Who placed the bomb under schoolteacher Tess Collins's classroom deskand why? There's only one man who can save TessSWAT cop Declan Shaw. Her survival depends on him defusing the bomb and protecting her from an unknown enemy. He can't afford to be distracted by the alluring beauty who was his onetime high school crush. But keeping her safe soon becomes more than just a job for the highly trained explosives expert. And it'll take all his professional skills to catch the madman targeting Tess before it's too late.
SWAT: TOP COPSLove in the line of duty
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Tess Collins stood at the front of the classroom, looking out at her new group of fourth graders. More than halfway through their second week of school, things were beginning to settle down. These were her students for the next nine months. For better or worse, she thought wryly.
"Good morning, everyone," she greeted her children with a smile. "Please take your seats."
The twenty-two fourth graders radiated energy but obligingly wiggled into their assigned seats. She checked to make sure none of them were absent, before she turned back to her desk. One glance at her seating chart confirmed that a few of the little rascals had switched spots.
"Ellen and Tanya, please return to your proper seats. Hunter and Brett, I also need you to go back to your assigned seats."
The four kids gaped in surprise but giggled and shuffled around until they were seated at their correct desks. She decided not to make a big deal out of their prank, at least for now. If they continued to misbehave, she'd have to make them stay after school to have a little chat.
"Today we're going to start with a math quiz that should be a review from what you learned last year."
She ignored the low moans of protest. "Miles, will you please help me hand out the papers?"
Miles, a short redheaded boy with lots of freckles, jumped up and took half of the stack of quizzes from her hands. She handed out the papers on one side, looking over the rest of the class as he passed a quiz to each student on the other side.
"Olivia, please put your book away. Only pencils and erasers are allowed." Tess waited until the young girl put her paperback away before glancing up at the clock. "Everyone ready? You may begin."
Instantly, all the students turned their attention to her impromptu math quiz. Satisfied they were all working diligently, Tess took a seat behind her desk to check out her lesson plan for the rest of the day.
Tess froze, the tiny hairs on the back of her neck lifting in alarm when she realized her knee had bumped into something hard. Battling a wave of trepidation, she bent sideways to see her knee was pressed up against a small box with lots of wires sticking out from it. The box was somehow attached to the inner side of her desk and there was a tiny red digital display with numbers counting down.
For a moment she simply stared in horror, barely believing what she was seeing. Afraid to move, fearing that releasing the trigger might cause an immediate blast, she glanced out at her students, who were all concentrating intensely on the pop quiz. Watching all those innocent faces, she grimly realized there wasn't a moment to waste.
"All right, class, we have a change in plans. Turns out we're going to have a fire drill. I need everyone to line up with their buddy and walk down the hall toward the principal's office just like we did the first day of school. I want you to go all the way outside. Now!"
The kids looked around in confusion but were more than happy to abandon their math quizzes. She quietly urged her students to hurry, unable to bear the thought of anything happening to them.
"Miss Collins, aren't you going to come, too?"
Trust Miles to be concerned about her. He was the sweetest child and she was often struck by the resemblance to her brother, Bobby. Although Bobby was a sullen seventeen-year-old now, a far cry from the loving younger brother he used to be.
"Not right now. But, Miles, I want you to tell the principal to come and see me, okay? Now go outside, but walk, don't run."
Tess held her breath waiting for the students to follow her instructions, walking out of the classroom and then down the hall. She closed her eyes in relief when the last pupil was out of harm's way.
Thank You, Lord.
"Tess?" Evelyn Fischer, the elementary school principal, came into the classroom, a concerned frown furrowed on her brow. "What's going on?"
She swallowed hard and tried to remain calm. "Listen, you need to get every student and teacher out of the building, immediately. Tell them it's a fire drill. And then I need you to call 911, because I'm afraid I've triggered a bomb and if this timer is correct, we only have thirty minutes until it blows."
Declan Shaw set aside his M4 .223 and pulled his ear protectors off with a disgusted sigh. "I'm still only hitting the bull's-eye at sixty-five percent."
"Hey, you're getting better," his buddy Isaac Morrison pointed out. "The rest of your shots are in the next closest rim. That's not half-bad."
"Yeah, I think you're improving, Deck," Caleb O'Malley added. "Stop being so rough on yourself."
"We're down a sharpshooter," Declan pointed out. "Which means I need to step up my game."
"Your game is fine," Caleb assured him.
Their phones rang simultaneously, and Declan reached for his, knowing this couldn't be good news. "What's up?"
"Bomb threat at Greenland Elementary School," their new boss, Griff Vaughn, said. "Get ready to roll."
Declan didn't hesitate but ended the call and shouldered the M4 before leading the way through the training facility to the front of the building housing the sheriff's department. Isaac and Caleb were close on his heels.
"Probably a false alarm," Isaac muttered as they quickly donned their protective vests and the rest of their SWAT gear. "Some student pulling a prank to get out of school."
"Doubtful," Declan said grimly as he headed out to the armored truck. "Have you forgotten how we've had two other very real bombs within the past month, including one at the minimart that injured my sister? I don't think it's a bogus call at all."
"Most likely the same perp who seems to be targeting areas where students hang outthe custard stand, the minimart and now the elementary school. We need to catch this guy, and quick," Caleb added as he automatically slid into the driver's seat.
Declan knew that he'd be the lead point person during this tactical situation. He might not rock at being the top sharpshooter on the team, but he was the best when it came to disarming bombs.
Provided they could get there in time.
Declan tucked in his earpiece and flipped the switch on his radio. "Give me the intel," he ordered.
"We have a box with a trigger and a timer fixed underneath the fourth grade teacher's desk. She heard a click when she sat down and was smart enough to send the kids outside right away."
His gut clenched as he realized there was a possible victim close to the device. His sister, Karen, was lucky to only have suffered bruises and a broken arm, when she could easily have died from the force of the blast, just like his teammate. Once again, he couldn't help wishing he'd been the one called to the scene at the minimart. He wanted to believe his being there might have made a difference.
"Have you swept the school to make sure everyone is out and there are no other explosive devices?"
"Affirmative. The teacher managed to get almost everyone evacuated before we arrived. We're going through the rest of the building now, but so far it looks as if there's only the one device. We won't be able to use the robot on this one."
"Keep searching the rest of the building, until it's clear. We'll be there in five," Declan assured him.
"So it's the real deal, huh?" Isaac asked.
"Sounds like it. And there's an innocent victim involved, too. So step on it, Caleb."
"Like he isn't already going pedal to the metal with lights and sirens?" Isaac muttered. "Cool your jets, man."
Declan bit back a sarcastic reply, knowing his buddy was right. He needed to get his mind in the zone if he was going to be successful at disarming the explosive device in that classroom.
He went through his pack, double-checking to make sure he had all the equipment he'd need. Two weeks ago, he'd successfully dismantled the bomb that was found behind the counter at the custard stand. He wanted to believe he'd be able to take care of this latest bomb, too. So far they'd been fortunate that they hadn't suffered more casualties. Although losing three people after the minimart blast, one cop and two civilians, was three too many.
Declan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. When they arrived, the area around the school was vacant. The first cops on the scene had done a good job of getting all the students and faculty as far away from the building as possible. Caleb pulled up to the front door and Declan was the first with boots on the ground, his pack slung over his shoulder.
"I'm going in," he told them. "Isaac, you and Caleb stay here but keep the lines of communication open. I may need some assistance."
"Roger that," Caleb said. "We'll be ready."
Declan gave a brief nod before following the cop back into the school. The hallways were lined with coat hooks that were hung at what seemed like dwarf level. Even though he'd gone to school here, the place didn't look at all familiar now that he was seeing the building through adult eyes. Then again, he hadn't set foot inside a school since barely managing to graduate from Greenland High ten years ago.
He'd signed up to join the marines and left town a couple of weeks later, without looking back. After completing his six-year commitment, including two tours in Afghanistan, he'd returned home to join the Milwaukee County SWAT team to help support his older sister, Karen, and her young twin daughters.
"Third door on the right," the cop said, hanging back in a way that made it clear the guy didn't want to go much farther.
"Thanks." Declan nodded at him, then headed toward the classroom.
He strode through the doorway, sweeping his gaze over the empty desks, papers and pencils scattered all over the floor. He zeroed in on the slender woman seated at the teacher's desk. Her long wavy blond hair was pulled back from her face, and when she turned toward him, his gut wrenched with recognition.
"Tess?" He blinked, wondering if he'd made a mistake. But as he came closer, he knew he hadn't. Tess Collins had been a year behind him in high school, but they'd never really been friends. She was the class valedictorian, while he'd been the town troublemaker. They'd rarely spoken until the night he'd saved her from an assault mere weeks before he joined the service. He wasn't sure why she wasn't a doctor the way she'd planned, but there wasn't time to wander down memory lane.
"Don't move, okay? I'm going to take a look at this device and see what I can do to get you out of here."
"Declan," she whispered faintly. And despite the seriousness of the situation, he was secretly pleased that she'd remembered him, too. "I thought you joined the marines."
"I did, but now I'm back." He didn't want to scare her by pointing out how precarious her situation was, so he chose his words carefully as he gave an update through his radio. "Isaac, this looks to be a homemade device, although it appears the perp stuck a lot of extra wires into it, probably hoping to cause confusion."
"Roger, Deck. Is there a timer?"
"Affirmative. We have less than twenty minutes and counting." He knelt beside her and opened his pack. "I don't want you to worry, Tess. Just stay as still as possible."
"I'm trying," she said. "I've been telling my students for years to sit still, but I had no idea just how truly difficult a task that really was until right now."
After taking out his flashlight and peering at the device, he gave Isaac and Caleb more information. "This isn't the exact same makeup as the device from the custard stand, but I still think it's the same perp. I'm betting it has basic dynamite inside, along with tacks, just like the last one."
"Tacks?" Tess echoed in horror.
"Roger that, Deck," Caleb said. "Can you disarm it?"
"Affirmative." Declan wasn't about to say anything else that would scare Tess more than she already was. But the fact of the matter was that the placement of the bomb was ingenious. With it tucked up against the inside wall of the desk, and Tess's knee pressed against the trigger, his ability to work around the device was severely limited. Their perp was getting smarter and bolder at the same time. Not a good combination.
"I need someone to take the teacher's place," he said. "Any volunteers?"
"I'll do it," Caleb offered.
"No way," Isaac said. "You have a wife and daughter depending on you. I don't have anyone dependent on me so I'll do it."
"No," Tess spoke up. "I'm not switching places with anyone. That's a waste of time. Just figure out how to shut it down, okay?"
Declan glanced up at her. "Tess, I want you to be safe."
"I'm not trading places, end of discussion." Her brown eyes were haunted. "I trust God and I trust you, Declan. We'll get through this."
Her faith, even after all this time, was as strong as ever and only proved once again how far out of his league she was. "Negative, Isaac. She's refusing to leave. Sixteen minutes and counting."
"I trust you, Declan," Tess said again.
Humbled by her faith, he wanted more than anything not to let her down. "I'm going to move your chair as far over as possible so I can get closer to this thing, okay?" Deck stuck his flashlight in his mouth and turned over on his back, scooting under the desk. He held the wire cutters and then painstakingly followed the various wires.
Sweat beaded on his brow, rolling down the side of his face. Normally he was glacier cold when it came to disarming bombs. He didn't mind putting his life on the line to save others. In fact, he figured this weird talent he seemed to have was his calling.
But knowing that Tess would sufferand probably die if he failedelevated the tension to a whole new level.
He twisted several of the wires and found the bogus ones, holding his breath as he clipped them and tugged them from the clay inside the box. When he was down to four wires remaining, he wiped his brow with his forearm.
"Five minutes and counting," Isaac said in his ear.
He didn't want to think about what Tess was going through right now. She hadn't said a word as he worked, not even to ask how close he was to disarming the bomb.
"I've got four wires left. The rest were decoys," he informed Isaac. "They're all the same color, so I have no way of knowing which one is the ground, which one is attached to the timer and which one is the live wire leading to the fuse."
"You can do it, Deck," his teammate said. "Go with your gut."
Normally that was good advice. But not now. Not when Tess was the one who'd die alongside him if he failed.
He closed his eyes and cleared his mind, trying to imagine what the device looked like on the inside. With Tess's knee pressed up against the trigger, he hadn't been able to get the casing off to see for himself.
"Three minutes and counting," Isaac said.
"Dear Lord, please guide Declan," Tess whispered. "If it be Your will, give him the wisdom and strength to disarm this bomb. We ask for Your mercy and grace, Amen."
Tess's prayer caught him off guard, but then again, praying certainly couldn't hurt. He opened his eyes, and lifted the wire cutters.
"Two minutes, ten seconds and counting," Isaac told him.
Declan stared at the wires. He grabbed the one that was farthest away from the timer. If he were the one creating the bomb, he would thread it through to come out the opposite end as a confusion tactic. He clipped it with the wire cutters. The timer stopped and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"I've got it," he muttered. He clipped the next wire and relaxed when the bomb didn't blow. "Tess, I want you to slowly move your knee away from the box."
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ms Scott is a really creative writer. She pulled me into the story in the first 6 pages. I couldn't put the"Nook" down until I came to the last page