Page 56 of Forced Alliance

“Look,” he said, hoping she’d be reasonable. “I’ve learned how to observe people. Vanessa and Lou showing up last night wasn’t just a coincidence. I think they set that fire because they wanted to either destroy something permanently...or kill both of us. The whole thing smelled of a setup, just like Lewanna showing up at the opera. Just like that paperwork and cash fund in the safe. We’re getting too close to the truth, Josie. The heat is on.”

She shrugged. “I guess you’re good at keeping one foot in the fire, no pun intended.”

“I have to keep one foot in the fire to do what the FBI expects of me. And right now, that means I’m sticking by you.”

“I can take care of myself,” she retorted, her arms across her midsection.

“I believe that. I’ve seen that. But, Josie, I’m not playing. We have to be careful.”

“What about this car? It’s a bit conspicuous. You knew exactly where to find it and now you have it. What if you know what everyone is looking for and you’ve found it?”

Weariness zapped at Connor’s bones. “Are you serious?”

“Deadly serious,” she replied, her body shifting as close to the passenger-side door as possible.

“We had to get back to town,” he explained. “And if I’d wanted to take this car, I could have done it long ago. I could be somewhere on a beach right now, but I’m not. I’m here with you because I want to be here. You need to remember that.”

“What I need to remember is that you were once a criminal. And you know what they say—”

“Stop it,” he replied. He didn’t have to prove himself to her or anyone else. “Let’s just get somewhere safe.”

“Right now, I think that would be away from you.”

“You need to trust me,” Connor said. What more did she want? No matter how much she might doubt him, he intended to keep Josie safe.

At the next traffic stop, he pulled out his phone and hit the keys. When the light changed, he dropped the phone back into his pocket. “I never text and drive,” he explained. “But the word is out and we will be watched and protected while we’re in the city. Even criminals have a network, and sometimes I have to depend on it.”

“Amazing.” Josie sat with her head slanted, staring over at him. “You steal vintage cars and associate with criminals, but you have a code of ethics regarding cell phones and honor among thieves?”

“I do have my standards,” he replied on a curt tone.

She gave him another Josie glare. “I’m not so sure I should be alone with you on your own turf. Dangerous. You’re still holding out on me.”

“That’s the last of my secrets,” he said. Connor didn’t know how to make her believe in him. He’d never come this far with a woman before. He’d never thought it possible.

With Josie, it might not be possible. And why was it the one thing he now wanted most seemed so far out of his reach?

But how could he blame her?

She’d been conned all of her life by a father who pretended to be someone he wasn’t. How could Connor expect her to ever see who he truly was, the man he wanted to become?

You just keep doing what you need to do.

And what if that wasn’t enough?

He pulled the car up to her Garden District apartment. “I’m going in with you.”

She got out before he’d put the car in Park. “You don’t need to do that.” Josie took off up the gravel lane toward the two-story house. “Just remember to report to either me or Sherwood. I’ve got my own reports, and I’m sure I’ll hear a good chewing-out from my boss.”

Connor got out of the car. “Josie, wait. Please?”

She kept walking.

He followed.

She’d made it up the porch to the first door on the left, her keys in her hand. But when she got there, she touched the door and immediately drew her weapon.

The door was open.

Connor rushed up behind her. “I told you it wasn’t safe.”

“Shh.” She entered carefully, her gun trained on the hallway.

Connor stayed right behind her, his gaze taking in the broken locks on the door and the scattered books and papers lining the long hall.

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