|“Okay, what’s your cover?” Izzie fussed with my clothes again. Making sure everything was perfect down to the strand of hair.
“I’m Lilliana Grace, a high-level trafficker. I deal Ecstasy and Cocaine, exclusively. I’m twenty-seven years old and live on the south side. But no one needs to know that.” I reminded myself. My body pulsing, heart beating, ringing in my ears.
Izzie snapped her fingers in front of me. “Hey, focus. Ain’t your first rodeo.” She said fussing more.
I pushed her hands away. “It’s fine Izzie. Leave it.”
I wore a low cut, short-- too short— little black dress. When was the last time I had worn this dress? My heart fluttered and weighed heavier. Right. Miami beach. I should have bought a new dress. Shouldn’t have worn this one. His eyes flashed into my mind. The only woman he saw in a sea of other women on that beach that night. I pulled down at the edge of the dress. Willing it to be a bit longer.
“Would you stop that?” Izzie slapped at my hands.
She stared back down at the computer screen. “Okay, so you’re meeting with Maxwell Curtis and Lincoln Travis. Right hands to Silas Kane. Now we have it on good authority that Max is easy on the eyes so don’t get caught up in him. And Lincoln will probably be suspicious of you from the start. Be ready for that.” She info dumped on me. My mind was a whirlwind of information.
“Yeah right.” I nodded. “Easy on the eyes and paranoid. Got it”
“What else? What else?”
“I think I got it Izz,” I said reaching for the door handle. “Not my first time remember.”
Then why did I want to vanish into the shadows? Oh yeah. Silas Kane is the biggest crime boss in all of Sienna. Max and Lincoln his protégés. The most heinous of crimes could be linked back to them. I stepped down out of the van and smoothed out my dress. “I’m going in.”
“Wait, Lil’s.” She reached over to me. “Be careful, okay?”
Izzie was a friend, confidant and my handler. If I was going undercover she was my contact. If I was going out for drinks. She was my wingman. Izzie and I were inseparable. We were contacted by Sienna P.D. to go undercover and investigate Silas’s link to the crime in Sienna. I was certain that any crime could be linked back to Silas and his empire. From the pettiest of crimes to the vilest.
I walked a block to Clubber’s Row cursing the entire way as I stumbled in the heels. The Row was full of clubs from techno beats to grunge. Whatever you fancied, it was here. My focus was on the most prestigious of them all. The Inner Circle. Only the richest of the rich were seen there. And access was limited to those on the VIP list. I crossed the Square—a stomping ground for artists and musicians during the day. By night though it was alive with music and food. People content to enjoy the party outside then in one of the stuffy clubs. I liked how they thought.
“Alright remember, easy on the eyes and paranoid.” Izzie’s voice came through loud and clear in the hidden receiver on the side of my black rimmed glasses. A nifty little design from yours truly. On inspection, it would look like nothing more than intricate designs.
Easy on the eyes. Ha. I only knew one man that had been easy on the eyes. And he had stolen my heart. Only to take it to the grave with him. I absently spun the ring on my right middle finger, a peaceful calm washed over me. Still with me even when he wasn’t. One last job Lily. Than it would all be over. I needed to get Carson out of my head. Tonight needed to be all about Maxwell Curtis.
“I know,” I whispered. “Now shhh… I’m approaching the ropes.”
Two men, far from what I would call bouncers, stood on either side. Dressed to the nines in suits that were far more than my paycheck every week. One of them eyed me. Starting at my legs and working their way up to my eyes. Never actually getting that far.
I rolled my eyes. “Lilliana Grace. Guest of Maxwell Curtis.” Dropping his name got me a few peculiar stares from those waiting to gain access. Most of them women. I smiled big and proud. Let them use their imaginations. Maxwell was one of the top ten most eligible bachelors in Sienna. And yet not one woman was pictured hanging on his arm.
My only exchanges with Max were through text message. He was usually straight to the point. Never wavering from his intentions. It was business. Strictly business. The taller bouncer finally made it to my eyes, narrowed his and then checked the clipboard in his hand. My heart pounded in those few seconds as he scanned through the names.
He reached over, unhooked the velvet rope and stepped aside. “Welcome to The Inner Circle Ms. Grace.”
I swallowed passed the lump in my throat, forced a smile and nodded. “Thank you.”
It was a rush of adrenaline mixed with anxiety. I don’t even know what I was expecting when I walked into the Inner Circle. My eyes couldn’t focus on any one thing. They went from the aerial dancers randomly located throughout the room to the women perched up on pedal stools dancing around poles. Artfully clothed, I’ll add. The music was modern. The walls were red with dark wood molding. The ceiling was a mural that looked like it led to another world altogether. A piece of priceless art. It was modernly elegant. I’d even go as far to say it was exquisite.
“Holy shit,” I muttered.
“What? What is it?” Izzie sounded panicked.
I ignored her to keep from gaining any unneeded attention. Talking to myself was not a good first impression. It took a lot of self-control to keep from fidgeting. The dress hugging me at every curve was suffocating. He said to go to the spiral staircase on the other side of the room. My eyes searched and stopped on the stairs leading up to a second-floor loft. Even from here it looked intimate.
I pushed through the people. None paying any mind to me. Worked in my favor. I lifted my eyes to the lofts partition to a man. He was looking over it all, taking in the scene before him. A drink in his hand. I was captivated. The way his dark brown hair fell into his eyes. Wearing a black tee shirt.
Defiant to any types of authority. I knew someone just like that. And he had been my undoing once. He didn’t seem to care if he was standing in the most prestigious club. Might as well own it himself. No one ever actually saw Silas step foot into the club. I hadn’t realized that I was nearly to the first step when an arm shot out and blocked me.
I stepped back and narrowed my eyes up at the man. “Lilliana Grace,” I said it as if this shouldn’t be news to him. My invite was known.
He nodded and stepped aside. “I apologize Ms. Grace.”
“Not a problem.” I smiled.
My cover made me one of the highest level traffickers. It came with earned respect. It was time to put on the performance of my life. These were the big boys, not the low-level dealers I dealt with day to day. They would sniff an undercover cop from a mile away. A distant memory forced its way into my mind and I shuddered. I couldn’t afford to be distracted now. Not by him.
Ascending the stairs, I returned to my assessments of Maxwell. He was built, I’d give him that. His reputation as a fearsome force right on point. He had muscular arms and broad shoulders. His right arm a full sleeve of exquisite artwork. After weeks of detail work, I knew that he worked out at the High Rise—where he lived-- seven days a week. Didn’t eat out. And didn’t date. Not even a late night call girl to his penthouse. Most importantly he didn’t spend much time out of this club.
He turned his face, his eyes locking with mine. Those brilliant green eyes halted me. I could get lost in them. Already was. Showing me a whole world behind them. A world I knew intimately.
“Wow..” I breathed out.
“Hey, I know that tone. Easy on the eyes. Focus!” Lizzie reprimanded me. “We get it, he’s pretty.”
He wasn’t pretty. No. This man was gorgeous. Maxwell put on a sexy smile and closed the distance between us. “You must be Lilliana Grace.” He said extending his hand. I took it and could already feel myself getting wrapped up in the charmer. He kissed the back of my hand. “It is a pleasure.”
“Please, just Lily.” I insisted. My body betraying me as my cheeks turned red. Heat pulsed beneath them.
He smiled and it was beautiful. “Can I have my hand back?” I hadn’t even realized that I was still holding it.
“I am so sorry.” I said pulling away. More blushing to follow. “Where’s Lincoln?” I asked peering behind him. The second level was empty, except for the bartender on the far side. There was a handful of rounded booths against the wall. And a quaint dance floor in the middle.
“He is preoccupied. Like he usually is. But I promise I’m all you need.”
He was confident. Sexy. And all alpha. I could see the appeal. My attraction more than warranted. I was going to murder Trigger for putting me back in the lions’ den. I needed more time. Six months wasn’t long enough. All I wanted was a distraction from the pain. What I got was a reminder of what I lost. The love that was ripped away from me.
“Well then show the way, Mr. Curtis.”
We sat in the booth closest to the bar. I made sure to sit across from him facing the stairs. It was my only exit. My early years of training were kicking in. I could tell by the way his shirt sat in the back, that he was armed. He was observing me just as much as I was him. Suspicious maybe. I would be. New to him trafficker. Shows up in his city and starts asking questions about him and Lincoln.
“So Miss Lily, I have to ask. Why Silas? There are plenty of other options here in Sienna.” He asked leaning back into the leather seat. I expected this question. Silas was the top dog but not the only dog. There were others with just as much stake to a new trafficker in town.
“Silas has a strong reputation. His connections are astounding. Why not Silas?” I mirrored his position. Leaning back and resting my right arm up on the back of the booth. “And besides you and Lincoln come highly recommended.”
That smile again. It could, if I allowed it, be my undoing. Focus. “Is that so? Would you like a drink?”
“Bourbon.” Max raised his brow.
All it took was him to raise his finger for the bartender to start working. Dominating and he loved it. He demanded it with just his movements. The man knew what he wanted. “We’ll allow for a test run. To ensure we mesh well together. Now you said you were interested in the pills? Yes?”
“That’s right. I have a steady supplier for my other interests. Silas is known for his movement of pills. I think we could benefit each other nicely.”
“And how’s that luv?” The endearment. He was comfortable with me. Or maybe he uses it frequently. It was the latter. It needed to be the latter.
“Mr. Curtis let’s not pretend like you haven’t already secured my circle of connections. Or how far they reach? Which is abundant. Maybe we forgo those formalities.” I sounded like the crime boss that I was made out to be on paper. Confident. Strong. Unintimidated. “Yes?”
He was quiet for a while. Taking me in fully. His eyes never leaving mine while he rubbed at his chin. He was studying me and I was doing the same. Noting the small scar above his left eye. Nothing outstanding. But I caught it. A three maybe four-day-old stubble on the lower half of his face. It was attractive. Caught my attention. That was something. Max leaned forward, folding his hands in front of him and leaning his chin against them.
“Five thousand pills, 175,000. Delivery is on our terms. Non-negotiable. You must be present for the exchange. We don’t deal with middlemen.”
“Ha, a bit of a hypocrite, are we?” I interjected and leaned forward. Strong and confident. You need to be strong and confident. Do not let him intimidate you. “Aren’t you by definition a middle man?”
His eyes narrowed over at me and he leaned forward. “Let me tell you something luv,” A word had never elicited such a response from me. The term stirring something in the pit of my stomach. I rather liked the sound of it. “I am not nor have I ever been a middle man. See all of this.” He swung his finger at the club.
“It’s mine. Not Silas’s. Perhaps check your facts a bit better before making assumptions. Hmm?” his eyes still never left mine. So intense with a flurry of emotions. Like his soul was heavy with torment. Then they darkened. “Now the empire darling, I run the empire.”
“And Silas? Who is he?”
“The mastermind.” He admitted.
I was surprised he even shared that much with me. Curious. “Sorry if I offended you.” Don’t waver. Don’t come off weak. I had to stand my ground.
“You didn’t.” He relaxed again, leaning back and stretching out his arms on either side. “Now, just one more little detail.”
“And what’s that?”
He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small bag. I could feel my heart beginning to pick up. “A technicality really.”
“Of course.” I nodded. This was why detective Roth wanted me. I would push the limits.
“Absolutely not Lilliana! This crosses a line. You tell him you can’t. That you’re allergic to the cutting agents.”
I ignored her. That excuse worked for scum dealers. But this man. He would see straight through that weak excuse. He emptied the bag into his palm. Two blue pills laid out nicely in them. His large hands dwarfing them. “Cheers.” He said offering me one.
I forced a smile. “Cheers.”
“Don’t you dare Lilliana!” Izzie screamed into the receiver.
I snatched the glasses off of my face and shoved them in the space between my breasts. His brow arched and my heart jumped. I shouldn’t have done that. But she was going to blow my cover by screaming in my ear. We dropped the pill on our tongues at the same time. Swallowed. And then silence. Our eyes locked in a silent dance. I could see why they said easy on the eyes, I could stare at him all day. His eyes flared like blue flames. It was a split second and I was sure I had imagined it.
“Come, Miss Lily, dance with me.”