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Irresistible Force (A K-9 Rescue Novel)

By:D. D. Ayres

Irresistible Force (A K-9 Rescue Novel)
D. D. Ayres

       CHAPTER ONE

Surveillance was simpler in the South in autumn. It was hunting season  in North Carolina. A man dressed in camouflage and carrying a rifle in  the woods didn't rate a second glance. The thick canopy of summer had  yielded a blanket of damp leaves that made soft whispery sounds  underfoot. Sparse branches improved viewing range, even in the darkness.  Forecasters had predicted that by dawn, the frost would give way to the  promise of an Indian summer day.

It was just the sort of weather James Cannon enjoyed on his day off from  the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. However, tonight he was on  the job, alone in an unfamiliar area, and closing in on what might be a  desperate character.

James's alertness level ratcheted up as he came to the edge of the woods  he had been passing through. The absence of Bogart gnawed at his focus.  They were always on duty together, had been until a month ago. That's  because James's law enforcement partner had been kidnapped. The cabin in  the clearing just ahead was the purported location where he was being  held.

Ever since his partner had been taken, he'd spent a hellish amount of  time tracking down useless leads. He'd been afraid, as the days  stretched out, that Bogart was dead.

He jerked his thoughts back from that murky water-under-the-bridge  reality to the present. Now he had his first good lead, and it had led  him here.

He slowed as he reached the clearing. The cabin stood alone and dark in  the distance. He'd been told that the woman who rented it lived alone.  But he never relied on hearsay when it counted. Two years in the  military police plus four years on the job made him cautious. He needed  facts. He'd come here, in the wee hours, to check things out for  himself.

He eased down into a crouched position to survey the terrain. Almost  immediately, something at the edge of his vision caught his eye. It was  the absolute stillness of an object amid the natural stirrings of a  rural night. He turned his head to discover he wasn't the only one doing  surveillance on the property.

Fifteen feet away, a truck sat in the deep shadows at the edge of the  tree line on the unpaved track that ran through the forest. Had James  not been on foot, he and the driver might have met in the woods.

James rose and moved in a little closer to try to get a better look at  the vehicle to determine if it was occupied. It was. A man in dark  clothing, unlike James's hunting gear, sat behind the wheel.

Something about the furtiveness of his actions, the way he just sat with  headlights and engine off, increased James's suspicion that something  illegal was going on here. He wondered if the driver was standing guard.  Or, perhaps, waiting for someone?

Even as he pondered his options, a light flared and drew his attention back to the cabin.

A woman had stepped out of the cabin onto the porch. She didn't bother  to turn on the porch light, nor did she carry a flashlight. She was  simply a slight figure in silhouette for the instant she was backlit by  the open doorway. Then a dark furry animal shot past her out the door.  The dog was moving at full throttle, coming straight toward the woods,  and James.

One bark was all it took to confirm the identification. James's heart  squeezed tight, and though he would have denied it to his own mother, he  had to blink away the threat of a watery leak in his left eye.

It was Bogart! He was unharmed! He was in good voice. Recovering his partner was going to be easier than he'd thought possible.

James stood to call the dog to him but the sound was lost when the  truck's engine suddenly roared to life. Headlights caught Bogart in  their full flare but the dog did not hesitate. He was after the truck  and his barking increased, signaling that he had found his prey.

"Prince! No! Come here!" The plaintive cry of the woman who'd been on  the porch diverted James's attention. She'd left the porch and was  running toward the woods. "Come, Prince! Heel! Heel, boy!"

The dog paused uncertainly and turned to look back at the woman just as  she entered the circle of the truck's headlights. She was dressed in  sweatpants and a hoodie but her feet were bare.

"Heel! Heel, Prince!" Her voice was strained with emotion as she bent down to scoop up something.

Even as the driver threw the truck into reverse and floored the pedal, she stood up.

"Bastard!" She launched what must have been a rock or a heavy piece of a tree limb at her Peeping Tom.

James couldn't help but admire her strength and aim. The missile bounced off the hood of the truck even as it blasted backward.

"Heel! Heel, Prince!" She began running back toward the cabin.

This time Bogart didn't hesitate, he sprang after her, easily catching  up and circling her with excited barks as she made her way to the porch.  The pair were through the door in an instant, and then it was shut  behind them with a force that reverberated through the night.                       
       
           



       

"What the fuck?" James sat back on his haunches as the sounds of the  truck tearing back through the forest became ever fainter, and let his  thoughts sort themselves out. First things first.

He'd seen Bogart! Knew he was okay. That was a huge relief.

But now he had other complications to deal with. Something else was  going on besides the dog-napping of his K-9 partner. Something he didn't  understand. But whatever the something was, he meant to get to the  bottom of it.

One thing was certain. Regardless of the events of the night, the woman  in the cabin was the prime suspect in the abduction of his K-9.

He should report what he'd discovered to the sheriff of this North  Carolina county and ask for help. But after weeks of searching, he  wanted the pleasure of confronting the suspect himself. That wasn't  exactly legal procedure. Any way he factored it, he was way the hell out  of his jurisdiction.

James slid a hand down his face. By nature he was a by-the-book guy,  professional, methodical, reasonable. But something had snapped when  Bogart went missing. The job of finding him became a personal quest. And  he was going to see it through. So then, how best to confront the woman  holding his dog hostage?

Maybe the woman who had his dog had abducted him herself, or maybe she had had help. No way to judge that from here.

He had learned long ago that "female" did not equal "easy to best," and  certainly not "harmless." Unlike the truck driver, he wasn't going to  give her the chance to get the better of him, or escape. He was going in  full force and with overwhelming strength, to teach her a lesson she  wouldn't soon forget.

He was just going to wait for full light.

* * *

Shay Appleton jumped up when her dog, sprawled at her feet, suddenly  lifted his head to listen. "What is it, Prince?" She stared into the  shiny, alert gaze of her pet with an intensity equal to his. "Do you  hear something?"

Prince made a soft nasally sound but his tail did an unperturbed thump on the floor.

Shay glanced at her front door. The bolts were still shoved into place. Was that enough?

For eight heavy heartbeats she stared at the doorknob of her rental cabin, burnished by years of use. It did not turn.

Shay exhaled audibly. Okay, so maybe nothing. Of course it was nothing.  Prince wasn't behaving the way he had last night when there had been a  real problem.

Not until Prince lowered his head back to his paws did the warmth of  spilled coffee permeate Shay's awareness the way it had her jogging  shorts.

"Oh damn!" She fumbled to right her mug and grabbed for napkins to catch  the steaming liquid dripping over the edge of the kitchen table.

When she was done cleaning, she picked up her empty cup and stared into  its depths. She hadn't had enough sleep. And now she couldn't even blame  the caffeine she had yet to drink for her nerves.

Hypervigilance. Her condition even had a name. Her doctor assured her  that this latest episode would pass. Many women felt unnerved after a  nasty breakup. Especially if the ex-boyfriend continued to harass her  with text messages and middle-of-the-night phone calls. She was told to  ignore the calls and delete the messages unread. Within a few weeks most  men moved on.

Unfortunately, that prognosis hadn't made her less anxious for long.  Though she had tossed away her disposable cell and bought another so  that Eric could not reach her, she could not get rid of the feeling that  she was being watched. Again her doctor assured her that only  hypervigilance plagued her and it would subside with time.

That was a month ago.

Shay shook her head tightly. Not when it had become freakin' obvious,  after last night, that there was a very real reason for it to continue!

Eric Coates wasn't most men. He had not sent angry messages or threats. He was more clever than that.

Eric had found her. Alone.

Who else would have been lurking in the woods watching this place? How had he found her?

Did it matter? He was out there, waiting.

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