Music blared from an old jukebox, a slow country beat with someone doing someone else wrong. Folks packed the inside of Pete’s Bar. Smoke filled the air, curling lazily over the pool tables, and glass beer bottles clinked.
The people of Jasper were out having a good time. Relaxing, dancing, flirting. Acting like there wasn’t a killer preying on their streets.
Luke had a cold beer in front of him, a fellow agent who was alive, and he knew he should have been celebrating like the deputies seated in the corner booth, but he couldn’t.
Because something wasn’t right. One thing kept nagging at his mind, and he just couldn’t get past it.
That rose. That damn bloody rose. What kind of message had that been?
When Monica had seen the rose, all the color had blanched from her face. He’d been reaching for her, to hold her, to keep her on her feet, when her spine had straightened and she’d shoved back her shoulders. Whenever she felt threatened, she did that. Stood tall, straightened those shoulders and acted like she wasn’t scared.
When he knew she was. He was surprised the woman still thought he bought that act.
The fear that had flickered in her eyes had vanished almost instantly, but he’d been left thinking…
That message is for her.
But Monica wasn’t sharing anything with him. She was working on her profile, talking to the crime scene guys, huddling with Gerry the tech, and not telling him a thing.
“What’s got you looking so angry, Agent Dante?” Gravelly, rough, and, of-piss-course, his boss’s voice.
He lowered the beer and turned slowly to face Keith Hyde. What had him angry? Take your pick. “The ass**le dicking around with us.”
Hyde’s lips quirked. “Yeah, it’s time for the bastard to go down.” He pulled up a stool and motioned to the bartender. “Water.” Hyde didn’t drink alcohol. Ever.
Or at least, he hadn’t in over fifteen years.
A.A. If the stories were true.
“Sam can’t identify him.” Hyde’s fingers rapped on the bartop. “I saw her right after I flew in. She doesn’t even remember being at the airport.” He exhaled a rough sigh.
“What does she remember?” Had to be something. Something they could use…
“Just being at the cabin, being in the water.” Hyde paused when the bartender slid a glass of water his way. “She lost her glasses, so she couldn’t see her attacker clearly. She could only say he was tall, over six-foot-two. Probably weighed about one eighty to two hundred.” A shrug. “More info than we had before, a whole lot less than we need.”
Yeah, it was better than nothing, but still close to jackshit. “What about his voice? Did she say—”
“He whispered to her.” Hyde took a long swallow of water. “No accent.”
“How is she?” Christ, to have gone through that guy’s sick games.…
“She doesn’t know how many times he put her in the water. The guy got off on keeping Sam in the water until she nearly drowned. Then he’d let her out, let her think she’d survived—but every time, he just kept throwing her back in.”
“Monica…” Hyde rubbed a hand over his face. “She told me that he probably only stopped when Sam gave up trying to survive. There wasn’t any fear anymore, so he let her go.”
He let her drown.
Luke raised his bottle. The beer looked like piss and tasted like water. Loud laughter broke out from one of the pool tables. He glanced over and saw Deputy Vance Monroe. Vance had one of the waitresses up on the table. His mouth was locked tight to the blonde’s.
Huh. At least someone was having a good night.
“Monica lives for the job, you know.” Hyde’s attention hadn’t wavered. Not for an instant.
Luke lowered the bottle and turned back to his boss. “Yeah, I figured that one out a long time ago.” When it came to Monica’s priorities, he knew exactly where he fell on her list.
Hyde smiled. It wasn’t a pretty sight. The guy really had a shark’s grin. “Such a smartass. Do you really think I don’t know about you?”
“I know about her past. I know about Quantico, and I know about you.”
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “Sir, I think you need to watch your step.” He might respect the man, but Hyde wasn’t about to get between him and Monica. No one was. “If you want me off this team because of an involvement I—”
Laughter. Not from the pool table group this time, but from Hyde. “Dante, I knew you’d slept with Monica before I brought you on the team. Hell, that was one of the reasons she gave me for not bringing you on.”
“Monica told me if you came on board, it might just happen again.” Hyde shook his head, and a wry smile curved his lips. “Guess she knew what she was talking about.”
Holy hell. Luke tried to shut his gaping mouth, but he had to ask, “And you approved the transfer anyway?”
Carefully, Hyde sat his empty glass down on the table. “I don’t care what you do with your dick.”
Yeah, good to know.
“I do care about how you do your job. My division isn’t like others. We have our own rules. And rule one—your team members, all of them, have to be able to count on you.”
“They can.” He’d always done his job and done it well.
“If you let your feelings for Monica blind you, then you’re no good to me.” Blunt. “Keep your control, keep your cool, and keep your job.”
“You giving this same sweet talk to Monica?”
Hyde shoved away from the bar and took a moment to straighten his suit. “Don’t have to. Monica doesn’t lose control.”
“Then you don’t know Monica,” the words came out too fast. But he was tired of everyone thinking she was some kind of ice queen. She had the same needs and hungers and feelings that everyone else did. And her control was starting to crack. He’d seen the fissures today. Maybe it had been cracking for a while.
“Ah, let me guess. You think you know her, right?” A shake of his head. “Son, I thought you were smarter than that.” Hyde turned and pushed his way through the crowd.
He kept his eyes on Hyde’s retreating back and watched him head for the door. Just when he reached the double doors, Monica stepped inside. Luke saw her say something to the boss, then her eyes rose and met his.
The woman might as well have punched him in the gut.