“Special Agent Polanski, the S.A.C., thinks I’m a solution,” I said, suspicious.

Either I had seriously underestimated my value, or Maddox was full of shit.

“Just read it,” he said, standing up again and walking toward the window. Gauging by his stern expression and stiff posture, he was nervous.

I opened the thick card stock to the first page, and then I continued to look over the numerous FD-302s, surveillance photos, and a list of the dead. One report contained charges and court transcriptions of a college kid named Adam Stockton. He was an organizer of some sort, and he had been sentenced to ten years in prison. I skimmed over most of it, knowing that wasn’t what Maddox wanted me to see.

Several of the photos were shots of a man who looked a bit like Maddox—same height but with a buzz cut and arms covered in tattoos. There were more with a pretty young girl, early twenties, far more years of wisdom in her eyes than there should be. Some photos were individual shots, but most were of them together. I recognized her as the girl in some of the photos I’d posted on my office wall—Abernathy’s daughter. The kid with the buzz cut and Abby were obviously a couple, but the way they held on to one another led me to believe their relationship was new and passionate. If not, they were very much in love. He held a protective stance in almost all the photos, but she stayed at his side, not at all intimidated. I wondered if he even noticed he stood that way when he was with her.

They were all students from Eastern State University. Further reading told of a fire that had burned down one of the buildings on campus, killing one hundred thirty-two college kids—at night. Before asking why that many kids would be in the basement of a school building that late, I turned the page to find my answer—a floating fight ring, and the Maddox look-alike was a suspect.

“Jesus Christ. What is this?” I asked.

“Keep reading,” he said, his back still turned to me.

Almost immediately, two names jumped out at me—Maddox and Abernathy. After a few more pages, it all came together, and I looked up at my boss. “Your brother is married to Abernathy’s kid?”

Maddox didn’t turn around.

“You’re messing with me.”

Maddox sighed, finally facing me. “I wish I were. They’re renewing their vows at the end of next month in St. Thomas…so the family can attend. Their first wedding was in Vegas almost a year ago—”

I held up the paper. “Just a few hours after the fire. She’s a clever one.”

Maddox walked slowly over to his desk and sat down again. His inability to sit still was making me even more nervous than he appeared to be.

“What makes you think it was her idea?” he asked.

“He doesn’t seem like the type to let his girlfriend save him,” I said, recalling his posture in the photos.

Maddox chuckled and looked down. “He’s not the type to let anyone save him, which is why this is going to be particularly hard. Special Agent Polanski insists I need backup, and I have to agree with him.”

“Backup for what?”

“I’m going to have to break it to him after the ceremony.”

“That she married him to give him an alibi?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Abby might have married my brother for a reason, but that reason is because she loves him.” He frowned. “It will destroy him to find out the truth even if she was trying to save him.”

“Do you always do what’s best for your brothers?”

He looked down at the pictures I couldn’t see. “You have no idea.” He sighed. “I did what I could after the fire, but as you can see from the list of the dead, a ten-year sentence from Adam isn’t going to cut it. Adam was charged with two hundred sixty-four counts of involuntary manslaughter—two for each of the victims.”

“How did the District Attorney get away with that?” I asked.

“Adam was indicted under two different theories of the crime. Criminal negligence manslaughter, and misdemeanor manslaughter.”

I nodded.

“My hands were tied,” Maddox continued. “I couldn’t help my brother—until I let Polanski in on what made me one of the youngest ASACs in Bureau history. I had an in. He almost didn’t believe me. My little brother was dating and is now married to the daughter of a person of investigative interest in one of our bigger cases—Mick Abernathy. I got Polanski—with the director’s approval, of course—to waive the charges if Travis agreed to work with us, but cracking this case is going to take longer than his jail sentence might have been.”

“He’ll be an asset?” I asked.


“The FBI is recruiting him?” I said, astonished.

“Yes. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

My face screwed into disgust. “Why tell him at his wedding?”

“I won’t tell him on his wedding day. I’ll do it the morning after, before I leave. It has to be in person, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. I don’t go home anymore.”

“What if he doesn’t agree to it?”

Maddox blew out a long breath, wounded at the thought. “He’ll go to prison.”

“Where do I come in?”

Maddox turned a bit in his chair, his shoulders still tense. “Just…hear me out. It was one hundred percent the S.A.C.’s idea. He just happens to be right.”

“What?” My mind was racing, and my patience was wearing thin.

“I need a date for the wedding. I need someone else from the Bureau to attend and witness the conversation. I don’t know how he’ll react. A female agent will be a good buffer. Polanski thinks you’re the perfect candidate.”

“Why me?” I asked.

“He mentioned you by name.”

“What about Val? What about Constance?”

Maddox cringed and then stared at his finger while he tapped it on his desk. “He suggested someone who would fit in.”

“Fit in,” I repeated, confused.

“Two of my brothers are in love with women who…lack finesse.”

“I lack finesse?” I asked, pointing to the center of my chest. “Are you fucking serious?” I craned my neck. “Have you met Val?”

“See?” Maddox said, pointing at me with his whole hand. “That is exactly something Abby would say—or…Camille, Trent’s girlfriend.”