Best Laid Plans by Allison Brennan is the 9th thriller in the Lucy Kincaid series where the FBI agent is tasked with finding the killer of a congresswoman's husband, who was last seen with a teenage prostitute (available August 4, 2015).
Newly minted FBI Agent Lucy Kincaid is settling into her job in San Antonio, Texas, when the corpse of Harper Worthington, the husband of a sitting congresswoman, is found naked in a motel on the wrong side of town. It's up to Lucy to locate the last person to see him alive: a teenage prostitute who seems to have vanished into thin air.
When forensics determines that Harper was poisoned, Lucy and her new by-the-book partner dig deep into his life to find out who might want him dead. Why did Harper lie to his wife and his staff? Was he involved in an illicit affair? Embezzling money? Laundering money for a drug cartel? Or was he simply a pawn in someone else's dangerous game?
Lucy's boyfriend Sean Rogan is hired by Harper's company to run a security audit, causing friction between Lucy and the FBI. But when Sean finds a high-tech bug in Harper's office, an entirely new threat emerges—a far-reaching conspiracy run by a ruthless killer who will do anything to get what he wants, and kill anyone who gets in his way. And the person between him and victory is Lucy Kincaid.
Elise Hansen almost puked when she realized the guy was dead.
She bit her thumbnail, dreading what she had to do next.
“Why couldn’t you have waited until after we screwed before you croaked?” she muttered.
But there was no turning back. She had the pictures she needed—he’d been out of it, but not so much that she couldn’t get him into the right position—and now she had to finish it. In a manner of speaking.
Elise unbuckled his pants and pulled them down to his ankles. Then his boxers. He stunk, like he’d peed himself. She knew what she had to do, but it took her a minute to work up the courage.
“He’s only going to get deader.” She spit into her hand, then rubbed the guy’s dick twice.
“Ugh.” She ran to the bathroom to scour her hands. There was no soap, but the water got hot enough that she was satisfied there was no dead guy on her palm. She looked into the mirror—her makeup was still intact, but she reapplied the bright red lipstick because most of hers she’d smeared on the mark’s neck and mouth.
No way in hell was she putting her mouth on his dick now that he was dead. Why couldn’t he have just gone along for the ride from the beginning? She was young and cute and knew exactly what to do and say to get any guy off, even the most prudish prick. How could he say no? It made her job that much more difficult. And disgusting.
She’d damn well better get a bonus.
Elise left the bathroom and surveyed the room. Her prints and DNA were where they needed to be, her mark was half-naked, and she’d been in enough cheap motel rooms to know the scene looked exactly how she wanted it to.
She extracted his wallet from his pants and removed his cash—$120—then tossed the empty billfold on the nightstand. She grabbed his cell phone and pocketed it before walking out.
Elise closed the door and froze.
“Señora, I’m here for Señor Worthington. He say to come back in one hour.”
She turned and assessed the intruder. He was in his thirties, Mexican, with a moustache and rumpled clothes. A taxi was parked a few stalls down.
She showed her best seductive expression. “I wore him out.” Then she winked. “I can wear you out, too, sugar.”
He backed off. “Uh, I’m married.” He held up his left hand to show her his ring.
“So was he. It’ll be between you and me.”
The taxi driver shook his head. “Can, um, you tell Señor that I’m here?”
She frowned. “He has the key.” She knocked on the door, then shrugged. “Sorry. He sleeps like a rock, I guess.” She hesitated, considering what this driver might do or say. Chances are he would leave but she couldn’t count on it. She glanced around, saw no one, then bit her lip and said quietly, “You know, I really gotta go or my boss will take it out on my ass. I don’t like being knocked around.” She jogged away from the motel, keeping her head down.
The taxi driver didn’t follow or comment.
At first, Elise thought getting caught outside the door would be trouble, but then she realized it could actually work to her benefit.
Once she was out of sight of the motel, she slowed to a walk and continued three blocks south. She opened the rear door of an idling black Mercedes, and settled back into the soft leather seat. The car pulled into traffic.
“The guy didn’t want to fuck. But I got the pictures, and everything else went as ordered.” Sort of.
“Anyone see you?”
“Worthington’s taxi driver returned. I hit on him and he scurried away.”
“What?” she said.
“You were supposed to be a scared whore, running because her john had a heart attack.”
She rolled her eyes. “He barely spoke English.”
“That doesn’t matter! Dammit, Elise, can’t you do one thing right?”
“I did it all right, and I’m not going to take shit from you. Told the driver that my boss would beat me if I didn’t get back. Besides, he probably’ll just disappear. He’s a fucking taxi driver, not a rocket scientist.”
“You’re a fucking bitch.”
“I learned from the best.” She stuck her tongue out at the back of the driver’s head. Mona Hill was an old whore; Elise was the next generation. But right now, they needed each other. “They’ll find me and I’ll play my part. I’ve already done my research. This is going to be a piece of cake.”
“Don’t get cocky. There’s a lot at stake and we can’t afford any screw-ups.”
Elise scowled. Like Mona needed to tell her that?
Mona drove Elise ten minutes across town and pulled into a hotel roundabout. “Your john is waiting for you in room 606. Make sure you let the security cameras see you. And try to look at least a little scared.”
“Nothing scares me.” She took the card key from her driver.
“And that’s what’s going to get you killed, Elise. Fear can be healthy.”
Fear? Not her. Never. Fear wasn’t even in her vocabulary.
“This’ll be a rough one,” Mona continued, “but that’ll play to our benefit.”
“Maybe you should go fuck him then.”
“Get out, and remember who owns you.”
Elise got out of the car and slammed the door. No one owned her. She just let them think they did. She took a deep breath and tried to look scared.
It was hard to look scared when you’d been looking out for your own ass most of your life.
Because she had a hotel card key, she was able to access a side door and go up the stairs—not the elevator—to the sixth floor. She made a point to look down the hall both ways—let both security cameras see her, eyes downcast, looking skittish and guilty—then sought out room 606.
She let herself into the room. It was a whole world nicer than the motel she’d just left.
A man in his late forties lay partly clothed on the bed. She didn’t know his name and he didn’t know hers, but that didn’t matter. Mona knew exactly who he was.
He was playing with himself while watching porn on the hotel’s television. “You’re late.” He stood up. He was pudgy around the middle with a sharply receding hairline.
She pouted. “I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.” She looked at X-rated video he was watching. The girl was masturbating while sucking off the guy. “You want me to do that to you?”
“I want a lot of things.” He licked his lips. “How old are you?”
“How old do you want me to be?”
She smiled. “I’m legal.”
“You look younger.”
Because she was, but she wasn’t going to blow this job. Too much money at stake. Sure, she was a little nervous. Who wouldn’t be? But it wasn’t like she hadn’t done it before.
Elise walked over to the hotel bar and took out a bottle of vodka. She took a long swig, then put the bottle down. She moved things around a bit, put her purse down. The other mark’s phone slid partly out of her bag. She smiled, took another drink, and turned around.
He was right behind her.
“I picked this hotel because the walls are thick, and I want to hear you. Understand?” He grabbed her by the wrists. It hurt, but she didn’t react.
“Yes. I need the money first.”
He frowned, but gestured toward a white envelope on the desk. He dropped her wrists and went back to the bed, watching her closely. She picked up the envelope, glanced inside, quickly counted. Two hundred dollars.
That, on top of the thousand dollars she was being paid to set the jerk up. With the earlier job, she was pulling in over three thousand dollars tonight.
Not bad. But there was even more money for her down the road. Tonight was just icing on the cake.
She stuffed the envelope into her purse, adjusted the flap, then said, “What do you want me to call you?”
“Call me Daddy. And I’m going to spank you. Hard.”
This was getting better by the minute.
“Spank me, Daddy,” she said, and he did.
Sean woke up the moment Lucy climbed out of bed. He glanced at the bedside clock. It was 3:30 A.M.
Lucy slipped out of the room and Sean sat up. It had been months since Lucy had had a full night’s sleep. This insomnia of hers was going to wear her out. And him. He’d found himself napping during the day for a couple hours after lunch, and he couldn’t blame the heat.
It was more than insomnia. Lucy was physically and emotionally drained and wanted to hide it from everyone. Except, she couldn’t hide it from him even if she wanted to.
He’d thought she was fine. After they’d rescued nine abused boys who’d been used as couriers for a drug cartel, Lucy had seemed to be unfazed by the whole operation. She’d saved lives. But to save lives, she’d had to take lives. She’d had to lie about defying orders even though her boss suspected what she’d done. She’d wanted to come clean but couldn’t without damaging the careers and reputations of others.
She’d been put on administrative leave for two weeks and didn’t blink. They’d spent part of her leave in Sacramento with his brother and newborn niece. While she’d been upset about disappointing her boss, she’d appeared content. She’d spent more time with her brother Jack and Sean’s brother Kane than anyone else, but at the time Sean hadn’t thought much about it.
That should have been his first clue. When he’d first met Lucy eighteen months ago, she had kept herself closed off from others, icy and distant. It had been a defense mechanism to manage the pain and rage from her past. Constantly training, running for miles, working long hours. She didn’t let herself feel anything, and that meant the only time her emotions were free to escape was in sleep. And those emotions became nightmares, violent memories that Sean had helped Lucy overcome.
And for months, he’d thought they were over. After they’d moved to San Antonio in January, she rarely woke before dawn, her insomnia under control. But the nightmares had returned when they came home after her leave. He wanted to pull the truth from her, because he didn’t think she was being honest with him. She wasn’t lying to him … just omitting details. She never wanted to worry him. But what she didn’t understand, what Sean hadn’t made clear enough, was that holding back made him worry more.
He thought time would fix the problem, as long as he was here for her, and some nights she did sleep soundly. But not tonight. The urge to hit something propelled him out of bed. He’d put in an aggressive workout later. Instead, he followed Lucy downstairs.
He thought she’d be in the kitchen brewing coffee—he smelled the rich coffee beans Lucy liked—but the pool lights were on. He walked outside and saw Lucy swimming laps, her long, curvy body as graceful as a mermaid’s as she swam the breaststroke one way, flipped, and did the backstroke going back. He could watch her for hours. She’d swum in high school and college, but now she did it for fun. Or a workout. Or trying to out-swim her personal demons.
The late spring nights were cool, but not cold, and the early morning air was refreshing. It would be another humid scorcher today, but right now the weather was perfect. Maybe there was a benefit to getting up at three thirty in the morning.
Sean liked everything about the Olmos Park house he’d picked out for them, but the pool had sold him. It wasn’t as fancy as some of the others—no rock walls or elegant waterfalls or curving design. It was a large, black-bottomed rectangle and the only added touches were custom tiles along the edges and a raised infinity hot tub that dropped water into the pool below. When Lucy first saw the pool she grinned like a kid, then jumped in fully clothed. Such behavior was out of character, but also a testament to her complete and total joy, justifying Sean’s decision to purchase the house and surprise her.
Sean wanted that Lucy back. The Lucy he knew was still in there, waiting for the nightmares to run their course.
After twenty laps, Lucy slowed down for a few more, then got out and spotted him. “I woke you up,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
He handed her a towel and kissed her lightly on the lips. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She shrugged and dried off. “I feel better.” She drank from a water bottle. She was out of breath, but there was color in her cheeks.
He wrapped a hand around her neck and kissed her warmly. “I’m here.”
“I want to do more.”
“You do far more for me than you should. I need to stand on my own two feet. But having you here gives me peace. Know that. I’ll get over this funk.”
“It’s more than a funk, Lucy. We’ve been back for two months and you’ve only slept through the night twice.”
She frowned. “Are you keeping track?”
“No, not like that, but I love you and I know when you’re not sleeping.”
“The nightmares aren’t so bad,” she said. “They just seem real. They startle me, because I wake up at first not knowing that it was a dream. I think that’s what’s bothering me so much. There’s like a minute or two when I don’t know where I am, I don’t know who I’m with, I think I’m still there.”
“Where are you?”
She didn’t answer the question, not directly. “It changes.” But she didn’t look him in the eye, and he feared she was retreating further into the past, beyond the imprisoned boys in Mexico, back to the darkest time of her life, when she’d been held captive by a psychopath and repeatedly raped.
Sean hugged her tightly, because he had to. For him as much as for her. She grabbed him just as tight. She whispered, “Let’s go back to bed.”
He kissed her. He would have made love to her in the pool, on the lounge chair, anywhere, but Lucy would be nervous having sex outside. And he wanted—needed—her to relax and feel how much he loved her. He picked her up and carried her inside.
As soon as he stepped through the door, the house phone rang. Lucy jumped out of his arms. “It’s never good news before dawn,” she said and answered the closest phone. “Hello?”
Sean watched her face. In two blinks she’d gone from romantic to panicked to professional.
“I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” she said a few minutes later then hung up. “That was Juan. A VIP is dead. Doesn’t appear to be murder, but the circumstances are suspicious, and the dead guy is a government contractor with high-level security clearance. The powers that be want the FBI to take the lead.”
The way she spoke surprised Sean. “Do you know him?”
“Because you generally show more compassion for the dead.”
She hesitated then said, “SAPD reports that the guy, fifty-four, was having sex with an underage prostitute when he died. They think heart attack, the girl got scared and ran. The police think the girl robbed him after he died. She was scared that her pimp would beat her senseless if she didn’t bring back any money. And yet this pervert is the victim? If the police find her, they’ll terrify her even more.” She started up the stairs. Halfway up she turned around. “I’m sorry, Sean.”
“No apologies. It’s nice to see that fire back. But I will take a rain check on what you promised.”
She smiled at him, warm and genuine with a hint of teasing. “I’m cashing in that rain check tonight.” Then she ran up the stairs.
Maybe Lucy was okay. At least she sounded like she was back on track.
Sean went to the kitchen to make her breakfast. If he didn’t feed her before she left, he knew she’d go without until lunch, and after that morning swim, she needed fuel.
Copyright © 2015 Allison Brennan.
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Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty novels and many short stories. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, she lives in Northern California with her husband, Dan, and their five children.