Not My Brother's Keeper
Click on image to enlarge.
by Brandi Broughton
Description: Several years ago, Alejo De la Cruz proposed to Crystal, the woman of his dreams, and was set to begin a promising new career as a federal agent when a favor sent him on a collision course with the unforgiving waters of the Gulf and the Mexican justice system. Now, he s got one chance to clear his name, get revenge, and regain the freedom he once enjoyed in the States. Crystal is stunned to see Alejo at her door, especially when the man who told her of his death is Alejo's own brother and ... her husband.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: May 2008
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [124 KB]
Reading time: 73-102 min.
"In NOT MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, Brandi Broughton has written a fascinating contemporary romance filled with suspense and exciting action. It is a story about lies and betrayal. I was hooked from the beginning, and held captive, anxiously waiting for the story to play out to its fullest. [...] There are times when you find yourself not breathing as the tension builds. Things truly become explosive when any wrong move can mean someone's life. NOT MY BROTHER'S KEEPER by Brandi Broughton is a thrilling suspense and passionate romance. I recommend to everyone. " Amanda 5 Blue Ribbons--Romance Junkies "There is a wonderful mix of suspense, romance and sultriness that makes Not My Brother's Keeper by Brandi Broughton a great read anytime. Each of the characters brings forth an aspect of their personality that makes you love them or hate them enough to really get into the drama of the story. [...] The plot of this novel is solid and well written. I wish the book was longer and had a chance to delve a little deeper into the relationship between Alejo and Crystal, but the end result is a perfect read, especially for those who like a good romantic suspense."--Kimberley Spinney 3.5 Stars, eCataromance
"You're Alejo De la Cruz, aren't you?" Floyd asked with a hint of acerbity. "Convicted for drug trafficking five million dollars worth of cocaine. And that's just what Mexican authorities were able to recover. Not bad for a first offense."
As much as he wanted out of this shithole, he couldn't help them, and he didn't have to listen to an asshole. He stood abruptly. "Fuck off."
"Sit down!" When Alejo ignored Beck's order, opting instead for a hard, challenging glare, the agent leaned forward, and said, "But for a few exceptions beyond your control, you've been a model prisoner. Don't blow it now by being stubborn."
Alejo took his seat slowly, but reiterated, "I can't help you, so this is pointless."
"I don't know anyone in the Las Cruces family. I don't belong to it. You're wasting your time." And this damn visit with U.S. agents no doubt put him in further danger of retaliation the moment he stepped out of the room. Secrets were impossible to keep in La Palma and, even if he didn't talk, his being in the same room with Feds could be misconstrued and earn him the deadly label of snitch.
The agents glanced at each other. Shared looks he couldn't quite decipher.
Then Beck gave him a hard stare that brooked no argument, and Floyd said, "You were born to the Las Cruces family, so you can drop the act."
When he made to deny such a ludicrous claim, Beck held up a hand. "If you'll hear me out, I'm sure you'll realize it's in your best interest to help us." He pulled out a device that looked like a small portable DVD player then met his gaze for a moment of silent regard. "The warden tells me you've had three altercations while here, twice getting the better of your attackers, and once--"
"I survived. What's the point?"
"The point is we don't believe those attacks were spontaneous assaults on your person because of some perceived disagreement between inmates."
Alejo blinked but refused to show any other reaction. Their conclusion didn't come as a surprise. Although he had no solid proof, he'd felt like a target from the moment he entered the federal prison system, especially after he was transferred inexplicably from a minimum security prison to the country's top, maximum security facility.
No, what surprised him was the DEA's interest in his situation. What did it matter to them whether he lived or died behind bars?
He leaned back in his chair again in a casual sprawl. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yes," Beck answered, "and we have some evidence that indicates the person behind them is none other than the head of the Las Cruces family ... your brother."
He shot to his feet again, but so did Floyd. The sudden face-off--and two to one odds--didn't scare him, but it did make him pause. He'd never been so close to becoming the criminal everyone claimed him to be; he wanted to tear the bastards apart for slandering Carlos. A week or more in solitary would be worth it. Instead, he pointed at them. "You have a lot of fucking nerve coming in here sayin' that kind of shit and expecting me to help you."
Beck eyed him warily as he pushed a photo across the table toward him. "Do you know this man?"
He did, since he'd been on the legal team his brother hired to represent him at trial, so he took the question as a rhetorical one and said nothing.
Beck said, "That man contacted each of the inmates with whom you had altercations a short time later."
"That doesn't prove a damn thing--"
"Jorge is your brother's right-hand man," Beck interrupted.
Alejo scoffed. "He's an attorney. I'm sure he represents lots of people. That doesn't make my brother a crime family kingpin. You're barking up the wrong tree."
Beck tossed out several more pictures, this time with his brother clearly visible. "This is your brother with one of our undercover agents." He tapped another photo more gruesome than the others. "That's the same agent ... dead ... only a few hours later."
Floyd added, "He was the last agent who tried to infiltrate Las Cruces, and he came back to us in a body bag."
Alejo frowned. "So, I'm expendable." No matter what they tried to pull, he would not believe his brother was a murderer.
"Not at all, but we do think you have the best chance of gathering the evidence we need to put a stop to the Las Cruces criminal operation."
He sat back down, his cuffed hands positioned in his lap. "If my brother is who you claim him to be, and I don't believe that for a minute, what makes you think I'd want to help you put him where I am now?"
Beck leaned forward, his deep-set eyes penetrating. "Because your brother set you up, took what you loved most, and has been behind the attempts on your life ever since you landed behind bars."
"Bullshit." He looked away, found a speck on the cinderblock wall behind the agents, and stared a hole through it. They couldn't possibly know what he had loved most in life. Who he'd loved.
They were playing him for a fool. Using circumstantial evidence to paint a picture that held half-truths and whole lies. He shored up his resolve to fight against their persuasion. He wasn't some uneducated hoodlum who could be easily manipulated with a dangling carrot of a promised pardon.
"Six ... maybe seven years ago," Beck said, "Carlos and what is now known as the Las Cruces crime family were small-time fish in a sea of large Columbian-based sharks. Until an anonymous tip came in about a flight of drugs that was supposed to penetrate U.S. airspace from the west around the Florida Keys."
Alejo turned his gaze back to the agent and raised a brow.
"That's right," Floyd added. "We were tipped off to the flight you piloted and told it contained a large quantity of drugs. We had chase planes waiting for you and notified Mexican authorities, which took off in pursuit; however, we weren't expecting you to turn kamikaze and try to ditch the evidence in the Gulf shortly after takeoff."
Alejo gritted his teeth. He hadn't ditched the damn plane, at least not on purpose.
"The tip may have accomplished what your brother had in mind, but your capture and the recovery of most of the drugs helped us as well; it shined a light on a previously unnoticed criminal operation. We've been keeping an eye on Carlos ever since."
"You expect me to believe you over my own flesh and blood. What reason could he possibly have had to betray me?"
"You don't have to take my word for it. Think about it yourself. When's the last time your 'flesh and blood' visited you here in the pen?"
So what if he hadn't come to visit. He had written; that was enough. Besides, Alejo would rather his big brother not see him now--not after he'd spent years locked up behind bars. The constant dangers of life on the inside of prison were a far cry from the life he'd once known. Carlos still had a life and responsibilities back in the states; he didn't need to travel all this way just to face the multiple, humiliating strip searches and other bullshit visitors had to go through to gain a few minutes with a loved one.
"And as for the reason ... Think about it. If you were not involved in your brother's criminal activities, as you claim by your professed naiveté, then having a soon-to-be FBI agent in the family would be a threat, no?" When Alejo didn't respond, Beck turned the DVD player around to face him. "And then there's this reason, of course."
He pressed play. The sound of singing filled the room, the melody easily recognizable.
"Happy birthday to you..." he heard as he watched his beautiful fiancé position a cake in front of a dark-haired toddler. Her blonde hair, like rays of pure sunlight, hung in long waves over her shoulders, not unlike it had the last time he saw her. The singing continued as she took a lighter and lit the single candle centered on the cake.
That's when he saw it--the sparkle of a diamond wedding ring clearly visible on her left ring finger.
Indescribable pain lanced his heart.
Then a man's hand entered the picture on screen, touching her shoulder in an obvious caress of affection, and the child called out with a joyful giggle.
The air in Alejo's lungs crystallized, and his jaw ached as his teeth ground together to keep the cry of desolation at bay.
The camera operator pulled back on the zoom to reframe the scene.
The woman who'd once held his heart in the palm of her hand looked up with a smile, straightened, and kissed ... his brother.