Apache Protectors: Tribal Thunder, Book 4
To trust and protect…
Tribal police chief Jack Bear Den will do anything to stop ecoterrorists from targeting the city of Phoenix and his tribe's reservation. But partnering with disgraced ex-FBI explosives expert Sophia Rivas is trouble even his trail-tested skills never anticipated. Her out-there deductions and wild-card plays are blowing up false leads, exposing treacherous lies—and sparking an attraction too dangerous for even Jack to resist.
By the book was never Sophia's style even before she made a career-torching mistake. To save lives, she has to gamble on her instincts more than ever. If Jack doesn't trust her, she can handle it—but letting him uncover her deepest secrets is a distraction neither can afford. And with the clock ticking down and disaster about to strike, getting too close may be the last move she and Jack ever make.
PRE-ORDER THE BOOK
Amazing how much a simple favor could cost you. FBI explosives expert, Sophia Rivas, waited for her escort to finish introductions. She held her tight smile firmly in place as she shook hands with the chief of tribal police, Wallace Tinnin. The man looked well past the age of retirement, judging from his deeply lined face. He ushered them from the station floor, such as it was, into his small, stuffy office where everything seemed as old and worn out as their chief.
Her gaze flashed to the CRT monitor on his desk that looked straight out of the 1990s. Those things still had cathodes and vacuum tubes inside. Both the chief and the hardware needed an upgrade.
Her escort, FBI agent Luke Forrest had moved into the office and now gave her a look of warning.
Sophia met Luke’s gaze. He was her cousin and the reason she had been recruited into the bureau. She owned him a lot, but that didn’t mean she agreed with him. This entire thing continued to feel like a bad idea.
She preceded the chief into the office, opting to stand rather than sit in either of the stained chairs facing the chief’s overcrowded desk. Chief Tinnin headed the Turquoise Canyon Police which consisted of nine officers, all male, and one dispatcher, female.
“He should be here soon,” the chief assured.
Who were they waiting for again? Luke told her she’d be working with their best man. Best of nine, she realized. What was his name? Bear trap. Bearton. Something like that.
With luck he could take her to the reservoir and she could give her opinion and be heading back to Flagstaff by dark.
Back to her empty apartment where she could pace and obsess over the review teams’ findings on her use of deadly force.
Forrest was more than a decade her senior and his short black hair and pressed suit did not hide the fact that, like her, this agent was Apache. But not of the Turquoise Canyon tribe. They were both Black Mountain, both Spider clan making them kin. They also shared a grandmother, so the connection was especially close. And even though Luke worked in the Phoenix field office, he had heard she was on leave during the investigation.
Had she made a mistake that night, one that could cost her the thing she valued most in this world—her job. No. They would clear her.
She glanced from her cousin to Wallace Tinnin, who moved behind his desk. She wondered why he used an old rusty spur as a paper weight. Had he once ridden the rodeo? That would account for the limp.
What was happening back in Flagstaff? She knew the protocol because they’d explained it all to her. But she didn’t know how long the investigation process would take. “As long as it takes,” was not very helpful, but was the only answer her supervisor provided before placing her on mandatory leave.
This was the process. She had to trust it. But she didn’t. She didn’t trust anything that threatened her job.
Tinnin set down a cup of water before her and asked her to take a seat. She politely declined both.
“Coffee?” asked Tinnin.
She glanced at the well-used drip coffee maker on his sideboard.
“Maybe just water.”
It was delivered in a Dixie cup instead of an unopened bottle. Her smile remained but she cast her cousin a certain look. He seemed to be enjoying himself, judging from the smirk.
The chief opened the top drawer of his desk, drew out a silver foil packet, that she recognized for nicotine gum, popped the white cube in his mouth and chewed. The pouches beneath his eyes spoke of a man running a department that she knew must be understaffed and underfunded.
There was a polite knock and her cousin opened the door. In walked a mountainous man who surveyed the room with a quick sweep before fixing his stare on her with a combination of suspicion and healthy respect.
“Sophia?” said Forrest, motioning toward the new arrival. “This is Detective Jack Bear Den.”
The first thing she noticed, that anyone would notice was how damn big he was. Big, tall and broad-shouldered with a body-type very unlike the men she knew from her reservation on Black Mountain. The second thing that she saw was the cut across his lifted eyebrow, not a cut really a blank spot where a tiny white scar threaded, bisecting the brow and making him look roguish, like a pirate.
What he did not look like was Apache.
Was there best detective really from off the rez?
“A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Rivas. I’m roadrunner born of snake.”
She answered automatically, giving her clan affiliation. “I’m butterfly, born of spider.”
Since the Turquoise Canyon people were Tonto Apache and she was Western Apache, they did not share linguistic roots, so she spoke in English, her second language.
Her brain was still sending her signals that he was not roadrunner or snake or Apache. He did not fit. Did not look like any other Apache man she had ever met. Still she extended her hand.
He stepped forward meeting her gaze and she saw his eyes were hazel with a shift of color toward brown near his pupil which blasted outward to give way to a true green at the outer rim of his iris. Most Apache men did not have green eyes.
The rest of him was equally appealing, particularly his strong square jaw and welcoming smile that disappeared as their hands brushed. Tingling awareness zinged from their melded palms all the way up her arm. His eyes glittered and his brows descended. Then he broke the contact as if reconsidering the wisdom of a custom of the white world and none of theirs. He drew back, wiping his palm across his middle as if the touch were somehow dangerous. He left his hand stretched across his flat stomach for a moment, his long fingers splayed on the blue cotton fabric of his button-up shirt. Her stomach did a nervous little flutter as her senses came alive. His fingers were thick with a dusting of hair near each knuckle. His fifth finger brushed the top edge of the silver belt buckle bearing a medicine wheel inlayed in black, red, yellow and white. The four directions, the circle of life, the seasons and a compass to guide a man as he walked through life. Why did he wear that symbol?
Her attention dipped below the buckle and stayed fixed long enough for the room to fall silent. The detective’s hand shifted toward his personal weapon. Holstered at his hip was a .45 caliber. Then his hand dropped to his side, ready.
They’d taken her Glock for the investigation and offered a replacement weapon—a .45 caliber, just like his. She didn’t like the stronger recoil. It affected her aim on multiple discharge.
Tinnin cleared his throat and motioned Jack forward. He took a position near her in front of the desk between Tinnin and Forrest in only three strides.
Her hand continued to tingle as if she had touched the hot wire of a horse pasture.
She wasn’t attracted to Jack Bear Den. She couldn’t be. She didn’t mix business with pleasure and she wasn’t planning to stay one minute more than it took to deliver the bad news.
They were now all three staring at her. Had they asked her a question?
“What’s that now?” she said, her voice sounding odd above the constant buzzing in her ears. Tinnin took that one. "Advise us on where we might be vulnerable."
“Could you advise us on how to protect the reservoirs above us so we can protect our people?”
" You’re on low ground. No protecting you if any of the dams blow." She gritted her teeth as both Tinnin and Bear Den exchanged glances. She should have thought before she spoke.
The councilors told her that she was bound to feel some anxiety after the shooting and that she would question her judgement. They hadn’t even a clue at how this investigation was messing with her. She was usually way more thoughtful.
“I’m sorry. I spoke out of turn,” she said.
She met Bear Den’s steady gaze. Her skin felt clammy as the stirring sexual desire crashed against her determination to avoid entanglements. If she’d met him in a different place and time, maybe. But he still looked dangerous. Some part of her like that, but not the part that liked to eat. Protecting her job meant keeping things professional. What would they say at headquarters if they heard she’d used her leave to bed this guy? Her stomach tightened in dread.
Sophia glanced away from temptation, past the window and the dusty Venetian blinds. It was a fine bright September day. The air was cooler at this elevation and it made her homesick for Black Mountain. Everything green now after the annual monsoonal rains and that, too, reminded her of home.
“I’m sure I can make some useful suggestions,” she said. Suggestions like recommending they all move to higher ground if they believed the threat was viable.
She looked to the yellow and white rock face that rose on the far plain beyond the flowing water. The Hakathi River threaded through the wide plain. This land, even this office, had once been river bottom. But that was before the dam had captured the water—before the government stole this land and then given it back to the Turquoise Canyon people.
Bright September sunlight glinted on the glassy surface. The placid winding river didn’t fool her. It was dangerous, the vanguard of what lay above their settlements.
“Will that be all right, Sophia?” A man’s voice snapped her back to attention. It was Luke who posed the question.
She lifted her brow at Luke in a gesture that she hoped would alert him that she had not heard a word.
Forrest steepled his hands together as if preparing for prayer. “Sophia has been in all the recent briefings, but the bureau did not put forth your theory. I think it would be of benefit to share it now.”
She agreed with that. And listening to their problems sure beat worrying about hers. The minimum administrative leave was five days. But she was already past that. Was that bad? And when exactly would they give her the ‘pertinent information’ they promised her? Last she’d heard the autopsy was complete. When would they release her weapon?
“Yes, I’d appreciate that,” she said turning to the chief but she could not resist another look at the detective.
His hair was short, dark and thick with a definite wave. She’d like to rake her hands through that hair.
Chief Wallace Tinnin pushed the gum to his cheek, placing it like chewing tobacco.
“Ms. Rivas, our tribe isn't convinced that the threat of the eco-extremist group BEAR has been neutralized by the death of their leader, Theron Wrangler.”
Her office had gone over this in a briefing before the shooting. During the devastating wildfires in July, a prominent citizen and eco-advocate had been murdered. Suspicion had been cast on his wife, Lupe Wrangler, but no evidence was found and she was cleared.
“We feel BEAR is alive and well and that our reservoir system is a likely target for attack.”
BEAR was the acronym for Bringing Earth Apocalyptic Restoration. In layman's terms, they wanted to blow man back to the Stone Age where he couldn't destroy the planet. Some part of her believed man was the earth’s biggest threat. But she was no eco-warrior.
Forrest surprised her by revealing information she felt proprietary.
"The FBI believes that the death of Theron Wrangler has crippled their organization," said Forrest.
Bear Den took it from there. “A member of our society witnessed Lupe Theron shoot her husband.”
Forrest rubbed his forehead and then picked up where Bear Den had left off. “We could find no proof, no evidence to support this man’s claim that Lupe Wrangler killed her husband.”
Bear Den broke in, his voice now containing a dangerous edge. “Her daughter also witnessed the shooting. You have two witnesses.”
“None the less, the bureau could not break Lupe Wrangler's alibi.”
“She should be in custody,” said Tinnin.
“I agree and I’m here doing what I can.” He had his hand on his neck again, massaging away the tension that now crackled in the room.
“We believe the witnesses. It’s not over.”
She now recalled the theory that Wranglers death might trigger sleeper cells to action. Could these men be right? She decided to proceed as if the threat was viable as she had been trained until she knew otherwise.
“Tribal Thunder contends that this is not over,” said Jack Bear Den.
“Tribal Thunder?” she asked.
“These men are Tribal Thunder.” Forrest motioned to Tinnin and Bear Den. “It’s the warrior sect of their medicine society.”
She knew about medicine societies – mostly that they were misogynistic groups, all male and secret as heck. Sophia looked from one to the other and speculated on their activities. Certainly protecting their people would be their prime objective.
“Just a few ground rules before you two visit the dam.” Tinnin pinned her with eyes that no longer looked tired, but rather deadly serious. “You will be with one of my men at all times.”
Her gaze went to Bear Den. It was him, of course. She knew it and the prospect excited and terrified.
“Detective Bear Den will escort you.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Tinnin glanced to Luke and then back to her. "Your cousin wants assurances you are protected because of the recent incident. He and your supervisors feel there may be an ongoing threat.”
She doubted that. Sophia glanced at Bear Den. He looked capable but an FBI agent did not need the protection of a small town cop.
“Detective Bear Den is very good and knows the territory," said her cousin. "He's an ex-marine. Weapons specialist. He's been a tribal detective for seven years here and knows the terrain. He is an honored member of his medicine society, the Turquoise Guardians, and of the elite warrior society, Tribal Thunder. He’s their best."
Best of nine, she thought.
"You can trust him to keep you safe.”
Bear Den spoke to her and his voice was deep and rich as dark coffee. She loved the sound.
She cast him a dubious look and he inclined his chin as if readying for a fight.
“Detective Bear Den will make sure you are safe,” said Luke. “It’s a condition of your consultation.”
“My supervisor onboard with this?”
“He had no objections.”
She blew out her frustration. “Fine.”
“So you will have protection 24/7,” said Tinnin.
“Maybe twenty-four. Certainly not seven. This won’t take as long as you think,” Sophia assured. Her confident smile was met with silence. “I’d like to get started.”
Because the sooner they started, the sooner she could get out of here.
“Detective Bear Den will bring you up to the closes reservoir now,” said Luke.
Bear Den cast her a wicked smile.
And that was when it happened. Her body, always reliable and her mind, always predictable, both short-circuited at once. Her stomach flipped as she squinted at him trying to figure how the upturning of his lips could make her go all jittery inside. She met the steady stare and the challenge with a smile of her own. The connection grew. He had an air of confidence and a physicality that inspired her to all kinds of bad ideas.
“Check in with me tonight, okay,” said her cousin.
She tore her gaze from the detective.
“Sure thing,” she promised.
“We’ll make sure she stays in touch,” said Tinnin.
He handed her a large boxy black Motorola radio that looked a decade old. She clipped it to the waistband of her slacks.
“You ready for a tour?” asked the detective.
“Absolutely. I look forward to it.” She didn’t, because the idea of be trapped in a vehicle with him made her skin itch.
Excerpt THE WARRIOR'S WAY ©2017 – Jenna Kernan