Beyond the Breaking Point - Lori Sjoberg

Chapter 1

The Aranza Cartel was one of the largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, involved in the smuggling and distribution of Asian heroin, Columbian cocaine, and Mexican marijuana into the United States. For some reason, they chose not to traffic methamphetamine, leaving that particular drug to a neighboring cartel.

Their network was vast, employing planes, cargo ships, tractor trailers, buses, automobiles, speedboats, fishing vessels, railroad cars, and God only knew what else to transport their illicit product. Anybody who got in their way was bribed, threatened, or killed in some sort of grotesque manner meant to serve as a warning to others.

Wade Flint should know. He’d dedicated half a decade trying to eradicate the cartel, and had barely survived their attempt to turn him into one of those grotesque warnings.

His partner hadn’t been so fortunate.

It took some effort to mask his impatience as he propped one heavily muscled arm on the scarred wooden countertop and surveyed his surroundings. It was a run-down bar in a run-down town, one of hundreds dotting the region. Neon beer company signs adorned the brightly colored walls. A stuffed macaw sat on a perch near the entrance. On the plus side, the place was relatively clean, though the overhead fans did little to compensate for the lack of air conditioning.

Once upon a time, it had been common for tourists—Americans in particular—to frequent the nearby national park. But drug violence had triggered a rash of bad press and international travel advisories. As a result, the eco-tourism industry had dried up, leaving the area in economic ruin.

Wade retrieved his phone from the pocket of his pale-blue button-down shirt, checked the time, and frowned. All his life, he’d never been much for waiting, not even when he’d worked as an agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. His career had ended almost four years ago, but his hunger for justice remained, which was the only reason he’d returned to this godforsaken cesspool.

Hector Bosquez, his friend and former mentor at the DEA, should have been here by now. He’d left two hours ago to meet with a guy who knew a guy who supposedly had information regarding the whereabouts of Roberto Aranza. Rumor had it the drug lord was holed up in a compound in the mountains. But considering this stretch of the Sierra Madre extended for nearly a thousand kilometers, they needed something more specific before they set off after the asshole.

Wade rubbed one hand along the side of his face, the thick black stubble scratchy against his palm. The front door creaked open, and his gaze instinctively flicked up to the mirror behind the bar. But instead of his friend, a woman stepped inside, alone, which struck him as strange. With the high crime rate in the area, it was rare for women to travel unescorted.

Straightening in his seat, he sipped his beer and gave the woman a casual once-over. She was everything he never wanted in a woman: tall, slender, small-breasted, and blonde. Early to mid-thirties, if he had to guess. The manner in which she carried herself led him to believe she was American. Her brown pants and green blouse were streaked with dirt, her shoulder-length hair a tousled mess. The strap of a bulky black bag cut across her chest, accentuating her lack of cleavage. But her hazel eyes glinted with intelligence, and it made him wonder how a woman like her ended up in a place like this.

Not that it was any of his business. He was here for one reason only. And as soon as he killed Roberto Aranza, he was heading back to the States. Of course, that was if he survived. Considering his track record, the odds were fifty-fifty at best.

The blonde stood in the entryway, her face tight with determination as she looked about the room. Then she squared her shoulders, strode to the bar, and sat on the stool next to his.

Ignoring her, Wade kept one hand on his drink and shifted his focus to one of the televisions mounted on the wall. A soccer match was on—Mexico versus Uruguay, if he wasn’t mistaken—and when the team in green scored a goal, the cluster of men seated at a nearby table cheered.

Even now, he felt the weight of the woman’s stare but refused to acknowledge it. He hated it when people stared at him. It made him feel like a freak. Though, in all fairness, that was exactly what he was. He just didn’t appreciate the reminders.

“Excuse me, are