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The sound of the gunshot sent Captain Shaw Tolbert's heart to his knees.
Hell. This couldn't happen. He couldn't lose a single one of those hostages.
"Hold your fire!" Shaw shouted to the nearly three dozen officers and SWAT team members he had positioned all around the San Antonio Maternity Hospital.
For a split second everything and everyone around him froze. No more frantic orders and chatter from his men. Even the reporters and photographers who were pressed against the barricades nearly a block away went still, their cameras no longer flashing the bursts of light that knifed through the night.
The stunned silence didn't last. The officers and the SWAT team already had their weapons ready, and they adjusted, taking aim in the direction of that shot.
But the shot hadn't come from any of them.
It'd come from the fourth floor where a group of pregnant women, newborns and hospital staff were all being held at gunpoint. Hostages that included Nadine Duggan, the wife of one of Shaw's own men, Lieutenant Bo Duggan.
That shot meant Nadine or one of the others could have been killed.
Shaw didn't know all the hostages' names. Heck, he wasn't even sure he had an accurate head count. Basically, anyone unlucky enough to have been on the fourth floor at 3:00 p.m. had been taken captive by at least two gunmen wearing ski masks and carrying assault weapons. Shaw had managed to get that meager bit of information from a nurse who'd made a hysterical nine-one-one call during the first minutes of the attack. Since then, neither the nurse nor any of the other known hostages had answered their cells or the hospital phones.
Using the back of his hand to swipe the slick sweat from his forehead, Shaw maneuvered his way through his men and the equipment and hurried from his command center vehicle to the hostage negotiator. It was Texas hot, and the unforgiving August heat was still brutal despite the sun having set hours earlier.
He spotted the negotiator, Sergeant Harris McCoy, in the passenger seat of a patrol car that several officers were using as cover. The blond-haired, blue-eyed officer might look as if he'd just stepped off a glossy recruitment poster, but he was the best that San Antonio PD had. In the past four years, Harris had successfully negotiated nearly twenty hostage situations. Shaw desperately needed him to add one more gold star to his résumé.
"What happened?" Shaw asked.
Harris shook his head. "I'm not sure. I was talking to one of the gunmen on his cell—trying to get the guy to give us his demands. Then he shouted 'she's getting away' and he hung up. About five seconds later, someone fired the shot."
Shaw cursed. He prayed that shot had been fired as a warning and not deadly force. Because if a hostage had been killed, he'd have to seriously consider storming the place ASAP. He couldn't sit back and let all those people die. But the SWAT team and police forcing their way onto the ward would almost certainly cause its own set of casualties.
"Try to get one of the gunmen back on the line," Shaw told Harris.
While Harris pressed redial and waited for the gunman to answer, Shaw held his breath and paced. Not that he could go far. The scene was a logjam of law enforcement officers who'd initially responded, and more had arrived as this ordeal had dragged on. Nine hours. God knew what kind of havoc the gunmen could have created in that much time.
"What happened?" Harris demanded the moment he had one of the gunmen on the phone. Like the other calls throughout the afternoon and evening, this one was on speaker.
"Everything's under control," the gunman assured him. Which was no assurance at all.
After nine hours, Shaw was familiar with that voice, though the guy had refused to identify himself. But it was a voice Shaw would remember, and when he had everyone safely out of this, he was going after this SOB and his accomplice. That wasn't his normal role as a captain. These days, he was pretty much a supervisor working from his desk, but for this, he'd make an exception and do some field duty.
"Is anyone hurt?" Harris asked the gunman.
"No. It was a misunderstanding, that's all. It won't happen again. Will it?"
"No," someone said. A woman. And her voice created an uneasy feeling inside Shaw.
It couldn't be her.
Shaw jerked his phone from his pocket and scrolled through the numbers until he found Sabrina Carr's. He jabbed the call button. Waited. And cursed when he heard the ringing. Not just on his own phone, but the sound was also coming through Harris's cell. Each ring went unanswered, and each ring confirmed that this nightmare had just gotten a lot worse. Sabrina's phone was on the fourth floor of that hospital.
And so was she.
"That was Sabrina Carr's voice," Shaw managed to say to Harris in a whisper.
Harris's head whipped up, and he pinned his alarmed gaze to Shaw's. "You mean…" Harris mouthed, but he didn't finish.
Shaw didn't finish it for him, either, but they both knew what this meant. Sabrina Carr was the surrogate carrying Shaw's child. She was eight months pregnant.
And Sabrina was a hostage.
Shaw resisted the urge to lean against the patrol car that was just inches away, and he choked back the profanity. This was a complication he didn't need, and the situation had just gotten a lot more personal.
"Are you certain the hostage is all right?" Harris demanded from the gunman.
"See for yourself," the man answered.
Shaw looked up at the row of eight-foot-tall windows that encircled the entire fourth floor. The building was about thirty yards away, but he still saw the movement behind the thick glass.
Someone pushed a woman into view.
The height and build were right for it to be Sabrina. About five-six and average. So was the pregnant belly that her tan cargo shorts and bulky green top couldn't hide. Ditto for that mop of shoulder-length red hair—Sabrina had hair like that. But praying he was wrong, Shaw grabbed a pair of binoculars from the officer next to him and took a closer look.
It was Sabrina all right.
She was shades past being pale, and he could tell from her expression that she was terrified. Probably because she'd just come close to dying. That shot had no doubt been fired at her.
Even though there was no love lost between Sabrina and him, Shaw wasn't immune to the terror he saw on her face and in her eyes. After all, she was carrying his child.
Their child, he silently amended.
The image of his late wife flashed through his head. The baby Sabrina was carrying should have been his wife's. His and Fay's. Sabrina should have been just a surrogate, that's all, but that had changed when none of Fay's eggs had been viable. Sabrina had become the egg donor then, too. Sabrina's DNA, not Fay's. More than a mere surrogate. But that was an old wound that he didn't have time to nurse right now.
"Did you know Sabrina was in there?" Harris asked, placing his hand over the receiver so the gunman wouldn't be able to hear the question.
Shaw shook his head. Sabrina had her regular prenatal checkups at a clinic in the hospital, but she wasn't scheduled for anything this week. Shaw knew that because she always sent him the dates and times of her appointments. Not that he'd ever gone with her to any of them. But he knew she wasn't scheduled for anything until the day after tomorrow.
So, why was she there?
"Ask to speak to her," Shaw instructed.
Harris nodded. "I want to talk to the hostage to make sure she's okay," he relayed to the gunman.
The gunman didn't respond right away, and with the binoculars pressed to his eyes, Shaw watched. Waited.
The seconds crawled by.
Then, much to his surprise, he saw the gloved hand jut out and give Sabrina the cell phone.
Because Shaw was watching her so closely, he saw her look in the direction of that hand. The gunman's hand. Shaw could hear the man give her whispered instructions, but he couldn't make out what the guy was saying. It was almost certainly some kind of threat.
"Captain Shaw Tolbert?" she said.
That sent another hush around him. Inside, Shaw was having a much stronger reaction than a hush. Why the devil was she asking for him? If the gunmen knew her association with the captain of the SAPD, things could get even worse for her.
And the baby.
"Yes?" Shaw answered, trying to sound official and detached. Judging from the sound of her voice, the call was on speaker at Sabrina's end, which meant the gunmen were listening to his every word. He certainly didn't want to let them know that he knew her name, just in case he could salvage this situation.
"They read my medical records," Sabrina explained. She swallowed hard. "They know you're my emergency contact."
Shaw choked back a groan. By knowing that bit of information, the gunmen had already guessed that Sa-brina and he had some kind of relationship. Heck, her records might even say that he was the baby's father. If so, the gunmen had some serious leverage.
Both Sabrina and the baby.
"Are you…all right?" Shaw asked.
"She is, for now," the gunman answered for her. "You'll need to do some things to make it stay that way."
Even though he could clearly hear the man, Shaw took Harris's phone and brought it closer to his mouth. "What things?"
The gunman grabbed Sabrina's phone as well, but she stayed in the window, staring down at the crowd. He saw her pick through the faces until she spotted him. Shaw looked away. He needed to focus, and he couldn't do that if he was looking at her. Because looking at Sabrina only brought on those haunting images of his wife.
A man didn't forget watching his wife die in his arms.
"My partner and I are ready to get out of here," the gunman announced.
Shaw didn't celebrate either silently or aloud because he knew this was just the first step to ending this, and every step afterward would be even more dangerous than the present situation.
"We're coming out through the front entrance," the gunman continued. "And we'll have a hostage with us."
They were probably planning to take Sabrina, unless Shaw could get them to change their minds.
"So, no tricks," the gunman warned. "Have your officers back way off and have a car waiting for us out front. We'll give the driver instructions as to where we need to go."
Shaw sandwiched the phone between his shoulder and his ear so he could motion for one of his men to spring into action. They'd anticipated the car request and had one ready. A vehicle with not one but two hidden GPS trackers that would allow them to find the guys.
There was something not quite right about all of this.
The gunmen hadn't requested money or any other form of ransom. That wasn't just unusual, it was downright unsettling. After all, the men had just spent hours holding the hostages, and they'd done that without saying why this situation had started in the first place. A hospital maternity ward wasn't the setting for many hostage standoffs, especially since this didn't seem to be personal.
At least it hadn't been until now.
Had the gunmen gone after Sabrina in the first place, or had that happened only after they'd learned about her connection to an SAPD police captain? Maybe the plan was to take her to a secondary location and ask for ransom?
That theory would have held some merit if Shaw had been a rich man. He wasn't.
So, what did the men want?
Drugs, maybe. That was always a possibility when it came to hospital robberies. Maybe that was all there was to it. They'd wanted drugs and now they had them and needed to get away. That didn't lessen the danger, but it would make the investigation a little simpler.
The officer parked the car in front of the hospital, and Shaw motioned for everyone to move away. He would pull all his men back onto the sidewalk of the building across the four lanes of St. Mary's Street. The SWAT team would stay in place on the rooftops. Because the surrounding buildings were taller than the hospital, Shaw didn't think the gunmen had actually seen the SWAT team. But still, they must have known they were there. This hostage situation was all over the news, and the world was watching. The gunmen must have realized that every conceivable measure would have been taken to apprehend them.
"The car's in place," Shaw told the gunman over the cell.
"Good. We're coming out. Remember, no tricks."
"My advice? Don't take one of the new mothers or pregnant women hostage. Too much trouble, and too many things can go wrong. Take me instead."
"No, thanks. I got my own ideas about how to handle a hostage." And the gunman hung up.
Shaw didn't have time to react to that bold threat because movement caught his eye. A gloved hand reached
out and grabbed on to Sabrina's arms. She snagged Shaw's gaze then. For just a second. And the gunman yanked her out of sight.
It sickened Shaw to think of the stress this was creating for the baby. And the danger. No unborn child or pregnant woman should have to go through this, and Shaw had to make sure this ended now.
Shaw relayed the information he'd just learned to one of the uniforms who would pass it on to the other officers posted at various points around the building. He handed the phone back to Harris, and he drew his gun while he moved back across the street with his men. He kept his attention fastened to the front of the building. Watching. Bracing himself for whatever was about to go down.
When the gunmen came out, it was possible the SWAT team would have clean shots, but if that didn't happen, the plan was to let the gunmen drive away and have plainclothes officers in unmarked cars follow in pursuit. Then, he could get his men inside the building to assess the damage. It was entirely possible they would have dead bodies or injuries on their hands. Ambulances were waiting just up the street since the hospital itself had already been evacuated, and the staff inside might need medical attention of their own.
Shaw wouldn't be able to hold back the lieutenant whose wife was inside, so he hoped this departure ended with the gunmen being killed.
If not, well, the night was just starting.
"Smoke!" Harris shouted.
Shaw looked in the direction of Harris's pointing finger. Oh, mercy.