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Angel Falls Series Book 8
BY TESS THOMPSON
Jay Russo’s life changes the day his sister disappears. He gives up a promising career and moves to Angel Falls, New Mexico, to look for her.
During his search, he stumbles upon DEA Agent Samantha Monroe’s investigation of an abandoned illegal marijuana operation involved in human trafficking, and Jay suddenly becomes a suspect in the murder of a witness.
When Jay and Samantha become targets, they have no one to turn to for help except each other.
Their search for the truth leads them down a path of murder, human trafficking, drug cartels, and buried secrets to uncover a twisted enterprise in the New Mexico forest.
Book Eight in the highly acclaimed Angel Falls romantic suspense series by Tess Thompson.
A fast-paced, suspenseful, and compelling read.
Be prepared to sit for a while; you won’t want to put this book down.
Alaina Russo felt like a cat on hot bricks as she looked around. A shiver snaked down her spine. She felt someone watching her and turned to look behind her. Nothing to see.
The parking lot at the small diner in Angel Falls, New Mexico, was half full of trucks and all-terrain SUVs. Exactly what one would expect in a mountain resort town.
She chewed on the side of her index finger next to one of the pretty-in-pink acrylic nails she’d paid a mint for at the salon in Albuquerque a week earlier. A habitual nail biter, she’d finally thrown in the towel and opted for the fake ones, but sadly, the urge to chew remained when she felt stressed. Tonight, she was stressed.
She heard laughter and saw an older couple, followed by two teenage boys, exit the restaurant. Pulling on a light jacket, she reached for the door handle when she heard a deep gravelly voice say, “Let me get that for you, ma’am.”
She turned to see a hulk of a man wearing a cowboy hat, flannel shirt, blue jeans, and boots. Surprised, she mumbled, “Thank you,” and realized she was in a different world from New Jersey. Where had he come from? She hadn’t seen him earlier.
“Have a seat wherever you like, sweetie,” a gray-haired woman with a round face and a big smile said. “We’ve got plenty of open tables. Now, in a couple of months, when the winter hits, that’s a different story. Skiers from Texas will fill this place up.”
When she turned to look for a table, she saw the waitress speak to the man as if they were old friends, and she relaxed. He was a local. Nothing to worry about.
Alaina had traveled all over New Mexico and Colorado while chasing a story on drugs and forced labor. She had written a story a few weeks ago about human trafficking in nail salons near the Mexican border. After its publication in a national magazine, she received an anonymous tip about drug trafficking using forced labor near the New Mexico-Colorado border.
She’d visited with New Mexico local and state police officers who either laughed at her questions or told her she needed to leave law enforcement to the pros.
She visited several locations in New Mexico and often sat in her car for hours, peering through binoculars while looking for a lead. Her journey had taken her to small farms and ranches and some of the larger sites. Wherever she went, she asked questions. Often, they went unanswered.
Finally, while in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alaina’s investigation heated up. She received an anonymous call directing her to come to the small resort town of Angel Falls if she wanted more information. Her instructions were to bring two thousand dollars in small bills. She’d cleaned out her bank account and gripped her purse, which contained more cash than she’d ever seen in one place.
Earlier that afternoon, she had arrived in the area and tried to call her source. The calls went unanswered. She finally decided to drive to the place where they had agreed to meet, but after waiting for over an hour, no one appeared.
She hoped the man hadn’t backed out. She never outed her sources and thought she had made that clear to him, but if the pictures he had emailed to her were real, he had a right to be nervous.
When she’d stopped to get gas, somebody left a note on the windshield of her car while she was inside the small store. Haven’t you heard curiosity killed the cat, Alaina?
She stuffed the note in her satchel and started the car. She couldn’t back out now. If this story panned out, it could be headed for the New York Times.
As a journalism major in college, Alaina had learned that jobs with major publications were scarce since the onset of digital media. She had been successful as a freelance journalist and sold her stories to several of the smaller magazines and newspapers.
She slid into a booth by the front window so she could see the parking lot and her car. She should call Jay. After taking off with hardly a word, she sent a quick text saying she was after a story on drugs in New Mexico.
Even as a kid after their parents died, Jay seemed to be far older than his years, and sometimes he acted more grown-up than she did. But she’d taken her responsibilities toward her brother seriously, put an end to her party life, and transferred to a local college while he finished high school.
Thankfully, her parents’ life insurance enabled them to keep the house and pay the bills, but both she and her brother had to work to afford extras. Jay worked in construction on weekends and summers and settled easily into a good job after college as an adjuster for insurance disaster claims. He traveled as much or more than she did, and now they were two ships passing in the night. Because they were all each other had, they promised to find a way to be together for all holidays.
“What can I get ya this evening, missy?” the waitress said, pulling Alaina back from her thoughts.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I was all spaced out. I haven’t even looked at the menu yet. What’s good?”
“Can’t go wrong with the pot roast, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Side of corn or green beans and a nice warm yeast roll.”
Alaina felt her stomach rumble and looked up as her cheeks colored. “I didn’t realize how hungry I am. That sounds fantastic. I’ll take the side of green beans and a glass of iced tea with that roast.”
“You got it. Coming right up.”
Alaina looked around the restaurant as the woman walked away. The cowboy was heading toward the door with a to-go bag. Relax, she thought. He’s just a man buying dinner. You’re making something out of nothing. No one is following you. No one is after you.
She picked up her phone and scrolled through her contacts to Jay’s picture. In it, he was wearing his mirrored sunglasses and a goofy grin on his face while sitting on his Harley. She touched his number, and he answered before it could ring three times.
“Hey, Al, where are you, and what was with the cryptic text about drugs in New Mexico?”
“Remember that story I did for Northwestern Magazine about the prevalence of human trafficking across the border, and then the victims showed up in illegal sweatshops?”
“Yeah, I remember. So?”
“I got a lead from a source here in New Mexico who read my story. He knows about something along those same lines, except this time, drugs are involved. Thought I might be interested in looking into it.”
“And what might that something be?”
“I’ll call you later and talk to you about it. I’m in a café right now, and someone might hear. Besides, my source is giving me the cold shoulder. Won’t return my calls or texts. It’s probably going to amount to nothing anyway. I went by our meeting place at the specified time, but he was a no-show. Could be a lot of hot air. I’ve got a couple more ideas to check out before I throw in the towel and head back home.”
“You’re not the law, Alaina. You don’t want to go messing around with bad people.”
“I’m not going to do anything stupid. I promise. Just ask a few questions and then write a story. If that lead doesn’t pan out, I might find something else interesting. I hear there’s a local guy that got away with murder. That might be something to write about.”
“Alaina, don’t be crazy. You’re always looking for trouble. Be careful and call me soon, okay?” The words were playful, but the meaning was not.
“Yeah, yeah. I hear you. Love you, little brother.”
“Love you too.”
Alaina put the phone down on the table and took the first bite of pot roast that melted in her mouth. She’d learned to cook for Jay’s sake but had never been any good at it. Her phone rang just as she slathered real butter on a warm yeast roll. She frowned when she saw the words Unknown Caller appear on the screen.
“Hello,” she said, trying to sound confident.
“Good evening, Ms. Russo.” The voice was deep and male.
“I have the information you’re looking for.” He rattled off an address as she rummaged through her purse to find a pen and grabbed a napkin to write it down. “Can you say that again? I’m not familiar with this area.”
“It’s not hard to find. One hour. Be there, or I’m gone.” Then the phone went dead, and she sighed as she looked down at her plate piled high with food. She took one more bite and then motioned for the waitress.
~ ~ ~
Alaina recognized the county road the man had named. She’d been driving on it earlier today, and she knew she needed to rush to arrive at her destination in an hour.
She found the deserted adobe church easily enough. It was the only structure she could see for miles around in the vast grasslands stretching toward the mountains she’d just driven through. An old white pickup, dirty and dented, sat alone in the dirt, and for a moment she was tempted to back up and leave.
The wind howled as she exited her car and looked around, but her curiosity overcame her reluctance as she walked toward the dark opening that had once held a door.
It was dark inside and smelled dank and musty as she stepped around pieces of fallen timber that had once been the ceiling. “Hello,” she called out as she turned on the flashlight on her phone.
Then, she heard footsteps crunch behind her as a man said, “Well, howdy, ma’am.”
Her heart raced, and adrenaline rushed through her body as she tried to catch her breath. She turned and faced the cowboy from the diner.
16 Months Later
Jay Russo rubbed his eyes after reading the last text his sister had sent him for the millionth time.
No luck here, but I did meet a handsome cowboy. Gonna do a little sightseeing for a while.
She sent that text sixteen months ago, which was why he had come to Angel Falls. At first, it had not concerned him. He was busy, and so was she. But after a few days without him hearing from her again, he called her cell. The call went directly to voicemail. He’d left a message, but she didn’t reply.
He followed up with several phone and text messages for the next three days. Nothing.
Tess Thompson is a pen name for two sisters who live 1400 miles apart in the great state of Texas. Charlene Tess and Judi Thompson combined their two last names into a pseudonym when they began writing novels as a team in 2002. The sisters also co-write romantic comedies as Annie Curtis.
Their series include the Angel Falls series, the Chance O’Brien Series, The Texas Plains Series, and the Dixieland Danger series.
Judi lives with her husband, Roger, in Houston, Texas. She is a retired supervisor for special education at a local school district.
Charlene is a writing teacher and a novelist. She writes educational materials for TeachersPayTeachers.com. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Jerry.
Links to Tess’s website, blog, books, etc.
Thanks, Tess, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!