Santa Marina Island 1:30 A.M.
" YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FIND anyone, you crazy dog." Jude Marrok climbed over another pile of rubble, trying to keep up with the black Lab. "And I’m not going to keep on chasing after you. I’ll give you fifteen more minutes. After that, I’m calling the helicopter."
Ned didn’t even look back as he sniffed desperately at the remains of houses toppled by the earthquake. He was making soft, whimpering noises as he searched the ruins for life.
Marrok muttered a curse beneath his breath. Dammit, he should have taken the dog down to the main rescue area after they’d been dropped by the helicopter in the foothills. This side of the mountain had already been searched by the canine rescue teams.
When the volcano on this small Caribbean island had caused a 7.5 earthquake six days ago, it had devastated the two villages on both slopes of the mountain. The rescue teams had worked tirelessly on both villages, but after no one was found, they had abandoned this smaller village to concentrate on the one on the far side of the mountain. His dog, Ned, had refused to go to the other side of the mountain and insisted on going to the now- deserted village, and Marrok had gone along with him. Most of the time the Lab’s instincts were pretty good, and it wasn’t that unusual for him to find survivors after other rescue teams had abandoned hope. But they’d been searching for two hours, and Ned had not found any signs of life.
And the blasted dog wouldn’t give up. The longer he searched, the more frantic he was becoming. He was whimpering now, and if he started barking, it could bring the soldiers who were guarding the ruins from vandals and looters. That couldn’t happen. Jude hadn’t had time to get papers when he decided to bring Ned to the disaster site. He’d put the usual Red Cross halter jacket on Ned, but the military would demand more proof.
Oh, what the hell. He’d worry about being thrown in the local hoosegow if it happened. After all, he’d brought Ned here to put a stop to the depression he’d noticed in him for the last few weeks, and he’d stay the course. The dog’s depression used to be present only after he’d gone to a site and found nothing but the dead, but lately he always seemed to be waiting for any opportunity to make the attempt at rescue.
Ned had stopped at a heap of timber and turned his head to stare at him with pleading dark eyes.
"Okay, I’ll take a look." He began to pull aside the debris. "But don’t get your hopes up, buddy." He worked for fifteen minutes, and all the while Ned just sat gazing anxiously at him. "I told you. You know how many times it turns out that—" He stopped. "Shit."
Ned was whimpering, pressing close to his knees.
"Dead." The villager he’d uncovered was lying crumpled, his skull crushed. Poor bastard. "I told you. Now let’s go to the other side of the mountain where we have a chance of finding—"
Ned lifted his head and howled.
"No." Marrok fell to his knees and put his arms around the Lab.
"Shhh, I know it hurts. Me, too. But you have to be quiet, Ned. We’re not supposed to be here." Ned was whimpering again, but at least he wasn’t howling any longer. He buried his nose against Marrok’s chest. "We’ll keep looking. You’ll find someone alive. I promise." He hoped he was telling the truth. It was breaking his heart to see Ned grieving. He stroked the dog’s head. "Come on. We’ll go and join the rescue teams on the other side of the mountain. You can show those other dogs how smart you are."
And Marrok would be walking a tightrope and have to lie himself blue in the face if he was challenged by anyone. Well, it wasn’t as if that would be unfamiliar territory. He had become an expert at both over the years. Ned was worth any amount of trouble he had to face. He got to his feet. "Let’s go," he said gently. "No reason for staying here. We can’t help him." He put a marker on the spot for body retrieval. "It will be better if we—"
Ned was no longer beside him. He was running across the rubble, his lean midnight-black body taut with eagerness. He had caught another scent, Marrok realized, and he was following it with reckless speed. It seemed the dog wasn’t ready to obey him, he thought ruefully. It wasn’t surprising since their relationship was that of close friends rather than master and canine. They had long ago passed that point. "Okay, we’ll go your way for a while." He took off after Ned. "But you’d better be right this time. I can’t spend all night comforting you." But he knew he’d do precisely that. You didn’t question when a friend was in need. He’d almost caught up with Ned, and the Lab was staring at him hopefully. "Let’s make a deal." He started to bend to shift the debris. "If we don’t find anyone this time, you give it up and do it my—"
A whistle of sound streaked by his cheek.
Ned cried out and fell to the ground, blood pouring from his side.
A bullet, dammit.
Marrok fell sideways, grabbed Ned’s collar, and rolled with him behind the ruin of the house.
Another bullet splintered the timber next to Marrok as he pulled out his gun. It had come from the direction of the trees to the south of the site. Not the military. They would have questioned him before shooting at him. That Red Cross on Ned’s halter would have required it. His gaze searched the trees as he moved to the side.
One shooter and determined to make the kill.
Danner? Maybe. God, he’d hoped he’d sidetracked them in Morocco, but they must have uncovered his trail. The solution was the same as always. Kill the shooter. Disappear. It would take time for them to send someone else on his trail. But he couldn’t leave Ned. The Lab was hurt and bleeding. He couldn’t take time to go after the shooter. Not now. He had to stop Ned’s bleeding and get him help.
He dodged two bullets while he dragged Ned farther behind the timbers. He sprayed a barrage of bullets at the trees before starting work to stop the bleeding. There wasn’t much, thank God. Ned lay still, only whimpering occasionally. Marrok didn’t think the wound was terminal, but he couldn’t tell in the darkness. Anger exploded through him.
Come after me, you son of a bitch. Let me have my chance at you.
Shoot my dog? I’ll tear your heart out.
But he could hear voices coming from the direction of the rescue site on the other side of the mountain. Someone had heard the shots, dammit. He wasn’t going to get his opportunity to make the kill. The shooter wouldn’t risk going after him and exposing himself to awkward questions. Danner didn’t like questions.
He stroked Ned’s head. "It’s going to be okay. We’ll get you fixed up. There’s almost always a vet on these mercy missions." He glanced at the trees from where the bullet had come. It was only a postponement. The shooter wouldn’t give up. He’d stick around and wait for another opportunity to take them out. Danner disliked failure almost as much as he did questions. "And then I promise I’ll make sure that bastard never has another go at you."
Kingston lowered his Remington, slid down the trunk of the palm tree, and sprinted back into the woods. He’d go back and cover his tracks later. He wasn’t worried about the locals hunting him down. Marrok was the threat. Kingston had read every word of the report Danner had given him on the man who called himself Jude Marrok, and some of it was very impressive.
His phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. He pulled it out and checked the ID. Danner.
Dammit, he was tempted to ignore it. He didn’t want to have to give explanations right now. But he couldn’t ignore a man who wielded as much power as Raymond Danner.
He punched the button.
"I’m a little busy. I’ll call you back."
"Did you get him?" Raymond Danner asked.
"I shot the dog."
"I’m not sure. Marrok got in my way at the last minute."
Silence. "You shot Marrok?"
"No," he said quickly. "I was trying to lure him into a trap, but then the soldiers—"
Danner began to curse. "My God, can’t you do anything right? I even told you where Marrok and the dog would be to night. All you had to do was go in and get them."
"I was waiting on the other side of the mountain where all the other rescue teams were working. He didn’t go where you said he was going. I had to reposition." He quickly added, "But I’ll stake out the area and watch for the helicopter. There are military units all over this mountain, so he may not be able to get the copter back into the area. If the dog’s not dead, he’ll have to get help for it. Don’t worry, Marrok won’t get away from me."
"I’m not worried. I’m pissed. That damn savage Marrok was a SEAL and has wriggled his way out of a dozen traps. You had a chance if you took him by surprise. I want the job done before Marrok leaves that disaster site." Danner hung up.
Kingston pressed the disconnect. He could feel his heart pounding. He’d seen Danner angry before and the results weren’t pretty. He liked to make examples that stayed in the memories of the men around him.
Move. Avoid those soldiers.
Find the dog.
"WAKE UP, DEVON," NICK WAS SHAKING her. "I just got a call from Captain Ramirez. They’re bringing in a wounded dog to the first-aid tent."
Devon Brady shook her head to clear it of sleep. Lord, she felt groggy. She’d worked with her dog, Gracie, searching for survivors until almost midnight. She glanced at the clock. It was after two. "I thought I was the last one to break for the night. Whose dog was hurt? Jerry? His shepherd has a history of hip injuries."
"No." Nick Gilroy handed her the shirt and khakis, which were draped over the chair in her mobile quarters. "It’s a Lab. Captain Ramirez said he was shot."
"Shot?" Her lips tightened as she started to dress. "Did the soldiers do it? Some gun- happy kid who thought he saw a wolf?"
"The captain swears it wasn’t one of his men. They heard gun- fire and went to investigate." Nick found her shoes under the bed and handed them to her. "The dog was wounded, and the man who was with him didn’t give them a chance to ask questions. He said he wanted his dog taken care of, or he’d make a stink with the newspapers and accuse them of shooting a rescue dog."
Lab. She put on her shoes. The only Lab on the rescue team belonged to Phil Dormhaus. Phil was a quiet, intellectual type, and she couldn’t imagine him threatening or making a stink about anything. He was a man who did his job, then took his dog home. But what did she know? she thought wearily. The dogs weren’t the only rescue casualties at a disaster like this. The owners of the search and rescue dogs could take only so much death, so much sorrow before they started to break, too. This had been a rough mission, and it still wasn’t over. Maybe Phil had been so grief- stricken at the wounding of his dog that he had slipped over the edge. "If the soldiers didn’t shoot the Lab, it must have been done by one of the civilians here on the island. Tell the captain that whoever did it has to be found and thrown into jail. We’re all volunteers who came here to help them. I won’t have our dogs endangered."
"I’ll tell him. My pleasure." Nick smiled. "Do you need any help with the Lab?"
"I don’t know." She looked back at him as she opened the door of the trailer. Sometimes she forgot that Nick wasn’t a young man any longer. He was in his sixties but still strong and agile. She’d taken over his veterinary practice several years ago. Nick had planned on retiring but instead had stayed on and become her right hand. They had worked together for so many years that they took each other for granted. Yet to night she could see the signs of wear and tear this mission had imprinted on him; his gray hair was tousled and on end, and his face was lined with weariness. "After you talk to the captain, go back to bed. Take Gracie with you. She needs the rest more than I do, and she’ll sleep better if she has someone with her." She glanced at her greyhound, Gracie, who was beginning to get to her feet. "No, stay with Nick, baby. I’ll be right back." She started down the steps.
"I’ll call you if I need you, Nick."
He nodded as he yawned. "I know you will. You wouldn’t let a dog be given less care than he deserves even if neither of us got any sleep."
"We can say no," she said quietly. "Most of the time a dog won’t do that. You know they give until they can’t give any longer." She closed the door behind her and strode toward the first- aid tent across the camp. There were only a handful of people on the site at this hour. A mechanic working on the crane. A woman clerk sitting at a desk in the makeshift morgue going through records. A few soldiers standing outside the first- aid tent. The twenty- four- hour- a-day drive and bustle had ended, and the mood was quiet, somber. The canine rescue part of the operation was winding down, and they only had one more day of work before they went home. The handlers and dogs were sleeping, trying to rest their bodies as well as their dogs so they could function efficiently in the morning for one more push, one more effort. She hoped Gracie would get a good sleep. The greyhound was always rest less on a search and rescue, and she liked to be in the same room as Devon. But the dog knew Nick and Devon had no choice. She had to help Phil’s Lab and probably Phil himself. He’d need someone to talk to and comfort if the Lab was badly hurt.
As she drew nearer to the tent, she could see a man in a black shirt standing over the examining table. Phil?
No. Phil had narrow shoulders and brown hair. This man was tall, lean, with broad shoulders, and sleek black hair cut close to his head. His back was to her, but she was sure she had never seen him before. Nor had she seen the black Lab lying on the table. Her gaze instantly zeroed in on the hurt animal, her attention focusing on the wounded dog. The owner must have taken off the dog’s bloodstained halter with the Red Cross on the side because it was lying on the floor beside the table. That would help. She wouldn’t have to struggle to get a pain-crazed dog quiet enough to—
"You’re the vet?" The dog’s own er had turned as she entered the tent. "My dog’s hurt. The bullet is still in him. You need to get it out."
"I will." She came forward. "I’m Devon Brady. Who are you?"
"Jude Marrok. I stopped the bleeding, and I don’t think he’s badly hurt. But I want that bullet out. I can’t move him with it in him."
Marrok de.nitely wasn’t the devastated owner she’d expected to see when she walked into the tent. His voice was crisp, cool, and his tone demanding. To hell with him. "I told you I’d take it out. But not until I take some X-rays and see where it is and if it clipped an organ."
"It hasn’t." He pointed to the wound. "Close. But it missed it. It would have done more damage if the bullet had been a higher caliber. I think you’ll find it’s a 7.62 millimeter. It was meant for distance accuracy. From the sound of it, I’d say it came from a Remington M-24."
"Like an M-16, but duller. It’s used as a sniper weapon."
"I doubt it was that kind of weapon." She was examining the wound. The dog was amazingly docile. He was fully awake, but he only gave a low whimper. "I’m sure the villagers aren’t equipped with that kind of firepower. It’s probably a hunting rifle."
"It’s a Remington," he said flatly. "I’ve heard that sound too many times to make a mistake. Now get that bullet out of him."
"Stop giving me orders." She tried to keep the edge from her voice. She wheeled the portable X-ray unit toward the table. "I’m tired, and I’m giving up my few hours of sleep before I have to be up and starting the search again. This is our last day here, and we don’t have much time left. They don’t think we have a chance of finding anyone else, and we have orders to .y out this evening." She covered the dog with the protector cover. He seemed fully aware, but he still didn’t move. Amazing. "I’m doing this willingly because most dogs are worth more than their masters. You included." She pressed the button. "So sit down and shut up."
He stared at her for a moment. "Sorry." He took a step closer to the table. "I won’t give you orders, but you may need me to help with Ned. No one knows him better than I do. He’ll do what I tell him."
"His name is Ned?" She pushed the X-ray machine out of the way and moved to the examining table. She gently stroked the Lab’s black head. "Hello, Ned," she said softly. "I’m Devon, and I’m going to help you. I’ll try not to hurt you, but if I do, I’ll take it away as quick as I can."
The Lab made a sound deep in his throat and pushed his head against her hand. His brown eyes gazed up at her with trust and a sort of fearless understanding. Surprise rippled through her. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a dog with an expression quite that . . . knowing.
"What a good boy." She felt a sudden surge of anger. And some idiot villager had tried to kill this animal, who’d only tried to help. What kind of world was this? "Don’t worry, the soldiers will find out who shot him. Most of the time the villagers are grateful. I don’t know why one of them went crazy."
"It wasn’t a local." Marrok was watching her expression. "But you look like you’d like to go hunting for the bastard who shot Ned."
"I would." Her lips tightened. "And if Captain Ramirez starts giving me excuses about not finding him, I will. He can’t get away with shooting my dogs."
"I’m the vet on- site. All these rescue dogs may not belong to me, but their health is my responsibility." She went across the tent to her computer to view the X-ray. "And why the hell haven’t I seen you and Ned on the mountain? You don’t belong to any of the U.S. rescue groups that I flew in with."
"I don’t belong to a group. Ned and I are sort of . . . freelance."
"Freelance? No way. Do you think I’m stupid? You have to have government permission even to enter the area. They wouldn’t approve anyone not sponsored and approved by a government."
"We were here. We were doing a job." He met her eyes. "Now why don’t you do your job? Take that bullet out of Ned."
He was right. The barely contained violence that glimmered beneath Marrok’s cool exterior might be antagonizing her and filling her with suspicion, but she could deal with it later. She wasn’t about to put him through a third degree until she finished taking care of the dog. Her gaze shifted to the X-ray on the computer. "You appear to have guessed right. The bullet isn’t lodged in a vital organ."
"No guess. I told you that no one knows Ned like I do. Anesthesia?"
"I don’t like anesthesia." He lifted his hand to ward off the words he knew she was going to say. "I’m not suggesting you cut into him without it. He’ll need it for the initial pain. But I want you to use PropoFlo and work fast. He’ll come out of it quicker, and he’ll be himself again. That’s important in Ned’s case."
"It’s sometimes better for them to have a heavier sedation. They don’t try to struggle after they wake and break the stitches."
"He won’t struggle. I’ll explain it to him."
Her brows lifted. "You may believe he’s very intelligent, but it’s instinct that makes—"
"He won’t struggle." He met her gaze. "I promise you. I’ll be right here when he wakes to quiet him if he does."
She shrugged. She preferred to use PropoFlo anyway whenever possible. Ned’s calm temperament seemed to make him a good candidate. "I’ll take care of him if there’s a problem. You don’t have to be here."
"Yes, I do." He turned to the dog and began to murmur to him. It wasn’t English, Devon realized with surprise. She studied him. Even though Marrok was olive- complexioned and his hair and eyes were also dark, she had been sure he was American. High cheekbones, wide mouth . . . Italian? Spanish? No, neither one. But the dog seemed to understand. He was staring intently at Marrok’s face, and when the words stopped, he closed his eyes with a little sigh.
Marrok turned back to her. "Get started. We have to get this over. I have something I have to do."
"It will take as long as it takes." She went to the medicine supply chest. "If you’re going to stay, scrub up and—"
"Wait. There’s something you should know."
"No, Ned thought he found a survivor just before he was shot. I didn’t get a chance to search the ruins of that house, so I don’t know if he was right. I flagged the site."
She shook her head. "That entire village was searched thoroughly before we pulled out a few days ago."
Marrok shrugged. "Ned isn’t always right, but he comes close. It’s your call."
She hesitated. "Did you tell Captain Ramirez?"
He nodded. "Like you, he didn’t believe there was a chance of a survivor after all the search activity you put into that village."
"There’s always a chance." She frowned. "I’ll call Ramirez and tell him that we need to get an excavation crew up there right away. I’ll go myself after I finish with your Ned."
An indecipherable expression flitted across his face. "It would be better if you stayed here. It might not be safe for you up there."
"Of course I’m going. It’s what I do." She looked up at him. "Do you think—" She forgot what she had been about to say as her eyes met Marrok’s. His intensity was verwhelming and almost hypnotizing. For an instant she actually felt shaken. Safe? She suddenly had the feeling that nothing connected with this man would ever be termed safe.
Get a grip. Whether Marrok was safe or not wasn’t important. He was just a man with a dog that was hurt and needed her.
She glanced away from him. "It’s what I do," she repeated. She took out her phone and started to dial Ramirez. "Put on some gloves. I may need you to hold Ned in the correct position during the surgery."
Excerpted from Dark Summer by Iris Johansen.
Copyright © 2008 by Johanse Publishing LLP.
Published in October 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.