Apache Protectors, Book 3
Only the warrior from her past could save her now…
Tribal police chief Gabe Cosen would do anything to protect his people and their reservation. This sheer dedication to the law had even cost him his fiancée. Selena Dosela had never forgiven him for sending her father to prison. But with trouble back on her doorstep, Gabe vowed to keep her safe.
Only extreme fear for her family would allow Selena to accept Gabe's help. Despite all they had been through, Selena knew she could trust him with the lives of those she loved. The lawman would never break his word…but if she wasn't careful, he might break her heart again.
BUY THE BOOK
"If you’re not reading about the charming Cosen brothers, you’re really missing out."
Romantic Times BOOKclub
"Crafted with well-developed characters, Kernan's descriptions of Apache reservation life are informative and demonstrate a sincere respectfulness and authenticity. If you're not reading about the charming Cosen brothers, you're really missing out!"
Susannah Balch - RT Book Review
Selena Dosela’s heart beat so hard in her chest she started gasping.
“For the love of God,” said her father from the passenger seat. “Where’s your Apache poker face?”
She pressed a hand to her forehead and blew out a breath but still felt dizzy.
“Better.” Her father, who was supposed to be home under house arrest, had crouched out of sight when they passed Gabe’s police car, but there was nowhere to hide in the small cab of her box truck.
Gabe hit his lights.
“Pull over,” said her dad.
She did, gliding on snow and ice to a stop on the shoulder. Gabe’s white SUV pulled in behind her.
Gabe Cosen, the chief of police for the Black Mountain Apache tribe, would spot her father the instant he reached her door, which was in about fifteen seconds.
“Tell me when he’s next to the rear tire.”
Selena’s heart began galloping again.
She glanced in her side mirror. Gabe exited his unit, tugged down his thigh-length sheepskin jacket and put on the gray Stetson that he always wore. Now her heart pounded for a different reason. Even from a distance this man could raise her heart rate and her internal temperature.
As chief, he didn’t wear a uniform anymore except for special occasions. But he still wore that hat, as if he were a cowboy instead of an Indian. He tipped the brim down and then marched toward Selena’s driver’s side. On any other day she might have appreciated the sight because Gabe Cosen looked good coming or going. Right now she wished it was going.
“What should we do?” she asked.
Her father cast her a look of disappointment. “What do you think? Hide. I’ll be outside on the running board.”
Why had she thought he meant to harm Gabe? Did her father even carry a gun? She hoped not; he would be in enough trouble if Gabe caught him and, come to think of it, so would she.
Her attention returned to her side mirror. “Okay, he’s beside the truck.”
The passenger door eased open and her father hopped out. The door clicked shut. Her attention slipped back to the empty seat and she caught movement through the window beyond. The large rectangular side mirror showed a view of her father crouching on the runner. She gave a little shout. He straightened just enough to peer back inside and she pointed frantically at the mirror. He disappeared like a prairie dog ducking into its burrow, hopping off the running boards and moving out of sight.
“Selena?” Gabe’s voice was muffled by the glass.
She jumped in her seat then rolled down the window to face the chief of the tribal police. The truck was old, refurbished, and didn’t have power anything. In fact, it even had a cassette player on the console. But she’d chosen this truck because she’d been able to pay cash for the whole thing. Unfortunately she’d had to use it and her sister’s box truck as collateral against the eight-wheeler.
“Hey there,” he said. His breath came in a puff of condensation that disappeared almost instantly. “Everything okay?”
Her ears were buzzing. Did that mean she was going to faint? You absolutely are not going to faint. You can’t.
“Was I doing something wrong, Chief?” Her attempt to keep her voice level failed and Gabe pushed back the brim of his hat, giving her a closer look. How did he manage to get more handsome every single year? she wondered as she stared at his ruggedly attractive face.
“You’re flushed,” he said.
“Hot in here. Heater is wonky.” That lie came so easily.
“I see. What’s up?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, keeping her sweating hands on the wheel.
“Your route is finished and you’re heading out. Usually you take the car on errands.”
He had watched her that closely? She had no idea. Now she didn’t know if she should be flattered, furious or frightened.
Should she go with indignation or civility? The indignation won, hands down.
“I don’t think that’s any business of yours.”
Gabe’s brows shot up as he stared steadily back at her. His long nose and flared nostrils reminded her of a wolf on the hunt. The air of authority did not come solely from his position. She felt it even now, the need to do whatever he said merely because he said it. And that mouth, oh, she had memories of that mouth on her body.
Gabe looked Apache, his brown skin, his broad forehead and his full, sensual mouth all spoke of his strength and lineage. But his hair did not. Unlike the rest of his brothers, he wore it clipped short. Perhaps to annoy his older brother Clyne, the tribal councilman and family traditionalist. If possible, Gabe’s thick black hair and stylish cut only made him more attractive. Gabe had once been approached by the tribe’s casino promotion team, who wanted to use him in their ad campaigns. His brothers never let him live that one down. But they didn’t want Gabe because he was boyish, like his kid brother Kino, or handsome like Clay or distinguished like his older brother, Clyne. They chose him because he made women want to take him to bed.
And she was no better than any of the rest of them because she still wanted that, too.
He narrowed his eyes. “You sure you’re all right?”
She swallowed, released the wheel and gave him her stone face. The one her father said she didn’t have. The one all Apache girls practiced before their sunrise ceremony.
“Can I go now?” she asked summoning a tone of flat annoyance and thinking her voice still sounded like the whine of a mosquito.
Gabe stepped back but kept a hand on the open window. She kept hers on the crank.
“I’m sorry I didn’t bring him home,” he said. “I should have been the one there today.”
An apology? Selena’s mouth dropped open. Gabe Cosen was the most unapologetic man she knew, except for perhaps her father. Somehow his words had the opposite effect of what he had likely intended. Now Selena was not frightened. She was pissed.
“Well, you were there when he left, so that’s something.”
“If you need anything,” he said.
“I need to get going.” She lifted her brows to show her impatience and gave the crank a tug for good measure. It met the resistance of his gloved hand, but he released her door. He stood there studying her. She glared back. Why wouldn’t he leave? Her father couldn’t get back inside with him standing there and if he tried, Gabe would see him.
“Are we finished?” she asked. But she already knew the answer. They’d been finished for nearly five years and since then all their conversations had been brief, awkward and tense. But maybe not this tense.
He inclined his chin.
“Then get back to your car. It’s freezing out here.”
His brow lifted to show his surprise and she knew why. No one ever told Gabe Cosen what to do. No, this man gave orders. He didn’t take them.
“Please call me if you need me,” he said, using that infuriating, polite, professional tone.
She needed him every night. But she’d be damned if she’d call.
Gabe hesitated, waiting perhaps for her to reply or say farewell. She cranked up the window and placed her hands on the wheel, staring straight ahead. Finally, he withdrew, melting back and away from her.
She leaned across the seat but before she could open the door her father had it open and swept back into the cab.
“Go,” he said. “But not too fast.” Her father ducked down below the door so as not to be visible in the wide rectangular mirrors that flanked each side of the cab, the ones that gave her a clear view of Gabe returning to his police car.
She set them in motion, then glanced to the road and then back to Gabe. Then to the road. They had gotten away with it. She grabbed a breath of icy air.
“You missed our turn when he stopped us. Turn around. And get us out of here before he stops you again.”
Selena swung them around and caught a blur as Gabe flashed by her driver’s-side window. Then he was behind her, hands on hips as he watched her tail lights.
Just keep going.
“Uh-oh,” said her father, peeking at the side mirror.
Selena looked back to see Gabe had returned to the place where she had parked. He was studying the ground.
“He’s spotted my tracks,” said her father. “Drive faster.”
Gabe Cosen watched Selena go and then returned to the tracks. The snow had started again and he knew that this was his best chance to get a good read. Like all of the men in his family, he had learned to read sign, which meant he could interpret the tracks of animals and men. He was adequate for an Apache, but his younger brothers Kino and Clay were much better.
The prints were from a large individual wearing moccasins. That was not unheard of, but most folks wore their tribe’s traditional foot gear only for hunting, ceremonies and dance competitions. The rest of the time they wore boots. He crouched beside the tracks and guessed at the person’s weight—less than two hundred pounds—from the place where the person had slipped en route to the front of the truck. Who had been in the cab with Selena and why didn’t that person want him to know?
His first thought was that Selena had found someone else. The white-hot fury at that prospect surprised him enough that he lost his balance and had to put a hand down to keep from toppling over. His break in concentration left the mark of his glove in the snow.
He’d know, wouldn’t he? If she had a date or was dating? The community was small and he kept closer tabs on Selena’s movements than he cared for her to know.
The second possibility for her unknown passenger broke through the mental fog he always felt around Selena and struck him like a rock slide. He stood and spun. The road was empty now. She had a good head start. He ran back to his unit. How long after the anklet alarm was triggered would he be notified? Someone from the Department of Corrections would have to call. They were monitoring her father, Frasco Dosela, or they were supposed to be.
He reached his unit as his phone rang. He would have sent the call to voice mail, but he saw from the caller ID that his uncle was calling. Luke Forrest was his father’s half-brother, an FBI field agent and he was also Black Mountain Apache.
Gabe wondered if his uncle’s call was personal or business. He climbed into his unit. His wiper blades beat intermittently against the fine, powdery snow that continued to float down onto the windshield like confectioners’ sugar. Gabe swiped his finger over the screen, taking the call.
“Dagot’ee, Uncle,” Gabe said, using the Apache greeting. “What’s up?” Gabe flipped the phone call to his unit so he could talk while driving. Then he took off after Selena.
“Chief,” said his uncle, using his title instead of his first name. That meant this was a business call. Gabe didn’t have a lot of interaction with the Feds. Mostly he dealt with state police and occasionally the district attorney. But these were troubled times, and he had more business than he and his twelve-man force could handle.
His uncle sounded rushed. “Field Agent Walker and I are seeking permission to enter the rez.”
“You mean your new partner?” Gabe searched for Selena’s box truck. She must be speeding, because she’d vanished like smoke.
“That’s right. But I don’t think she will be my partner for long. That one is a firecracker. She’ll be in DC by June.”
Uncle Luke was a tribe member and needed no permission. As a Black Mountain Apache, his uncle could come and go as he wished. But his partner, Cassidy Walker, was not Apache. A white woman, from the Midwest he recalled. Federal agencies needed approval from the tribal council before conducting business on the rez.
“I’ll need a reason.” Gabe reached the fork to Wolf Canyon. He knew that Selena lived with her family up a side road that veered to the left.
Had she headed home or somewhere else? He didn’t know, but he followed his hunch and made the turn toward her house. If her father was the passenger, that would be their likely move.
“I’ll fax you the official request. In the meantime, I have information on the crystal meth cooks you’ve been chasing.”
For several years the Mexican cartels had been storing product on the rez to avoid federal jurisdiction. Last fall, Gabe and his men had taken out a mobile meth lab, thanks to the help of Clay. But there were plenty of places to hide on twelve thousand acres.
“Any information that would help narrow the search?”
“Some. Tessay wants a deal.”
Arnold Tessay had been a member of the Black Mountain Tribal Council until they’d discovered that Tessay had been tipping off the meth cooks whenever the authorities got close. That made Gabe sick, and so did his suspicion that there were other insiders working with the cartels, beyond the Wolf Posse, which was the tribal gang that sold and distributed drugs on their reservation, acted as muscle and took on other distasteful jobs.
“According to Tessay’s attorney, the raw product is still on the rez. That syncs with our intel.”
“Good,” said Gabe. “What am I looking for?”
“Fifty-gallon barrels of liquid. The kind that your brothers Kino and Clay saw down on the border when they were working with the Shadow Wolves and ICE. Ask them to describe them to you. Water station barrels.”
“The blue ones?”
“Exactly. We don’t know how many. They might be moving them or planning another setup on our reservation.”
Gabe tamped down his anger at that second possibility. He couldn’t understand how an Apache could ever work with criminals. Scarce jobs or not, there was never a reason to help the drug traffickers use Indian land like some kind of home base. Though his own father had done it. But that was another story.
“The barrel contents, can they freeze?” Gabe asked.
“Yeah. Somewhere below zero, I think. Why?”
“Limits the places they can store them.”
“Hmm. I’ll find out for sure and get back to you.”
“Anything else?” asked Gabe.
“That’s it. Except we’d love to find those barrels.”
“I’m on it.”
Gabe gave a traditional farewell and punched the disconnect button on his steering wheel. He glanced toward the leaden sky. The snow had stopped for now but he wondered if there would be more. They’d gotten another coating overnight, just enough to make driving interesting, as it always was in January on the rez. Especially for the tourists out of Phoenix who knew next to nothing about driving in snow.
Gabe reached the Dosela’s home. He didn’t need to head up the drive to see that Selena’s box truck was not among the personal vehicles.
After her father’s arrest, Selena had taken her father’s one box truck and doubled the business in his absence. With both her and her younger sister Mia driving, they managed two routes. When Selena purchased an older box truck, Mia took over her father’s truck and a longer route down to Phoenix and back. One year ago Selena had taken a loan for a used flatbed trailer and six-year-old eighteen-wheeler that the twins, Carla and Paula, took on longer runs. All three trucks were currently missing.
He cursed in Apache, did a one-eighty and headed back toward the town of Black Mountain.
As he drove, he radioed dispatch. Jasmine Grados responded, her smoker’s voice better in the afternoon.
“Anything on the Dosela release?” Maybe he should have stopped to see if Frasco was home, as he should be under the terms of his early release. Send the closest man to the Dosela’s to verify Frasco’s return.
“And all eyes looking for a box truck.”
Jasmine picked up on his line of thinking. “You mean Selena’s truck or Mia’s?”
“Selena’s. Mia should be in Phoenix. Anything from DOC?”
Frasco Dosela had been returned to the reservation with the escort of one of Gabe’s men, his parole officer and a representative from the Department of Corrections who had fit him with a radio anklet to monitor his movements.
“Not since Officer Cienega escorted Mr. Dryer off the rez.”
“When was that?”
“About ten. Um…logged at ten eighteen, Chief.”
He glanced at the dash. It was past noon. Frasco Dosela had better be home on house arrest.
Gabe was already hitting the gas.
“Anything going on?” he asked, checking on the day’s activities.
“One thing. Officer Chee isn’t in yet.”
His patrolmen had been on the force for less than a year, was green as grass, inexperienced, lacked confidence but he was punctual.
Gabe lifted the radio. “You call him?”
“Yes, Chief. Home and mobile. No answer.”
“Send a unit.”
“Anything else?” Gabe asked.
“All right. Keep me posted on Chee. Out.”
Wouldn’t be the first time someone missed a shift. Still, it wasn’t like him and Gabe had that uncomfortable sensation that often preceded bad news. It sort of felt like there was a cold spot in his gut. He had that numbness now, though whether over his officer’s absence or Selena’s little mystery passenger he was not sure.
Gabe knew Selena’s route as well as he knew his own. The delivery of fresh baked goods took her around the entire 113-mile loop through the reservation and usually before ten in the morning.
She should have been done and home by now.
“Where you going, Selena?”