The Mastermind (The Long Con #1) by Amy Lane

Coming Up Close

DANNY LOVED and hated Chicago. Loved it because it was his hometown, and if he wore the black overcoat and the natty little fedora, he had just enough gray at his temples to look like he owned the place, particularly when he walked down La Salle toward the river.

Something about the way the wind gusted, as if it was trying to carve out his entrails, made him feel a little like a warrior—and he liked that. He’d take any help he could get feeling young these days.

He’d been happy here once.

In the past.

That’s why he hated it.

He paused at the corner, looking to his right. The first floor of the polished gray granite building was a lobby, but the second floor held a bank of very exclusive PO Boxes where he had his mail forwarded.

Every three months, Danny checked the box, even if he had to fly in from somewhere to do it.

He’d promised. Yeah, the promise had been over twenty years ago, but dammit, he kept his word.

And even if he didn’t usually, he would have kept to his self-imposed schedule this time. Too much history, no matter how painful, was calling his name.

He waved to the receptionist, then took the palm-print-operated elevator up to the second floor and emerged into a vault of a room surrounded on all sides by PO Boxes that required a key, a code, and a thumbprint.

Of course, Danny’s thumbprint wasn’t associated with his real name—he was too smart for that—but it was his real thumb, of course, and that always made him uneasy. Still, he paid a great deal of money for the privacy and discretion of this hidden floor of this particularly notable building, and he liked to think that his pricy Italian snow boots made pricy Italian clicking noises as he crossed the polished granite floor.

“Mr. Biondi!” said Carina Weiss, the sleek and chic mother of three who sat at the reception podium in the middle of the room. “So good to see you. Would you like your usual booth?”

“Indeed.” He gave a gracious nod.

“Your young protégé is already ahead of you,” she said with a knowing smile, nodding at the lockbox on the stand in front of her.

Danny’s eyes widened. “Indeed?” Protégé? Uhm, no. Ten years of boy toys and no-strings-attached liaisons, maybe, but nobody worth a title—certainly not a “protégé.” And a protégé worthy of the woman’s arched eyebrows and a catlike smile?

Definitely not.

But in order to get into this room and retrieve his mailbox, his “protégé” must have had the requisite ID. His palm print and his signature must have been in the system, and Mr. Protégé must have known Danny’s keycodes as well. Still, even if he’d been able to access the PO Box, only Danny could get into the locked container that held the mail.

Danny was very interested to see who this man must be.

He followed Carina to the row of bare, soundproofed rooms, wondering what was in his mail that warranted this interesting new development.

“Here you go,” Carina said cheerfully. “Mr. Biondi, Mr. Contrell, I hope your business proceeds smoothly.”

And with that, she set the box on the table for Danny to open with his own key and departed, leaving Danny and the very familiar stranger in the room together.

Danny managed to keep his professional, silk-smooth smile on until the door closed and the click of Carina’s heels could no longer be heard.

Then he let his delight show through.

“Josh! Oh my God, look at you. You’re practically grown.”

The slender, stylish young man with the expensively cut hair, black leather topcoat, and black cashmere turtleneck and slacks, hopped up from his calculated sprawl at the table and rushed into Danny’s arms for a warm, hard, and very filial hug.

“Uncle Danny!” he cried. “Oh my God, he told me you’d be here, probably today, and I barely had time to prepare.”

Danny pulled back and gave him the gimlet eye. “You got access to my mailbox? How in the world—” This was supposed to be an absolutely unhackable PO Box—a thieves’ Casablanca of mail, as it were.

Josh grinned, his brown eyes sparkling. “Oh, I was taught by the best. Between you and the Fox, this place didn’t stand a chance.”

Danny tried to look disapproving. “Did you do the hacking or—”

“I got a friend to do the hacking,” Josh admitted. “And what about the look? Do you like it?”