The light turned red. Erica rolled to a stop. A pickup pulled into the lane next to her. The guy behind the wheel stared at her purse turning end over end above the seat.
She let it drop and kept her face forward, pretending he hadn’t seen what he had.
He kept pace with her for a block, then accelerated and passed.
I need to be more careful.
She also had to meet and get used to a new partner. Yuck.
Mike would have been perfect. They could have investigated the Wanderers while also protecting their witnesses. Not something she could do with a new person who either didn’t know who the Wanderers were or might tell Horton her attention was compromised when she was supposed to be on duty.
With any luck, whoever Horton had assigned her wouldn’t be a by-the-book SOB.
The Marshal’s offices were in the US Federal Courthouse in Miami. She took the elevator to the sixth floor and prepared for the worst.
None of the deputies, all male, noticed her arrival or bitched about being her new partner. Everything was the same as yesterday.
She crossed to her desk.
Horton leaned out of his office. “Vega. In here. Now.”
A low whistle broke out. Tongues clucked. A deputy laughed softly. “You’ve been a bad, bad girl.”
She gave everyone the finger. Two deputies blew kisses at her. She caught them and winked.
Francis Horton affected his grim look, no improvement over his usual no-emotion demeanor. At fifty-six, he wasn’t cuddly. A large, bulky man, he had a lined face and wore his salt-and-pepper hair in a modified crew-cut. A Hollywood casting agent would have pegged him as the perfect Marine drill sergeant. Even though Horton didn’t take shit from anyone, he was fair.
Or had been.
She had to change his mind about Mike.
Horton stepped aside to let her pass.
She stopped short of a chair.
A man pushed from the one next to it and faced her.
Something rushed through Erica she couldn’t pinpoint. It wasn’t surprise, but a feeling that defied description…something akin to wonder.
No man had ever affected her like this, not even when she’d been a hormone-flooded teen.
He couldn’t be her new partner. Wasn’t possible.
She guessed him to be her age, maybe a year or two older, and good-looking enough to grace magazine covers or star in an action flick. His features were beautiful, but masculine, not pretty.
He was taller than Horton, making him six-three, his shoulders broad, hips narrow, thighs muscular. That wasn’t the best part. The impressive bulge pressed against his fly was.
Despite the air-conditioning pouring down, she grew warm, which wasn’t like her. She’d always been practical and career-oriented, welcoming sex but avoiding commitment. Her folks had a great marriage and six kids, including her. Erica would have died if she’d followed their path. Having fun with a guy was one thing. Falling under his spell wasn’t on her radar.
Lusting after a guy she worked with wasn’t going to happen. It broke her most elemental rule.
His leather-scented cologne smelled delicious. She detected musk beneath it, also nice. His gray shirt, charcoal slacks, and white-and-gray-striped tie wasn’t off the rack from Sears or Penney’s. More like designer clothes. Not the threads a deputy would have worn.
He’d combed his dark brown hair back but a thick wave had escaped and grazed his forehead. His bronze complexion spoke of days spent in the sun. She’d never seen such piercing blue eyes, their color not quite real, too perfect. Like him.
Maybe he was a VIP who’d lodged a complaint against her.
He smiled, carving dimples into his cheeks.
She couldn’t manage a response, not understanding his friendliness or why he was there.
“Vega.” Horton closed the door and rounded his desk. “Meet your new partner Lucian Navari.”
Even his name was unusual, special somehow.
“Lucian, Erica Vega.” Horton gestured to her.
“Hi.” Lucian put out his hand.
She was thankful hers didn’t tremble. Even during tense moments, she’d always maintained her cool, at least until today. His grip was strong, not macho or hurtful, his palm dry, his heat seeping into her. Felt good. Too good.
“Hi.” She released him first.
He regarded her hand and met her gaze. Curiosity flared in his eyes.
Another emotion flickered across his face. Amusement? Concern?
Why? If it wouldn’t have looked weird, she would have cradled his head and stared at his gorgeous eyes to catch his innermost thoughts.
Horton cleared his throat.
She looked over.
He sat. “Lucian comes to us from Miami-Dade PD. He worked in their cold-case squad. We were damned lucky to get him.”
Lucian didn’t react to the compliment.
Until now, Horton had never said anything nice about a deputy he supervised.
He and Lucian exchanged a glance, something going on between them she couldn’t figure out. “We’re lucky because he worked cold cases?”
“What?” Horton pulled his gaze from Lucian and frowned at her. “That’s only the start of his value to the team. He has a criminal justice degree from John Jay. Graduated top of his class. He closed more cold cases than anyone on the squad. He…”
She stopped listening, stunned by Horton’s proud smile. Like he was gushing about a son. This was too surreal. In a minute, she suspected he and Lucian might get a room and whisper sweet nothings to each other. Maybe Lucian was gay. It was always possible Horton was too despite his decades-long marriage and three grown daughters.
At last, Horton wound down, winded, his face blowsy.
Erica said the one thing she could. “How nice.” She spoke to Lucian. “Have you ever protected a witness before? You know, done street work where a gangbanger or crazy could blow you away?”
“He doesn’t have to.” Horton pushed up in his chair. It squeaked. “You’re both going to be working cold cases.”
He couldn’t have surprised her more than if he and Lucian had shared a kiss. “I’ve never done one before.” Except for her investigation into the Wanderers.
“I’m well aware of that.” He straightened the papers on his desk. “Lucian will show you the ropes. He’ll be in charge.”
She bristled. He had zero experience at the Service but was going to call the shots because he’d gone to John Jay, wowed them at Miami-Dade PD, dressed nice, and could pee standing up? “Have you considered what I asked you before about Mike Stearn and the cases we’d like to explore?”
“Not going to happen.” Horton’s face was a mask, not letting her know his thoughts. “Stearn has his own assignments and the Wanderers are off limit to you.”
“Why?” She gripped his desk. “What they’ve done are
cold cases. They’ve hurt countless people in this state and many others. Going after them makes sense.”
“I said no. Step back.”
He rolled his shoulders and looked down his nose at her. “They haven’t been charged with anything. The only one who’s committed a crime is Desiree Zazou. The Feds are handling her. She’s not your concern. The Wanderers aren’t either. Get started on cases you can solve. Follow Lucian’s lead. Don’t give him any grief. If you do, I’ll hear about it.”