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Wolf Trouble by Paige Tyler (1)

Prologue

Khaki Blake slowly steered her patrol car along the dark service road behind the Grace Park apartment complex. She angled her cruiser’s spotlight toward the collection of Dumpsters and trash heaps, trying to find the source of the reported screams on the 911 call that had come in thirty minutes ago. It was dark as hell behind the apartments, and she couldn’t imagine why anyone would be messing around back here, but the person who’d called said there was something “bad going on” so the police had to check it out. And since she was in the area, that meant she was the one to check.

Just because she hadn’t seen anything yet didn’t mean there wasn’t something “bad going on.” Lakefront, along with several other cities along the I-5 corridor in Washington State, had been dealing with a growing gang problem, and the Grace Park complex was a hot spot of crime activity, with four different gangs claiming some part of it. If trouble was going to happen during the late-night shift, it would be here. Which was why dispatch was sending another cruiser for backup. That was standard procedure for this part of town. You didn’t want to be a cop left on your own around here if something went wrong. Unfortunately, her backup hadn’t showed yet, so until then, she was going to keep looking for what had prompted the call. Although if it was gang related—a beat down, an initiation, or any other crime—everyone involved was probably long gone by now.

She was just about to turn around and make another pass when she caught a flash of movement near one of the Dumpsters. She stomped on the brakes, angling her spotlight toward the area. It was tough to see around the piles of garbage around the Dumpster, but she swore she’d seen a woman’s high-heeled shoe poking out from behind it. Khaki inched the cruiser forward, hoping to get a better view, but didn’t see anyone. That didn’t mean there wasn’t a person to go with that shoe.

Khaki grabbed the radio and thumbed the button. “Dispatch, this is 3C-04. I’m 10-23 at Grace Park. Exiting the vehicle to check the scene. Possible assault victim. Stand by for ambulance request. What’s the ETA on that backup?”

There was silence on the other end for so long that Khaki thought her radio was down. Then dispatch finally answered. “3C-04, backup delayed by traffic. Recommend you remain in your vehicle until they arrive.”

Khaki frowned. Traffic—at three o’clock in the morning? She’d just reported a possible assault victim and dispatch wanted her to wait?

She swung the spotlight around again but still didn’t see anyone. Crap. If someone was behind that Dumpster, that person wasn’t moving very much, and that couldn’t be good.

“Negative, dispatch. I have a visual on a possible victim. I’m exiting the vehicle at this time.”

Flipping on her mobile radio, she stepped out of the car. She was just pulling out her flashlight when she saw the shoe move—this time for sure. The edge of the high heel drummed against the ground a few times, as if the person was trying to attract her attention. Khaki pulled out her Glock, checking every dark corner as she worked her way toward the Dumpster and the person behind it as fast as she could without losing awareness of her surroundings.

She rounded the Dumpster and grimaced. There was a woman lying there all right, and she looked bad. She had olive skin and dark hair, but it was hard tell anything beyond that because she had been beaten. There was no mistaking the blood on the torn red dress she wore. It looked like whoever had used her as a punching bag had tried to kill her.

Khaki quickly looked around, then crouched down and put two fingers to the woman’s neck, checking for a pulse. It was weak, but it was there.

The woman groaned, trying to push Khaki’s hand away.

“Ma’am, I’m with the Lakefront Police Department. I’m here to help, but you have to hang on.”

The woman dropped her hand. It was a wonder she was even still alive.

Khaki reached up and thumbed the mic attached to her shoulder. “Dispatch, this is 3C-04. I need an ambulance on the north side service road of the Grace Park apartments.”

“Roger, 3C-04. Status of victim?”

The woman was still breathing, but Khaki wasn’t sure for how much longer. “Victim is critical.”

“Roger, 3C-04. Medical services are on the way,” the dispatcher said. “ETA less than ten minutes. Is the scene secure?”

Khaki was about to give the affirmative on that, knowing the EMTs sure as hell wouldn’t come into this neighborhood if she didn’t. But before she could, a door slammed and three men came out of an apartment. They were silhouetted by the light coming through the doorway behind them, so Khaki couldn’t make out their features, but they were big and half-dressed, and at least two of them were carrying weapons that glinted in the faint light.

“That bitch is mine, and I’m not done with her.”

At least that’s what Khaki thought the man said. His accent was so thick, it was nearly impossible to know for sure. But the menace in his voice was unmistakable, and it wasn’t very hard to figure out how the poor woman ended up the way she had.

Khaki lifted her Glock as the two armed men raised their weapons. Training demanded she shout, “Police! Freeze!” but she didn’t bother. These men weren’t going to care that she was a cop.

A bright flash of light lit up the night, followed by a loud boom as one of the men fired a shotgun in her direction. Pellets hit her right shoulder and chest like white-hot bee stings. Her vest stopped the ones that would have pierced her heart, but her shoulder wasn’t protected, and she winced at the pain as she fired multiple rounds at the men. She dropped one man where he stood and sent the other two running back into the apartment.

That didn’t stop them from shooting at her, and Khaki leaped to cover the nearly unconscious woman as bullets dotted both the ground in front and the metal Dumpster behind them.

Khaki thumbed her mic with one hand as she returned fire with the other. “Dispatch, this is 3C-04. Officer needs assistance. Shots fired. Repeat, officer needs assistance. Shots fired. Need immediate backup!”

Dispatch might have replied, but Khaki didn’t hear it. The gunfire was getting closer, and she knew that sooner or later, it was going to hit her or the injured woman.

“I have to move you,” she told the woman. “It’s going to hurt, but I don’t have a choice.”

The woman’s eyes fluttered open, then closed again. Khaki hoped that meant she understood. Not that it mattered—Khaki had to get them out of there.

Holding her Glock with one hand, Khaki shoved her other arm under the woman’s shoulders and dragged her across the pavement. The woman cried out in pain, but Khaki ignored it. She just kept moving and firing random shots at the apartment, praying the two shooters would stay there until she reached her cruiser.

Khaki made it to her cruiser just as her magazine ran out. She didn’t bother reloading. Instead, she holstered her gun so she could slip her other hand under the woman, then heaved her into the front seat. It was a tight fit with the steering wheel, radio rack, and computer console, but Khaki didn’t have time to be gentle. She maneuvered the woman until she got her in the passenger seat, then climbed in herself.

She was just putting the car in gear when gunfire erupted from beside the Dumpster. The side and front windows of the cruiser shattered as a hail of bullets smashed into the glass. The car rocked as both tires on the driver’s side blew out and the engine died. Pain lanced through her left thigh, but she ignored it as she yanked out her Glock and quickly reloaded. Opening the door, she rolled out of the car onto the ground, and returned fire at the two men trying to kill her.

Time slowed. All Khaki remembered was thinking that the woman in her cruiser would be dead if the men got through her. She vaguely remembered changing out another magazine, and then everything went still.

The two men who’d been shooting at Khaki lay unmoving by the Dumpster. Khaki twisted around, checking every shadow for another shooter, but didn’t see anyone else. Heart pounding, she holstered her weapon and grabbed the door handle to pull herself up, intent on checking the woman in the car. So many shots had been fired, she was sure the woman had been hit.

As she crawled to her feet, Khaki realized she was the one who’d been hit. In the thigh and maybe her shoulder again—it was hard to tell. She’d thought getting shot would hurt a lot worse, but she barely felt it. Did that mean she’d been hit bad and was going into shock?

Khaki found the woman curled up tightly against the passenger door, staring at her with wide, tear-filled eyes. Miraculously, the woman hadn’t been shot at all.

Khaki eased herself into the driver’s seat and reached over to grab one of the woman’s hands in hers. Pain shot up her arm. She’d been hit in the right shoulder for sure. But she didn’t let that stop her from squeezing the woman’s hand.

“It’s going to be okay,” she said.

The woman slowly nodded, then started crying. Khaki pulled the woman against her injured shoulder, keeping an eye out as the sounds of sirens approached from a distance. About time.

As the sirens got louder, Khaki wondered again why she wasn’t in more pain. And why the hell had it taken backup so long to get here?

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