Devil You Know: Cartel Queens Book Two

 





I believed in happy-ever-afters. I did. Maybe not the kind most people dream of, but my life wasn’t like theirs. OK, in the beginning it was, I was an ordinary girl from an ordinary world living an ordinary life. But that changed, in a heartbeat, and my ordinary life suddenly became extraordinary; dangerous. Deadly. Anyway, it’s a long story, one I’ve already told, once, and that life, I walked away from it. Because I found my happy-ever-after. But it didn’t come without a price. It wasn’t something that was gifted to me, I had to fight for it. We had to fight for each other.

Was the pain worth it?

Yes.

Was the loss of life that came with that fight something I regret?

No.

Sometimes.

Maybe a little, I try not to think about it too much.

Was my happy-ever-after perfect, once the pain had subsided?

It was. As perfect as it could be, anyway.

But nothing is forever.

No one stays the same, no matter how much they think they do. They don’t.

Everyone has secrets. Everyone tells lies. People start wars without realizing what they’re doing. It happens, even in a world you thought was safer. We can never stray too far from our past, even if we feel like we’ve left it behind us. We haven’t. We can’t. Even fairytales suck, believe me, I know. I know.

But sometimes we need to go back. We have to, go back. Shit happens, shit we always saw coming, we just chose to ignore it. Until we had no other choice. But it still hit like a punch to the gut, knowing we had to fight all over again; knowing that starting that fight, it was going to threaten everything. Knowing that the person you were before, the one you’d tried so hard to walk away from, you have to bring them back. You have to. And that’s what I was scared of. What we were all scared of.

I thought my future was certain.

That was my first mistake.

I thought nothing could touch us anymore.

That was my second.

I thought love could overcome anything, but in reality love only causes more pain.

Heartache.

Loss.

Love is a messed-up emotion, and we can’t always control it.

But we should have tried.

We should have all tried.

I saw the signs, not all of them, and not straightaway, but they were there.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I became too complacent. Too relaxed. I stopped looking over my shoulder when backward glances should’ve been constant. And now – now we’re paying the price. And that just might be the thing that breaks me. Us. All of us.

My name was Olivia Delgado.

And my story’s not over yet…


 

Prologue

 

 

 

The air is thick with smoke, black and heavy, but it’s the sudden silence that’s unsettling. It’s like the world just ended, but it hasn’t. Not yet.

“Are we done?” Angel asks, and I nod, tucking my gun down the back of my jeans.

“We’re done.”

But we don’t make any attempt to move, not even when we hear the wail of sirens growing closer.

“We should get out of here.”

Yeah. We should. We’ve done what we needed to do, seen what we needed to see, we don’t need to hang around.

“Come on.”

We run to the beat-up black van parked just around the corner, jump in, yank the scarves from our faces and drive off, just as three police cars pull up outside the smoldering wreck of a building. They didn’t see us. They were never going to see us.

“Do you think she’s OK?” Angel asks, glancing back over his shoulder.

“She’ll be fine.” I grip the steering wheel tighter as we turn the corner and head back toward the clubhouse. “She knew what she was doing.”

Pulling into the compound, I breathe a sigh of relief as I see her standing outside the workshop, drinking beer and laughing at something Eddie’s just said, it’s like nothing’s happened. Like she didn’t just risk her life to do something only she could do. And if I could’ve swapped places with her I would’ve done that, no question, but we needed her to do it. There was no other way.

Wasn’t there?

Are you sure about that…?

“She got here in one piece, then.” Angel gets out of the van, but I sit there for a second or two, and I think I can probably breathe now. Maybe. She’s OK. She got back, unscathed, I hope. But there’s this dark, desperate churning in the pit of my stomach when I think about what she might have had to go through before this point. And I know I can’t think like that, I can’t let those thoughts take over, we all knew this was the way it had to be. She knew the risks, we all did, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. I should’ve been able to protect her. That’s my fucking job.

Sighing heavily, I drag a hand through my hair and get out of the van, and the second she spots me she smiles, she comes over, and she takes my hand, squeezing it tight.

“Are you OK?” I reach out and gently push her hair aside, I need to see her face.

“I’m fine.”

I cock my head slightly and frown as I take a look at her neck. “Who did this?”

She reaches up to touch the faint red marks just below her jawline, some bastard’s had his hands around her, I swear, I’ll kill the motherfucker…

That job’s already done.

Yeah. It probably is…

“It’s OK. Really.”

“Who did this?” I repeat, but she just shakes her head and pulls her hair back over her shoulder.

“It doesn’t matter. We did what we had to do, and now it’s over. Right?”

I throw my head back and let out a loud, frustrated sigh. This part’s over. But we still have one more thing to do before we can finally claim victory.

“Go inside, get a drink. Go on.”

She smiles at me, and I still can’t believe how beautiful she is, but that’s the problem. She’s too beautiful. And that shouldn’t be a problem, but it is. For me.

“I’m not sure alcohol’s going to help.” I murmur that almost to myself as I glance around the compound, everyone’s in a party mood. Except me. I think, finally, everything we’ve done, everything we had to put her through, it’s catching up with me. And it fucking hurts.

“Try and relax, please?”

I look at her, into eyes that are begging me to put this behind me, and that’s exactly what I need to do. Put this behind me. Move on. Forget about it. Isn’t that what we always do?

“Please?” She’s pleading with me now, and I can’t let her down again, I won’t do that, so I suck it up and throw her a smile before I head inside. But I’m no sooner through the door than the sound of tires screeching; guns firing off round after round, the air’s filled with a terrifying noise and I race back outside, yanking my gun from my back pocket just in time to see the bullet rip through her from back to front, blood spurting from the wound as she falls to the floor in a crumpled heap. And I drop to my haunches, my head in my hands, and I let out the longest, loudest howl…

 

One

 

 

 

Halle

 

Leaning back against the counter, swiftly moving my elbow away from a puddle of Jim Beam, I smile at Angel as he bends over the pool table, ready to take his shot. One that’ll see him win his fifth straight game in a row, yeah, it’s all quiet in the clubhouse this afternoon. No shit going down, no scores to settle, I mean, I’m not saying it’s the fucking Waltons or anything, but the atmosphere’s calm, there’s no tension in the air. A faint whiff of weed and the lingering smell of engine oil, maybe, but no tension.

“You should be heading over to the bar.”

I drag my focus away from Angel and look at the tall, slightly-too-thin, dark-haired woman who’s joined me at the counter. Carla Mendoza. One of the more seasoned club girls, and someone who’s been helping me settle in since I arrived in town almost a month ago. She sorted me out a place to stay – a small but comfortable apartment above a piercing studio, both owned by the Devil’s Creed – and a job, waiting tables at a bar also owned by the club. The Black Dahlia. It’s kind of seedy, and almost exclusively a biker hang-out, but it pays OK, extremely well when the tips are good, and I actually like the fact it feels like a family over there. Everyone’s kind and supportive and we look out for each other. Almost all of the women who work there are club girls, there are only a couple who aren’t a part of the whole biker scene – a single mom who needs the money to feed her kid, and a girl a little younger than me who’s trying to pay her way through college. The rest are just holding out for that bad boy who’ll make them their old lady. Their woman. Their property. This world, it isn’t alien to me. I’ve been hanging out with men like this since I was fourteen-years-old. Six years. Long enough for me to know how they work. And I can handle them. All of them.

“My shift doesn’t start for another hour.”

Carla takes a drag on her cigarette and turns her head away, blowing smoke up at the ceiling. “Thought you might want to get out of this place for a bit.” She takes another drag of her cigarette before stubbing it out on a plate filled with the remnants of someone’s leftover fried chicken. “None of these assholes’ll be at the bar this early.”

“I heard that.” Angel reaches behind me for his beer, his arm briefly brushing against mine, and I feel my skin break out in goosebumps and my stomach dip, it always happens when he gets this close to me. “And will you quit smoking in here? Take it outside, this place stinks bad enough as it is.”

“Jesus, who died and made you momma?”

Angel ignores Carla and throws me a wide grin, which I return, and out the corner of my eye I don’t miss Carla rolling hers.

“Come on, Halle. Let’s go.”

She takes my hand and pulls me away from Angel, but not before I’ve thrown him one final smile over my shoulder.

“Are you serious?” Carla lets go of my hand as she fishes her car keys out of her pocket. “Angel’s old enough to be your daddy.”

“So?”

She gives me the side-eye, but that’s it. A small warning, nothing else, and when I say a warning, it’s only because she’s become a little too protective of me. I’m the youngest club girl here, but I’m no child. I’m not some naïve kid from out of town, I’ve lived this life for more years than I should’ve. I’m used to it. I like it.

“You never did tell us how you ended up here?” Carla rests her arms on the roof of her car and fixes me with a quizzical look.

I tilt my head and smile slightly. “Is it important?”

She shrugs. “Not really. Just interested, is all.”

“I like to travel.”

Carla narrows her eyes, I’m not sure she’s buying this. Doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have to. Why I’m here is nobody’s business but mine. For now.

“Yeah, ’cause you came a real long way, didn’t you?”

It’s my turn to shrug. “Traveling’s traveling, right? Doesn’t matter how far you came.”

“If you say so. Come on. Get in the car. We’ll stop by Birdies on the way, grab a burger. You look like you need feeding up.”

“I eat plenty.” I get in the car and pull my dark glasses down over my eyes.

“Then you must have some kinda crazy metabolism. You ain’t ever gonna move from waiting tables to dancing the poles if you don’t get some meat on those bones.”

“Who says I want to dance?”

“Tips are way better, honey. And you are one pretty little Mexican princess, you could earn a shitload of cash out there, you’ve seen how easy it is. All you gotta do is shake that tight ass of yours, flash them perky tits a coupla times, it ain’t hard. Back in Kentucky I only had to work two nights a week doing that shit and I had more dollars than I knew what to do with.” She lights up another cigarette, takes a drag, and blows smoke out of the open window. “Those days are behind me now, but that don’t mean I can’t help another sister out.”

“I don’t need any help.”

She looks at me, the edge of her mouth curling up ever-so-slightly. “We all need help, sugar.”

I don’t. I got myself here, over the border, all alone, I didn’t need anyone’s help.

“Anyway, you think about it, kiddo. You could make some real good money. Set yourself up nicely, get you a proper home, a nice place with a yard, maybe.”

“I’m fine where I am.”

“Alright,” she sighs, shaking her head as we pull into the parking lot outside Birdie’s Burger Joint. Another biker hang-out. “I ain’t gonna waste my breath no more, but you’ll come to your senses one day. I guarantee it.”

I slide my sunglasses up onto my head and get out of the car, the smell of grease and smoke and stale beer hitting me the second I step onto the tarmac.

“Come on. Let’s get you a double cheeseburger and fries, extra bacon.”

“Carla…”

“No arguing. You’ve a long night ahead, you need some fuel in you.”

I throw my head back and roll my eyes, but this is an argument I know I’m not going to win. And I actually like that Carla looks out for me, it’s good to have a friend. A real friend, I don’t have many of those, and as for family… Well. Family’s the reason I left Mexico, the reason why I’m here, in San Diego. The reason why I wanted to become part of the Devil’s Creed MC. Family’s the reason I’m doing everything now. And I’m only just getting started…

 

 

 

Olivia

 

“Do you ever stop and think about what we have now?” I lean back against the wall, cross my arms, and watch Lucca as he checks the newly-renovated room over. The Beach Bay Resort didn’t really need an upgrade, not yet, but it’s a place that holds too many memories, of Javier. And although I may never wipe those memories away completely, I can help them fade, by doing this. By making this place mine, rather than his. By making this place mine, and Lucca’s.

He turns around and smiles at me, and I swear, every time he does that – every fucking time – it makes me fall in love with him all over again. “I have you. And that’s all that matters.”

I throw my head back and laugh, I’m pretending I don’t like it when he goes all cheesy on me, but I do. I like it. I love him. He’s funny and ridiculously romantic, which is a side to him I never imagined he had, I was so used to the cool, calm Lucca, the man that was once Javier’s lieutenant. A cold, silent killer. A protector. He’s different now.

“What?” he laughs, coming over to me and uncurling my arms, sliding one of his around my waist as he pulls me closer, kissing me deep and dirty, and I groan quietly. I love that we’re still like a couple of teenagers, still living in that phase where we can’t keep our hands off each other, it’s why I wake up every morning, to be with this man for another day. Neither of us take that for granted, not anymore. “You know I’d give all of this up in a heartbeat, if I had to. It’s you I can’t be without.”

I slide a hand around the back of his neck, rest my forehead against his, and for a moment neither of us says anything. I close my eyes and I breathe him in and I know how lucky we are to both still be here. Together. Alive.

“I love you, so much,” I whisper, and he smiles again, and I feel my heart swell.

“I love you too, mi reina,” he murmurs, his fingers fanning out against the base of my spine. And it’s one of those moments, one of those beautiful, precious moments that I’ll never forget, I’ve stored them all away, kept them safe. I’m being careful. This might not last forever. “Don’t, Olivia.”

I look up into his ice-blue eyes, and I frown, and he gently strokes my cheek with his thumb and shakes his head.

“Don’t think about it, OK? You think about it too much.”

I take his hand and he squeezes it tight, but I’m the first to let go. To step away. To flick that switch. “The interior designers we hired, they’ve done well. The rooms are exactly how I’d envisaged them.”

“We used the best people. They knew what they were doing. “

“They’ve transformed this place.” I go into the bathroom, run my fingertips over the dark-gray granite tiles, and I glance up and catch my reflection in the mirrored wall opposite. I look different, because I wanted to look different. My hair’s slightly shorter, sitting just above my shoulders in a layered, choppy bob, and I’ve changed the color from black to a deep, dark red. But there’s no disguising the faint lines around my eyes, the effects of a past we’re still trying to move on from.

“You’re beautiful.”

Lucca comes up behind me, gently pushes my hair aside and kisses the side of my neck, my body tingling the second his lips connect with my skin, and I lean back against him and watch us in the mirror. We look so good together, like we were always meant to be, together. But we weren’t. Maybe we shouldn’t be. All I know is I would fight to the death for this man, I’d take a bullet for him. And I know he’d do the same for me. I know he would. He’d been willing to do that long before I loved him; before he was allowed to love me.

“You have to say that, or you don’t get sex.” I smile and turn around in his arms, tugging on his shirt lapels.

“You think I tell you you’re beautiful just to get sex?”

“It helps.”

He laughs, and I love to watch him do that. Laugh. He didn’t laugh all that much before, neither of us did. And it’s only now that I’m beginning to realize that.

“I tell you you’re beautiful because you are. You always have been, you always will be.”

“You’re such a charmer.”

“Guilty.” He grins, and I kiss him before stepping out of his arms and heading back into the bedroom.

“Come on. Let’s go home, grab some lunch, and make the most of the fact we have nothing to do this afternoon.”

His grin widens as he leans back against the wall and crosses his arms. “I still can’t get used to you like this.”

“Like what?” I take one last look at the newly-renovated room before grabbing my jacket from the chair by the bed.

“I don’t know. Carefree, that’s probably the closest I can come to it. You don’t have the weight of the world on your shoulders anymore.”

I go over to him, and I rest a hand on his hip as I look up into his eyes. “Neither do you. And for a long time you carried a lot more weight than I ever did.”

His arm circles my waist and he pulls me against him, kissing me quickly but long enough for my knees to react, yeah, he makes me feel all the clichés under the sun. Every single one of them.

“We’re OK now,” he murmurs, and I smile and nod because he’s right. We’re OK, now. But we so very nearly weren’t.

“Let’s go home,” I whisper, my hand sliding into his, but before we leave the room we stop, and we look around us. “This is all ours now.”

He squeezes my hand, and I look at him. And the smile he gives me, it’s all I need to know that everything we went through, everything we did, it was worth it. It was all worth it.

“Yeah. It is.”

Not a trace of Javier remains in this place, and I’m slowly making sure it’s the same for every restaurant, bar and hotel we own, on both sides of the border. I’ll never erase every memory of my ex-husband, and, despite everything, there are some I’d like to keep, but not all of them. I want a fresh start, a new beginning, we both want that. And we’re getting there. And nothing and nobody is going threaten our world again. Nothing. And nobody…

 

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