MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
"Here you go. One good bite deserves another."
K-9 Officer Nicole "Cole" Jamieson placed the doggy bowl on her kitchen floor.
Her partner, Hugo, greedily gulped down the first of his two daily meals then checked her out with a hopeful stare from soulful black eyes.
Cole shook her head. "No more for now."
Hugo's ears drooped as he came forward and nudged his big heavy head under her hand.
Cole squatted down and scratched under his chin and then behind his ears. "Okay. You've earned it. But only one." She stood and reached for the jar of dog treats she kept handy for special occasions.
Hugo scarfed down the treat without even bothering to chew then jumped up against her, huge paws resting above her waist, to deliver a lick of thanks before turning toward the spacious dog kennel in Cole's kitchen. Before he went in he looked back at her. She waited. Bouviers liked to think about things before they acted. When satisfied by whatever his doggy instincts were telling him, Hugo barked gruffly once and entered his crate.
The Montgomery County Police Department wasn't initially impressed by her choice of a Bouvier des Flandres over the more popular law enforcement canine choices such as Belgian Malinois or German shepherd. But research backed her up when she had gone on the hunt for a self-motivated, hard-driving, even-tempered pup. When she'd found the six-month-old black brindled Bouvier with uncut ears but docked tail, he'd looked like a fuzzy puppy-faced teddy bear. But as he grew, he morphed into a powerfully built canine with an intimidating bark and a menacing set of teeth. Topping out at ninety-five pounds, Hugo was now a force to be reckoned with.
Cole yawned and reached into the fridge for a sports beverage and drank from the bottle. Usually she went straight to bed after a night shift. Today, she didn't even have time to take a nap.
She glanced at the clock. Seven A.M. She had a job interview in Baltimore at ten A.M.
"Damn! I'm going to be late!"
She hurried toward the shower.
This is big. That's the only hint her K-9 sergeant had given her when he told her about the interview. When the Drug Enforcement Administration approached local law enforcement agencies for manpower, it usually involved mounting a task force.
Visions of covert operations, undercover, and SWAT team takedowns danced through Cole's thoughts, none of which calmed her nerves.
Forty-five minutes later, she came tearing back through the kitchen in full dress uniform. Her blue shirt and trousers had been professionally pressed, all starchy crispness and sharp pleats. Her boots reflected back the ceiling lights as stars. But her expression was anything but self-possessed professional as she lifted one end of a sofa cushion and then another. She was fretting over the possibility of being late.
"I just had them. I know-" She stopped talking to herself and turned back toward the kitchen, propping a fist on each hip. "Hugo. Come here."
Moments later a big black shaggy head with a pink tongue appeared in the doorway.
"Where are my keys? Bring me my keys. Now."
The big head disappeared. Twenty seconds later all of Hugo reappeared with keys hanging from his mouth.
Cole shook her head even as she made a come-here motion with her hand. "Hand them over."
Hugo trotted over and put them in the palm of her hand, black eyes shining with pride. He sat and barked, ready to be praised.
The only thing wrong with this picture of doggy obedience was that Hugo had hidden them in the first place. The game he'd made up himself usually amused her. Not today. That's because she knew that he knew she was about to leave him alone for hours, and he didn't like to be left. She couldn't account for his sixth sense about such things. He was scary smart at reading people, especially his handler.
She shook her head. "Maybe you should be going to this interview instead of me."
* * *
Cole sat stiffly on one of several chairs placed at intervals along the hallway of the Baltimore office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, waiting for her name to be called.
All of her tactical gear had been left behind at security, making her feel unusually light. She looked cool and professional, but she didn't feel that way. Her tie felt as if it was a hangman's noose. Her starched collar rubbed the back of her neck. And, where her hat sat on her brow, a thin sheen of sweat had begun to form. Normally she didn't wear much makeup. But today, she had applied a heavy-duty concealer to try to hide the worst of the black eye she had gotten while subduing a suspect a week ago.
Cole jumped to her feet at the sound of her name. She hadn't even noticed the door opening on her right.
A youngish man in a tie and rolled shirtsleeves gave her a brief impersonal smile. "Follow me please, ma'am."
He moved down past half a dozen closed doors until he arrived at the last one on the right. He knocked then opened the door. "Agent Lattimore will see you now."
Cole stepped into the room to be met by a tall, middle-aged, balding man in a nondescript off-the-rack suit. He had Fed written all over him.
He came forward and extended his hand. "Officer Jamieson. I'm Agent John Lattimore. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"The same, sir." Cole shook his hand firmly.
"Have a seat. And please make yourself comfortable. We aren't being formal today. I understand you go by the name Cole. May I call you that?"
"Yes, sir." She felt his gaze, though seemingly casual, following her every move as she sat and removed her hat, balancing it on her knee.
He sauntered back behind his desk, his gaze never leaving her. "I'm sure you're wondering why you're here."
"Yes, sir." Cole made herself relax back into her chair. "I expect you're looking for local personnel for some sort of team." He nodded. "Would you like me to tell you a little bit about myself?"
"Not necessary. I know everything I need to know."
Cole saw him glance at the open folder on his desk. "You're a first-year K-9 officer with the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department. You grew up around dogs. Your first canines were a yellow Lab named Homer and a Bluetick Coonhound by the name of Marge. You were athletic in high school. Played soccer, correct? You also participated in dog sports competitions. Your college transcript is well above average and yet, after you were wait-listed for law school, you joined law enforcement. Your background in Agility training and AKC rallies made you a natural fit for the K-9 law enforcement program. You have one sibling, a sister named Rebecca, who's a veterinarian. From time to time you still serve as an instructor for her obedience classes."
"Wow, sir, that is a thorough investigation." Someone had done his homework on her. Which meant DEA had been thinking about her longer than a few days.
Cole wondered fleetingly what else was in that report. Did they know she needed to do laundry and sometimes failed to remember to put out her trash cans in time for the weekly pickup? Did they know about more private things, like her marriage to undercover Agent Scott Lucca, and what a disaster that had been? Of course they would.
That's when reality hit her. This wasn't just an interview. It was more like a security clearance check.
Her pulse ticked up with equal amounts of excitement and anxiety. Was she being considered for some kind of task force? Or was Scott in trouble again? Were they looking to her for information about him? Had the two-year-old case made its way to court, after all?
Her heart began to pump in heavy thuds. She wasn't going to defend him but she couldn't imagine testifying in any way against Scott, even if he was her ex.
At that moment the door opened and the young man in rolled shirtsleeves appeared. "Your next appointment has arrived, sir."
"Good." Lattimore smiled at Cole. "I'd like you to meet the team leader and your potential partner in our task force operation."
"Great." Task force operation. Not about Scott. This was about her, after all.
Cole stood up, preparing a smile of welcome for whomever stood on the other side of the door. Perhaps she was doing better in the interview than she thought, if Lattimore was prepared to introduce her to the team leader.
"Show him in, Pierce."
One second, Cole was rising with a polite smile of welcome on her face. The very next, she was trying to control her breathing.
She knew that voice. That face. And those damned seductive dimples.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
For two years, she had engineered things so that she would never again have to be in the same room with Scott Lucca. That plan had been working just fine, right up to a second ago.
Copyright © 2015 by D. D. Ayres