“About time, partner.”
Luke’s gaze shot to the right.
“I was beginning to think you’d bailed on me and—ah…” The guy, tall, lean, with close-cropped black hair, winced and his gray eyes narrowed. “Trouble at home, eh?” There was a hint of laughter beneath the question.
He grunted. “Armed robbery. Had to take a perp down.”
“Showoff.” The agent shook his head even as he extended his hand. “Trying to make the rest of us look bad on your first day? Real bad business, that…”
Luke took the hand, squeezed once, then dropped his hold. “Sorry,” Luke said and cleared his throat. “Maybe next time I’ll let the bad guy get away.”
A smile broke the man’s face. “Name’s Kenton Lake. And Dante, I think it’ll be… interesting having you here.”
Here. The only unit in the Bureau solely dedicated to tracking and trapping serials. Rapists. Killers. Even the serial kidnappers who stalked the streets.
“I’d heard you were a bit… strong-willed when it comes to your work,” Kenton said.
Yeah, and Luke could just imagine where the guy had heard that. But he was pretty sure “strong-willed” hadn’t quite been the adjective used. “I believe in getting the job done.”
One brow rose. “By any means necessary?”
“Damn close.” He’d clashed with other agents before. So if the guy thought he was reckless for chasing down that perp, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
And it wouldn’t be the last.
“We’re a team here, Dante. No one-man show. Remember that, and you’ll be fine.”
Luke inclined his head. He wasn’t about stealing glory. Just helping the victims. His eyes scanned the line of offices. “Everyone here is part of the team?”
“Part, but not the core. The core’s waiting for you—” He jerked his thumb toward a closed conference room door. “Right inside.”
And he got to meet them all covered in blood. Fair enough.
“Lead the way.”
The smile widened. “You know, I can’t decide, but I think I’m going to like you, Dante.”
Then he turned and headed toward the conference room. Luke took a deep breath.
When he crossed the threshold into the room, the first person he saw was…
Her. Oh, Jesus.
Luke wasn’t aware that he’d sucked in a sharp breath. He just knew his c**k was twitching, and the temperature in the room had gotten very—
A snort from beside him. “Don’t even think it, man. Not going to happen.”
But Luke didn’t take his eyes off her as he and Kenton slid into two empty chairs in the back.
The woman stood at the front of the room, her hands lightly gripping either side of a podium. Her midnight black hair teased her cheeks, the short blunt cut ending just under her slightly pointed chin. The woman’s skin was smooth, perfect and pale, and her eyes—
Monica Davenport. Already a legend in the department, and she was barely easing past thirty. One of the best profilers going. She had like, what? Three, four degrees?
And a hell of a lot of field experience. An agent who didn’t take shit.
One who also had a reputation for being pure ice.
Pity, because from the outside, she sure was the stuff hot, wet dreams were made of.
His dreams, anyway.
Those brilliant eyes locked on him. His lips started to curl. But not even a flicker of recognition crossed her face.
Her voice, smooth and easy, continued without so much as a hitch. “With assistance from our team, local authorities in Waylon, Virginia, apprehended the perpetrator last night, and the Midnight Strangler’s latest victim, Julia Marcus, was returned alive to her family.”
A round of applause. A whistle from the Lucy Liu lookalike up front.
“This is the ninth serial case closed by the SSD since its inception six months ago—”
“But our work is just getting started,” a deep, could-be-the-voice-of-God rumble interrupted. Luke straightened. He knew that voice. Keith Hyde. Hell, the guy was the Serial Services Division. The group was his idea, his baby, and he’d handpicked every member of the team.
Luke had been passed over in that first hand-picking, but when Mark Lane had taken a leave of absence from the team, he’d fought and finally shoved his way inside the all but closed door. This was where he wanted to be. Needed to be.
The briefest hint of a smile lifted Monica’s full lips as she ceded the floor to Hyde.
Hyde nodded to the assembled agents. The guy was huge, with thick shoulders and skin as dark as night. He smiled, a real smile, not like Monica’s, and flashed his perfect, white teeth. “We’re kicking ass, people, and I’m proud of every single one of you.”
Some laughter there. Grins lightened the tense faces of some of the other agents in the room.
“But we’re just gettin’ started. Nine down, the f**king rest of the serials to go.” Hyde’s eyes zeroed in on him. “And… we’ve got a new member on our team. One who finally decided to show up.”
“Better late than never, huh, buddy?” Kenton murmured.
When Hyde’s eyes narrowed, Luke shot to his feet. “Sir. Glad to be a part of the division—”
“You should be. We’re the best in the business.” He pointed to the lady beside him. Lucy Liu. Uh, no, she was—“This is Kim Donalds, and don’t let her size fool you, she’s one of the toughest agents I’ve ever seen.”
Kim turned to face him fully. Almond shaped eyes—dark green—stared up at him, measuring him. Weighing.
A sprinkle of freckles covered her nose. Small, delicate, but—
He knew about Kim, too. Pretty package, one slyly concealing the perfect hunter inside.
“You’ve already met Kenton.”
The guy saluted him.
“This is Jon Ramirez, he’s an—”
“Ex-sniper.” Luke gave the hard-eyed shooter a nod. “I’ve been doing my homework, sir.” Jon Ramirez had fought like hell with the army in the Middle East, only to come home and join the Bureau.
“Then do you know me, too?” Another woman. A tall, thin redhead with wire-framed glasses. Her lips pursed as her gaze met his.
“Samantha Kennedy, computer genius extraordinaire.” Yeah, he knew about her. She’d gotten her Ph.D. in computer sciences from MIT before she’d turned eighteen, and been drafted by the government within the year. She’d made a switch to the Bureau just a few months back.