I wanted to be in San Diego even if it put me directly in the crosshairs of a renowned asshole of an ASAC like Maddox. It was better than being in Chicago, having the same seven-year-long conversation with Jackson Schultz. That name definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Still, I couldn’t stop myself from what I was about to say. “I would be happy to, sir, if you’ll let me.”

I was sure I heard maybe one or two barely audible gasps in the room. Agent Maddox’s eyes flickered. He took a step in my direction. He was tall and nothing less than menacing, even in a tailored suit. Even though he was more than a foot taller than me and rumored to be lethal with a gun and his fists, my Irish side lured me to narrow my eyes and cock my head, daring my superior to take one more step, even on my first day.

Maddox turned, allowing the man to whisper in his ear.

Val leaned over, talking so quiet she nearly breathed the words, “That’s Marks. He’s closest to Maddox here.”

Maddox had to lean down as Marks was not much taller than me, but he was broad-shouldered and appeared almost as dangerous as the ASAC.

Maddox nodded, and then his cold hazel eyes skimmed over everyone in the room. “We’ve had a few leads with Abernathy. Marks will meet with the contact agent in Vegas tonight. Taber, where are we with Benny’s guy, Arturo?”

Val began to give her report just as Maddox tossed my FD-302 on the table.

He let her finish, and then he glared down at me. “Send me something when you have some actual intelligence. I brought you on board based on Carter’s commendation. Don’t make an ass out of him.”

“Agent Carter doesn’t extend his praises lightly,” I said, unamused. “I take that very seriously.”

“Sir. I take his commendation very seriously, sir.”

“Then, give me something I can use by the end of the day.”

“Yes, sir,” I said through my teeth.

Everyone stood and dispersed, and I snatched my report off the table, glaring at Maddox, as he left with Agent Marks trailing behind.

Someone handed me a Styrofoam cup full of water, and I took it before plodding to my desk and falling less than gracefully into my chair.

“Fuck off,” she said. “And you’re toast. He hates your guts.”

“The feeling is mutual,” I said before taking another sip. “This is just a pit stop. My end game is to become an analyst at Quantico.”

Val pulled back her long russet tresses, twisting and wrapping them into a low bun at the base of her neck. My sad thin black hair was teeming with jealousy as Val struggled with four bobby pins to keep the sheer weight of her hair from pulling the bun out of place. Her sideswept bangs were pulled across her forehead and tucked behind her left ear.

Val appeared young, but she didn’t seem inexperienced. The day before, she’d mentioned several closed cases that she had under her belt already.

“I said San Diego was temporary, too, and here I am, four years later.”

She followed me to the wall with the built-in coffee nook and Keurig.

Squad Five was back to the grind, typing on their computers or talking on the phone. When my mug was full, I grabbed packets of sugar and creamer and then returned to my high-backed black chair. I tried not to compare everything with my cubicle in Chicago, but San Diego had had new offices built just two years before. In certain areas, I could still smell the fresh paint. Chicago was well-worn. It had been home for six and a half years before I’d transferred. My chair there was practically molded to my backside, the files in my desk organized just the way I wanted, the cubicle walls between agents were tall enough for at least a little privacy, and the ASAC hadn’t ripped me to shreds in front of the entire squad on my second day.

Val watched me set the steaming mug on my desk, and then sat in her chair.

“I’m out of half-and-half, but I do have two-percent in the refrigerator,” she said, a tinge of sympathy in her voice.

Val’s eyebrows shot up, and then her eyes fell to the floor, surprised at my tone. “Okay then. You’re not a fan of milk. Won’t ask again.”

Val chuckled. “Well then, I won’t make the trip.” She eyed my empty desk, devoid of family pictures or even a penholder. “The guy who used to be at this cubicle…his name was Trex.”

“Scottie Trexler. God, he was cute. He transferred out, too—all the way out. I think he’s with a different agency now.” She sighed, her eyes seeing something I couldn’t. “I liked him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, not sure what else to say.

She shrugged. “I’ve learned not to get attached around here. Maddox runs a tight ship, and not a lot of agents can take it.”

“I won’t tell him you said that, or he really won’t stay off your tail.”

I felt my face get hot, enough that Val noticed, and she narrowed her eyes.

Val stared deep into my eyes. “You haven’t even taken a sip. Something I said embarrassed you. Maddox…tail…”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. I wasn’t denying my residence but what I knew she would soon discover. Damn having friends who are federal investigators for a living.

I shook my head faster, looking around. “Val, no…stop…”

“Fuckity. You’re joking. Maddox is your one-night stand!” she hissed, thankfully keeping her voice to a whisper.

I covered my face and then let my forehead fall to my desk. I could hear her leaning over the cubicle.

“Oh my God, Liis. Did you just die when you saw him? How could you not know? How did he not know? He hired you, for Christ’s sake!”

“I don’t know,” I said, rocking my head from side to side, my fingers digging into the edge of my desk. I sat up, pulling down the thin skin beneath my eyelids as I did so. “I’m fucked, aren’t I?”

“At least once that I know of.” Val stood, her badge wagging as she did so. She smirked at me, sliding her slender long fingers into her pockets.

I looked up at her, desperate. “Just kill me now. Put me out of my misery. You have a gun. You can do it.”

“Why would I do that? This is the best thing to happen to this squad in years. Maddox got laid.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone, right? Promise me.”

She craned her neck toward me. “Why are you talking to me like I’m a mental patient?”

I blinked and shook my head. “I’m sorry. I’m quite possibly having the worst day of my life.”

“Well, you look hot.” She walked away.