Page 1 of Forced Alliance


A glint of light pushed through the skyscraper-gray dusk, allowing the sun to offer one more ray of hope to the city of New Orleans before the hungry, humid night engulfed it in shadows. Just as that sun slipped behind the tall buildings up and down Canal Street, a muffled shot hissed downward through the air and made contact with human flesh.

At about the same time, Connor Randall adjusted his formal bow tie and stepped out of a still-purring black sports car. Holding the car door away from the sweating valet, Connor looked up and around, old habits dying hard.

And he spotted none other than Louis Armond standing a few yards away, the unmoving body of a beautiful blonde lying still by his feet. The Mafia king’s shocked gaze zigzagged up in a jagged path. He drew a weapon and pivoted in a nervous circle before he fell down on his knees and pulled the unconscious woman into his arms. His olive-skinned face twisted in grief and terror. Then he glanced around until his scowl hit on Connor and stopped.

Connor got back in his car and peeled out of the parking garage. He reached Armond, shifted down and hit the brakes. “Get in,” he called. “Mr. Armond, get in the car.”

* * *

FBI Special Agent Josie Gilbert’s cell rang at the same time she was about to bite into her first slice of veggie pizza. Still holding the pizza with one hand, she groaned and grabbed the offending device, squinting down at the caller ID.

Connor Randall?

Her confidential informant. The FBI considered him an asset. She considered him a pain in the neck. Right now, she sat in an unmarked car near the French Quarter, waiting to hear from him. He’d called her an hour earlier, stating that he’d been summoned by Louis Armond. The crime lord wanted to tell him something important. They were to meet at the opera house.

Please tell me this is all over and we finally have Armond. Josie’s prayer filtered through her worry. She always prayed when she was on a stakeout. Tonight, she just prayed that Connor wouldn’t do anything stupid.

“I hope you have good news,” she said on a hopeful breath.

His slightly British accent tickled at her earlobe. “Gilbert, we’ve got a problem.”

Well, that didn’t take long. She’d only been paired as Randall’s handler for a week or so, and that mostly meant keeping him alive or constantly questioning him about the Mafia boss he’d been shadowing for over a year now.

The Mafia boss who’d hinted at turning. Maybe tonight? He’d wanted to see Connor tonight. In his private booth at the opera. But only if Connor came alone and with no security or listening devices.

Josie’s pulse moved too fast, causing her nerves to tighten like a twisted wire. “You’re in trouble already?”

“Big trouble.” He sounded breathless and not-so-cool-and-calm, that trace of an accent just barely detectable.

Trying to picture him untying the knot of his tuxedo tie, she focused on the here and now. “Did you kill someone?”

“No. But Armond’s mistress is dead. He’s with me and...he insisted I bring him out to Armond Gardens.”

Insisted. Past tense. Connor was on the move. That meant she needed to be on the move right behind him.

Josie did a visual. The narrow side street glinted like a dark ribbon around shadows and shapes. No sign of anyone, though. Not even a stray cat. The opera house was a block away.

“Turn back, and we’ll bring him into headquarters.” When Connor didn’t respond, she said, “I don’t have time for games, Randall.”

“You can’t bring either of us in. We’re heading out of the city. And this is no game.”

Dropping the pizza slice back into the small box on the seat, Josie sat up, her thoughts whirling. Maybe her new boss didn’t like her, since from the minute she’d arrived at her new assignment, he’d teamed her up with the most notorious asset this division had ever encountered. Still wondering if that was a plus or a double negative, Josie figured babysitting a suave art thief turned informant must be punishment, pure and simple.

After a case gone bad in Dallas, she still carried a shield of guilt mixed with a solid need to find redemption, but Connor Randall was a live wire, not her ticket off the hot seat. Not redemption quality.