There was a good way to start a week, and there was a bad one. Aiden DeHart figured the jury was still out on this one.
“DeHart, microphones are live. Keep Ross near the car.”
“It's a Chevelle, Kathy,” he replied to the disembodied woman's voice only he could hear. He hated this, working with the FBI, but they had him by the balls.
“Yeah, whatever. Keep him near the Chevelle.” Kathy chuckled.
Aiden tapped the steering wheel of his Chevrolet Chevelle and rolled his eyes at the FBI agent chirping more reminders in his ear. Kathy was a good agent, a little too motherly for his tastes, but a good woman.
He tuned her out and cleared his mind, inhaling the scent of the beach. The simple truth was that every word he said needed to be carefully chosen. Microphones were all over the damn car, which irritated the hell out of him that his classic restore was getting adhesive all over the leather. He wouldn't normally allow it, but if this job led to taking down Michael Evers, it was worth it. The son of a bitch had murdered Aiden's sister and her cop husband to make a point to the Miami-Dade PD. His brother-in-law had been a good cop. A bit too good, unfortunately, and it had gotten both him and Andrea killed.
“DeHart, we're in place.” CJ's voice echoed in Aiden's ear. Great, he had not one, but two Feds in his head.
CJ and his wife, Kathy, were FBI agents undercover in Aiden's garage, and often worked support for him and his crew. He hadn't known FBI agents could be married to another agent in the field, but he had the proof under his roof. Hell, there was likely some extensive study with all sorts of data to justify the work/wed arrangement. He could imagine CJ spouting said data as he got down on one knee. Kathy and CJ were a . . . unique couple. He overlooked their
because they knew their shit.
“Try not to break too many laws,” CJ warned. They might be FBI, but the deep cover operation had them bending and breaking laws. Which was why it was Aiden doing this gig instead of his co-owner and best friend, Julian. While Julian was a full-fledged undercover FBI agent, Aiden was a contracted employee, or asset. He could break rules Julian couldn't, though that line had begun to blur as of late.
“No promises there. Going silent.” Aiden sucked in a deep breath and blew it out.
It was time.
He emptied his mind of the two people on the other end of the radio, of all the little things he needed to do today and simplyâlet go. The road stretched out ahead of him, a path to anywhere.
He hit the accelerator and shifted gears. The old muscle car roared to life. He blazed down the well-kept street, mansions sprawling on either side of him. His awareness narrowed to the bend in the road ahead and the gate leading to their target's home.
The humid Miami air rushed through the windows, beating him in the face and carrying with it the cry of seagulls. The scents of freshly cut grass, salt water, and flowers drifted on the wind. Here, there was no Latino hip-hop music breaking up the pristine silence. It was all opulence and wealth.
The gate yawned open to his right. He grabbed the hand brake, turned the wheel, and let the Chevelle drift sideways through the space. The whole car vibrated, tires squealing with the maneuver. A security guard in the gatehouse dropped a magazine out of the window and yelled something, but Aiden was already through and accelerating up the drive. Palm trees lined the quarter mile to the two-story mansion. The drive circled around a fountain. Several sleek sports cars were parked around the bend, like some fancy magazine spread. Those cars might have the flash, but his Chevelle had double the horsepower.
Aiden brought the car around the fountain, breaking and letting the tail end swing around. It made for a jarring, flashy stop.
Flash was what he was going for.
“Fuck, Aiden. Did you have to burn so much rubber?” CJ whispered in his ear.
The agent was a stickler for following the rules, and one of their biggest ones was: stay under the radar. The Feds didn't want to have to cover up their shit if Aiden got in trouble, which was bound to happen on occasion. CJ had proven to be an invaluable member of their team. Between his experience in the field and his wife's quick thinking, they'd saved Aiden's ass more than a few times.
He snorted and climbed out of the car. A trio of men in suits stood on the stairs leading to the grand double doors. It might have been impressive, except the whole community was one mansion trying to outdo its neighbors. At least a half dozen guys in suits hung around, hands poised on their barely concealed weapons. The whole setup was a little pretentious, but then again, men like Dustin Ross weren't exactly classy folk.
Two years ago, Dustin barely registered on the low-level crime scale. He'd climbed the ladder fast thanks to his greed, and he liked to show it off, unlike his boss, Michael Evers. What Dustin probably didn't know was that Evers ran through guys like Dustin every two years, using them up and spitting them out to save his own ass. Dustin was just the latest in a string of dummies stupid enough to get into bed with the Evers operation.
Aiden pushed his sunglasses up on his head and leaned against his car.
“Aiden DeHart.” Dustin shook the hand of one of the men he was standing with before heading down the stairs toward him. “Wasn't expecting you so soon.”
“I drive fast. You said you wanted to see me?”
“Yeah, why don't you show me what this baby can do?” Dustin didn't wait for permission. He climbed in the passenger side and settled in.
Well, that was easy.
“Sure. Whatever you say, boss.” Aiden sank into the driver's seat while CJ snickered in his ear.
Aiden didn't punch it hard out of the driveway. He did want to hear what the other man had to say, after all. And they needed a clean recording. Dustin suggesting they leave his propertyâwithout securityâconfirmed Aiden's suspicions. Whatever this job was, Dustin didn't want his boss to know about it.
In the grand scheme of things, Michael Evers was the real target. Dustin was just a stepping-stone to taking down the criminal mastermind. Jobs like this should never be personal, and yet here he was. Driving an asshole around one of the ritziest areas of Miami, neither speaking. Which was fine with him. Conversation with Dustin was about as stimulating as watching oil drip out of a car. He took his time, winding through the houses, around the properties and eventually out onto the highway.
“How fast does she go?” Dustin asked.
“One-eighty if I've got the distance.” The Chevelle wasn't a race car, though he liked its speed. It could perform, but he didn't like to push the car too much. It was a classic that deserved the respect of the road. He had a few newer, American muscle cars tricked out and outfitted for racing.
“Nice.” He cleared his throat. “I really appreciate that job you did for me. The guys were right when they said you were the person to go to if I wanted something done quietâand right.” Dustin peered at him through tinted glasses. For someone with so much money, he still seemed sleazy. Maybe it was the off-the-rack suit with the Rolex watch and store-bought tan.
“Glad I could be of assistance,” Aiden drawled. Thanks to a few dings on his record, the FBI had been able to embellish the truth a little. Between their additions and what came naturally due to racing, he had plenty of street cred and the experience to back it up. He doubted old Uncle Sam had intended him to put the skills he'd learned in the service to use chopping cars and pretending to be one of the bad guys.
“That street gang, they don't want to mess with us.” Dustin acted like he were the one who'd chopped six cars of the rival gang.
“They're punks. Kids. They don't have any business playing with the big boys. Just let them drive their toy cars in circles.”
Dustin approaching Aiden out of the blue like that had shocked him and sent their entire operation into chaos. While they'd had their heads shoved up Evers's ass, Dustin had begun a little war with one of the street gangs. One Aiden knew all too well because he raced against them regularly.
The Eleventh Street Gang was a group of wannabe gangsters for the most part, except they were getting a handle on their criminal lifestyle and were no longer quite so wannabe. Under the leadership of a new crew leader named Raibel Canales, their drug trade was starting to compete with what Dustin had going on for Evers. Typically Aiden and his partner, Julian, opted out of jobs that touched their racing community, but they'd made an exception this one time. If the Eleventh knew they'd intentionally scrambled a drug deal it could make their street races dicey. Except chopping the cars had also meant sidelining several new, teenage members. Hopefully they got kicked out of the gang lifestyle before they'd begun. It was a long shot, but they'd taken the job.
“I bet you'd teach them a thing or two in this beauty.” Dustin stroked the door as if he had any clue what was under the hood.
“If they had a brain cell between the lot of them, maybe.”
Dustin laughed. “I like you. You sure you don't want to come work for me? I could make it worth your time.”
“Sorry, man. I like being my own boss.” Aiden would rather give up his left nut than work for Dustin. He eased off the accelerator and onto the service road. They wanted everything Dustin said on tape without the rustling of the wind. “You wanted to see me about a job? I take it this isn't about cars.”
“Yeah. My ex-wife took some things that don't belong to her during our divorce proceedings. I want you to get them back.” Dustin tapped the door and tipped his head back, the breeze rustling his hair.
That was it?
“This sounds like a job for the cops.” He scowled, trying to remember who Dustin had been married to and when. It wasn't recent.
“Madison Ross,” CJ said in a low-pitched voice the rumble of the car almost drowned out. “They've been split for almost three years, divorced for six months. Dustin hadn't been the faithful type. Madison's clean. Seems like he did stuff and kept her out of it. She's filed a restraining order on him, looks like he's sent people after her in the past and they haven't been too successful. She must have been a real slugger, used a baseball bat on one of his thugs. There's a note in her file from the PD that they've been putting pressure on her to turn witness, but she's pushed back, citing fear for her safety. From all the notes, I think either there's someone keeping a close eye on her, or she's got an admirer on the force. We'll check it out. Could be why they need you.”
“I bet the detective's got a boner for her. I just found her online. She's a looker. Aiden's type.” Kathy and her sleuthing. Between her and their resident geek, Emery, they could uncover anyone's secrets. Except Michael Evers's. He had someone on his side that covered the man's trail like a pro.
“I want the cops as far away from me as I can keep them. Got me?” Dustin turned toward him once more.
“Yeah, I got it. What are you looking for?” This might be an easier job than he anticipated.
“A box of stuff she took from my office. There's an external hard drive I particularly want back.” The gig had to be more complex than that, but Dustin wasn't offering up more information.
Call him old-fashioned, but Aiden didn't like the idea of Dustin harassing a woman. He found it hard to believe Dustin's ex-wife would be a complete innocent. Something about the situation wasn't firing all cylinders. There was more to it.
“Aiden, we need him,” Kathy whispered. It was as if the woman could hear his thoughts. He wouldn't put that beyond the Feds someday.
“I just want the hard drive,” Dustin said. “It's about this big.” Dustin held up his hands. Going by his estimates, the drive was about six-by-eight inches. “Gray. It has a label that says
How had Madison come by the drive? If it was so important, why had Dustin allowed her to snatch it? And how come he couldn't just get it himself? Who was stopping Dustin? All questions he couldn't ask. To Dustin, he was a resourceful street tough. That was it. Too much interest would show his hand.
“What about your ex?” Aiden gripped the steering wheel harder. If Dustin wanted her roughed up or made to disappear, perhaps Aiden could work with it. Makeup and Photoshop could do wonders in this day and age.
“I don't fucking care about that cunt. Get the drive any way you can, but don't mention me. That's why I'm hiring you. I'll take care of Madison in time. I've got her right where I want her.”
Aiden's vision hazed red. Violence toward women was something he couldn't stand. Not even when he'd been deployed. There was a scar on his thigh from where a woman had attacked him. Julian had saved his ass that day.
He cleared his throat and banished the memories. “Sounds simple enough. Do you care how I get it?”
“Nope. I don't care. Just get the job done.”
Aiden nodded, though he had no intention of that sort of ending. If Madison was living above the law, she would stay alive and breathing. If not, well, the Feds could be very useful motivators in times of need. He was proof of that.
“How much trouble can one woman be? I'll do a soft meet, something she won't see coming.” He was spitballing a plan, hoping CJ and Kathy were already working on the bigger picture.
There were a few ways he could play the situation with this Madison, but he hadn't made up his mind yet which might yield her cooperation. He couldn't get a feel for what kind of woman would marry and stay with a crook like Dustin. He'd have to play this one off the cuff, and that was something he didn't like. After a couple years doing under-the-table deals for the FBI, he'd learned to have contingency plans for his contingency plan.