Page 49 of Forced Alliance

Connor shrugged. “It’s possible. But a team of agents and experts just left without finding a thing,” Connor reminded her. “They found the source of the fire but nothing to pin on anyone.”

“But they’ll definitely question the Armonds—you can count on that. For all we know, Vanessa started the fire. I did find her near the side door.” She glanced up at the stairs again.

“I understand she’s a suspect, and I’m extremely glad she and Little Lou are in good hands now,” he said, “but don’t you think we should get out of here before somebody else shows up?”

She whirled on him. “Stop trying to convince me to leave, and start thinking like a criminal, okay? You do remember how to do that, don’t you?”

Surprised, he tugged a hand through his hair. “You want me to think like a criminal?”

“Yes.” She held the flashlight down. “There is something very valuable in here, something that could either make someone rich or do someone a lot of harm. Could it have been in one of those upper rooms?”

Connor stared up what was left of the stairs. “He did store things up there. He’s a collector, so who knows what he’s stashed and where.”

“We need to pin something down,” Josie replied.

Connor ticked off the obvious. “They came after Armond by killing Lewanna first. Remember, they sent Lewanna a letter.”

Josie pointed the flashlight’s beam up high. “Yes. We turned that over to Sherwood already, but nothing to go on there yet. So Armond overstepped his boundaries or, at the very least, made someone very angry.”

“Yes, then they tried to kill Armond again at the hotel, which was supposed to be a safe house.”

“True. And then they came after us at Mama Joe’s. But why? Do they think you have what they’re looking for?”

“Or maybe they want both of us out of the way,” Connor replied. “If Lou had wanted us dead, he would have killed us tonight. I think he needed us alive. He did try to take you with him.”

“That man’s too caught up in being an Armond to let anyone live,” Josie said. “I took him down with an elbow and a swift kick, but I still believe he could be very dangerous.”

“Yeah, he’s led the good life for so long he’s definitely out of shape. And apparently out of the loop. Not knowing can certainly make a man do crazy things.”

“Do you think he’s the silent partner no one knows about? Maybe his daddy did something Lou didn’t approve of, based on that cryptic note Lewanna received.”

Connor shook his head. “Armond wouldn’t make Lou his partner. I’m thinking this partner is feeling the heat, so he wants Armond out of the picture. He’s probably been playing Armond, stringing him along until the perfect opportunity presents itself.”

Josie lifted the flashlight again. “Keep your enemies close and pretend to not know anything?”

“Possibly. Maybe the partner knows Armond has another son somewhere out there and he’s planning to use that information.”

She shrugged and flicked the light again. “Back to you thinking like a criminal. If you were a bad guy—which you are not now, thankfully—where would you hide something important? I mean something maybe with historical or artistic value? Or possibly an incriminating value. Or maybe even both.”

Connor didn’t understand where she was coming from at first, but then it hit him. “Or what if you were trying to hide something very secretive and extremely damaging inside an artifact or piece of art?”

“Now, that’s thinking like a criminal,” Josie said, all smiles. “And that’s smart.”

“We need to find a way upstairs,” he replied.

She moved a step forward at the same time Connor did, and they collided in the only open path left in the charred and melted garage.

Connor caught her against him, his eyes meeting hers as she stumbled into his arms. “Sorry,” he mumbled, his lips so close to hers he could see the sweet pink of her lip gloss in the growing morning light.

“That’s okay.” She tried to move but somehow wound up tripping over a fallen beam.

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