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A Lot Like Love (FBI.US Attorney #2)

By´╝ÜJulie James

tle on the way down. Like bourbon. "Who has access to the password for the security system?"

"Only Eckhart and his two general managers, one of whom is required to be at Bordeaux whenever it's open. And according to our reports, they change the password every week."

"What reports?" Nick asked.

"We've got a female agent working undercover as a bartender-we set her up in the position a few weeks ago," Huxley said. "We'd planned to use her to get into the lower level of the restaurant, but Eckhart's security has proven to be more of a challenge than we'd expected."

Nick shrugged. "I don't see why we even need her-our next step seems simple enough. We get a court order forcing the alarm company to turn over the password to Eckhart's security system, then go in and bug the place in the middle of the night."

"Unfortunately, that's not an option in this case," Huxley said. "Eckhart uses a company called RLK Security. I checked them out-they do security for private homes and businesses. Including, notably, Roberto Martino's home."

Nick was impressed by Huxley's thoroughness. "I doubt that's a coincidence. I'm guessing Martino hooked Eckhart up with his security team once they went into business together."

"Even with a gag order, it's too risky to let RLK Security in on the plan. Anyone Martino trusts is not a friend of the FBI," Huxley said.

No disagreement there. "So where does that leave us?" Nick asked.

Huxley looked over at Davis. Nick sensed that this next part was the reason he'd been brought in for consulting.

"It means we do this in plain sight," Huxley said. "Every Valentine's Day, Eckhart hosts an exclusive charity event at Bordeaux. One hundred people on the list, five thousand dollars per head. As part of the event, Eckhart offers tastings from some of the rare wines he owns. He keeps a security guard stationed in a private tasting room near the cellar as a precautionary measure, but guests have general access to the lower level. Which means that an agent posing as a guest could slip away from the others during the party, break into Eckhart's office, and set the microphones in place." He cleared his throat. "That will be me."

Nick was missing something here. "Why not just have this agent we've already got on the inside plant the recording devices? Why else do we have her pretending to be a bartender?"

Huxley conceded this with a nod. "Originally, that was the plan. But Agent Simms has learned that employees don't have access to the lower level during the party-Eckhart has hired a private sommelier to pour the most expensive wines from his cellar for the guests. That was an unexpected development, but not a total loss-Simms can serve as backup upstairs while I plant the bugs in Eckhart's office."

"And how, exactly, do you plan to get into the party?" Nick asked. "I'm guessing the FBI isn't on Eckhart's invite list."

"True. So instead, I'm going to pose as the date of one of the guests."

Nick paused and eased back in his chair, taking that in. "That means getting a civilian involved." Generally, he didn't like using civilians in undercover operations. They were unpredictable and, frankly, a liability. Sometimes, however, circumstances made it necessary.

Huxley was quick to continue. "It's a one-shot deal, and the risk of harm to the civilian is minimal: she doesn't have to do anything except get me into the party. Once inside, I can take it from there."

Davis spoke for the first time since Huxley had begun outlining the parameters of the assignment. "What do you think, Nick?"

Nick studied the blueprints on the screen before him. Without the ability to bypass the alarm system, he didn't see any other way. "I'm not saying it can't work. But clearly this isn't the most typical way to plant recording devices."

"Good. The boys in Rockford can handle the typical stuff," Davis said.

Nick smiled at that. "True enough. But the trick will be to find Huxley here a date to this party. One who will be willing to play ball with us."

Huxley turned back to his computer, efficient as always. "Actually, I've already gone through the guest list. I've got the perfect candidate in mind."

"Just out of curiosity, how much longer is this presentation of yours?" Nick asked.

"Only eighteen more slides to go."

"We're going to need more coffee," Nick muttered to Davis. Then he looked over and saw the photograph on the screen before him of the woman Huxley apparently wanted to bring into the Eckhart operation.

Oh, hell.

Nick recognized the woman instantly. Not because he knew her personally, but because everyone in Chicago-and probably half the country in light of certain recent events-would recognize her. "Jordan Rhodes?" he asked incredulously. "She's the richest woman in Chicago."

Huxley brushed this aside with a wave. "Not quite. There's Oprah, of course. Nobody tops Oprah."

Davis pointed, throwing in his two cents from the head of the table. "And don't forget the Pritzkers."

"Good call. I think I'd put Jordan Rhodes more around fourth richest," Huxley mused.

Nick leveled them both with a stare. "Fine, let's just say top five, whatever."

"And technically it's her father's money, not hers," Huxley noted. "The Forbes list of the four hundred richest Americans puts Grey Rhodes's net worth at one point two billion dollars."

One point two billion. "And we want to drag this man's daughter into an undercover op?" Nick asked. "This is our best option?"

"The list of people attending Eckhart's party is extremely exclusive," Huxley said. "And we don't exactly have the luxury of interviewing candidates. We need someone that we can be certain will agree to help us. Someone who has a great deal of incentive to agree."

Nick took in the photograph of Jordan Rhodes on the screen. Reluctantly, he had to admit that Huxley raised a good point-fourth richest woman in Chicago or no