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Hard Time by Loki Renard, Jane Henry (1)

Chapter One

Rico

I’ve bought down a lot of criminals in my career. Big ones, small ones, mean ones, nice ones. But never one like Jasmine Francoise.

There are some women who leave a mark on you - Jasmine is one I’d like to leave more than a few marks on. She’s irrepressible, incorrigible, and she’s at the top of my personal list of people who need to be behind bars yesterday.

She’s given me the slip more times than I can count, but she’s connected with a string of crimes which stretch across the country. The only daughter of the French Connection crime family, Jasmine was raised to be a princess. She could have spent her life lying back and taking the proceeds of crime, but she decided to get involved, and this little minx has been more successful than most men bred for their positions.

I keep her picture on my office wall, along with the shots of several other high profile criminals I’m looking for. She’s by far the prettiest. We don’t have a mugshot for her - yet. Right now, all we have is a surveillance photo.

She has pale blonde hair pulled back from her head in a more elegant version of a ponytail. Her features are exquisite, high cheekbones, a soft, near perpetual pout, and a pretty little nose which could have been sculpted by one of the Italian masters themselves. She has modeled before, both in France and in the USA. She’s a real high class broad. And she’s complicit in a series of crimes that are going to see both her and her brother go away for a very long time.

My monitoring software has just alerted me to the fact that young Miss Francoise is out in her Ferrari, regularly exceeding the speed limit. I know this because she has six different cars, every single one of them lojacked. I peel out in my nondescript Fed car to see what she’s up to. It soon turns out, it’s no good. Driving like a damned idiot, to be precise. Whenever that thing pushes the speed limit or shows up somewhere it shouldn’t, I’m alerted. I can’t actually bring her in unless I catch her in the act, but maybe I’ll get lucky today.

We’ve been looking for an excuse to bring her in. If she’s acting up, this could be that chance. Hunting her down through the grid of Manhattan is almost too easy. Even without the lojack, I probably could have found her. Jasmine is flamboyant. I spot the fire-red tail of the car in traffic. She’s not at speed anymore, and as she pulls away from the lights, she slows down. It’s like she senses I’m there. I don’t know how she pulls that trick off.

She likes to show her wealth. Likes to splash cash around. Likes to have an audience. She also likes to drive far too fast for her own good, or anyone else’s, but minor traffic offenses aren’t going to cut it. Either I let her go now, or I take this opportunity to try and shake her up a little. See what comes out of it. I put my lights on and she pulls right over. We’ve done this dance before.

She smiles at me as I get out of the car and swings her long blonde hair over her shoulder, so she can give me the full force of her smile. She’s not surprised to see me. Over the last few months, we’ve developed a relationship of antagonists. I’m old enough to be her father with my forty-eight years to her twenty-two. She thinks she knows it all. She’s cocky and cool as ice. She’s been brought up to believe that nobody can touch her. She’s wrong.

I’m going to do more than touch her. I’m going to bring her and the rest of her family down. I’m going to make her pay for the crimes she’s committed. The French Connection are a menace. Even if they’re not directly responsible for some of the worst kinds of crime, they’re accessories to most of it.

“Sometimes I think about running when you do that,” she purrs at me in pretty accented tones. “Would you chase me, Ricky?”

There’s no going undercover with the French Connection. When our man died two years ago, the cover was blown. They know us almost as well as we know them. Sometimes I think they might even know us better.

“Out of the car please, ma’am. Hands on the hood of mine.”

She does as she’s told, swinging her legging-clad legs out of the vehicle. She’s a short girl, but she’s trying to make up for it with the most ridiculous high heels I’ve ever seen. Must be like trying to drive with a pair of hooves on.

“I missed you, Ricky.” She says the words over her shoulder as I approach from behind to do the pat down. Her smile is a little too bright. And her tone is entirely too familiar. “I know you go through my trash. Shall I throw some dirty panties in there for you to sniff?”

She’s being provocative. And rude. She’s trying to get under my skin, but I’ve been doing this job for far too long to let that happen. But she does affect me. My palm itches with the desire to whip her shapely ass. She’s a spoiled princess. New York is full of them. Most of them are harmless. Not this one.

I run my hands briefly, professionally, up the insides of her taut thighs. It’s unlikely that she’s secreted a weapon in her pants, but you could fit a slim blade or something in there I suppose. I’m not expecting to find anything as I round her hips, but I do. Underneath the fabric of the shirt which covers her rear, I find something hard and familiar.

“I’m going to guess you don’t have a license for this,” I say, slipping it out of the holster.

“You’d guess wrong.”

Getting a concealed carry permit in NYC is almost impossible, especially for the daughter of a criminal family.

“Check my purse,” she says, sensing my doubt. “It’s legit.”

I take the gun and go get her purse from her car. She’s just given me consent for a search. That means if I find something in this bag, she’s coming in today. I rifle through the contents, hoping to find some evidence of drugs. I find nothing, except the carry permit, which seems to be legit.

“And how much did that cost you, girl?”

“Probably more than you make a year. Then again, most things I own do.”

Oh she’s a spoiled, snotty little brat. Images of what one of my agents, Colt, did to his girl Sonya flash through my mind. He took her over his knee in front of me. This girl needs an even harder, longer punishment. She needs that cocky, impudent, bratty little smile whipped off her face.

“Maybe you should spend less time harassing me and more time chasing criminals.”

“You are a criminal, girl.”

Her smile grows broader. She could be on a toothpaste commercial right now.

“You can’t prove anything.”

I lean in over her. “Maybe not today, Miss Francoise. Maybe not tomorrow, but when I do, you’re going away for a good long time. You mark my words.”

She laughs, a bright, tinkling sound of amusement tinged with disdain. It’s the perfect pitch to make me want to take my belt off and use it on her until that laughter turns to her begging for the mercy she doesn’t deserve. This girl is beautiful, and dangerous as all hell.

Her time is coming. She doesn’t know it yet, and all the warnings in the world won’t get through to her, but she’s is going to find herself in my custody sooner or later.

“So am I free to go?”

I don’t have anything to hold her on. So technically the answer is yes, but I’m not letting her off the hook that easy. You can get a lot of information out of people in these casual settings, especially when they think they’re free and clear. Nothing is more dangerous to a criminal than relaxing around law enforcement.

“Where are you headed, Miss Francoise?”

“Uh, none of your business.”

She smirks as she says it. She enjoys teasing me. She should hate me. Most of her family does, but she doesn’t. I can see it in her eyes, even though I’m far too old for her, and we both know it.

I run my eyes down her body. She’s dressed impeccably, hot pink skirt clinging to her lithe curves, which I know she must work every day for. Funny how the same clothing which makes a poor girl look trashy somehow looks fine on a rich girl.

Then again, Jasmine is more than just a rich girl. She has a body for the gods. Curves in all the right places, a figure which is generous and yet well taken care of. She’s the sort of woman it would be easy to fall for - many men have, mostly to their detriment. A real little femme fatale this one.

I’m not her father, but damn if I couldn’t be her daddy.

“Why do you want to know?” She asks the question, arching her brow and giving me a little smile calculated to make a man’s heart flutter. “Do you want to come along, Ricky? Do you want to join in the fun?”

“Your kind of fun isn’t my kind of fun, Miss Francoise - and my kind of fun would not be yours.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.”

She leans against the car and smiles that brilliant, mischievous, oh so naughty smile.

My kind of fun would be having her tied up hand and foot, arched over a leather covered bench, those gorgeous thighs and that stunning ass well marked with leather strokes. My kind of fun would be seeing that perfectly made-up mouth with lipstick smeared and pouting open as she writhes on the verge of orgasm, those laughing eyes wide with lust… I am very much distracted by this young lady, and I can’t afford that.

“Believe me, Jasmine. My kind of fun involves you getting what’s coming to you.”

She stands upright, leans forward and gets close to me, her mouth only an inch or two from mine. We are standing by the side of a relatively busy road in the middle of the day; there are people everywhere. But right now, there’s only Jasmine.

“Tell me, Ricky,” she breathes. “What’s coming to me?”

I look down at her, thinking all the dark, deviant things I’d do to her, and I give her the answer I have to.

“Prison.”

She pouts and shakes her head. “No, no, Ricky. Girls like me never go to jail. You know that.”

Unfortunately, and most frustratingly, she’s right.

Jasmine! What the fuck are you doing?

A car comes screaming up beside us. A late model Maserati driven by a blond young man who has several features in common with Jasmine. It’s her older brother, Leon Francoise, and he is not happy.

He parks ahead of the two of us and jumps out, his handsome face twisted in anger.

Jasmine stiffens as he comes over to us. The smile drops from her face. It’s a stark transformation.

“Is there a problem here?” Leon demands.

“Move along, sir.”

“You’re talking to my sister, Rico. I don’t like it when you talk to Jazz. She’s chatty.”

“I haven’t said anything, Leon,” she glowers.

I know this family is tight. This isn’t a sign of disunity. This is the squabbling you get when a big brother tries to boss his sassy little sister around. Leon is protective of Jasmine. If he’s not careful, that will be their downfall.

I lean against my car and smile. It’s a patented look to make a criminal wonder what I know. This isn’t entirely fair. There’s a good possibility I’m getting Jasmine in some trouble here. I hope I’m giving them some reason to worry.

This family is far too cool and collected. They don’t make mistakes. It’s my job to probe around, hopefully force one. And I don’t believe Jasmine for a second when she said she wasn’t going anywhere. Leon was only minutes away, and there was real anger in his voice.

On her own, Jasmine had me charmed to the point I was going to let her go. Now, I’m thinking I need to do a sweep of that car.

“Do you object to me searching your car, Miss Francoise?”

They exchange looks. Oh yes. Here we go.

“You haven’t got any probable cause.”

“I don’t need probable cause. I need reasonable suspicion. And right now, I’m reasonably suspicious.”

“Why?”

“You were speeding, Miss Francoise, and you’re in possession of a weapon.”

“I have a license!”

“Still. Stand aside.”

“Hey, we don’t give permission!” Leon butts in, just as I knew he would. “Get out of her car.”

“Mr. Francoise, get in your vehicle and leave, or be arrested.”

“Fuck you,” he growls.

“Leon, go,” Jasmine says. “Just go, okay!”

There’s an edge to her voice. She’s a smart cookie. She knows what I know, that he’s making this much worse for the pair of them.

“I’m not leaving you,” he says. “You’ll let him walk all over you. Like you always do.”

“I don’t let anyone walk all over me, Leon. Va vite! Tu fait des probleme!”

That sparks a furious, far too fast for me to follow, conversation in French.

While they squabble like a pair of children, I start searching the car. The glove box is clear, and there’s not much else in it. It seems like it’s clean, but I don’t think it is. Jasmine and Leon are far too worried for there to be nothing of note here.

I pop the trunk and walk around to open it. Just as I do, Leon lunges over and slams it down, just barely missing my fingers.

That’s it.

“Turn around, sir. You’re under arrest.”

“Fuck you!”

“Turn around. Now.”

He seethes at me, his bright eyes spitting blue fire. He’s angry. Very angry, and not just because I pulled his sister over. I’m interrupting something important. I can sense it. I just don’t know what.

“Fuck you,” he repeats.

“Leon, stop!” Jasmine’s plaintive attempt to calm her brother does nothing.

I grab him by the arm, put another hand on the back of his neck and swing him around. Leon’s a decent sized man, but I’m a big one, and I spend as much time in the gym as he does, if not more.

His attempt at struggle ends up with him slammed face down on the hood of my car. I snap the cuffs on as he swears at me in a torrent of French. I pat him down, then put him in the back, mentally counting the charges. There’s going to be at least one charge of obstructing law enforcement, another of attempted assault on an officer of the law. A word in the judge’s ear, and he won’t be getting bail any time soon.

This is turning into a very good day.

“Agent Rico, please…” Jasmine makes an attempt at pleading with me, but I’m not listening. Both these cars are getting searched. I go to the Maserati first. Leon’s car contains a bit of weed and a huge roll of cash, which I confiscate.

When I’ve made sure he doesn’t have anything on him, I go back to Jasmine’s Ferrari and open the trunk. It’s empty. Or at least, it seems empty at first. I poke around, pushing at the internal panels until one gives with a satisfying click.

Merde,” Jasmine whispers softly to herself.

There’s a soft black velvet pouch inside the compartment. I pull it out, open it up, and look down at the sparkling contents. Diamonds. A lot of diamonds. And not a single one of them legally imported, I’ll bet.

I turn to her, my brow raised.

Jasmine’s lips have gone tight. There’s tension around her eyes.

“They’re not mine.”

Rich or poor, they all have the same excuses.

“Turn around, Jasmine. You’re under arrest.”

Something about this doesn’t feel right. It’s too easy, and it’s messy on their part. These people don’t make mistakes, and this is a huge one. In the back of my mind, I wonder what I’m missing. But it doesn’t matter. I have a reason to bring both of them in, and I’m going to do it.

I don’t expect her to come quietly, necessarily. But I don’t expect what she does next.

She panics and makes a dash for the driver’s seat, and I know what she’s going to do before she does it. She’s trying to run. Unfortunately for her, she can barely move in that tight little skirt and those high heels. She’s hobbled herself. It’s no effort for me to stride over just as she totters into the seat and snatch the keys from the ignition.

I stand over her, my shadow falling over her bowed head. I’ve imagined this moment more times than I can count. It doesn’t feel as triumphant as I thought it would. In the end, it’s Jasmine who speaks first.

“I’d like my lawyer, please.”