“Thanks,” I said to myself as I scanned the room.

No one had heard our discussion, but it still felt like the secret was out. I sank back into my chair and slipped on my headphones as Val left the squad room for the security doors leading into the hallway.

I covered my mouth for a moment and sighed, feeling lost. How had I messed up my fresh start so thoroughly and before it even started?

Not only had I screwed my boss, but if the other agents also found out, it could jeopardize any chances I would have at promotions while under Maddox’s supervision. If he had any integrity at all, he would continually pass me over in fear that the truth would come out. A promotion would look bad for both of us—not that it mattered. Maddox had made a point to let everyone know that he wasn’t impressed with my work—a report that I had given one-hundred percent, and my best was damn good.

I looked over my transcript and shook my head. The translation was spot-on. The report was comprehensive. I hovered the mouse over the right-facing arrow and clicked it, playing the audio again.

The longer the two Italian men’s voices bantered about a job and the hooker one of them had had relations with the night before, the more my cheeks reddened with anger. I took pride in my reports. It was my first assignment at the San Diego field office, and Maddox calling me out in front of everyone had just been poor form.

Then, I thought about lunch with Val the day before and the warnings she’d given me about Maddox.

“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 ripped the headphones from my head and gripped the report in my hands. I rushed toward the ASAC’s office at the far end of the squad room.

I paused upon seeing the stunningly beautiful woman who served as a checkpoint before one could enter Maddox’s office suite. The nameplate on her desk read CONSTANCE ASHLEY, a name that suited her with her white-blonde hair falling in soft waves, cascading just a bit over her shoulders, nearly matching her porcelain skin. She peered up at me from under thick lashes, and she practically batted her eyes at me.

“Agent Lindy,” she said with just a hint of a Southern twang. Constance’s rosy cheeks, poise, and down-home disposition were all a ruse. Her steely blue eyes betrayed her.

“Just Liis.” I tried not to sound as impatient as I felt. She was nice, but I was rather anxious to speak with Maddox.

She touched the tiny apparatus in her ear and then nodded. “Agent Lindy, I’m afraid Special Agent Maddox is away from his desk. May I set up an appointment?”

“That’s classified,” she said, her sweet smile unwavering.

“I need to speak with him,” I said, trying not to beg. “He is expecting my report.”

She touched the small plastic device again and nodded. “He’ll return after lunch.”

“Thank you,” I said, turning on my heels and heading back the way I’d come.

Instead of retreating to my cubicle, I went into the hall and poked around until I found Val. She was in Agent Marks’s office.

“Can I speak with you for a minute?” I asked.

She looked at Marks and then stood. “Sure.”

She shut the door behind her, biting her lip.

She made a face. “He’s been chasing me for six months. Now that Trex is out of the way, he is under the misapprehension that he has a chance.”

My face compressed. “Did I transfer to a singles bar?” I shook my head. “Don’t answer that. I need a favor.”

“Where does Maddox frequent around lunchtime? Does he have a favorite eatery? Does he stay here?”

“The fitness room. He’s there every day at this time.”

“That’s right. You’ve mentioned that. Thanks,” I said.

She called after me, “He hates being interrupted! As in, his soul hates being interrupted!”

“He hates everything,” I grumbled under my breath, pressing the button for the elevator.

I went down two levels and then took the skywalk to the west offices.

The newly built San Diego office was comprised of three large buildings, and it would likely be a maze to me for a week or two at least. It was a stroke of luck that Val had shown me the way to the fitness room the day before.

The closer I came to the fitness room, the faster I walked. I held my badge against the black square protruding from the wall. After a beep and the sound of the lock opening, I pulled open the door to see Maddox’s feet dangling in the air, his face red and glistening with perspiration, while he bobbed quickly on a chin-up bar. He barely acknowledged me, still carrying on with his workout.

“We need to talk,” I said, holding up my report, which was now crinkled from my grip. That made me even angrier.

He let go of the bar, his sneakers landing on the floor with a thud. He was breathing hard, and he used the collar of his heather-gray FBI T-shirt to wipe the dripping sweat from his face. The bottom hem pulled up, revealing just a sliver of his perfectly cut lower abs and one side of the V that I had fantasized about at least a dozen times since the first time I’d seen it.

His answer brought me back to the present. “Get out.”

“This is for all employees of the facility, is it not?”

“Me.” His jaw flitted under his skin, and then he eyed the papers in my hand. “Did you rework that FD-three-oh-two?”

“No,” I seethed. “The transcription and translation are accurate, and the FD-three-oh-two, like I’ve said, is thorough.”

“You’re incorrect,” he said, glaring down at me.

Behind the irritation was something else although I couldn’t quite decipher it.

“Can you explain to me what is missing?” I asked.

Maddox walked away from me, the fabric under both of his arms and his lower back dark with perspiration.

“Excuse me, sir, but I asked you a question.”

He flipped around. “You don’t come to me, asking questions. You take orders, and I told you to modify that report to my satisfaction.”

“How exactly would you like me to do that, sir?”

He laughed once, unamused. “Did your superior do your job for you in Chicago? Because in—”

He narrowed his eyes. “Are you insubordinate, Agent Lindy? Is that why you were sent here—to be under my command?”

His expression was still one I couldn’t read, and it was driving me mad.

“I didn’t request you,” he said. “I requested the best language expert we had.”

“That would be me, sir.”

“Forgive me, Agent Lindy, but after reading that report, I’m having a hard time believing you’re as good as you think you are.”

“I can’t give you intelligence that isn’t there. Maybe you should tell me what you want to hear from that Title Three.”