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The Angeles Beach SWAT team leader held up his gloved hand to signal the guys to get ready.
Oh, yeah, Officer Trevor Owens was ready. Poised to rush into the auto parts warehouse, he aimed his modified AK-47 assault rifle toward the building. All set for this potential high-risk entry.
Just give the word.
This would be one hell of a dynamic infiltration. His team would shoot to disable. But if they had to kill, they would.
This suspect had gotten away with sexual assault and murder at least once, probably more. It wouldn't happen again. No matter what happened here today, Trevor would see to it that this guy couldn't harm another innocent civilian.
The team leader, Wesley Danver, signaled the breach man, who immediately busted the door open with a ram. "Angeles Beach P.D.," Wes yelled. "Arrest warrant for Jerome Marinaro."
The five officers, all clad in protective gear, barged in, weapons ready. Even in the dimness, Trevor could see the place was a mess. Stacks of pallets of different heights formed uneven rows on the concrete floor all filled with boxes and metal car parts and stuff Trevor wasn't about to figure out now. He sighted along his weapon, aimed and let up as no one appeared. Then he rushed forward, pivoted and did it again.
"Go! Go! Marinaro? Where the hell is he?" Shouts reverberated through the placeTrevor's among themamplified by the electronic equipment in his headgear. The warehouse reeked of gasoline, motor oil and mustiness, and he inhaled it all as the adrenaline rush made him breathe hard.
Where was their target? The tip that had sent them tearing over here had seemed reliable.
The suspect could be hiding behind one of those damned uneven piles or even on top of one. A cornered animal with no regard for human life, preparing to fight back.
Unless he wasn't here. The tip could've been wrong. Or he could have heard or seen them, fled already. Or
"There he is!" came a shout from Trevor's right.
"Drop your weapon," yelled another voice. "Do it."
Trevor saw the figure off to his side, aiming something in their direction. It fired, the explosion loud in this vast warehouse.
In front of him, Wes went down.
"You SOB," hollered Trevor as he aimed his assault rifle. He fired as he heard more reports from the suspect's weapon.
Suddenly he felt pain. Excruciating painin his neck, just above his protective vest.
Outside the warehouse, Officer Skye Rydell heard the gunshots, which sounded like a battery of AK-47sloud, hollow, powerful. Damn! Skye knew that the SWAT teamSpecial Weapons And Tactics prided itself on resolving situations peacefully. Most of the time. But apparently not today.
"Easy, Bella," Skye said. She was so attuned to her K-9 partner's whine that she could hear it despite all other noise. She glanced down. The nearly black Belgian Malinois sat obediently at her side on the pavement, obviously straining to move.
As suddenly as the noise had erupted, silence fellexcept for the sound of choppers overhead.
Skye had been waiting across the street with her fellow officers who were also clad in the navy blue Angeles Beach P.D. uniform. Black-and-white patrol cars blocked the street and other non-SWAT officers watched.
The suspect had allegedly assaulted a female victim earlier that day in a location down the street from here, then shot and killed her. When confronted, he threatened half a dozen other civilians and ran into this warehouseentirely out of control. That was why the SWAT team had been ordered to enter first.
But now weapons had been fired. No matter who had fired first, the likelihood was that the suspect was down, and since Bella was trained primarily as a felony suspect search dog, there was probably nothing for Skye and her to do.
At least, there was no need for Skye's official services. And under these circumstances, no use for her unofficial ones, either, unless
"Officer down, officer down!" came the shout, first from the radio on her Sam Browne utility belt and then from everywhere.
She felt Bella tremble beneath her hand. "Okay, girl," she whispered. They had to go. Now. If anyone asked questions, they were simply doing their duty, making sure the suspect hadn't escaped.
With one hand on the Glock holstered at her hip, Skye dashed across the street, holding Bella's lead as the dog loped beside her. Other officers preceded them inside the warehouse. The place was as dim as twilight, with only faint illumination from the fixtures high above, probably just the security lights. No one had turned on anything brighter. No need. SWAT equipment would allow them to see in the dark if necessary.
The place reverberated with additional shouts from fellow officers. The adrenaline rush triggered at the moment Skye had heard the shots was suddenly overshadowed by sorrow and sympathy and anger.
How bad were the wounds?
Was anyone dying? Dead?
Smells filled the air and her head. The bitter smokiness of spent ammunition. Oil or something similar. Blood. She could only imagine what the odors were doing to her scent-sensitive partner. Reaching down, she stroked Bella's head.
Turning a corner around a stack of pallets, she saw two other officers near an inert body on the floor. One was trying to stanch the flow of blood with the wounded man's own shirt. The other had his weapon drawn in case the suspect was nearby. Damn! She didn't want, didn't need an audience.
"Over there!" she exclaimed, pointing back to the way she had come. "I'll take over." She muscled them away, and both officers seemed grateful to leave and go after the suspect.
"Stay back, Bella," she told her partner.
She dropped to her knees and tugged off the standard-issue cap with the badge on the front. Her hair remained away from her face, held back by a clip at her nape.
It was Danver. Though she didn't know the SWAT officer well, she recognized him. His face was pasty and pinched, his eyes closed.
While pressing his shirt against the wound, Skye took Danver's wrist and checked his pulse. Faint. She held on to him, absorbing his condition.
Very near death. Too near for Skye to save him.
Abruptly, a pounding began in Skye's brain, a familiar rhythm that she had heard many times before. A chant of female voices
It was time.
Danver's closed eyes opened wide. He lifted the arm closest to Skye and motioned vaguely toward her.
She took his hand to comfort himand to read him, to sense who he was, what he had done in his life and whether she could do anything to help him.
As she pressed the wounded man's hand between both of hers, the chill of his flesh sent what felt like ice shards into her bloodstream. But, yes, her initial impulse was clearly correct. It was time. And she could, would, assist him.
Be strong, Officer Danver. All will be well.
Skye nodded slightly as she listened to the familiar voices chanting inside her headintoned in the tongue of her ancestors, words understood by insight and not by translation.
She felt Danver squeeze her fingers and looked down at him again. His eyes were open but glazing over. He appeared frightened. Angry, maybe.
"It'll be all right," she whispered. "You'll see. Much better than this," she said as his body spasmed in obvious agony and he cried out. She squeezed back, willing him free of pain. His hand went slack as his eyes dulled, and Skye knew he was gone.
She closed her eyes without letting go of him. A new but familiar rhythm pulsed through her. Colors shifted before her and coagulated into a long, barely arched rainbow across the horizon of the vision inside her head. Two black silhouettes moved across it. Skye realized she'd been projected into the vision and was now walking on the shifting surface beside the shadowy wraith that had been the dying man. He strode with determination. He smiled at her. Now he understood.
The image lasted only moments before she crossed back. Alone.
She forced her eyes open, gently let go of Danver's hand and eased his eyelids down over his unseeing eyes. Dead. At peace. As always, she was proud that she could help. She was also filled with sorrow, as she was each time she had to help someone die.
She blinked her tears away, inhaled sharply and forced herself to breathe naturally. She wanted only to curl up and sleep, but she fought it off because Danver was not the only officer down.
She stood, shoving her cap into her belt. Bella brushed against her. "I'm okay, girl," she said to her partner.
EMTs had arrived and were surrounded by cops for protection. A couple of them pushed past her to see what they could do for Danver. They would soon discover their attempts to resuscitate him would be in vain.
Others were already working frantically on the other guy. Skye maneuvered around them with Bella right beside her and stood looking over the shoulder of a crouching EMT. This victim was dressed in a SWAT uniform, but most of his gear had been stripped away, laying bare his torn neck and bloody chest.
The pounding rhythmthe chanting, the keening started once more inside Skye's mind.
There was another decision to make. Was he yet another fallen hero she needed to help to the other side?
The cop was apparently breathing barely. Fortunately, they'd already taken the first steps to stop the bleeding and were now busy setting up their medical equipment. Not watching her.
She took the man's hand and stared at his face. Owens. She recognized him, too. Not that they'd often gotten within twenty feet of each other. In Angeles Beach, the SWAT team trained alone.
His features were strong and masculineso appealing that she had an urge to stroke his slack cheek.
Get real, Rydell. She had work to do here. Fast.
As she continued to grasp Owens's limp hand, a sensation pulsed through her, startling her. There was something this officer had left to accomplish needed to accomplish.
She had felt it in the other injured people whose lives she had determined to save. It was an important factor in her split-second decisions.
Those she had saved had never been so far gone. But, with this man, there was something utterly critical yet to come in his future. That was what she felt. What she knew. And there was more. Something disquieting. Something important to her? A bond of some kind between them?
She sensed some intense emotions inside his mind as well as a determination to survive.
"You've got to move, Officer," an EMT shouted. She ignored him for an instant.
This cop could not die. She would not permit it even though she felt his spirit approach the bridge where Danver had crossed.
You will live. It is not yet your time. Open your eyes. The unspoken voice issuing commands was hers, and it was inundating him with a life force that flowed intentionally, excruciatingly, from her.
Officer Owens groaned and his eyes opened. They were dark, the deep brown of polished mahogany, and stared straight into Skye's.
"Holy shit," said one of the EMTs. "I thought this guy'd had it. But look at those vitals. Atta way, sir!"
They'd hooked Owens up to some monitors. Apparently whatever showed there looked promising.