Subscribe
Check back for Specials

Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter for periodic updates and valuable coupons.

Email Address:
HTML   TEXT-Only

Desert Blooms Chapter 1

Prologue

 

Jessica Sullivan, Special Agent with the ATF, drove the long, hot stretch of highway back to the city she had left years ago, her mind going over the past and the present and struggling with her inner demons. Sure she had been back plenty of times, but it was always a fly in and back out kind of situation, and if her visit required a stay over there was always her brother’s place. She never felt the need to look up old friends or spend any longer than a few hours with people she knew from back then. This trip, she knew, was going to be entirely different. This time she was in town to find a dirty agent; she was there for however long it took her. That was the directive from above and all her arguing to send someone else—ignored.

So here she was driving her red Honda Civic Si Coupe eighty-five miles an hour down I-40, praying on one hand that she wouldn’t have to deal with Lucinda Velazquez and hoping on the other that she would. She wanted to see her friend. Talking on the phone and brief conversations during the few hours they did spend together helped heal some of the wounds, but it didn’t help heal them all. They had gone through the ‘yes, I fucked up,’ and the ‘okay, I can forgive you this,’ and gotten to the best friend stage again. Then they had gone through it all again; this time with Jessica being the one who had to say ‘I fucked up.’ With the distance between herself and her destination growing shorter by the hour, the turmoil in her stomach grew as well. The two had briefly spoken at the funeral of Luce’s dad, and by that time Yvette was long gone. The Luce she spoke to then was withdrawn and unemotional, almost cold. Jessica wondered if Luce would be around this time, or if she was off on some case. “Jesus, be fair, Jessica,” she said aloud as she ran her hand through her long black hair, “she is an agent; she goes where and when they tell her, just like you do.” With a touch of irritation, Jessica stabbed the scan button of the radio looking for some decent music. The station stopped and in a heartbeat, Jessica was taken back in time by the song that played. The words to “I’ll Stand by Yousung by The Pretenders, spoke of support and loyalty, of understanding and it hit on the one thing Jessica tried to ignore for years…she still loved Luce.

It instantly put her back in that coffee shop where they’d had coffee or tea so many times throughout the process that takes two people from friends to that special place where something more comes to life. There are moments in life that freeze in your memory; when every detail is as vivid now as when the moment first occurred. This song brought it all back for Jessica. She could recall perfectly the time of year, time of day, exactly where they sat and what they had been drinking when Luce quietly began singing along with the radio. Luce’s voice was deep and rich, and had captivated Jessica, making her feel as if Luce was singing to her, as if the words of the song were meant for her and her alone. It was as if Luce had cast a spell on her. She remembered knowing in that very moment that she was head over heels in love with her. Later, after they left the coffee shop, Jessica told Luce how much she really loved her voice and was thrilled when Luce’s reply was a quietly spoken, “I love everything about you…”

“God! If this is any indication of where my mind is gonna go during this drive, this is gonna be a long assignment,” Jessica said as she reached to the center console and grabbed the bottle of water that sat in the cup holder.

It’s been fifteen years, we’ve both moved on. It’s time I got over her. It’s never gonna be again and I need to accept that.

Eventually Jessica was able to pull her thoughts away from the memories and think a little about the reason she was headed to Phoenix. Allegations of dirty agents in both the DEA and ATF field offices resulted in her being given the task of finding the persons or person. She was going to be working with Douglas Tyler, who would be looking into the DEA part of the investigation, while she handled the ATF. The whole thing meant getting to know someone in a very short period of time and trusting him. Not something she was fond of doing, especially given the circumstances. She would have to chat with Joe Alverez, maybe get his thoughts since he worked for the ATF, and, of course, Luce. They may have some ideas and she trusted them both with her life. With a plan in place she activated her Bluetooth and spoke, “Call Renee, home office,” and was immediately connected with her office.

“Renee Santos, how may I assist you?” she heard after the second ring.

“Renee, I need to find Joe Alverez and Lucinda Velazquez, both are in the Phoenix area. See if you can arrange for dinner with them please.”

“I’m on it. How’s the trip going so far, you enjoying the wind in your hair yet?” Renee replied with a teasing tone. Renee was at her desk when Jessica learned she was being sent to Phoenix. She’d heard the raised voices so she knew Jessica was not happy about this assignment.

“Oh yeah, the A/C is blasting cool air and…okay, honestly, once I got out on the road, it is relaxing and the countryside is beautiful.”

“That’s my girl!” Renee laughed. “I’ll let you know what I can get set up for you.”

“Thanks, I’ll be in touch,” Jessica replied and hung up. Her mind went back to the two people she loved most in Phoenix. How long had it been since they had all had time to just hang out, she wondered. It had to have been before she left town, five or six years ago. She was still with Gloria; Luce was, of course, single, and Joe was married and expecting his first child. The memory of that night was bittersweet; it was the last time they had all been together. Time and life changed things, it always stepped in and before you knew it, things happened. Within a year she and Gloria broke up and she had taken the job she had now. Actually, first, she took the job that Gloria made clear she wasn’t happy about and then they broke up. Joe and Luce quit the police force and were accepted into the DEA and ATF. Luce found Yvette, broke up with her, lost her father and for a little while, herself. “Shit, I should have come to see her when all that shit was happening. Why didn’t I?” Jessica questioned herself. “And say what, let me make it better and jump in the sack with you?” Shaking her head she said, “No, that wouldn’t have happened…” Right… Yup, this trip is gonna be a long one.

Chapter One

 

Sitting on a chair in the corner of the room, Jessica flipped through the pages of a magazine, her eyes occasionally glancing over to check on the figure stretched out on the bed. Her mind replaying the voice mail she had received from Luce, “Hey, Jess, I’m on my way to Saint Luke’s Park to talk to Beth. Meet me there, I want you two to meet…I know you’ll love her as much as I do. Okay, see you soon.”  It had been three days since Luce had been shot and rushed into surgery, and the time between her eyes being open versus being closed was becoming longer; however, she still tired easily. While she slept she would drift between peaceful sleep and nightmares. Three weeks ago, their friend and fellow undercover agent Joe was killed. Jessica could only imagine Luce was dreaming of Joe’s death, that she was hearing Donavon Vargas order Joe’s execution and was witnessing it all over again in her nightmares. During the time Luce was awake, she would ask about Beth, her lover and Donavon’s girlfriend, and it was getting harder to cover the fact that Beth wasn’t there. Jessica knew she was eventually going to have to spill the beans and tell Luce what was going on, and she dreaded it. As her eyes dropped back to the pages of her People magazine, her mind went through questioning sessions with Beth Ryan, and the more she thought about them, the more she was positive the woman knew more than she was telling.

“Can I get some water please,” Jessica heard Luce ask.

“Of course, how are you feeling?” Jess said. She sounds stronger, that’s good; means I won’t be able to stall much longer, though. She poured a small cup of water and then held the tip of the straw to Luce’s dry lips.

After taking a sip, Luce was able to speak better and replied, “I feel like shit. My chest hurts and what the hell is with all these damn tubes and shit?”

“Do you want me to get the nurse?” Jessica asked with concern, worried that it may be something more than the pain from the surgery.

“I don’t know…maybe…where’s Beth?”

“Um, well, she was here while you were sleeping and left a bit ago. Wanted me to tell you she will be back later. So do you need anything? Want to try to sit up maybe?”

“No, I hurt,” Luce replied as Jessica arranged the blankets on the bed.

When Jessica looked to Luce’s face she saw the woman watching her with a slight smile. “What?” she asked as she gave a small bashful smile of her own.

“Just…just wondering when you became so, I don’t know, domesticated,” Luce said with a laugh before she uttered, “Crap, that hurts.”

“Domesticated, huh. I’ve always been; you just never took the time to notice, sweetheart.” Jessica spoke with love in her voice.

As her eyes closed, Luce gave a short sigh. “Yeah, I suppose I didn’t, I’m sorry for that. So when did you say Beth would be back?” she asked. Luce slowly started to drift off again.

Noticing that Luce was already asleep, Jessica quietly walked to the window and looked out, her arms crossed in front of her as she struggled with her dilemma. With the sun setting on the horizon, Jessica couldn’t help but feel her spirit sinking as well.

 

 

Beth paced the floor of the safe house as she waited for Jessica to show up. The last three days had been a nightmare. First, she heard Luce, her bodyguard, confess that she was an undercover DEA agent, then she watched Luce get shot and shoot Donavon, followed by Jessica, an ATF agent, pushing her out of the way and calling Luce “baby” and whatnot, then to the hospital where Luce was rushed to surgery. She discovered that Luce had that woman—Jessica—listed as family, and then she found herself taken into custody by federal agents. Not once in all of that had she been allowed to see Luce alone. ATF, DEA, and FBI had questioned her extensively and she couldn’t even tell who else, but it was becoming more and more apparent that she was in some shit.

“I’m going to have to figure this out,” she said to herself, rubbing her arms as though she were trying to warm up. Her head snapped to the door as it opened and Jessica walked in.

“What’s going on with Luce? When can I go see her?” She fired questions at Jessica as soon as the door closed.

“Can you relax, you’re like a broken record: ‘When can I see Luce…’ Jessica mimicked. “Maybe after you go through Vargas’s organization again and tell us everything you know…everything.”

“Look, I want to see her, and I’m pretty sure there is some law or something about you not being able to keep me here,” Beth said as she advanced into the woman’s personal space, hatred filling her.

“Ah, small problem there, you see I’m not the one keeping you here. If it were up to me you’d have been cut loose already, but seems the higher-ups are of the opinion that you have important information about Vargas’s operation and are therefore in danger. So it looks like you’ll be heading out with a marshal under the witness protection program, and unless you want to be charged with assaulting a federal agent I suggest you back off.” Jessica sat down on a used sofa and propped her feet up on the coffee table that sat in front of it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I have no clue about Donavon’s business dealings. You know Luce wouldn’t appreciate your treatment of me. I can’t wait to see her and tell her about it.”

Jessica let out a deep laugh. “Oh really? And whom do you think she is more likely to believe, you or me? Beth, you may have her ear right now, but she knows and trusts me with her life, I don’t think you’re there yet.”

Realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere with this tactic, the blond woman decided to try something else. She walked to the sofa and sat next to Jessica. Dropping her head in her hands she began to cry. Through her sobs, she said, “I’m sorry, Jessica, I just…I don’t know what to do. I love Luce and not seeing her or knowing her condition is making me crazy. Please, I swear I don’t know anything.”

Clearing her throat, Jessica stood up, walked to the window, and looked out at the darkness. What am I doing? Luce is going to be so pissed at me when she hears what I’m doing. “Well, Beth, here’s the thing, I’m not sure I believe you and, honestly, I know the DEA and FBI don’t.”

Getting up and walking to Jessica, Beth changed her tactic once again. Reaching up with her hands she gently began rubbing the other woman’s shoulders. “I don’t mean to be so emotional. It’s just that a lot has happened and I’m having trouble processing it all. Wow, from the feel of it so are you; your shoulders are so tense. Why don’t you sit down and let me give you a massage? I’m pretty good at helping to release tension.”

“What they hell are you doing?” Jessica said as she turned and frowned. “I’ll deal with my own tension, thank you…gotta wonder what Luce would say about your offer.”

“Please, you knew Luce a long time ago. As you said, I have her ear now and I’m pretty sure she would never believe I came on to you.”

 

 

Moving restlessly in her sleep, Luce drifted between visions of a gun trained on Joe’s head, Joe pleading with his eyes for her to do something, her digging a hole and rolling Joe’s body into that hole. Her dreams shifted to her running as she pulled Beth with her, trying to get away from Donavon Vargas. She heard bullets zipping past her, felt her lungs burning as they struggled for oxygen and the rush of adrenaline as fear coursed through her body. Her drug-hazed brain recalled the fear of knowing that Vargas knew who she was, of knowing he wanted her dead. She had been the other undercover agent who worked to bring down his organization, the only one that had direct knowledge of his actions and was still breathing. Well, okay, there was also the fact that she had been sleeping with his woman, but at this point who the hell was gonna be that picky? The simple fact was he’d escaped custody, had found her and was now shooting at her.

In her nightmares, she saw herself dragging Beth to the wooded area as bullets zinged past them, she remembered crouching behind a tree and the beads of sweat on her brow as she heard the twigs crack behind her and she came face-to-face with Vargas. She felt the bullet hit her chest, and everything went black. Everything but the faint voice, the one that sounded so much like Jessica’s telling her to stay with her… Luce’s eyes flew open, her chest burned and she could see the setting sun from the window.

To purchase print copy, click here.

Content

Affinity Rainbow Podcasts

Listen as our authors read from their books.



Zen4dummies, our web-mistress