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Danielle Steel

Chapter 1

The birds calling to each other in the early morning just after the dawn heralded another perfect day in the lush jungle south of Bogotá. Pablo Echeverría, his skin a deep tan, his eyes the darkest brown, his hair almost to his shoulders, pushed back behind his ears, and his beard slightly overgrown, walked out of the hut where he and Paloma lived. She was expecting their first child, and the date was coming near. Paloma was as fair and light-skinned as he was dark, and her name suited her. In Spanish Paloma meant “Dove.” She was a bird of peace in the jungle where they lived and Pablo worked. He was her brother’s right-hand man. Raul Vásquez López was one of the most powerful men in Colombia, despite the simple way they lived. Pablo had been with him for three years, working his way up through the ranks since he had come from Ecuador, and gaining Raul’s trust. They called Raul “El Lobo,” the Wolf. He was cunning, daring, and quick, like a wolf.

Pablo was the son of an Ecuadorian general who had been killed in a military coup, assassinated by rebels. Pablo had turned to the drug trade, and after three years of working on a smaller scale in Ecuador, he had found his way to Raul. And the three years he had spent working for him since had been a satisfying and productive alliance.

Pablo and Paloma weren’t married, and no one cared, he was planning to marry her soon, after the baby was born. For now, he and Raul had other things on their minds. Raul liked the idea of Pablo being with his younger sister. Pablo was not only smart, capable, and trustworthy, he was a good man. Paloma had had no medical care through the eight months of the pregnancy, but at nineteen she was fine. And she was planning to give birth at the camp. Pablo had been reading books about how to help her, and if things started to go wrong, he could drive her the two hours to Bogotá. Her brother was twenty years older than she was, and Pablo was twenty-eight, young to have risen so high in Raul’s operation, but Raul knew pure talent when he saw it, and his inquiries about Pablo in Ecuador had proved him right. He prided himself on his infallible judgment about his men, and Pablo had never let him down. He executed Raul’s orders flawlessly, and handled their purchasing and transport operations brilliantly. There had been no problems, and no slips in the three years he’d been there.

Their simple life at the camp suited him. Pablo went to both Bogotá and Cartagena for Raul regularly, but he was always happy to get back, meet with Raul, who was like a brother to him now, live with the other men, and come home to Paloma, waiting for him in their hut. He had built it for them himself. In his first year at the camp, he had lived in a military surplus tent with the other men, but once he was with Paloma, they wanted privacy and a space for themselves. She had grown up in Raul’s camps, after their parents died. Her three other brothers worked for Raul as well. And Pablo had rapidly caught her eye, as she had inevitably caught his. Raul had defended her virtue fiercely until then. It was a sign of his deep respect for Pablo that he had entrusted her to him, and given him his consent. To Pablo, she was the ultimate prize. He loved the sweet scent of her skin as he nestled with her at night, her gentleness in all things, and her full belly now, heavy with their child. Raul wanted it to be a boy. Pablo didn’t say it, but he didn’t care. He just wanted it to go easily for her, and the baby to be healthy when it was born. She was a brave girl, used to the primitive conditions in which they lived, and said she wasn’t afraid. Pablo could feel the baby kick him, when she slept behind him with an arm gently cast over him, in the cool night air of the jungle.

Pablo was wearing his old military jacket from Ecuador, with an undershirt, fatigue pants, and his old army boots, as he lit his first cigarette of the day, and took a long drag. He had slipped out, as he always did, without waking Paloma, and had his first cup of coffee with Raul every morning, while they discussed the missions of the day, and the state of their activities in process. They had dealings in Panama, Ecuador, Aruba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Mexico, and exported literally tons of cocaine to Mexico, Canada, Africa, Europe, and the United States. Raul ran the largest and most successful drug operation in South America. They exported it by land, air, and sea via ships and speedboats out of Cartagena. Pablo was in charge of coordinating their transport operation at the highest level. While Raul ran everything from their camp, Pablo slipped quietly into the two cities, checked on operations, conveyed Raul’s orders, and then came back to the camp to report to El Lobo, who ran his vast empire with military precision. Raul was a man worthy of respect and admiration, for the sheer efficiency with which he ran his business. And he had built it all himself, adding one piece of the giant operation to the next, until his arms encompassed much of South America. Pablo was his most trusted legman, but they all knew that Raul was the heart and soul and brains of their business, and ran it all on a grand scale.

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