FBI Special Agent Monica Davenport has made a career out of profiling serial killers. But getting inside the twisted minds of the cruel and the sadistic has taken its toll: She's walled herself off from the world. Yet Monica can't ignore fellow agent Luke Dante, the only man who ever broke through her defenses.
ONE DREAM TEAM
Luke has the unique ability to put victims at ease . . . professionally, he and Monica made a perfect team. Now they're reunited to catch a murderer who uses his victims' deepest, darkest fears for sport - but their investigative skills aren't enough. Luke and Monica will have to face the secrets from their past, the ones that terrify them the most, if they are to have a future together.
But can they catch a killer whose weapon is . . .
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By Eden, Cynthia
ForeverCopyright © 2010 Eden, Cynthia
All right reserved.
Is the girl still alive?” The question came from Special Agent Jonas McKall.
The guy had been with the unit for just over two years, tracking killers for a hell of a lot longer—and the man really should have known better.
Keith Hyde grunted and reached for his weapon. “It’s day four. You know the perp’s MO. Two days of fun and games.” Sick, twisted fuck.
Would the girl still be alive? Doubtful. Five other bodies had already been found. Young girls, in their teens, slaughtered.
Katherine Daniels had disappeared from her bus stop on Monday. They’d finally tracked the killer to his hole today, but the knot in Hyde’s gut told him they were too late.
Always too late.
“Go in slow,” he ordered, aware of the sweat trickling down his back. His team was trained for this shit, but he gave the warning anyway. The guy inside that cabin—he was smart. He’d had the cops and the Bureau chasing shadows for the last year.
While he sliced his girls apart.
“If Katherine’s alive, we can’t take the chance of spooking him.” Or of giving him the opportunity to finish her off.
The three agents around him gave quick nods.
“Sir, but what about—” Quiet, nasally, the voice grated in Hyde’s ears.
But he halted and turned to face the profiler.
“What about Mary Jane Hill?”
The third girl who’d gone missing.
The profiler’s gaze darted to the wooden cabin. “Her body wasn’t found.…”
Hyde’s back teeth locked. “Because the bastard dumped her in the woods, and the animals got to her first.” They’d found the other bodies, ravaged and torn, just before the beasts had.
But not Mary Jane.
Hyde figured they’d never find that poor girl.
“But what if—”
“She’s been gone for over three months, Brown. She’s dead.” The freak never broke his two-day rule.
The profiler should know that.
But, Brown, with his perfectly pressed suit and too-thick glasses, was a replacement. He’d signed on with the team just days before they’d gotten one lucky-ass lead.
The last profiler, Jasper Peters, had bailed on the case. Jasper had come to him with red cheeks and shaking hands. I can’t do this shit anymore. Can’t stop the monsters—they’ll never be stopped.
“Just stay back,” Hyde growled. Crickets chirped in the distance and a faint light glowed from within the cabin. “Stay back.”
He lifted his hand. Motioned to the team.
And prepared to enter Hell.
Hyde picked the lock on the door—snuck in as softly as a whisper. As soon as he stepped inside, the stench slapped him in the face. Blood and decay. Rancid and thick in the air.
The girl wouldn’t be found alive.
He swallowed the bile that rose in his throat and held his weapon steady. Somewhere in this pit, the killer hid.
They’d mapped the area. Even managed to find the builder who’d erected the cabin over twenty years before. There was a basement. A small, perfect-for-killing room down below.
That was where the man who’d been dubbed “Romeo” waited.
Hyde’s heart slammed against his chest when he saw the metal door. Thick, with a padlock dangling loosely from a chain.
Keeps them locked in when he’s gone. No way to escape.
But the lock was open now because the bastard was having his playtime below.
Hyde reached for the door, yanked back the handle.
The hard squeak of the metal grated in his ears like a scream.
Hyde flew through the doorway.
Doubtful. But maybe, maybe…
His boots pounded down the steps. Lights flickered overhead. Fluorescent bulbs that revealed, then concealed.
He tripped on the last step, but caught himself and shouted, “FBI! You need to—”
Laughter. Rich and dark. Shadows moved, and a man stepped forward. Young, in his mid-twenties, good-looking.
The profiler had been right about that.
He doesn’t force them to come with him. He seduces them. Offers them a temptation they can’t resist.
Romeo, tempting the girls to walk on the wild side.
“Put your hands up, asshole! Let me see ’em!” The other agents pounded down the stairs, then fanned the room.
Romeo just smiled, flashing a dimple. His hands were behind his back. A long white apron, stained red, covered his chest and legs. “Too late,” he whispered.
And he stepped forward.
Hyde shook his head. “I will fucking put a bullet in your heart.”
Another step. “Then you’ll never find my sweet Kat.…”
Like they hadn’t found Mary Jane.
Hyde’s finger tensed around the trigger. “And you’ll never slice another girl. I’ll be a happy man.”
The smile faded as the lights flickered once more. “Playing the tough guy, Hyde?”
So the killer knew his name. Seeing as how his face had been splashed across the news for the last few months, that wasn’t a real big surprise.
“Clear.” From Jonas. “She’s not here.”
For just a moment, Hyde looked away from Romeo. His gaze flickered to the chains on the walls. The tray of surgical instruments.
Twisted ass playroom. But no girl.
“Cuff him.” A snarl, barely human, because he wanted to fire. Wanted an excuse. Time to put the rabid animal out of his misery.
Jonas reached for his cuffs.
Romeo launched forward, his arms flying from behind his back as he pulled out a gun, one the perp had hidden under the back of his shirt.
My perfect excuse. A split-second thought that filled Hyde’s mind as he squeezed the trigger—
“No!” A woman’s scream, loud and wrenching.
He wavered. For one reckless moment, his attention diverted, and he searched for the victim.
Romeo laughed and fired just as a woman—no, a girl—slammed her body into the killer, and they crashed onto the floor.
A flash of a knife.
The blade sank deep into flesh.
Hyde shook his head and surged forward. He grabbed the girl, hauling her back while his agents swarmed. She fought him, twisting, the knife shaking in her small fist.
Where the hell had she come from?
“It’s all right,” he murmured, trying to be soothing when he wasn’t the soothing sort. “He’s not going to hurt you anymore.”
Romeo threw back his head. Two officers were on him. “I’ve never hurt her. I love her. She’s mine!”
Hyde’s right shoulder throbbed like a bitch. The bullet had caught him, but was luckily just a graze.
The girl lunged again. Hyde struggled, then held her tight, ignoring the pain. “Easy, Katherine. It’s over.” He bared his teeth at Romeo. “Get him the hell out of here.”
Her body shook against his as Romeo was hauled away. Hyde’s gaze darted to the left. A door had swung open. Hell, it looked like a damn piece of the wall had swung open. A closet waited inside. No, the space was not even big enough for a closet. Barely two feet.
He’d been keeping the girl in there?
“Let’s go outside, Katherine.” Because the team needed to come in and sweep that stinking pit from top to bottom.
Her fingers tightened on the knife.
“Uh, I’m gonna need you to drop the weapon.” He didn’t want to hurt her. She’d been hurt more than enough.
One minute. Two.
Very slowly, her fingers uncurled, and the knife hit the floor with a clatter.
She flinched at that.
Her dark hair was a tangle around her face. A long black shirt covered her chest, and loose sweat pants seemed to swallow her legs.
Alive. Talk about a fucking miracle. Jonas would never let him hear the end of this one.
Hyde led her to the stairs, waiting silently when she faltered as she stared up at the door.
“Locked.” The whisper was hoarse.
He blinked, and a fist squeezed his heart. “Not this time, baby.”
She gave a nod and then crept up the stairs. One mincing step at a time.
For just a second, she hesitated near the door. Then she lifted her hands and touched the cold metal with fingers that shook.
He shoved open the door and pushed her gently over the threshold. “I’m gonna get you home, Katherine. Your parents are gonna be so glad—”
She froze beside him. The light shone bright and steady in this part of the cabin. She tilted back her head, and the bluest eyes he’d ever seen stared up at him.
Romeo had particular tastes. Girls between fifteen and eighteen. Brunettes, all with blue eyes.
The girl stared at him a moment, then she shook her head.
“It’s okay, you’re safe,” he told her.
“I—I’m not Katherine.” Same hoarse whisper. Those blue eyes, eerie in their intensity, held his.
Dirt covered her face. Dirt and grime and God knew what else. But as Hyde gazed at her, recognition kicked into place.
And he knew he was staring straight at—
A fucking miracle. An angel who’d survived hell.
Sixteen years later
Stop! FBI!” But, of course, the words didn’t make the perp slow down. No, they just made the punk in the black ski mask run faster—and Agent Luke Dante ground his back teeth as he pumped his legs and shoved through the crowd.
A woman screamed. Another one hit him with her purse.
Christ. So much for being the good guy.
He couldn’t aim a weapon in this crowd. Too many people on the street. Too many kids—
Luke jumped over a boy on a bike and swore when he caught his ankle on the handlebars.
Fuck. This was so not his day.
All he’d wanted was a cup of coffee before hitting the office. Just—A—Cup—Of—Coffee.
He’d gotten an armed robbery instead.
The perp ran into traffic—they always did that. Horns blared as brakes squealed. Luke shook his head. Traffic was stopped now so he lunged after the guy.
Close, so close—he could hear the perp’s ragged breaths—
Luke launched forward, grabbed the idiot, and they slammed onto the street.
Asphalt ripped away the flesh on his arm. He felt the wet flow of blood slide across his skin. The robber bucked beneath him, twisting, kicking, swearing, then turning with a gun—
Luke snapped the perp’s wrist and heard the guy howl. The gun hit the pavement.
“FBI,” he gritted. Drops of blood flew from Luke’s wound and stained his shirt. “Man, you chose the wrong damn convenience store.”
The scream of sirens reached his ears. Finally. In this age of cell phones, he really would have expected one of the shouting folks he’d passed on the street to have punched 911 sooner.
“Fucking bastard asshole, you let me go, you let—”
Luke shifted and pinned the perp beneath him. Glittering green eyes stared up at him from the slits in the ski mask. “Was the fifty bucks worth it, genius?” He ripped away the mask.
A kid stared back at him.
The perps just got younger every day.
Acne spotted the kid’s face—his perfectly smooth face. Not even a hint of facial hair yet. The punk’s blond hair was a dirty mop brushing against his round face.
Jesus, the kid still had baby fat. “What are you? Fifteen?”
“I’ll fucking kill you!” Veins bulged in the kid’s forehead.
Luke sighed. He knew that look. The glassy-eyed stare. The trembling body. The kid was flying high—and wanted to keep flying—which explained the robbery.
The swirling police lights hit Luke’s eyes. Doors slammed. Luke glanced up to see the cops charge at him.
“Stand up and step away!” An order given over a drawn gun.
“Easy.” No sense in anyone getting trigger happy. “I’m with the FBI.”
And this really was one bad morning.
Because Luke knew that before the questions were finished, he’d be late for his new assignment. Late the first day.
Hell of a way to make an impression on his new boss.
When Luke entered the J. Edgar Hoover Building two hours later, scratches covered his arms and blood stained his shirt. But he walked in with his head up and his shoulders back. This wasn’t his first time in the building. Though he’d been stationed in Atlanta, he’d been to the D.C. office a handful of times for different cases. But this time, he wasn’t just a visiting agent.
His palms were dry when he punched the button in the elevator. His gaze locked on the floor indicator lights. Three. Four. Five…
A soft ding, then the doors opened. A long hallway waited. Two branches at the end. One led toward the crime lab. One toward the SSD—Serial Services Division.
The division was still pretty new at the Bureau, and it was one that he knew a few dozen other agents would have killed to get in.
And they’d picked me. He’d busted his ass to get this spot, and now that it was his—try to pry it from my cold, dead hands.
The weight of his gun and holster pressed against his side as he marched down the hallway, then branched to the left. SSD. Luke shoved open the perfectly clear glass door. Phones rang. Voices hummed. Luke took a breath and glanced around, wondering if he’d be able to sneak—
“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 cock 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 fucking 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.
Samantha flushed and dropped her gaze. “Ah… yeah. That’s me.”
“And you’re Luke Dante…” Low, husky.
“The bad-ass from the South who managed to bring down the Sorority Stalker all by yourself.” One black brow rose. “Impressive.”
Not really. He’d stumbled onto the asshole when he’d been tracking down witnesses. He’d gotten lucky—another two inches, and Carl Malone’s knife would have driven into his heart, instead of just giving Luke his latest tough-guy scar.
He forced a smile. “I do what I can.”
Hyde glanced between them. “So I’m guessing you also know our lead profiler, Monica Davenport.”
Yeah, he did. “We’ve met.”
Glacial blue eyes held his.
“Good.” Hyde reached into his briefcase and yanked out a stack of manila files. He passed one to Luke and handed another to Monica. “You two are heading out on a plane to Jasper, Mississippi, in about…” A quick glance at the gold watch on his wrist. “Three hours.” Two more folders were tossed to Kenton and Samantha. “You two are backup.”
Luke’s hold on the file tightened when Hyde added, “The sheriff down there thinks he’s got himself a serial.”
Monica cocked her head. “Does he?”
“Don’t know—that’s for you and Dante to figure out. The guy’s got two dead bodies. Different CODs, but the sheriff thinks he’s looking for the same killer.”
Usually a serial used the same manner of death for his victims. Almost like performing a ritual again and again. Two different causes of death didn’t seem to fit—
“Read the files,” Hyde ordered. “Then get your asses on the plane.” He clapped his hands once. “That’s it, get back to work—and damn good job.”
Luke blinked and glanced down at the file. Kenton patted him on the shoulder. “Get ready to pop that cherry, man, looks like you’re up—”
Luke cut him off, firing out, “Thought we were working together, partner.”
A wide grin. His dad would have called it a shit-eating grin. “Ah, man, that was just bullshit. Teams change here every week. You trust us all, or you don’t trust anyone.”
Good to know.
Kenton leaned toward him. “Good luck with Ice. You’re going to need it.”
Monica shoved the file into her bag and walked toward him. The room had emptied, fast. Other than Kenton, he and Monica were the only agents left.
“You screw up, she’ll eat you alive.” Another slap on his shoulder. “Have fun down South.”
He’d just come from the South. Hot as hell weather. Humidity that killed. And southern drawls that he loved.
Drawls like the one that whispered just beneath Monica’s words.
Monica brushed by him, not even saying a word.
Well, damn. So much for a big, warm welcome.
He kinda would have expected a bit more from the woman who’d once given him the best sex of his life.
Ice… his ass.
Shit but she had bad luck.
Monica sucked in a deep breath. Then another one. And another. Her heart thudded against her ribs.
Here. Of all the divisions and teams in the Bureau, Luke Dante had come—
“What do you think of the hot guy?”
Her eyes snapped closed. Samantha.
“Did you see him?”
It would have been kind of hard not to see him, considering Luke had been in the meeting with them. Her lashes lifted.
A long sigh from Samantha, then she said, “When he turned those eyes on me—and did you see those eyes?—I swear I felt my skin burn.”
Kicking with her right foot, Monica swiveled her chair away from the window and turned to face the agent. “May I help you with something, Sam?” She let more than a hint of impatience slip into her voice. She didn’t have time to listen to Sam moon over Dante. She sounded bitchy. So what?
Being a cold bitch let her avoid conversations like this one. Usually.
This wasn’t Gossip High. This was the FBI, for God’s sake. But Samantha, who’d just celebrated her twenty-third birthday, had a hard time respecting boundaries.
Samantha’s eyes widened behind her glasses.
Kid genius. Super smart, but not too socially savvy.
“Uh… I—I… was just…”
Great. Now Monica felt like she’d kicked a puppy. One with really big brown eyes.
“Hyde wanted you to have this.”
Monica reached for the file. “Thanks, Samantha.” Apologize? She probably should, but the words stuck in her throat.
For someone who was supposed to be so adept at figuring people out, she pretty much sucked at the social scene, too.
Samantha whirled around and hurried for the door.
“Thanks for the file,” Monica said softly.
A curt nod.
The door clicked closed behind the other woman. Didn’t slam, just… closed.
Monica shook her head. Oh, yes, she knew how to make friends fast. It had always been a strength for her.
She glanced at the file, flipped it open—
And saw the ravaged body of a woman.
Blood and death—now that was what she understood.
Hyde stopped Monica just as she was leaving the office. His dark eyes were hooded as he stared at her. “You okay with this case?”
They were in the hallway, just beside her door. She glanced to the left, then the right, making sure they wouldn’t be overheard. “I told you I didn’t think bringing Dante on the team was the best plan.” Oh, she’d told him more than a few times.
But Hyde shook his head. “Not talking about Dante, we need him.” A long exhalation. “You work the killers, he works the victims. It’s the perfect setup.”
Perfect, maybe, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.
“If you need me on this one, you call right away, got it?”
She nodded. Hyde was always there if she needed him. If any of the agents needed him. “I will.” But she could handle the case—and Luke Dante.
Excerpted from Deadly Fear by Eden, Cynthia Copyright © 2010 by Eden, Cynthia. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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