Who am I?
You’ll find out. Soon.
How did I get here? How did I become this woman? This powerful, wealthy, dangerous woman…?
It’s a long story, one I’ll tell, in a little while. All you need to know right now is that I didn’t start out wanting to be who I became. I never wanted the life I ended up living. The money, the power, I didn’t want any of it. Not at first, anyway. But sometimes we don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we lose control of our own destiny, it happens far more easily than you might think. I certainly didn’t set out to be the person I ended up becoming, how could I? I didn’t even know women like me existed, because they didn’t. Not in my world. The one I left behind, when I fell in love with a man who needed me to choose between his world, and mine. I chose his.
My first mistake…?
I don’t know. I think that depends on how you look at things, but nothing was that simple. There was no black and white in that new world of mine, just countless shades of gray. But what you probably should know is that I was just an ordinary girl, once-upon-a-time. Before I met the man who changed everything. Before the shit hit the fan and all hell broke loose. It’s just hard to believe, sometimes, that I was ever that girl, because when I look in the mirror I see a completely different woman staring back at me. A cold, emotionless woman, someone who’s seen things, done things, dark, dangerous things, shit I never thought I’d ever be capable of. And I don’t regret a thing. None of that was to blame for what’s happening now. None of it. What’s happening now is the result of something else entirely. And it wasn’t all my fault. Others played their part; started that timebomb ticking, and now – now my life depends on how I choose to deal with the consequences. Of what, you might ask? Of falling in love, that’s what.
Love was the game changer. The thing that started it all.
Love changed me; made me stronger; turned me into the kind of bitch nobody wanted to mess with, and very few did. Those who tried, they paid for it.
Falling in love was the catalyst, and in the end it’s what’s caused my entire house of carefully stacked cards to come crashing down. And now – now it could kill me.
So, who am I, exactly?
My name is Olivia Delgado.
Head of the Delgado cartel.
And this is my story…
The wind whistles through the open window as we speed into the night, the sound of distant gun shots still ringing loud in my ears. Wiping the palm of my hand on my torn, mud-splattered jeans I wrap my fingers back around the gun and lean out of the window, looking behind us, but I can’t see anything. I think we might’ve lost them, for now. But the coast’s anything but clear.
“How long ’til we reach the airfield?” I sit back down, still holding tightly onto the gun.
“Almost there. Another five minutes, max.”
I close my eyes and take the deepest of breaths, but all that does is exacerbate the pain in my shoulder where the bullet grazed it.
“You need to get that seen to.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You think? You want to take a detour via the hospital?”
I’m aware that sarcasm and a smart mouth aren’t entirely helpful right now, but it’s all I’ve got.
“What?” My fingers tighten their grip on the gun as I look in the rear view mirror. “Fuck!”
Kneeling up on the seat I twist around so most of my upper half is hanging out of the window and, ignoring the pain tearing through my shoulder, I point the gun out in front of me as the headlights grow closer, flashing their deadly threat.
“Here. Take this.”
I quickly turn around, shove the gun down the back of my jeans and pick up the rifle.
“Take the tires out. That’ll buy us some time.”
My first shot hits the front tire, but it also invites another round of retaliation, a hail of bullets ricocheting off the back of the truck. But I don’t hesitate, don’t take another breath, I fire off another round, taking out the second front tire, the pick-up now swerving dangerously, sparks flying up from the tarmac as it careers across the road.
“I can see the airfield! Here!” He throws the radio into my lap. “Tell them to stand by.”
I pick up the radio, issue the instruction, and then I sit back and finally take a breath, my eyes focused on the lights of the airfield as they draw closer.
Behind us I can still hear weapons being fired, the incessant rattling of their machine-guns, they’re not giving up without a fight. But I never thought they would.
“We’re almost there. Just a few more minutes and we’ll be out of here.”
I look at him, and I smile, despite the pain now coursing down my left arm. He’s right. Just a few more minutes…
“The product arrived safely. Eddie’s men have already collected it and taken it to the warehouse, they’re preparing for distribution as we speak.” Lucca tucks his gun down the back of his jeans and moves further into the room. “Do you need me for anything else?”
I lean back against the desk and cross my arms. “No.”
“Have you eaten yet?”
I shake my head, my eyes dropping to my ridiculously high, spike-heeled Louboutin ankle boots.
“You need to eat, Liv.”
“I’ve been busy.”
Pulling myself away from the desk I walk over to the window, my arms still crossed over my chest.
“I could make us something. I do a mean chili. Come on, you love my chili!”
I smile but keep my back to him as I stare out onto the central courtyard of my San Diego estate. It’s dark outside, but the solar lights strewn through the palm trees and shrubs are just enough to make it all look cozy and inviting.
Cozy and inviting.
Something my life hasn’t been for a very long time.
I drop my head and sigh quietly. “Pour me a whiskey. And one for yourself.”
I wait a moment or two before turning back around, leaning against the window-sill.
“The breaking the ground ceremony, for the new hotel, it’s happening on Thursday. So, I’m trusting the bikers to get on with distribution without any problems. Can you make sure that happens? I need to be at that ceremony.”
Lucca hands me a crystal tumbler half-full of whiskey and sits down on the arm of a dark-brown leather sofa. Lucca Pérez. The only man I trust, with anything. My business. My life…
“I think we’ve worked with the bikers long enough to be able to trust them, Olivia. You know that.”
I take a sip of whiskey and drop my head again, staring down into the glass as I gently swirl the amber liquid around. “Has Casper received payment for this shipment?”
“Money came through half an hour ago. Everything’s good.”
“His product is some of the best out there, so we need to keep him happy. We were lucky to get him on board, he doesn’t allow too many people in.”
“Your persistence paid off.”
I look up, my eyes meeting Lucca’s over the rim of the tumbler. “I saw it as a necessary move. We don’t have time to come up with product ourselves, not anymore. We have other things going on now.”
“Look, Olivia, about that… Dealing in weapons, it’s not something we’ve ever felt the need to become involved in, to any great extent. Most cartels don’t go down that route, Javier certainly didn’t…”
“Javier isn’t here.” The tone of my voice has taken on a slightly colder edge, but that’s because I don’t like being questioned, something Lucca is very much aware of, and yet, he still does it. But he’s the only one who will ever get away with it. “And while I’m grateful for your input, Lucca, final decisions will always lie with me. Besides, the cartel itself won’t be involved too directly with that side of things, we’ve talked about this. You know what’s happening. It’s just another business deal.”
He breaks the stare, finishes his drink, and leaves the empty tumbler on the small glass coffee table before standing up, sliding his hands into his pockets. “It’s been a long day. We should both get some rest.”
“I still have a few things left to do here.”
Lucca sighs and rakes a hand through his short, dark-brown hair. “I’ll make sure the guards do a final check outside before locking up.” He starts to walk away, but stops in the doorway, turning back around to face me. “Seriously, Olivia, you need to rest.”
I smile at him, because I love that he cares so much about me. His concern comes from a good place, but I don’t need it. I’m fine. “Just a few more minutes and I’m done for the day, I promise.”
He remains in the doorway, and I look at him, raising a questioning eyebrow.
“Is there something else?”
“He’d be proud of you, Liv. Proud of what you’re doing; how you’ve stepped up, it was never his intention to put you front and center of all of this, not so soon.”
“I know that.”
“You’re doing good, okay?”
“I know that too, but, thank you.” I don’t need his validation, but sometimes it’s welcome, because there are still days when I wonder if I’m even coming close to running things the way Javier would’ve liked me to. Wanted me to. Taught me to. And Lucca – well, he’d never lie to me. So I believe him, when he tells me I’m handling this.
“Don’t be too long down here, Liv. Okay?”
He finally leaves my office, but I wait until the door’s closed behind him before I move away from the window, over to a table lined with photographs in various-sized frames of gold, platinum, and silver. Picking up an oval-shaped, silver-framed picture I run my fingertips over the image of a dark-haired man with deep green eyes and a beautiful smile that hid a million secrets. My husband. My dead husband. Gunned down outside his own casino, by people who’d been determined to end his reign as one of the most powerful drug cartel bosses out there; people who hadn’t realized that killing Javier was never going to end his reign. Cutting the head off the snake, in this instance, achieved nothing. We’d mourned; vowed to take revenge, and we’re working on that. It’s all in hand, it’s happening, because Javier’s death will not be for nothing. The men – the family – who ended his life will get what they deserve, make no mistake about that. A war that’s been raging between the Pino and Delgado cartels for decades will be won, by us, I’ll make sure of that. They took the man I loved beyond anything away from me, and in return we intend to take them down. All of them. Piece by piece until they’re on their fucking knees, begging us for mercy.
Javier told me I could be anyone I wanted to be. Do anything I wanted to do. As his widow, the only thing I’d wanted was to carry on his legacy. It was what he’d wanted, too, for me to take his place, should anything ever happen to him. I just never thought it would happen so soon, but it did. It has. He’s gone and I’m in control now. Head of the Delgado cartel. But this life, it wasn’t one I’d ever been destined to live. I used to be an ordinary woman, living an ordinary life. Until I took that holiday. Until that night…
It was fifteen years ago that I’d first met Javier Arturo Delgado. I’d had no idea who he was, not at first, and by the time I did it was too late. I was in love. And even if I’d wanted to I couldn’t have walked away because, by then, I knew too much. But that had been my decision, to know everything.
Would I change that now, if I could go back? Would I choose to stay ignorant of the kind of man my husband was? I don’t know. Maybe. All I really know is that the day I met Javier Delgado everything changed. Everything…
Fifteen Years Earlier…
“Here. Let me get that for you.”
I look up to see a tall, handsome man with short, dark hair and a neat beard pushing open the heavy glass door that leads out from the hotel bar back into the sprawling atrium. He’s wearing an expensive-looking gray suit and an open-necked white shirt, no tie, and he has the kind of presence that demands attention. He has mine, but only for a moment or two, before I realize I didn’t need him to open the door for me. I’m pretty much capable of doing that all by myself.
But, you know, I’m still polite. Manners matter.
His voice is deep and smooth, his accent making every word he utters twice as sexy.
“I trust you are having a pleasant stay here in Mexico?”
“Yes, thank you, I am. It’s a lovely hotel.”
He smiles, but I keep my expression wary. I’m a woman alone, in a country I’ve never visited before, and despite his friendly demeanour I still have to be on my guard.
“Good. As the owner of this establishment I like to make sure my guests are being looked after.”
Oh. Okay, so, this guy owns the place. Fair enough. “I’ve no complaints.” And that’s the truth. This hotel is more than lovely, to be honest. It’s pretty great, actually. It’s spotlessly clean, ridiculously comfortable, and my room has a view of the pool, a complimentary mini-bar, and the kind of shower you want to spend way more than five minutes in.
“That makes me very happy. I’m Javier Delgado, by the way.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Delgado. But, if you don’t mind, I’m really tired. I’d like to get back to my room.”
“Of course. Good night. And if you need anything, please, don’t hesitate to contact the front desk.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Clutching my purse to my chest I collect my key-card from reception and head toward the elevators. Javier Delgado is already a distant memory as I look forward to stepping under a warm shower; sliding between cool, crisp white cotton sheets and cradling my head on pillows I never want to lift it from. But I might have one last night-cap out on the balcony first, before I bring this day to an end.
Swiping my key-card, I nudge the door open with my shoulder and flick on the light, throwing my purse down onto the bed. Unclasping my necklace, I slip it off and turn around to put it down on the dressing-table, and that’s when I see them – the bouquet of vibrant orange, green and yellow flowers. The bottle of champagne with a small envelope leaning against it. What the…?
I pick up the envelope and slide the card out.
Enjoy the rest of your stay. With compliments, Javier Delgado.
How the hell did he manage to get these to my room in the time it took me to ride up here in the elevator? And, more to the point, how did he know which room was mine? I never told him my name…
But what I didn’t know then – what I’m more than aware of now – was that Javier Delgado could find out anything, about anyone, any time he wanted…