“I brought a sack—PB and J. Did he yell at you?”

I chuckled. “What’s to understand? He’s not an ogre. Actually, at this point, he might think I’m the ogre.”

We entered the elevator together, and I pressed the button for our floor. Val took a step toward me, getting close enough that I leaned back.

“But he is—an ogre. He’s mean and ruthless and yells at people when they walk into the fitness room during his hour even if it’s just to retrieve a left sneaker. I know. I was that agent. He screamed at me, totally lost his shit, over me trying to retrieve a fucking forgotten sneaker,” she said the last few words slow and emphatic as if she were standing in front of a snapping audience, sharing her slam poetry.

“Since you got here? In three days? No.”

“Yes. Stop listening for ways to judge me, and hear what I’m trying to say.”

The elevator opened, and I stepped into the hall.

Val followed me toward the security door. “Joel insisted that I eat my PB and J in his office.”

“Agent Marks. Pay attention. He texted me last night. He said Maddox has been weird. His baby brother is getting married next month—well, not married but remarried. No, that’s not right either.”

“Why are you sharing this with me?”

“He’s going to see, you know…her.”

“Affirmative. The last time he went home and saw her, he came back a new man.” Her nose wrinkled. “Not in a good way. He was broken. It was scary.”

“He’s sweating the trip. He told Marks…this is fucking classified, do you hear me?”

“He told Marks that he was kind of glad you transferred here.”

I walked into my office and welcomed Val with a small smile, and she breezed past me. As the door fit snuggly into the frame, I made a show of making sure it was closed, and then I flipped around, the wood of the door feeling cold and rough, even through my blouse.

“Oh my God, Val! What do I do?” I hissed, feigning panic. “He is kind of glad?” I made the most awful face that I was capable of and then began to pant.

She rolled her eyes and fell into my throne. “Fuck off.”

“You can’t tell me to fuck off while sitting in my chair.”

“I can if you make fun of me.” Her pants dragged against the dark leather as she leaned forward. “I’m telling you, this is a big deal. This is not like him. He doesn’t get glad, not even kind of glad. He hates everything.”

“Okay, but this is really non-intelligence here, Val. Even if it’s atypical, you’re pulling the fire alarm for a candle.”

She arched one brow. “I’m telling you, you just knocked over his candle.”

“You have better things to do, Val, and so do I.”

“I’ll help you, and I’ll bring wine.”

“Deal,” I said as she left my office.

Sitting in my chair felt comforting. I was hiding in plain sight, my back protected, my body encompassed by the waist-high arms. My fingers clicked against the keyboard as small black dots filled in the white password box on the monitor. The first time I’d logged into the system, I remembered seeing the FBI emblem on the screen and feeling my pulse race. Some things never changed.

My inbox was full of messages from every agent on progress, questions, and leads. Constance’s name practically leaped off the page, so I clicked it.

ASAC MADDOX REQUESTS A MEETING AT 1500 TO DISCUSS A DEVELOPMENT. PLEASE CLEAR YOUR SCHEDULE.

Each minute that passed after that was more agonizing than my earlier walk to the fitness room. Five minutes till three, I wrapped up my current task and walked down the hall.

Constance’s long black lashes fluttered when she noticed me, and she touched her ear. Words slipped through her bright red lips, low and inaudible. She turned a fraction of an inch toward Maddox’s door. Her white-blonde hair fell behind her shoulder and then bounced back into its soft wave. She seemed to snap back to the present and smiled at me. “Please proceed, Agent Lindy.”

I nodded, noting that she never took her eyes off me as I passed her small desk. She wasn’t just Maddox’s assistant. She was his guard dog in a tiny blonde package.

I took a breath and twisted the brushed nickel knob.

Maddox’s office was made up of mahogany and lush carpets, but his shelves were bare and pathetic like mine, missing family photos and personal trinkets that could lead anyone to believe he had a life outside of the Bureau. The walls displayed his favorite memories, including plaques and awards along with a photo of him shaking hands with the director.

Three frames sat on his desk, staggered and facing away from me. It bothered me that I couldn’t see what was inside of them. I wondered if they held pictures of her.

Maddox was standing in his navy suit, one hand in his pocket, staring out his beautiful corner office view. “Have a seat, Lindy.”

He turned. “I have a dilemma that you might be able to help me with.”

A hundred different statements could have come from his mouth. That wasn’t one I’d considered. “I’m sorry, sir. What was that?”

“I had a meeting with the S.A.C. earlier, and he feels you could be a solution to a recent issue,” he said, finally sitting in his chair.

The blinds let in the full light of the afternoon sun, creating a glare on the desk’s already glossy surface. It was large enough to seat six people, and I guessed it would be too heavy for two men to lift. I raised my toes to fit snuggly beneath the space between the wood and the rug. I let out a breath, feeling anchored enough to keep whatever unexpected thing Maddox was about to drop on me from blowing me away.

He tossed a file on the desk, and it slid toward me, stopping just short of the edge. As I picked it up and held the thick stack of papers in my hand, I was still too sidetracked by Maddox’s previous statement to open it.

Either I had seriously underestimated my value, or Maddox was full of shit.

“Just read it,” he said, standing up again and walking toward the window. Gauging by his stern expression and stiff posture, he was nervous.

I opened the thick card stock to the first page, and then I continued to look over the numerous FD-302s, surveillance photos, and a list of the dead. One report contained charges and court transcriptions of a college kid named Adam Stockton. He was an organizer of some sort, and he had been sentenced to ten years in prison. I skimmed over most of it, knowing that wasn’t what Maddox wanted me to see.

Several of the photos were shots of a man who looked a bit like Maddox—same height but with a buzz cut and arms covered in tattoos. There were more with a pretty young girl, early twenties, far more years of wisdom in her eyes than there should be. Some photos were individual shots, but most were of them together. I recognized her as the girl in some of the photos I’d posted on my office wall—Abernathy’s daughter. The kid with the buzz cut and Abby were obviously a couple, but the way they held on to one another led me to believe their relationship was new and passionate. If not, they were very much in love. He held a protective stance in almost all the photos, but she stayed at his side, not at all intimidated. I wondered if he even noticed he stood that way when he was with her.