The heart of the Precious Jewels Security Agency, Pearl Nicolas’s life has become one undercover assignment after the next. Happy, yet jealous, that her sisters are finding their soulmates, Pearl reluctantly accepts there is no soulmate out there for her… Or is there?
Tariq Suárez Anzar’s life changed when he became a single father of a teen. When a possible drug ring is suspected on his daughter’s prep school campus, the Precious Jewels are called in to find out exactly what is going on. But Tariq discovers so much more—Pearl. From the first moment they met, everything within him screamed, “She is your soulmate!”
Timing would be perfect for Tariq to go after his soulmate except one tiny thing—his daughter is Pearl’s only lead in the case. Patient as much as he is determined, he will not let this once in a lifetime chance slip by to have the family he wants.
The print version is coming soon.
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For those of you who have been following the Precious Jewels, you may have noticed that though the sisters have a lot of similarities, they are all very unique. Just as the tone of each novel is unique. Pearl is the sister who is always soul-searching. When I started the Precious Jewels, I knew there was a back story to their parents that would eventually come to light. With each novel, more was revealed to me, thus you. I don’t want to give anything away, but I’m pretty sure you’ll want to have a discussion after this. LOL. Enjoy Pearl’s story and let me know what you think.
Furious, Tariq paced about the living room and awaited his daughter’s return. Terracotta tile taking a beating, he just couldn’t believe his little Allison would do this. That was the problem, he mused. Fifteen years old, she was no longer his little princess but a terrible teen. A high school math professor, he’d become an expert on terrible teens.
Recently, their lives had been turned upside down and inside out, but that was no excuse for this. In need of a long, calming run, he smacked the back of the couch as he passed. Ganja, pot, weed, reefer, grass, dope or whatever they called marijuana today was not an option, even for experimentation. Then there were the pills. He pulled a small pill tin from his pocket and shook it, wishing it were his daughter. What was she thinking? Drugs! Oh no. Not his baby.
Thinking it would be easier for Allison to adjust to their new life, he’d moved to the United States, but now he had second thoughts. Back home in Barcelona, he had family and friends, a support system he’d taken for granted.
The heavy wooden front door swung open, breaking him from his thoughts.
“Hey, Dad.” Allison’s smile disappeared. Brows furrowed, she eased into the room and closed the door. “Is… something wrong?”
“You tell me.” He handed her the pill tin and small packet of marijuana he’d found in her room.
Statue still and eyes wider than a deer caught in the headlights, she gasped. “Dad… Dad… I…” Back straight and arms straight down at her sides like a pouty child, she glared up at him. “You searched through my room? You have no right.”
“First, do not ever raise your voice at me. Second, you’re my child, which not only gives me the right to search through any room in my house, but that fact dictates that I should search your room routinely. Third, you will tell me how long you’ve been using, what you’ve been using and where you got it. Fourth—”
“Dad,” she interrupted, “it’s just a little pot and some pills. It’s not a big deal.”
“You think pill-popping’s no big deal?” He snatched the drugs out of her hand and stomped into the kitchen. “This is worse than I thought.” About to pour the marijuana and pills down the garbage disposal, he changed his mind. The police may be able to trace the drugs back to the seller. He stuffed the contraband into his front jogging short’s pocket.
She could continue her impression of The Big Bad Wolf and huff and puff all she wanted. The ultimate brick house, he wouldn’t be swayed. He took the toolbox from under the sink, then headed upstairs to her bedroom. He’d purchased their two-story fixer-upper for three reasons: the seclusion, he loved working with his hands and its Spanish style reminded him of home.
“What are you doing?”
“Giving you a visual reminder that you do not have a right to privacy.” He entered her room with her close behind, then closed the door.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait… what?”
He set the toolbox on her dresser next to a picture of Marissa, Allison’s mother. Her big blue eyes appeared to look right through him. Marissa would be so disappointed in him for failing their daughter. Almost as disappointed as he was in himself. Well, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Lesson learned. You could be friendly with your children, but not friends. It was time to be a parent.
He took the hammer and a nice sized screw out of the toolbox, then removed the top hinge pin from the door.
“Are you serious?” Allison balled up her fists. “This isn’t fair. I can’t stand you. I wish Mom were here.”
“For what? To make her proud by showing her your drug stash? That would have gone over nicely.” He placed the screw at the underside of the middle hinge pinhead and tapped until the second pin popped up. “Where did you get the drugs?” He set both pins on the dresser.
“Really? You know I can’t tell you.”
He almost smiled. If not for her brunette hair and big hazel eyes, Allison could be a double for her mother. She sounded and acted just like her. “I know no such thing.” Tariq lowered himself to the floor. Ready to work on the bottom hinge, he warned, “Having your door removed is nothing compared to what will happen if I finish and still don’t know where you got the drugs.” He set the screw to the underside of the hinge head and tapped. In the five months that he’d been a full-time parent, one thing Allison learned well was he always followed through on what he said.
“Yvonne. I got them from Yvonne.”
What a pity. He’d liked Yvonne. “How long have you been taking drugs?”
“I haven’t. I swear. We were going to try this weekend when I spend the night at her house. Test me if you don’t believe me.”
“I’ve already ordered several.” He tapped one last time. The hinge pin popped up high enough to take out. “Sit.” He pointed at her bed and set the pin with the other two. “You’re not spending the night at Yvonne’s this weekend or any other night in the foreseeable future.”
“But she’s my only friend.”
“Then I’d think you’d take better care to act appropriately so you can maintain that friendship with her.” He set the door in the hallway, then approached her with his hand held out. “Cell phone.”
“What? No. Daddy please…”
“Do not make me ask again.”
Genuine tears welled up in her eyes, hurting his heart.
“This is so unfair. I didn’t even take the stupid drugs.” Phone in its usual spot, her left hand, she held it out to him. “I hate my life.”
“If you need to make a call, do it from the kitchen phone.” He took the toolbox off the dresser. “You’ll need to earn your phone and door back. I’m going for a run. Eat your dinner, take your shower then read a book until you’re ready to go to bed. No television.”
“No phone or television! What is this, the Spanish Inquisition?”
“Since you don’t like my idea of having you select a book to read, you get to do a research paper on the Spanish Inquisition. Compare and contrast the Inquisition with the loss of your phone and television privileges. You have one week. Do you have anything else you’d like to add?”
Head lowered, she softly said, “No, sir.”
“I’ll check on you after my run.” Toolbox in hand, he headed down the staircase to the kitchen.
Now he understood what Marissa meant when she said he always made her be the bad guy. After their divorce five years ago, she’d moved to the United States, and he’d remained in Barcelona, bitter that she’d taken his only child.
He opened the cabinet beneath the kitchen sink and placed the toolbox under the water pipe. How many times had Marissa called and told him she wanted him to scold Allison about this or that? That she was tired of being the only disciplinarian, the bad guy. Too many to count.
Over Allison’s summer breaks, she’d stay with him. He’d thought he was being a single dad and taking responsibility for his child when she was in his care, and expected Marissa to do the same when Allison was with her. Not one time had he called Marissa asking her to step in on his behalf.
What a jerk. He’d been so preoccupied with riding his high horse and being bitter he hadn’t acknowledged Marissa was raising Allison while he was having fun with their child over summer vacations. He and his family were so busy trying to cram in enough fun to last until the next summer that she’d have to be crazy to complain. He’d thought himself the better parent, when in reality, he hadn’t been parenting at all. Everything was so clear now.
I’m sorry, Marissa.
Disgusted with himself, he went out the back door and began his jog. “House in the middle of nowhere”—as Allison called it—he enjoyed the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Tiny raindrops fell from the sky, cleansing him in a way. He’d come to terms with his choice not to be more involved with raising Allison after the divorce. Come to terms, but not forgiven himself. Never again would he allow anger to cloud his judgment.
Five miles into his run, he still didn’t know what to do about Allison. Children experimented and tested boundaries, but he had to draw the line. Where to draw that line was the hard part. Of the pills and marijuana, the pills were more troubling to him. That she had a special tin for her stash scared the hell out of him.
Nearing the top of a weed-filled incline, he slowed his pace until he arrived at a cliff he liked to rappel from. Sitting, he dangled his legs over the edge and looked over the small stream and tree line below. Had he been thinking, he would have brought his truck so he could get a little rappelling in. His family called him crazy for “jumping out of perfectly good planes,” and such. They didn’t understand how rappelling, skydiving, or even rock climbing freed his spirit.
He’d thought Marissa understood, but after they married, she’d wanted him to give up doing the things he loved. Instead of his soulmate, she’d become a soul prisoner.
“You belong here with me and your child, not jumping out of some plane,” she’d complained. “What if you get hurt? What will become of us?”
He’d fought back, saying that jumping out of a plane was safer than driving a car. He didn’t know if it was true or not, but that always shut her up for a few days. She’d known how he was when they married—claimed to even love him because of it. Expecting him to change after the fact was unrealistic. Then five months ago, she died in a car accident and he’d flown to the States to take care of Allison.
This whole transition was hell on him, but ten times worse on Allison. Trying drugs must be her way of acting out, he decided. Her cry for help. Unsure how to proceed, he’d talk to a child therapist and ask for coping mechanisms—appropriate coping mechanisms. As for the drugs… He’d find out where they came from and ensure the responsible party was jailed.
For the most part, Allison and Yvonne were homebodies, so his search for the dealer would start at the school. A silent owner of Newton Academy, the private school the girls attended, he’d give the police full access to anything they needed to find the guilty party. Then again, if the dealer caught wind of a police investigation, he’d go underground. No, he needed another way.
Rain falling at a steady drizzle, he headed back home. Maybe he should call in a detective… or better yet— He pulled out his cell phone and called his buddy Dallas Write. The grumpiest, yet nicest, person he’d ever met. Dallas had moved his family to Barcelona a few years ago and the two just hit it off.
“It’s only two. Are you crazy or in trouble?” came Dallas’s groggy voice.
“I’m so sorry.” He ran his hand over his wavy, wet hair. With Barcelona being seven hours ahead of Texas, Tariq usually made his calls overseas early in the day. “I’ll call back at a decent hour.”
“No. No. You woke me. What do you want?”
“Stop apologizing and say what you want. I’m sleepy.”
“What was the name of that security agency you told me about? The sisters who help every time you get into trouble?” Tariq didn’t know what it was about those Writes. From what he’d heard, every time one fell in love, danger followed and they’d call in some security agency they basically kept on retainer to save the day.
“The Precious Jewels. What’s wrong?”
He gave Dallas the Spark Notes version of the day’s events.
“Yeah, they’d be perfect. They only work by referral, so I’ll have Amber give you a call. They’ll probably send Pearl in. You two will get along nicely. She’s just as crazy as you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ll see.” The line went dead.
* * *
Eyes closed, Pearl spread her arms wide and enjoyed the freedom of falling from 13,000 feet. Time seemed to stand still a few moments to allow her to remain in paradise just a bit longer.
A minute into the fall, her cell phone sang out Amber, her oldest sister’s, ringtone. She pressed a button on the side of her helmet. “What’s up?” she said loud enough to ensure she could be heard over the air rushing over the face shield of her helmet.
She pulled the cord that released the small pilot shoot, which deployed the much larger parachute. The protective harness jerked her body up higher. Chute fully expanded, she was able to sit in the air, as she termed the slow descent to the ground.
“What are you doing? What was all that noise?”
Big blue sky with just enough clouds near the eastern hills to light up with bright pinks, oranges and purples as the sun woke to say good morning was one sight she’d never get her fill of. “Watching the sunrise. You should come with me sometime.”
“Oh my God! You’re skydiving, aren’t you? Why would you answer the phone?”
“Trust me. The chute will not stop working because I’m talking to you. What’s up?”
“Call me when you’re on solid ground. Nut…” The line went dead.
My family is insane. Her sisters routinely entered gunfights, had themselves kidnapped and placed themselves in other deadly situations, yet thought skydiving was too dangerous.
Pearl returned to enjoying the view, longing for someone to enjoy it with. Her favorite uncle, Bobby Lee, used to jump with her from time to time, but now he’d rather sleep in. Over the years she’d participated in several clubs for various types of extreme sports, but many of the members were such fanatics about the activities that they sapped the joy right out of it for her.
Nearing the touchdown area, she saw her uncle’s old pickup truck approach from the main building a few miles down the private road. After landing, she loved to lay back in the field and cloud watch. Surrounded by trees, the large grass and blue-bonnet-covered area was her favorite spot to meditate and practice martial art forms. It was also the only range area off limits to others besides Bobby Lee. Looked like cloud watching wouldn’t be happening today, she mused.
When he initially bought all this land in the middle of nowhere that no one wanted, people said he was crazy. She thanked God he hadn’t let the naysayers stop him. His business started out as a series of firing ranges but grew into one of the top tactical training facilities in the world.
Amber’s call on her mind, she glided over the trees into her favorite field. The only reason her sister would call at this time in the morning would be for a new case. She and her three sisters made up the Precious Jewels Security Agency. She hated the name. To her it sounded like they installed security systems or were for hire bodyguards. But she didn’t complain. None of them did. Their father had started the business and named it in honor of his precious jewels.
Her father’s precious jewels… more often than not, she felt like the odd ball of the bunch. As far back as she could remember, she’d wanted her connection with her father to flow as naturally as it did with him and her sisters.
Feet touching ground, she ran forward slightly to catch her balance. Ready to get to work, she took off her gloves. Business had been slow lately. First Amber married and had a baby, then Ruby married and was currently pregnant. They reduced their case load on purpose to give both a chance to get used to their new lives.
Truth be told, Pearl needed the break just as much as her sisters. Of the four of them, she thought Jade, the youngest sister, the smartest for refusing to be part of the Precious Jewel security team full-time. This wasn’t their dream, but their father’s.
They were all great at what they did, but was it what they wanted to do? No, not really. Amber wanted to be a public defender. Ruby wanted to be a social worker and Pearl… She didn’t know what she wanted to be because she never dreamed of being anything other than the apple of her father’s eye. From the time she was small, her father said she’d be a Precious Jewel so why focus on other possibilities. Jade was the only one who’d dared to dream and chase after them.
Proud of her baby sister, she set the helmet on the ground. Jade going against their father’s wishes by moving to the East Coast and starting her own business had given Amber the courage to return to school. Their father had wanted a tech-geek on the team so Amber had earned a bachelor’s in computer science and master’s in electrical engineering. With Jade’s encouragement, she took on law school and had recently passed the bar. Though Amber no longer wanted to be a public defender, she now volunteered at a free legal clinic for abused women.
Then there was Ruby who their father envisioned as the leader of the Precious Jewels. With a master’s in business administration and in-depth tactical training, when out in the field, she had been cutthroat—completely opposite of her personality. Recent bouts with mental illness kept her from being fit for the field. Their father blamed himself for her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD. Had he protected his babies like they were truly precious jewels, she wouldn’t have been put in the position of being kidnapped by a psycho. Ruby hadn’t worked a case since last February, and no one was in a hurry for her to jump back into the game. Setting up a Wounded Warrior facility in Dallas with her husband, who also had PTSD, being married and pregnant filled up most of her days.
Pearl could see the writing on the wall. Eventually there’d be no Precious Jewels Security Agency, then where would she be? What did she want?
No time to be lost in thought, she shook it off and called Amber.
“Are you on solid ground?”
“Maybe. Wha’cha got for me? Wait a second.” She fished about her hip pocket for her earpiece. “I need to switch over.” Thinking she should have done this before she returned the call, she activated her earpiece, then put her cell in her pocket. “Go for it.” She’d like to get her chutes packed before her uncle arrived, so she stripped out of the chest and leg straps of her backpack.
“We have a new case from Newton Academy.”
Eyes wide, she nodded. “Ooo, la, la. Newton Academy.” Located on the outskirts of Dallas, the academy was known for excellence in the sciences. If she had a child, she’d ensure it attended Newton Academy. Pack on the ground, she began gathering her chutes.
“I thought you’d like that. One of the owners wants us to find out if there’s a drug problem on campus. They have a temp working as the chemistry teacher whose place you’ll be taking so you can investigate from the inside.”
“This sounds like fun.” Each summer she was available, she’d volunteer at her mother’s learning boot camp and brush up the children on their science skills. Their father also wanted a science geek. Luckily for her, he’d chosen her to fill that role.
“It gets better. Your contact is Tariq Suárez Aznar, the math and science department head and owner who hired us. If I weren’t desperately in love with my husband, I’d chase this man down for his voice alone—sexy!”
“Hey, hey,” she heard Malachi, Amber’s husband, say in the background. “When you say ‘man’ and ‘sexy’ in the same sentence, it had best be about me.”
Amber’s laugh filled the line. “I’m trying to work here.”
Pearl envied Amber and Ruby’s lives. Her sisters had found their soulmates, while there was no such person for her. Everyone thought Pearl’s life was perfect, but from where she stood, it was anything but.
“Tariq was born in Barcelona, but his parents moved here when he was a baby. They returned to Spain when he was fifteen.”
“Does he have an accent?” Pearl loved a man with a Spanish accent. It just got her blood running hot.
“It’s faint, and he is fine! I’ll message over a picture.”
“I’m right here,” she heard Malachi say. “I think it’s time to work on baby number two.”
Giggling filled the line. “Get away from me, Malachi. I have work to do.”
The way those two went at it, she was shocked Amber wasn’t already pregnant again. Chutes gathered, she stuffed them partially into her pack to straighten out later.
“You have a meeting with Tariq at ten. He’s the only one at the school who’ll know why you’re actually there.”
“Makes sense. Teachers may be involved.”
“Exactly. Since Uncle’s place is so far out, I’ve arranged for you to stay with Tariq.”
“No way. I’m not staying with some stranger. I don’t care how sexy his voice is. What’s wrong with you?”
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch. He has a small cottage on his property. I know you hate the city, and his place is halfway between Uncle’s and the school.”
“That sounds much better.”
“See, I was looking out for you. He says it’s a bit of a fixer upper, but should suffice. I’ll forward the contact information to your phone. There’s not really anything else to tell you.”
“Sounds good. I’ll report in tonight. Love you.” She waved at her uncle as his truck neared.
“Love you, too.” The line went dead.
Bobby Lee stopped the truck a few feet away from her and poked his head out the driver’s side window. “I’m disowning Bison,” he said of his brother, her father.
She picked her helmet up off the ground. “What did he do this time?” Those two were always disowning each other for one silly reason or another. She set the helmet and pack in a storage box on the bed of the trunk. She’d planned to hike back but might as well hike without the chute and helmet.
“He woke me at o’dark thirty over some nonsense.” He smacked the side of the truck. “Get in. I’m headed over to the gorge to hike.”
“I can’t today. Amber just called with a new case. I’m headed to the house, then over to Newton Academy.”
He thumbed toward the passenger door. “Get on in. I’ll take you back to the house.”
“You just want to complain about Daddy.”
Chuckling, he nodded. “Yep.”
Seated in the truck, she asked, “So what did he do to you this time?”
Her father, a retired government operative, had been away on various assignments most of the Precious Jewels’ young lives. To keep his family safe, he would send them to live with Bobby Lee when he was away. Unlike her sisters, when Pearl hit her teens, she’d usually stay with her uncle when her father returned home. One time she’d overheard her father arguing with Bobby Lee about her not coming home with him. Her mother had intervened and said Pearl needed to plant her roots and couldn’t do that by moving between the city and range every few months. Her father hadn’t liked it, but gave in much too easily for Pearl’s liking. It was like he disagreed because he’d been expected to, not because he’d actually wanted her. At least that’s how she’d seen it back then.
“How long did it take us to pick the greens, tomatoes, beans, beets, cabbage and the rest of that mess?”
“Around two hours.” Her parents volunteered at a food pantry and liked to donate fresh produce. Since her parents lived in a yardless condo, Pearl and Bobby Lee grew a massive garden. This time of year they spent a large amount of time harvesting and getting the soil ready for next year.
“Two hours, thirteen minutes and forty-nine seconds to be exact.”
They exited the field and entered the thick of the trees. Though the road was paved, this stretch of road needed serious maintenance. He veered the truck around several potholes as they continued.
“I’m sure you told Daddy that also.”
“You’d best believe I did. But let me tell you this from the beginning. We haven’t had a home-cooked meal in weeks, so I asked your mom to make us some greens, mac and cheese and ribs.”
“That sounds delicious. I hope you asked for a caramel cake also.”
“Of course I did. I even bought all of the ingredients and dropped them by their place when I took over the vegetables.”
“You, we keep.” Pearl nor Bobby Lee cooked much more than bacon and eggs, so the rest of the family ensured they had plenty of healthy food to eat.
“This morning when your mom began preparing our meal, that man you call your dad took issue with it.”
Brow raised, she said, “That man?”
“Yeah. I’m disowning him and so are you.”
She laughed. “You are too much.”
“He said that I need to get a wife of my own to cook and clean for me.”
“You don’t need a wife for that. You need a maid and chef.” He had a nice spread above the main range building that was usually a wreck. She had a small house off to the side of the main building that she kept immaculate. Between her and her mother, they tried to keep his place decent. “Where did this stem from this time?”
“Same place as always. Every time you come home from one of your trips, he acts the ass. It’s gotten worse since Ruby… Well, you know. Since she started having issues. Now he wants to keep close tabs on you girls. He said I let you run wild. I told him you’re grown and will come and go as you please and to leave you be. If he didn’t like it, too damn bad.”
“You said that last portion, too?”
“Sure as hell did.”
“What an excellent show of brotherly love.”
“His controlling butt deserved it.” The truck bounced over a particularly rough patch in the road. “Move the repave date up on the schedule. This is ridiculous.”
She broke out her cell phone and made a note to have the date changed. “Uncle, you know better than to poke his sore spot.”
“We need to eat.” A sly smile tipped his lips.
“Between Mama, Ruby and Amber, we have enough food in the freezer to feed a battalion and still have leftovers. You were poking Daddy’s sore spot because you’re jealous.”
“What?” He whipped his head from the road momentarily. “I am not.”
“He’s jealous of our relationship and you’re jealous of his relationship with Mama. You two really need to stop before someone says or does something you both regret.”
Her uncle grumbled something under his breath, but didn’t disagree.
Wondering what she’d do with her life after the Precious Jewels, she leaned her head back on the seat. The only Precious Jewel interested in the range, someday this would all be hers, but running the range didn’t excite her like it did her uncle. Facilitating advanced tactical training and participating in all of the activities available did.
“What’s wrong with my baby girl? You’ve been down lately. I hope it ain’t your daddy and me acting the fool. You know how we are. We love each other. I’d die for that knuckle head.”
“I know… I just… I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.” They exited the tree-lined road and approached one of the faux cities used for tactical training. In recent years, Bobby Lee had opened up portions of the range to allow movie productions. Parts of this city had been used in several full-length films.
“We’re so much alike, it’s scary.” He glanced at her. “I remember when I went through that. After Daddy died, we inherited a good sum of money. We were much too young to have that type of loot.”
“What did you do?”
“I made the biggest mistake of my life. I bought this place. Bison was smart and married your mom.”
“What? This was a great business investment—especially for someone so young—and you love it!”
“I had a dream and set out to make it come true. I’m a natural business man and followed the most comfortable path.”
“Do you regret buying the range?”
“No. Not at all. Like you said, I love it. I regret not admitting I had other dreams also.” They entered the small town and drove through the middle of the ten square blocks. “None of this was here when I bought this place.” He motioned around. “Trees, weeds, bugs and more weeds. Oh, and a tiny farmhouse.”
“Yes. Your place.” He pointed east. “Forty years ago, there was no highway. I had a lot of work to do, and the money ran out faster than I could finish. I concentrated on business, thinking later I could focus on family.”
“So you wish you’d gotten married also?”
He chuckled. “Let’s face it. Back then I wouldn’t have been faithful, but now… Now I want that special someone to share my life with. I should have admitted that long ago. I should have pursued that dream. So yes, I’m jealous of your father, just as you’re jealous of your sisters.”
“Why do we have to be so much alike?” she joked, but at times really wished they weren’t so much alike.
The print version is coming soon.