Length: Novel (81,000 words)
Author note: This is a stand-alone novel.
“Twenty years ago the Lazarev brothers were connected to Yasha Makarov. They did a lot of low-level work together. Mostly as hired guns.”
Declan gritted his teeth at the mention of Yasha Makarov. The older Russian had been living in Miami for the past few years and he did nothing but wreak havoc wherever he went. He ran drugs up and down the East Coast and probably had a farther reach than that. Many of Declan’s clients frequented the same establishments as Yasha and simply being in the same room as the mobster increased any security threat.
Vernon continued. “I know what the reports say, but I think the Lazarev brothers were murdered and I think the people who killed them are after Yasha. I’m fairly certain they’ll be in Miami in the next couple weeks.”
Declan leaned forward and placed his elbows on his desk. “What’s the problem then? Yasha is…evil.” There wasn’t another word he could think of to aptly describe the man. And he’d seen his fair share of human atrocities over the years. Declan wasn’t sure what it said about him, but he’d be more than fine if Yasha ceased to exist.
“It’s more complicated than that. Word on the street is he’s moving girls now with his drugs.”
The drugs weren’t new, but moving people? “Girls? You’re sure?”
A short nod, his expression grim, Vernon said, “Sure enough. He’s been talking with some movers from Eastern Europe in the slave trade. We need him stopped before he can think about growing bigger.”
“So let the unsanctioned hitters take him out.” Win, fucking, win, as far as Declan was concerned.
There was more to it, Declan read it on his friend’s expression. “Can’t or won’t?”
He sighed and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. “Rumor is he’s moving in a new shipment soon. We’re not sure how or when exactly, but it’s soon and it will be through Miami. He’s selling virgins to the highest bidder. We need more information to save those girls and to bring down his entire op. If he dies before we do that…” Vernon shook his head. “He plays things close to the vest. We can’t risk him getting killed until we know more details.”
“So, take out his assassins. Or, pay them to back off temporarily.” Declan hadn’t been out of the game that long that he didn’t remember how things worked. Two years ago he’d given up his job as a Black-Ops agent in The Agency to start his own security company, but some things never changed. A bullet in the head or a cash payoff were standard operating procedure.
“It’s more complicated than that. The CIA officially doesn’t think anyone killed the Lazarev brothers and so far, they haven’t made the connection between them and Yasha. Their deaths aren’t monumental so I think they’re just being written off as a bad luck story. Karma and all that shit.”
“How’d you make the connection when a team of trained analysts couldn’t?” Declan frowned at his friend.
Vernon opened his briefcase and pulled out a thick manila folder. Out of the folder, he withdrew pictures of two attractive women and slid them across Declan’s desk.
Declan tapped his finger on one of the pictures. The women were obviously related but he knew he’d seen one of them somewhere before. “She looks familiar.”
Vernon nodded. “That’s Alena Brennan. She does a lot of modeling. You’ve probably seen her Campari ads. And if you missed those, she was in the news a couple years ago. Some scandal involving the Prince of Morocco.”
“What about the other one?”
“That’s Nika, her sister. From what people say they’re as different as night and day. She got her Master’s in Technical Communication from Columbia. Does a lot of freelance web design and unlike Alena, she’s not into the party scene.”
“Nika.” The woman’s name rolled off his tongue. Her sister was gorgeous, but Nika was…striking. It was the only way to describe her. Caramel hued flawless skin, sharp cheekbones, dark brown hair she left natural and curly and startling green eyes that seemed even brighter against her darker skin. The freckles dotting her nose and cheeks gave her an almost innocent quality. He almost snorted at the word. Innocent. No one was innocent. Realizing he was staring, he met Vernon’s gaze. “So you think these two are your assassins? Why the hell would they want to kill the Lazarev brothers?”
The older man’s jaw tightened a fraction as he pulled out another file and slid it across the desk. Vernon adjusted his tie and nodded toward the manila folder. “Open the file and look at the date stamps on those pictures.”
Declan flipped it open and scanned various pictures of the Lazarev brothers. Some were taken in nightclubs and some were in restaurants. In one picture, Alena and Nika Brennan were clearly visible. He looked up. “Where were these taken?”
“Germany, Egypt, and the last one—the one with the women—is from the Bahamas. Right before the last murder.”
Vernon slid another file across the table. “Look at the flight manifests for the women. They’ve been in each city at the time of each murder. It can’t be a coincidence.”
“Maybe, maybe not. If what this says is true,” Declan tapped on Alena Brennan’s dossier, “then she’s little more than a socialite and she’s made a lot of money from modeling. All this could be random. Those types of people always seem to travel in packs, staying in the same circles. And you still never answered my question. Why would they want to kill these men?”
Something akin to pain flashed in Vernon’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly Declan wondered if he’d imagined it. “I just know that my gut tells me they’re somehow involved in this.”
He was lying. Declan was sure of it. The FBI director had no business getting involved in this unless it was somehow personal. But he knew when to back off. So he would, for now. “Okay, fine. I’m going to play this hypothetical game. Say these two women are assassins. What’s the connection between the Lazarev brothers and Yasha Makarov?”
“They did a lot of work together years ago for the Belov family.”
Declan glanced at the file again. “If what this says is correct, that was before these two girls were barely old enough to walk, so there’s no clear personal connection. And it can’t be about money considering how much this one makes.” He tapped on Alena’s picture. “So even if the brothers and Yasha were connected years ago, what’s the connection with these women?”
Vernon cleared his throat. “Andre Makarov will be coming to Miami soon. I know you’ve helped out his security detail when he’s in town and I’d like you to keep an ear to the ground.”
Okay, so Vernon was apparently ignoring his question—and it was just feeding Declan’s curiosity more. Maybe it’s what his friend planned on. He sighed. “That’s all you need from me?” Andre Makarov might be Yasha’s son, but the two were nothing alike. If anything, Andre barely tolerated his gangster father.
Vernon shook his head. “I’ve got it on good authority that the Brennan sisters are headed to Biloxi as we speak.”
Andre owned a few casinos in Biloxi. He also owned some in Vegas. Could be a coincidence. Declan glanced down at their file. “Says they own a home in New Orleans. It’s not far from Biloxi.”
“They’re staying at the Ivy.”
“Shit.” That was the casino where Andre spent most of his time. Hell, from what Declan knew about the man, he practically lived there. He preferred the Gulf Coast to the desert. If the women did want to kill Yasha, this would be the way to get to him.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“You think they’re going to try and get to Yasha through Andre.”
Vernon shrugged and started gathering his files. “It’s what I would do if I was in their position. Yasha is damn near impossible to get to with his security. Something happened a year ago to spook him—before you ask, I don’t know what it was, I just know the rumors. He’s tightened his security even more. A pretty woman would mean nothing to him. Using Andre as a go-between is the perfect angle.”
“You don’t want me to keep an ear to the ground, you want me to spy on these women,” Declan said quietly, understanding exactly what Vernon wanted. Vernon knew about Declan’s abilities and that was why he needed him. This wasn’t just a normal favor.
“Yes. I need you to get close to one of them. I don’t care which and I don’t care what you have to do to get your information. It all has to be off the books. We’ve had a problem with leaks lately and I can’t take the chance we lose those women. Those girls. I’m going to be your only contact for this.”
“You don’t have much intel.” Part of the reason he’d left the CIA was because he was tired of the cloak and dagger bullshit. The other reason was something he didn’t like to think about. Now he had no choice.
Vernon snapped his briefcase shut. “You know I wouldn’t ask if I had anyone else to turn to. You have a personal relationship with Andre. He knows you used to work for the Agency and he also knows you’re more than a trained security professional. Your company is the best. Besides, you owe me.”
The last few words cut through the air with all the subtlety of a fifty-cal rifle. His friend had to be desperate if he was calling in a favor. When Declan had been barely twenty-two his cockiness had almost gotten him killed. If it hadn’t been for Vernon, he’d be six feet under in a nameless grave. The man was right, Declan owed him. “Fine. I’ll call Andre this week. Put out a few feelers and see if he needs extra security when he’s in town. I can’t promise he’ll hire me, but I’ll make a hard pitch.” Without making it seem like a hard one. All part of the game.
A tired smile played across Vernon’s features as he stood. “Don’t worry about his security. He’ll be calling you. Trust me.”
Declan knew better than to ask how Vernon knew that. In truth, he didn’t want to know. Less knowledge gave him plausible deniability. He stood and shook hands with Vernon before settling back into his custom-made leather chair. As he massaged his temple, he flipped open the file Vernon had left on his desk and delved into the dossier on the Brennan sisters.
If he wanted to find out more about them, he’d have to get into their heads. And to do that, he’d have to break all his rules. As he stared at the pictures of the two women, he tried to decide who would be the best target. The thought of getting inside Nika’s head turned him on and that surprised him.
Imagining walking through her dreams and tapping into her most intimate thoughts was a strange aphrodisiac. Something he didn’t think was possible. He’d been born with the ability to tap into other people’s thoughts, but only during their dream states. Since he’d retired from the CIA he hadn’t put his dream walking gift to use.
The last time he’d walked through a woman’s dreams, she’d almost killed him.