Authors: Julia Sykes
“I can handle it,” I insisted quickly. I hated how upset Frank seemed over the situation, and I didn’t want him to think I couldn’t deal with the note. I didn’t want him to think I was afraid. “I’ll take it-”
“I didn’t ask for your permission,” he cut me off. I swallowed hard and took a step back. I had seen this domineering side of him before, but he never turned it on me. He sighed, and his expression softened to something more soothing. “I’ll take care of this, Katie.”
The paternal light in his eyes let me know the unspoken significance of those words:
Let me take care of you.
The offer was too tempting to refuse. It was all I could do to stop myself from throwing myself in his arms and seeking his comfort, as I had done so many times after my father passed away.
I blinked hard to clear the tears that glossed over my deep green eyes. “Thanks, Frank.”
“I’m very proud of you for being so brave about this, Katie,” he told me kindly. “But this is serious, and you shouldn’t deal with it on your own.”
“That’s what Dex said. He convinced me to show you the note.”
“You should have come to me immediately.” His voice sharpened, and just like that, I felt like a chided child.
“I know,” I mumbled, dropping my eyes.
“You will tell me the next time something like this happens.
Before you consult with anyone else. You’re my responsibility, Katie. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
It was the same thing Dex had said. He wasn’t the only alpha male in the office. Frank’s insistent protectiveness didn’t grate on me the way my partner’s had, though. If anything, the fatherly instinct to keep me safe was gratifying.
“I promise I’ll come to you first.”
“Good.” Frank nodded once, satisfied. “Now, there’s something else I need to discuss with you. One of the guys from the New York unit is coming in to work with you on The Mentor case.”
I suppressed a shudder at the name. Well, the man I was hunting didn’t have a name. He didn’t have a face, either. Not yet. But I was determined to identify him. If he was anything like his mentee – Carl Martel – he had likely abducted, raped, and killed dozens of women.
“Why?” I asked to distract myself from the images of battered women that raced across my mind. “Why am I not working with Dex?”
Frank’s lips twisted in distaste. He was obviously as unhappy with the assignment as I was. “Kennedy Carver – the New York unit director – suggested it. Martel’s last victim, Lydia Chase, was selected because of her interest in the BDSM lifestyle. Carver thought it would be helpful if someone with experience in that area was on hand to help here in Chicago.”
Martel had lived outside New York City, but Lydia Chase had been abducted from Chicago, so members of both units were searching for The Mentor. I nodded my agreement with the new agent’s assignment to our field office. We could use all the help we could get.
“Who’s the agent?” I asked.
“His name’s Reed Miller. He’s a rookie, barely four months with the Bureau. But Carver insists he’s experienced in the BDSM lifestyle and has done good work so far.” Frank’s
frown deepened. “I want you to watch yourself around him, Katie. Professionally, I approve of his partnership with you. But he’s new, and I don’t know if I trust him with your safety. Be careful.”
“I will be,” I promised. “If Carver says he’s good, I’m sure he’ll have my back.”
Although I wish I could keep Dex at my back.
I knew my current partner, and I trusted him with my life. Being paired with a stranger didn’t sit entirely well with me.
A knock at the door distracted me. Frank glanced past me to look through the glass wall at the front of his office. The blinds were open, revealing the man who stood just outside.
“Come in.” Frank’s tone lacked the warmth it held when he invited me in.
The man who stepped through the door wasn’t just a rookie; he was probably around my age. I hadn’t expected to be partnered with someone so young.
Or so breathtakingly gorgeous. The man was as tall as Dex, but where my partner was all light and righteousness, Reed Miller was dark and positively sinful. His skin was golden, and his black hair matched his eyes. They were dark, fathomless pools. A woman could drown in those eyes.
“Katie, this is Reed Miller. Miller, this is your new partner, Agent Katherine Byrd.”
“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Agent Byrd. I’ve heard great things.” His voice was as sensual as the lips from which it issued.
Automatically, I reached my hand out to shake his, and strong heat enveloped my fingers. It raced up my arm, flooding my chest before finding its way down lower in my abdomen. The warmth pooled somewhere entirely unprofessional.
Frank’s warning echoed in my mind.
Oh, I was going to have to be very careful when it came to Reed Miller.
“Agent Miller. It’s nice to meet you, too.” My voice was a touch breathier than usual. I shot an uneasy glance at Frank as I withdrew my hand. What girl wants her dad to see her getting the hots for a guy?
I am not a little girl anymore.
I hadn’t been for a long time. When I had wanted to break down and hide from the world like a child after my father’s death, Frank had been the one to drag me out. He had helped me become strong. He had helped me become a woman.
But the disapproving
slant of his lips made me want to run to my room and pull my bedcovers over my head. Frank had helped me grow up, but he still had the unique ability to make me feel like a stupid little girl when he turned that particular frown on me.
“You two should go compare notes.” Frank’s voice was positively chilly, a clear dismissal. “I want you to find The Mentor soon, Katie. Don’t get distracted.”
His meaning was obvious. He had noticed my instant physical attraction to Reed. I dropped my eyes as my embarrassment doubled. “Of course, sir.”
“And I’ll take this note to the lab. Come to me immediately if anything else happens.”
The reminder of the sickening threat just twisted the knife Frank had stuck into my gut. Dads sucked sometimes. I much preferred his comforting hugs to his shame-inducing admonishments.
My meek answer was all I had to offer.
“Go on, then. Report back to me with any new developments.”
“Yes, sir.” This time it was Reed who answered.
I met Frank’s hard eyes one last time before turning from him. A strange mixture of defeat and determination filled me at the sight of his disapproval. I had let him down, but I would do better next time. I would catch The Mentor and make him proud.
“So the boss is a hard ass,” Reed remarked as soon as the door closed behind us. “I’m used to that with my boss, Kennedy. Don’t let it get you down.”
I glared up at him. He didn’t know the first thing about my relationship with Frank. “Don’t you dare say anything against
Frank. He’s the best man I know.”
Reed’s hands raised in a placating gesture.
“Whoa, I didn’t say he was a bad guy. I have nothing but respect for Kennedy. He’s a great unit director. That doesn’t mean he’s not a hard ass. If anything, that’s why he’s good at his job.” He shook his head and grinned at me. “This isn’t how I wanted to start our relationship, Katie. I can call you, Katie, can’t I?”
I just nodded, temporarily struck dumb by his dazzling smile. I think I would have agreed to anything in the wake of that devilish grin.
Frank’s warning played through my mind.
“The boss decrees that we compare notes. Could I interest you in doing that over coffee?”
I shook my head. “I don’t do coffee. I’m an iced tea girl.” The small smile on my face felt strange. Was it flirty? The very idea was shocking. I had only ever had one real relationship, and that lasted all of two months. I secretly suspected that Frank had run George off, but I was grateful for that, really. I had already been getting bored of him.
I realized I was staring into Reed’s eyes with inappropriate intensity. Those black pools were just far too fascinating. Their inky depths held secrets.
Sensual secrets. I had never known attraction like this. To be honest, it was a bit scary. But not scary enough to make me look away.
Those eyes widened in dramatic shock. “Are you sure you’re an FBI agent?” He asked, a smile playing around the corners of his far-too-sexy mouth. “Shouldn’t you have an IV drip with black coffee like the rest of us?”
I made a show of peeking around his large body. “I don’t see an IV bag trailing along after you.”
“Hence my desperate need for a coffee fix.” His shudder was exaggerated. I wasn’t the only one flirting. The concept that this gorgeous man was interested in me was almost jarring. Men never paid any attention to me. Well, with the exception of the scumbags I arrested. They always had a lewd remark to toss my way.
My smirk widened to an almost silly grin. I felt like a teenager spotting her first crush. I seemed to be having a lot of flashbacks today. Only, the butterflies Reed awoke in my stomach were decidedly nicer than the uneasy churning sensation elicited by Frank’s disapproval.
“Well, I wouldn’t dream of making you go into withdrawals,” I said lightly. “Let me grab my keys and we’ll go.”
“Thank you.” Reed’s sigh of relief was comical in its intensity.
“Katie. Who’s this?” Dex’s deep voice cracked through the little bubble of giddiness that had engulfed me. Suddenly, his heat was beside me. He was very obviously in my personal space, and he was glaring at Reed.
That stony stare was usually reserved for criminals in interrogation.
“What’s wrong with you?”
The furrow between my brows communicated my silent question. Dex and I were close enough that we could often express ourselves without words. It was immensely valuable on a stakeout.
Dex didn’t even acknowledge me. His blue eyes positively crackled as they fixed on Reed’s.
Reed, on the other hand, appeared coolly implacable, completely unaffected by my imposing partner’s overtly aggressive stance. If I didn’t know better, I would say Dex was being… territorial.
Shit. He wasn’t going to take the news that I had a new partner well at all.
“Reed, this is Dexter Scott. Dex, this is-”
“Reed Miller,” Reed interrupted me and extended his hand. “I’m Katie’s new partner.”
Dex’s eyes flashed, but he grasped Reed’s hand in greeting. Only, he held on a few seconds too long, and I noticed both of the men’s knuckles whiten as they each tightened their grips.
I said his name sharply to put an end to the inexplicable alpha-off. I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes.
Another alpha male in the office.
My inner voice dripped with sarcasm.
“Believe me, I didn’t ask for a new partner. You know I wouldn’t do that.” My voice softened, urging him to believe me. I might not hate my new assignment – I wouldn’t mind looking at Reed every day – but I truly did regret losing my friend at my back. Especially after seeing how much it hurt him. I knew him well enough to recognize that his macho aggression was just that: an effort to mask his hurt. He didn’t want to lose sight of me any more than I wanted to stop protecting him.
My fingers rested on his forearm. I could feel the tension in it from his efforts to crush Reed’s hand. Reed appeared completely unfazed.
“This was Frank’s call,” I told Dex gently.
My touch was all it took to call him back to me. His eyes still blazed when they met mine, but I resolutely held his stare. His lips pressed into a harsh slash, but he released Reed.
“You’re going to keep me updated on the case,” Dex ordered, his eyes burning his will into me. He pinned me there, waiting for my compliance.
“Okay, Dex.” His name was a promise.
He nodded once, but he was far from satisfied. “I don’t like this. Especially after that note you received. I don’t want to let you out of my sight.” The look he shot at Reed when he spoke was one of warning. “I’m going to talk to Frank about this.”
With that, he turned on his heel and stalked towards our boss’ office. I winced.
Time to go.
I didn’t want to be here when the bomb went off. Frank and Dex going head to head wasn’t going to be pleasant, and, seeing as I was the cause of the conflict, I wanted to be far away from the building when it started.
“Let’s get that coffee,” I told Reed over my shoulder. I was already striding toward my desk to grab my keys.
“What note?” He asked, keeping pace with me. “Franklin and Dexter both mentioned it.”
“Don’t let Dex hear you using his full name. He hates it.”
“I’m pretty sure he already doesn’t like me,” Reed remarked.
“Well, calling him Dexter will make it worse.” I only just stopped myself from explaining that the other kids had bullied him by calling him Poindexter when he was in elementary school. He was very touchy about his glasses, and I was one of the only people who had ever seen him in anything but contacts. I got the feeling my friend wouldn’t appreciate me sharing something so personal with a man he obviously disliked.