Border Series Book 1
by Harper McDavid
Genre: Romantic Suspense
When engineer Avery McAndrews is offered a last-minute assignment to the rough and tumble border town of Zapata, Texas, she doesn’t think twice. Used to pushing past stereotypes, she’s sure this project will earn the long-awaited promotion.
Instead, she’s thrown in the crossfire between warring drug cartels and soon discovers that her captor, Javier Ramos, is more than just a power hungry drug lord. He’s crazy.
As lead attorney for the cartel, it’s Alejandro DeLeon’s job to manage Javier. But this time, Javier’s cruelty reaches epic proportions, and Alejandro finds himself wanting to risk everything to save Avery.
Running for their lives with Mexico’s underworld at their heels, Avery and Alejandro discover unintended and intensifying emotions, feelings neither sought and neither seem prepared to control...
The Tumbleweed Inn was one of four motels in town, if one didn’t count those that charged by the hour. Unfortunately, the other three were booked. One glance at the room and Avery knew she’d need at least a couple of drinks to actually sleep here. Lucky for her, the Tumbleweed had its own restaurant: Catfish Cal’s. It smelled every bit like its name. Bad fish cooked in old grease. Avery stepped down two grimy steps connecting the lobby to the restaurant. The conversation between Manuel and Bruce came to an abrupt halt as she pulled out a chair. “What’s the word from Sam?” she asked. “Do we have a plan?” A waitress stepped into her line of view, producing a pencil from behind her ear. “What can I get you to drink, Miss?” “A glass of your house red would be fine,” Avery said. The woman stared at her as if she were a complete idiot. Avery’s eyes went to the men’s drinks. Bruce was drinking a Bud. Manuel seemed to be abstaining. “Scotch?” Avery said tentatively. The waitress nodded. “Fusty Mule. It’s distilled here in town. On the rocks?” Avery massaged her brow bone. “Sure.” “Sam’s not happy,” Manuel said as the waitress walked away. “He didn’t know you were here. Said it wasn’t part of the plan, and he wants you out of here.” Avery pursed her lips. “That makes two of us. What were his exact words?” “He said this project was a waste of your talent and that he intended to ‘have a word with that son of a bitch Eric,’” Manuel said. “Is that your boss?” She nodded as a grin spread across her face. Another reason why she loved working for Sam Rockforth. The feisty old East Texas billionaire would put her boss in his place in a heartbeat. She’d pay money to watch Eric squirm and talk his way out of this one. “The plane will be here for you tomorrow at nine. Man, Sam likes you a lot. He said he knew you’d get to bottom of the problem.” Manuel laughed. “You know how he talks. He said something like, ‘that Avery can find a whisper in a whirlwind.’” “Good. Did he say how he plans to address the production problem?” “He don’t want to do nothing,” Bruce said. “That’s not exactly true.” Manuel said. “But it’s complicated.” “You can’t tell me he’s going to overlook the fact that he’s losing money. Someone is accessing that valve—” Manuel held out a hand to stop her. “You have to understand how it works. These gangs or families operate a lot like the mafia. Javier’s father is a very powerful man. Very rich. His name is Diego Ramos. He’s been the worst of the worst for many years. Even when I was a kid, his name meant something. To operate in Zapata, the oil companies always had to pay off the Ramos family.” She frowned. “Really? Sam too?” It was impossible to imagine a man as tough as Sam giving in to their demands. Manuel nodded. “Yeah, even Sam. The consequences are bad if you don’t.” “You mean to tell me you didn’t know that?” Bruce asked. “This isn’t my project,” she snapped at Bruce and turned back to Manuel. “So, the valve in the production line? Hector called it a ‘security valve for protection.’” “I’ll get to that part. But first you need to understand everything else.” Manuel cupped his hands around his glass. “Recently, another family, the Contreras, are growing stronger. They live on this side of the border.” “The white Land Rover. Those were the Contreras?” “Yes,” Manuel said. “Does Sam know about them?” “He does now,” Bruce said. “We gave him an ear full.” “They ought to be easier to stop,” she said. “If they’re here in the U.S., I mean.” “Law enforcement don’t want no part of neither of ’em,” Bruce said. “They prefer to see ’em kill each other off. Saves them the trouble.” “Bruce is right,” Manuel said with a nod. “And Sam has no intention of paying off two cartels. I think it’s what brought Javier out there today. He’s worried that the Contreras are going to be Sam’s choice for protection.” “Protection.” She scoffed. The waitress set a glass of amber liquid in front of her. Avery sniffed it and then raised her eyebrows, her eyes watering. She took a small sip as the two men watched in apparent fascination. The liquid sent fire down her throat. With a small cough, she said, “Okay, so Sam paid off Javier’s family in the past. But what about the valve?” Manuel nodded. “I think that was the work of the Contreras. From watching Javier today, I don’t think he was aware of the valve. He would have no way to know how low the volumes have dipped in those tanks. It’s part of Hector’s job to make sure the Ramos family gets their share through the loading area. Normally, they would have no reason to set foot anywhere near that valve.” “Why not tell the Ramos family that the Contreras are stealing? Let them fight among themselves for the protection rights,” she said. “Of course,” Manuel said. “That’s normally the way it works down here.” He held up an index finger. “Except there’s another issue.” She took another sip of the scotch, shuddered at the taste, and stifled a cough. At least it was alcohol. “What?” “Tell her, Man-u-el. What you was telling me before she sat down.” Manuel glanced around the restaurant, then leaned forward, keeping his voice low. “Hector called me after we checked in here. He told me that he’s only been site manager a few months. His cousin Rodrigo worked there for years. Sam trusted him to keep the crude oil stealing down to a minimum. And with only one gang to work with, Rodrigo did. Two months ago, Rodrigo was killed out in the driveway where we were standing today. Shot in the face. Middle of the afternoon. No witnesses.” Bruce gulped his beer, and Avery reached for her glass. “Hector was working as a mechanic here in town then. Javier came driving up with Rodrigo’s blood all over him. Told Hector he had to quit his job as a mechanic and work out there.” Avery leaned back in her chair. She might as well be a million miles from home. It was impossible to believe this was happening in the twenty-first century. She covered her mouth as she remembered how she’d acted out there. Taunting a cold-blooded killer. She took another slug of the Mule. Her voice cracked as she said, “Because Rodrigo had started allowing the Contreras to steal, too?” “Yep,” Bruce said. “Neither gang gave him much choice.” She considered calling Sam’s pilot and asking him to meet her at the air strip tonight. If it didn’t require driving through this town at night, she’d do it. “That’s not the worst part,” Bruce said. “Tell her.” “Javier said he would kill Hector’s family if he ever heard of the Contreras doing business with Sam. Hector’s got a wife and two little girls. Javier called them each by name.” Avery swallowed back the lump in her throat. “So, Hector’s been allowing the Contreras to steal by a different method and hoping no one would notice.” Manuel nodded. “And no one would have noticed, at least for a while. But the Contreras started getting greedy. Siphoning off just a little too much.” “No wonder Hector didn’t want to speak to me today,” she said. “Can’t really blame Hector,” Manuel said. “He wasn’t smart about things, but who would be when their kids and wife are being threatened?” Avery toyed with her glass. “Javier’s English is perfect. What’s his background?” “He’s had every advantage possible,” Manuel said. “He went to boarding school in the northeast, then college in Florida. I don’t know why he’s like he is.” “And Alejandro? Is he as bad as Javier?” She took an overly large swig of her drink. “Alejandro De Leon.” The Spanish pronunciation rolled off Manuel’s tongue, sounding exotic. “He didn’t grow up around here. Hector thinks Alejandro was hired to be a bodyguard for Javier’s father, but Javier wanted him for himself. Like a playmate. That’s how Javier is. Always wants something. He has a crazy life. Drugs, women, big houses—you can imagine. Hector says Alejandro doesn’t talk much. Doesn’t speak English. Just puts up with Javier. Reins him in a little, too.” His eyes narrowed. “But to answer the question I think you’re asking: no, he wasn’t there that day.” Her interest in the man was, at a minimum, very unhealthy. The man was handsome, but he was still a gangster, for god’s sake. She rested her forehead in her hand. She was already feeling the effects of all of it. The place, the drink, and the fact that none of it seemed real. “So, what’s the plan?” “I believe there’s no choice for Sam but to put it back on Javier’s family,” Manuel said. “He needs to communicate directly with Diego Ramos. The man is bad, but not insane like his son. Sam needs to insist that they actually provide protection. And that includes taking care of the site superintendent and his family.” “But you don’t sound convinced,” she said. Manuel shook his head. “As long as Javier’s free to do as he pleases, I think the Ramos family is in trouble. And trouble for the Ramos family means trouble for us.” She took another swallow of Fusty Mule. It was beginning to grow on her.
As a child, Harper McDavid watched her mother ride the rollercoaster of writing books, swearing she'd never do it herself. But some things are just hardwired, and luckily for Harper the world has moved on beyond typewriters and ten-pound manuscripts.
Harper's gritty romantic suspense incorporates her own background in science and engineering and work experience along the border. The result is a collection of brainy hard hat-wearing heroines that occasionally swap out their coveralls for the little black dress.
Harper is the mother of three daughters and lives in the foothills of Colorado with her husband, two dogs, and a fat cat. Her free time is spent traveling the world in search of that next story and perusing her local library for funny book covers.
Why Write a Romance Set in Hell?
Why write about the border of Texas and Mexico when a romance set on the Left Bank of Paris is a much easier sell? It’s a good question. With me, the questions run even deeper. Why write a book? A romance–really? My friends have dubbed me the Reluctant Romantic.
A thousand times, I’ve thought back to those first few sentences and wondered what compelled me to write Zapata. Part of the answer is easy. I had a project there. The same task that I assigned to my protagonist, Avery. Someone was stealing my client’s oil, and one of the site employees had disappeared, reputed to have been murdered.
So why didn’t Zapata become a thriller? Maybe because a fairytale is necessary to negate the harsh effects of reality. Or perhaps love derived from hardship feels like the grand prize to me. I still don’t have a single answer. What I do know is that I’ve grown attached to the rugged landscape and its people. It’s the kind of place that gets its hooks into you and doesn’t let go.
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