Read Her Only Protector Online

Authors: Lisa Mondello

Her Only Protector

“What's in this for you?” Sonny asked.

“I take your brother back to the U.S. for prosecution before the bail needs to be paid and I get a nice bonus for my troubles,” Gil said. “That's the way it works.”

 

“Me and the baby, too?” she asked. “Do you take us, too?”

 

The words were out of her mouth before she even had time to comprehend what she'd said. The surprise in his eyes mirrored what she felt. But it was the only way. She'd come far, but she couldn't do this alone. She needed help and if she worked this right, she and Ellie might be able to get back to the States alive.

 

“Go on. Get in,” he said quietly.

 

She closed her eyes and sighed softly, soothing the fussy baby in her arms.

 

Gil was after money. She was out of money. He wanted her brother. She wanted safety for all of them. She had only one choice, not that she liked it. She had to go with him. She stepped off the curb and into the back seat of the compact car, hoping she hadn't just made the biggest mistake of her life.

Books by Lisa Mondello

Love Inspired Suspense

Cradle of Secrets

Her Only Protector

LISA MONDELLO

Lisa's love of writing romance started early when she penned her first romance novel (a full fifty-eight pages long, but who's counting) at the age of ten. She then went on to write a mystery script that impressed her sixth grade teacher so much he let her and her friends present it as a play to the whole grade. There was no stopping her after that! After going to college for sound recording technology and managing a Boston rock band for four years, she settled down with her husband of over sixteen years and raised a family. Although she's held many jobs through the years, ranging from working with musicians and selling kitchen and catering tools to teaching first and second graders with special needs how to read and write, her love of writing has always stayed in the forefront, and she is now a full-time freelance writer. Lisa lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, four children (who never cease to amaze her as they grow), a very pampered beagle and a rag-doll cat who thinks she owns them all.

Lisa Mondello
Her Only Protector

Published by Steeple Hill Books
™

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting rock.

—
Isaiah
26:4

To all the men and women who risk their lives rescuing American-born children being held captive in foreign countries.

ONE

Sonny Montgomery had an itch she couldn't scratch. It sat dead center between her shoulder blades, just out of arm's reach. Like a persistent mosquito buzzing around her ear, it nagged at her. But she couldn't stop to deal with it. Even a small move like that could attract unwanted attention on these South American streets.

She needed to remain invisible. To be in and out of Colombia without anyone being able to recognize or remember her. Any connection to her family either by name or face would spell certain death for her and the baby.

And Cash. That is, if her brother was still alive. If the Colombian kingpin who had kidnapped Cash's baby girl from her cradle in Eastmeadow, Massachusetts, just four months ago had shown him enough mercy not to kill him. But she couldn't think about that. The Lord had brought her this far on her journey. She had to trust that He would help Cash with his.

She held tight to the basket of fruit—it was heavy and her arm ached. She focused her mind on the ache instead of all she couldn't control. Slipping her free hand beneath her poncho, she checked to make sure that her traveling papers were still in her money belt, which was strapped to her waist. They were.

Thanks to the duplicate passport the U.S. Embassy had issued for the baby, they'd both be able to fly out of Colombia without incident. Hopefully. The Colombian government might challenge it. But she was ready to deal with that if it happened.

Sonny was having a hard time coming to terms with what she was doing. Never in her life had she entertained the idea of doing anything illegal. And here she was in Colombia, ready to steal a baby and flee to the United States.

But it was the only way. Even her brother, Dylan, a former marine and a Chicago cop, had assured her of that. Off the record, of course.

It had rained in the night and the pungent smell of mud, earth and rotting garbage permeated the quiet, early-morning streets. A thick mist drifted up from the already hot ground. In an hour, the fruit market in the center of the city would be open. Some of the street vendors were already setting up their carts full of goods, ready for the tourists who would soon crowd the road, eager to barter for a bargain.

It was a long walk from her little room near the foothills to the center of town. It was also a dangerous walk so early in the morning, alone. But escaping the city would be much easier if she didn't have to contend with the morning traffic.

If all went well, Sonny would be long gone by the morning rush. And any evidence of her trip to Colombia would be erased. The team would make sure of that. They had her back—Dylan had promised her.
Lord, I hope so.

Closing her eyes for a brief moment, she ran through her part of the plan one more time, telling herself she had to get it right. There was no room for error. The sooner she had the baby in her care and was out of Colombia and away from Eduardo Sanchez, the head of the Aztec Corporation, the sooner she'd be able to relax. Really relax. Not like the falling-down-because-you-can't-stay-awake-anymore type of relaxing she'd been doing since she'd first learned her niece had been kidnapped by the Colombian businessman involved in organized crime.

The sweat of her palm made it hard to hold the heavy wicker basket in her hand, but she gripped it tighter, ignoring the urge to stretch her arm and scratch her back. As moisture beaded on her brow, Sonny thanked God for the ache in her arm and the itch between her shoulder blades. They kept her mind off her nerves. Off all the things that could go wrong in a long string of choreographed steps that had to be perfectly performed in order for the plan to work.

She thought of her brother. Cash would have been as against her coming to Colombia as Dylan had been at first. But then, both of them wanted to believe she was still their baby sister tagging along behind them and not the capable twenty-five-year-old woman she'd grown into. Cash hadn't noticed much of her maturing since he'd become an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Dylan, the eldest, had missed even more while he was away in the military. If it weren't for the fact that she was the only person who could make this plan work, she'd probably be padlocked in her bedroom.

But Sonny couldn't think about Cash or Dylan right now. The baby was her only concern. If she failed…

No. I'm not leaving this country without little Ellie.

She walked off the path and onto the paved road, leading to the center of the city. Unlike the outskirts of town, central Monteria was modern, much like an American city. Stores and restaurants catered to the foreign tourist. Concrete high-rise hotels and office buildings packed the downtown streets. It seemed almost strange that a city like this could be just a few hundred meters from foothills that were lush with greenery and jungle.

The basket of fruit she held was just a prop, a reason for her to be walking the streets at this hour of the morning should anyone take notice of her. She'd learned that only vendors walked the road this early in the morning. She couldn't risk renting a car or calling for a taxi—that would leave evidence of where she'd been and where she was going.

If she checked her watch, it would confirm what the sky was telling her now as light kissed the horizon and chased away the darkness from the alleyways and side streets. Her pulse pounded as the light grew brighter, the shadows stretching and then fading away. Blood raced through her veins so quickly she was sure her heart was about to burst in her chest.

It was almost time.

She was ready. As ready as she could be. She'd told Lucia she'd meet her two streets over from the marketplace. The road provided easy access in and out of the city. They'd avoid early marketplace crowds and the eyes of anyone who might be watching.

As she rounded the corner and reached the meeting place, she paused just a fraction of a second and listened. The urgent whine of a car engine and tires screeching cut into the calm of the morning. She checked her watch and then looked up to see a bright red blur speeding toward her, the noise of dirty spark plugs sputtering at an ear-splitting volume.

So much for being covert.

They were earlier than she expected. “Thank you, Lord,” she whispered.

The dusty compact car ground to a halt next to her.

“Get in!” the driver demanded as he reached across the seat and threw open the passenger side door. Sonny knew the black-haired man in his early fifties as Torres. She had only met him once. All other contact had been made through his contact at the marketplace and his daughter, Lucia.

“Is it done?” she asked quickly.

“Leave the basket,” he ordered in a commanding voice made harsher by his thick accent. “You must get in, Sonia!”

Sonny jumped into action, unaccustomed to the use of her given name. Stepping off the curb, she caught sight of a figure slumped over in the backseat with a bright red blood stain spreading across a white shirt. She couldn't see the face, but she knew who it was.

Heart in her throat, she gasped, “Oh, dear Lord, no! No! Lucia?”

“Get in, I tell you! Do you want us all to be killed?” Sonny dropped the basket, the contents spilling over the potholed street. She hadn't even shut the door before the wheels of the vehicle started spinning again.

Sweat poured off Torres's forehead and his hands trembled so violently he couldn't still them on the steering wheel. It didn't take a genius to figure out one of the delicate steps in their plan had gone terribly wrong.

Oh, God. Where's Ellie? Please not Ellie. She's just a little baby.

Despite the speed of the car flying through the narrow streets, Sonny abandoned the idea of putting on her seat belt and reached into the backseat to touch Lucia. The stench of blood overwhelmed the car.

“Is she…”

Torres kept his eyes on the road. “Leave her.”

“But she needs help!” Sonny protested, tears stinging her eyes. “We need to help her.”

“Nothing can be done. She's dead. I'll take care of her body later.”

In horror, Sonny swallowed the bile making its way up her throat. She fought to find her voice. Then swallowed again.
Torres's daughter was dead.

“The baby?” she asked, choking back a sob. “Ellie?”

“Asleep under the shawl. Leave her be. She'll be fine and no one will notice us as long as you turn around and act normal.”

“How is that possible?” There was so much blood. Sonny fought the urge to check Lucia just to see if Torres was wrong.
Oh, please, God, let him be wrong.
She forced herself to turn around and slip on her seat belt.

The older man glanced at her. “We need to get out of the city and to the airport right away.”

Sonny stole a quick glance over her shoulder at the bundle next to Lucia's body and closed her eyes to keep the tears at bay. She had the baby now. This was exactly what she'd come here to do. But the image of Lucia's blood-stained body was imprinted in her mind and she wondered if the price of getting the baby had been too high. For Lucia and Torres, it had.

When she trusted her voice again, she asked, “What went wrong?”

“Nothing,” Torres said, his voice flat. “The extraction happened exactly as planned.”

“I don't understand.”

“An old debt has been repaid. We make enemies doing what we do. Lucia knew that. This had nothing to do with you or your family.”

Torres reached across the small confines of the car and pushed his rough palm against Sonny's cheek with a force that hurt. “Hide your face.”

An oncoming police car sped toward them, lights flashing. She quickly turned her gaze to the floor. The car hit a pothole and she gripped the dash with both hands for support.

When the police car passed, she glanced back. “Do you think they were after us?”

“No.”

“How can you be sure?”

Torres didn't answer and when Sonny finally looked at him again, it broke her heart to see the man's weary eyes steeped in pain, his weathered face momentarily contorted with grief.

He cleared his throat. “Do you still have them?”

“What?”

“The papers! Do you have the papers with you?” he said, his voice raspy. “We can't waste time going back to the hotel to get them or to make new ones.”

“Yes. I have them. I was able to get the passport for the baby.”

“Good. Your only concern now is to get on that plane back to your country. When you get to the airport buy some new clothes, get rid of what you have here and stay out of sight until you board. Don't let anything stand in the way of getting on that plane. When you and Ellie are safe, the sacrifice my daughter made will be worthwhile.”

He was right, she knew. But his words did nothing to dispel the guilt consuming her. She had begged them for help, and now Lucia was dead. She had caused Torres and his family this pain.

Lucia had a son of her own who was barely four years old, she'd told Sonny on their first meeting. And a husband who disapproved of what she was trying to do. Yet Lucia had agreed to help rescue Ellie anyway.

Sonny'd had no choice in asking for their help, of course. She'd been desperate to find any information about the whereabouts of her niece and was thrilled when her online digging expedition led her to information about the head of the Aztec Corporation's new baby.

A computer geek by trade, trained to hack into computer systems for large companies to ensure security or expose weaknesses, Sonny had found the proverbial needle in the haystack that led her to Ellie. No one, not even those close to Eduardo Sanchez, willingly questioned why an American baby had suddenly arrived in a Colombian home. With so many American families waiting to adopt, it seemed unlikely that a legal adoption had taken place.

Yet no one was willing to publicly question how this baby came to be. Not if they wanted to continue breathing.

Sonny closed her eyes, fighting her desire to take the baby out of the backseat and into her arms. She wanted so much to hold Ellie, to look at her for the first time. Make sure she was all right.

Did she have Cash's smile or her sister-in-law, Serena's, exotic look? Did she still cry for her mother? It had been so long since Sonny learned that Ellie had been taken from the mansion in Eastmeadow, Massachusetts. And yet here was Ellie now, sleeping soundly in the backseat of the car.

She is safe there. No one can see her sleeping in the backseat. No one can hurt her. She just has to hold on a little longer.
Instead of cradling the precious girl against her chest to tell her that she was going to a safe home filled with love, Sonny said a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord for seeing them both safely through this far. And another prayer for Lucia, that she would find peace with her heavenly Father.

 

Gil's stomach was growling. The pretzels he'd eaten half an hour ago hadn't done much for him. He needed a hot shower, a good meal and about three days' worth of solid sleep. None of that was likely to happen until he caught Cash Montgomery, brought him back to the States and collected his fee from the bail bondsman.

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