RAISING THE STAKES

(Redemption Club series, Book 3)

(ISBN: 9780990314585)




Prologue




“He’s going to find out everything.” Linda Castillo stood at the sink, wringing her hands.

Ivy Stone crossed the small kitchen that had always seemed homey and safe. Today, it was overcast by the long shadow of the infamous underground crime ring known as Redemption Club—and her father’s possible connection to it.

Ivy clasped her ex-nanny’s fingers to calm the older woman’s agitation. “We’re not certain yet that his case will go to trial. According to Dad, they don’t have a leg to stand on. Besides, you haven’t had any contact with him in over fifteen years.”

Not that it mattered. Anyone who’d been associated with Robert Stone during his fifty-eight years on this planet was at risk for being placed under the microscope. Both sides of the legal battle gathered ammunition, determining who was friend and who was foe.

“These are just routine questions,” Ivy assured Linda. “And if there’s anything to worry about, I’ll protect you.”

Linda reached over to cup Ivy’s cheek. “I know you will.” Linda had kept Ivy’s secret, and Ivy would keep hers. Briefly, Ivy allowed herself to lean into the comfort of the soft, paper-thin skin before pulling away.

Moving to the kitchen table, where coffee and freshly baked cinnamon rolls awaited, Ivy glanced across the threshold toward the living room of the modest three-bedroom home Ivy paid for in central Las Vegas, Nevada. Her gaze touched on the six children who were part of Linda’s in-home daycare service. It was a school holiday, so today’s group ranged in age from two to seven years old. They watched PBS and played on the floor. The January day would grow warm enough to play outside later, but it was too early yet. Ivy envied them their innocence and freedom. Her childhood had been extremely different.

Linda sensed the direction of her thoughts. “You’ve done what you could to keep attention away from me, but I’m afraid nothing you can do will stop the questions. I’ve told them nothing, but if I’m subpoenaed, what will we do?”

“If they put you on the stand, you answer truthfully.”

“Okay.” But Linda still looked worried. She didn’t deserve to be scared. She’d raised Ivy since she was four years old, had nurtured her when nobody else had—until she’d left suddenly when Ivy turned thirteen. Ivy had lost touch with her beloved nanny until they’d reconnected years later.

“We’ll worry about that if it comes to it.”

“It may already have come to it.”

“Is that why you asked me to come over this morning? Have Dad’s lawyers been bothering you?”

“They aren’t the only ones calling.” Linda gripped her mug tighter.

“The task force?” Ivy silently cursed. “I should have known. They’re leaving no stone unturned to build a case against Dad.” When corruption and Redemption Club influence had been exposed within the LVPD and even the local office of the FBI, a special task force had been created that merged trusted agents from various law enforcement branches in a joint effort to bring down the Club.

“There’s a man who insisted on coming by this morning. I can’t risk testifying against your father. I’ll lose everything.” They exchanged a knowing gaze. There was too much at stake. “I think it’s time, mija.”

“I’ll start making the arrangements, just in case.” Better to be prepared for any eventuality.

Ivy cast a glance toward the living room. One dark-haired boy stretched out on the floor on his stomach, his eyes glued to Elmo. The kids seemed bigger, longer and wiser every day. Time flew by so fast, and she wished she could hit pause or rewind.

Linda caught Ivy’s unguarded expression. “If this goes to trial, it’ll drag you down with him. Get away from your father while you can. There’s plenty of room for you here.”

“I know, but he needs me.” Her father needed her PR skills now, more than ever. So, she’d stay. And she’d fight, as her father had taught her to do.

A knock sounded and Ivy jumped. Several of the kids glanced toward the door, knowing it wasn’t common to have two visitors in one day. She sent them a reassuring smile and they immediately settled again.

The deep rumble of a male voice came from the entryway, but Ivy couldn’t make out the words. A moment later, Linda showed her guest to the kitchen. A familiar, wide-shouldered frame clad in an impeccable suit darkened the archway. The man’s smile was slow and deliberate as it moved from Linda to Ivy, his surprise at finding her in Linda’s kitchen evident.

“Ivy,” Linda began, “this is Devlin—”

“Grimm,” Ivy finished, ignoring the flutter in her stomach as she stood to face the man who ran Global Security Solutions.

“Please, call me Dev,” he said. He probably wanted to create a false sense of comfort where there was none. Knowing better than to trust anyone, Ivy only frowned.

Linda cast a curious look between them. “You seem to know each other.”

“We run in the same business circles,” Ivy said.

“But haven’t talked much,” Dev added, eyeing her. “Not about anything of importance, that is.”

“You’re not the only one he’s contacted about Dad,” Ivy explained, moving to Linda’s side in a gesture of solidarity. “Although why you’d contact Linda is a mystery. She hasn’t spoken to my dad in years.”

“As part of the task force, I try to be thorough,” Dev said.

“We have nothing to say,” she told him.

He arched a brow. “Too bad. I came all this way.”

“Sorry to inconvenience you.”

Dev turned the full force of his charm on Linda. “I was hoping you could help the task force put away the worst criminal Vegas has seen in decades. Besides, you’ve already got others wanting to talk to you.” He gestured toward the window that faced the front yard.

“What?” Ivy asked, drawing his attention back to her.

“Two men in a dark SUV across the street. I have a feeling they’ll want to know what your old nanny—a woman who was deep within Robert Stone’s household, possibly privy to his secrets every day for nearly ten years—had to tell me.”

“She told you nothing!” Ivy moved to the window. Sure enough, a nondescript car sat across the street. And her father’s right-hand man Archer sat in the driver’s seat. “They’re probably keeping tabs on you and the task force’s investigation. It’s only smart to know what the enemy is doing.”

“Princess, they were here when I got here.” Dev seemed to be analyzing every nuance of emotion that crossed her features.

Which meant they’d followed her. It was almost as if her father didn’t trust her, which hurt her more than she’d care to admit. “You need to leave now.”

“We can protect you. My agents at GSS—”

“Won’t be enough to take down Redemption Club.”

Dev studied her for a long moment, then turned to Linda, who avoided his gaze. He handed her a business card. “If you remember anything that could be helpful to our investigation, contact me. Make no mistake, there will be a trial. Stone will pay for the crimes he’s committed.”

“Allegedly committed,” Ivy said.

He sent her a grim smile. “Nothing alleged about those men camped outside this house. My guess is they’re Redemption Club members, wondering what the two of you are sharing with me. Think very carefully about who you’re going to trust—and who will keep you and your loved ones safe.”



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Copyright © 2009-2016 by Anne Marie Becker. All Rights Reserved.

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