Page 33 of Forced Alliance

“I thought you were,” she said, her words hollow and quiet.

“I worried about you, too,” he said. He’d never admit how his heart had stopped and his chest had tightened at the thought of what these people would do to her if they caught her.

“We have to go back to Armond’s mansion,” she said, all business now. “We should have searched the place more when we were there. And we need to find out if he’s out of the coma so we can question him.”

“He could be talking already.” Connor thought about that. “I wonder if Sherwood and all the different forensic teams found anything.” He wondered, too, if they’d cooperate with each other. This was not the time for the different law-enforcement divisions to go territorial.

Josie’s response was low but firm. “If we ever get back to civilization, I can find out.”

“Armond could tell us, if he’ll talk at all.”

“Or he could be dead.”

Connor managed to calm himself into thinking ahead. When he’d heard those shots and looked up to find her gone, his mind had swirled with deadly scenarios. He didn’t like these protective feelings. She could take care of herself, and yet, he wanted to take care of her. He’d never felt like that with anyone except his sister. He’d never let things go too far with anyone, with any woman. New territory. New challenges.

“That was close,” he finally said. “But now we don’t have to wonder anymore. They want us, too. Preferably dead.”

“Too close. I had to get to my gun.”

“I know. Instincts.”

“Yes. And survival mode.”

“It’s okay. We’re here now.”

He drifted the pirogue up onto the shoreline, his work as silent as the veiled trees. Those goons had escaped, but they could be lurking about. They’d found Josie and him somehow.

But how?

Who would know how to get to this isolated end of the earth?

Somebody who knew his movements and had anticipated that he’d come here first? Armond didn’t know about the Crooked Nail. Very few people did.

Had someone put a bead on Josie, a tracker on her phone maybe? Or was someone besides the FBI following his every move? He’d believed even Sherwood and his team wouldn’t find Josie and him out here. But somebody sure had.

He’d have to talk to Josie about that later. Right now, he needed to get them in that truck and out of this swamp. He secured the boat, then helped her over onto the bank. “Let me check the vehicle and our escort first.”

She held her gun with both hands, her whole stance on high alert. “I’ll be right here.”

Connor crept up the bank and whistled. After an answering whistle, a lone gunman walked out of the woods across from the truck.

“All clear,” the man called. “We’ll lead you outta the swamp.” Then he disappeared back into the shadows.

Connor went to the waiting truck and tugged at the palm fronds. Then he reached under the driver’s-side front tire and found the key. “Josie, it’s okay.”

She emerged from the trees and went around to the passenger side. Soon they were both in the old truck.

“What now?” she asked, fatigue circling her words. She probably didn’t like having to rely on him.

Connor waited until he saw taillights up ahead, then cranked the truck and turned toward a bumpy dirt lane.

“We find out if Armond’s alive and talking. If he is, we go back to New Orleans and see if he’ll talk to us. If he’s not alive, we go to the mansion and dig through his files.”

“Sherwood will want me back in New Orleans, either way,” she whispered. “He’ll want both of us back to file a report.”

“So you’ll obey him blindly?”

“I didn’t say that,” she retorted. “He might have information from the explosion. Or we might have to figure this out on our own.”

Connor smiled into the darkness. Josie was her own woman, no matter who tried to control her. That could be a good thing, since he wondered if their problem stemmed from someone within the FBI.

* * *

Josie tapped End on the call she’d just had with Special Agent Sherwood and turned to Connor. “The only other bit of evidence they found at the mansion was the source of the bomb. Enough C-4 to blow up the bed, using the lightbulb in the lamp to do the job. Someone managed to get inside that fortress and set up that bomb and possibly plant the money and the shipment receipts. I’m thinking it had to be an inside job.”

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