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An unusual setting for romance: A petroleum tank farm, an inspection of irregularities, a drug lord and his henchman

Author Harper McDavid introduces the unlikely characters in this award-winning romance novel set in the region where she once worked as a hydrogeologist along the Texas-Mexico border

Harper McDavid watched her mother ride the roller coaster of writing books, swearing she’d never do it herself. But some things are just hardwired, and luckily for Harper, the world has moved on beyond typewriters and 10-pound manuscripts.

“Zapata” is McDavid’s debut novel and the winner of both the 2020 Colorado Book Award and the Colorado Authors’ League 2020 CAL Award for romance. The gritty romantic suspense incorporates her own work as a hydrogeologist along the Texas/Mexico border, where the cartels are very real though romantic heroes are not.

She lives in Morrison with her husband, an assortment of animals, and during a pandemic a varying number of children. 

The following is an excerpt from “Zapata.”

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.


2020 Colorado Book Awards winner for Romance

Cleanly cut wires dangled in mockery. With a sigh, Avery retrieved a notebook and made a note to have the security system repaired. It wasn’t that uncommon, she reminded herself. Tank batteries were never in the best part of town. Storage tanks made the perfect canvas for graffiti artists, and she’d been to more than one site littered with drug paraphernalia and condoms. By comparison, this place was pristine.

She clipped the engineering drawings in her field notebook. As she followed the two men through the gate, she glanced over her shoulder to see Bruce still in the SUV. So much for her security detail.

Once inside the fenced area, she climbed over the berm designed to contain fluids in the event of spills or leaks. Hector and Manuel followed in silence. She studied the area. The soil showed no evidence of dark stains, which would be indicative of sizable crude oil spills or leaks.

She turned to Hector. “I understand production rates are down. Is that true with specific wells, or…?” She hoped he might help her out, but he only nodded. “You do have the production numbers for the individual wells, don’t you?”

Hector turned away. Maybe he did deserve to lose his job.

Harper McDavid

She sighed. “I’m going to walk the production line over to the tanks.” Between aerial photos and the site schematics, she had no difficulty following the line between the array of small and large storage tanks. The soil was clean. She checked the valves, circled each tank, and then retraced her steps.

“Hector?” He kept his distance, standing at the edge of the berm. “Can you tell me what this is for?” She pointed at a valve in the production line. So inconspicuous, she’d missed it on her first pass. Underneath it, a small patch of soil was stained with crude. “It’s not on any of my drawings.”

He approached slowly. “It’s a security valve.”

“A security valve?” She bit her lower lip. “Not sure I understand.”

“A collection point for protection,” he mumbled.

It still made no sense, but before she could try to force an explanation out of him, he had turned away. There was a slam of car doors, and Hector hustled over the berm. A voice rang out beyond the gate, calling his name.

Manuel crouched down next to her, inspecting the valve. “Is that where the problem is?”

“It’s a problem for sure. You can see whoever installed it just basically cut into the line. They did a really sloppy job. But even if it’s leaking, it’s not enough to explain how they’re ending up so short every month,” she said.

“Well, well. What do we have here?” a voice said. Two men sauntered in their direction. Avery glanced at Manuel for an explanation, but he seemed as clueless as she.

Both men wore tailored dress shirts untucked and open at the collar and mirrored aviators. GQ all the way. The taller of the two men paused at the top of the berm, peering down at them. Bruce lingered behind, barely inside the gate.

The smaller man continued over the berm in their direction. Even from this distance, he struck her as pampered. His lower lip jutted out defiantly as he approached. “Hector.” His tone was a scolding taunt. “You didn’t tell us you were entertaining.” His gaze rested on Avery. “We would have been here earlier.” He kicked at the ground with expensive Italian loafers. “Please join us down here, Hector.” A sneer crossed his face as he took obvious pleasure in watching Hector struggle to scramble over the berm. The man clapped his hands and said, “Now who’d like to explain what the nature of our little gathering is all about?”

Her shoulders tightened. This guy was deranged. Who was he? And how was it that he felt entitled to walk on Rockforth property in such a manner? She glanced at her so-called security detail and site superintendent. Never before had she seen three people more interested in their own shoes. She sighed. Dealing with this guy would obviously fall to her.

“Zapata” by Harper McDavid

She stepped forward. “I’m Avery McAndrews with Fenster Engineering.” Her words came out a little faster than she’d intended, though her hand remained steady as she held out a business card. The man snorted dismissively and made no effort to take it. “I’m in the process of conducting a facility inspection. It was arranged by Mr. Rockforth’s office. And, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are.”

Despite her declaration otherwise, she was afraid she knew exactly who these two were. Their tailored clothes and expensive haircuts made her think of Bruce’s words: drug lords.

She shifted her attention to the tall man. Broad-shouldered and nothing like his fidgety partner. He stood with his arms crossed and resting a lizard boot on an overturned bucket. Even through his sunglasses, she felt his gaze, calm and controlled. Irrationally, she felt a tinge of disappointment in his career choice. He was easily the best-looking man she’d ever seen.

Meanwhile, the smaller man made a series of pronouncements in Spanish. Hector stared at the ground, blinking, as if he were about to cry. The man repeated himself a second time, louder and sounding angry.

Hector turned to Avery and pointed to the crazy man. “His name is Javier Ramos, and he says to tell you that he doesn’t like redheads.”

Her blood surged, and she felt her face growing hot. She turned to face the cocky little man. “And I don’t like people who can’t speak for themselves. Is the name Javier Ramos supposed to mean something?”

For a second, no one moved. She held her breath, wishing she could take it back. But she never could shut her mouth when she was angry.

Her eyes shifted to Javier’s partner. Was it her imagination, or was he shaking his head? It was subtle, but now she was sure of it. And it wasn’t a threat. It was a warning.

He was telling her to back off.

Buy “Zapata” at BookBar.
Read an interview with author Harper McDavid.

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