This powerful, thrilling and character-driven romantic suspense is a real page-turner.
Special Agent indeed, Kandice Warner is everyone’s best friend. Talk about a Barbie doll! This female might have the same pretty-girl looks but even though she has a tender heart, she also has the resilience needed for a very successful FBI Hostage Negotiator. Feelings of inadequacy constantly force her to prove that she’s tough, and she demonstrates her courage when dealing with a murderous bank robber and a desperate jumper. But her tender heart can get her in trouble and she needs to grow a thicker skin. Almost impossible when her obstinate new boss, for reasons of his own, interferes in everything she does.
Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division in Washington, Dan Black is as hard as they come. With the grit of a street youth stiffening his resolve, he’s worked his way up through the ranks, his personal space shields as strong as ever. Until he sees the sweetest things on two legs! A girl from his past. The one he’s never been able to forget. Working undercover in the Seattle bureau, he tries to protect his childhood fantasy but she refuses to stay put or take orders. Faced with a woman like that, what’s a mere man to do?
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“Smile at me one more time with those gleaming pearly-whites, and I’m liable to smash them down your throat. You got it?” Special Agent Kandice Warner had just arrived at the FBI office and greeted her co-worker.
Some of the other staffers who’d been watching laughed. One clapped, and the agent Kandice had been directing her threat to gloomily shook his head. “Kandi, what’s with the compliment? And your eyes are friggin’ twinkling. You gotta look like you mean it. God-almighty, sweets, it wasn’t at all believable.”
Hands on her hips, posing, Kandi grouched, “I practiced that for half an hour. What was wrong with it this time?”
“Well, first of all, your eyes were soft, you got too damn close, and when you’re sarcastic to a perp, ya just don’t pat his arm.”
Laughter rang out in the main room where a dozen or so others worked. Catcalls and whistles followed. One voice was louder and could be heard over the rest. “Kandi just doesn’t have the personality of a pit-bull, Wesley. She’s our sweetheart.”
“Yeah, man, leave her alone. It’s bad enough that we’re a bunch of hardened agents. We like her just the way she is.”
Wesley Snow, chubby with longish hair, glasses that never stayed up and a friendly disposition, snarled to the others, “Hell, this isn’t my idea. Kandi insists she needs to learn how to be scary, like the rest of us.”
Horrified, Kandi jumped in. “I never said that, you goofball. I said I wanted the criminals to take me more seriously. Not to decide they can run when I have a gun pointed at them.”
This brought more laughter and Kandi, not having the heart to continue with her snit, giggled with them.
“Give it up, sweetheart. We’ll look after you, same as we bin doin’ since forever. You’re like our mascot.” Bobbi, her best friend, came over and wrapped her in a hug, her brown eyes softening and her darkish-coffee skin glowing with health and vitality. The warmth, the smell of her vanilla body lotion, even the ruffling she gave Kandi’s curls, should have given Kandi a soft feeling. And it did… But the dissatisfaction still hovered and wouldn’t fade.
“I can’t let it go, Bobbi. They have to start believing I’m competent, or my credibility goes right out the window.”
Bobbi nodded, her hand now holding one of Kandi’s. “Look, the reason that asshole ran away from you yesterday wasn’t because you didn’t scare him enough to follow orders. You were cool and said most of the words I would have used.” The rest of her co-workers nodded.
“I did?” Kandi knew they all considered Bobbi a level-headed agent who came off as being one not to mess with. Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.
“Hell, yeah.” A male voice added.
“S’truth.” Wesley nodded and joined in.
“Then why did he wink at me and run away?”
“Cause you were smiling beseechingly, and you made one small mistake… I never say, please stop.”
Kandi lowered her head in disgust. “I did say that, didn’t I? He knew I’d never shoot him.”
“Honey, no matter how good you were in training, or how thorough you are when it comes to talking these assholes down in a crisis negotiation, you don’t have the killer instinct.”
“I guess you’re right.” Kandi pushed her hands through her headful of blonde curls that bounced every which way, and grinned sadly. “I’m nothing but a wuss.”
“Oh, no, honey. That’s not what I said. Why, we’ve watched you stand up to some of the meanest sons-a-bitches ever and you never back down. By the time you’re finished with the pricks, you have them following you like puppy-dogs, willing to do whatever you say. It’s uncanny. I wish I had your talent.”
The rest of the room muttered various agreements, until their new boss entered and ended everyone’s fun.
Kandi watched the room settle down, busy agents now avidly working, typing and making phone calls. She caught Wesley’s wink before his head went down too.
This guy scared the stuffing out of all of them. He had the coldest disposition of anyone Kandi had ever met. His reputation preceded him, and the fact that he’d been demoted from his hoity-toity position in Washington, as the Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division, to the lowly Seattle branch as an Assistant Special Agent in Charge must have been very demoralizing for the man whose gritty personality terrified them.
Not that anyone had the guts or the stupidity to bring it up when he’d arrived yesterday. Fred More, the SAC, had accompanied him into their office and made the introductions.
“I’m sure we were all sorry to see Neil Ware leave, but that old agent put in his time and deserved his retirement. So I’m pleased to introduce you to the man we’ve chosen to take his place, ASAC Dan Black.”
Most of the team had been happy to see Neil leave for various reasons. Kandi had wished him well and a happy retirement, but the others were glad to have done with the snarky, exacting asshole. Now they had a different man to deal with. And he looked to be worse.
Standing next to his latest assistant, Fred had looked short, plain and insignificant. Prior to that, Kandi would have described the SAC as six feet tall, nice-looking and obviously in authority, but the new man had a way of overshadowing other males in his vicinity.
Though Fred had been somewhat ingratiating when he’d said his piece and hurried from the room, his final remark rang in the quiet. “Dan Black knows more than most of you put together so work hard for him, follow his instructions and make us proud.”
Left alone with the dark-haired stunner, his expensive gray suit making every other man in the room look dowdy, Kandi’s colleagues had shuffled nervously.
Expecting the man to say a few words of greeting, make an effort to reach out to his people, Kandi, and everyone else, was robbed. As they were introduced, he shook their hands, studied each person for a few seconds. At the end of the introductions, he nodded and left them all standing there while he disappeared into his new office.
Uncomfortable, wondering why he’d stared at her the longest, Kandi mourned their old boss. Feeling mean, she wanted Neil to enjoy his retirement but, contradictorily, she also wished him back at work.
Dan Black’s eyes had been cold and uncompromising, digging into soft places she only shared with people she liked. And he certainly wasn’t one of them. Okay, she had no reason for this aversion she felt. In fact, he had her total deference as a co-worker, a boss she would be working for.
Was he familiar? Did he remind her of someone? She ignored her misgivings.
Of course, there had to be respect. But she’d hold off on her final verdict until she got to know him better. Added to that, when and if he ever stopped making her nervous, or leaving her trembling like a schoolgirl with a crush on the new boy in class, then… and only then, would she decide to let him in.
Once he’d disappeared behind his glass walls, like everyone else, she’d gone to her own cubicle with its old-fashioned separators which only measured half-way to the ceiling. Head down, she began filling in some of the endless reports while she had the chance.
But before getting too involved, she leaned over the wall, saw Bobbi on the phone and mouthed “Lunch”, and smiled when Bobbi empathically nodded. Then she sat back down and went to work.
In her job as the FBI’s only Crisis Negotiator in the area, one never knew when the next call would come. Thankfully, it had been a quiet morning and they’d gotten a lot done.
Because Bobbi got a callout about an ongoing case, they never did get their lunch together. Kandi just spent the day at her desk.
Her only complaint was that every time she looked up, her gaze automatically lifted forward and it was just her luck to be in Dan Black’s direct path. Utterly nerve-wracked to find his eyes on her each time, she smiled with her lips only and resumed work. It had been a long day.
Wesley, glasses halfway down his nose, broke into her reverie, “Kandi, we’re on. There’s a hostage situation at a downtown bank. Ten people are being held, two kids.” Bobbi put her phone down and leapt to her feet. She went to Dan’s door and gave him a brief rundown, while the rest of the team grabbed their equipment and headed to the SWAT vehicles.
Kids! Blast it! Kandi hated seeing children involved in these types of crimes. Her heart filling with its usual soft squishiness, she sought her weapon and followed the group. The last person she expected to tag along was their cranky new boss.