Allison Leotta has become my go-to author when I\'m in the
mood for a legal thriller. SPEAK OF THE DEVIL more than
satisfied my craving for a well-crafted and suspenseful
story full of unexpected twists and turns. I am a life-long
reader so it takes a lot to surprise me. I was thrilled to
experience more than one moment when my eyes went wide and
all I could think was "oh my god" (or some more colorful
variation of that)... which of course left me reading late
into the night to see how it ended.
Anna Curtis is a prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Division of
the U.S. Attorney\'s Office. At the moment she is
reconciling with, and getting engaged to Jack Bailey,
detectives on D.C.\'s Human Trafficking Task Force are
getting ready to shut down a brothel. Chaos erupts when the
police arrive to discover the brothel has been invaded by
machete wielding members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha
(MS-13) gang under the direction of El Diablo, a man who
looks and acts like the devil. As Anna works with the
police to uncover the truth and build a case against MS-13,
the lives of everyone involved are threatened by a gang
whose motto is "Kill, Rape, Control." The secrets she
uncovers in the process will threaten everything Anna holds
SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is an intense and sometimes dark story.
Ms. Leotta paints a realistic picture of the violence Anna
confronts every day, as well as the appeal and horror of
being a gang member. I must admit to skimming some of the
more violent passages in the early sections of the book.
Anna Curtis is intelligent, strong, and committed heroine
who still has her own vulnerabilities, particularly in her
personal life. While I think SPEAK OF THE DEVIL works as a
standalone story, I would recommend reading the first two
books in the series to appreciate the twists and turns in
If you are a fan us legal thrillers, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL is
absolutely a must read.
On the very night she gets engaged to the man she loves,
sex-crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis's professional life
takes a shocking turn that threatens everything she holds dear.
While Anna is enjoying a romantic dinner capped off by a
marriage proposal, a few miles away two separate groups are
gearing up to raid a brothel. A vicious killer known as
"Diablo,” the Devil leads one group. A few minutes later,
Anna's own investigative team heads in to search the
brothel, as part of the fight against human trafficking in
D.C. Both groups are caught off guard, with deadly results.
As Anna investigates the bloody face-off, the boundaries
between her work and home life begin to blur. Though eager
to focus on her new fiance, the chief homicide prosecutor
Jack Bailey, and her soon-to-be stepdaughter, Olivia, this
case and the search for Diablo are never far from her mind.
When Anna discovers a web of long-buried secrets and
official lies leading straight to her doorstep, the truth
about this case threatens to rob her of the happiness she
seemed so close to securing. And everything Anna counted on
becomes a question mark as Diablo moves in for yet another kill.
Allison Leotta draws on her experience as a D.C. sex-crimes
prosecutor to take readers into the back rooms of the U.S.
Attorney's Office, the hidden world of the Witness
Protection Program, and the secret rituals of one of
America's most dangerous gangs. Universally praised by
bestselling authors from Catherine Coulter and George
Pelecanos to Lisa Scottoline and David Baldacci, Leotta
weaves fact and fiction to create her best novel yet.
Anna fiddled with the napkin on her lap and willed her
stomach to calm. Get it together, Curtis. In court,
she was tough. She was fearless. As a sex–crimes
prosecutor in D.C., she looked in the eyes of the city's
most dangerous men, pointed at them, and described the worst
things they'd ever done. But this was different.
This was her life. And tonight she had to execute the
most important personal decision she'd ever made.
The Tabard Inn consistently ranked as one of the most
romantic restaurants in D.C., which was why she'd chosen
it. The evening was warm and clear, and she'd scored a
table in the outdoor courtyard. Waves of ivy covered the
brick walls; patches of dark sky peeked through a canopy of
potted trees. Attractive diners sat around candle–lit
tables, swirling expensive glasses of wine. The setting was
Now if the guy would only show up.
Her phone buzzed with an incoming text. She glanced
down hopefully, but the message was work–related.
Det. Hector Ramos: Parking near brothel. Heading in soon.
She texted back.
Me: Good. Be safe.
She set the phone down and watched the courtyard's door,
wondering when Jack would walk through – and how it would
feel to meet his eyes now that she'd made her decision. He
was ten minutes late, which wasn't like him. Maybe he
wasn't coming. That wouldn't be surprising, given their
recent history. She would either have the most romantic
moment of her life or crushing humiliation. She felt like
the Bachelorette, only with slightly less cleavage showing.
Two miles away, Tierra Guerrero counted the lines
radiating from the circle of rotten ceiling. Seven. Not a
perfect spider, then, but nobody's perfect. She was just
glad to have something to look at. The ceilings she worked
under became intimately familiar, and the spidery crack
provided a welcome distraction.
It was distracting her, even now, from Ricardo's wet
grunts in her ear. His red face bobbed a few inches above
hers; his humid breath filled her lungs. The bed rocked
with his relentless pumping. Most johns were limited to
fifteen minutes, but the brothel owner could go as long as
Her hips ached from being pummeled against the mattress
all day. She wanted a hot shower, dinner, and a long
night's sleep. "Ooh." She ran her fingers down Ricardo's
back and tried to sound like a woman overcome with lust.
"Sí, sí, sí." To her ears, the moans sounded lame, but most
dates responded to even the feeblest signs of passion.
Ricardo was no different. He squeezed her arms and pumped
The room was small and shabby, lit by a cheap bedside
lamp. A sheet hung from the ceiling, separating two sagging
mattresses. The privacy curtain was unnecessary at the
moment, though – the other mattress was empty. Tierra was
the only girl working today, which meant lots of money, but
also lots of wear and tear. She glanced longingly at the
stack of poker chips on the nightstand. She hoped Ricardo
would be fair when she exchanged the chips for cash. She
was supposed to get half the money from her tricks, but
Ricardo seemed like the slippery type. She sighed and went
back to watching the spidery crack. How much longer could
he keep this up?
The sound of male voices drifted in from the living
room. They were louder and angrier than the usual murmur of
men waiting their turn. She glanced at Ricardo, but his
eyes were squeezed shut, his face scrunched in ecstasy. His
body might be on top of hers, but his mind was far away.
The bedroom door burst open and crashed into the wall.
Three young men strode in, all wearing trench coats, all
carrying machetes. Tierra tried to sit up, but she was
pinned by the brothel owner's body.
"Ricardo!" she screamed.
One of the men hitched an arm around Ricardo's neck and
yanked him off of her. He slammed the brothel owner against
the wall, held the machete to his throat, and spoke in a low
"This is for the Mara Salvatrucha."
The unmarked Jeep Cherokee pulled to the curb two blocks
from the brothel. Three of the four officers wore
bulletproof vests with the word POLICE stamped in white
letters. Only Hector Ramos wore jeans and a black
t–shirt. The only Hispanic detective on D.C.'s Human
Trafficking Task Force, Hector played the undercover
"customer" in many of the brothel busts in the city.
"She's not a lesbian," Hector said, tucking the
transmitter into his front pocket.
"Of course she is," said Ralph. "I have proof."
"She said ‘no' when you asked her out?"
"That'd make half the women in D.C. lesbians."
The guys in the back laughed.
"Your mother didn't say no."
"That's the best you got?" Hector said. "Mama jokes?
No wonder she turned you down."
"Your mother loved my jokes." Ralph took a swig of
coffee. "Seriously, though. Why won't she date police?"
"Lady like that wants a hero." Hector put his real
wallet into the glove compartment and stuffed the decoy
wallet into his back pocket. "Not a bunch of children."
He knew the guys would talk about Anna Curtis the whole
time he was gone. The prosecutor was beautiful, friendly,
and single. She was both a diversion and an enigma to the
police who worked with her. Hector was considering asking
her out himself – he might stand a better chance than most.
If this bust went well, maybe he'd ask her to go with him to
the firing range or grab drinks after work one night.
He reached around and patted his lower back. His
fingers rested momentarily on the Glock, solid and
reassuring, tucked into his jeans. He opened the door.
"You boys gonna be okay in this big car all by yourselves?"
"Get the fuck outta here," Ralph laughed.
"Good luck," called a voice from the back seat. The UC
work was the riskiest part of the operation.
"I don't need luck." Hector stepped out of the Jeep.
"I got you guys watching my back." He shut the door and
walked toward the brothel.
Anna watched the restaurant's inner door swing open, and
Jack finally strode into the Tabard Inn's courtyard.
Broad–shouldered, a couple inches north of six feet
tall, Jack always made an impression when he walked into a
room. He had smooth brown skin and light green eyes, and
wore his hair cleanly shaved. Tonight, he'd traded his
usual suit for dark jeans and a white linen
button–down shirt, allowing her a glimpse of the dark
copper skin of his chest.
He walked with easy grace across the brick patio to
her. She noticed some other diners – mostly women, but a
few men – watching him. Anna stood nervously, causing her
napkin to fall off her lap. She leaned to pick it up; when
she stood again, Jack was next to her. She tipped her head
up to meet his eyes, wondering what kind of reception she
would find there. He smiled at her, warily, but with real
warmth, and her heart did a happy little dance.
"Hello, Anna." His voice was a deep baritone,
incredibly sexy when it was this soft.
"Hi." Being this close to him made her feel a little
shaky, in the best way.
They paused, unsure how to greet each other after all
this time. She closed the space between them, put her hand
on his bicep, and leaned up to kiss his cheek. It was
freshly–shaved smooth, but his scent was what really
got to her. Soap, clean linen, and the fresh peppermint
that his daughter put in his pocket every morning. He was
the one who pulled her the final few inches into a hug. She
rested her forehead against his jawbone, closed her eyes,
and let her nose almost graze the side of his neck as she
breathed him in.
"It's good to see you," he murmured.
When she opened her eyes, much of the conversation on
the patio had stopped. People were looking at them. She
cleared her throat and stepped back, feigning nonchalance.
She was used to the stares. Jack was
African–American, born and bred in D.C.,
street–smart with a professorial edge. She was blond
and blue–eyed, slowly learning to tamp down her
earnest Midwestern smile. Even in the diverse District,
they drew the occasional double take.
"You look beautiful," Jack said. "Tall."
"You too," she laughed. The four–inch heels she
wore with her little black dress were a departure. Even
with the extra height, she was two inches shorter than
Jack. She felt both glamorous and unsteady.
They sat at the round iron table, the candle throwing
soft light onto Jack's angular cheekbones. A waiter came
and gestured to the wine list. She didn't know wine, so she
just chose a bottle of champagne in the middle. It cost
more than she'd normally spend on groceries for a week, but
what the hell, it might be the biggest night of her life.
Jack raised his eyebrows but didn't comment.
"Thanks for coming," she said.
"Of course. Your call was unexpected – but welcome."
Welcome was good. Welcome meant she had a chance.
During their big fight, Anna had been furious at him.
But with the passage of time and the perspective that came
with it, she realized that she'd been at least partially
wrong. Okay, mostly wrong. But that fight was just a
symptom of a much larger problem: that Jack had wanted a
long–term commitment, while she remained uncertain.
After they broke up, she was heartsick – but she knew it
was pointless to rekindle their romance unless she was
certain she would stay forever. That was only fair to him
and his six–year–old daughter. Now that Anna
was certain, she didn't know if he still felt the same way.
The waiter came back with a chilled bottle. He popped
the cork and splashed an inch of the bubbly into Anna's
flute, then stood looking at her expectantly. It took her a
moment to realize she was supposed to taste the champagne.
Growing up, it had been a big deal when her mom took them to
Denny's. She took a sip and paused, as if making a truly
discriminating choice. "Excellent," she pronounced. The
waiter bowed slightly and poured champagne into both flutes.
Jack was fighting back a smile. He was ten years older
and, it sometimes felt, decades wiser.
"How are things on the ninth floor?" she asked.
"Okay." Jack was chief of the Homicide Unit, one of the
most prestigious positions in the country's largest U.S.
Attorney's Office. He described the challenges of a recent
hiring freeze. But Anna found it difficult to process his
words. She was staring at his mouth, wondering how he would
respond to her Big Question. What if he said no? What if
he said yes? She couldn't make it through an entire dinner
Jack seemed to sense her distraction. He stopped
talking about budget cuts and asked, "What's on your mind,
The endearment kindled her courage. She took a deep breath.
"Jack, I – " She'd tried different versions of her
speech all day. But now the words evaporated. Only the
core emotion remained. "I love you. My days don't really
seem to happen until I tell you about them. I hate every
night we're not together."
She reached into her purse, and pulled out the little
red box from the Tiny Jewel Box. She slid it across the table.
"Open it," she whispered.
He looked at her for a long moment before sliding the
box open. Inside was a men's dress watch. It was the
single most expensive item she'd ever purchased. Jack
looked back up, his face inscrutable. She plowed ahead.
"I – I know this isn't how this is usually done. But I
couldn't come back to you, and Olivia, without being able to
tell you that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with
you. So I got you a token. To show you how serious I am.
"I know I've made mistakes. And I'm sorry. As a kid, I
never saw how a good relationship works. But I promise I'll
do whatever I can to be a good partner to you, and a good
mother to Olivia."
She reached over, pulled the watch out of the box, and
turned it around so he could read the inscription on back: I
want to spend all my time with you.
"Will you marry me?" she asked.
A breeze ruffled the ivy on the wall next to him. The
candle on their table danced, sending a shadow flickering
over Jack's face. He rocked back in his chair, opened his
mouth, and closed it again. It was rare to see the
formidable Homicide Chief speechless. She became aware of
the stares from the other people on the patio, as the
silence stretched into an eternity of heart–pounding,
stomach–clenching anticipation. Finally, Jack took
the watch from her hands and slowly returned it to the box.
"Anna," he said softly. "No."
Tierra curled up on the mattress, trying to cover her
naked body with trembling arms. She watched the man holding
the machete to Ricardo's throat. The brothel owner was
skinny everywhere except his belly, which was so round and
fat, it looked like he'd swallowed a basketball. He wore a
white undershirt, black socks, and a purple condom, which
shriveled and splatted to the floor.
"Gato, please," Ricardo croaked. "Stop."
"Oh, am I hurting you?" Gato replied in Spanish.
"Pardon me." He threw an elbow into Ricardo's face.
Ricardo's nose crunched, bent, and spouted blood. The two
men standing by the bed laughed.
"You think you're hurt now," said the one nearest
Tierra. "We haven't even gotten started." This man wore a
crazy grin, which widened as he looked down at her. He
grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her across the
mattress toward him. She yelped in pain.
"Where are the other girls?" Gato asked. He shifted the
machete so the blade lay on Ricardo's chest.
The brothel owner opened his mouth, but nothing came
out. Gato sighed and put his weight into the steel; it
sliced through Ricardo's undershirt and drew a diagonal red
line across his chest.
Ricardo shrieked, "Their car broke down on I–95!
Gato eased up on the blade. "How unlucky. You believe
"It doesn't matter. The unlucky one is this puta."
The grinning man called Psycho tightened his grip on
Tierra's hair and ran the blade of his machete softly up her
thigh. The room tilted and swayed; Tierra thought she might
"Can I go first?" asked the third man. He appeared to
be the youngest of the three. "I never get to go first."
Like the others, he spoke Spanish peppered with English.
His eyes were glassy and unfocused.
"You'll wait your turn, Bufón," said Psycho. "Gato, you
want the honors?"
Keeping the brothel owner pinned to the wall, Gato
glanced over at Tierra. Instead of the cruelty she
expected, she found sympathy in his face. Desperate hope
flashed through her. This Gato might actually help her.
She pleaded with him with her eyes. But Gato blinked and
looked back at Psycho.
"No, man. I'm handling this cabron. You do it."^
Psycho unbuttoned his pants, letting go of her hair as
he fumbled with his zipper. Tierra forced herself not to
run. She wouldn't stand a chance if she fought or
struggled. No, she'd do whatever these men told her,
whatever it took to survive. She'd been screwing strange
men all day. Three more wouldn't kill her. She hoped. She
looked down submissively, preparing herself for the worst.
But she wasn't prepared for what happened next.
A fourth intruder stepped silently through the bedroom
door. In his right hand he carried a bloody machete. In
his left, he held up the severed head of the
cuidador, the doorman who was supposed to be guarding
the brothel. The cuidador's face was frozen
mid–scream; his ragged neck dripped blood onto the floor.
Tierra shuddered at the head, but the beast who held it
terrified her even more. He was dressed like the others, in
a trench coat and jeans, but Tierra understood that he was
not human. His skin was entirely covered with dark
hieroglyphs. His nose was just two nostrils sunken into his
face. He had long black hair – and two fleshy horns
protruding from his forehead.
He was the Devil.
She was vaguely aware of the warm wetness spreading on
the mattress, as she lost control of her bladder.
"I am first," the Devil said.
He tossed the severed head across the room to Psycho,
who caught it with a grunt and a grin. A line of scarlet
droplets spattered the wall. The Devil rolled the machete
in his hand and looked down at Tierra. He licked his lips
and smiled, revealing a row of gleaming white teeth, each
sharpened to a point.
She screamed and screamed, but no sound came out.
Hector Ramos walked down the quiet street of row
houses. Although the sky was dark, the night was warm. It
had been a hot day for early October, and heat still
radiated from the pavement, releasing the scent of asphalt
and motor grease. The usual urban activity buzzed from a
distance: cars honking on Thirteenth Street, sirens pealing
a few blocks over. A man in a suit hurried past, engrossed
in something he was texting. This street was a few blocks
from Tivoli Square, a historic complex whose renovation had
caused a wave of gentrification. But many of the
long–time Hispanic residents remained, and this was
now a diverse and vibrant neighborhood.
It still had some blemishes, though. The brothel
operating on Monroe Street was one of them. The red brick
row house looked like all the others on this street,
although it hadn't been fixed up like some of its
neighbors. The shutters were peeling, the porch sagged, the
windows were caked with filth. Weeds clumped in a mostly
The brothel was small but a nuisance on the block. The
neighbors didn't appreciate the stream of men going in and
out in regular fifteen–minute intervals. Complaints
had been made; a quick investigation launched; a
confidential informant reported four girls working ten hours
a day in the basement apartment. Last week, Hector had
conducted an afternoon of surveillance. Based on the number
of men he saw, each girl might be handling a hundred
customers a week.
Hector could have brought his anticipatory search
warrant to any sex–crimes prosecutor in the U.S.
Attorney's Office, but he preferred to knock on Anna's
door. Not just because she was pretty. Anna was kind and
respectful, even when she was correcting some flaw in his
warrant. If this bust went well, he'd have a chance to work
with her more.
For now, he focused on the row house. There were two
things he always worried about at this stage. First, had
the informant lied to him, and he was about to raid some
innocent family's home? Second, would someone inside try to
The "eyes" of the operation would watch with binoculars,
and Ralph would listen through the transmitter tucked in
Hector's pocket. A fifth officer was waiting in the back
alley, securing the rear door. But the arrest team was a
block away, and they couldn't see what went down in the
brothel. Once Hector was inside, he was on his own.
He would be quick. Go in, hand thirty dollars to the
doorman, establish that he would be getting sex in return
for the money. Take his poker chip. A real john would give
his chip to the next available girl, who would give him
fifteen minutes in return. But Hector would "have to go to
the bathroom" first. Then the team would raid the place,
arrest everyone inside, and search the house for more
evidence. It wasn't easy work, but Hector and his team had
the routine down. They did it several times a month.
Of course, another brothel would soon pop up a few
blocks from here, part of the game of
Whac–A–Mole the police played with pimps and
prostitutes. But the good citizens of Monroe Street would
be appeased. At least for a few months.
Hector trotted down the concrete steps to the front door
of the basement apartment. A couple of dark–haired
kids were putting up Halloween decorations on the stoop next
door, talking in mixed English and Spanish. Hector made eye
contact with a boy who was holding a little plastic skeleton
on a string.
"Hola." Hector smiled at the boy as he knocked on
"Shhh." The boy brought a finger to his lips. "The
Devil is inside."
The hair on the back of Hector's neck stood up.
A woman at the next table was looking at Anna with
pity. That was not the reaction Anna had been hoping to
elicit tonight. She felt the blood rushing to her cheeks,
burning with the pain of rejection and the embarrassment of
having it happen so publicly. The latter was her own fault,
for popping the question in a crowded restaurant. She
tucked the little red box back into her purse, as if hiding
the watch could also hide the debacle of presenting it.
"Anna," Jack said gently. "Wait."
She didn't want him to see the hurt on her face. She
looked down at her purse, like she was trying to find
something in there. Maybe her dignity.
"I understand," she said.
"You don't understand," Jack's voice was quiet
but firm. "Look at me."
She met his eyes. Despite everything, she still found
them a warm and happy place to land.
"When a couple gets engaged," he said, "they have to
tell that story over and over again, for years."
She tilted her head.
"I'm a traditional kind of guy. In our story. . . "
Jack's eyes were twinkling. "I want to be the one
who does the asking."
He pulled out his own little red box, stood up, and
walked over to Anna's chair. Then he knelt down on one
knee. He opened up the box and turned it toward Anna.
Nestled in the white silk was a sparkling diamond on a
platinum band. She found it hard to take a breath.
She remembered this ring. It was the one Jack had
pointed out when they were at the Tiny Jewel Box a month
ago, following up on some evidence in a case involving an
escort who was killed at the U.S. Capitol. When Anna
realized he was checking out engagement rings for personal
reasons, she'd freaked out. That had contributed to their
breakup. Now she was overcome with happiness to see the
"Anna Curtis," he said, grinning. "I think I know the
answer to this question. But I'll go ahead and ask. Will
you marry me?"
Anna looked ta the man kneeling in front of her. She
wanted to take in every detail of this moment, knowing she
would replay it for the rest of her life: Jack, holding the
ring out like a glittering promise of their future, his
green eyes glowing with happiness, mouth curved into a broad
"Yes!" she said. The word came out in a little hiccup.
She realized she was crying. Her hands were shaking, but he
held the left one steady as he slipped the ring onto her finger.
They were both standing, arms around each other, her
body pressed hard against his. She kissed him as tears
streamed down her cheeks.
The sound of clapping brought her back to the present.
They pulled apart and saw that the rest of the restaurant
was cheering for them. Jack grinned at her. He looked
young and radiant and ridiculously happy.
"We should've asked for a bulk discount at the Tiny
Jewel Box," he said.
She laughed through her tears, feeling giddy. "When did
you buy the ring?"
"Before we even went there for the Capitol case." He
took a napkin from the table and dabbed her cheeks.
"And you've been carrying it around ever since?"
"I couldn't bring myself to return it. It's been
sitting in my nightstand. That's why I was late. Your
friend Grace tipped me off. I ran home and got it."
"Grace! I swore her to secrecy."
"It was all in pursuit of a worthy cause."
He twined his fingers with hers and held up her hand so
they could look at the ring on her finger. It sparkled even
"How are we going to tell the office?" Anna asked.
They'd kept their relationship a secret until now.
"Forget the office," Jack laughed. "How are we going to
His sassy six–year–old daughter was either
going to be Anna's biggest fan or severest critic. But Anna
put aside her worries about office politics and family
drama. She stepped back into Jack's embrace. She just
wanted to bask in the bliss of getting engaged to the man
she loved. They'd figure out everything else tomorrow.