Risk It All

By: Anna Perrin

Chapter 1



FBI special agent Jared Nash shut off the industrial-grade mower he’d been using on the grounds surrounding the Sidorov mansion. Sweat trickled under his sunglasses while he scanned the sprawling front yard, the dense hedges bordering the property and the quiet residential street beyond. Nothing. No overt signs of trouble at all.

He blew out a frustrated breath. Two and a half long days of staking out former Russian mob boss Dmitry Sidorov in Langeville, a small city east of Columbus, had worn on his nerves. A year ago Sidorov had left Brighton Beach, the Russian mob’s unofficial headquarters in the United States, after he had barely survived a spray of bullets. Since then he’d been living a quiet life, no longer involved in anything criminal, at least according to the organized-crime branch of the FBI. But Jared’s younger brother, Steve, had mentioned Sidorov despised him right before he had gone missing. Steve’s connection to the former mobster was a mystery and the only lead Jared had, so he’d gone undercover to check out Sidorov.

He hefted the mower and dumped it into the open bed of the battered Green Thumb pickup. The truck and equipment, as well as the T-shirt he wore, were courtesy of a local gardening company whose grizzled veteran owner had been more than willing to cooperate, no questions asked, with a federal agent.

Parked next to the truck, a silver Lexus sedan gleamed in the midday sun. Jared had already taken a good look at its briefcase-carrying owner and memorized the license plate so he could check up on Sidorov’s visitor later.

Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the hired muscle, Sergei Latschenko, pacing the length of the tennis courts. He had spoken to the guy several times and learned Latschenko had recently quit smoking. Nicotine withdrawal was making him twitchy—and potentially dangerous, because of the Glock 19 semiautomatic pistol he carried inside his leather jacket.

Steering clear of him, Jared retrieved hedge trimmers and rawhide gloves from the truck. The four-acre estate, with its exotic flower gardens and expansive lawns, required a lot of upkeep. His calves and back still ached from hours spent yesterday digging yet another freaking garden and transplanting a dozen hydrangea plants. The lawn-maintenance-worker gig meant he was free to roam the property, but it hadn’t allowed him access to the mansion, which was a serious problem. If he couldn’t wrangle his way inside, how could he gain more intel on Sidorov?

He’d spent a wakeful night, considering and rejecting scenarios to gain entry to the place. With Latschenko and his gun patrolling the grounds, it was too risky to head inside uninvited. The occupants of the house included Sidorov, his twenty-two-year-old daughter and his housekeeper. The latter he’d met briefly, and he’d noticed her tentative smile and kind eyes. Instinctively, he knew she would be his way in if he could gain her trust.

Early this morning, he’d seen her struggling to carry a huge terra-cotta pot from the shed, so he’d stopped unloading bags of soil from his truck and gone to help. She’d immediately taken pity on his hot, sweaty self and waved him into the mudroom, where she’d handed him a cold can of cola from the extra fridge located there. When the phone in the kitchen had rung, she’d gone off to answer it, her slippers swishing on the tile floor. He’d taken the opportunity to steal into the main-floor office and install a bug. He’d been sorely tempted to flip through the file folders on Sidorov’s desk, but decided that was pushing his luck.

Upon her return to the mudroom, the housekeeper had offered him a taste of her Russian cooking after his chores were done. The timing was perfect because he’d overheard Sidorov telling Latschenko they had a meeting across town in the afternoon. After he’d sampled the housekeeper’s food, he’d find a way to remain inside, check out the contents of those folders and search the house.

He walked to the perimeter of the property and began trimming a long row of hedges. A few minutes later, his sense of unease returned. He stopped and looked back at the house. In the distance, a shadow moved under Sidorov’s office window. Was it a shrub shifting in the breeze or the trouble his instincts had alerted him to?

Striding across the grass, he wished he was carrying his gun instead of hedge trimmers.

*

Brooke Rogers had no qualms about peering into strangers’ windows, but she usually got paid to do so. Today was a freebie for her sister.

Thirty minutes after their phone conversation, Savannah’s words still rang in her ears. “Trevor is cheating on me, Brooke.”

“What? No way,” she’d answered, her gaze skimming the final sentences of the document on her laptop, unconcerned by her sister’s pronouncement. Savannah, affectionately called Chicken Little by family and friends, was a pessimist who predicted dire outcomes no matter how innocuous the circumstances.

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