Authors: Paige Tyler
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Suspense
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Copyright © 2015 by Paige Tyler
Cover and internal design © 2015 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover art by Kris Keller
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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With special thanks to my extremely patient and understanding husband. Without your help and support, I couldn’t have pursued my dream job of becoming a writer. You’re my sounding board, my idea man, my critique partner, and the absolute best research assistant any girl could ask for.
Gage Dixon strained against the heavy barbell, relishing the resistance as the stacked metal plates on either end of the solid steel bar made the whole thing flex. The bar quivered slightly as it reached that sweet spot of the lift where his pecs stopped doing all the work and his triceps and shoulders kicked in. But he’d already been punishing his body for over an hour, and this time the bar momentarily stopped moving upward, gravity insisting that down would be a much better—and easier—direction to go.
He grit his teeth, let out a growl, and forced his muscles to keep pushing until his arms locked out straight. He racked the load with a clatter of metal on metal. Even then, the bar still bowed and flexed—loading 525 pounds on a barbell would do that.
Gage sat up and looked around the small weight room he and the other members of the Dallas Police SWAT Team had set up. It wouldn’t measure up to any of the fancy gyms in the area, but considering they’d paid out of their own pockets for the mirrors, heavy-duty lifting equipment, and free weights, it wasn’t too shabby. It would have been nice if it were bigger, though. The presence of the four other men reminded him just how small the room was.
Then again, his men made most rooms seem small—special weapons and tactics teams tended to attract big, muscular men, and his particular team happened to be bigger than most. No surprise there either—alpha werewolves were always big as hell.
Gage wiped the sweat off his face with the back of his arm and took a moment to appreciate the relative peace and quiet. Regardless of the room’s size, it was rare for there to be only a handful of men in it. But with half the team out helping run weapon qualifications at the police academy and most of the others out conducting joint training with the ATF, the compound was practically empty.
Across the room, Diego Martinez spotted for his best friend and teammate, Hale Delaney, as the man tried to go for a personal record on the other bench press. At the same time, Gage’s two assistant squad leaders, Mike Taylor and Xander Riggs, were hanging upside down from the ceiling-mounted chin-up bars, seeing who could do the most crunches. Alphas didn’t need much of an excuse to turn everything they did into a competition.
They hadn’t gotten around to cutting an opening for the air-conditioning units they’d bought for the room yet, so it was pretty warm. Which meant that all of them were sweating like crazy even though they weren’t wearing shirts.
Gage was wondering if he should spring for some gym towels when he heard the sound of fast-moving boots coming down the hallway.
The other werewolves’ keen hearing had also picked up the sound, and everyone was looking toward the doorway expectantly by the time McCall poked his head around the corner.
“Got a bad one, Sergeant,” he said to Gage. “Hostage situation over on Belmont. Multiple injuries, at least two dozen hostages. Five shooters being reported.”
“Well, there goes the workout,” Delaney muttered, getting up from the bench.
Gage stood. “Five shooters, huh?”
At McCall’s nod, Gage glanced at his two assistant squad leaders. “You two mind doing some entry work for a change while I run the show?”
“Hell, no,” they said in unison, excitement clear on their faces, even though they were still hanging upside down.
Kids—they’re so easily excitable.
Mike and Xander jumped down, joining Martinez and Delaney. Sweat was still running down their bodies, but they were eagerly awaiting his next order.
“Then gear up,” Gage ordered. “I want us out of here in less than five minutes.”
The four men cleared the room in seconds, leaving Gage with his weapon’s expert. “Sorry,” he told McCall, “but you’re stuck here on the phones until we get some people back.”
McCall grumbled—none of them liked to pull desk duty when there was a mission to do instead. But McCall knew it had to be done. “I’ll get Martinez’s and Delaney’s assault weapons out for them” was all he said as he left.
Gage was only thirty seconds behind the rest of the team, but by the time he got to the second floor of the admin building, the other four men were already gearing up. He joined them as they yanked on navy blue T-shirts, matching military-style uniforms, and black boots. Then came the heavy black Kevlar vests, with tactical web pouches attached. The sounds of Velcro being yanked open filled the room as they adjusted their vests, ammo pouches, and holsters to a snug fit. The gear wasn’t the most comfortable stuff to wear, especially during the hot Texas summers, but it came with being in SWAT.
McCall met them heading down the stairs, tossing Martinez and Delaney their military grade M4 carbines, while giving Gage more details on the situation. The kidnappers were serious—there were cops and civilians already on the way to the hospital in serious condition.
As they moved outside, Gage’s men carefully checked their weapons, yanking slides and bolts back to inspect chambers, then dropping magazines and clips to check their loads before slamming them in with a firm click.
While they’d been working out in the weight room, there had been a lighthearted sense of competition about them. They’d even joked and laughed while they’d gotten dressed. But as they moved toward the operations vehicle and the white SUV that McCall had ready and running for them, the tone had changed. A charged intensity filled the air, the kind you sometimes feel right before lightning strikes.
They were heading out to face a group of men who’d already shown a willingness to shoot cops and innocents. They likely wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a SWAT officer, given the chance.
Everyone turned to look at Gage just before climbing into the vehicles. He glanced at his watch—barely over three minutes since the call had come in. Good.
“We’re going in a little undermanned on this one,” he announced, though it wasn’t something that needed to be said. “There’s a department negotiator heading for the scene, and we’ll give him every chance to get control of this situation. You heard what McCall said, so you know as well as I do how this one is likely going to turn out. These men are killers, so if we have to go in, don’t take any chances. Hit them hard and fast, and let’s get everyone out of there alive and in one piece—us included.”
With that, Gage climbed into the passenger seat of the white SUV, and Martinez had it moving for the gates before he even got his seat belt on.
“Hey, Mac. We got something.”
Mackenzie Stone jerked her gaze away from the fenced-in compound and its collection of mismatched concrete buildings. In the driver’s seat of the
undercover van, her photographer, tech guy, assistant, and all-around best friend Zak Gibson yanked the buds from his ears and switched the police scanner on the dash to the external speakers. The blare of a fast-talking dispatcher spouting code numbers and addresses filled the van.
He glanced over his shoulder at her. “There’s a hostage situation over on Belmont Street and the on-scene commander has requested SWAT to respond.”
About damn time. “Excellent. Let’s go.” She climbed around the console and into the passenger seat as he cranked the engine. “It’ll take a while for them to gear up. If we hurry¸ we can get there before they do.”
She and Zak had been slowly roasting in this dang surveillance van for two days in a row, trying to figure out how to get inside the SWAT team’s inner sanctum. She’d been so close to walking up to the gate and ringing the freaking bell. It probably wouldn’t have gotten her anywhere, but right about now she was willing to try anything.
Mac clicked her seat belt into place just as Zak slammed on the brakes. She was thrown against the restraint, then flung back. “What the hell?”
Zak pointed at the monstrous vehicle barreling through the gate, cutting them off. A white SUV bearing a matching SWAT insignia followed, lights flashing as it raced down the road.
“How is that even possible? They just got the call,” she said to Zak.
“Fast response time?”
She snorted. Just one more thing that didn’t add up about the Dallas Police Department’s SWAT team. She considered scrapping the idea of following them in favor of sneaking into the compound and snooping around, but the gate had already closed. Inside, a cop the size of a linebacker scanned the fence line, then headed back into the building. Just her luck, one of them had stayed behind.
She tucked her long, dark hair behind her ear and sank back in the seat. She wouldn’t have to be so underhanded about this whole thing if the police department had agreed to a ride-along with SWAT. Or at the very least, an interview with their commander. Why wouldn’t they want her to do a story about the team unless they were hiding something?
Investigating cops who might be corrupt was never a good idea. But she’d earned her reputation by sticking her nose in places other investigative journalists were too afraid to go. She’d covered everything from gangs killing each other over territory and coyotes who robbed illegals blind to the murderous Mexican drug cartels and dirty politicians. She went wherever the story took her and never flinched when things got rough. She’d helped to make the
synonymous with fearless, Pulitzer-worthy journalism. So when she’d told her editor she wanted to go after SWAT, he gave the okay. Even if he did think she was wasting her time. There wasn’t a division in the Dallas Police Department that had a better—or cleaner—reputation than SWAT.
It didn’t help her cause any that everyone except the criminals SWAT put in prison thought the tactical team was damn near perfect. They’d taken on some of the toughest and most ruthless crooks, gangbangers, and cartel goons in the city. You name the bad guys, Dallas SWAT had taken them on and taken them down. Considering the load of major shit storms the group had been involved in, they had a ridiculously low number of complaints filed against them. There’d been allegations, but nothing had ever come of them—not since the new team leader, Sergeant Gage Dixon, had taken over eight years ago. Since then, the SWAT team had been beyond perfect.
By itself, that was enough to make her suspicious. All organizations tended to screw up occasionally, no matter how dedicated and capable they were. But that rule didn’t seem to apply to the Dallas PD SWAT.
The police chief held them up as an example for the rest of the department to emulate, and for reasons she couldn’t figure out, the other divisions seemed eager to try. The mayor even used their exploits to roast other civic leaders across Texas and the southwest. Hell, even the Girl Scouts wanted to be associated with them, and SWAT was happy to oblige by lending their muscle-bound presence to the annual cookie sale kickoff every winter. As far as everyone in Dallas was concerned, the SWAT team was better than sliced bread, PB&J with the crusts cut off, and sex in an air-conditioned room—combined.
“Just what do you expect to find, Mac? That they don’t floss after eating popcorn?” her editor had asked in his deep Texas drawl. “Maybe the Dallas PD finally got something right for once. Maybe this city just has the best damn SWAT team in the country.”
Mac had good reason to believe the SWAT team was crooked and a danger to everyone around them. But she had to be damn careful how she sold it to her editor. She had a hard time believing the story, and she’d heard it firsthand from an eyewitness named Marvin Cole.
Marvin was a two-time loser currently out on bail awaiting trial, this time for kidnapping, assault, and resisting arrest. Normally, Mac wouldn’t have given the guy the time it took to call security to escort him out of the building. But then he had something on the one group of people in Dallas who were damn near untouchable—SWAT.
She was intrigued, so she’d bought him a cup of coffee in the newspaper’s break room and listened to his story. She figured it was sour grapes—they had busted his ass, after all—but she pretended to pay attention as Marvin described how two big SWAT guys had smashed in the reinforced door of his secret hideout, tossed him around like a rag doll, and took the kid he’d been holding for ransom.
She didn’t exactly swoon from excitement, but then Marvin described how one of the SWAT officers had growled like an animal, then grabbed him and shoved him up against the wall, holding him there with one hand as his feet dangled above the floor. The only reason that got her attention was because Marvin weighed about 350 pounds—and most of it was muscle. Still, SWAT guys were big and tough—everyone knew that. Marvin must have seen how skeptical she was because he opened his shirt and showed her the two sets of four parallel scratches gouged in the muscles of his enormous chest. He looked as if he’d been clawed by a big animal.
“Son of a bitch did that with his bare hands. I lived on the streets my whole life, so I know when someone’s messed up,” he said as he slowly buttoned his shirt and sat down. “Those SWAT dudes that everyone’s so freaking impressed with? They’re on something.”
She lifted a brow. “You mean like steroids?”
Marvin shook his head. “Hell no, lady. Shit, I take steroids and I ain’t never acted like that. No, those cats are on something really serious. Something that makes them crazy strong.”
The idea that SWAT members were on some kind of designer drug was insane, but Marvin wasn’t making up the ragged marks on his chest.
“What do you hope to gain from telling me this?” she asked him. “Even if this is a case of police brutality, I don’t think it’s going to keep you out of jail.”
Marvin shrugged. “Probably not. But maybe it might land one of them in there with me.”
She’d sat in the conference room for a long time figuring out what to do. The possibility that Marvin was right had buried itself in her soul too deep to let go. But while convincing her boss to let her run with the story had been easy, getting close enough to any of the guys on the SWAT team to find out what they were hiding, if anything, was damn near impossible. As far as she could tell, they only hung out with each other, and it wasn’t at any bar or club she could find. They only worked out at their own facility, so she couldn’t bump into them at the gym or along a running path somewhere. And if they bought their groceries from a store anywhere in the Dallas area, she couldn’t figure out where.
Well, today she was going to talk to the elusive SWAT commander even if she had to take the man hostage.
Okay, maybe not. But she
going to talk to him, damn it.
Even though Zak drove like a madman, they couldn’t keep up with the SWAT vehicles, so the scene was already well established by the time they pulled up to the industrial district on Belmont. There was crime tape going up everywhere, but fortunately Zak found a space near the curb only two blocks down the street from the SWAT tactical operations vehicle. It was usually impossible to get this close to an active shooter situation. That probably meant there weren’t enough uniformed officers available to both set the perimeter and evacuate the surrounding buildings. No doubt the cops would remedy that soon. Until then, she might be lucky enough to get a few action shots and gain a bit of insight into how the mysterious SWAT team worked.
Zak leaned forward to get a better look, making a face when a pair of EMTs ran across the street half carrying, half dragging a man covered in blood.
“You think maybe we should move a little farther back?” he asked as the EMTs put the man in the ambulance and jumped in after him. The ambulance peeled away from the curb.
“I don’t think so. It looks like all the action out here is over with. We’ll be fine.” Mac held a pair of binoculars to her eyes and scanned the area in front of the building. “So, what’s our situation?”
Zak pulled out the buds he’d stuck back in his ears so he could listen to the scanner on the drive over. Thank God he was good at figuring out all those silly-ass codes and cop acronyms because it was like a foreign language to her even after ten years as a journalist.
“Sun Community Bank over on First and Devon got hit by a crew about an hour ago.” He fished his camera out of the back and swapped out his normal lens for something bigger. “Someone got to the silent alarm and the cops were waiting for the bank robbers the second they walked out. That’s when all hell broke loose.” Zak stopped as he fiddled with one of the option settings on the top of the camera. “The cops ID’d at least seven bad guys armed with automatic weapons, some of whom were set up outside the bank while the rest went inside.”
Mac set down the binoculars and climbed in the back to grab her own gear. “That doesn’t sound like your ordinary bank robbers to me.” She took a binder out of her bag and started flipping pages. “More like a gang with military training.”
She’d spent enough time investigating gangs on both sides of the border to recognize their handiwork. Some of them could rival the U.S. military when it came to weapons and tactics.
“You could be right,” Zak agreed. “Regardless, the responding officers got hit hard. There were multiple injuries, including some innocent bystanders. Cops took down at least two of the robbers, but the rest got to their vehicles and turned it into a car chase.” He pointed at the industrial building in front of them. “They’re holed up in there.”
Mac didn’t recognize the name of the place, and sure didn’t know what kind of product E-Brand produced, but the bad guys had decided the three-floor brick building made a good defensive position. Probably because it didn’t have any windows.
“They already shot four people and are currently holding thirty employees hostage,” Zak continued.
“What do they want?” she asked as she scanned the pages of the SWAT personnel folder she’d put together. It wasn’t much more than fluffy Dallas PD public affairs crap at this point, but it was a start.
“That’s anyone’s guess,” Zak told her as he started snapping pictures of the scene. “But I think we can assume it’s not world peace since SWAT was called in.”
As if hearing the introduction, the door of the tactical operations vehicle opened and three big men stepped out. Dressed head to foot in black with heavy tactical vests, helmets, and automatic weapons, Mac would have known they were SWAT even if she didn’t have their pictures. She had to admit their public affairs headshots didn’t do them justice.
Maybe it was just that a simple two-by-three-inch photo couldn’t capture how big the three men were—at least six-three or six-four with broad shoulders and biceps she wouldn’t be able to get her hands around. Or maybe it was that all guys simply looked hotter dressed up in tight-fitting tactical gear.
She dragged her gaze away—a little reluctantly—to scan each cop’s bio.
Officer Diego Miguel Martinez, ten years on the force, the last four with SWAT. More commendations than fingers.
Officer Hale Delaney, eight years on the force, the last three with SWAT. Taught martial arts to underprivileged children in his free time.
Senior Corporal Michael Lavare Taylor, eleven years on the force, the last five with SWAT. His records had a big gap missing, indicating he’d probably been an undercover officer before he joined SWAT.
Mac studied the three men as they stood talking. No doubt going over last-minute details before entering the building. They didn’t look like they were on drugs. They were too relaxed and sure of themselves. If they were juicing, their hands would be shaking or something, wouldn’t they? For the first time since talking to Marvin, she began to think he’d been full of crap.
“If these guys are up to no good, they’re the hunkiest dirty cops I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Zak shrugged. “I guess some women might consider them attractive.”
She raised a brow. “Some?”
He went back to snapping pictures, this time getting close-ups of each SWAT member. “The ones who’re only interested in muscular men who kick in doors and shoot things.”
Her lips twitched. “Versus men who do what? Take pictures and eavesdrop on police scanners?”
“And program their own phone apps,” he told her. “Trust me. That skill is in high demand these days.”
Mac shook her head. Zak had nothing to feel inferior about, but they’d been ragging on each other since college, so she couldn’t resist teasing him.
She was about to remind him he’d been talking about hitting the gym more often when the door on the operations vehicle opened again and an even bigger man stepped out. She pointed at him. “I want pictures of him. Lots of pictures.”