The Philanthropist, Book 2
An attorney with ties to an international human trafficking organization is hiding on Florida’s beautiful Sanibel Island. Ex-military operative Lottie Nightshade is hired to assassinate the lawyer, but it will not be easy. He is guarded by a heavily armed security squad and has placed an even more challenging obstacle in the way – a baby.
As Lottie arrives on the island, the lawyer’s security squad mobilizes to track her every movement. Someone has alerted the squad to watch for an assassin, and she fears the leak is coming from within her own operations team.
Lottie has devised an ingenious disguise that diverts the squad’s scrutiny from her while allowing her access to the lawyer’s inner circle. But the disguise places her dead-center in the crosshairs of the traffickers.
After the lawyer attempts to kidnap her, Lottie must accelerate her mission’s timeline. But how can she terminate the attorney without harming the infant? And will she be able to complete the assassination before she becomes just another trafficking statistic?
Lottie Nightshade woke to a loud bang. She gasped in a breath and tensed to spring up from her seat.
“We need to get started.” Her handler, Dane Harrington, had slapped a thick folder on the table in front of her. His dark hand rested on it as he loomed over her.
She released the breath she’d been holding and sank back in the soft leather seat, glancing out the window of the private jet at the sun glistening off the Gulf of Mexico below. Clearing her throat, she looked past Harrington to where the jet’s owner, Harrington’s boss, Attos, sat at a table reading a newspaper. A delicate cup in front of him sent up steam. The rich old white-haired bastard lifted his pinkie as he grasped the cup’s handle. Hard to believe this was the same man who’d blackmailed her into doing wetwork for him.
Lottie yawned, ran her hands through her short red hair, and sat forward. “How long until Florida?”
The jet had picked her up at the tiny airfield near Attos’s Costa Rican mansion but had left Stone, her vacation companion, to catch another flight.
The last thing she’d done in Costa Rica was send a text to her sister Maggie, telling her she wouldn’t be home for a while and promising to call in an hour from a different phone number. Then she’d destroyed her phone. She did not want to give the bad guys any way to track her.
Harrington took the seat across the table from her, his blue eyes locked onto hers. “Florida in approximately two hours.” His hulking physique and scars proved his years in the line of fire.
Two hours wasn’t much time to cover her next forced assassin job, but she had enough field experience to handle the briefing quickly. “Let’s do this so I can get another hour of sleep.”
He ran his hand over his short black hair. “This one you will need to take seriously.”
That stung. She lifted her brow, staring at him. She’d nearly been killed numerous times during her first job for Attos, but it was Harrington’s fault that things went sideways, not hers.
He shook his head. “Yes. I know. But we do not have the time to rehash that particular history.”
Lottie opened the file. “What’s the assignment?” Pinned to the left side of the folder was a headshot of a forty-something man with curly brown hair and pale skin.
“Fitzpatrick Voden. A lawyer.” Harrington looked away to check his buzzing phone.
“Is that reason enough for him to be terminated?”
Behind Harrington, Attos laughed and grinned at her. “Well said, Ms. Nightshade.” His British accent made everything he said sound jovial.
He’d paid her well for her first job. She would ask for a good amount more for this one. She faked a smile for him.
Harrington flipped up the lawyer’s photo, revealing a grainy picture of four men standing next to a semi-trailer that bore words in a foreign language.
It looked like an Eastern European script.
He pointed to three of the men. “These three are known traffickers.”
Lottie’s gaze shot to Harrington’s. “Human? Human traffickers?” A dark heaviness wove through her. She would happily kill them. Free of charge. She thought of her nieces and nephew back in St. Paul, Minnesota. And her sister, who was petite and gorgeous.
“These four are…out of our reach.” He tipped his head. “For the time being. But we’ve put out feelers.”
He flipped the picture to a black-and-white of a fifty-ish woman holding a baby and a much-older woman standing next to them with what looked like a cocktail in her hand. “The lawyer’s mother.” He pointed to the older woman.
He tapped his finger on the one holding the baby. “This is Voden’s infant son and nanny. All three of them are currently in the house with Voden. The lawyer is your target. But as you can see, there are complications.”
At the bottom of the picture, their names were noted. Patricia Voden under the mother and Sylvia? under the nanny. He let the photos flop back into the folder.
Lottie needed to push aside her personal feelings about the trafficking and approach this in the same cool, analytical way that she’d received assignments while in the Army. “How do the traffickers connect to the lawyer?”
“Voden is a Detroit trial attorney who has a reputation for defending traffickers.” Harrington took a breath. “He is also the subject of an investigation into the disappearance of various persons to whom he’s been linked.”
She looked at Harrington. “Are you saying he’s having people abducted and sold?”
His eyes narrowed. “People and infants.” Harrington looked away, his jaw tightening. “Allegedly.”
That ended her cool and analytical. Lottie put her hands under the table and fisted them. A lawyer who defended traffickers was reason enough for her to take him out, whether the kidnapping charges stuck or not. “What’s the setup?”
“There is a recently escalated schism between the American faction and the foreign one. And Voden is caught in the middle with the foreign group protecting him. We do not yet know why the American division is hunting him.”
Lottie nodded once. “The complications?”
“He has secluded himself in a rented home on Sanibel Island. He’s using the name Tony Wilson.” Harrington sat back and leveled a frown at her. “He’s guarded by a team of ten heavily-armed foreign mercenaries, who rotate in eight-hour shifts and sleep in a guest house on the property.”
She didn’t care for the challenge that whole setup brought. “That’s heavy defense. Photos?”
He nodded to the file. “In there. And a layout of the house and property.”
“There with him at all times.”
“Like a shield?” Lottie held in her disgust for Voden.
“We believe so.” Harrington cleared his throat. “He claimed possession of the child from a Detroit hospital a few weeks ago. The infant was two days old. He vilified his wife with unfit parenting claims and served a court order to keep her from being near the boy.”
Lottie grit her teeth so hard her temples hurt. “The nanny and Voden’s mother are there for the infant, and the infant is there so we don’t blow up the house with him in it.”
“But the traffickers who are after Voden don’t care about who they kill to get to him.”
“Exactly. That’s why we must move fast before the US faction locates Voden and obliterates the entire home. We need to ensure the infant’s safety. We will be returning the child to Voden’s wife.”
“Wait.” Lottie squinted at him, picturing the setup as though it was a movie. There was something else. Something they were missing. “Something with the wife. Could she be involved with the American faction? Could she be part of the conspiracy against her husband?”
Harrington stared at her.
She could almost hear his brain turning to follow her train of thought.
“Yes.” He nodded slowly. “Yes. I think you’ve pinpointed something we hadn’t considered.” He grabbed his phone and typed quickly.
She looked at the file, then back at Harrington. “I wonder if the FBI is involved. Could they have approached the wife?”
Harrington looked up at her, and then his gaze drifted to the window as if he was considering that angle.
Lottie leaned forward. “And if Voden knew his wife was planning to turn over evidence against him, he would take her baby from her…as an insurance policy to keep her silent.”
“Yes.” He met her gaze. “That would explain Voden’s actions. I can have someone contact the wife. Beneath the radar. Get the details from her in exchange for returning the baby.”
Lottie hated to use an innocent that way. But if it meant getting the baby back to its mom and getting the dirty lawyer out of circulation, it was worth the risk. “Yes. Do it.”
He thumb-typed rapidly on his phone.
She leaned closer to him. “Do you know who the customer is?” She spoke quietly, keeping Attos from hearing.
Harrington looked at her, and his brows drew together. “The what?”
Lottie could tell he was avoiding her question. “Do you know who hired Attos to take out Voden?” She explained it to him like he was three years old.
“No.” He shook his head. “I do not.” He spoke to her like she was two.
Lottie watched his eyes, his expression, and his body language for a micro-twitch or shift. He was telling the truth. Or was an excellent actor.
A tall woman walked toward them from the front of the plane. “Ms. Nightshade.”
Lottie recognized the flight attendant who’d been on the jet during her flight from Minnesota to Costa Rica a few days before. The one where she was looking forward to a vacation with Stone. Lottie smiled. “Hi, Mercy. How are you?”
“Lovely, just lovely.” Mercy’s accent sounded exotic, and her traditional island tattoos made her seem otherworldly. She carried a small tray. She set down a mocha latte in front of Lottie and a cup of black coffee in front of Harrington. “May I fix you a bagel egg sandwich with cheddar, bacon, and sausage?”
Lottie’s stomach rumbled. Mercy remembered her breakfast order from the last flight. “Yes, please. And fruit if you have it.”
“We do.” She smiled. “And orange juice with no pulp?”
Lottie nodded, impressed that Mercy remembered that small detail. “Yes. Thank you.”
Mercy looked at Harrington. “And you, sir?”
Harrington glanced up from his phone. “Thank you. I’ll have the same.”
“Be right back.” She turned and walked away.
Lottie pointed to his coffee. “No whip on this one?” Lottie had been a barista at a small drive-up in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood and had made Harrington a very froufrou coffee at their second meeting.
He just shook his head. “If you’re ready to continue….” He sat forward.
She pulled the file toward her and looked through the photos on the left. She commented and questioned. He answered and added details. A section of Voden’s profile listed his involvement with groups relating to the Revolutionary War. He was a collector. She committed that detail to memory.
“You’ll be quartered six homes away from Voden’s. Both houses are Gulf-front, so your walking on the beach past his house should not be questioned.”
“Does he leave the house?”
“No. Not that we’ve seen, and we’ve been watching for over a week.”
“We?” She had just left Stone in Costa Rica. He was Harrington’s right-hand man.
“I hired a number of the tactical team we used for your first assignment.” He waited while Mercy placed bowls containing a variety of fruit in front of them and set out cloth napkins and shiny silver flatware. She walked away.
“Along with the surveillance team, we have eyes 360 around the house Voden is using, as well as the house you’ll be in.”
“Where are the houses located?” Lottie flipped to a map in the file.
“Voden is here. We’re calling it Spotlight.” He pointed to a house on the southwest side of the island, directly on the Gulf of Mexico. He slid his finger west six houses. “You’ll be here. Callsign Ghost. We have two people there now, embedded and dark.”
“Tactical or technical?”
“One of each. The best of the best.”
“Good.” She was impressed that he’d thought to cover both firepower and research requirements.
“Each of the embedded ops has a burner phone. For inside communication use only. These are monitored 24/7.”
Harrington’s finger moved to a small house a tenth of a mile north. “The rest of the team is located here, callsign Backup. It is out of view of the two beach houses but close enough to move in quickly. They are monitoring the embed’s phones and the cameras on both Spotlight and Ghost houses.”
“Security at Ghost?”
“We’ve installed a new security system. The team at Backup is monitoring it.” He tapped the house directly adjacent to Ghost to the east. “This house, codename NeighborHouse, is temporarily vacant. They are cruising Alaska for six weeks.”
“Let me guess. Courtesy of Leavenworth Security.” Attos’s fake company, which installed a security system in the home Lottie shared with her widowed sister, Maggie Martin, and Maggie’s three kids. Leavenworth had also sent the four Martins to a theme park in Florida for a week when their safety was compromised during Lottie’s first mission for Attos.
“Good guess.” He sat back, his face unreadable. “They also won a new security system, which we have installed and are monitoring at Backup.”
The detail and scope of Harrington’s preparation for this mission impressed her, and she was not easily impressed.
She could feel Harrington watching her as she looked through the rest of the file, checking and double-checking every security and contingency measure. Lottie met his gaze. “Where will you be?”
“I’ll HQ at the airport. We have a hangar reserved.”
He’d be close to the plane in case the op went south and he had to evacuate.
“Sure.” She mumbled the word and went back to studying the file. After a few minutes, she sat back.
“Are you satisfied?” Harrington raised his eyebrow.
She nodded. “Everything seems to be in order. What’s your confidence level with the embedded ops at Ghost?”
“High level of confidence. They are both military trained and have been fully vetted through four separate sources. They’ve undergone training comparable to that which I would provide them.”
She shook her head. “You didn’t train them?” She’d heard whispers about Harrington’s training ‘farm’ somewhere in the Midwest, and she knew it was top level.
“There was not time.” He crossed his arms. “But as I said, they are both the product of an excellent military career and rigorous post-service training.”
She closed the file folder. “Good. What about the rest of the team?”
“Also a high level of confidence. Those not trained by me have been hand-selected by my contact in law enforcement.” He nodded. “Vetted in the same stringent manner and overseen by Raven, who comes with highest endorsements. Almost as impressive as yours.”
A compliment? From Harrington? That was a rare occurrence. Was he angling to have her provide training for Raven? Was he looking to expand his assassin business, or was Raven being positioned to take Lottie’s spot if the worst happened?
She couldn’t focus on that now. This job needed her full attention. “My cover?”
He pulled an envelope from his satchel on the floor. “Your papers.”
She looked inside. There were a half dozen papers and some small items at the bottom. She dumped out the small pieces. A passport, health insurance card, and a Georgia driver’s license listing her as a resident of Columbus.
“Columbus?” She’d been stationed at Fort Benning near the town. “I’m posing as military?”
“No, not you. Your husband is in the service. He’s overseas.” He gestured to the envelope. “More backstory in the file.”
She picked up the license and held it in a sunbeam coming through the window. “Peggy Erickson.” She frowned at Harrington. “Is that because of my Minnesota accent?”
He almost smiled. “Just a common name. No midwestern connotation whatsoever.”
Lottie snorted and looked at the picture on the license. It was her with blue eyes, short brown hair, and glasses. Frowning, she pointed to her head. “So…”
He pulled a plastic bag from the floor and set it on the table. It contained three boxes of brown hair color.
“This operation may take a while.” Harrington gestured toward the back of the plane, where a small room contained a bedroom and bathroom. “Clothes are in the back room, and you’ll find blue contacts, glasses, prosthetics, and makeup. The rest is at the house.”
Mercy brought their sandwiches and another mocha for Lottie and poured a warm-up into Harrington’s cup.
Lottie ate quickly, looking through the papers detailing her new identity. No occupation was listed, and she considered the best way to inveigle her way into Voden’s world.
Harrington took a bite, set down the sandwich, and used his napkin. Evidently, he’d been exposed to etiquette training to which Lottie had not.
She finished her last bite.
He gestured to her empty plate. “Do you want another one?” He picked up his coffee cup and sipped.
“No.” As she said it, an idea flashed through her mind. It whirled around and took shape. “Wait…yes. Yes, I do.” The idea instantly morphed into the perfect con. She gave him a smile. “I’m eating for two now.”
Harrington coughed and covered his mouth with his napkin, coughing again. “What did you say?”