Nick had his car keys out and hit the fob for one of the last cars in the parking garage. He’d just left a session with the techs who’d investigated Alex Crow’s electronics and found nothing suspicious, to his surprise and relief. Nick had really thought Alex was guilty of being a part of his uncle’s murder, but had also started to like the kid.
The elevator doors opened, and Dale Markham stepped out, looking around. Nick had never liked him—just a gut thing. He was a good agent, but something slimy shifted in his eyes at times, like a shadow behind a mask.
So Nick didn’t call out, just nodded when their eyes met, and opened the trunk to put his briefcase away. When he shut it, Markham was standing next to the car, smiling.
“Agent Markham?” A warning buzzed in his head—something off in Markham’s gaze.
“Hey, Nick.” The man put a hand to the inner pocket of his coat and drew out a thick envelope. “A friend needs a favor on the Vargas kid’s case.”
“I don’t take bribes, Dale,” he said as loud as he could in case Markham wore a wire. “What the hell are you thinking?”
“Hold on, there. I told him you’d say no.” Markham pocketed the envelope with a sly grin and pulled out a box from another pocket. “No one’s listening, and the security cameras are disabled. Open this.”
Nick put out his hand, temper rising, and the smirking agent dropped the box onto his palm. Nick took the cover off. He stared in shock at the pale gray finger, naked in the loose plastic wrap except for purple nail polish smeared with blood.
“Look familiar? Look closer,” Markham urged him.
Nick rolled the finger slightly. His sister Jordan had a tattoo of the marriage-equality sign on the ring finger of her left hand in support of her brother and sister. Recognition blinded him for a moment, a veil of terror over his eyes. Nick took a step toward Markham, who stepped back. Two men detached from the shadows where they’d been lurking and flanked him.
“What have you done, you bastards!” Nick shouted, his voice echoing around the empty parking garage. He reined in his anger and terror, shaking with the effort. “Where is she?”
“Safe and sound for now. The Crow kid for your sister.”
“That’s all? You want me to find Jimmy Hoffa too?”
“It ain’t a joke, Truman.” He snatched the box back from Nick’s hand. “You bring that witness to Vargas dead or alive. I’m your handler, and I’ll make sure you get it done.”
The image of a hurt and frightened Jordan burned deeply into his brain. Where were the kids? He couldn’t breathe and held on to the car to dry heave while Markham laughed at him. Nick took a reflexive wipe at his mouth. “Why don’t you fucking do it?”
“That’s the way Vargas wants it. You sure made him an enemy. Hey, be glad the kids were on a play date!”
Putting everything he had behind it, Nick hit Dale in the head with a roundhouse right. Dale stumbled back. The guys behind him laughed as he tried to pull his gun and failed, but he stayed on his feet, bitching loudly as Nick got in his car and hauled ass out of there.
Reviews of Ardent:
New Release in Gay Historical Romantic Suspense
February 1st 2017 from Manifold Press
“In ARDENT, Heloise West takes us to the fascinating world of the painters of Renaissance Italy. A high value is placed on the work of master painters – and also on the dyes and pigments they use. In the turbulence of Medici Florence, this can mean life or death, even for the innocent let alone those who try to rig the system to their own advantage. Into this corrupt world arrives master painter Morello, who has yet one more deadly secret to keep – he has fallen hard for the workshop’s assistant, Benedetto, a young man as intelligent as he is beautiful. Can either of them survive the intrigues surrounding them … ?” From Manifold Press