When Joaquin Met Sara – Garza Security Prequel

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Description

Sara meets the guys of Garza…

About three years before the story begins in Still Waters, Joaquin was doing a job in the Caribbean with the start of the Garza Security team. And then he met Sara…and she was involved with cartels, the NSA, the DEA and looked like a fish out of water. This is their first chance for their second chance romance. Check out this fun, free novella and the guys of Garza.

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Chapter One

 

“That bastard stole our shipment.” Benny Jimenez slammed his phone on his desk and faced Joaquin.

Joaquin Garza nodded, aiming for sympathetic, but really, Benny was complaining that someone stole what he’d been planning to steal. While impressed with Benny’s mental gymnastics, Quin was tired of the man’s sense of entitlement.

“Where?” Benny’s father, Jorge, asked.

“About forty miles north of Havana.” Benny paced in front of his desk.

Quin stood in the doorway, having been asked to join the men by Jorge, and he was the only reason Quin and his Garza Security team were there.

“That’s definitely cutting into our territory.” Jorge narrowed his eyes at his son. “What do you want to do about it?”

Quin was expecting Benny to suggest violence—to be carried out by anyone other than him. And that was not something that Garza Security offered.

“We hit their next shipment. Get them where it hurts.” Benny pointed at Quin. “I want you to find someone on Ramos’s team that can be bought.”

Quin tilted his head to show he’d heard Benny, but he wasn’t taking orders from him. They’d been hired to install a security system, nothing more. He faced Jorge and raised an eyebrow.

Jorge nodded once.

Quin turned and left the room.

“If he had been doing his job, this wouldn’t have happened, and then he disrespects me,” Benny spoke quietly, but Quin stopped in the hallway to hear Jorge’s response.

“He’s here to install a security system, that’s all. He’s doing you a favor. You know he wants nothing to do with the business.” The sharp edge of Jorge’s voice seemed to cut Benny.

“Are you taking his side? Again?” Benny whined.

Quin kept walking. Jorge realized this was a favor, and that mattered. Benny was a bully, and Jorge had indulged him for too long.

He left the main house with its beautiful beach views and headed toward the small cottage they’d been working out of. Jorge’s complex featured the main house and three cottages. Jorge’s family, including Benny and his wife, lived in the main house. His team had taken over the third cottage and two rooms in the guest house. House staff lived in the second cottage.

Quin and the men had spent the last few days installing cameras on the exterior of the property. Quin was clear with Jorge that he was done getting involved in Jorge’s off-books business. Jorge agreed and offered to pay him twice what he charged to get his men to come down from Washington, D.C. to install the system. Jorge trusted that Quin wouldn’t leave any security risks, and he wouldn’t tell anyone about the installation. Quin understood Jorge was getting older and more cautious, which he appreciated. Getting Benny out of the business would be even better.

Jimmy greeted him with a nod. “What’s up?” He held one side of a seventy-inch television monitor, and Juju held the other.

“Need a hand?” he asked.

“Nah, we got it. Lift it two inches higher,” Juju said.

Jimmy strained. The monitor clicked into the wall mount.

Quin cocked his head to the side. “Is it supposed to be crooked?”

“What the fuck?” Jimmy stepped back and examined the perfectly level monitor. He whipped his hand out and punched Quin’s gut.

Quin rubbed his stinging skin. “Gotcha.”

Juju stood, his six-five Samoan body taking up a lot of the room. “Not funny.” He stretched his neck and then checked his phone. “Later. I gotta meet with the electrician.” He stopped in front of Quin. “Unless you got something to say about the meeting?”

“Benny’s whining that Ramos beat him to a ship. He wants us to find out if anyone in Ramos’s circle could be bought,” Quin said.

“He does or Jorge?” Jimmy asked.

“Jorge agrees and would owe us a favor.” Quin faced Jimmy. “I figure we can make a couple of calls. We still have friends in the area.”

“Sounds good to me.” Juju left.

Quin felt like the room had doubled in size. Not that Jimmy was a small guy, but Juju was huge. Jimmy looked like a wrestler: stocky and muscular, with a broken nose that he never fixed.

Jimmy leaned against the table and crossed his arms. “First, I can’t believe I let you talk me into coming down here again. Second, are you seriously gonna call up another con and ask about Ramos? Why don’t we just crawl into the trunk of a car and eat a bullet? It’ll save time.”

“We both know Benny is a piece of shit—”

“Who you did four years of time for and the prick acts like he did you a favor.” Jimmy poked Quin’s chest.

“Look, I trust Jorge. He trusts us. He paid me for my time, and it’s in the past.” Although he’d never forget, and he’d never trust Benny. “We’ll be discreet about the calls.” Quin went through a mental list of who would have the information they needed. He crossed over to the mini-fridge, checked the time on his phone, and pulled out two beers. Jimmy needed some relaxation and reassurance.

He’d known Jimmy growing up in their Miami neighborhood. But he’d been shocked to find him on his first day at Her Majesty’s Prison in Nassau. Quin had been sixteen, Jimmy eighteen, both sentenced for manslaughter and put in the same dorm-room style cell with thirty other men. Their four years together forged their friendship into a brotherhood.

Jimmy took the beer and screwed off the cap. He took a sip and closed his eyes. “Sometimes I forget how shitty life can be.” He cracked open one eye. “But then you bring back the memories.”

Quin frowned. “I get it. Look, Jorge’s already paying us twice our normal rate, and now he’ll owe us a favor.” He opened his phone and scrolled through his list of contacts. “I’m gonna call Antony.” The wiry black man had lived in Nassau his entire life and knew everyone.

Jimmy nodded and drained the rest of his beer. “If he doesn’t know, call Drew.” He tossed his empty bottle into the garbage and swiped another beer from the fridge.

Quin remembered Andrew, just a kid who’d been caught with forty kilos of pot. He was just supposed to transport it but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Drew’s living in the States now, right?”

Jimmy scowled. “I don’t send them Christmas cards.”

“Is it because you can’t write?”

“Fuck you,” Jimmy said good-naturedly.

Quin relaxed and made the call to Antony.

“Hey, man. I’ve been waitin’ for your call. You on the island three days and now you call me?” Antony’s smooth voice held humor.

Quin put his phone on speaker. “Jimmy’s with me.”

“I know. We should catch up.”

“That’d be great. Where and when?” Quin asked.

“There’s a fish shack on Eastern, near Culberts Point. I can be there in an hour. Bring your brother you talked so much about. I wanna meet him.”

Quin grinned. “Sure. See you soon.”

Jimmy looked up from his phone. “I texted AJ, Juju, and Randy and told ’em we got dinner plans.” He looked down at his shoes. “You ever tell AJ what it was really like there?”

“Nah.” Quin fought hard to suppress most of his memories from his time in prison.

Jimmy nodded. “I never told my mom, either.” He sipped his beer and twirled the bottle between his palms. “You okay if Antony talks shit about you?”

Quin sipped his beer. “Yeah. Don’t encourage him, though.” Quin trusted that Antony didn’t want to relive the past, either.

 

***

 

“How do you know this guy?” AJ asked from the back seat of their rental minivan. It’d been the only vehicle available with enough seats, and Quin hated it. Or maybe he hated the fact that it was the international symbol of happy families with kids. Whatever, it was sluggish to drive, and he felt like he was the bus driver for Satan’s Day Care.

“Jimmy and I roomed with him.” Quin let the statement hang.

AJ nodded and looked out the window.

“In college?” Juju asked, confused.

Jimmy chuckled and slapped the back of Juju’s head from the backseat.

Juju rubbed the back of his head. “Fine. I’ll keep the questions to a minimum.” He was the only member of the team that went to college, but Quin and Jimmy never talked about prison.

Quin looked at AJ’s expression in the rearview mirror. They studied each other for a moment before AJ spoke. “Any subjects we shouldn’t bring up?”

Jimmy grunted. “Nah, just listen. Antony’s got a million stories, but that’s what they are, stories.”

Quin pulled into the parking lot, reversing into the spot for a fast getaway. Just in case…

Antony was nursing a beer at the bar, and his face showed genuine pleasure at seeing Quin and Jimmy.

“Antony, meet AJ, Juju, Randy, and O’Grady.”

Antony shook hands with the men but then pulled AJ into a half-hug. “I heard so many stories about you, man. You still play soccer?”

AJ raised an eyebrow and shot Quin a WTF glance. “I haven’t played since I was fourteen.”

“That’s a shame. The way your brother talked about you, I was sure you were going to be playing for Miami.”

AJ’s lips twitched and his shoulders relaxed. He punched Quin in the arm. “Nah. Soccer wasn’t as cool as football when I hit high school.” He shrugged. “You know how it is.”

Antony hooted. “Atta boy.” He tipped his chin to Quin. “At least one of you was gettin’ some.”

Quin chuckled and raised an eyebrow, choosing not to reveal that Antony got plenty in prison. Maybe this was Antony’s way of testing him.

“Let’s get a couple of pitchers of beer,” Quin suggested.

“I’m hungry, too. Is the food good?” O’Grady asked. At five-nine, O’Grady was the runt of their litter but had the most muscle.

“Best damn food on the island. I would not steer you wrong,” Antony insisted.

They found two tables and dragged them together. Quin sat at one end with Antony beside him. Jimmy sat across from Antony.

“I didn’t think you’d ever come back,” Antony said to Jimmy.

“Me neither, but he’s persuasive.” Jimmy slid accusing eyes toward Quin.

“Why are you guys here?” Antony asked.

“Just a job. Shouldn’t take more than a few more days. How you doin’?” Quin asked Antony.

He grinned. “Good. I got married and have a beautiful baby girl.” He pulled his phone out and pulled up his photo gallery. Quin and Jimmy made supportive noises about the kid as Antony pointed out all the kid’s milestones for the last three years. Huge dark eyes against light brown skin with a toothless grin that morphed into a toddler with Antony’s infectious smile. Even better, Quin could see his friend looking relaxed and happy. Really happy. A small part of him was jealous.

“Married. Jesus. That’s somethin’,” Jimmy said.

Quin figured it was a miracle. He didn’t believe anyone would put up with their pasts.

“What about you? Got anyone special?” Antony asked.

Quin grunted. “Nah. Been working too much to think about settling down.” He didn’t have trouble meeting women, but he couldn’t picture himself with a family, living in the suburbs. He was good for a few dates, and then it was time to move on. All the guys were like that.

“How about you? Still doin’ construction?” Jimmy asked.

“Yeah.” Antony drew the word out.

Quin leaned closer. “Yeah? That full time?”

“Pretty much. I got some side hustles, too.” Antony raised an eyebrow. “You looking for a job?”

AJ brought two pitchers of beer and mugs to the table.

Quin poured a beer and handed it to Antony. “Nah. Business is good. You keep in touch with anyone else from back then?” Quin glanced down the table and noted AJ was paying attention.

Antony shrugged. “It’s a small island. You remember Eddie?”

Quin remembered the jovial black man who worked in the kitchen. “Yeah.”

“He’s working at the Hyatt as a sous chef.” Antony shook his head. “Can you believe that?”

Jimmy sat back and grimaced. “No. People actually pay to eat food he makes?”

Antony slapped his hand on the table. “That’s what I said. He said having quality ingredients makes a big difference.”

Jimmy shuddered. “I don’t believe it.”

Antony poured some more beer in his glass. “I asked if he still made hot dogs. He said no.”

This time, Quin shuddered. “I’ll never eat another hot dog.” They’d eaten hot dogs every day in Her Majesty’s Prison. Just the smell made him claustrophobic.

Antony held his beer up to tap Quin’s mug. “Never.” He gulped down some beer and leaned back in his chair. “Who you working for?”

Quin figured Antony was testing him. “I can’t say who it is, but I can tell you who it isn’t.” He leaned forward. “You heard of Leo Ramos?”

Antony scoffed. “Who hasn’t?” His eyes widened and he sat back. He opened his menu and read through it.

“What’s good here?” Quin asked, wanting Antony to be comfortable.

“Best damn conch on the island,” Antony answered.

“That what you’re getting?” Jimmy asked.

Antony closed his menu. “Yeah.” He drew a circle in the condensation of his beer mug. “Ramos isn’t your client.”

“Nope. He’s more like the competition,” Jimmy said.

Quin hadn’t wanted to say that much. He powered on, “Do you know if any of Ramos’ team might want to change jobs? We’ve got some good opportunities,” Quin hedged.

Antony smiled at the approaching server. The men placed their orders.

AJ stood and grabbed the empty beer pitchers. “You ready for another round?”

“Hell yeah,” Antony said. “Quin, your little brother is a beast.”

Quin grinned. “Yeah, turns out he grew while I was gone.”

Antony’s eyes clouded. “We missed out on a lot of shit.”

Quin nodded.

AJ returned with fresh pitchers.

“That was fast,” Jimmy said.

AJ grinned. “Yeah, and she gets off at eleven.” He waggled his eyebrows.

“Nice.” Jimmy tilted his head, and Quin turned around to check out the bartender. She was pretty, curvy, with her hair pulled up into a ponytail.

Antony clicked his tongue. “That’s my cousin.”

AJ’s eyes widened. He put his hands up in surrender.

Antony laughed and pointed at him. “Gotcha.”

AJ relaxed and took his seat.

Antony glanced down the table and back to Jimmy. “How you doin’? Any little Jimmies?”

“I hope not.” Jimmy poured himself another beer. He shook his head. “I’m not looking to settle down.” He looked down at the table and pointed to Juju. “I’m thinking Juju’s gonna be the first guy to fall.”

Juju perked up, but Jimmy waved him off.

Antony nursed his beer. “I highly recommend it.”

Quin grinned. “I’m happy for you.” And he was.

“Thanks. So, you gotta understand, I got a wife and a kid. I’m not gonna ask questions that could blow back on me.”

Quin nodded. “Yeah. Family first.”

Antony raised his beer. “Family first.”

The guys lifted their beers and toasted him.

Ramos was dangerous. They were going to have to find another way to get the information without Ramos knowing. Unfortunately, none of the guys had those kinds of skills for the timeframe Jorge wanted.

“No hard feelings?” Antony murmured.

“None,” Quin assured him.

Their dinner arrived, and the guys dug in.

“You’re right. This is damn good,” Quin said to Antony.

“Life’s too short for bad food,” Antony quipped.

Jimmy and Quin cracked up, but the rest of the guys looked at them strangely.

“What was that guy’s name?” Jimmy asked.

“Carlos something.” Quin searched him memory. “He was moved to minimum, right?”

“Yeah.” Antony turned to face AJ, Randy, and Juju. “This guy was over-the-top but so damn funny the guards never gave him shit. He went on a hunger strike when he first got there.” He turned to Jimmy. “How long?”

Jimmy stroked his chin. “Had to be three weeks. I think he survived on water and cigarettes.”

“That’s impossible,” Juju said.

Antony shrugged. “He wasn’t housed with us, so I don’t know if someone snuck him food. But he started something, and for about three months after his hunger strike, we had fresh fruit.”

“Oranges,” Quin murmured. “I’ve never had an orange that sweet again.”

Antony smiled. “Wonder what happened to him?”

Jimmy caught Quin’s eye, and he shook his head. Quin’s smile fell from his face. He plastered a new one on and poured Antony another beer. They’d find another way to get the information and keep Antony off of Ramos’ radar.

But then Antony leaned over and whispered, “I’ve heard that Ramos is looking for a guy named Grieves who promised him something and didn’t deliver. He’s not from here.” Antony leaned back. “That’s all I know.”

Quin nodded. “Thanks. If you ever consider going into security, call me.”

Antony scoffed. “Hell no. I like building shit, not following some asshole around.”

“He’s got a point,” Jimmy said.

He did. But he and AJ had plans to turn Garza Security into more that took clients willing to pay, like Jorge. The name Grieves wasn’t much, but it could be enough. If Ramos wanted Grieves, Benny would, too.

 

***

 

Quin dropped off the guys and drove to a bar that Benny’s guys used as a hangout. He spotted Big Rob, Benny’s usual muscle at the pool tables. Big Rob was a big guy, dark skinned, with a small beer gut, dressed in cargo shorts and a wifebeater that he usually hid under a shirt.

Quin bought a beer and headed over to watch. Big Rob was good but cocky and seemed to plan for the next move rather than the game. He won and snatched the two ten-dollar bills off the side rail and then nodded toward Quin.

“Wanna play?” he asked.

“Sure. Eight ball?” Quin pulled a ten out of his wallet and set it on the side rail.

“Sounds good.” Big Rob placed one of his tens on top.

Quin studied the pool cues in the rack mounted to the wall and selected the straightest one. He chalked the end.

Big Rob leaned against the table, a coin in his hand. “For the break. Heads or tails?” he said as he flipped.

“Heads,” Quin said automatically.

Big Rob caught the coin and showed it to Quin. “Tails,” he said.

Quin stepped back and watched Big Rob break. A striped ball fell into the corner pocket. He sunk two more before it was Quin’s turn.

Big Rob walked around the table, looking for his best strategy. He picked his shot and got ready to strike when Big Rob interrupted him.

“You know, I think I recognize you,” Big Rob said.

Quin sank the four ball in the side pocket, setting up his next shot perfectly. He raised an eyebrow and stood tall, narrowed his eyes and inspected Big Rob.

Big Rob puffed up, but it was for show.

The guy Big Rob had played with last chuckled.

Quin shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he finally said. “I’m not from here.”

Big Rob waited until Quin was ready to take his next shot before speaking. “Yeah, yeah, I remember you.”

Quin’s six ball plunked into the corner pocket and struck the fifteen ball, making it hug close to the edge, a lousy shot for Big Rob. He was going to have to miss the next shot if he wanted to keep the game going.

“Yeah? Where from?” Quin asked. He walked around the table, scoping out how to screw Big Rob’s next shot with his.

“Nassau,” Big Rob said.

Quin turned to face him, looking at him closely. “I’ve been there,” he admitted.

Big Rob nodded. “Yeah, I was there for six months.”

That surprised Quin, and he was sure he let it show. If they’d been in maximum security together, he would’ve remembered Big Rob.

Big Rob tilted his head to the side. “Why’d you come back?” His tone was razor sharp, accusatory.

Tension spiked, and the hairs on Quin’s neck rose. Maybe Big Rob thought he was a contract killer. Quin chuckled, raised a hand to show he was nonthreatening, and gave Big Rob a half smile. “I do construction now. All legit. I got a guy who wanted me to do some reno on his summer house, and he paid too good to refuse.” Quin shrugged, adding a what-are-you-going-to do expression.

Big Rob relaxed. “Nice.”

Quin took his shot, missing the side pocket and screwing Big Rob’s next shot up. “Damn,” he said, like it’d been an accident.

“Bad luck.” Big Rob slid off his stool and studied the table. “You looking for more work?”

“Nah. I’m working with a good crew.” This was the opening he’d been hoping for. “What about you?”

Big Rob’s eyebrows raised, and he chuffed. “I’ll be doin’ this job ’til I’m dead,” he muttered.

Quin heard the truth in his words. He understood. Big Rob probably never wanted to work for Leo Ramos, but he’d been threatened just like Quin. And now he was deep into the business, knew too much, and would never be allowed out. Quin had been very careful when working with Jorge, only getting the information to do the security install, nothing else. But Quin could use that to his advantage. Big Rob would probably jump at the chance to disappear.

Big Rob took his next shot and then had nothing easy to hit. He tried a trick shot to push Quin’s ball out of the way but ended up sinking Quin’s and the white ball. He cursed under his breath and slumped on his stool, sucking down the rest of his beer.

“I’ll get this round.” Quin caught the bartender’s attention and motioned for refills. He grabbed the white ball out of the pocket and walked around the table, strategizing. He needed to keep the game going, but he also needed to lose. If he won, Big Rob might not take it well and then ask questions about the stranger in the bar. He wanted to know when Ramos was expecting his next shipment or what Grieves was supposed to deliver.

Quin sunk two more balls before missing his next shot and leaving things difficult for Big Rob.

Their beers arrived, and Big Rob held his up. “Thanks.”

Quin nodded. “You ever think about getting into a different line?”

Big Rob chugged his beer and watched Quin warily. He set the half-empty bottle down. “I’m loyal to my employer.” His tone was slow and serious, but Quin recognized the question in his eyes.

“If you did something that proved that, I bet he’d let you take a vacation, disappear for a while.” Quin emphasized the word disappear. He drank his beer, watching Big Rob closely.

Big Rob nodded slowly. “Maybe. You got any ideas?”

“I heard there’s a guy whose product was disappointing. What if you found another manufacturer?” Quin hoped what he said made sense. He’d assumed Grieves had a tangible product, but what if he’d been selling people?

Big Rob’s eyes widened, and he stepped closer. “You know Anonymous or something?”

Quin dipped his chin once, keeping eye contact with Big Rob.

Big Rob took his shot, clearing the table.

Quin watched, keeping his cool. Was Leo moving into breaching networks and extortion?

“Eight ball, side pocket.” Big Rob sunk the ball and then swiped up the ten-dollar bills. “I need a name.”

Quin put his cue back on the rack. He turned to face Big Rob. “I was just supposed to see if there was interest. They want the same deal as Grieves.” Quin drank more beer, leaving it a quarter full. He didn’t want to be weaponless.

Big Rob’s eyes widened, like the name had been a direct hit.

“If those terms are acceptable, we’ll be back in three days.” Quin headed to the parking lot, tossing the bottle into a garbage drum at the entrance before striding quickly toward his car.

He headed back to the compound, calling Juju.

“Whaddaya need?” Juju answered.

“A computer geek at Anonymous level. Grieves was some kind of computer guy. Find out more.” Quin ended the call.

At a stop sign, he texted the DEA agent who’d wanted him to be a confidential informant:

There’s great fishing here. Quin wouldn’t be anybody’s informant, but maybe he could wheedle some more information out.

His phone rang, and Quin pulled into a hotel parking lot.

“Quin, what kind of fish are you catching?” Agent Rae Morales asked.

“We got some huge marlins. It was a helluva day. There was one that got away, but I gotta friend who thinks he can find him. He’s obsessed. Thinks this marlin is the key to enlightenment or something.” Quin rolled his eyes at the conversation. Still, it was his phone and an open line, and he wasn’t saying anything that would get him into legal trouble.

“I think I’ve heard of that. I’ve got a friend that would definitely be interested. Let me talk to them, and I’ll get back to you, okay?”

“Sure.” Quin ended the call and headed to the complex. The DEA was in the Caribbean? Quin pulled into Jorge Jimenez’s complex.

When he was outside the house, he texted Jorge: I got news you may want to hear. Quin waited, saw Jorge’s bedroom light turn on.

A few minutes later, Jorge texted back: I’ll meet you outside.

Interesting. He didn’t want Benny to know…

Juju texted him: Grieves is a Purdue professor, supposedly working on encryption technology, like how to keep people out of your network and stuff.

Quin texted back: If he knows how to keep people out, would he know how to hack in?

Juju replied: Probably, and that makes more sense for Leo Ramos.

Jorge stepped outside wearing jeans and a T-shirt. The two men walked toward the beach. They waited until they were out of sight of the house before Quin spoke.

“Grieves is a computer guy from Purdue University. He supposedly promised something to Leo Ramos and didn’t deliver, and now he’s disappeared. He worked on network stuff, keeping people out, but maybe hacking in, too. Also, the DEA is in the Caribbean, or has someone in the Caribbean right now. Not sure if it’s related to Grieves’s disappearance or not.”

Jorge nodded and turned back to the house. “Say nothing to Benny. I’m going to make a few phone calls, see if we can turn this to our advantage. Thank you.”

Quin nodded. “You’re welcome.” The two men separated, Quin heading for his room and Jorge toward the main house.

It was late, and there was nothing more to do right now. He’d fill the guys in on everything tomorrow. Besides, Jorge had good connections, and maybe he would work this to his advantage.