Tori Chazov isn't exactly the girl next door. For one, if the neighbors found out she's an FBI asset and the daughter of a KGB defector, she'd have to grab her go bag and run. Then there's her day job: making magic happen under the hood of big beautiful muscle cars. She's more likely to be wearing engine grease than mascara, and most guys don't fantasize about their mechanics.
But then most girls don't fantasize about FBI tech geniuses, either, and Tori has it bad for Emery Martin. Emery has a past. She can see it in the way he keeps his body honed like a weapon, in the mysterious scars under his snap-button shirts. She can see it in the way his eyes follow her around the room, even though he never says a word.
He's going to have to start talking now, though. A vicious Russian hit squad is on the way to Miami to take Tori out for good. And without Emery's help, she might not make her last great escape . . .
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By Sidney Bristol
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sidney Bristol
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Some operations he could see unfold before the first move ever happened.
Emery Martin watched the little drama go down across the street where two Iranian jewel thieves were no doubt pissing their pants, surrounded by six federal agents. Emery sipped his martini, but he couldn't enjoy the taste. He hadn't been able to think about anything since his last conversation with the frightened thieves.
The Russians are sending someone to Miami for a hit. It's not us. Word is it's because of some old grudge, but we don't want to be anywhere nearby when that goes down. You can get us out of here, right? They said you were the man to talk to if we could pay the price.
There were only two people in Miami the Russian mob might want to take out badly enough to send a hit team after them instead of hiring some local dime-bag thug.
The Chazov twins.
Emery fired off a quick text to the arresting agent. He'd struck a deal when the case agent came to him with a gig outside of Emery's current operation. Emery would work his regular, high-end document-forgery angle, keeping the thieves stateside long enough to get a warrant, and the Feds would allow Emery first crack at them. Undercover, he could only ask so many questions before the thieves got suspicious. It was time for the suit to live up to his part of the bargain and for Emery to get answers.
Though Emery was employed by the FBI as an agent and field tech, his role was much more elaborate. Deep cover. He leveraged his ruined reputation and embellished criminal past to create a persona that fit the FBI's needs, while he got to work for the good guys and pull in a paycheck that didn't leave him hating the air he breathed. It was a deal that worked.
His phone buzzed with an incoming text.
It wasn't an ideal location, but he needed to know for sure why an assassin team was coming to Miami.
Emery kept his head down, slipping out the back door of the club and into the alley. No one would comment about him making a clandestine exit. After all, everyone knew Emery was a money launderer and go-to guy when the needs were high tech. Too bad the majority of his customers wound up in jail or passing on merchandise that was bugged by Uncle Sam.
An unmarked van idled at the end of the alleyway. He kept close to the brick wall, eyeing the van. A man stepped out of it, closing the door quickly behind him. The yellow FBI letters were emblazoned across the back of his bulletproof vest.
"Seriously? Are you trying to make me?" Emery glanced from the vest to the arresting agent. The last thing he needed was for someone to link him to the FBI.
The agent ignored his protest. "They said someone's coming to do a hit on some girls. That's all they know."
"They — who? He mentioned a hit team." Emery jerked his head toward the van. He'd learned a few things while stalling the thieves. Like all the lowlifes in Miami were suddenly finding somewhere else to be for the foreseeable future.
"Doesn't know who. Just that it's the Russians sending them. Got to get them to lock-up." The agent thumbed toward the van with one hand and held out the other.
Emery shook it, trying not to grimace.
"Don't mention it," Emery replied. He stepped back, keeping to the shadows and put as much distance between him and the van as he could.
Assassins in Miami.
That was the last thing he needed.
He paused at the end of the alley and watched the van pull out onto the street. It merged with the evening traffic, blending in seamlessly. He was already mentally sorting the who's who of the Russian mafia in the States. He'd made it his business to know each and every face, their record and family vendettas. The FBI wouldn't appreciate his recreational uses of their intelligence, but he couldn't find it in him to care. Not where she was concerned.
Tori Chazov was his every temptation. The one bright spot in dark days strung together in a blur of surveillance and counterintelligence. Emery's life was a twisted mess, but hers made his appear to have been a cakewalk. Tori and her twin, Roni, were the daughters of a KGB spy turned American informant almost thirty years ago. Their old man was dead, but the girls were still kicking. They were also part of Emery's undercover FBI team, pretending to be nothing more than talented mechanics at Classic Rides, a garage that specialized in muscle-car restoration. Though Emery had never been tasked to keep an eye out for those who still had a beef with the Chazov family, he did it for Tori. Not that she knew, or would even appreciate his vigilance, but it made it easier for him to sleep — when he could manage to close his eyes, which wasn't very often lately.
He turned the corner and strode through the alley, heading toward the valet lot where he'd left his ride. If something bad, of the Russian variety, was coming to town, it couldn't be good for Tori or her twin sister, even if they weren't the intended targets, which he found unlikely. There was no connection between the Russian mob and the criminal organization their crew was stalking. None at all. There wasn't even a Russian presence in Miami to speak of. So why now? What were they after?
He needed to set scans to run all TSA screenings against his database, which was on top of his current mammoth workload.
Three months ago, he'd thought the team was finally in the clear, that their primary objective was completed and the job done. The whole purpose of their team setting up in Miami was to take down the kingpin of the biggest drug ring in South Florida, which they'd done without harming a single civilian. Except their target, Michael Evers, was still in police custody. Not rotting in a federal penitentiary. And there were no new marching orders. Add to it a rival street racing gang who wanted to see Emery's crew dead, and he'd spent more time lately watching his rearview mirror than the road ahead of him.
"Shit," he muttered.
He hovered in the alley as two patrol officers and a man in a polo shirt and slacks walked around Emery's Tesla Roadster. The hundred-thousand-dollar car was a hand-me-down from a government bust, meant to bolster his street cred. Too bad it also made him stick out at the least opportune times.
Emery sucked in a deep breath. He wasn't a people person, preferring his bank of computer monitors to actually dealing with the living. The last person he wanted to interface with was Detective Matt Smith. The cop had kept his distance after Aiden brought him in to make the arrest on Michael Evers. What was more, Matt knew their secret and hadn't shared it, to Emery's knowledge. At least he hadn't e-mailed, texted, or chatted about it. To cover their asses, Emery had hacked the good detective's accounts and set up a program to record every keystroke. Matt hadn't so much as run a search on any of them.
That was a lie.
Matt had looked up Roni's record once, but nothing came of it. Emery had ensured the girls had nothing out of the ordinary in their public files. Still, it was curious.
Emery pulled out his phone and activated the app that connected to the car. The electric vehicle had almost a full charge and it didn't appear that the detective had attempted to tamper with the vehicle. Good for both of them. Emery had somewhere to be. Too bad it didn't appear as though Matt was going anywhere.
"Can I help you, Officers?" Emery strolled toward the trio and one nervous valet, hands at his sides.
Detective Smith stood at the front of the car, hands on his hips. He'd pushed his sunglasses up on his brow, messing up his perfectly gelled blond hair. Aiden, the coleader of their crew and Classic Rides, their operation's front business, had nicknamed the cop Golden Boy, which was fitting. To Emery's knowledge, Matt colored inside the lines.
"You wear something besides your grandpa's clothes?" Detective Smith smirked.
Emery stared at the detective. He'd heard every variety of insult in his life. Picking on his clothes was about as boring as it got. Besides, the clothes were designer — some name brand all the South Beach hotshots were wearing. Yeah, it looked ridiculous, but it also helped his high-rolling, go-to-guy image.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"Checking on a stolen car report. Running serial numbers, that's all."
Was this some kind of code? Did Smith want to talk? Then why bring the uniforms? Only an idiot would think the Tesla was stolen.
"Where's DeHart?" Smith asked.
"I believe he has a date tonight, so you'll have to get in line for your good-night kiss." For a couple months, before their crew got involved, Matt had tried to shield a woman named Madison Haughton from her ex-husband, one of Michael Evers's fall guys. Emery, like many others, had suspected the detective of being sweet on Madison, but Smith wasn't her type. She'd moved in with Aiden DeHart and had all but taken his last name in the intervening three months.
Matt stalked around the car and got up in Emery's face. The detective was about the same height, but Emery was willing to bet the good ol' cop would go down easy. That was the problem. Cops had to fight fair, while Emery fought to survive. He'd had plenty of practice and had managed to keep most of his skin, while he was willing to bet Matt had only ever suffered scraped knuckles and a black eye.
"I need to talk to DeHart," Matt said, pitching his voice low.
That was it?
Something had to be up if the detective couldn't just ring the Classic Rides garage, but this wasn't the place to talk about it. First the Feds, now the cops — there was far too much brass in this part of Miami tonight for Emery's taste.
"We'll be in touch." Emery pitched his voice louder so the uniforms heard. "Unless you have something of worth to say to me, get away from my car."
Matt glanced down. "That knee of yours is looking a little tight. Bothering you?"
Emery didn't say it, but he sure as hell tightened his right hand into a fist. Matt had to be snooping on a device that Emery hadn't hacked yet if he knew about Emery's knee injury. Instead, he gestured to the valet, who produced his key fob.
"Don't let me catch you sniffing around my car again, Detective. You won't like the consequences." Emery would have to dig around on the detective a bit more. Truth was, they could use him. Especially if Smith could tell them why Evers wasn't in federal custody.
Something wasn't right, and Emery had to get to the bottom of it all before shit hit the fan. His team relied on him to head off or warn them about possible threats.
He dropped into the Tesla and slid his phone onto the cradle. The engine hummed to life, barely noticeable compared to the noise other cars made. The suit jacket and button-up shirt were stifling, but he didn't have time to shed them. The cruiser backed off, giving Emery enough room to burn a little rubber as he left the lot. The cops didn't make any move to tail him, but he still kept an eye on his six.
Unlike the rest of Emery's crew, he worked away from the garage and cars, in a fortress of solitude and servers. Not many knew he was connected to the mechanics at Classic Rides, and he liked it that way. It gave him the freedom to perform tasks the others couldn't. Which meant it was probably easier for Matt to approach him, rather than the others, without drawing notice.
The on-board computer muted the music as the clatter of an old-timey phone rang through the speakers.
"Incoming call from Tori," the mechanical voice announced.
His pulse jumped. Were the Russians here already?
"Answer," Emery said.
The car's system beeped, activating the call. He tapped the steering wheel and consciously decreased the pressure on the accelerator.
"Hey, are you at home?" Grease. Laughter. Mint gum. Torn coveralls. A hundred little details about her he'd catalogued flitted through his brain. There was a new one to add to his list. Strain. Her voice didn't contain any of the sunshine it usually did.
"No. I'm headed there. What's up?" Screw it. He accelerated, cutting in front of an eighteen-wheeler and turning onto a side street, then onto another two-lane road, zigzagging his way through the heart of Miami.
"I just ..." She sighed. "Roni's going to the Orlando Race Battle with the others."
He scrambled to recall the discussion they'd had about the merits of the trip to Orlando in their last get-together at the Shop, a warehouse they'd outfitted for their less-than-legal operations.
On one hand, the crew had a lot of targets on their back, and dividing the team for an upstate race was leaving them handicapped in Miami. Their line of work attracted adrenaline junkies, and the best way to blow off some steam on this operation was to engage in a little illegal street racing. Staying active on the race scene kept them up to date on all the shady dealings in Miami. The downside was that they'd gained some notable enemies. Like the Eleventh Street gang who the crew had gotten involved in a shoot-out with just a few months ago. The Eleventh Street's leader, Raibel Canales, was still deep underground, running from the cops and Emery's crew. There was a small chance Canales could show up, which would give them an excellent opportunity to bust his ass.
A serious point of contention was Roni, Tori's sister. Not only did the Eleventh and Evers want her dead on principle, but she'd bled all over a crime scene. The cops hadn't connected her to it — yet — but they would eventually. Having Smith in their corner would be handy to know what was rolling down the hill at them, but until tonight all members of their crew had kept their distance. Add to it there might be some extra heat from the Russians, and he wasn't sure the race was a good place for Tori's sister.
"What do you want me to do?" Short of murder, there wasn't much he wouldn't do for Tori. It was a new, sad state of his obsession that he realized just how far he was willing to go.
"Can you keep a tracker on her?"
"I already track everyone through cell phones and the GPS in your cars." Did Tori know? His other sad, sick fascination was pulling up her location on an auxiliary screen while he worked, watching her red dot blink, teasing him with all the things she might be doing.
"No, I mean, something she wouldn't take off or intentionally disengage."
So Tori knew. Had she given him the shake before?
Emery checked his rearview mirror. He'd hit a quieter side street and the only lights behind him were overhead. Coast was clear. He pressed the accelerator, kicking up his speed.
"What do you have in mind?" Tori had a way of leading people into her plans. Smart, because she wasn't seen as the instigator. The others never noticed, and truth was, Tori had a sharp mind for strategy, but she wouldn't play those tricks on him.
"Roni broke the clasp on her necklace. I picked it up and was thinking ... could you do something with it?"
"Not sure. I'd need to see it." He could picture the necklace in detail — both twins wore them. Gold chain, nothing too fancy, with a locket smaller than a dime and a charm featuring one of her saints. He'd never figured out which one of the Russian Orthodox figures it was because he rarely allowed himself to get that close.
It was one thing to admire Tori, to be conscious of her movements, but he'd drawn the line at seeking her out. Being in close proximity to her. Girls like her didn't exactly date the resident geek.
"Well ... that's what I called about. I was kind of hoping you were home, but I guess you're out tonight."
"Where are you, Tori?"
He glanced at the phone, itching to pull up her location via the tracking app he'd created for their team. She was at his house? Tori knew where he lived? The only team members who'd been inside his house were CJ, Kathy, Julian, and Adrian. The rest more or less ignored him unless something was broken or they needed a bit of tech.
"I'll be there in fifteen. There's a gate to the left of the house. Go through it and wait on the patio."
"Yes, sir." She chuckled and he could hear the squeak of the gate. "I knew you lived in a nice area, but I don't think I realized how fancy it was."
The house was another government seizure they'd handed down to him. From the paint to the knickknacks, even some of the photographs, it wasn't his. He might sleep and eat there, but the house would never bear his thumbprint.
"Man, we need to have pool parties at your place."
"Anytime." The pool and the converted shed were the only features he made regular use of. What would it be like to take a break from work, go out by the pool, and find Tori sunbathing?
It was temptation, the likes of which he didn't need.
Excerpted from Shift by Sidney Bristol. Copyright © 2016 Sidney Bristol. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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