Page 5 of Forced Alliance

His cell buzzed.

It was Armond, huddled up in the back of the house. “What is the holdup?”

“She’s on her way,” Connor said and then ended the call.

The man was seriously agitated, to the point of calling Connor himself rather than ordering a guard to carry a message. Someone had just murdered his young girlfriend, and he knew he might be next. Plus, he knew if his wife returned from New York and heard this, she’d leave him. Mrs. Armond had warned her philandering husband several times but Louis Armond thought he could get away with everything from murder to infidelity. Another great example of the criminal mind.

Somehow, he now expected—no, demanded—Connor to fix this. Kind of ironic, considering Connor had a target on his back that had been put there because he’d been associating with Louis Armond. Was this payback time, or had Louis understood that Connor had witnessed part of the shooting and might be willing to tell all? Including the fact that Armond could have possibly been the shooter or hired the shooter. If Armond hadn’t killed the woman, then who had? Connor wondered. And why had Armond been all alone on the street, without any of his guards?

Armond could have killed Connor several times over, tonight or any other night. They were out here away from the city in a fortress full of big-muscled bodyguards and a state-of-the-art security system. He’d be dead and buried in the river by now if Armond wanted him that way. The man knew Connor had worked with the FBI to take down Frederick Cordello for attempted art theft and murder. When Connor had shot Cordello to protect Princess Lara Kincade, Armond had witnessed the whole thing, but Connor had smoothed that one over by explaining the FBI had forced him to cooperate.

Which happened to be the truth.

That persuasive conversation, and Connor delivering on his promise to Armond, had saved Connor. For now. He’d found the famous Benoit paintings that technically and legitimately belonged to Armond. Armond already knew Connor had no love for the FBI. If he played the hand he’d been given, Connor might be able to stay alive long enough to be free from both Armond and the FBI.


Or he could be dead before morning.

“But you’ve got lawyers, people,” Connor had reminded the man after Armond had jumped into his car and they’d hurried out of New Orleans. “I just happened to come along at the wrong time. I saw you standing there and I reacted.”

“You were in the right place,” Armond replied, a hint of fear coloring his nervous appreciation. “We have to keep this tight. No one can know I was associated with that poor girl. I can’t call the lawyers or anyone else. Too dangerous.” Then he’d turned in the seat, waving the weapon he still held. “You owe me, remember?”

So now Connor was being held as a “guest” in the Armond fortress. He’d wanted to get closer to the criminal, but not this way. Armond could turn trigger-happy and shoot him on the spot.

To keep building up to the rapport they’d once had, Connor asked the Mafia boss why he’d thought it a good idea to bring his girlfriend to the opera while his wife was out of town.

“She wasn’t supposed to be there,” Armond retorted. “I told her never to acknowledge me in public. But she showed up, scared and shouting at me to do something.”

Armond thought he’d been set up by someone who wanted him dead. Someone who’d killed the girl just to show him they were serious. “I’ll be next. That’s how this works.” He’d included Connor in his fears. “They know you were my close associate, so now they might know I’m in cahoots with the feds.”

The scared bully had centered on Connor the way a newborn lamb might center on the human who’d fed him a bottle. Attachments such as this could only lead to more trouble. Connor was in so deep now, he wondered how he’d ever get out of this. But he could use this latest development to his advantage, at least.

Armond came out the door, sweating and ruddy-faced, surrounded by armed guards. “This woman—are you sure she can take care of this?”

Armond didn’t know Josie. Up until a couple of weeks ago, Connor’s handler had been a by-the-book veteran of the FBI. But John Burgess had abruptly decided to retire, and just like that, Josie Gilbert had walked into Connor’s already-complicated life. That could work in their favor now, however. Armond technically didn’t have any choice. He had to trust Josie, and he didn’t have a clue that she was FBI.

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