Read Her Only Protector Online

Authors: Lisa Mondello

Her Only Protector (10 page)

Gil stood up and walked to the French doors leading to the courtyard. “Not so far that we can't make it.”

“You've got a plan, boss?” Marco said with a gleam in his eye.

He turned to Sonny. “Possibly. Any way we can get in touch with your brother Dylan?”


Sonny felt disappointment wash over her. For a brief moment, she thought perhaps Gil had come up with a way to get them safely out of Colombia. But any plan involving Dylan wouldn't work.

“Truthfully, any other time, Dylan would be the first person I'd call. But I don't know where he is.”

Gil eyed her skeptically.

“I'm telling you the truth, Gil. They purposely didn't tell me what they were doing to protect me and Cash.”

“He knows where Cash is, though.”

“Seems we might have been tailing the wrong sibling,” Marco said.

Sonny glared at Marco. “When I cracked the private file in the Aztec Corporation's computer system, I found information about Cash being held in a prison here in Colombia. It didn't say where. But I'm hoping Dylan was able to find it.” She looked directly at Gil. “If Cash has any chance of getting out of that prison alive, you can't interfere with what Dylan's doing. They could all be killed if you get in the way.”

And then she would have lost both of her brothers.
Lord, losing Dylan and Cash is unthinkable to me.

“We've got bigger problems to deal with right now,” he said with regret. “Besides, I won't make that same mistake of getting in your way twice.”

The relief Sonny felt was overwhelming. “Okay, how are we going to get out of Colombia?”

He stared out at the courtyard for a minute. “Let's backtrack. How did you know where to find Ellie?”

“I didn't. I only knew Eduardo Sanchez had an adopted baby from America. Lucia was the one who found her.”

“Lucia? Is that the person you were working with?” Marco asked. “How many people are involved with this?”

“She's part of a child rescue organization. Dylan knew her briefly during his years in the military.” She paused a moment, overwhelmed by the memory of seeing Lucia in the backseat. “She retired from the military a few years before Dylan did and used her training to help rescue kidnapped children.”

“Was she the one who actually took Ellie from Sanchez's estate?”


“It seems odd she didn't accompany you to the airport to make sure you got on the plane.” Gil paced in front of her. “If she worked in any kind of Special Forces capacity with your brother she would've known how to stop me from interfering with you.”

Sonny's eyes filled with tears. “At least she got Ellie out of Sanchez's house.”

“How'd she do it?”

“She got a job as a housekeeper at the estate. She got to know the routine of all the guards and Ellie's nanny. I didn't know until the night before exactly what the plan was and when I was going to be leaving. I don't even know the details of how Lucia actually got Ellie out of the estate. And truthfully, I'm not sure I want to know—they were both in serious danger.”

“So you just hung around the hotel room and waited for someone to call you?” Cooper asked.

Sonny shook her head. “No phones. Torres—he was another member of the organization—had a contact in the marketplace. I would go down there to buy food and if there was news, he would give it to me. I spent a lot of days in that hotel room wondering what was going on.”

Marco blew out a quick breath. “Must have been torture.”

“Lucia would come to the marketplace and meet me, too. She didn't relay much information. It was mostly to update me on Ellie's condition at the estate.”

“And then she left you holding the bag at the airport,”

Cooper said, with a disapproving shake of her head. “That's no way to work as a team.”

“Lucia was killed the morning she took Ellie. She was already dead by the time Torres brought Ellie to me.”

Her father,
Sonny thought. She closed her eyes and said a prayer for Torres, for the hard journey he had to make in telling Lucia's husband and young son that she had been killed. The man who'd helped bring Cash and Serena's baby back to her family was now grieving for his own child.

“What happened? Who killed her? Eduardo? One of his guards?”

“I don't know. Her…” She was about to say “her father,” but it was too awful to say out loud. “Torres was very vague. I was supposed to meet them in the marketplace very early that morning. They didn't want to risk going back to the hotel to get me.”

“I lost you that morning,” Gil said. “It was only after Marco checked the airport records that I discovered you'd confirmed a flight to leave that day. That was hours later.”

“I didn't want to leave from Bogotá. And Lucia thought it was best that I leave from a popular airport where there was room for me to get lost among the tourists.”

Gil smiled weakly. “She was right. I had a hard time finding you. I finally gave up and waited for you at airport security.”

“Lucia was supposed to come back with me to Miami. But when I got in the car, she was dead. Torres told me it had nothing to do with taking Ellie from the Sanchez estate. He said that an old debt had been repaid. I'm not sure I believe him, though. The last thing he said to me was to make sure that I got Ellie out of Colombia. Once I got out of the car, I knew he couldn't help me anymore.”

Gil looked at her for a long time. Sonny wasn't sure what he was thinking. His expression was unreadable.

“Marco doesn't have to waste any more time looking for the e-mail I sent,” Sonny said.

Gil smirked. “No, he doesn't. Because he already found it.”

A slight smile of admiration played on her lips. “And here I thought I was being good.”

“You were,” Marco said, waggling his eyebrows. “It took a while, but I'm relentless.”

“The e-mail didn't say much,” Gil said. “Care to elaborate?”

“I needed to tell my father that I wasn't on the plane, but that I had Ellie and we were alive.”

Cooper stood up. “How did you expect to get into the United States with a baby that didn't have an entry stamp on her passport? Wouldn't they have detained you?”

“Possibly. But being on U.S. soil at that point would have made all the difference. They could have held me in immigration as long as they wanted. I had her birth certificate, and Serena was meeting me at the gate with the original passport. Eventually it would have been straightened out.”

“Well, a quick plane ride sounds good to me.” Cooper put up her hands and let them fall down by her side. “What do you say, boss man? Do we find a different airport and get out of here?”

Sonny looked up at Cooper, and then at Gil. He was silent for a moment.

“I'd say you and Marco need to pack up your gear and get on a plane to the States as soon as possible. This hot spot doesn't look like it's going to cool down any time soon.”

Marco looked at him with surprise. “And split the team? No can do.”

Cooper jumped up from the chair. “No way. No one gets left behind. We're a team, Gil.”

And they were a tight team at that, Sonny realized. Their loyalty to each other was evident. She was the one standing in the way of their safety. Cooper had made that very clear.

“I think Gil is right,” she said. “You all need to get out of Colombia quickly. Your association with me is only going to make trouble for you.” She turned to Gil. The worried look etched on his rugged features only added to his appeal. “You, too, Gil,” she said, tears stinging the back of her eyes. The thought that he'd leave her now terrified her, but being the cause of another person's death was something she simply couldn't live with.

His eyes flew open and then his expression turned hard. “Are you crazy? You'll never get out of Colombia alive on your own.”

“Gil, no bounty is worth your life,” she argued. “You should go back to the States.”

“Forget the bounty. I'm not going to leave you here to fend for yourself. How far do you think you'll get with a baby in tow and soldiers crawling the streets?”

“There's got to be a way, Gil. Some other way,” Cooper said.

A cry from the bedroom pulled Sonny's attention away from the conversation.

Cooper stilled her with her hand. “I'll take care of her. You figure something out.”

She thought about it. “I don't know. I honestly don't know what to do. If Dylan were here—”

“You already said Dylan can't help you. I can, and I'm right here. I'm not leaving you.”

Emotion clogged her throat. She couldn't go through this alone anymore—and Gil was saying she didn't have to. “Please. Let me use your computer to get in touch with my father.”

Marco looked at both of them. “I don't get it. Chances are, Dylan is here, right? Why not get his help? He must have already figured out a plan to get out of Colombia. He probably has a whole team with him.”

She shook her head. “I have no way to get in touch with Dylan. I'm not even sure my father knows where he is right now.”

Gil looked at Sonny directly. “I'm going to get you out of Colombia, Sonny. I promised you at the airport that I would get you back to the United States. And I mean to do that.”

Tears filled her eyes. “Technically, you didn't promise anything. You never answered me.”

“Well, I'm answering now. We just have to get you home without going by air.”

“We can drive north, maybe take a plane from Panama City. I could find us a route.” Marco turned to go to the kitchen, but Gil stopped him.

“Do you really think Sanchez won't be able to track us there?” Gil asked. “We'll still have to contend with the borders. They're going to check passports. It's too risky. I've already jeopardized your lives enough.”

Sonny looked at Gil with surprise. “You? You can't blame yourself for what's happening now.”

The dark eyes that had intrigued her were full of regret. “I should have let you get on that plane.”

Yes, he should have. But they couldn't turn back the clock. “Things would be a lot easier right now if you had,” she said quietly. “But you can't blame yourself.”

“This is my team. I not only put their lives in danger, but now I've put yours—and Ellie's—in danger, as well. It was my call.”

“But not your fault. Look, I've spent these last few months wondering how this became my life. My family has been caught in one tangled web after another. I've seen how people lay blame without really knowing the truth. Don't do that to yourself. It only ends up making matters worse.”

“I appreciate what you're saying but—”

“You can't stay here, Gil,” Cooper said, breaking into the conversation. She had the baby in her arms. Ellie was awake, smiling and gumming her fist, completely unaware of the turmoil around her.

With a resolute sigh, he said, “I'm not going to. None of us are. You and Marco are going to leave today. There's nothing tying you to Sonny and the baby. There's no reason for you not to get on the plane at the airport without any hassle.”

“And you?” Marco said. “What are you going to do?”

He thought a minute, and then stood.

“Right now, I'm going to take a walk. I need to clear my head. I don't want to be running scared only to find out there was nothing to run from. All we have right now is speculation.”

“And that picture,” Sonny said.

He nodded. “And the picture. In the meantime, hold off on contacting your father until we have a definite plan. No sense risking an intercept when we don't have anything concrete to report.”

“I have to contact him at some point. He's going to worry. All he knows is that I have Ellie. But by now he's probably frantic not knowing what's going on.”

Gil nodded and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Sonny asked.


Without another word, Gil walked out the door.


he streets of Cartagena were humming in a way that didn't bring to mind jovial music and laughter. A frenetic fear was in the air. Vendors who would normally accost you on the street to make a sale were a little more hesitant with all the military trucks rolling down the streets of the marketplace.

Gil walked by a grand structure with brightly colored tiles adorning the outside and elegant archways framing the first story, shielding the porch from the hot Colombian sun. Woven baskets were stacked high against the inside of the porch, one on top of the other. The second floor balconies were beautifully decorated with colorful potted plants that trailed over the railing, almost down to the first floor.

Vendors hurried to put their items for sale on their carts. Every so often, a military vehicle would roll down the center of the street, commanding their attention. The vendors stood for a fraction of a moment and stared, wondering who had caused such a disturbance in their otherwise routine lives.

Gil walked past them without looking. If they only knew all this fuss was for a little baby who never should have been in Colombia in the first place.

People were nervous. He could feel it like the pulse in his hand. Even if people hadn't heard about Eduardo Sanchez's press conference or didn't care, they knew something was up.

In a country where the law was a blurred line that was easily crossed, people turned inward as a matter of survival. They knew the dust would settle eventually. But it usually involved bloodshed and someone's disappearance.

Right now, the quaint balconies that the locals sat on in the early morning before the heat became unbearable were empty except for the flowers in their pots. People laughed and bartered and went on with their daily lives, but every so often he could see them scanning the streets, as if searching for the source of unrest.

Gil didn't know where he was going. He just walked. As he reached the old military dungeons that had been transformed into quaint shops, he realized he never should have brought his team to Colombia. No matter how quick Sonny was to let him off the hook, Gil knew he'd put his team in danger. She hadn't judged him but it didn't matter. He didn't have a harsher critic than himself.

That speech Sonny had given him about not blaming himself had to do with her brother Cash. Gil was sure of it. Had people blamed him unjustly? Was there more to his story than anyone was giving credence to?

It happened all the time, as he well knew. People's lives could easily be destroyed by false accusations and a rush to judgment. It wasn't his place to judge Cash Montgomery or his sister. But he had anyway, he realized.

Gil had always been of the belief that if you didn't have something to hide, then you let justice take its course. Only guilty people ran. That's what his first partner, Bruce, had always said.

That was a joke, he thought, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. Guilty people didn't always run. And sometimes, the people who loved them intervened with deadly force out of revenge or fear. That's what had happened to his partner, Bruce. They hadn't underestimated the danger of the fugitive they were trying to apprehend, but they had underestimated his wife, who put a bullet in Bruce's head. Now Bruce's wife was a widow.

Bruce and Karen had been married only two years. But it seemed like so much longer. She'd wanted Bruce to get out of bounty hunting so they could start a family. He'd wanted his last bounty to be a big one and it cost him his life. That's it,
adios amigo.

The last time Gil had seen Karen, she'd said she was happy. She was married again to a cop who already had two children from a previous marriage. But when she looked at her new husband, Gil couldn't see that sparkle in her eye she'd always had when she'd looked at Bruce. And when Bruce had looked at her.

Only guilty people run.
Well, not in Bruce's case. Justice hadn't prevailed and no one was doing time in the state penitentiary for killing him.
I'm not going to take the chance of losing another partner just for a bounty.

How Sonny could so easily let him off the hook for putting her life in further danger was beyond him. But then, the woman was a tough one to figure out. She had determination, guts—not every woman would go head-to-head in a hot zone with a kingpin like Eduardo Sanchez. Gil actually didn't know if that amounted to bravery or insanity.

And Sonny had faith.
He couldn't help but wonder if leaving his faith behind had been where he'd taken the wrong road in his life.

He continued to walk for a while, listening to the chatter of the people but not really taking it in. He came to the brick footpath leading to Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, one of the many fortresses built on the coast of Cartagena to protect the city from pirates in the sixteenth century. From the top of the fortress, he could see the whole city and the Caribbean Sea. It was strange, he thought, that the walls could protect the city from those outside it, but not from those inside—like Eduardo Sanchez.

Colombia adored Eduardo Sanchez. The people here would go to great lengths to thank him for the work he'd done, including putting military soldiers on the Aztec Corporation payroll. Heads were turned when the right amount of money was flashed in front of them.

Marco had found good information about Eduardo Sanchez and the Aztec Corporation. But what Sonny knew would help them move in the right direction more quickly.

Gil made his way back toward the square and stopped at a cart to look at some brightly woven cloth the vendor was selling. Just then, a military truck passed him, slowing to a stop. Gil saw four soldiers in the back, their guns trained on the crowd of people in the square.

They were definitely looking for something or someone. But Gil couldn't allow paranoia to make him think it was Ellie.

He dropped the fabric back on the cart, much to the protest of the vendor, who continued to yell after him as Gil walked away.

The soldiers jumped off the back of the truck and walked through the square, stopping tourists with small children, talking to street vendors. With a shake of their heads, the soldiers moved on. The relief in the tourists' faces was evident.

The cathedral, one of Cartagena's grandest structures that could be seen from anywhere in the city, was just a few hundred feet away. There were many beautiful old churches in Cartagena, some as old as the city itself. But the elegant cathedral, with its high spire and ornate design, was the grand dame of them all. It seemed to beckon Gil to come inside.

Gil looked up at the stone face and wondered why he'd ended up here. He hadn't sought out the company of the Lord in many years. But then, he'd found many surprises on this trip. He surprised himself once more by climbing the stone steps, pulling on the brass door handle and walking inside.

Gil found an empty bench and did something he hadn't done in many years. He bent his head, and he prayed.


“Why is he being so hard on himself?” Sonny asked Cooper as she burped the baby over her shoulder. “This isn't his fault. Well, not completely.”

Cooper rolled her eyes. “It's a character flaw. He has this thing about being the mighty man. He never got over his childhood dream of being a superhero.”

Sonny chuckled, and was surprised that even with the sound of commotion on the streets outside the courtyard she was still able to laugh. But Cooper didn't laugh. The faraway look in her eyes told Sonny that she was worried. She wasn't the only one.

“I get the feeling he's very protective of you, too,” Sonny said.

Cooper shrugged, then picked at a colorful flower by the stone bench she was sitting on. “He claims it's part of his charm but I find it totally annoying. He thinks he needs to protect everyone.”


She blew out a quick breath. “He'd kill me if I told you.”

Curious, Sonny settled Ellie on her lap and gave her a rattle to play with. “So don't tell him you told me.”

Cooper gave a quick laugh. “Did he tell you he used to be in Special Forces?”

She shook her head. “It doesn't surprise me, though.”


“He reminds me of my brother Dylan. Code of honor and all that.”

“Like I said, annoying,” Cooper sputtered.

“Oh, I don't know about that.”

“Years ago, Gil lost a member of his team in a raid while trying to apprehend a fugitive,” Cooper explained.

Sonny gasped. “That must have been awful.”

“I never met the man. It was before I joined on. But the guy tried to play hero by breaking up a fight. See, the wife of the criminal he was trying to find didn't know the guy was on the run. I guess it was common for him to do this vanishing act every now and then, and she'd just accepted it as part of their marriage.”

Sonny made a face. “Strange.”

“Yeah, I know. Anyway, the rent was due, the thug didn't have it and wifey had a fit. In comes Gil and his partner, Captain Courageous—I think his name was Bruce—looking to collect their fugitive, right in the middle of the fight.”

“What happened?”

“Gil sent the wife in the other room while they put the cuffs on the husband. Gil thought it was odd he didn't try to run. Most fugitives run when they see us coming. It was just long enough for her to go into the bedroom and get a gun.”

“He didn't see the gun?”

“Gil? No. But Bruce did. That's when he decided to be a hero and step in front of a bullet to protect his fugitive. The dirtbag fugitive. He didn't want to lose that bounty.”


“Yeah, things don't get much heavier than that.”

“And Gil feels responsible?”

Cooper threw her hands up in the air and pasted on a mock smile. “He's big brother to all.”

“I can see why it would affect Gil, but he can't blame himself for that. He didn't know.”

“You don't know Gil like I do. He feels responsible.”

“He didn't shoot his partner.”

Cooper shook her head. “Doesn't matter. It was his call to go into the house in the first place. Bruce wanted to wait until the suspect came out. His call, his responsibility. Gil doesn't see it any other way.”

“Like at the airport.”

She shrugged. “Right. The worst part was when it went to trial, the wife got off because she said she thought Gil and Bruce were burglars coming to rob the place.”

“And the jury believed that?”

“Yeah. No justice.”

Sonny knew there was a whole lot of difference between what had happened to Gil's partner and what was happening now. But she doubted Gil saw it that way.

His call, his responsibility.

“I need to change Ellie's diaper,” Sonny said, getting up from the bench. She went into the bedroom, grabbed a towel and placed it on the bed. The baby didn't seem content to stay still on the towel and tried to roll over onto her side with all her might. With one hand on Ellie's stomach to still her, Sonny fished through the suitcase on the floor for a fresh diaper.

“Not for nothing, Sonny,” Cooper said, coming into the room, “but Gil doesn't need another distraction, if you know what I mean.”

Sonny looked up sharply, her hand still on the baby. “No, I don't know what you mean.”

She looked at Sonny for a long moment and then shook her head. “Forget it.”

“I can't forget it,” Sonny said. “It's out there. What do you mean?”

Cooper rolled her eyes. “Come on, Sonny. You don't see the way he looks at you?”

Heat crept up her cheeks. “He looks at me like he's angry all the time. Yeah, I see that.”

Cooper's mouth dropped open. “Fine. Okay, forget I said anything. I thought maybe you could read men a little better than that.” She grabbed her empty suitcase and shoved it on the bed. She tossed the clothes she'd had in the bureau drawers into it and zipped it shut before looking at Sonny again.

As she placed the packed suitcase on the floor, she added, “A woman knows when a man looks at her if he means her harm…or if he's in love. But hey, it's none of my business, you know?”

“Is that a warning?”

“Only if you're looking to protect yourself. I've never seen him like this. You've got him all stirred up and that's scary. He's always been the one in control.”

Sonny couldn't find the words to answer and instead watched Cooper walk out of the bedroom, leaving her suitcase on the unmade bed. Maid service hadn't been by because they'd put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. They didn't want anyone poking around inside the villa.

Sonny closed her eyes. She wasn't a stupid woman and she knew Gil didn't mean her any harm, regardless of how much they argued over their situation. She had seen something in his eyes last night as they talked and then again this morning before he left for his walk.

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