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Hamilton Spencer Nash was pissed the fuck off. This shit between him and Marian Dupree was at motherfuckin’ DEFCON1. Something was going to go thermonuclear, and soon.
As he greeted each of his guests, however, he kept all outward signs of his fury well hidden. He hadn’t wrecked a room in his house, though he was sorely tempted. He hadn’t punched anyone’s face in, though his palms itched for contact. He hadn’t marched around in a snit and taken his anger out on his associates, for that would be undignified, and they were not technically to blame.
He sat tight. Thought long and hard about what had happened, the how and the why it had come to pass. He debriefed those involved, checking and rechecking the facts.
And he’d come to the conclusion that Dupree was to blame. She and her bumbling little scout troop had interfered for the last time. And yes, he recognized how cartoon-villainish that sounded, thank you very much. Yet another reason Dupree was irritating: she brought out the worst in him.
He hadn’t gotten to where he was—the head of a powerful and lucrative organization—by throwing tantrums. He’d earned his wealth and position by maximizing opportunities while minimizing risks. By making calculated, rational decisions. By eliminating problems with surgical precision.
Dupree was a problem. Therefore she would pay. And pay dearly.
He knew something had gone seriously wrong when his pet firebug, Angelica, hadn’t met up with him at their rendezvous point. The girl was prone to panicky overreaction whenever she sensed the slightest danger, real or imagined, so the fact she’d never even called was ominous, indeed. And he never heard from her again, in fact—nor had his associates managed to turn up any sign of her. He had no definitive knowledge of what had actually happened to her—Dupree hadn’t bothered to inform him, the bitch—other than the firm belief that Angelica was dead at her hands.
He did not pause to consider he’d sent Angelica on a dangerous mission to burn Dupree’s precious Academy to the ground. The only fact that concerned him was that he’d lost a valuable member of his team. A loss he blamed on Marian Dupree.
It wasn’t a personal loss, per se. He’d had no emotional connection to Angelica, and he was not the sort of person to delude himself otherwise. In truth, not long before she went missing, he’d been wondering if Angelica was worth the hassle: the woman had taken an inordinate amount of coaxing and coddling to become even the slightest bit useful to him. But now that she was gone, he’d never know if she would’ve matured into a fantastically successful associate. And the loss of his profit, both realized and potential, wasn’t a pittance.
Nor was it something he was inclined to overlook.
Marian Dupree would suffer at his hands. She would experience the kind of setback he had, but on a much larger scale. She would be made to sacrifice, and she would know who was the author of her pain.
“I want everything you have on Marian Dupree and the Academy of St. Joan of Arc,” he announced calmly to the assembly.
The rest of his highest-ranking associates seated around his spacious dining table reacted with varying degrees of surprise and curiosity.
“Thought you said they were small time,” Brittani Rollins yipped impertinently. “Why the sudden interest?”
Hamilton leveled a penetrating stare at her, and she started to squirm. He dragged his eyes away once she’d been put in her place. “The situation has changed. What was once a minor inconvenience has become a serious problem.”
He paused once again to mentally tally the ledger. He’d had to abort the foreclosure-arson scam with Dale Dalton at Gulf States Bank—without a firebug, the fires would’ve actually looked like the work of an arsonist, and their crooked insurance claim adjustor had balked. Thousands of dollars had been pissed away with that one folded deal alone. Who knew how much more they might’ve made running the scam elsewhere?
Hamilton’s blood pressure rose once again at the thought. But he was careful not to let any of the others sense how out-of-sorts he felt.
“Round the clock surveillance. Tails on everyone who enters and leaves that place. Wiretaps. Financials. Grocery lists. I want everything,” he said in an even voice.
Several of the group nodded, understanding which of these tasks were meant for them without being specifically told.
“And I want someone on the inside we can trust.” He stared straight at Lane Cassidy, who’d established contact with one of Dupree’s pups. The mole’s allegiance was in doubt, as far as Hamilton was concerned. It was time for Lane to put the screws to the bitch and make her show her true colors once and for all.
“Spread the word: I want recruitment stepped up. Finder’s fees increased by twenty percent. Doubled if the new initiate comes from the Academy.” He paused for a moment for effect, then held up a month-old newspaper clipping of a grainy photograph: his only concrete proof she existed. “And twenty grand for the person who brings me this girl.”