Page 11 of Forced Alliance

“The shot could have come from the building directly right behind us.” Armond nodded, snapped his fingers to bring a guard running. After he’d ordered sandwiches, paper and pen, he turned back to Josie and Connor. “You’ll stay here at Armond Gardens as my guests while you’re doing the legwork, understand.”

“That wasn’t a question,” Connor said low to Josie.

“Connor is a very smart man,” Armond said, his demeanor calm now. “He owes me his life, and right now, the only thing keeping him and you alive is my need for expediency on this pressing matter. Do you understand what I’m saying, Josie?”

“Clear as a bell, Mr. Armond. We’re going on a quest of sorts. If we succeed, we live. If we don’t, we die. Am I right?”

Armond’s chuckle was low and sure. “I like this woman.”

She understood the command. Giving Connor a frustrated glare, she turned back to the man sitting like a king across from them. “Okay, then. We’ll start with your immediate staff and work our way out. And I can promise you both, I’ll take care of whoever is behind this.”

And you, too. She would definitely take care of business with Louis Armond. But right now, she was playing a dangerous game. She wasn’t sure if she could help convince Armond to seek immunity and protective custody or try to save him from someone even more dangerous. But Josie did know she had to make sure she kept herself and Connor alive, because they had one thing in common. They both wanted this man out of commission.


Armond had left them alone, but a member of his security team stood just outside the partially opened pocket doors. He’d been so paranoid, he’d rushed out of the room with his guard, but he’d ordered a giant named Beaux to guard the door.

Josie had no doubt that Armond would attempt to monitor their conversation. As paranoid as he seemed, he’d have set up security measures in every room in this sprawling mansion.

She went around the big room, touching things here and there in search of electronic bugs. When she was satisfied they were clear, she stared over at Connor and started whispering. “Look, I can’t just hang out here with you and Armond. I’m sure a team is already in place to get to the bottom of this, and they’ll want an update.”

Connor stepped close. “Careful. That priceless bust on the table by the window has its eye on us.”

Josie tipped her chin in acknowledgment. “Thanks for the heads-up. But we still need to discuss how we’re to handle this.”

Connor let her go, then paced back and forth in front of the fireplace. “Even though I vouched for you, they won’t leave us alone for very long, so we need to compare notes. I’ve stayed here before, so I know it’s not easy to get out. They’ll make sure we can’t leave if they don’t want us to leave.”

“Why? What good is there for Armond to hold us?”

“None, unless he thinks he needs us for leverage or bargaining. But he’s a hands-on kind of criminal. He’ll want to hover nearby until we prove to him we can help him. We have to convince him that he’s not in danger and that we’re on the level with him. If not, he’ll be done with us and...we’ll disappear in a permanent way.”

“Which is why I had to inform my superior,” she reminded him. “I’m already pushing it by being here without backup.”

“I can try to get us out of here if things get ugly,” Connor replied, still whispering. “I know all the secret passages, but the security here is ironclad.”

Of course he knew all the secret passages. “That’s why he’s keeping you so close,” she offered. “He’s afraid you’ll squeal.”

“I don’t kiss and tell,” Connor said, his eyes hitting on her lips. “I was close to ending this last year, but that art-heist fiasco kind of blew that out of the water. This is a second chance, if you look at being held captive as a positive thing.”

“A risky chance,” she replied. Josie tried to reestablish her position. “I get that you’re part of the inner circle, but I do have a job to do, remember? I can’t hang out and pretend I’m some mysterious cleaner. Armond expects action, not explanations.”

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