Lying Eyes -- Available Now
Undercover Intrigue Series --
After learning perps from his previous cases are being killed and his estranged father has been arrested for murder, Agent Manny Ramirez doesn’t think his life can get more complicated. Then he comes face to face with his father’s attorney--Harley Raymore. The last ten years he’s not forgotten her and the love they shared. Or forgiven himself for the way he betrayed her.
Harley is shocked to see Manny again and even more surprised by the undeniable pull she feels toward him. How can she still have feelings for him after all this time? She vows she has no room in her life for Manny, until she realizes he’s the only person who can clear his father.
When disaster strikes, they’ll learn if the love they both remember and cherish is strong enough to survive and see them through the toughest trial of their lives.
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Agent Emmanuel Ramirez had been in the game long enough to know the orders he received to report to FBI headquarters was not for a commendation or a pat on the back for a job well done. And whatever fresh hell awaited him here in Washington D.C. must be imperative since they dragged him over two thousand miles from his current undercover case.
He exited the elevator on the third floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building eager to address the summons and get back to Mexico asap. Harsh fluorescent bulbs illuminating the corridor caused him to squint. Unlike the second floor, where dozens of cubicles filled the space, this floor had a hallway leading to meeting rooms. The sparse wall decorations of arrows and room numbers on small pieces of wood pointed this way and that. He followed the signs to 312 and entered the windowless room.
Agent Catherine Sikes, a beautiful blonde he worked with six months ago on the Hades case, sat at the long conference table.
“Sorry I’m late.” He smiled.
Cat stood and hugged him. “No one else has arrived yet, you’re forgiven.”
“A first.” Manny held the back of Cat’s chair and moved it under her as she sat. He settled into the seat next to hers.
Executive chairs and the huge conference table took up most of the room. A pitcher of ice water, a few glasses, legal pads, and a cup full of pens were in the center of the table. A large screen TV hung on one wall and the FBI seal on another. Pride swelled inside Manny, as it did every time he saw the emblem. No matter what happened in his life, being part of the FBI gave him purpose.
“How are you feeling?” he murmured quietly.
Sadness lurked behind Cat’s usually sparkling blue eyes. “Almost back to my old self.”
He patted her forearm. Everyone healed at their own pace. The Hades assignment had been difficult for her. She’d suffered a miscarriage and lost so much blood she’d been hospitalized for days.
Along with Cat, he’d also been admitted into the hospital following their rescue, and quickly released. He’d been ready to go back to work, but having not worn a disguise during the Hades case, the FBI suspected he might be recognized if he tried to go undercover in the drug world too soon after the bust. So Manny requested a money laundering assignment in Mexico. He wasn’t presently in the field in Cabo San Lucas, only working behind the scenes instructing a new young agent—and strangely enjoyed his new role—away from the flying bullets and constant scrutiny.
“What are you doing here?” he asked Cat.
“Acclimating before I take on another undercover case.” She grimaced. “If I take on another case.”Her first two assignments ended in disaster and no one would blame her if she decided not to go into the field again.
Trying to be encouraging, he assured her, “All assignments are different.”
“I’m counting on that.”
A tall, reed-thin man carrying a briefcase entered the room and approached the table. Cat pointed between the men. “Manny Ramirez, meet Zach Tremont.”
Manny stood and shook the man’s hand, then sat back down.
Tremont set his briefcase on the table. “Agent Ramirez, you’ve been called here for two different reasons.”
“Call me Manny.”
The agent nodded before he walked back to the entrance and closed the door. Coming to stand across the table, Tremont began, “Do you remember early in your career you worked a case involving the Craig brothers?”
Manny frowned. “Took us two years and three dead agents to nail those bastards.”
Tremont crossed his arms over his chest. “Yes, well, Mitch and Marcel Craig were recently paroled and shortly afterward murdered.”
“I hadn’t heard.”
“There’ve also been two other perps from some of your previous assignments killed recently. Andrew Jessel and Nathan Ogilvie, both released from prison years ago. We believe the same person who murdered the Craig brothers also killed these men. The murders were similar, a single bullet to the heart.” Tremont picked up a remote off the table and punched a button. A photograph of a lifeless body appeared on the TV screen. Another click of the remote, and the image changed to a close-up of a face. “This is—”
“Marcel Craig,” Manny finished for him.
“Right. You’ll notice the M. The four victims each have the first initial of their first name carved into their cheek.” Still-shot photos of the deceased men’s faces scrolled on the screen.
“Would these men have known each other? Who might want them dead?” Tremont sat in a chair across the table.
“Lots of people wanted them dead.” Manny shrugged. “I can’t think of any commonality between the vics, though.”
“There must be some significance to the carving of the initials beyond the victims’ names. Killers don’t leave clues for nothing. The Craig brothers were killed first?” Cat asked.
“They were found first,” Tremont clarified. “Coroner hasn’t given times of death yet.”
Manny grabbed a legal pad and ballpoint pen and wrote the initials in alphabetical order. AMMN. He tried them in different orders. NAMM. MMAN.
“They could be an acronym.” Cat picked up a pen and wrote another couple of combinations on the paper. MANM, MAMN.
“Perhaps, or some psychopath likes to carve faces.” Tremont blew out a frustrated breath. “We’re combing through your prior cases for clues. If you remember anything that might help, we’d appreciate you weighing in.”
“Of course. I’ll get a copy of the files.”
“Already done. Your prior busts and the recent murder cases are saved on this.” Tremont reached into his briefcase, pulled out a small laptop, and set it on the table. “We need to stop this maniac before more people end up dead.”
Manny poured a glass of water from the pitcher and offered it to Cat. She took it, and he filled another glass for himself. While taking a long cold sip, he studied the initials. Unable to make sense of the letters, he was ready to leave and do his own investigating. “What’s the other reason I’m here?”
“I’ll be right back.” Tremont rose and left the room. He returned with an overweight, bald man. “This is Detective Daniel Lucas,” Tremont said as he shut the door.
Lucas sat at the head of the table, a no-nonsense expression on his face. “I’m from Austin, Texas, and need confirmation on a murderer.”
Manny raised his brows in question.
“Allegedly, Cesar Torres…”
Pain struck Manny’s gut. His heart pounded like a resounding gong throughout his body. He forced himself to focus on what Lucas was saying.
“…has been arrested for murder.”
Irritated at his reaction to the man’s name, Manny kept his voice even. “I know nothing about Cesar Torres.”
“He is your father, is he not?” Lucas asked.
“Sperm donor is more like it.”
“Could you identify him?”
“I haven’t seen him in years.” Since the day my mother died.
Her lifeless, bloody body flashed in his mind.
He blinked hard, wishing for a way to erase the image. But he’d had no luck the last fourteen years obliterating the memory, and the blink did little good. How he wished for one magical blink that would erase the image forever.
“We need you to try.” Lucas motioned to Tremont, who punched a button on the remote. The lights dimmed.
Manny kept his mask in place while trying to control his labored breathing.
On the screen, a black and white surveillance tape began. The camera was positioned at the top of an elevator. Two males stepped inside. He couldn’t see either man’s face well. The camera zoomed in on one of them and paused. “Do you recognize this man?”
The man hadn’t looked directly at the camera. Manny wasn’t sure after all this time, even if they got a close shot, he’d recognize Cesar. “No.”
The camera zoomed out, giving them a bird’s eye view of the elevator. The doors opened and another man strolled inside. As the shiny doors slid shut, the man who just arrived whirled around toward the other two, his mouth moving frantically—obviously pleading with them. One of the other men must have said something. The one they first zoomed in on pulled out a knife and raised his arm.
“Wait.” Manny turned toward Tremont. “Can you enlarge the hand with the knife?”
Within seconds, there it was. The same snake tattoo he’d seen on his father ran along the man’s thumb and the back of his left hand. “My father had the same tattoo. In the same place, on the same hand.”
Tremont controlled the video and stopped the tape often, blowing up the pictures. Manny hoped he might find something else familiar about the man. Patiently, they viewed frame after frame.
He ignored the fact they were witnessing a murder—ignored the blood, ignored the victim’s vacant stare—determined to treat this as he would any other case.
After a tedious hour, the visage of the man with the tattoo came into clear view.
Mesmerized, Manny stared.
Cat let out an audible breath. “That man has your eyes.”
It now felt like his father was stabbing Manny in the chest with the jagged blade. His eyes were deep set, the same as Manny’s, and very dark in the black and white shot. It was as if getting a glimpse of himself in the future.
He glanced away from the killer on the screen.
Lucas spoke next. “Does Cesar Torres have any family?”
“A wife and kids. His mother and father died when he was twenty. His brother about a year later.” Manny couldn’t positively identify this man. Too many years had passed, too much time. He reluctantly glanced back at the screen.
Who am I trying to fool? The tattoo. The eyes. “Looks like you’ve got your man.”
Lucas didn’t appear triumphant or happy at the news.
“If you don’t need anything else.” Manny rose from his seat.
“Thank you, Agent Ramirez,” Lucas said.
Manny grabbed the laptop, and without making eye contact with anyone, walked out of the room toward the elevator. He pushed the down button.
Pressed it again.
He needed to get out of this building. With each passing second, the walls closed in on him. Damn it, he hadn’t experienced this feeling in years. His windpipe squeezed, getting smaller by the second.
This was stupid.
On the job ten years now, what he just witnessed wasn’t worse than cases he’d actually been a part of. He’d seen more brutal attacks.
Done worse to stay alive.
So why this reaction?
His throat constricted more. He punched the elevator button another time. The stairs would be quicker. He rushed toward the stairwell.
“Manny.” Cat’s voice.
She came around to stand in front of him.
He dropped his gaze to the gray carpet. Then he realized the reason for his reaction. Shame consumed him. Shame the same blood of that man ran in his veins.
Cat put her arms around his neck and whispered, “If you need anything, call me.”
He didn’t reach out and return her hug. He wanted to, needed to, just couldn’t.