Forced Alliance(6)

By: Lenora Worth



That would, however, depend on how this night’s work went, and whether he and Josie would live to see another day.





THREE

Josie checked her gun and got out of the unmarked car, then took in her surroundings. The big antebellum house stood stately and quiet in the moonlight. It was beautiful, but tonight it held a sinister aura of death and destruction.

Nice digs, Mr. Armond. Sure that the original owners of this gracious old mansion would turn over in their graves at the sight of several armed guards with snarling dogs and three blacked-out luxury SUVs and the new name of Armond Gardens, she wondered exactly how much money it took to own such a showplace.

And how much of that money had been ill-gotten?

She ignored the shiver of unease that chased down her spine. She hadn’t seen anyone following her since she’d left the main road, so she needed to relax and get on with this. But she had a bad feeling, a kind of fluttering in her stomach that indicated this whole setup felt wrong. Shaking it off, she did one more visual and prepared to get on with her work.

As she approached the wraparound porch, a man stepped out of the shadows, causing her to also wonder why she’d agreed to come out here to help someone she’d only met a few days ago. She was glad she’d reported her whereabouts back to the New Orleans bureau in spite of Connor telling her to keep quiet, and that she’d warned Sherwood that things might get dicey.

“Bring him in, Gilbert. Nothing dicey about that.”

Did he mean Louis Armond or Connor Randall? Sherwood didn’t care for the charming informant. But Joseph Sherwood didn’t seem to care for anyone around him, for that matter.

“Sir, I can’t do that.” She explained on the way out what Connor had told her. “Armond refuses to let him leave. So he’s set me up to help with the situation. Alone. Armond doesn’t want the feds anywhere around this estate. Let me go in and see what I can find. Randall and I will figure out how to handle this, and I’ll try to keep you posted. But I need your permission to go dark if necessary.”

Sherwood had reluctantly agreed. Now she had to show him she knew her stuff. Her boss already gave off an air of disdain whenever she spoke to him. Maybe he resented having to take on an agent who’d messed things up in her last assignment.

Just one more reason for Josie to make this one work.

Connor Randall met her at the low steps onto the brick-floored porch. Glancing toward the two-ton guard at the door, he pulled Josie aside. “You did come alone, right?”

She wanted to say, “No, actually, I brought the whole New Orleans bureau with me.” But she was too intrigued and too hopeful that she could corner two rats at once. Tonight’s operation had her rattled. She was out here on her own, with no backup, making this up as she went. She wouldn’t admit that part of the shake-up inside her soul had to do with this man, who sure looked good in a tux.

“I’m alone,” she replied. Then she lowered her voice. “But I did report in, since my SAC told me to bring you both back to town, so I can’t hold them off for too long. The news of a dead woman near the opera house has already hit the airwaves.”

She didn’t need to explain that the FBI and the NOPD already had forensic teams on-site at the crime scene. The locals would take the lead, then turn things over to the FBI.

Connor’s expression turned dark and hard to read. “Has Armond’s name come up?”

“Not yet to the public. But I’m to get you both to a safe house immediately.”

Connor’s surprised look changed to a resolved one. “And you managed to hold Sherwood off for a while?”

“Yes, but he wasn’t happy. He wants to go by the book on this one so Armond won’t bolt.”

“Any mention of a black sports car on the scene?”

She shook her head. “Only a dark car. That’s the official word.” Tired of the interrogation, she said, “I need to be briefed, and don’t leave anything out.”

“I’ll explain everything,” he said.

“You’d better. I’m risking a lot, coming here on my own.”

Too late, she realized she was also locked in. The high iron fences and the army of guards told the tale of illegal comings and goings. What if Armond refused to let either of them leave? She’d read dossiers about torture tactics and worse, especially regarding agents who’d been caught. And she knew firsthand what could happen to informants who got caught. Putting those images out of her mind, Josie gathered her thoughts.

“Armond might pretend to be ready to cooperate, but someone scared him silly tonight. He’s desperate and that can be dangerous.” The threat of death made people do desperate things.

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