Authors: D. D. Ayres
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This book is for my readers: past, present, and future. You make the effort worthwhile. Thank you.
I took some liberties in this novel. The dog training program set in Arkansas that includes a component in a women's correctional center is fictional. My inspiration for such a program came from Patriot Paws located in Rockwall, Texas. Patriot Paws is a not-for-profit agency that trains service dogs for vets. Their mission says it all: “â¦
to train and provide service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and PTSD in order to help restore their physical and emotional independence.
” Patriot Paws, and many other organizations like it, are providing a vital service to our veterans.
Thank you, Patriot Paws, for allowing me to ask a hundred questions, observe classes, and meet the wonderful staff: Lori, April, Jay, and all the others. You run a first-class operation with skill, heart, and generosity.
Thanks to my K-9 law enforcement expert for the entire series, Brad Thompson. A former senior handler and instructor/trainer of the Fort Worth PD K9 Unit, he's currently assigned to the Special Investigations Unit, where he's responsible for public integrity investigations, executive and dignitary protection and surveillance, and counter-surveillance activities.
As always, my editor Rose Hilliard. She sees no obstacles, only opportunities to make it better.
And my agent Denise Marcil. You're the best!
“What the hell do you mean by calling me on this line?”
“Sorry, sir. I couldn't get through on the other.”
“Hang up, dammit.”
“What's wrong, dear?”
Harold Tice smiled at his wife, who had rolled over in bed to look at him. “Business. Always business.” He patted her thigh. “You go back to sleep. I'll take this into my study.”
He checked to make certain he was on a secure line before returning the call from his desk phone. “Yeah?”
“There's been an inquiry into one of those files you asked us to keep an eye on, sir. The military file on former U.S. Army Military Police criminal investigations 31D Special Agent Lauray Battise was pulled this week.”
“Who pulled it and why?”
“I didn't get that information. Would you like me to look into it?”
After he hung up, Tice remained seated, drumming his fingers on his desktop. In Arkansas, the name Tice was synonymous with wealth and influence. If there was big money to be made, Tice Industries, a trucking and transportation company, usually had a cut of it. He wasn't a sentimental man, or an idealist. He was hard-nosed and pragmatic. It was his job to keep the family company going, by whatever means necessary. Only two incidents, both occurring four years earlier, had threatened his turn at the helm. One was local, and had been resolved. The other had taken place half a world away.
Tice's fingers paused in mid-drumming. The problem of MP Battise had been the more dangerous. Yet that incident had seemingly gone away after Battise was wounded in the field in Afghanistan. Lucky coincidence?
He'd never asked for the details. Even so, he had continued to keep an eye on mistakes that carried the potential for harm, however remote. The fact that someone was looking into Battise's file could be nothing. More than likely was nothing. Better to do nothing. A man in his position couldn't afford to be too curious.
“Are you coming back to bed?”
Tice looked up to find his wife in the doorway. “Will it be worth it?”
She smiled and whipped back her robe to flash him a leggy length of bare skin.
“In that case.” He stood up. “You warm up the sheets while I make one last call.”
When she had gone, he picked up the phone and dialed another number.
“I hear we have a wounded vet, a former U.S. Army criminal investigator named Lauray Battise, living in my son's district. Might make for good PR. Find out where he is and what he does for a living.”
Enemies kept close. A man in his position couldn't afford to be too careful, either.
He was running.
The best part of any day. Straight up a steep mountain incline. Knee lifts as important as footfalls. The jackhammer explosion of quads and calves propelled him off the ground and up the terrain in a zigzag pattern. One after the other, his boots hit the rocky earth, springing him forward, taking him higher.
His heart was pumping like a motor with a hemi attached. The sky above a pale-yellow dome of heat. The earth beneath him hard, desert dry, unforgiving.
It didn't matter. He was almost there. Almost at the summit. The scraping of air in and out of his lungs was the end-all, be-all of the moment.
Finally, there was no more ground in front of him.
He bent at the waist, gasping greedily for all the oxygen his lungs could wring from the thin air. His quads trembled. His calves burned. Sweat evaporated right out of his pores. He'd be dangerously depleted soon.
He stood up, arms thrown wide, staring out across the natural cauldron where the Afghani town below lay sprawled like lumpy brown fungus. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. He had achieved his goal.
Top of the world, Ma.
One second, silence in the narrow but familiar street of an Afghan village, interrupted only by his partner's excited bark. The next, a consuming white-hot brilliance. Then the searing pain of a body on fire.
Someone was screaming. Echoing in his head the sounds he could no longer make. Where was his K-9 Scud?
Rifle fire and then a canine yelp of pain came from just above him. Scud! Scud was hurt! He tried to turn his head but the effort was too great.
He was shaking uncontrollably. Shock was setting in. He was trained to resist it. Must control that. ButÂ â¦
Can't breathe. Can'tâ
Lauray “Law” Battise jerked awake to the wettest kiss of his life. There was plenty of tongue and heated breathing andâum, she might have brushed first. Her breath was two Tic Tacs short of yummy. Well, hell. It was wartime. He needed release, anything to block out the memories. Resigned, he reached for his bed partner, already hoping his nightmare hadn't preempted the possibility of a morning hard-on.
Instead of an armful of warm naked woman, he embraced a heavy muscular body encased in curly dense fur.
“What the fuck?”
Law opened his eyes and frowned down the length of his nose at his unwelcome bed companion. Sixty-five pounds of dog the color of a rusted-out car lay stretched out on top of him, her muzzle just touching his chin.
Even through the haze of his flashback, he knew the dog was evaluating his odor, teasing apart the cocktail of chemicals called pheromones, to test whether he was still in the throes of a full-blown episode.
Calm but alert, she licked at the sweat running from his chin whiskers down onto his throat then paused to gaze at him with golden-brown eyes of concern.
He pointed at the floor. “
She merely stared at him.
â” Oh, right. Civilian dog. She didn't know German commands, the language of most military and civil law enforcement K-9s. This docile pooch only knew words like
She immediately did as he asked. But moved no farther away than the side of his bed, where she stared at him with soft doggy eyes.
Law sat up and stripped a hand down his face, wiping away the sweat of anxiety. The acrid smell of rocket propellant had yet to evaporate from his imagination. He flicked on the nightstand light as his gaze tracked the small perimeter of the hotel room for intruders. The action was so ingrained in his psyche that he wasn't fully aware of it.
The room was empty. Even so, he was about to rise and double-check the door lock when the cell phone tucked under his pillow began to vibrate. He grabbed for it.
“Got yourself a dog?” His half sister Yardley's voice was unmistakable.
Law's eyes narrowed on the mix of golden retriever and poodle with a rusted-red coat, coal-black nose, floppy ears, and enormous curling tail. “What I've got here is a giant Cheez Doodle. Jesus. Who names a working dog Sa-
“Still having flashbacks?” Yardley Summers always cut to the heart of a matter.
Law didn't lie. And he never backed down. His go-to response for any question he didn't want to answer was silence.
“I'll take that as a yes. We had a deal.”
“More like extortion.”
He grunted at the memory of his half sister arriving without warning at his door six months earlier. He'd just failed his law enforcement physical, for the second time. His prosthetic leg was good, but not hard-charging pursuit-and-apprehension-reliable enough to put him back on patrol with the Arkansas State Police. So he'd handed in his resignation. Instead of accepting it, his trooper sergeant had put him on extended leave and called Yardley, the only kin Law listed in his personal file.
“I didn't ask for your help.”
“You were in no condition. I've never seen anything more pathetic than you drunk and drowning in self-pity.”
Law ground his teeth to keep silent.
After showing up on his doorstep, Yardley had cussed a blue streak as she'd bullied him into the shower then all but spoon-fed him her “special” homemade soup. She didn't mention it contained a cocktail of all the meds he had been avoiding until he was cross-eyed and sliding out of his chair.
Three days later, when she was certain he was wide-awake and could function, she'd left behind a filled-out copy of an application for Warriors Wolf Pack. Attached was a note that said:
Do this and I will do what you asked.
That was six months ago. She hadn't been in touch until now.