Book One of the FBI Affairs Series
by Suzanne Baginskie
Las Vegas – Midnight, 1999
Stay calm. Deny everything.
FBI Agent Noelle Farrell, alias Tina Ryan, longed to be miles away from the glitzy neon lights of Las Vegas. Instead, she rode the express elevator of the Galaxy Hotel & Casino with its President, her fiancé, Nick Marino. While the car lowered, she reassured herself tomorrow night she’d be at home with Lauren, her four-year-old daughter, if she’d survive the next few hours.
“You were the last one to handle the flash drive. How could it just disappear?” Nick frowned in her direction, leaned back, and crossed his forearms over his broad chest. Anger sparked in his dark brown eyes.
“Nick, I’ve already told you. I locked it in the safe, as usual.” Noelle braced herself, the charade must go on. Her fingers fiddled with the two-carat diamond engagement ring weighing down her left hand. The expensive piece of jewelry was as alien as their relationship but acting her part to perfection had made her privy to Nick’s illegal betting accounts. Mission accomplished. Almost.
The elevator halted. Soft bells chimed before the doors hissed opened. Nick stormed out swearing. He paused, whirled around, and faced her with his right hand curved into a fist.
“You need to understand how important this is. The casino’s private accounting backup drive is missing. As the hotel’s CEO, I’m responsible. That USB drive holds confidential information. If it gets into the wrong hands…” Nick’s long fingers raked through his short, spiked black hair. His lips tightened.
Noelle’s heart pounded against her ribs. His accusing tone almost forced her to press the up button. She stood strong. She hadn’t come this far to fail. “Dear God, please watch over me, for Lauren’s sake.” Head angled high, she ventured over the threshold and into the private lobby. Darkness spilled in through the massive plate-glass windows filtering out the flashing neon city displays. Not a soul stirred.
Gaining access to the flash drive had taken months longer than she originally planned. When she’d signed the FBI waver, she knew the assignment would be a dangerous one. Up close and personal, her supervisor had joked. Now with the drive missing, Nick had been placed into a very uncomfortable situation. The data storage device held all the offline illegal bookie accounts and betting clientele the IRS needed to seize the Lucky Galaxy Hotel & Casino for fraud and back tax evasion.
Nick glanced at the Coach purse slung over her right shoulder. Fear gnawed at her throat. Did he think she’d hidden it inside? Noelle wasn’t careless and knew better than to take that risk. Earlier, she’d mailed the evidence in a padded manila envelope at the Las Vegas Post Office addressed to a fictitious company’s P.O. Box in Virginia.
She sauntered toward Nick, smiled, and patted his arm. “Darling, I’m sure it’s just an oversight. Maybe your brother Carl borrowed it to find a client’s address or phone number. Why don’t you call him? It’s not too late.” Noelle studied his face, their eyes locked. He dug into his pocket for his cell phone.
A gunshot exploded, deafening Noelle’s ears. Her high-pitched scream echoed against the vibrant hotel walls. Nick slumped forward, garbled a strangled gasp, and collapsed in her arms. Together, they tumbled to the floor. She struggled beneath him to free herself and then rolled him aside.
She eyed the shooter. With nowhere to hide goose bumps rose on her skin. Was she next?
“I told you I’d get you, Nick Marino,” the tall, lanky shooter yelled out and waved his weapon. His facial features were shadowed by his hoodie. She’d never forget the deep bass tone of his voice. Dressed in all black, he paused in the L-shaped hallway near the restricted lobby entrance for staff and corporate members, his gun aimed in her direction.
She flattened against the ceramic tiled floor and shut her eyes. Is this how she would die? “Please God…no.”
The pistol fired.
A bullet struck her forearm. She winced, crouching as low as she could.
Guitars, drums, and cymbals boomed through the hotel speaker system. The heavy metal rock music signaled the nightclub had opened. Her assailant swiftly darted into the corridor; his rubber-soled sneakers barely audible.
Noelle’s limbs filled with energy. Instinct told her to follow. She stood tall, jogged a few steps forward and froze. If she searched and subdued him, it would be out of character. She paused and examined her arm; the bullet had only grazed its surface.