Page 48 of Forced Alliance

Lou’s gaze collided with his mother’s. “What are they talking about?”

“I...I don’t know,” Vanessa said. “I never got past the garage. Someone threw something through a window and...the fire started and spread across the floor.” She looked genuinely frightened. “Lou, we’ve got to stop this.”

“Shut up!” her son shouted. His frowning face pulsed with an angry twitch. “I’m telling you, Randall, you will regret this.”

Connor took the sturdy garbage-bag tie Josie had hurriedly found in the big pantry and tied Lou’s hands. Then she did the same for his mother.

“The only thing I regret is that you had your nasty hands on Agent Gilbert,” he grated in Lou’s ear. “You’re done here, Little Lou.”

Lou kept cursing and hissing right along with his spitfire mother. By the time the backup agents arrived, they were both tied to dining chairs, and Beaux and Connor held the guns on them while Josie gave a report to Sherwood and the other agents.

“Two more Armonds carted off to the big house,” Beaux said on a satisfied sigh after Sherwood had gone back to the garage. “I’m sorry about that, Connor.”

“It’s okay,” Connor retorted, his gaze on Josie. He breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so ready to be done with this.”

“Me, too,” she replied. “But right now, we need to see what the team found in that garage and possibly search it again before it gets trampled and rearranged.”

Beaux reluctantly left with the FBI after being promised he’d be under twenty-four-hour protective guard until he could testify against the Armonds. He understood he might have to go into some sort of witness-protection program, but the big man seemed relieved even after hearing that.

Lou shouted at him and called him a dead man walking, but Beaux didn’t look back. In separate cars, they were all carted back to the city.

Connor should have been relieved, but he knew this wasn’t over yet. It wouldn’t be over until they rounded up everyone involved with the Armond dynasty. But that list was long, and it stretched out over the entire world. He didn’t have enough time to bring them all in.

But he’d do it just to avoid seeing Josie held at gunpoint ever again.

* * *

Hours later in the predawn light, the charred remains of the big garage loomed like a dark hulk over what was left of the rainy night. Josie and Connor moved through the smoldering embers, careful of where they stepped. The forensic team had done a thorough job of bagging and tagging but Josie’s gut told her something could still be hidden here.

They’d searched the whole house but had found nothing—no other computers or flash drives, no safes or obvious hiding places. Josie had checked behind paintings and gone through office cabinets. Armond had covered his tracks, except for the contents of that safe. Which stuck out like a sore thumb.

Josie held her flashlight high to shine over their path, lifting crime-scene tape away from the gutted remains. “The forensic team and the parish fire investigator have gone over this entire place, but they didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.”

“Except the accelerant that they told us about,” Connor said. “Someone threw a Molotov cocktail through that side window.”

Josie lifted the flashlight to the broken window, then swept it over the fire trail scorched across the floor. She had a vague memory of a hulking shape on the stairs, but it could have just been a shadow. “So an arsonist is now on the loose. I wonder if that person is the same one trying to kill all of us, the same one who set up that low-explosive bomb. Or did someone just want to destroy incriminating materials in both cases?”

“And I wonder why you insisted on staying behind to search again,” Connor retorted. “I’m dirty, tired and in need of nourishment. But you, Agent Gilbert, you just keep on ticking.”

“I’m exhausted, too,” she said on a long sigh. “But both Vanessa and Lou Armond returned here for something. That woman was willing to die in this fire to find whatever she believes is in this garage. What if someone was trying to get that money and those invoices out of the safe and just ran out of time?”

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