It was too quiet. Unnaturally quiet.
The sort of unusual quiet that happens right after a big storm rips through. But there hadn’t been one—a storm, that is. This was just another sunny day, exactly like hundreds of other brisk autumn Fridays on this off-the-grid, rustic island of Las Seta in the Pacific Northwest.
DEA Agent Sam Carre squinted from the blazing sun that brightened the calm, blue sky as he walked out of the shade. From the edge of the old-growth forest, he glanced back into the heavy foliage to where he’d separated from his partner, Diane, two hundred yards back, along the hidden fence line.
This island was an absolute crown jewel to any logging company, but a nightmare for Sam’s team. It provided too many hideouts, the wrong kind—the dangerous kind—along with the perfect cover for marijuana agriculture.
Sam popped on his dark glasses and cut around three parked cars. He snagged his black jeans on some thorny bushes as he hurried toward the six solid, sure-footed male agents in front of the wrought-iron gate protecting Lance Silver’s secure estate.
“Nobody goes until I say so.” Sam kept his authoritative voice even and his charming grin hidden as he thought about slapping steel cuffs around Lance Silver’s wrists. Tonight they’d celebrate, because today they finally had all the proof they needed to bust Silver and lock him up for life. He was a dangerous and connected man who had, until now, controlled the highway of drugs flowing down the west coast and across the country, with deep ties into South America.
“What’s taking Diane so long? Can she even make it over the fence?” Agent Donaldson, a junior member on the team, pulled his ball cap over his prematurely balding head. He stood with Agents Craig, Daniels, Green, Mercer, and Winters. They were suited up in their Kevlar vests and dark glasses, weapons holstered and ready to go.
Sam cursed under his breath. Donaldson was pushing it again. It’d only been five minutes since Sam’s partner, Diane Larsen, climbed the security fencing, leading four agents, two of them women, into the forest behind the house. And this was after she’d disarmed the wire triggering the alarm. Sam wasn’t in the mood to argue with the young agent who liked to challenge Diane’s authority. He undermined everything she did, which was absolute crap. Diane, the only woman on this team with a leadership role, worked ten times harder than any of these guys. She was kind hearted and respectful—yet capable of kicking ass when she had to. She’d been a rock for Sam when he needed a supportive friend to help him keep his head together. But since she’d fallen apart at the field office—the news her dad had died after accidentally mixing up his meds had hit her hard—she’d been getting all kinds of grief, especially from Donaldson. One incident, just one time, and it was all these tough-ass pricks could remember.
Sam moved away from the gate and back into the shaded forest to see if he could spot Diane.
“That kid’s really vying for Diane’s spot,” said Agent Green as he dogged Sam’s heels. He resembled a middle child, always trying to fit in, his round baby cheeks a contrast to his quarterback shoulders.
“Yeah, well, he ain’t going to get it.” Sam crouched down. “Can’t see anything.”
Green chuckled softly. “These damn renegades love this, off the grid, wilderness. It’s the perfect hideout. Nothing but a bunch of hippies, musicians, and artists live here.” Green spat on the ground a few inches from Sam’s black boots.
“Hard for those families raising kids here, you’d think. No electricity, no stores.” Sam breathed in the clean air.
“Sam, we’re inside,” Diane’s low, silky voice whispered over the radio.
“Let’s go, let’s go.” Sam signaled the six men with him.
Mercer stepped forward to cut the padlock with heavy bolt cutters. It broke, and he yanked the chain and tossed it to the ground. He and Green flung open the double gates. Sam jumped into the passenger side of the first car, and Donaldson climbed behind the wheel. As he slammed the door shut, Donaldson floored it. Craig, Daniels, and Winters followed in the two cars behind him, whipping up a trail of dust. Green and Mercer raced behind on foot.
Two hundred feet up the long, narrow driveway, the two-story estate house appeared magically out of the secluded forest. It rivaled any mansion from the Old South, with a fancy porch, woodwork, and gardens on all sides. Nothing moved; not even a curtain shielding the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Lance Silver had people, a lot of them. The place should have been buzzing right about now. Sam pulled the warrant from under his Kevlar vest. He flicked the holster of his Glock and ran his fingers through his short brown hair. His gut warned him that something was wrong. Where was everyone? They shouldn’t have been able to drive in without creating mayhem. This had been too easy—and too easy meant a problem. “Shit!”
Sam pressed his hand to his earpiece. “Keep your heads up, eyes open. Something’s not right here.” As a seasoned cop, Sam had learned, the hard way, to see and analyze things others didn’t notice. It was a coping mechanism that had become his mode of survival, especially after what happened to Elise. They pulled closer to the front door. He felt the downward slide of something he couldn’t put his finger on, but Sam knew—something was off.
Donaldson slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop at the front door. Sam placed his hand on the dashboard before jerking open his door and jumping out into a cloud of dust. Donaldson bounded over the hood and raced Sam up the stone stairs. Craig and Daniels hurried around the side of the house. Winters, Green, and Mercer flanked Sam.
Donaldson banged on the door. “DEA, open up.”
Nothing, no response, and Sam really listened. By now, they should have heard footsteps, some kind of rustling from inside.
Beads of sweat covered Donaldson’s face, and he appeared to vibrate, as if he itched to kick open the door.
“Open it.” Sam stepped to the side, holding up his gun. Craig took the other side. Donaldson pulled up his knee and kicked hard with the heel of his black boot over the dead bolt, letting out a rough oomph. The doorframe splintered as the mahogany door crashed open.
“DEA, we have a warrant,” Sam called. His adrenaline was pumping as he aimed his weapon and went in. Everything went into slow motion. Details stood out. In his peripheral vision, Sam caught a glimpse of the shining black steel of a gun and nearly crapped in his pants. It took a second to register that it was his gun, his image, in a floor to ceiling wall mirror. It filled both sides of the massive front hall. “Christ almighty,” he muttered before gripping his weapon and shouting to the others: “We’re in. Green, Winters, check the basement. Donaldson, upstairs.” His gut twisted tightly as he struggled to listen. Where was the scrambling, the shouting, something—anything to break this chilly silence? “DEA, show yourself,” Sam shouted again, clearing the front hall and the sunken living room, through an open archway to a huge chef’s kitchen; which was extremely neat and tidy. Not even a measly cup had been left sitting on the counter.
Floor-to-ceiling windows filled every room. He could see Diane and the four agents out back behind the solar panels as they searched the outbuildings. Sam frowned and leaned against the double-pane glass door. This massive house was silent except for his agents, who were scouring every room.
Winters’ deep voice grated through Sam’s earpiece: “Basement’s clear.”
Everyone checked in. The garage, the greenhouse, all empty. This upscale, state of-the art, energy-efficient estate had been abandoned. Not even the caretaker remained.
“Sam, there’s no marijuana. There’s no equipment,” Diane said through his earpiece.
Beads of sweat popped out on Sam’s forehead. Beneath his Kevlar vest, his snug T-shirt stuck to his well-sculpted back. The radio buzzed with furious updates from their twelve-man team on the mainland, which included the Sequim sheriff’s detachment, the Coast Guard, Interpol, and the DEA. This had been a simultaneous sweep of all Lance Silver’s property, both here on Las Seta and in the underground truck trailer at his compound across the water in rural Gardiner, Washington. All empty.
Sam pressed his microphone close to his mouth. “Diane, where are you?” He slid open the glass kitchen door and walked onto the massive stone patio overlooking the pond and the luscious, well-tended rose garden. He slumped against the patio door and tried to rub away the pulsating pain between his eyebrows. Since this investigation started, he’d begun to experience a sudden sensitivity to light and sound. It could be gone in several hours, but the usual warning had been there for the last few days—a blue aura in his peripheral vision, black spots. But he ignored it; told himself it was the stress of running, what had started out as, an independent investigation by the DEA but had escalated into an international taskforce targeting the marijuana grow-ops running rampant on the isolated islands in the Pacific Northwest.
World-renowned high-grade marijuana was being shipped and traded for cocaine and guns. This was big time, a major business and an international problem that law enforcement had yet to defuse—as if they could.
He never heard Diane approach. Her words stretched out long and loud. It took forever for his senses to override the roaring in his ears. His blood began to pound through his body, pulling him deeper into throbbing misery.
“Here, take this.”
He opened his eyes when Diane tapped out three pills from a small bottle. He didn’t question it. He just swallowed. There wasn’t much Sam wouldn’t take from his trusted friend. Diane was a woman of medium height and build, compact and tough, with tan short-cropped hair; the type of woman who didn’t distract a man with flirtatious curves. But she was the kind of partner who’d do the gritty groundwork while keeping her partner focused, which was what she had done on the boat ride over this morning; ignoring Agent Donaldson’s crude jibes, and guzzling coffee with Sam.
“If you don’t pull it together, some woman on this team’s going to fulfill her dream and have you bedded and nursed before we can wrap this up.”
Whatever she gave him took the edge off the pain, which would have otherwise been blinding.
“Eat this.” She tossed him an energy bar. He didn’t argue, ripping open the foil wrap with his teeth and chewing the gritty bar.
“He knew we were coming,” he said.
“Click off your radio, Sam.”
He ripped the headset from his ear. “You know we followed the letter of the law to make sure this scumbag didn’t get off on some technicality. All those stakeouts—we did our homework, Diane. We know who the little guys are; every fucking one of them on the street. We have video footage and rock-solid evidence that the drugs were here!” Sam pounded the fleshy part of his fist against the smooth fir siding.
“Agent Carre, you better get in here and see this,” Donaldson beckoned quite arrogantly, undermining his superior, Diane, by not addressing her.
Diane, one to always hold her emotions close and rarely show what she thought, tilted one eyebrow up as her face hardened. This prick was deliberately pushing her buttons and deserved a one-on-one ass kicking. Personally, Sam would have liked to plant his foot far up that kid’s ass by now, except this was Diane’s fight, and if she wanted those guys to respect her, Sam couldn’t fight it for her.
Sam and Diane followed Donaldson down a long hall, which resembled an art gallery, to Lance Silver’s study in the solar glass wing. Green, Mercer, Winters, and Craig looked up, but only Winters—a big, dark Irish and African-American guy with long, fuzzy hair—would honestly look at Sam. The tension multiplied when the other tough guys turned away slightly, crossing their arms and glancing awkwardly at Lance Silver’s palatial mahogany desk. All of its drawers hung open.
“We found this in the top drawer of the desk.” Donaldson appeared to own the room when he picked up a crisp yellow piece of paper from the cluttered desk and passed it to Sam.
Diane peered closer, her head never topping Sam’s shoulder.
His vision cleared. Bold black letters spelled out his name. He didn’t miss how still the room had become. He could feel the heat from every agent while they waited for Sam to explain, but then Diane ripped the note from his hands and stepped in front of him.
“What the hell is this, some kind of game?” she snapped.
No one answered.
Sam was ready to clear out. When he replaced his headset, he could hear his boss, Dexter, shouting over the radio, bypassing Sam as he spoke directly to Diane. Diane pressed her hand to her ear to listen.
“I want your asses back here now,” Dexter said. “We got a problem. A tip was called into the Sequim sheriff’s detachment telling us to check Sam’s locker at Ocean’s gun club. The tipster said we would find a key to Lance Silver’s estate and implied that my golden boy is on Lance’s payroll.”
Sam looked up so fast that his head spun. Dizzy, he stepped back and leaned against the mahogany bookcase. “What the hell? That’s bullshit.”
Dexter yelled, “There’s a chopper en route to get you now. Two deputies from the Sequim detachment just opened your locker, and they found a key, along with five pounds of marijuana.”
Sam’s blood chilled. The bad feeling he had earlier had just become a clear epiphany. He could almost see that suave, tight-assed bachelor, Lance Silver, laughing at him. Instead of Silver going to jail, all this shit flying around had landed hard right on top of Sam. Not only did he look like the leak in Lance Silver’s back pocket, but there was also doubt of Sam’s true allegiance painted on the faces of the agents surrounding him. He could feel their censure.
Amazing how quickly they turned. They thought he had tipped Silver off about the raid. Pissed and completely furious, Sam gazed hard at all of the turncoats until each one stepped back. He wasn’t about to dignify this with a response, not after how hard he had worked to nail that bastard, following every lead the other agents missed or brushed off. Sam hadn’t missed a thing—he lived for this investigation. He had breathed life into it and lost sleep because of it. Those guys should have known that, out of anyone, Sam wouldn’t be the one to betray this team. He ground his lips together so hard that they trembled. He felt as if the rug had been ripped right out from under him, and he was positive that he could hear a toilet flushing six months of steady, solid work away. How could this have happened again? Why was he such a target?
Well, for one, this was Las Seta, an unpoliced, reclusive island, part of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. History alone should have warned him this job wouldn’t be easy. The explorers and adventurers who had claimed this island over a hundred years before landed there quite by accident, for one reason or another. Whether hiding or running from something, they had all insisted on a land free from politics and civilized order. Families and clans remained year after year, protecting each other, and, staying true to tradition, they followed their own way of doing things. So, while Sam hunted Lance Silver; Lance Silver and the island of Las Seta had changed the rules of the game and ambushed Sam.
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