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The True Garza: Red Cage, #3
The True Garza: Red Cage, #3
The True Garza: Red Cage, #3
Ebook407 pages

The True Garza: Red Cage, #3

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars



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He's supposed to be the "good one"...


We met in a bar deep in the woods.

He smiled at me. I didn't smile back.

He wanted to talk. I wanted pleasure.

We clawed and writhed and moaned for seven dark evenings.

Then he left me with vibrations I would feel even a year later.


Now, I'm out of the woods and into the bright, hot sun of LA.

It's the last place I want to be. But there he is. In the light. His smile as radiant as the sun.


With the light, however, come truths we hadn't shared.

He's got a reputation. The kind that guarantees what we had in the woods is all there'll ever be.


When an unexpected opportunity arises, I do what I'm known to do—win.

I play a cutthroat game and win myself right into a job at Red Cage.


Now, he's my boss.


And we're about to play the most dangerous game yet.



The True Garza, book #3 in the Red Cage series, is a complete standalone.

PublisherS. Ann Cole
Release dateMay 19, 2022
The True Garza: Red Cage, #3

S. Ann Cole

S. Ann Cole is a voracious reader, a moody writer, and a lover of anything that distracts her from the real world.She hates chocolate. Candle-lit dinners and all that hearts and flowers stuff makes her feel awkward. Coffee makes her drowsier than ever. And she spends way too much time talking to herself.When Ann is not abusing her computer keyboard, you can find her nosing a novel, watching anything on television that makes her laugh until she breaks into hiccups, studying the Bible, or sipping red wine.

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    Book preview

    The True Garza - S. Ann Cole


    What’s in that jar?


    THE CHIME GOES OFF ABOVE my head as I enter the liquor store.

    Five steps in, I halt when a familiar face emerges from the beer aisle.

    It’s him.

    The man I spent the last year trying to force out of my head. The man who rocked my mind—and body—in a way no other man ever had. The man who, for seven days, drowned out my sorrow, dulled my pain, and made me forget.

    As he strides to the cashier with a six-pack of beer, I allow myself an eyeful of him. He looks as good as I remember, if not better.

    Tall, broad, muscled, formidable, tawny.

    Unbelievably handsome.

    Excuse me, a customer mumbles, brushing past me.

    He told me he was from LA, but moving back here, I hadn’t considered the possibility of running into him. Flashes of the torrid week we spent together plays across my mind like a reel.

    As if he senses my stare, he turns his head in my direction and fixes his dark gaze on me.

    I wait for recognition to slither across his features—for that sexy, flirty grin that had been used like a weapon against me to touch his lips—but all I get is an arched brow. His demeanor is unwelcoming, and he’s as approachable as a venomous snake set to strike.

    He doesn’t remember me.

    Of course, he doesn’t. Our affair was over a year ago. There have no doubt been many more since me. I remember him as vividly as if it were yesterday because he’s the last man I was with. And, well, that face…it’s impossible to forget a face like that. Also, when a man rocks a woman’s world the way he did mine, that’s not something she ever forgets.

    Still, something about his damn near glaring at me the way he is right now, without so much of a hint of recognition, stings. Those seven days spent with him are the most unforgettably amazing seven days of my life. Sure, it was just a fling, but it was magical. He showed up at a time when I’d desperately needed to feel something other than pain, if only temporarily. He was, at the time, everything I needed. It meant something to me.

    Now, under the heat of his glare—a glare that makes me feel as if I’ve offended him somehow—it’s clear that it had meant nothing for him.

    Having suddenly forgotten what I came here for, I spin around and start for the exit.

    I’m almost out the door when two masked men storm in, driving me back inside with a gun to my face. Everybody down! Now!

    Oh, for Pete’s sake. I’ve only been back here a day. All I wanted was a bottle of Johnnie Walker—oh, now I remember what I came for.

    Down, bitch! one of the men barks at me.

    Hands up, I slowly lower to the ground.

    Skinny. Lanky. Shifty blue eyes. Smells like corn dog and motor oil. A .38 caliber revolver in his left hand.

    He breezes past me and advances to the cashier.

    The second man remains by the door.

    Stout. Under six feet. No gun. Ballistic switchblade in his right hand.

    Everything in the register! Now! the first man shouts at the cashier.

    I let out a sigh. I really don’t have time for this.

    Glancing toward him from across the room, I watch as he glares at the back of the man’s head in a manner that conveys he doesn’t appreciate being inconvenienced. He’s the only one, aside from the cashier and the two robbers, still standing. No matter how much the vandal shouts and waves his gun around, he doesn’t budge. He just glares with an air of boredom and impatience.

    This isn’t going to end well, and I don’t want to be here for it. I’m tired, in need of some whiskey and sleep. To get out of here, I’ll have to get past the sidekick at the door. So as the cashier frantically works at getting all the cash from the register and the robber is occupied with threatening anyone who so much as whimpers, I shift a hand to my waist. Not too conspicuous; just enough to draw the sidekick’s attention.

    Once I’ve got it, I move my leather jacket just a fraction, giving him a peek at my piece.

    When he sees it, his eyes widen, then dart to his partner who’s still barking and making a scene, then back to me again. Shaking with nerves now, he bounces from foot to foot.

    Come on, punk. Be a good little wimp and beat it.

    Hey, c’mon, man, this was a bad idea, he calls to his partner. L-let’s get out of here!

    His partner ignores him, stuffing all the cash that’s being passed to him into the pockets of his hoodie.

    Eyes trained on the sidekick, I make as if I’m about to pull out my gun.

    No hesitation this time—he turns and bolts out the door.

    Gun trumps switchblade.

    When I swing my attention to where the other idiot is by the cashier, my gaze collides with his. The hard glare has been replaced by a glint of curiosity.

    I slowly inch toward the exit.

    What else you got behind there? the robber barks, oblivious to the fact that his sidekick has left him behind. Gimme all of it before I plant a bullet in your skull.

    There’s nothing else, I swear, the cashier cries, we just changed shifts.

    What’s in that jar?

    D-donations for cancer—

    Lemme have it.

    I’m almost to the door when I hear a growled, Fuck this.

    "Hey, what are you—ergh…"

    I pop my head up just in time to see the robber being held in a chokehold by him. In seconds, the robber is asleep, his gun clattering to the floor. He slowly lowers the goon to the ground, then picks up the gun, shaking his head. Idiot had the safety on the entire time.

    He puts the weapon on the counter, then picks up the discarded six-pack of beer and shoves it toward the cashier. Before you call the cops, ring this up for me, yeah? My wife’s waiting for me.


    You’re lucky I like you.


    AN HOUR LATER, I PULL into the garage of my sister’s contemporary, multi-million-dollar home in Studio City. My 1971 Camaro grumbles as I park next to the sleek, white Lexus on the left.

    As the garage door slowly lowers behind me, I grab my bottle of whiskey from the passenger seat, tuck it under my arm, and head to the side door.

    Seconds later, after being warned by the alarm that I had entered the wrong passcode one too many times, I’m digging my phone out to text my sister.

    Me: Locked out. Forgot the alarm code.

    Brook: *eyeroll emoji* Hang on.

    Brook: OK, it’s disarmed.

    The door clicks shut behind me after I’ve let myself in.

    I move with caution through the boxy, glassy house. It’s all clean lines, polished marble, stainless steel, hardwood floors, black-and-gold classiness.

    Staying with Brook wasn’t a good idea when she suggested it. Wasn’t a good idea when I agreed to it. And, now that I’m here, it still isn’t a good idea. It didn’t work when we were kids, and it didn’t work when we were teens, so I’m not sure why we thought it might work now that we’re adults and set in our ways. The only thing we have in common is obstinacy.

    Brook is OCD neat. Everything is perpetually spotless and carefully placed. While I’m not exactly a slob in comparison, I don’t care to make the bed the second I roll out of it or to wash every utensil immediately after using it. No, I don’t mind a few dirty dishes in the sink and allowing my laundry to pile up. But those things drive Brook mad, so whenever I’m in her space, I’m overly gentle and hyperconscious of everything I do—which drives me mad.

    However, getting a decent place in LA that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg takes time and luck. Moving back to LA wasn’t planned; it was an abrupt and unexpected decision—and seeing as my big sister is the only one in my family that I get along with and can tolerate for extended periods, this is where I am in the meantime.

    I find her in the kitchen, brewing tea. Sleek, honey-blonde, bob-cut hair, flawless brown skin, lithe and slender figure.

    Zero-nine-seven-eight, she says without looking up. It’s four numbers, Lonny, not an algebraic equation.

    Thanks, I’ll get it tattooed on my palm.

    You want tea?

    Nope. I hold up my paper bag. I’ve got Johnnie Walker.

    At that, she looks up and levels me with her hazel-green gaze. Do you think maybe you drink too much?

    You think maybe you should mind your own business?

    Can’t. It’s not in my nature.

    Brook and I are two years apart. She’s the middle child. Our older brother Charles is the firstborn, and I’m the last. Out of all of us, Brook was always smarter, more driven, destined for more. So, naturally, she became a lawyer.

    An extremely successful one.

    I get fleeting moments of jealousy sometimes, but I love my sister too much to feed that monster. Although I’m the rebellious one, it would’ve never been me who did something different from the rest of the family. I detested school, had been a C-student all the way through, and only managed to graduate college by the scrape of my teeth.

    What I am is street smart, foolhardy, physical, temperamental, and a bit of an alcoholic.

    You’re lucky I like you, I mumble as I shuffle off.

    Love you, too, sis, she calls after me.

    I amble to the guest bedroom and knee the door open. Two large, unpacked suitcases stare back at me. Right. The reason I went out for whiskey in the first place.

    I only arrived in LA this morning—back for the first time since I left eight years ago, right behind my father.

    One day the Bridges were a perfectly happy family, and the next we weren’t. Our lives imploded when my mom and uncle decided to come forward about their affair. It almost did my father’s head in.

    After giving Mom the divorce she wanted, he gave up his job as an Army Officer Cadet and moved to Denver to teach at a martial-arts academy. Six months later, I followed him. My father was my world and my hero; wherever he was, that’s where I wanted to be.

    While Brook and Charles chose to remain neutral through it all, I had no qualms about choosing sides. I wanted nothing to do with Mom or Uncle Walter—especially after they got married.

    Leaving everyone behind and starting a new life was easy. Dad found love again and was happy. I did, too. Got engaged. Kept getting contracts.

    But the last two years, things took a turn for the worse.

    I’d gotten a private contract. A serial killer had gone wild, brutally hacking up teenage girls, including severing their heads and leaving them on spikes in public places. The attacks were vicious; the most heinous I’ve ever encountered.

    Desperate to catch this killer, the state Bureau of Investigation gave the case to me. Whenever someone like me is brought in on a case, it pretty much means all protocol is about to be thrown out the window, because a private agent’s actions never fall back on the Bureau.

    In other words, I’m allowed to break the rules—to an extent. So in no time, I was closing in on the killer. But, somehow, he found out about me and became obsessed. Instead of beheading the girls, he started carving words into their flesh.

    For you, Lonny Bridge.

    You were so close, Lonny Bridge.

    Catch me if you can, Lonny Bridge.

    You turn me on, Lonny Bridge.

    One day, the agent assigned to assist me on the case went missing. For several days we searched for him. Then, one night, I came home and found his head on my coffee table.

    They tried to kill my contract, to pull me off the case and put me under protection. But after losing an agent to that psycho, I was determined to take him down.

    And I did. It took weeks of cat-and-mouse-games; but eventually, he played right into the trap I’d set for him.

    Three weeks after that, my fiancé broke off our engagement. He told me the one that got away was back in town and wanted him back—that they’d grown up together and were soulmates, but she’d left town for another man. And now that she was back, he couldn’t marry me knowing he was still in love with her.

    It would’ve made such a sweet second-chance love story… if only I’d been left the fuck out of it.

    Apparently, everyone knew about the one that got away, and the soulmates who were destined to be together. Everyone except me. And no one had bothered to warn me that I was on a roller-coaster ride to nowhere and would have done well to get the hell off before I got hurt. Nope, not until my heart was shattered into a million pieces.

    Three weeks later, while nursing my heartbreak and humiliation one shot of whiskey at a time, I got the call.

    My father was dead; killed at random by a stray bullet that was discharged during a bar-brawl between two bikers from rival gangs. Just like that, my hero was gone.

    It was all more than I could handle. I descended into darkness and depression; shut out everything and everyone and went off the grid.

    But, eventually, they found me—many months later. I woke up one morning, and all the Bridges were standing in my rented cabin that was tucked deep in the mountains.

    For days, my family tried to get through to me, to get me to come back home. But when they realized that their efforts were futile, one by one they gave up and left—except for Uncle Walter. The man I hated with every ounce of my being. The man who destroyed our family.

    He had been determined to stay until I agreed to move back home to Los Angeles. The hate, vitriol, and vicious insults I threw at him just bounced right off. He didn’t budge.

    I was bitter, angry, and weighted down by grief, but he soaked it all up like a sponge and wore me down until I gave in. Because, what else did I have left in Denver? My father was dead, my ex-fiancé was as good as dead to me, and the people that I thought were my friends were actually assholes who sat back and let me waste my time on a man whose heart—they all knew—belonged to someone else.

    So here I am. Back in freaking LA.

    A little less sad and aggrieved than I’d been months before but still really fucking angry.

    I set the bottle of whiskey down on the chest-of-drawers and stare at my suitcases. All day, I’ve procrastinated unpacking because I don’t want to be here. But where do I go? Where do I want to be?

    Nowhere. There’s nowhere I want to be. I’m stuck on this godforsaken planet.

    With rage-filled force, I kick the suitcase closest to me. Again and again and again, while biting the inside of my cheek until I taste blood.

    Worn out, I crack open the whiskey and take a swig straight from the bottle.

    You wanted me back, Los Angeles? Well, here I am.


    Red Cage assholes.



    Charles Bridge, my annoying brother, strolls into the waiting area with an air of arrogance as great as his six-foot-four frame. It irks me that my siblings and I have eyes of exactly the same color—earthy green with radiating waves of brown and gold. If nothing else, our eyes proclaim that we’re related.

    You’re lucky I came at all.

    Nice to see you, too, little sis. He smirks and clamps his hand on my shoulder. Come with me.

    With a groan, I grab his hand and pull it off me. Don’t touch me, dickface.

    He chuckles as he escorts me to the elevator.

    I have two job interviews today—one as a shooting instructor, and another as an instructor of Krav Maga—so, I don’t appreciate being unexpectedly summoned to LX-BI by Uncle Walter.

    Charles hits the button for the fifth floor.

    Uncle Walter is Executive Assistant Director here at LA’s Bureau of Investigations Unit, while my brother is an agent. I’d spent one rookie year here before an opportunity came for me to work with a private organization in Germany. When I got back four years later, I was so fucking sharp that LX-BI just wasn’t enough for me. That’s when private contracts started coming my way.

    Mom’s happy you’re back, Charles says as the elevator whisks us up.

    That makes one of us.

    She wants to see you.

    Not a chance in hell. That woman is dead to me.

    I haven’t seen or spoken to my mother since she ripped our family apart. Two years before he died, Dad secured a burial plot in Denver and told me that when he died he didn’t want to be brought back to LA; nor did he want his bitch of an ex-wife at his funeral. When that time sadly came, I did exactly as he requested.

    My family thinks I’ve cut my mother off because of what she did, but there’s more to it than that. And they’ll never know. I’m fine being the difficult sibling.

    She’s still your mother, Lonny.

    "Listen, I chose Dad, and you and Brook chose her. My being back here doesn’t mean I want a relationship with her. Nothing’s changed. As far as I’m concerned, Dad’s dead because of her. So she’s still dead to me."

    He sighs. You need to grow up, Lonny.

    And you need to get a new barber and stop using so much hair gel. That haircut is atrocious.

    His hair is fine, but since he’s a well-dressed peacock who’s deeply self-absorbed and obsessed with himself, I always resort to teasing him about his hair whenever I’m on the losing end of an argument with him.

    Yeah, I know, I’m childish. No shame to my game.

    With a frown, he turns and examines himself in the stainless steel of the elevator wall, brushing his fingers over his wavy drop-fade. Wha—what’s wrong with my haircut?

    The elevator doors slide open and a smirk tugs at my lips as I stride out. He’s going to obsess about his hair for the entire day now. Works every time.

    I make my way into Uncle Walter’s office without knocking. He’s sitting behind his desk, gaze narrowed on the computer screen. He’s a massive, broad-shouldered hunk of a man who shouldn’t look as fit, strong, and hale as he does for his age. Especially after he stole his brother’s wife, job, and kids—barring me. There’s not an ounce of guilt, remorse, or sadness in the lines of his face. I resent him.

    "This is the last time you’ll summon me, Uncle."

    Good morning to you, too, Lonny.

    What do you want?

    With eyes identical to mine, he looks me up and down. We thought you would’ve come by the house after you landed yesterday.

    Never gonna happen. What do you want? I’ve got things to do.

    Charles and Special Agent Brady Haynes enter the office just then.

    Brady smirks at me. It’s good to see you, Lonny. Missed your crazy ass.

    Brady and Charles have been best friends for as long as I can remember. Brady spent so much time at our house growing up that he’s considered a Bridge at this point.

    Close the door, Uncle Walter orders.

    Charles prods me forward and closes the door.

    What the hell is going on? I ask.

    We have a contract for you.

    "No." For fuck’s sake. He and everyone else knows I’m done with this life. Done. Not after losing an agent. Not after losing my father. Not after losing my life.

    Hear me out, he says. Please.


    It’s low risk. Easy. Fast money. And I know you’re low on funds now.

    Charles blocks the door when I try to leave, bulky arms crossed over his chest. I glower at him.

    It’s not homicide, Lonny. You’ll be undercover, Uncle Walter goes on. For you, this will be a walk in the park.

    Blocked from leaving, I whip back around. "How is being undercover ever low risk?"

    He gestures. Just have a seat and listen for a second.

    I glance at Brady who just shrugs. Then over my shoulder at Charles, still blocking the door. There’s no getting out of here without getting physical. Uncle Walter has a way of getting whatever he wants. And I knew that, I damn well knew it, yet I walked right in here of my own free will. Serves me right.

    Begrudgingly, I sit. I’m listening.

    About two years ago, we worked with the feds to take down a major human trafficking operation, he starts. Things were quiet for a while. But you know how it is, chop one head off and another grows in its place. There’s a new player now. But he’s playing it smarter, quieter. His operation is small, but growing. We want to take him down before he gets any bigger, spreads. That’s where you come in.

    I arch a brow but save my words, cross my arms, and wait for him to explain.

    "I would have preferred to handle this ourselves, but the orders came down from the top. They want one agent—you—to work with RCI on this. RCI worked with the lead federal agent on the last case, and it appears they’ve got some kind of trusted partnership now."


    Red Cage Commando Security and Investigations.

    There’s a Red Cage here? I only know of the one in Denver. They’re kind of untouchable.

    Yes, the main headquarters are here in LA. We have a good relationship with them, but, truthfully, I don’t like them, Uncle Walter says in a disgruntled tone. They’re a bunch of cocky sons of bitches who think they can do our jobs better than us.

    I smirk. Can they?

    He gives me an irritated look. They can get shit done faster because they don’t have to follow protocols and can break the law if needed without any real consequences. That doesn’t mean they’re better.

    Like me? Sounds fun. You know if they’re hiring?

    From behind me, Charles smacks the back of my head.

    You’re gonna pay for that, I tell him. Anyway, what’s the undercover part on this?

    You’re the bait.

    Huh? I don’t follow.

    The plan is to try to sell you to him.

    This makes me guffaw. Hard and heartily. Last I checked, human traffickers snatched teenagers and twenty-somethings. Not washed up thirty-two-year-old women.

    You look twenty-five, Lonny. We’ve got no one else here who could pull this off.

    I stare at him like he’s lost his mind. You’re serious about this?

    He leans back in his chair. It’s no action. Low risk. Good money. You just need to look pretty, young and naive, smile a lot, and be someone’s fake girlfriend.

    "Fake girlfriend?"

    Yeah. He scribbles something on a notepad, rips the page off, and hands it to me. If you’re in, go here in an hour for a meeting with True Garza and Sacha Allard. They’ll explain the rest.

    I take the paper and skim the address. Who are they?

    Red Cage assholes, he grumbles. "You will be working closely together, so consider them your temporary partners on this. We’re keeping this one on the down low, so if you accept the contract, don’t come to the office, and discuss this case with no one outside of who is currently in this room."

    Those are standard rules on all my contracts. Hence, they’re private. So I don’t know why he’s stressing that. Unless…You’ve got a mole?

    He sighs heavily. Sadly, yes. We haven’t found who it is yet.

    "Ah, that’s why the Bureau wants me and a third-party organization, I say with a smile. They don’t trust you all."

    Pretty much.

    Charles comments, It’s a sad day when RCI’s more trusted than LX-BI.

    I don’t know why we’re pretending, though, I say lazily. We all know who the mole is.

    Who? Uncle Walter asks.

    This snake right here. I stand and turn to face my brother with a smirk. They’re probably bribing him with a year’s supply of hair gel.

    Charles lunges at me, but I dodge him. You little—

    Cut it out, both of you, Uncle Walter snaps. Why do you two always resort to acting like teenagers when you’re around each other? Jesus.

    Brady chuckles behind his fist.

    Lonny, are you on board?

    As if I have a choice at this point. But I’m just going to let him think he’s got me where he wants me for now. Send the contract. I’m gonna go to this meeting and get an ear on the plan. And if I like what I see in the contract, I’ll let you know.

    Good. He nods, pleased. I’ll need a brief after your meeting with RCI. I also expect daily reports. For urgencies, get in touch with me, Charles, or Brady.

    Got it. I loop my right arm around Brady’s thick bicep and open the door with my left. Come on, Brady Bunch. Catch me up on all I’ve missed. Tell me all about the barbies my brother’s been paying to like him.

    As Brady and I leave the room, I hear Charles curse, "For the love of—what were you thinking bringing her back, Uncle? She’s a menace."

    Uncle Walter’s hearty laugh follows us out. I was thinking family belongs with family. You missed her. We all did.


    Wasn’t me, babe.


    I FLIP MY CAR KEYS and stare up at the matte-black edifice with large red letters stretched across it:



    The branch in Denver isn’t nearly as imposing as this one.

    I hit the small silver button on the panel and gaze at my reflection in the one-way-mirror-tinted glass door as I wait.

    The door buzzes open seconds later, and a burly guard allows me in. Much appreciated cool air-conditioning licks at my skin, while the subtle scent of aloe and white tea flirts with my olfactory nerve.

    These men must be raking in some serious moolah because it’s like a luxury hotel lobby in here. Sleek, classy, sophisticated. From the polished gold-accented marble floors to the lit, futuristic-style reception desk, to the indoor waterfall along the wall with their logo illuminated inside it, to the artistic hanging light fixtures above. Designed to intimidate the lowly and seduce the wealthy.

    Hi, I’m Jennifer, the gorgeous, young receptionist greets with a bleached-white smile. How may I help?

    See, she would do well luring a trafficker to nab her. This is the kind of young, fresh, girl-next-door pretty they like. Not some bitter, ill-tempered old croon. I can’t believe I agreed to this.

    Yeah, I’m here for a meeting with True Garza and, uh, Sacha Allard.

    Okay, one moment. She clacks around on her keyboard. London Bridge?

    Yup. That’s me.

    Extend your arm, please?

    Frowning, I hesitantly extend my arm over the counter.

    As she latches some sort of gold-jewelry band around my wrist and seals it with a weird, beeping device, she informs me, This is your visitor pass. It has a built-in tracker and can only be unlocked and removed by this device. So please return here before you leave.

    Seriously? Is this necessary?

    To prevent security breaches, yes.

    Ah. Makes sense with a place like this.

    Please take the elevator up to the third floor. Once you’re there, Daniel will take you to the meeting room.

    Got it.

    As I make my way into the elevator, I think on how ridiculous it is that I have to go to them. Why is it not the other way around? What gives them so much power that we have to meet them? I knew about Red Cage in Denver only because Dad always talked about them and how much he’d love to work with them. He’d applied twice and got rejected.

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