Page 44 of Forced Alliance

Connor shook his head, then glanced over at Vanessa in disbelief. “You paid your husband’s mistress?”

“To stay out of my way and to be discreet, yes.”

“Did you kill Lewanna?” Josie asked, trying to read the woman’s body language and mood.

“No, no.” Vanessa started crying. “I didn’t do that. I’ve been in New York visiting my sick mother.” She glared at Connor, obviously daring him to dispute her.

Josie wondered if her explanation was code for taking care of business. “And how is your mother?”

Vanessa’s dark eyes boiled with rage. “She’s in a retirement home.”

“I see. And I can get verification that you were with her over the last few days?”

“Yes.” Vanessa turned to Connor with a lethal glare. “You bring this into my home, after all Louis did for you?”

Josie had planned to get to this part, so she waited to see how Connor would handle Vanessa Armond’s accusations.

“I didn’t bring this,” Connor replied, his tone sure and firm. “Your husband did. But someone set him up. They killed Lewanna to scare him and then they tried to blow him up in his own bed. Then they came after him and shot him.” He hesitated, then added, “I believe someone planted that evidence.”

“What kind of evidence?” Vanessa asked.

“We aren’t at liberty to say,” Josie replied, giving Connor a warning glance. For all they knew, Vanessa could have set up her husband.

Vanessa shuddered and started praying in Italian. “I tried to warn him. I tried to stop this. He never listens to me and now he’s ruined everything.”

“Stop what?” Josie asked, still curious as to what Vanessa had been looking for out in the garage.

As if realizing she’d said something she shouldn’t have, Vanessa clammed up. “I want my lawyer.”

“Why do you need a lawyer?” Connor asked.

“I won’t tell you. And I won’t tell her.”

“Our suspect has turned hostile,” Josie replied. “Time to call in my immediate superior.” She brought out her phone. “Of course, he’ll have to question you at the FBI headquarters in town, and you know how the newshounds hang around, just waiting for a big story like this.”

“Stop,” Vanessa said, her finger in the air.

Connor took that as his cue, his nod toward Josie telling her he could make this work. “Vanessa, I know you think I betrayed Louis, but I didn’t. I didn’t give the FBI anything on him last year because I never found anything. I found the Benoit paintings, and that’s all I did. He proved they belonged in his family, and he did the right thing by allowing them to be put on tour.”

He leaned toward her. “Neither you nor I gave up anything else to the FBI. But I’ve been watching your husband for some time now, hoping to get him into protective custody. He’s scared now, but before all of this happened he’d agreed to talk to me. But someone scared him off. And because of my association with him, someone wants me dead now.”

“He should have killed you that night last year,” Vanessa said, anger turning her pale skin pink. “You. He’s always favored you over the others.”

“What does that mean?” Josie asked, hoping the woman would slip up and give them a clue.

“Nothing.” Vanessa’s fiery gaze stayed on Connor. “Louis has a lot of people doing his bidding, but this one—what my husband saw in him I’ll never know. He didn’t even have the guts to get rid of this con man when he had the chance.”

Josie shot Connor a questioning glance. “You do have the gift of persuasion on your side.”

“He has a lot more than that going for him,” Vanessa shouted. “Now he’s accusing Louis of cooperating with the feds. Ha, that will never happen. And making up stories of Louis wanting to tell secrets. Nonsense.”

“Let’s get back to the paintings,” Josie said. “Do you think someone is after them?”

Vanessa waved her bejeweled fingers in the air. “Those paintings are paltry compared to our real money,” she said on a smug breath. “And if you think this is all because you hung around here snooping, then you are deadly wrong.”

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