Alina fidgeted in the passenger seat of the big Suburban SUV as Trevor waited for an opening in traffic, then changed lanes. It was well after rush hour, but I-95 was still packed.
“Does the dress fit okay?” he asked, glancing at her.
She fought the urge to squirm again. “Yeah. It fits fine. It’s just that this is the first time I’ve worn a dress like this on a mission. I’m so used to working in pant suits that wearing a dress feels…odd.”
Not that she was complaining about the dress. A shimmery black evening gown with a sexy neckline and a little slit up the side that showed off just enough leg to be interesting without being over the top, it was probably the most gorgeous dress she’d ever worn. Normally, she would never have worn anything like it on a mission, but Trevor said she needed to look the part for the undercover role they were playing that night, so she’d agreed, even though she didn’t have a clue what the hell they were up to this evening.
All she knew for sure was that they were heading to Baltimore, and that almost no one else in the DCO—most especially their boss—knew what they were doing. Why the hell she trusted Trevor so much was a shock to her, but the shoot house training they’d done yesterday had demonstrated they could be good together—when they trusted each other.
Trevor looked over at her, eyeing her up and down before turning his attention back to the freeway with a shrug. “If it helps, I think you look frigging awesome.”
She appreciated the compliment probably more than she should have, but that didn’t keep her from pointing out the obvious. “Mind telling why you get to wear to a suit and tie while I have to wear something that shows off more than it covers?”
He glanced at her again. She didn’t miss the way his gaze lingered on the nice amount of cleavage she was displaying before he met her eyes.
“Well, for starters, my suit would be way too big for you,” he said. “For another, I think I’d look absolutely ridiculous in that dress. Finally, there’s good chance that a distraction will be called for during this mission.” He gave her another once over that had her skin warming alarmingly. “And trust me—you are definitely one serious distraction.”
She felt her face heat, and was glad it was nighttime. Until she remembered Trevor could see in the dark.
“Speaking of where we’re going,” she said. “Don’t you think you might want to let me in on the big secret? Since I was nice enough to wear this dress for you and all. I’m trying to trust you here, but that’s hard if you’re going to keep me completely in the dark.”
Trevor was silent for so long Alina thought he wasn’t going to say answer. She wouldn’t have been surprised. He’d been completely mum on the subject the whole time a behavioral scientist who worked for the DCO named Skye Durant had picked out Alina’s disguise for the mission. She’d been too busy being amazed that the DCO had a clothing and prop department that included expensive cocktail dresses to press him on the subject then, but she couldn’t contain her curiosity any longer.
“We’re going to an out-of-the-way restaurant near the Inner Harbor called The End of the Road,” he finally said. “The place pulls in enough business to make the establishment look legit, but the restaurant is a front for a high stakes gambling operation that they run out of the back of the place.”
She thought about that for a moment, replaying everything she’d learned on their trip down to Bowling Green on Wednesday, then combining it with what Trevor had told her yesterday over pizza.
“Something tells me we won’t be looking for the fugitive shifters and their teammates playing poker in this backroom joint,” she said.
Trevor didn’t look at her. “No. We’re looking for the man I think built the bomb that killed John. My sources say he likes to gamble there.”
Clearly, Trevor had no intention of going after his fellow shifters. Apparently, he didn’t believe they had anything to do with John’s death.
“Any chance Skye and that nerdy guy I saw her talking with might be your sources?” Alina asked.
Trevor didn’t answer her.
No shock there. Trevor was obviously going behind Dick’s back on this manhunt for the bomber who’d killed John, which was almost certainly going to get him into trouble if the director ever found out. If Thomas Thorn really was behind the bombing, that trouble might just be of the fatal variety for everyone involved. If Skye and that guy—who was definitely an analyst type if Alina had ever seen one—were the ones passing Trevor his intel, her partner struck her as the kind of man who would do anything to protect them.
The fact that Trevor didn’t want to talk to her about any of this meant he was worried she’d run off and tell Dick. After yesterday’s training, he might trust her more than he had, but apparently not enough to put anyone other than himself at risk.
Even though she understood why he’d do that, it still hurt a little. She couldn’t help wondering if he was simply being careful out of habit, or because he knew Dick had cornered her in the main building this morning.
The director had waylaid her the moment she’d walked in the door, pulling her into his office and grilling her for over thirty minutes about what exactly she and Trevor had done down in Fredericksburg on Wednesday, and why she hadn’t reported to him already.
Since she hadn’t been able to come up with any convenient lie—and knowing he’d check up on anything she’d said anyway—Alina told him they’d gone to Bowling Green and talked to Seth Larsen. She’d done a good job of downplaying the whole thing, making it seem like Trevor had simply been looking for proof that one of the shifters had been around John’s office at some point prior to the explosion. Dick had been curious about Larson, but Alina kept her answers vague. She didn’t want to make trouble for Larson. He already had it hard enough.
“I want to know when Trevor takes a piss.” Dick said, fixing her with a stern look. “Don’t forget why I hired you, Agent Bosch.”
The mere thought of spying on her partner had Alina twisting anxiously in her seat again.
“You sure that dress isn’t bothering you?” Trevor asked. “Is it chafing somewhere it shouldn’t or something?”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “No, it’s fine. Trust me, dresses this expensive don’t chafe.”
He threw her an amused glance as he turned off I-95 onto 395, getting closer to the Inner Harbor. “I just figured maybe there was something under the dress that was too tight, or…I don’t know…pinching somewhere.”
That went to show how little men knew about what women had to go through to look this good. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but with a dress this form fitting, wearing panties isn’t an option.”
Trevor glanced her way, his eyes automatically going to the juncture of her thighs. He looked away quickly, like he didn’t want her to realize where his mind might have been, but it was a little late for that. The heat she’d seen there—and the little flash of yellow glow if she wasn’t mistaken—gave him away. Beside her, Trevor suddenly seemed very interested in something in his side view mirror. Knowing he was attracted to her—at least while she was wearing this dress— should have pissed her off. What kind of work relationship could they build if he saw her as a woman instead of a partner? But for some reason, she couldn’t quite muster up as much outrage as she probably should have. In fact, she found his attraction to her…interesting. Definitely something she was going to have to talk to Kathy about.
As Trevor turned off the interstate and hit the side streets a little while later, she realized he was still checking his side mirror, as well as the rearview every few seconds. Then she recognized the same gas station they’d already passed. Trevor was driving in circles, and checking his mirrors, to see if they had a tail. She checked her side mirror, but didn’t see anything suspicious.
She was about to ask if he did when he suddenly turned into the parking lot of the Horseshoe Casino and began driving up and down the rows of parking spaces. She glanced over her shoulder to look behind them, but still didn’t see anyone.
“Are you lost and refusing to ask for directions, or are you worried we picked up a tail?” she asked, turning back around.
She wasn’t sure who the hell might be following them, but if she had to guess, she’d say it must be someone Dick sent to keep an eye on them. That wasn’t good.
“I don’t think anyone’s following us, but I wanted to make sure,” Trevor said, pulling out of the parking lot. “As far as getting lost, you don’t have to worry about that. As a shifter, it’s genetically impossible for me to get lost.”
Alina was still wondering if Trevor was serious or not when he turned onto a street called Worchester and headed toward an area near the train tracks that looked a little run down. Which was surprising, considering they weren’t all that far off the main thoroughfare. They kept going until the road ended in a big parking lot in front of an equally large industrial building. Looking at it, you’d never know the place was a restaurant if it wasn’t for the glitzy lights along the front and a big neon sign proclaiming it to be The End of the Road. Looked like a dive to her.
There were more fancy cars in the parking lot than she expected to see. Even a few limos that looked seriously out of place. As did the two big guards standing by the front door wearing suits that were working overtime in their attempt to cover up all the muscles and the handguns both men were carrying in underarm holsters.
“You’re telling me the police never realized what’s going on around here?” she asked Trevor.
He pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. “I’m sure they know. But as long as no one causes problems, they apparently look the other way.”
Alina nodded. On some level, that made sense.
Beside her, Trevor flipped down the visor and adjusted his tie in the mirror. Damn, he looked good in the expensive silk suit Skye had picked out for him. And the light stubble along his jawline made him look even better. Then again, she’d always had a thing for guys with scruff.
“Who’s this guy we’re looking for, and why do you think he’s connected to John Loughlin’s death?” she asked.
“These days he goes by the name of Doug Smith.” Trevor reached into the back seat, coming up with a thin manila folder. He flipped though the file until he came out with a photo of a man in his early forties with dark hair sprinkled with a little bit of gray.
“His real name is Dokka Shishani,” Trevor continued. “He’s from Chechnya, where he fought for years in the Chechen-Russian conflict. It’s also where he learned his trade as a bomb-maker. He moved to the States in 2008, becoming a naturalized citizen in 2014. Since then he’s been implicated in a few assassination style bombings in South America and Asia, but nothing that’s ever stuck. He does a good job of blending in with the local Russian community, which must be hard as hell considering how much Chechens and Russians dislike each other.”
Alina had spent some time over in Chechnya during the early part of her career in the CIA. The war there had devastated the country for nearly twenty years, and it was just now starting to crawl out from under the massive destruction. It was a tough place to live, but an even tougher place to get out of.
She picked up the picture and studied it, committing the man’s face to memory. “With a background like his, I’m surprised he was allowed through immigration. The State Department normally would have flagged somebody like him long before he ever got a green card.”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Trevor agreed.
Stepping out of the SUV, Trevor came around to her side to open her door. She took the hand he offered her, telling herself that she did it simply because the guards might be watching. But as she slipped her right leg out of the SUV, flashing a good amount of thigh, she admitted to herself that maybe she did because it gave her a chance to get a rise out of him.
And yeah…he looked. All the way from thigh to ankle, and back up again.
“You really do look amazing in that dress,” he murmured, pushing the door closed.
“You look pretty damn good yourself,” she said as she rested one hand on his arm and let him escort her across the parking lot. She actually appreciated the assist. It had been a while since she’d worn heels this high. She was out of practice.
“You were saying something about how our guy got through immigration?” she prompted softly.
Trevor’s mouth twitched. “I do remember vaguely saying something about that. Before you derailed my train of thought.”
She laughed. Damn, he could be seriously smooth when he wanted.
“It turns out Mr. Shishani had a sponsor with enough power to pull the right strings,” Trevor explained. “That sponsor got our guy in the country with limited State Department review, accelerating his naturalization paperwork and got him through in record time.”
Alina noticed the two guards watching them as they approached the front doors. The muscle-bound suits didn’t look at Trevor for a second, but they were eyeballing her so hard the building could have fallen down behind them and they probably wouldn’t have noticed.
“And what’s the connection between this guy and John?” she asked.
Trevor stopped, turning to look at her. “None between Shishani and John, but the guy who sponsored Shishani and got him into the country? Yeah, there’s definitely a connection.”
She blinked in surprise. “You’re saying Thomas Thorn brought a Chechen-born bomber into the US and paid him to kill John Loughlin?”
Trevor didn’t answer, but merely started for the entrance again. The guards opened the doors for them without a word. Once they were inside the little hallway that led to another set of double doors and the restaurant beyond, he stopped.
“There’s no indication Shishani ever came onto the training complex, but he definitely had the know-how to make the bomb and the attack matched his style of hit to a T. Throw in his connection to Thorn and the fact that he’s been spending money like it’s going out of style the past few weeks makes him somebody worth checking out.”
Alina let that sink in for a moment. “I would have preferred to hear some of this stuff before we’d gotten here, but for now, let’s assume everything you think you know is right. What do you hope to get out of this guy? I’m pretty sure we’re not going to get a spontaneous confession from him.”
Trevor shrugged as he motioned her forward and opened the door for her. “I can be very persuasive when I want to. You’d be amazed what you can get out of people when you say please.”
Alina would have called him on that, but the smell of cigar and cigarette smoke hit her so hard she couldn’t breathe, much less talk. So much for a smoke-free Maryland.
She scanned the bar along the right side of the room, then the booths on the left, and the tables and chairs filling the space in between. Beyond the bar, she could see a nondescript door, which could just as well lead to a storage room or an office if it wasn’t for the big, muscle-bound bouncers standing on either side of it.
“What’s the plan here?” she asked Trevor quietly as the restaurant’s patrons eyed them curiously. “Because I don’t see anyone warming up to us enough to invite us into the back room.”
“We’re Trevor and Alina Hoffman, a filthy rich, newly married couple from Silicon Valley,” Trevor said, glancing around as if taking in the ambience. “We’ve been on an extended honeymoon for the past few months and are currently heading for a trans-Atlantic cruise out of New York City. We decided to do some gambling and got tired of dealing with all the crap at the local casino.”
“You think they’ll buy that?” she asked as he led her across the room toward the door with the guards.
“You sell the fact that we’re a newly married couple, and I’ll make them believe I’m a rich guy with a gambling addiction.”
She could do that. Then she realized one big flaw in their cover story. “If we’re a newly married couple, shouldn’t I be wearing a ring?”
Trevor gave her a sidelong glance. “What makes you think you aren’t?”
She looked down at her hand in confusion and almost fell off her stacked heels as she saw the monstrously large diamond he’d somehow slipped onto her ring finger when she wasn’t looking. Oh crud, it was huge! And as beautiful as any she’d ever seen.
“When did you put this on? More importantly, is this thing real?” she whispered.
Thank goodness she had his arm to keep her steady. She was feeling faint at the idea of wearing a diamond that was probably worth more than her entire apartment.
“I put it on you when we were married on the first of June in Monaco,” he whispered back. “And of course it’s real. I would never put something fake on the love of my life.”
“Trevor, I’m serious,” she said.
He made a face. “Okay. I slipped it on your finger when I was helping you out of the SUV. And yes it’s real, so don’t lose it. I had to sign my life away to get it out of the DCO safes.”
She gulped. “How much is it worth?”
“Nothing, compared to you, sweetheart,” he said in a romantic tone as they stopped in front of the two guards.
The bouncers working this door were a little bit more professional than the ones outside. At least they looked at Trevor once or twice instead of locking their sights immediately on her.
“Can I help you?” one of the men asked in a deep, rough voice that made Alina wonder if he chewed on gravel for fun.
“Someone told me a man might be able to find a friendly game of poker somewhere near here,” Trevor said casually. “I don’t suppose you two might be able to point my wife and me in the right direction for a game like that?”
The two men regarded him suspiciously.
“I think you’re talking about the Horseshoe Casino,” Gravel said. “It’s nearby, very clean and friendly.”
Trevor chuckled. “The Horseshoe is very friendly. But the place doesn’t have the quite the atmosphere we’re looking for. It’s a little too…what’s the word?…sanitized for our liking.”
Gravel studied Trevor for a moment, then glanced at the bar, giving someone there a nod. Ten seconds later, a slim man in an expensive suit appeared at their side.
“My name is Teddy,” he said in a cautious, yet friendly tone. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m Trevor Hoffman. This is my wife, Alina. We’re getting ready to head out on a cruise in a few days, and decided to do some gambling while we’re in town. Someone told us this place runs a clean game, so I thought I’d spend some money here.”
Teddy surveyed them with a practiced eye, taking in the cut of Trevor’s suit and her expensive gown, not to mention the big honking ring she wore. He must have liked what he saw because he nodded.
“If I could get some identification and a credit card from you, Mr. Hoffman, I can quickly check your credentials and set you up with a line of credit.”
Alina tensed as Trevor handed over the requested ID and credit card. They could be in trouble. The fake ID and credit card by themselves would have taken quite a bit of time and money to pull off. Coming up with an internet background to support that would take even longer.
“What are they going to find when they run our name and that credit card number?” she whispered as he slipped his arm around her and casually urged her away from the two men guarding the door.
“Relax.” He flashed her a grin. “They’ll find us, with all the relevant financial and societal tidbits one would expect to see when looking at the rich and bored.”
She glanced at Teddy. He typed something into a computer just out of sight behind the bar. A moment later, he lifted his head and frowned in their direction.
“Something’s wrong,” she whispered.
Even the two guards were eyeing them funny now. She was starting to wish there’d been a place in this little dress to hide a weapon. If things went bad, they were in trouble.
“Alina,” Trevor said softly as he tightened his arm around her waist and tugged her closer. “Now’s the time for you to sell the newlywed thing.”
She opened her mouth to ask him exactly how he suggested she do that when he pulled her even closer.
She wished she could have said it was years of CIA training that took over and made her kiss him. But that wouldn’t have been true. Instead, it was a totally different kind of instinct. The kind that made a woman want to kiss a hot guy.
She weaved her fingers possessively into his dark hair, parting her lips and inviting his tongue in to play. Trevor slid one hand down her back, molding her so tightly against him she could feel the outline of every muscle in his amazing body.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman.”
It took a minute for Teddy’s voice to register, and when it finally did, Alina reluctantly stepped away from Trevor. She swayed a little on her feet, suddenly breathless. If Trevor’s arm hadn’t been around her, she might have melted into a puddle on the floor. She’d never been affected by a kiss like that before.
Teddy smiled at them. “I’ve started you with a hundred thousand dollar line of credit. If you step this way, security can clear you, then I can take you in so you can start enjoying your evening.”
I was already enjoying my evening, Alina thought.
Trevor looked at her, his mouth curving into a sexy grin, as if he’d been thinking the same thing.