Undercover blues, p.1

Undercover Blues, page 1

 

Undercover Blues
 


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Undercover Blues


  UNDERCOVER BLUES

  By

  Elizabeth Batten-Carew

  © copyright June 2004, Elizabeth Batten-Carew

  Cover art by Jenny Dixon, © copyright June 2004

  New Concepts Publishing

  5202 Humphreys Rd.

  Lake Park, GA 31636

  www.newconceptspublishing.com

  Chapter 1

  He had to get out. Now. The thought sizzled through Frank’s brain like a current of electricity, while across the crowded ballroom the subject of his turmoil calmly played her game. Stunning in her shimmering blue gown, she glittered like a precious gem in this setting of the rich and elite.

  Emotions clashed and careened wildly within him. Was that really Angel? The woman he had once loved. The woman he had hated for four long years. He couldn’t be sure.

  He had never wanted to see her again and yet now he couldn’t stop staring at this woman who looked so much like her. His mind screamed retreat while his burning emotions demanded confrontation. Frozen by his doubt, he forced himself to linger until he could determine her identity.

  A waiter hovered by a circle of guests offering hor d’oeuvres, cutting off Frank’s view of the woman. The room swam back into focus, and he damned the Bureau for forcing him to spend his first night in New York at this glitzy, shallow party. But they’d given him no choice. Somewhere in this room his new partner waited to meet him. If the woman really was Angel…. He hooked his index finger in the collar of his white, pleated shirt and tugged. He didn’t even want to think about the disaster that would cause.

  All about him people tossed chips around and laughed, careless of how much they lost. The theme was Monte Carlo, the aim to raise money for cancer. Frank chose to observe. Gambling went along with his job — along with the requisite losses.

  The waiter moved, and he gazed again at the woman in the blue dress.

  At least once, he’d lost more than he could afford.

  His gaze followed the curves outlined by the iridescent blue gown. So far, he’d only seen her from the side. She stood at the roulette table. Her dark hair, sleekly pulled to the back of her head with a gold clip, shone in the soft light. Could Angel have tamed her riotous curls into a smooth coil like that? Probably not. His eyes narrowed. The graceful curve of her neck looked the same. As she turned around and leaned over the table to scoop up the chips she’d just won, laughing, revealing the deep crevice in the dip of her neckline, his pulse lurched. Surely the woman didn’t realize how much flesh she exposed. Every man near her did, however. Because, just like Angel, she had a generous amount of cleavage to expose.

  It couldn’t be Angel. The last time he’d seen her had been in Hawaii.

  Hawaii. Four years ago. He’d gone to the island on a case, following the notorious drug lord Domenic Cavaglione. Frank’s department had known something big was planned when Cavaglione headed there for an extended vacation. Frank and his partner had been dispatched to keep an eye on the suspect’s activities. Cavaglione had spent the first few weeks attending a few closed meetings, but basically biding his time.

  Frank and his partner had cycled shifts watching their target and Frank used the dead time to work on his tan and enjoy the sights. He’d soon found a sight worth watching in the beach front cabin three down from his. Angel Tortina.

  He remembered the first time he’d seen her. With her long curls swirling around her shoulders, she’d been wearing a bright crimson bikini that made his heart pump triple time. Her legs were long and shapely and she was generously curved in all the right places. With a figure most women would die for, she still maintained an air of sweet innocence that attracted him far more than mere physical attributes, though he couldn’t deny that her body enticed him. After all, he was a normal, healthy male.

  He’d made a point of meeting her and for three weeks they’d spent time together, enjoying each other’s company, getting to know each other. She’d been just an interesting diversion — until he realized he was falling in love with her.

  Sweet Angel. His body had ached for her. So many times he had come close to sweeping her up and carrying her back to one of their cabins to make passionate love, but her delicate, hesitant kisses told him she was…inexperienced. If he’d had more time, if he hadn’t been on a job… He’d wanted to be the one to show her the ways of love.

  Then he’d found out who she was — and who she worked for. Cavaglione!

  Even then, smitten as he was, he’d actually believed Angel could never be involved in illegal activities, that somehow she had been unaware of her boss’ shady dealings. Frank didn’t want to remember what had happened after that. He’d been a fool! He’d never made such a grave mistake in his life. He was lucky it hadn’t been a fatal mistake, not only for himself but for his partner, too.

  A burst of laughter nearby dragged Frank back to the present. He grabbed his drink and gulped it down, trying to drown the bitter taste of self-disgust.

  * * * *

  Angel knew she was being watched. A person couldn’t get very far in her business without developing a special sense about these things. She glanced around and saw a scowling man thump his drink on the table, then glare into the liquid depths. Had it been him? She continued scanning the room. She knew that prickly feeling.

  She stacked her chips in four neat piles. One white, two red, and one short pile of blue. She picked up a red one and tossed it onto the square marked fifteen. Fifteen? That had been her cabin number in Hawaii. She frowned. Why would that come back to her now after so many years?

  Again, she felt the prickle and glanced up, unconsciously fixing on the same man she’d noticed earlier. His expression neutral now, he stared at someone two tables over, yet Angel was sure she’d seen his focus shift slightly when she’d locked her gaze onto him.

  His features were obscured by the dim light. Staring intently, she could make out an angular jaw, dark, wavy hair cut short on the sides and longer on the top, and eyebrows that angled up and away from his straight nose. He reminded her of the one man she’d do anything to forget.

  Frank O’Connor.

  But of course this wasn’t Frank. As far as she knew, he was still in California. This man just resembled Frank. She stared down at her hands and realized she was flipping a chip over and over between her fingers. The croupier declared final bets before starting the wheel.

  Frank represented an episode in her life she’d rather not think about. He had fallen in love with her and he’d gotten hurt. Well, damn it, that wasn’t her fault. Fool. You should have stayed away from him as soon as you started to fall for him.

  Glancing at the ball spinning round the wheel, she sipped her wine spritzer. Right now she had enough to cope with in her job without worrying about a ghost from her past. Her current task was at a standstill and her boss planned to bring someone else on to work with her. She had a very bad feeling about that.

  The clink of the ball into its final destination triggered a groan from the man next to her.

  "Fifteen. You won again." The woman beside Angel nudged her.

  Angel focused on the new pile of chips the croupier pushed toward her and started to sort and stack them neatly onto her piles. She glanced in the direction of the scowling man and this time their gazes clashed.

  Good Lord, it was Frank! She knocked down two of her piles as her hand flew to her chest. He started to get up. Panic flared within her. He was coming to confront her! No, not here! He couldn’t!

  After what she’d done to him, how he’d looked at her with murderous intent the last time she’d seen him, she realized he could. And would.

  Her heart pounded against the wall of her chest as she stepped back from the table, trying to ignore her roiling stomach. She
d scanned the ballroom for all the exits earlier, a precaution she always took.

  "Ma’am. Don’t forget your chips."

  Her attention flickered away from Frank’s intent gaze for a fraction of a second and she glanced at the croupier.

  "I…uh… Take them as a donation." She waved her hands distractedly.

  He smiled and swept them away from her into the house pot. "That’s very generous, ma’am. Have a good evening."

  She glanced back toward Frank, expecting him to be closing the distance between them. But he was no where to be seen. She glanced around and saw a broad, tuxedo-covered back disappear out a side exit.

  * * * *

  Frank’s heart thudded in his chest as he paused in the hall to consider his options. Thank God the croupier had distracted her long enough for him to slip out of the ballroom. Away from Angel. Damn it! She’d causes a disaster in his life once before. He wouldn’t allow her to do it again.

  A quick glance at his watch confirmed he should be meeting with Cindy, whom he’d never seen before, in about fifteen minutes. He was supposed to see her at the black jack table. She’d be wearing a tennis bracelet studded with sapphire crystals alternating with diamond-like stones. He’d offer to buy her a drink and they’d start to chat. He had a few key phrases to work into their exchange.

  But he couldn’t chance being seen with his new partner now. Not with Angel hovering around. She wouldn’t hesitate to blow Cindy’s cover wide open. He raked his hand through his hair. What the hell would he do now?

  He had to get out of here as quickly as possible. He slipped his hand under his jacket, checking for his gun, hoping he wouldn’t need to use it. The buzz of conversation drifted up from the lounge one level down, mingled with music from the ballroom he’d just left, the noise pressing in on him, crowding him, urging him to move faster. But he kept a steady pace. Drawing attention to himself was the last thing he wanted right now.

  Would Angel send someone after him? He marched by the large potted plants toward the column of elevators, then past them to the stairs. Discarding the idea of slipping up to his room to grab a few of his belongings, he raced downwards.

  Reaching the bottom stair, he pushed open the door to the ground floor. He strode down a short hall past the elevators, through the lobby, and out onto the street where he hailed a cab. Right now he could think of only one safe place to go.

  * * * *

  Frank bolted upright, the grogginess of sleep thrown off as he came fully alert. Someone was opening the door. Planting his feet on the floor, he jerked his head around and winced at the sudden kink in his neck. Dennis stood just inside the office, watching at him.

  "Frank, you look like hell," he grunted as he slung his briefcase onto the desk. "You sleep in those clothes?"

  "Yeah."

  Frank got up from the couch and slumped into the grey leather chair, feeling more than a little grey himself this morning. He could only imagine the sight he made. Pleated white shirt open at the neck, tuxedo pants rumpled. He glanced down at his patent leather shoes. The other trappings of formality lay strewn across the couch and side table. Cummerbund, tie, jacket, cuff links.

  Feeling the itch of morning growth on his chin, he grazed a hand over it distractedly. Yeah, he must definitely look a sight to the tall, well groomed man who had been his boss for the past three years. Impeccably dressed in a navy blue suit, white shirt, and burgundy striped tie, Dennis tossed his grey trench coat onto a hook then strolled over to his desk and sat down.

  Frank glanced around the office. Almost bare. Dennis had moved here a week ahead of Frank but was obviously still getting settled in. Two cardboard cartons sat on one side of his desk, flaps up. Dennis must be waiting for filing cabinets to be delivered, otherwise he’d be fully unpacked by now.

  "You want to tell me what’s up?"

  Frank glanced up to see Dennis staring at him with narrowed eyes. He pushed himself a little straighter in the chair, trying to release himself from the fog that had seized his brain. A fog that matched the white mists he could see outside the window this morning.

  Damn! He’d grabbed a little sleep on the couch but it wasn’t enough. He needed a coffee badly. "I ran into a problem last night."

  "At the benefit?"

  Frank nodded.

  Dennis watched him with acute interest. "The way you’re scowling, it looks like you ran into your worst enemy."

  "I did," he muttered.

  Angel. Frank’s gut clenched as a mental image of Angel in the seductive blue gown that had hugged every one of her inviting curves wandered through his mind. Anger and hatred battled with stark desire as he remembered her in his arms so long ago.

  "Dennis, my cover’s blown. Someone there last night…Angel Tortina…knows me." Frank stared directly at Dennis. "She’s a member of the mob."

  Dennis slammed his fist on the desktop. "Christ! Did she see you?"

  "I don’t know, but if she did… She’d blow my partner’s cover, too. We can’t take any chances."

  Hell, he thought he’d seen the last of Angel. Now she was wreaking havoc with his life all over again.

  "What about your partner? Did you make contact?"

  "No. I couldn’t chance it."

  Dennis glanced at his watch. "We’ve got that meeting with Hal Morris in five minutes. Let’s go break the bad news." He rose and stepped out from behind the desk.

  Frank stood and waved a hand. "Lead on."

  After winding through hallways that all looked alike to Frank, they soon stood in front of an office bearing Hal Morris’ name and the title Special Investigations. Dennis rapped on the door. At the acknowledgment from within, Dennis opened the door and gestured Frank to precede him.

  This office was larger than Dennis’ and the man behind the desk was broader than Dennis. Hal Morris could have been a linebacker for a professional football team at one time with his height and breadth. If he’d ever been a field agent, though, that had ended long ago judging from the beer belly that bulged over his belt. The man tried to hide a receding hairline by parting his hair on one side and combing it straight sideways.

  Frank scanned the man’s environment. Paintings of landscapes graced the walls and little gadgets, including a perpetual motion sculpture driven by magnets and a Rubik’s cube, cluttered the desktop. Two comfortable-looking leather chairs sat in front of the large oak desk. A large window looked out over the city, but with the fog little could be seen except ghostly silhouettes of buildings.

  "Frank, this is Hal Morris, head of Special Investigations."

  Hal stood up and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you, Frank. Dennis speaks very highly of your work."

  "Thank you," Frank said, shaking Hal’s hand.

  The man’s voice was deep and booming and his hand larger than Frank’s. He also topped Frank’s six foot four height by a good three inches. Aging or not, this man would be a formidable opponent. Frank hoped he’d never have to face him head on.

  Hal’s assessing gaze took in Frank’s rumpled appearance, but he made no comment. Hell, did he know things had screwed up last night?

  Hal gestured toward a round table surrounded by four chairs. "Sit down, gentlemen, please. Looks like you could use a coffee, Frank. Rough night?"

  "I’ve had worse," he responded. But not many.

  Frank sank into a chair, waiting impatiently for his cup, while Hal grabbed three plain black mugs from a plastic tray beside the coffee warmer on his credenza and started filling them.

  "Hal, we’ve got a problem," Dennis said.

  Hal nodded. "So I heard." He replaced the coffee pot and handed a mug to Frank, then Dennis.

  The aroma of strong coffee stimulated Frank’s senses. He wrapped his fingers around the handle and took a sip, letting the caffeine do its job.

  Hal stood staring intently at Frank. "You didn’t make contact with Cindy yesterday. Want to tell me why?"

  Frank leaned back in his chair. This guy was good. He obviously made it a po
int to keep on top of things. "I saw someone there last night who knows I’m FBI. A mob member. I couldn’t risk Cindy’s cover."

  "I see." Hal sat for a moment, still staring at Frank, apparently deep in thought.

  Frank knew he’d done the right thing last night, but how would this bureaucrat look at it?

  Finally, Hal took a sip of his black coffee and glanced at his watch. "Look, Cindy’ll be here in a few minutes. Let’s run the situation by her and see if we can do some damage control."

  "You haven’t told us much about Frank’s partner, Hal. Can you fill us in a little?" Dennis asked.

  Thank you, Dennis. Finally, the curiosity that had been prickling within him for days would be appeased. All Frank knew about his new partner was that she worked undercover for the mob.

  Hal tossed some sugar packets to Dennis, then plunked his own cup on the table and settled into one of the empty chairs. He folded his large hands in front of him. "She’s Carlos Vendetti’s assistant."

  Vendetti. Frank knew the name. One of the biggest in the New York underworld.

  "This is a critical assignment. It’s important we break the case as soon as possible." Hal leaned on his forearms and stared intently at Frank. "We needed an agent from another office to help us, someone who wouldn’t be known here."

  "So much for that," Dennis piped in, as he ripped open a sugar packet and emptied it into his cup.

  "I chose you, Frank, because I’m told you’re the best on the west coast." Hal sipped his coffee. "This is a tricky situation."

  "Just what is the situation?" Dennis asked. He always had been one to get to the point, Frank thought wryly.

  Hal extended the fingers of his hands in front of him in a dramatic gesture. "Gentlemen, there’s a traitor among us. Someone in this department is selling secrets to the mob, specifically, to Carlos Vendetti."

  Dennis whistled. "Are you sure?"

  "Yes. We’ve had enough information go astray — and wind up in Vendetti’s hands — to know what’s happening. The only question now is: who? We can’t count on the guy slipping up. We’ve got to sew this up, and fast."

 
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