“But you gave back the ring. You didn’t love him?”
I shrugged again, taking a bite. “Anything I should know about the office?” I asked.
Val smirked. “Changing the subject. Classic. Hmm…what you need to know about the office. Don’t piss off Maddox. He’s the Assistant Special Agent in Charge.”
“So I’ve heard,” I said, brushing my hands against each other to wipe off the salt.
“All the way in Chicago?”
“It’s justifiable gossip. He is a huge, gigantic, enormous asshole. You’ll see tomorrow morning at the meeting.”
She nodded. “He will tell you that you’re worthless as an agent even if you’re the best of the best just so he can observe your performance when your confidence has been crushed.”
“I can handle it. What else?”
“Agent Sawyer is a slut. Stay away from him. And Agent Davies is, too. Stay away from her.”
“Oh,” I said, processing her words. “I don’t see myself engaging in interoffice relations after the debacle that was Jackson.”
Val smiled. “I have firsthand knowledge of both…so you should stay away from me, too.”
I frowned. “Is anyone here safe to hang out with?”
“Maddox,” she said. “He has mommy issues, and he was burned bad a while ago. He wouldn’t look at your tits if you flashed him.”
“No,” she said, looking off in thought. “He’s just sworn them off. Doesn’t want to get hurt again, I imagine.”
“I don’t care what is wrong with him. If what you say is true, I definitely don’t want to hang out with him.”
“You’ll do fine. Just do your job, and go on with your life.”
“The job is my life,” I said.
Val lifted her chin, not trying to hide that she was impressed with my answer. “You’re already one of us. Maddox is a hard ass, but he’ll see it, too.”
She took a sip of water. “He was focused but tolerable when I came to San Diego until a little over a year ago. Like I said, he was burned by some girl in his hometown—Camille,” she said the name as if it were poison in her mouth. “I don’t know the details. No one talks about it.”
“Will you feel like having a drink or five later?” she asked, losing interest now that the conversation wasn’t centered on my personal life. “There’s a cool little pub in Midtown.”
“I live in Midtown,” I said, wondering if I would see my neighbor again.
She grinned. “Me, too. A lot of us do. We can drown your sorrows together.”
“I don’t have sorrows. Just memories. They’ll go away on their own.”
Val’s eyes were bright again with interest, but I wasn’t enjoying the interrogation. I wasn’t that hard up for friends. Well, I was, but I had boundaries.
“That is a Friday night conversation, told over stiff drinks and loud music. So, are you here to swear off men? Are you finding yourself?” she asked the questions without an ounce of seriousness.
If my answers were yes, I wouldn’t admit it. She was clearly hoping to ridicule me.
“If I were, I have already failed miserably,” I said, thinking of the night before.
Val leaned forward. “Are you serious? You just got here. Someone you know? Old high school classmate?”
I shook my head, feeling my cheeks flush. The memories came quickly but in flashes—Thomas’s hazel-green eyes glancing over at me from where he’d sat at the bar, the sound of my door from him pushing back against it, how easily he’d slid inside me, and my ankles high in the air, jerking with each amazing thrust. I pressed my knees together in reaction.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”
I nodded. “Sort of. He lives in my building, but I didn’t know that until after.”
Val gasped and then sat back against her wooden chair. “I knew it,” she said.
She leaned forward and crossed her arms, resting them on the table. “That we are going to be great friends.”
“WHO THE HELL IS LISA?” A loud voice bounced off the four walls of the squad room. “Lisa Lindy.”
On just my second day in the San Diego office, I was one of dozens of agents waiting for the early meeting to begin. Everyone had seemed nervous before the outburst, but now, they all seemed to relax.
I looked up into the eyes of the young Assistant Special Agent in Charge and nearly swallowed my tongue. It was him—my one-night stand, the lips I missed, my neighbor.
Panic and bile instantly rose in my throat, but I swallowed it back.
“It’s Liis,” Val said. “Like geese but with an L, sir.”
My heart was pounding against my chest. He was waiting for someone to come forward. Life was going to go from fresh start to complicated in three, two—
When our eyes met, he paused, and utter horror washed over me in waves. Recognition lit his face, too, and for just a moment, he blanched. The strings-free one-night stand was now so tangled that I wanted to hang myself.
He quickly recovered. Whatever had made him so angry melted away for a moment, but then his face tightened, and he was back to hating everything.
Special Agent Maddox’s ferocious reputation had preceded him. Agents from all over the country knew of his tight rein and impossible expectations. I had been prepared to suffer under his supervision. I hadn’t been prepared to do so after actually being under him.
Damn it, damn it, damn it.
He blinked and then held out the file. “This FD-three-oh-two is unacceptable. I don’t know how you did things in Chicago, but in San Diego, we don’t just slap shit on paper and call it good.”
His harsh and very public criticism made me snap out of my shame spiral and back into the role of Betty Bureau.
“The report is thorough,” I said with confidence.
Despite my anger, my mind toyed with the memories of the night before—what my boss’s body had looked like under that suit, the way his biceps had flexed when he rammed himself inside me, how good his lips had felt on mine. The severity of the shitstorm I had created for myself hit me. I had no idea how I could form a sentence, much less sound confident.
“Sir,” Val began, “I would be happy to take a look at the report and—”
I half-expected her to say, Fuck off.
“I am perfectly capable of discerning whether I’ll accept a report or not.”
“Yes, sir,” she said again, unfazed, lacing her fingers on the table.
“Are you able to perform the job assigned to you, Agent Lindy?” Maddox asked.
I didn’t like the way he’d said my name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
“Yes, sir.” It felt so damn bizarre to call him sir. It made me feel too submissive. My father’s blood raged in my veins.