Secrets shape relationships…
Special Agent Lee Dawson has secrets. Secrets that forced her from Dallas to New York City in disgrace two years ago.
Dallas County Assistant District Attorney, Nate Crane, visits New York and witnesses the brutal murder of a friend. When Lee is assigned to the investigation, her personal and professional lives collide. She can’t avoid the man she ditched six months ago.
She’s the one Nate can’t stop thinking about. The one he let get away. He’s determined to get her back, no matter what she thinks she wants. Being a witness in her case puts them close—and Nate intends to keep it that way.
After Nate’s attacked at a safe house, Lee knows there’s a leak – a dirty FBI agent working with the human trafficker her unit has been hunting for years.
Can Lee protect her witness and resist the heat between them or will she succumb to her desires and throw them both into danger?
Read an Excerpt
Sweat broke out on her brow and Lee gripped her Glock tighter instead of wiping the moisture away. She bit back a curse.
What's taking so long?
They should've already heard shouts of, "Federal agents!" She hated being in the back.
Lee and her partner, Clint Downs, were the lead agents of their unit, and usually headed raids.
Their boss, Special Agent Olivia Barnes, wanted them — her in particular — to take a breather from going hard and fast.
Nothing wrong with the passenger seat, right?
Maybe if she kept telling herself that, it'd sink in.
Hard and fast was all she knew. How she got the job done.
But ... even her partner had reminded her there were sixteen members of their human trafficking unit. They were all partners.
She'd rather hang a 'Doesn't play well with others' sign around her neck.
Her partner's gravelly voice made Lee tense. "Yup." She didn't look his way.
"You seem shaky."
"I'm good." Flexing her fingers on her gun's grip, she inched forward. "Wanna get this done."
Downs didn't have a chance to answer; the battering ram exploded the door in front of them and wood splinters went flying.
Collective shouts of, "Federal agents!" coupled with "FBI!" surrounded her and she rushed forward behind her teammates. In correct formation, head in the game.
We're doing this.
Screams and whimpers greeted her ears. Lee's heart used to jump with the fears of the victims every time they did a raid, but not anymore. Instead it was steel, and her gut made of iron.
She was used to seeing tears, and hearing them cry. What she'd never get used to were the bruises and skimpy clothing on kids that were less than half her age.
Babies. They're all babies.
Most weren't even sixteen, yet in a lot of cases they'd been bought, sold and forced to have sex with more pieces of scum than she could count. The lucky ones got owners that didn't beat them, but a sex-slave was still a sex-slave.
They all needed to die.
The relief on the girls' faces when they first realized they were being rescued was always a reward. Reminded Lee she was a good person — why she did the job. If only the sentiment lasted in her mind.
A shot rang out and her instincts kicked in. She dropped to the dingy carpet and rolled to the nearest cover — a dark-colored couch.
Someone returned fire just as her partner crouched beside her. "Shit," Downs spat. "It's going south, fast."
She smirked and raised her Glock. "Nah, we got this." She popped up over the couch for a quick survey.
A bullet whizzed overhead and her partner yanked her back down.
"Don't be reckless."
When he flashed his perma-scowl, Lee almost rolled her eyes.
How many times had he said that?
Welllllllll, for today it's probably the first time.
Orders to drop weapons went unheeded as more bang-bang made her ears ring. She risked another look over the couch.
Other members of their unit had taken cover, but several were returning fire.
One of the girls screamed again and Lee looked that way. Three — no, four — teens were huddled in a corner, arms wrapped around each other, but they were out of the line of fire.
Today's group of fine, upstanding human traffickers was made up of illegals from Mexico.
She and Downs had been after these guys for months. The fact they'd hooked up with Tony Caselli's outfit had been dumb luck.
The other object of today's raid — Giovanni Nicci — was shooting a big .45.
One of the assholes he was supposed to sell girls to lie in a pool of blood about five feet from him. Dead Mexican's partner returned fire next to the Newyorker scum.
If — no, when — the FBI gained control of the situation, their unit would score double. According to the morning's intel, Nicci was supposed to be meeting up with Russians. They'd have to find out why there'd been a change in plans later. It had to mean something.
Lee took a shot, hearing her partner curse next to her. She ignored him and pulled the trigger again.
Nicci shouted something in Italian and grabbed his arm. She'd hit the bastard, but it wasn't mortal. He backed up quickly, retreating down the hallway.
"Least let me cover your ass!" Downs' shout sounded behind her as she scooted around the couch to pursue Nicci.
Gunfire in the front room came to a halt as members of their unit fell in behind Lee and her partner.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Evan Roberts wrench the second Mexican's arms behind his back to cuff him after kicking the guy's forty away.
The short and stocky man started cursing in Spanish. He gestured and told the FBI agent to lick his balls.
She smirked when Roberts answered the man's insult with something appropriate in Spanish.
Mexican Two snapped his mouth shut.
Didn't expect the white guy to speak the language, huh, scum?
Lee kept moving, sensing her partner's large frame at her back.
He inched forward and they made eye contact for a split-second. Downs nodded toward the master suite of the apartment and she moved beside him to the right.
Another one of the guys moved in to cover their asses and her partner kicked the door in.
Nicci fired a shot even before the wood slammed into the wall.
Lee didn't hesitate. She pulled the trigger of her forty not once, but twice.
The Italian thug grunted and winced. He dropped the gun as members of her unit swamped the room. "Fuck me. All-fucking-right!"
"Hands up." She smirked and gestured with her Glock. "C'mon, I don't need an excuse to put another hole in you, Nicci."
"I got witnesses, bitch."
"Yeah, yeah. Shut it," Downs ordered.
Her partner holstered his Glock and Lee kicked Nicci's weapon away. With the help of Agent Bobby Smythe, Downs hauled the injured piece of scum to his feet.
"Hey! I have rights!"
Lee laughed and holstered her gun after the click and slide of her partner's cuffs shouted the human trafficker was secure. "Yeah, rights. Like those little girls out there. You're real concerned about rights."
"Not in a million years."
"Partner, I got this. Why don't you see about the girls?" Downs arched a dark eyebrow.
She narrowed her eyes, but nodded.
Did he think she was going to attack Nicci or something?
"I'll get the medics on the way for His Highness here," she said on her way out.
Lee palmed her cell and turned on her heel, shaking her head. She made the call. Medics would be there in a few.
She took one look at the four petrified teens huddled in the corner and swallowed back a curse. They should've let Nicci lie on the floor and bleed.
Lee sucked in a calming breath and approached the real victims of the raid.
* * *
"The girls are all Mexican. Two are fourteen, one fifteen and the other, sixteen. They won't tell me their last names, but they're not legal. They were supposed to be absorbed into Caselli's organization." Lee shook her head and met her partner's crystal blue gaze.
"Child Services are already on the way."
"Good. But that's going to scare the shit out of them even more. They don't speak English. Hope we get a bilingual responder, or I'll have to ride down there with. Not on my list of fun things to do. Anyways, what did Nicci give you? Anything?" "Some chatter about one of Caselli's big deal attorneys getting kicked to the curb, but nothing else," Downs said.
"Didn't we already know that? Angelo Fiato or some shit?"
He nodded. "Right. But rumor is he's hiding upstate now, and there's a pretty heavy-duty purse on him."
"Can we confirm it?"
"Roberts and Stewart are already on it."
"Good deal. Hope the guy's good at hiding. When Caselli takes out a hit on you, it's nothin' to play with. Did he say anything about the Russians?"
Her partner shook his head. "Nope. Denied there was a meet scheduled."
"Damn. Either we got bad intel or he's a liar. I'm leaning toward liar. Maybe we'll get it out of him later." Lee studied her partner's expression when he didn't remark.
Downs sighed and ran his hand through his graying-brown crew cut. He had about ten years on Lee's thirty-six, but the ex-Marine wasn't washed out.
He was still as tall and muscled as the picture on his desk of him in fatigues from twenty years before. Broad-shouldered and handsome, he always wore a neatly trimmed moustache.
They worked well together — for the most part. But 'reckless' and 'Lee' in the same sentence were his two favorite words.
Didn't matter what order.
His silence shouted that he wanted — no, needed — to lay into her. It was a normal part of their after-raid debrief.
"Go for it," she said.
His eyes flashed — she hadn't missed her mark.
"One day you're gonna get killed. It won't be because you're a shitty agent."
Lee opened her mouth, but he put his hand up.
"You know what you're doing. We both know that. But it's really fucking amazing that after a year and a half, I do have to remind you I'm your partner."
She stared. Her proper, rule-following partner had dropped the F-bomb?
Lee blinked. "Look, I'm —"
"Don't tell me you're sorry, Special Agent Selena Dawson. Show me. Quit shitting on me."
Jesus. Where the hell is this coming from?
"Just remember you're my responsibility, as much as I am yours," Downs said when she still didn't speak. "You put yourself in danger so, I have to do the same to go after you. You might live alone, but I have a wife and two kids who are pretty fond of me coming home at the end of the damn day."
That about defined 'asshole' and 'partner'. Both suddenly synonymous with 'Lee Dawson'. Succinct, even.
"I'd ask you what happened when you went to Texas to go after Marchetti, but you'd just tell me to go to hell, so I'll just tell you to get over it and stop being a loner. It's been six months."
Six months, or six days, she wasn't talking to anyone about Nate Crane.
"I don't want to be forced to have a sit down with Barnes," he said.
Ice raced down her spine. It wasn't a threat her partner had made — it was a promise. A man of only necessary words, Downs never said anything lightly.
Normally she would've cracked a joke, teased him, but as Lee looked into pale eyes that matched her frozen veins, she couldn't utter a thing.
It's starting. Dallas all over again.
"I like working with you," she managed.
His shoulders relaxed, that big chest heaving as he sucked in air. "I believe you. But you need to get it together before you get yourself hurt. Or worse."
"Before I get you hurt, you mean." Her throat was tight, painful as she forced her statement past her lips. Her heart thundered, her temples throbbed.
Downs' eyes widened and his large hand clamped down on her forearm.
Lee would've pulled away, but her vision wavered, her legs wobbled.
Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. She fought the darkness swamping her vision.
"Holy shit, you're hit!"
Blackness swallowed her whole.
"I shouldn't even be here, but I needed to talk to you." Angelo looked around the fancy hotel lounge as if nothing was wrong, but Nate didn't miss his old friend's damp forehead or how his dark eyes darted all over the place.
"What's wrong, 'Lo?"
The old college nickname made one corner of the guy's mouth lift, but Angelo didn't relax an inch. Broad shoulders tight, he was hunched on the bar stool. "I'm in trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
His friend's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. He reclined on the barstool, but the action was forced. His long legs were tense, and he tapped one foot on the carpeted floor, the other foot perched on the bottom rung of the stool and shaking.
"That bad, huh?" Nate asked, sucking in a breath when his buddy remained silent. Seeing the confident — some would say egotistical — high-powered attorney rattled was enough to make him shake in his cowboy boots.
Angelo Fiato had done very well for himself after Colombia Law. Starting off as a prosecutor for the District Attorney's office in New York City, he'd rarely lost a case. Then he'd decided there was more money in defense, and had crossed to the dark side, as their buddies teased.
He'd done even better on his own. His firm was huge now — partners, junior partners and associate attorneys galore. He'd been after Nate to leave the county DA's office in Dallas for years. Even offered him partner at his firm right off the bat. When Nate had refused repeatedly, Angelo had accused him of being too idealistic.
'Lo nodded, patting his forehead with a silk handkerchief before shoving it back inside his jacket. His hand shook. "You were right, my friend."
"About?" He arched a brow.
"I shoulda stayed with the DA's office."
Nate paused as the wheels turned in his head. "You pissed off a client?" "You could say that. I agreed to assist the FBI. In a certain matter. It got back to him, and ... Well, let's just say, taking a risk to see you is putting it mildly."
Angelo shook his head. "Much bigger than that."
He shoved his hand through his hair. "What can I do to help?"
A bitter laugh greeted his ears when he met his friend's gaze again. "No one can help me now. I'm fucked."
"Then why —"
Angelo's olive skin drained of color and his expression screamed horror. He was glued to something over Nate's right shoulder, but a woman's shriek and a boom made his ears ring before he could react.
Two more shots reverberated before he processed what was happening.
A starburst of dark red was born on Angelo's dress shirt, spreading fast. His friend grabbed at his chest and toppled off the barstool.
Nate whirled, but the gunman was already retreating at top speed, a blur of dark clothing. "Son of a bitch!"
People scattered, several with cellphones already pinned to their ears. "I'm calling 9-1-1," a woman shouted.
"Thank you!" He spit curses that rarely exited his mouth, and knelt next to his college roommate. "Angelo! 'Lo, answer me." He shook his shoulder, but the man's eyes were rolled to the back of his head, whites showing, his arms slack at his sides.
Blood dominated his chest.
The only part of his shirt still white was his collar.
This time he received a grunt, and hazy dark orbs struggled to focus on his face. Angelo lifted his arm, and Nate grabbed his hand, squeezing.
"C'mon, buddy, stay with me. Medics are on the way."
"Shhh, don't talk. Just hold on. You're gonna be fine." He swallowed against the lump in his throat.
Lying through your teeth.
His friend was dying. The knees of Nate's jeans were already soaked with Angelo's blood.
The pool was growing.
"L-l-listen ... Pl-please."
"I'm listening." he bent low, his ear right over 'Lo's mouth.
The word was clear and rocked him to his soul.
"Son of a bitch."
* * *
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too, partner." Lee grinned at Downs, setting his coffee on the desk in front of him, since he'd neglected to take it from her hand.
She'd got into the habit of grabbing java for them on the way into the office.
Usually the guy was grateful.
"Go. Home. Dawson."
"No. Way. Downs." Three days off had been enough. She'd been going stir-crazy alone at home, but she wouldn't tell him that.
She sat at her desk after a healthy sip of hazelnut cappuccino, ignoring the burn in her side. Lee pressed the power button and waited for her computer to boot up.
Also ignored the imposing figure of her large partner behind her, even though she could feel the irritation coming off him.
"What do we have going on this morning?" She ensured she was pleasant, as normal as she could manage.
When a good minute had passed and he didn't answer, she spared him a glance over her shoulder.
His pale gaze scorched, and his mouth was a hard line. Downs tilted his head to one side, crossing his thick arms over his broad chest.
Lee smirked. "You might be a foot taller than me, and twice what I weigh, and you might intimidate the shit out of most people, but I am not most people, Clint Downs."
One of his eyebrows shot up. "How are you feeling?"
She swiveled her chair around. That was the last thing she'd expected him to say. "Fine. You?" Couldn't quite decipher his sigh.
He shook his head. "You're fixin' to kill me, as you would say."
Excerpted from "Calculated Collision"
Copyright © 2014 C.A. Szarek.
Excerpted by permission of Paper Dragon Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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