When a bomb explodes at the Washington Monument, the Capitol K-9 Unit goes on high alert. Though injured in the blast, K-9 cop Isaac Black is determined to get to the bottom of the situation. He'll follow every lead, including investigating his ER nurse's suspicious behavior. He soon learns Daniella Dunne has long been in a witness protection program. And it's apparent that her identity has been compromised. The killer she once sent to prisonher own fatherhas been released and vows revenge. As Isaac and his stalwart beagle safeguard Daniella at his family's farm, a murderer with a personal score to settle lurks in the shadows
Capitol K-9 Unit: These lawmen solve the toughest cases with the help of their brave canine partners
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Capitol K-9 Unit Five, safety check at Washington Monument complete," Isaac Black radioed via the com-link he wore. "DC police are also on scene for crowd control."
"Copy," echoed back into his earpiece. "Stand by."
Isaac turned his attention to Detective David Delvec-chio of the DC Metro squad and smiled. "You look like something's bugging you. What's the matter?"
"I'm just not fond of congressmen who throw their weight around and cause unnecessary overtime." He eyed the gaggle of news vans and cameramen surrounding Harland Jeffries. "If he wants to grandstand he should do it on his own turf."
"And preferably during office hours," Isaac added. He glanced down at Abby, his brown-and-white bomb-detecting beagle. She had stretched out on the grassy verge skirting the Washington Monument, panting and cooling off after the excitement of doing her job. "At least one of us is happy to be working tonight."
"Yeah. I'm sure glad we have you and the rest of the K-9 team on call. My men didn't have time to do a proper sweep of this area. By the time we got the word about the congressman's impromptu press conference, we only had an hour to deploy."
Isaac nodded. "Not to worry. If Abby says there's no bomb on the grounds, it's safe. You can trust her."
"I do," Delvecchio replied.
Curious tourists were gathering outside the police line, milling around and straining to get a peek at whoever was the center of attention. Politicians and their aides in dark business suits stood out against the colorful garb of the bystanders as Secret Service agents would have at a three-ring circus performance.
Isaac was about to withdraw to his SUV and wait to be released when he noticed his dog stiffen and ease to her feet. Since he had not given the command, her independent actions drew his attention.
"Abby?" He crouched, following the beagle's line of sight. She was clearly focused on the small group nearest to the congressman. "What is it, girl?"
Instead of relaxing, the dog froze in place, her hackles bristling. Her nose quivered. Her tail was half-raised and still. If they had not just completed a search of the premises Isaac would think
He stood and grabbed the detective's sleeve. "Pull everybody back. Clear the area. Now!" Isaac's commanding tone left no doubt of his seriousness.
"Why? What do you see?"
"Nothing," Isaac said. "But Abby senses something's wrong and that's good enough for me."
Delvecchio was already shouting into his radio. Patrol officers immediately began to shoo bystanders farther away from the monument.
Isaac moved forward with Abby. "Seek it, girl. Seek it."
They didn't have far to go. The little beagle cut straight across the inner circle, zeroed in on a briefcase leaning against the base of one of the concrete benches that ringed the obelisk and plunked down into a sit.
"I have a suspicious object on the west side, at about two o'clock from the police staging area," Isaac reported via the com-link.
His new orders followed in moments. "Secure the area and pull back to a safe distance. Bomb squad is on its way."
He scooped up his dog, checked to make sure no one else remained nearby and would be in danger, then began to jog away.
As he ran, time seemed to slow unnaturally. His feet weighed a ton, making him feel as if he were slogging through cold molasses.
Tension grew with every step, pressing against him and making his heart pound.
Abby was trembling as though she sensed impending doom.
Suddenly, a concussion rocked the atmosphere. Isaac saw the flash through his closed eyelids an instant before he heard the blast.
Instinct made him hunch over his dog's body to protect her as he was knocked to his knees by the force of the explosion.
Most of the debris it created fell like fistfuls of tossed pebbles, but a few chunks of concrete were heavy enough, large and jagged enough, to do damage.
One piece grazed his shoulder. Another hit the back of his lower leg. Both stunned him rather than caused immediate pain.
How could this have happened? Abby is never wrong.
Which meant that the bomb had to have been placed there after he and the dog had made their rounds. That fact should narrow the list of suspects considerably.
Propping himself on one elbow with the other arm gripping his wiggling partner, Isaac tried to blink the grit from his watering eyes. Gray, cloudy residue filled the air. People coughed and wheezed. Many were in full flight while a few others had paused with cell phones to take macabre pictures of the chaos.
Isaac rolled into a sitting position and brushed himself off. He first checked to make sure Abby was all right, then peered back toward the source of the blast to check for casualties.
"Please, God," he prayed, "let my warning have been in time."
He rubbed his smarting eyes on the sleeve of his uniform jacket. It looked as if there were some injuries but the apparent victims were all on their feet. A few were reeling and being assisted by police and friends. Others appeared merely stunned. A cacophony of horns and sirens filled the night.
Ears ringing, head spinning, Isaac knew what he must do. There was no time to waste. Where there was one bomb there could easily be another. And another.
He wanted to lie back on the cool grass, close his eyes and wait for full recovery of his senses, but that was not how he and his fellow K-9 officers operated. The public came first. He'd tend his wounds later. As long as Abby was all right, they'd keep doing their job.
Isaac tightened up on the leash, struggled to his feet and took a step forward. His calf muscles knotted.
Intense pain radiated from his boot to his hip and dropped him where he stood.
The flow of patients through the ER at DC General Hospital had been surprisingly sparse for a balmy spring evening. Daniella Dunne stifled a yawn and smiled at a fellow RN who was also battling to stay alert.
"Every time we have a slow night I wonder why I like this shift so much," Daniella remarked.
"Because you crave adrenaline just like the rest of us," the older woman replied. "When this place starts to really hop we all feel a lot more alive."
"I suppose you're right." As far as Daniella was concerned, staying awake half the night was profoundly better than working days when so many more reporters and photographers were liable to be on the job. The last thing she needed was to become an unwilling star of some viral video. She'd matured and changed her hair color from blond to brunette, long to shorter, but that didn't mean she wouldn't be recognized by the same criminal element that had caused her to enter witness protection in the first place.
"Prepare for casualties," someone shouted. "There's just been an incident at the Washington Monument!"
Daniella froze for a heartbeat, then jumped to her feet and hurried down the hallway to the ambulance receiving area, where the majority of the night shift was gathering around a police scanner.
"Was it an accident?" one of the young orderlies asked.
"Doesn't sound like it. The first responders pegged it as a bomb," someone else answered.
Daniella clenched her fists. Her stomach churned. She suddenly saw herself as a frightened teenager again and pictured her father being arrested for the bombing death of her mother. Ten long years had passed since then, yet those terrible memories were as vivid as if everything had just happened.
Her initial disbelief about her mother's fate had quickly been supplanted with righteous anger, especially when she'd heard her estranged father begin to laugh. Laugh! And so she had done the only thing she could. She had mustered her courage and agreed to testify against him in court.
While most of the ER staff remained gathered around the scanner, Daniella eased away and headed for the hospital chapel.
Until the victims of this current attack arrived for treatment, the best thing she could do was pray. Fervently. The way she had prayed for her mothereven though she'd known in her deepest heart that Mama's survival was impossible.
Being incapacitated made Isaac frustrated and angry. He'd repeatedly waved off paramedics, sending them to tend to others. As the area was systematically cleared, however, he realized he was eventually going to have to let the medics look at his throbbing leg.
Detective Delvecchio approached. "I wondered where you'd gotten to. Is Abby all right?"
"Yes." Isaac tried to rise and was stopped by the other man's hand on his shoulder. "Relax, man."
"I can't. There's work to do. What if there's a second bomb?"
"If there is, your team will find it. Some of them are sweeping the area now. So far, so good."
Isaac heaved a sigh. "Thank Godliterally."
"I have been. Particularly since there don't seem to be any life-threatening injuries."
"That's a relief."
"Yeah, and a surprise. So, are you ready to go to the hospital?"
The detective offered a hand and Isaac took it, grimacing as he rose. Standing wasn't too painful as long as he kept weight off his injured leg by leaning on David's shoulder.
"If you can make it to my car I'll drive you to the ER."
"That's against protocol."
"Your choice," Delvecchio said, arching a brow. "All the ambulances are busy. I consider this an extenuating circumstance, but it's up to you. Do you want to wait?"
"No." Isaac leaned slightly to glance at his calf. Blood had stuck the dark fabric of his uniform to his lower leg but seemed to have stopped flowing for the present.
"Why don't you help me to my car so I don't get yours dirty?"
"That's what plastic sheets are for," the detective said with a slight smile. "There's no way I'm letting you drive in your condition. I saw you send the medics to other victims and I figured it was high time you got some TLC yourself."
Isaac managed a smile. "No offense, buddy, but I'd rather have a pretty nurse taking care of me than a bossy cop like you."
Chuckling, Delvecchio slipped his arm around Isaac's waist for added support and started to move toward his unmarked car. "I'll see what I can do about finding the right nurse when we get to the hospital. What about Abby?"
"I'll handle my dog. You just get me to a doctor who can sew me up so I can go back to work."
"You're pushing it again."
Isaac sobered, glancing over his shoulder. "I know. But I feel responsible for what happened tonight and I intend to catch whoever did this."
"I've already ordered every news crew to give me copies of their raw footage. My men are also collecting the shots taken by bystanders so we can run facial recognition on anyone we don't know."
Pausing, Isaac gave the man a serious look. "Don't just concentrate on strangers. Watch the politicians, too, particularly Harland Jeffries and his staff. Considering his long-standing reputation in dirty politics, I wouldn't put it past him to try to create sympathy by pretending to be exposed to possible injury. It wouldn't be the first lie he'd ever told."
Isaac got a sinking feeling when David shook his head. "I strongly doubt that's what took place tonight," the detective said.
"Why? Was he hurt in the blast?"
"No. He may be a master manipulator but he was complaining of chest pains when they hauled him away. If this bomb scare was supposed to boost his chances of getting his new crime bill passed and it caused him to have a heart attack instead, he badly miscalculated."
Daniella had been working behind the scenes while one of the on-call doctors did triage on the victims. None seemed badly hurt and outside of a little first aid, a few stitches and a tranquilizer here and there, they had been easy to treat.
She was cleaning up one of the exam cubicles and hoping she could avoid the reporters who were still milling around the lobby when the head nurse separated a gap in the heavy curtains.
"I've got another victim herebrought in by private vehicle. All the doctors are busy and we're out of wheelchairs. Take care of him for me, will you?"
Daniella relieved the other nurse and slipped her arm around the uniformed officer's waist, starting to guide him. She was careful to avert her face for the brief moments when she was exposed to the public, hoping no cameras would capture her image. That was when she noted the leash in the patient's hand. "I'm terribly sorry. You can't bring a dog into the hospital."
"This isn't a dog."
"Sure looks like one."
"Nope. This is officer Abby of the Capitol K-9 Unit. See her vest?"
"She's still a dog."
"I beg to differ. You permit service dogs, don't you?"
"Yes, of course, but "
"Then you have to allow Abby in. Besides, I'm injured and she's my partner. She goes where I go."
"Do you promise to take the flak if the hospital administration finds out and pitches a fit?"
"No problem. I'm already wearing a flak vest under my jacket." He glanced toward the foyer, where Delvec-chio was speaking to additional reporters. "Don't I have to fill out paperwork?"
The direct answer was yes. Daniella chose to handle it another way in order to keep her distance from the news crews. "I can help you with those details while you hold your dogI mean your partner."
She helped him lie down and lifted his boots to rest on the narrow exam table. When she picked up a PDA and began poking its screen with a stylus, she wished her hands would stop shaking. "Your name, please?"
"Isaac Black. How long have you worked in ER?" he asked, frowning.
When his fascinating, dark gaze locked with her green eyes she could barely force herself to look away. "Seven years. Why?"
"Because you're acting awfully nervous. You aren't afraid of dogs, are you?"
"Don't be silly. I love animals."
"Then what's wrong? If you had already examined my leg I'd think I was hurt worse than I'd imagined."
"I'm sure you'll be fine, Mr.I mean Officer
"May as well call me Isaac. It solves lots of problems."
"Fine. Can you put the dog on a chair long enough for you to be treated?"
"Of course. If I'd been able to drive myself over here I'd have left her at headquarters. Unfortunately, I was overruled."
"A wise decision," Daniella said. She laid the tablet aside while her patient pointed to a chair and the beagle obediently jumped into it.
"I'm impressed," she said. "My cat barely comes when I call him for supper."
"Not surprising. Cats have devious minds."
If he hadn't been smiling at her, Daniella might have thought he was serious. "That's debatable."
The resulting twinkle in his dark eyes was so appealing she had to force herself to look away. He was taller than most of the men she knew, and far more muscular. His smile was amiable enough, yet there was an aura about him that made her think of danger. Either that or she was simply being influenced by the disquieting thoughts that had begun the moment she'd heard the news of an explosion.
Once she had recorded Isaac's necessary preliminary information, she slit the leg of his uniform pants the rest of the way to his knee, folded back the fabric and carefully removed his boot.
"Well? How bad is it?" he asked.
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