“I still think I should be the one to go in. I don’t have anyone to worry about back home. Or to worry about me.” Which meant he’d be completely free of all the baggage that could wear on someone while on a job. “And if we need to target his niece for information…” He trailed off, not needing to finish the thought. They weren’t in the business of using sex to gain information. Ever. But he was single and none of the other guys were. That little fact mattered, since Kuznetsov’s niece basically ran the hotel and casino. And Hazel had come to him with this. He wanted to be the one leading this op. Hell, he needed to—maybe it would cleanse his soul. Or at least even the karmic scale a little.
“I’m with Leighton on this,” Gage said, right before he grinned like an evil cartoon villain—which was usually how he acted when he’d already come up with a plan on his own. “I knew we’d be infiltrating this place so I’ve already created a persona for you,” he continued. “Actually, it’s one of the cover IDs I’ve been working on for a while, so it’s solid and established—and you’re going to take it over. Your name is Spencer Johnson. You’re a big baller who doesn’t mind throwing around his money. You’re a trust fund jackass who’s not quite like the normal trust fund crowd. You’ve started some businesses of your own that are successful and you’ve gotten into real estate development on the periphery. A silent investor of sorts on some projects. You like to have a good time, you’re not flashy, and you don’t dress too extravagantly. And you don’t have many vices…except prostitutes. High-dollar escorts, to be specific. That and occasionally gambling. Blackjack mainly. Since this is your first time in New Orleans, you’re going to want to enjoy yourself.”
“Classy,” Nova muttered.
“Anyway,” Gage continued after grinning at his fiancée, “Once you’re inside, I can do the rest remotely and see if I can hack into their system. After that happens, I should be able to get eyes everywhere and see if we can spot the girl. Obviously I haven’t seen her at the other two hotels or this would all be a moot point. But that doesn’t mean she’s not there either, so I’ll be monitoring the cameras with facial recognition software. More than anything, we need feet and eyes on the ground in New Orleans.”
A new picture appeared on screen, this time of a beautiful woman in her twenties. Luciana Carreras. Kuznetsov’s niece. His dead brother’s daughter. For some reason, she didn’t have the same last name as her uncle, but had taken her mother’s maiden name instead. Long dark hair, pouty lips, petite and curvy. Leighton recognized the woman from the file Hazel had given him. She was stunning, and he didn’t give a fuck. Because she was related to a monster and okay with running the very business that might sell women into sex slavery.
“A beautiful monster,” he muttered.
Gage turned around in his chair, frowned. “We don’t know that she’s involved yet.” He turned back and started clicking away on his keyboard. “In fact, her financials indicate that she lives a pretty normal life. Well, normal-ish. When her parents died, her uncle was in charge of her trust. He’s used some of it for her schooling, but mainly he’s paid for her college and other expenses directly. Her trust is basically untouched, and she started working for him as soon as she graduated—even though she had a lot of offers on the table. Better offers. If I had to guess, she might’ve taken the job because they’re related. Not that it matters. But from the surface, she looks clean. Her only crime is being related to the man. Most of his businesses are directly on the East Coast, with a few exceptions—the three hotels in New Orleans being some of those exceptions. With what Hazel has told us and the Feds’ presence there now, it’s likely because he’s starting to run shit through the Gulf Coast.”
Leighton grunted once. “She could have taken his job offer because they’re making money off the pain of others.”
Gage lifted one shoulder. “Maybe. If so, we’ll bring her down too. But…just let me keep looking. I’ve found some interesting things about her.”
“Interesting how?” Skye asked, straightening slightly next to Colt. It was a miracle she was sitting still at all. Normally she was pacing.
Gage’s shoulders stiffened ever so slightly, as they always did when someone tried to rush him. He claimed that his genius couldn’t be rushed. “I’ll let you know what I find when I find it. For now, I’ve got everything we need to stealthily infiltrate the hotel and casino.”
“All right. So what else have you got for us?” Skye asked.
“Patience. I’m not your dancing monkey,” Gage muttered, his lips twitching.
“Exactly. Dancing monkeys listen better.”
Gage laughed lightly as he pulled up another screen. “That extra intel Hazel gave us was spot on.”
Leighton looked at the rows of information scrolling across the screen. “That bastard really has his dirty fingers in everything, doesn’t he,” Leighton muttered. The list was written in a sort of code, but some of the codes were clear enough that one of Kuznetsov’s front businesses was smuggling people and weapons.
“Vienna already got back to me,” Skye said, referring to a smuggler she and Colt had worked with in the past.
Leighton had met the woman before and she was all right. Her job was unconventional, aka shady as fuck, but who was he to judge? Because she sure as hell wasn’t smuggling people or anything that could hurt others. “Already?”
“Yep,” Skye said. “She hates Kuznetsov, said a few of his guys have screwed up a couple of her transports. Said they’re all a bunch of violent thugs with no sense in their big dumb heads. And that’s a direct quote.”
“Does she know how dangerous he is?”
Skye nodded. “I’ve set up another meeting with her tonight just to reiterate things and to go over some details. She knows the deal. She’s not doing anything that can get herself hurt or caught. She’s just doing recon from afar and using some of her assets to keep tabs on some of his shipments. If that extra intel Hazel gave you is right, then Kuznetsov is bringing over a bunch of people and weapons in the next nine days, and he’s using one of the ports in New Orleans—so he’ll be in town.”
Leighton had no reason to doubt the information. He was surprised Hazel had given it to him, but he’d learned that she wasn’t the straightest arrow. Which, in a world full of gray, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. They weren’t planning on doing anything about the incoming shipments—that was the Feds’ job to handle. But if for some reason the FBI dropped the ball, they’d make sure this information fell into the right hands. There was always the DEA or even the CIA.
“Make sure she keeps her head down.” He didn’t like the thought of anything happening to the smart-ass smuggler. And it seemed that most people who tangled with Kuznetsov got dead fast.
“I’ve got a few places in New Orleans we can use,” Brooks said, speaking for the first time as he typed something into his phone. “A couple homes in the Garden District that aren’t listed under my name. They’re owned by one of my dad’s corporations. And unless Kuznetsov has a really deep file on me, he won’t know about these homes.”
“We?” Leighton asked, frowning.
Brooks lifted his head, pinning him with his dark eyes. “Yeah, we. Even if you’re the one going to be on the ground at the casino, we’re all going on this job. No one is working anything else right now and we need to help bring Kuznetsov down any way we can. If we can save one girl, we can save all of them. The Feds can do whatever the hell they want, but I’m not sitting by now that we have this information.”
“I guess I could use the backup,” he said, half-smiling. The truth was, this was the kind of job they all needed to be there for. There could be no room for error.
“Please. You need all the backup you can get, old man.”
He snorted. He was less than six months older than Brooks. Instead of responding, Leighton looked at the screen again and frowned at the image of Luciana Carreras, the beautiful woman smiling at something just off camera. Her smile was wide and inviting. And her eyes…the bright blue was startling against her bronze skin.
If she was involved in her uncle’s organization, it seemed even worse somehow because she was a woman. Sure, Gage said she might not be entrenched in Kuznetsov’s bullshit, but Leighton couldn’t believe it. There was no way she wasn’t involved. She’d basically been raised by him, was college educated, worked at one of his hotels, and if women were being moved through there, she would have to know. She was the executive hotel manager.
And she was going down just like her uncle was.