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Human misery is a profit center, as Zach Winters knows all too well. In his IT job at Guardian Systems, Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, he sees all the numbers: GSI stops at nothing to drive up profits.

When Zach lands a job at MoonPop, developer of the wildly popular game of the same name, he thinks he has it made — until his curiosity gets the better of him.

MoonPop is much more than a free game app. Much more. What Zach discovers sets him on a path he never could have imagined.

Life is good for Gil and Aggie Balderas. Gil’s working hard to make his dream of opening his own construction firm a reality. But one day, Gil makes a simple mistake that lands him in prison. What he experiences inside changes him forever.

While Gil struggles to survive, Aggie battles demons from her past. In a moment of weakness, she sets off a chain of events that will haunt her — and Gil — for the rest of their lives.

Can Gil and Aggie rebuild their life together? Will Zach step back from the brink before it’s too late?

Find out in Lisa von Biela's page-turner Down the Brink — try a sample, below, then buy the book.

Chapter 1

First Saturday in May, 2021
Seco, Texas

Wheezing and coughing, Gil Balderas fought to control his bike and see where the hell he was going. Eyes watering, he veered to the edge of the trail and braked hard, tires skidding in the loose gravel. He snatched the inhaler from his shirt pocket and took a couple of quick puffs, then closed his eyes and wiped away tears with the back of his hand. Soon the albuterol worked its magic, easing the tightness in his chest. He took in a deep breath with only a hint of a wheeze, slipped the inhaler back into his pocket, and gave it a grateful pat.

He opened his eyes and stood astride his bike as the attack loosened its grip on his lungs. Such a gorgeous spring day. Should have thought about the pollen count before going on so long a ride, though. But he hadn’t allowed himself any time off in so long, he couldn’t pass up the chance to get outside on his bike and enjoy the day, no matter what.

Maybe he shouldn’t work himself quite so hard, but a general contractor’s life could be feast—or it could be famine. And with the economy booming like it was, he didn’t want to miss out on the feast. Besides, the more money he could sock away, the sooner he could go independent, have the freedom to run his own company the way he wanted to. Maybe even get Aggie to quit her job at the greenhouse and work with him. Balderas Construction. He smiled. Someday. And fairly soon if he worked hard enough.

Gil drew a deep, smooth breath in, let it out. Much better. Good thing that albuterol worked so well. A little shot of it once in a while kept his asthma in check just fine. Other people he knew were always in and out of the hospital with their asthma. Must be terrible to have to live like that, always in fear of an attack. Imprisoned by your own body.

He parked his bike, settled himself onto a wooden bench beside the trail, and watched the ashes and birches, their leaves fluttering in the light breeze. Great day for a ride, and a beautiful trail to do it on. What an amazing change in just a few years. Seco had transformed itself from a shabby dot at the side of the road to a nice little boomtown. Construction jobs abounded, and the city, flush with cash, developed a whole new park system with bike trails that meandered through and around town—an oasis of green and trees in what had been nothing more than a dusty desert enclave.

Gil stretched his arms out along the back of the bench and gazed at the sky. An enormous hawk soared by, high up against the clouds. Wouldn’t want to be a field mouse about now.

A rumbling arose in the distance, grew closer. Gil snapped to attention and glanced toward the sound. Four compact motorbikes approached along the trail, kicking up a cloud of dust behind them.

Border Patrol.

With his surname and his olive skin, Gil often found himself answering to a Border Patrol officer. As a citizen, he had nothing to fear. For him, the encounters were just an inconvenience. For others, they were more like a death sentence. He reached into his pocket for his smartphone so he could display his documents and send them on their way.

Not there. Frantic, he patted all his pockets, coming up empty except for his inhaler and keys. Must have left it in the garage when he was getting his bike ready. Of all the days to do something so stupid!

Gil’s mouth went dry. Even for a citizen, it was a violation to get caught without documentation, especially in a town as close to the border as Seco. God, he was right in their line of sight. They had to have seen him already. He braced himself and hoped they’d buy his explanation, give him a break. After all, he’d never screwed up like this before.

The motorbikes came to a stop on the trail in single file, engines growling. The others waited on their bikes as the lead officer killed his engine and approached on foot, ominous in his black leathers and white helmet, his eyes hidden behind mirror-tinted glasses.

“Documents, please.” The voice crisp, cold. The mouth an expressionless line.

Gil raised his hands, palms up. “I’m really sorry, Officer. I forgot my smartphone at home. Never done that before.”

The officer ran spiderlike fingers along an equipment belt that had to weigh forty pounds if it weighed an ounce. “You don’t have any proof of citizenship on you? No ID at all?”

“Sorry, no.” He waved a hand at his bike. “I got distracted checking the tires before my ride, and I know right where I left it in the garage.” He gave what he hoped was his most disarming smile. The cop did not smile back.

“Your name, sir.”

“Gil — Gilbert — Balderas.”

“Step over here, Mr. Balderas. I’m placing you under arrest.” He shouted back to the second officer in line. “Call for pickup.”

Gil stood, hesitated. There had to be a way out of this. “Officer, really. I am a citizen. I swear to you I’m telling the truth about my smartphone. It’s not far. We can go there — ”

The cop put his hands on his hips and looked him up and down, his reflective glasses menacing, robotic. “I don’t believe you.”

Gil took a step forward, pleading, “Honest, I am a citizen. I can prove it. I just — ”

“Resisting arrest now?” The cop reached for something on his belt, his arm moving so fast Gil didn’t see what was coming until it was too late.

“No, I — ”

Gil gasped. A jolt surged through him, spreading searing heat and pain through all his nerves. He crumpled and fell to the ground, limbs jangling and flailing. Out of control. Everything spinning. Can’t think, can’t talk. Blackness. Oblivion.