Page 16 of Forced Alliance

Armond motioned to a guard to open the weapons cabinet on the other side of the room. “And call down and have someone check all of the weapons in the cellar cabinet, too.” After a few minutes of waiting silence, Armond held up the list, but kept it away from Josie. “Just how exactly do you expect to continue cleaning up this situation?”

Connor had expected this. Armond didn’t trust anyone, but then he was a powerful man with a lot of powerful rivals. He’d go for nothing less than an all-out protection detail.

Before Josie could reply, a guard came in and whispered into Armond’s ear again. Armond’s almond-colored eyes widened.

“One of my high-powered rifles is missing.”

Josie turned to the guard to jot down the make and model of the missing weapon. Then she put her hands down on Armond’s desk. “That means even if you didn’t pull the trigger, someone took one of your weapons to make it look like you ordered the hit.”

“I bought that particular rifle for...my son.”

Connor grunted. “If they find one of your guns near the crime scene, you can bet they’ll want to question you.”

“I thought you were taking care of things,” Armond blurted, his anger boiling over toward Josie.

Josie went into tough-chick mode with a flip of those long, tattered brunette bangs. “Hey, I’ve already had a thorough report of the crime scene, and they didn’t find a gun. And we both patched things up to make sure your name won’t come up for now.” She put her hands on her hips and walked straight to the end of Armond’s huge teakwood desk. “I didn’t come out here in the middle of the night to enjoy the view, Mr. Armond. I’m good at what I do, but if you wanna find someone else—”

“I don’t,” he said, waving a hand to a hovering guard. “I just have to be sure about these things.”

“We all have to be sure,” Connor said, stepping in. “You need to get out of here. Josie and I think we need to go back into the city to do some footwork.”

“Unacceptable. I have the latest electronic equipment right here. You can research anything you need.”

Josie hit a palm on the desk. “Look, Mr. Armond, I know who you are and what you do. That’s not my problem. But if you want my services, then first, you need to pay me my asking price, and second, you need to trust me completely. Stop playing this game of passive-aggressive control. I’ll go out that door right now and leave you and your men here to finish this job.”

“You leave when I say so,” Armond retorted.

“You’re not my boss,” Josie replied.

Connor smelled a fight. Maybe Josie was spoiling for one, but he wasn’t. Not just yet.

“Hey, we have to stick together,” he said on an easy breath. “You don’t trust me, but remember, I did help you find the Benoit paintings—all three of them. And I haven’t sold you out to the FBI even though they’ve pulled me in, several times.”

He glanced at Josie, remembering how she’d been in on one of the last debriefings he’d had to endure. “I’m here to help, Mr. Armond. You can still make a clean break by telling us who your partner is. Or haven’t you realized that someone inside your organization is betraying you in a big way?”

“And that person could easily be you,” Armond replied.

“Me?” Connor held up his hands. “I don’t like guns. And why would I take out Lewanna? She seemed like a nice girl.”

“You shut up about Lewanna,” Armond shouted with a finger in Connor’s face. “You’re here because I decided to use your expertise instead of wasting you or maybe before I waste you,” Armond reminded him. “Just remember that whenever you think about walking away.”

“Nobody’s walking here,” Josie replied, her eyes snapping with annoyance. “We’re here to protect you, and it seems apparent that someone close to you is involved in this. Let’s get over the paranoia and work on getting to the bottom of this.”

Armond stared up at her, his dark brown eyes burning between insolence and fear. Josie stared right back, her expression unrelenting.


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