Page 79 of Forced Alliance

Josie nodded. She’d already given her statement and so had Connor. Armond was dehydrated and feverish but he was being treated in a nearby hospital. Lou was dead.

Now they had one last item of business to take care of. Vanessa had promised to explain everything.

After Agent Benton went through the preliminaries, he sat back and stared at the older woman. “Okay, Mrs. Armond, let’s hear your side of the story.”

Vanessa lifted her eyes to Connor. “I knew your mother,” she explained. “We were good friends when we were younger. She worked at one of the local hotels as an event coordinator and I’d come in with my boyfriend—Louis. We actually met with her to plan our wedding reception.” She smiled but her eyes remained tattered and dark. “He was always the one for me.” Then she shook her head. “But I wasn’t always the one for him.”

Connor glanced over at Josie and shook his head. “My mother loved this city, always. She traveled back and forth between here and England. But...my father was British. She always told me he was a British businessman.”

“She lied,” Vanessa said on a catlike hiss of breath. “They all lied.”

“Let’s get back to the facts,” Josie said on a hoarse command. She didn’t know who to believe, but she knew to follow the evidence. “Please continue.”

Vanessa pushed at her thick sliver-streaked hair. “They had an affair.” She shot Connor an accusing glance. “Your mother and my Louis—they had an affair.” She shrugged. “Louis married me to secure his future. My father was wealthy.”

Connor finally sat up straight. “And my mother?”

“She went to England and...you were born.”

“Did you know about Connor then?” Josie asked, her heart torn into pieces.

Vanessa shook her head. “I pretended I didn’t know about the affair and I never knew about the pregnancy. But then you showed up here and Louis changed after that. He changed.” She hit a hand on the table. “I hated you the day I saw you at my house, because I knew. I knew. You look just like he did at your age.”

Josie closed her eyes and tried again. “So...how did Sherwood get involved in all of this?”

Vanessa’s scowl brought out the wrinkles she’d tried so hard to hide. “Sherwood wanted to bring down the Armond empire.” She laughed, her eyes dancing over Connor’s face. “Your mother’s shooting—that was no accident.”

Connor came up off his chair. “Stop doing this. Stop making excuses for Armond and for yourself and just tell us the truth.”

“That is the truth,” Vanessa said, her tone low and level. “Agent Joseph Sherwood arrived in New Orleans when Louis and I had been married fifteen years. By then, your mother was a distant memory and we were fairly happy. I turned my head to my husband’s philandering because by then we had Lou.”

“Lou’s the one,” Connor said, his hands flailing out around him. “Lou’s the only son. I don’t believe any of this.”

“Lou is the son of Louis Armond,” Vanessa retorted, anger vibrating through her words. “Lou was his son, too. I had to protect my son.” She lowered her head, tears falling down her face. “I was trying to protect my son.”

“Go ahead,” Agent Benton urged. “Let’s go back to Mr. Randall’s mother. What do you know about her being mugged and killed?”

Vanessa cleared her throat. “Sherwood immediately decided he wanted to bring down my husband, so he kept digging and digging and sending out his spies. He thoroughly researched our backgrounds and that’s when he discovered Louis had had an affair with a woman named Opal Connor.”

Connor put a hand to his forehead. “My mother.”

“Yes, your mother,” Vanessa replied. “I don’t know how he found out, but he somehow managed to figure out my husband had an illegitimate son.” She leaned over the table. “He questioned your mother, started harassing her to the point that he must have blackmailed her or threatened her. She called my husband, begging for help.” Vanessa glared at Connor. “She even brought you here once, to show you off to Louis.”


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