Authors: Kate SeRine
Copyright Â© 2015 by Kate SeRine
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Cover art by Kris Keller
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my very own happily ever after
Well, son of a bitch.
The little bastard had decided to run. Didn't that just fucking figure? It was at least ninety degrees, and the air was so thick Kyle might as well have been trying to inhale the gumbo that the citizens of New Orleans found so enticing. And now that freaky little shit Harlan Rhodes was sprinting down Decatur Street wearing nothing but a Speedo, tube socks, and glittery gold sneakers.
No one even raised an eyebrowâexcept for a random tourist or two who hadn't quite figured out that natives of the Big Easy were rarely surprised by anything.
Kyle groaned inwardly when his partner, Dave Peterman, called out to him. He could already hear the ass-chewing he was going to get later for pissing on protocol. But screw itâKyle wasn't letting Rhodes give him the slip. No way in hell. He'd been working this case almost since he'd arrived in New Orleans a year ago and finally had the key witness needed to put an end to one of the biggest human-trafficking operations in the country. Peterman was just going to have to get his ass moving.
Rhodes suddenly darted into the street, sprinting toward Jackson Square, causing cars to come to a screeching halt. Kyle raced after him, ignoring the cacophony of blaring horns and shouted obscenities. Sweat soaked through his shirt. His suit jacket and tie began to feel like a wet straitjacket, restricting his movement. But the adrenaline pumping through his veins pushed him forward.
For all his wiriness, Rhodes was struggling just as much as Kyle in the heavy air, his strides beginning to slow even as he vaulted over a couple picnicking in the grass. The muscles in Kyle's legs were on fire and his breath sawed in and out, but he surged forward in a burst of speed.
When he was within a few feet of Rhodes, Kyle lunged, tackling the other man. They crashed to the pavement, sliding along the concrete path and nearly taking down a bride and groom making their vows before a preacher dressed in a Colonel Sanders-like white suit, string tie, and goatee. Ignoring the couple's startled cries, Kyle wrapped his arm around Rhodes's neck, putting him in a headlock and rolling until the man was on his stomach. Kyle scrambled to his knees and twisted Rhodes's arm behind him. The man bucked, trying to throw him off, forcing Kyle to press his knee into Rhodes's back to keep him down.
“Now,” Kyle panted, having to yell as the brass band on the other side of the fence struck up their first tune of the afternoon, “I think you had a few things you wanted to tell me, Harlanâ¦”
“Suck my dick!” Rhodes spat. “I ain't tellin' you shit, Dawson!”
Kyle shrugged, slapping handcuffs on Rhodes and dragging him to his feet. “That's what you think, asshole.”
* * *
Kyle popped a handful of peanut M&M's into his mouth just as Peterman stormed out of the assistant director's office and halted abruptly to give Kyle a shitty look. So, pretty much business as usual.
He'd been catching hell from the moment he set foot in the New Orleans office. The other agents treated him like a piece of shit that'd been dumped on their lawn. Whatever. He didn't give a rat's ass what anyone else thought of him personally. He wasn't there to make friends; he was there to do his job. If they felt threatened by that, then screw them.
So instead of kissing their asses to ingratiate himself into their good-ol'-boys' club or slinking off into a corner to lick his wounds, Kyle had fallen back on the arrogance and insolence that had served him so well before. He'd figured out a long time ago how to get under people's skin and turn their own attitudes around on them, thanks in no small part to the decades-long pissing match he had going on with his father.
“You guys have a nice chat?” he taunted Peterman. “Or were you just dropping by to polish Skinner's knob before demanding a new partner?”
“Fuck off, Dawson,” Peterman sneered. “I gotta get home to my kid. I don't have time for your shit.”
Kyle leaned back on the hand-carved wooden bench that sat in the hallway outside his boss's office, regarding what he figured was now his
partner, and feigned a concerned frown. “How
I go on? First Hughes and now you? I'm heartbroken, Peterman.”
Peterman's already florid face turned an alarming shade of purple. When he opened his mouth to respond to Kyle's sarcasm, Kyle held up his hand. “No, no. Please don't give me the âIt's not you, it's me' speech. Let me spare you the effort. You're right, Petermanâit
you. I accept that. And I forgive you.”
“Forgiveâ?” The vein in Peterman's forehead began to pulse. “You're an arrogant prick, you know that?”
Kyle hopped to his feet. “Sorry, gotta run. Boss wants to see me.” He shivered with mock excitement. “Can't wait to see what he has to say. Our private chats are always so scintillating.”
Peterman snorted derisively then stormed away, shaking his head and mumbling something under his breath.
Ignoring the way his gut clenched in apprehension, Kyle cleared his throat and plastered on his most carefree grin before swaggering into his boss's office. “You know, I don't think Peterman knows what
means,” he said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder.
Assistant Director Skinner eyed Kyle with his bland, dispassionate gaze and asked on a sigh, “Beg pardon?”
“Scintillating,” Kyle explained. “That's how I described our private chats. But it was totally lost on Peterman. Really, sir, I just can't stay partners with someone who has such a limited vocabulary.”
“Well, good thing you won't have to,” Skinner replied.
Kyle's brows shot up. “Really?” he said, dropping into the chair across from Skinner's desk. “Sweet! So, who's up next?
tell me my new partner's a hot redhead named Scully.”
Kyle gaped at him. “Seriously? You're an assistant director at the FBI who's named Skinner, and you've
seen an episode of
“No, Dawson,” Skinner retorted, leaning back in his chair and folding his hands over his stomach. “I'm happy to say I learned how to be an agent from shutting my piehole and listening to the more seasoned agents who knew what the hell they were doing, instead of acting like a self-important, smart-ass prick.”
“I thought I was an
prick,” Kyle corrected. “You and Peterman really need to coordinate your insults better. It's confusing.”
Skinner's eyes flashed. “Arrogant, self-importantâtake your pick. You've been here less than a year, Dawson, and you've already pissed away two partners. No one wants to work with you because you're reckless and dangerous and have no respect for authority or for the badge you carry.”
“That's not true,” Kyle shot back, his indignation genuine. “I have a
deal of respect for the badge.”
The muscle in Skinner's jaw twitched, but he maintained his composure. “I knew you'd be trouble the minute you walked in the door.”
Kyle's internal shit-storm alarm started blaring loud and clear, so he took his cockiness down a notch, ready to play nice. “Sirâ”
“Oh, I've heard all about your family, Dawson,” Skinner interrupted before Kyle could make good on his shift in attitude. “What'd you think? You could come down here, do whatever the hell you wanted just because your granddaddy's got his name in the history books?”
When Kyle merely clenched his jaw, Skinner continued. “Heard all about your daddy too. About his renegade methods of dispensing justice, how he runs his county and expects all you boys to follow in his footsteps. Except you didn't, did you? Well, let me tell you something, son. If you need to work out your daddy issues, you can head on back up north.”
Kyle's spine stiffened, but he managed to maintain his blank expression in spite of the mention of his father, torn between defending his father's unorthodox but extremely effective ways of fighting the crime that trickled into their county from Detroit and Chicago, and distancing himself from the infamous Mac Dawson as he'd been trying to do his entire life.
“I don't have any contact with my father,” he replied, his words as stiff as his posture. “Not anymore.”
Ehâwhat could he say? Old habits die hard.
“Well,” Skinner said, cracking a smile that seemed rather menacing. “Guess that's about to change.”
Kyle's blood went cold. “What?”
Now Skinner's smile was positively smug. “You're being transferred.”
Kyle's stomach sank. “Sir,” he said, ditching the devil-may-care act entirely, “if this is about Harlan Rhodes and what happened in Jackson Square today, I had to do what was necessary to bring him in. Peterman and I have never seen eye-to-eye on how to deal with this case, but soon we'll have what we need toâ”
“It's not about Rhodes,” Skinner interrupted, “even though I've got that little asshole spewing excessive-force allegations against you to anyone and everyone who'll listen. I've already had two phone calls about itâone from that weaselly little bastard who calls himself a lawyer. You're damned lucky Rhodes is spilling his guts, or you'd be even farther up shit creek than you already are.”
Kyle shook his head. “Then what gives? I'm one of the best agents you have.” When Skinner grunted, Kyle added, “Tell me I'm lying.”
“You don't get it, do you?” Skinner said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his desk and clasp his hands together. “Dawson, you could be the greatest agent of all time, but we have a little thing we like to call the Law around here. And I expect my agents to abide by it.”
Skinner narrowed his eyes. “You waltz in here with your cocky attitude and your blatant disregard for the rules and regulations, and you think you should get a pat on the back for it? Well, that dog might hunt with some folks, son, but not with me. I've been working on eighty-sixing your ass since you walked into my building. I'm just disappointed it took me this long to kick you to the curb.”
Kyle's temples began to throb as it hit him that Skinner had been planning this since he'd waltzedâyeah, he'd waltzed, no questionâinto the New Orleans office. He'd been cocky, complacent, smug.
And he'd seriously fucked up by not playing nice in the sandbox with the rest of the kids.
He'd been shitting on authority for so long just to spite his father that he hadn't considered what it might eventually cost him when he'd decided to walk away from his job as a deputy in Fairfield County and flip the proverbial bird to his father by joining the FBI.
Oh, sureâhe'd won
battle, showing his dad that the guilt trips and harsh code of honor that had governed their family for generations couldn't sway him. But his heart had been the ultimate casualty. Because in finally breaking away from the Old Man's will, he'd also left
behind. Abby Morrow. The woman who'd captured his heart like no one else ever hadâand then shattered it into a million jagged pieces. Even thinking of her now made his chest tight with heartache and regret.
He gave himself a quick shake, pushing away the image of Abby's sensual smile, bright cornflower-blue eyes, and flawless fair skin and forcing his attention back to the news that he was being reassigned. He cleared his throat. “Where're you sending me?”
Skinner's lips twitched. “Well, since the apple doesn't seem to fall far from the tree, it seems only fitting that you go fill a spot in one of our northern Indiana resident agencies.”
Kyle suppressed a resigned, bitter laugh. The irony of being forced back home when he'd worked so hard to break away was not lost on him. But it was too late to confess that his attitude and brash behavior were all an act, that upholding the law was in his bloodâno matter how much he wanted to deny itâand that getting scum off the streets was not just his job, but his calling. Any protestations of the sort would just look like he was a whiny bitch trying to save his own ass.
So, instead, he donned his most unconcerned demeanor and flashed what he imagined was an infuriatingly undaunted grin. “So when do I leave?”