets that covered his bare body. When she didn't answer, he raised his voice, "Are you okay? Say something."

A bone chilling groan of metal bellowed, mixed with the high-pitched crunch of glass shattering. The grind of a large engine hurt his ears. Jacqui screamed and called his name, "Rafael. Oh, God. No."

"Talk to me. Jacqui? Please're scaring me." Tears came to his eyes. "Tell me what's going on."

When the phone went dead, Rafael jumped off the bed and raced for his closet to throw on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. After he slid his bare feet into unlaced running shoes, he grabbed his car keys off the dresser and ran for the front door.

"Which way?" His mind raced with street names. Which way would Jacqui drive, which streets would she take to work from his place?

"God, please hold her in your arms. Don't let her die."

Rafe bounded down the stairs toward the parking lot, panting as he ran. He reached for his cell phone and hit speed dial. When the call went into voice mail, he said whatever came to mind, not thinking straight.

"Athena, something happened to Jacqui. She's been in a car accident." His voice cracked. "Please...she can't die. I'll call you when—"

He ended the call when he got to his truck and fumbled with his keys to start the engine. After he slid inside his vehicle, he punched the buttons of his radio with a shaky hand until he found a station reporting traffic accidents and he listened for familiar streets she might have taken.

But her scream haunted him and her last words played over and over in his head.

'Rafael. Oh, God. No.'

Please don't die, mi amor.

Rafael hit the gas pedal and the truck lurched. His tires burned rubber and screeched as he backed out of his parking spot too fast. He mumbled words he didn't understand until he realized he was praying.

*   *   *

Minutes later

An ambulance siren erupted from nowhere. Rafael forced his eyes to search the traffic, coming and going, to see where the sound came from. Instinct told him to follow the emergency vehicle. Traffic slowed to a crawl after the ambulance raced by with lights circling. He couldn't get through the crush of cars.

Up ahead he saw police cruisers rerouting people. Flares burned on the road. He drove his truck onto the sidewalk and pulled as close as he dared before he stopped and left his engine running. He ran toward the accident on foot.

"Sir, you can't leave your truck there," a man yelled, but Rafe didn't care.

A fire engine backed into a spot closer to a jackknifed eighteen wheeler that had crumpled a smaller vehicle against a guardrail. There wasn't much left of the passenger car. Oh, God. Shattered glass reflected the fire of the road flares, making it appear that the asphalt had turned into flames. With the acrid stench of gasoline in the air, Rafael knew anything could set the fumes off and whoever was trapped in the small car would be burned alive.

Please don't let it be her.

Rafael ran toward the accident until two cops grabbed him by the arms and forced him to stop.

"Are you the driver of the big rig, sir?" one of the cops asked. "He's missing. You know anything about that?"

"No, but I think that's my girlfriend." He shoved against the two uniformed men and yelled, "Jacqui!"

He fought off the men as if they threatened his life. It wasn't until he saw a pale light reflecting off long blond hair that he stopped dead still and forgot to breathe. Her face was covered in blood. He almost didn't recognize her.

"Jacqui," he whispered. "It's...her."

Rafael stopped struggling. He couldn't take his eyes off her as emergency crews tried to free Jacqui from the wreckage.

She looked dead.

In that shattering instant, he flashed through the shocking memories from the day his life changed forever—when he found his beloved wife Elena and baby girl Ariana butchered by a Borrego drug cartel hit squad hired out of Cuba. The horror of it leached from his body and gripped his heart until he couldn't breathe.

Not Jacqui. Please not her too.

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