Read Her Only Protector Online

Authors: Lisa Mondello

Her Only Protector (8 page)

She blew out a quick breath. “Gee, I don't know. Maybe you weren't hugged enough as a kid.”

“Cute. Now give me a straight answer.”


Sonny fought the urge to take a step back. Gil's hard accusing stare was back, boring into her. He was right, of course. She'd known this would happen eventually. She'd just hoped Eduardo Sanchez wouldn't be brazen enough to announce the baby's disappearance on the news.

When she stared at the Colombian kingpin's face on the television screen, she had to hold her emotions at bay. In his native Spanish, he addressed the camera, looking directly at it, almost as if he could reach through the camera and grab her.
“This crime is unconscionable.”
He said.
“I promise you, whoever took my daughter will pay to the full extent of the law.”

Being the powerful man that Sanchez was in Colombia, no one would question whether or not the baby he'd recently acquired was adopted legally. They'd all just assume the paperwork was in perfect order. Nice and tidy.

Except it wasn't. It was absolutely illegal.

If it came down to it, Sonny had no doubt Eduardo Sanchez would exact his own justice. Her hands were shaking and she fought desperately to still them to avoid giving herself away. How much Gil and his team knew about the kidnapping and how it related to her family, she had no idea. They knew about the Aztec Corporation. Did they already know that Eduardo Sanchez headed up the Aztec Corporation? Sonny was determined not to give up any more information than she had to until absolutely necessary but that look on Gil's face told her it was going to be a challenge.

Gil propped his hands on his hips. “Okay, put it to me plainly. Is Ellie the baby they're looking for?”

Her heart hammered in her chest and when his expression collapsed, she knew she didn't have to utter a word. Her face gave her away. So much for not giving up information.

Gil charged toward the bedroom with Sonny on his heels.

“Don't go in there, Gil. Please, leave her alone.”

Gil ignored Sonny's plea and pushed the door open.

“Gil, she's asleep,” she implored him. “Please don't take her.”

Tears stung her eyes and her breath caught in her throat. She charged passed him and scooped Ellie up into her arms before he got to the crib. The baby, who had been sound asleep after her morning feeding and bath, was now crying loud and hard because she'd been woken up so abruptly.

“She's my brother's baby, Gil,” she said. “She doesn't belong to Eduardo Sanchez.”

“If that were true—”

“It is!”

“—you would have contacted the authorities and let them handle it.”

“They won't help, Gil! It's too complicated!”

He looked at the baby for a long moment and then switched his gaze to Sonny. His voice was low and measured as he spoke. “You didn't come to Colombia with this baby, Sonny. You came alone. You boarded a flight in Chicago, made a transfer in Houston and then again in Panama City before landing in Bogotá. I know this because I was on that plane with you. You never knew I was there.”

“You were on the plane?”

“And then I followed you to Monteria. Not once did I see you in the marketplace with Ellie. I only saw you with her at the airport. Yesterday. The same day Eduardo Sanchez's baby disappeared.”

“Gil, listen to me. She's my brother's baby.”

He took a step forward; she countered by stepping back. “Did you take her?”

“She's my niece.”

Sonny turned from him, trying to soothe Ellie as well as her rampant heart, but the tears she'd been holding back broke free and ran down her face.

Please, Lord, give me a sign. Help me figure out what to do.

She had no idea how to get out of Colombia now that Eduardo Sanchez had rallied his troops and made a publicity stunt out of the kidnapping. They were sure to be looking for a baby at the airport, so Ellie's newly acquired passport was now useless. Even if there were no photos of her on the news, the authorities would surely have some, supplied by Sanchez himself.

Gil placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, but he kept his distance. “Talk to me, Sonny. You have to tell me everything.”

How could she trust him? How could she take that chance when she knew his goal was to find Cash?

But, Lord, I know I can't do this alone.

“Gil, I need your help. It doesn't matter how I got her. The only thing that matters is that her name is Ellie Montgomery.”

“Did you steal that baby from Eduardo Sanchez's estate?” Marco said from the doorway, his mouth open wide in horror.

Gil put up a hand to quiet him.

“Oh, this is bad, Gil. Real bad,” Cooper said, shaking her head. “If we get caught with that baby…”

“Answer me, Sonny. Did you take this baby?”

Sonny swung around to face Gil. “Yes.”

The room was silent. But for the gentle breeze scraping an errant branch against the window, there was no sound. Even Ellie remained quiet.

Eyes as wide as saucers, Gil said, “You kidnapped her?”

“Since she never belong to Eduardo Sanchez in the first place, it wasn't kidnapping.
from America.”

“Really? Tell that to Eduardo Sanchez and the authorities,” Marco said.

“I didn't do it alone.”

Gil put his hand on his forehead as he thought. “I was following you. How could you have taken her? You never left your room until yesterday morning.”

“Which is when she took her,” Marco said.

“That's when I lost you. It was only after Marco hacked the airline's site that I found out you were leaving Colombia via Monteria, not Bogotá.”

“I told you. I didn't do it alone.”

“Who helped you? Cash?” Gil didn't take his eyes off her. She wanted desperately to know what he was thinking. Did he believe her or despise her? In those few seconds, she wanted to trust him more than anything.

As she stifled a sob, she said, “I don't know where Cash is. I wish I did. You have to believe me, Gil.”

Cooper swallowed hard. “Gil, what are we going to do?”

He sighed, but never looked away from Sonny. Sonny held his gaze, searching his eyes, looking for any kind of sign that would let her know he was on her side. That she could finally trust him.

“Cooper, go listen to the broadcast. See if there's any information we can use.”

“Gil—” Cooper said in protest.

“Just do it, please.”

He turned to Sonny. “How'd you get her out of the estate, Sonny? How'd you get in, for that matter? Eduardo Sanchez looks to be a powerful man. There had to be guards all over the place.”

His scrutiny nearly broke her heart. Gone was the gentle man who'd held Ellie so delicately last night. In his eyes, Sonny had stolen another man's child. That's all he cared about. She
a criminal after all, no better than what he thought of her brother.

She wanted to drop to the floor and weep.

“Uh, Gil, what are you thinking?” Marco said, looking pale. “Cuz, I don't have to tell you it would be bad for us to get caught up in a kidnapping. Really bad.”

Sonny suddenly recalled a prayer her mother had said to her before she left for Colombia.
They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
And then her mother had said, “Go soar, Sonny.”

Her mother had faith in her and she had to draw strength from that faith now. It was almost as if she'd known Sonny would need this verse at some point to keep her going.

Drawing a renewing breath of air into her lungs, she focused on being calm and strong.

At any moment, one of them could pick up the telephone, call the Colombian authorities and end this whole thing. Ellie would be returned to Sanchez's estate and kept so heavily guarded that it would be impossible to rescue her from the kingpin's clutches again. Sonny would be hauled off to some Colombian prison.
If I'm lucky, I'll end up in prison. I could end up disappearing without a trace.

Sonny licked her lips and tried to ignore Ellie's crying as she held her tightly. She kept her voice even as she spoke.

“Marco, go online and check out Eduardo Sanchez. Not like you're looking for a phone number in the white pages. Like you did when you were looking for information about me. Like you did for my brother Cash. And while you're at it, add one more name to the list. Manuel Turgis.”

“Who's that?” Gil asked.

“Sanchez's partner. I assure you it will make for interesting reading. Then you'll believe me when I say I am taking
niece home to the United States to

“Gil?” Marco said.

“Do it.” Gil turned back to Sonny, his voice suddenly harsh. “What's it going to say, Sonny? What kind of men have you gotten yourself involved with?”

She shook her head. “Not me. This association was formed long before I was born.”

His brow knitted. “I don't understand.”

“Gil, I don't have the energy to take your grilling,” she pleaded. “Just check it out. I'll answer every question you ask after.”

Gil looked angry, as if he'd been betrayed. How he could believe she'd betrayed him was beyond her comprehension. He was the one who'd interfered with her plans to leave Colombia with Ellie in the first place. But he stared at her as if she'd somehow done him wrong instead of the other way around.

“You both could have been killed,” he said quietly. He held himself rigid, his back straight, his arms stiff by his sides. As if it was taking every bit of strength he had to hold himself in reserve. “How could you put her in danger this way?”

Sonny's mouth dropped open. “Me? Need I remind you that if you hadn't interfered we'd be in Miami right now?”

“With who, Cash?”

She rolled her eyes. “You're still more concerned with finding my brother than anything else. You'll have to collect your precious bounty on your own, Gil. I don't know where Cash is. I've told you that countless times.”

“If you did know, would you tell me?”

She hesitated for a split second. “No. I've told you that already, too.”

Gil spun on his heels and pushed past Marco, who was still standing in the doorway.

“What are you going to do, Gil?” Sonny asked, frantic.

He said nothing. Ellie was now wailing so loudly Sonny thought her head was about to explode. The tears in her eyes made it hard to see.

“Let me take the baby,” Cooper said quietly, coming up beside her.

“No!” She held the baby tighter. “Gil, answer me!”

Cooper put out her arms. “Sonny, give me the baby.”

“Please don't take her to the authorities,” Sonny cried. “You can't do that!”
Oh, Lord, please don't let them take her away!

Cooper gripped Sonny by the shoulders. “You're upset. You're going to hurt Ellie if you don't ease up.”

Sonny glanced down and realized she was holding Ellie in a death grip.

Sonny charged into the living room behind Gil, who was pacing around the sofa as if it helped him think.

“You can't take her away from me,” she pleaded. “She belongs with her mother. She belongs in America, not in Colombia. Anyone could take one look at her and see that she's my brother's child.”

Gil saw the struggle Sonny was having with Cooper and advanced toward them.

He spoke calmly, looking directly in her eyes. “Give the baby to Cooper to hold, Sonny.”

“Please, Gil. Please! Don't take her away!”


ake it easy, Sonny. I'm not going to hand Ellie over to anyone,” Gil said. “I'm just letting Cooper hold her because you're upset.”

Sonny gulped back a sob and then nodded.

As Gil took Ellie from Sonny and handed her over to Cooper, Sonny felt as if her arms were being ripped from her body.

The loud rumble of an engine drew Gil's attention outside. He strode quickly to the window, pulled the curtain aside and peered out.

“What is it?” Cooper asked, shifting the baby in her arms. “What's that sound?”

“Military trucks. As in more than just a few.”

“Whoa,” Marco said. “Um, damage control, Gil? We need some.”

Gil let the curtain fall back into place. “Let's not get paranoid. This is Colombia after all. There are a lot of reasons why military vehicles roam these streets. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what's happened here.”

Marco sputtered. “Come on, boss. If Sanchez is as big a deal as the news report says, he probably has the whole country combing the streets for this baby. It sounds like he has the clout to do it.”

Gil considered what Marco said. “If they're looking for the baby, they don't know she's here. At least not yet. They're probably all over every city with an international airport.”

“How do you know they're after the baby? I mean, Eduardo Sanchez is a businessman. He's not military,” Cooper said.

Gil turned to Sonny. “You want to fill us in on what you know about Eduardo Sanchez? And what was the other name?”

“Manuel Turgis,” Sonny said, her heartbeat beginning to slow down.

“Who are these people?”

“They're part of the Aztec Corporation.”

Gil shook his head in frustration. “Don't play with me, Sonny. I don't want their résumés. We know Sanchez is the CEO of Aztec. But who is he to you and how is it that he came into possession of your

Shoulders sagging, Sonny said, “You're determined to prove that Cash and I are criminals, aren't you?”

She reached toward the fussing baby in Cooper's arms, touching her hand and stroking her cheek. She wasn't sure if she was trying to comfort the baby or herself.

“Give me a reason not to,” Gil said.

And he meant it. He couldn't remember a time when he wanted to believe he was wrong more than right now.

He couldn't be involved with a criminal. He wouldn't. It went against everything he believed in. The fact that he even entertained the notion last night went against every professional ethic he held dear. Instead of accepting the facts that were right in front of him, he wanted her to prove that he was right to feel…whatever it was he was feeling for her.

He held his position, searching her face—her incredible eyes—as she looked back at him. He had to give her points for not running away from the pressure that threatened to explode in the room, from the weight of Marco's and Cooper's furious stares. But then again, she'd already proven how tough she could be back at the airport.

“We're not criminals, Gil. I could tell the whole story, but you probably still won't believe me.” Her voice was quiet and it dawned on him that she wasn't going to feel free to talk until Ellie was back in her crib.

“Try me.”

She sighed as if the weight of the world were dragging her down.

“My brother was framed by people in the Aztec Corporation. He got too close to the truth.”

“The truth about what? Drugs?”

Sonny shook her head. “Despite the ‘evidence' they found in Cash's apartment in Chicago when he was arrested, it wasn't drugs. It was never drugs. But that's what Manuel Turgis wanted the Feds to think—that the reason Cash was coming to Colombia was for drugs.

“Cash married a woman named Serena Davco in a secret ceremony—Dylan and I didn't even know about it. Neither did our parents. Her family, specifically her father, Byron Davco, was working with Turgis to launder money and stolen valuables.”

Gil instinctively reached out and rumpled the downy hair on Ellie's head as she wriggled in Cooper's arms. “What kind of valuables?”

“Stolen Aztec artifacts from Mexico. One of the Aztec Corporation's businesses is making replicas of ancient art and selling them worldwide. But they also sell the real stuff along with stolen artwork on the black market.”

“They deal in art? What kind?” Cooper asked, bouncing Ellie up and down.

“Paintings. Byron double-crossed Turgis in a deal nearly thirty years ago. Turgis retaliated by going after Byron's family. He killed Byron's wife in a fire. Serena and her younger sister, Tammie, nearly died.”

Sonny eased into a chair. “Three priceless paintings had been stolen and painted over to conceal them while they were being shipped. Eduardo Sanchez paid to have the paintings sent to a European buyer. The money was transferred to a Swiss account. But the deal fell through the night Serena's mother was killed in the fire at the family mansion.”

“What happened?” Gil asked.

“Serena's mother found out that Byron was dealing with Turgis to launder money. She took the information Byron needed to complete the transaction and threatened to give it to the authorities. Turgis found out and knew he couldn't let that happen, so he murdered Serena's mother. Until that time he'd been operating in the United States without any FBI interest. Unfortunately, the number to the Swiss account and the whereabouts of the last painting were lost in the fire.”

Gil rubbed his hand over his face. “That couldn't have gone over well with Turgis's boss.”

“It didn't. Eduardo Sanchez was furious because it put his operation at risk and blackened his name. He took it out on Turgis, who then vowed to destroy Byron Davco. He has waged a war against Serena's family ever since, killing those associated with Byron Davco unless he paid money for their protection.”

“He extorted money from Davco for thirty years?” Gil asked. “What changed?”

“Byron has Alzheimer's. When he could no longer pay, Turgis went after Serena. You see, Eduardo Sanchez and Manuel Turgis believed that Byron knew where that last painting was. It was a matter of pride and greed that drove them all these years. Manuel Turgis was humiliated among his people that the deal never went through. He needed to make good on his word to Eduardo Sanchez. Sanchez never let him forget how he botched the deal and in turn, they never let Byron Davco forget his part in it. To cut their losses and let it go would have made them appear weak. So they terrorized Byron and his family, hoping to find that last painting.”

“You say it was the last painting?”

“Yes. Cash knew about it. When the statute of limitations was up on the theft, the painting appeared on the open market for auction, opening up an old wound and an unsettled debt that infuriated Eduardo Sanchez.”

Marco stood by the door to the kitchen, listening with interest. “Is that when Ellie was taken?”

“Yes,” Sonny said, her eyes filling with tears. “When Cash realized just how dangerous the situation was with Sanchez and Turgis, he decided not to involve his family. He never told us about Serena or Ellie. Not until it was too late and Ellie had been taken.”

She turned in her seat and looked directly at Gil. “My brother isn't what the authorities make him out to be. He didn't jump bail because he's guilty of anything. He came here to rescue his daughter.”

“And was kidnapped himself in the process?” Gil asked.

Sonny laughed wryly. “You still don't believe me.”

“Would you?”

She thought a moment. “Maybe not. But if you check out Manuel Turgis and Eduardo Sanchez, you'll find out enough to realize I'm telling you the truth.”

A tear trickled down Sonny's cheek. Gil had a strong urge to reach over and brush it away. Sonny looked beaten down. Whatever she'd been through these past few months had taken its toll on her.

He forced his gaze away from her face. “The baby's hungry,” he said, nodding his head at Ellie, who was gumming her fist.

Sonny rubbed her temple. “She needs a bottle.”

“Get Ellie back to sleep and then we can talk more.” Sonny nodded and took Ellie from Cooper. “I want the rest of it, Sonny. All of it. Despite what you think, you can trust me.”

She hesitated a moment, searching his face, and then nodded again. He wasn't sure if she believed him or had simply resigned herself to the task of feeding the baby.

“I'll be right back. Do you mind warming a bottle for me while I change her diaper?”

“I'll get it,” Cooper said.

“Thank you.”

Gil watched Sonny go to the bedroom in her bare feet. Her wet hair was starting to curl as it dried. He longed to touch those curls, to let her hair spill into his hands. And he hated himself for wanting even that much.

She closed the door behind her without looking back.

“If this isn't really Eduardo Sanchez's baby, why would he appear on television saying that it is?” Marco asked skeptically. “Why be that brazen? I mean, news like this would get picked up by the wire services and be all over the world in minutes.”

“No one is going to pay any attention to this kidnapping outside of Colombia,” Gil said. “It might be news for a day, but the rest of the world will move on quickly.”

Gil glanced at the television screen. He picked up the remote and flipped through several channels. The news was only on one station so far. He went to the window to look at the military trucks. So far, the soldiers were just sitting there. He let the curtain fall back in place.

Gil agreed that Sanchez's actions were bold. Chances were he wouldn't make that kind of move on U.S. soil. But he had so many supporters in Colombia that no one would question him. They'd just rally behind him.

Which didn't bode well for Gil and his team.
Or Sonny and Ellie.

Marco headed for the kitchen. “Boss man, I'm going to go do some digging.”

“That's a good idea. You heard the lady. Dig deep. I need to know exactly who and what we're dealing with. And let me know as soon as you find something.”

“Will do.”

Gil needed space. Pushing the double doors open to the courtyard, he went outside for some fresh air. It was hot and the sound of commotion in the city altered the space that had been a serene refuge last night when he'd been thinking of Sonny.

Cooper appeared at the French doors but didn't venture outside. “I gave Sonny a bottle for the baby.”

He could read her expression. “What's on your mind, Cooper?”

“Not for nothing, Gil, but if this were anyone else, you'd be making plans to fly us out of here.”

Floored by her abrupt remark, he said, “What does that mean?”

She rolled her eyes. “Come on, Gil.”

Irritation spiked inside him. Not at Cooper, but at himself for being so transparent. If this were anyone else other than Sonny Montgomery, would he be acting any differently?

He didn't like the answers that came to mind.

“What I need you to do right now is help Marco. Will you do that for me?”

Cooper sighed and turned on her heels. He couldn't win this fight, he decided. Mostly because Cooper was right.

For the first time since he started bounty hunting with Bruce, his first partner, he'd gotten in over his head on a job. He knew he needed to do whatever it took to protect his team. He learned that the hard way with Bruce.

The logical thing to do wasn't even an option in Gil's book. Turning Sonny over to the Colombian authorities was unimaginable. And he didn't want to think of what they would do to Sonny if they found her here with Ellie. Yet he had an obligation not to endanger Marco and Cooper.

Gil stayed in the courtyard a few minutes more, letting the warm breeze ease his senses and calm his mind. It was the woman and not the situation that had him so rattled. He knew that, even though he didn't like it very much.

“It's going to take a while to find out what this Eduardo Sanchez is all about,” he heard Marco say to Cooper in the kitchen.

Gil decided to go inside. He had to figure out what they were dealing with.

“The press treats him like he's royalty,” he heard Marco say. “Cleaning up run-down parts of Colombia and bringing jobs to impoverished villages has practically made the man a local hero.”

The door to the bedroom opened and then closed, quietly. Sonny appeared to be considerably calmer at first glance, but Gil's heart nearly broke when he realized she was terrified. Her eyes were red-rimmed and her face was sheet-white. But she kept her shoulders straight and her chin high.

She was prepared to fight and fight hard, Gil realized. He hadn't understood it at the time, but he'd seen that same look at the airport. She hadn't backed down then.

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