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The fact that Jane was lead on one of those entry points made his head swell with fury and frustration and fear.

To make it all perfect, the creeps inside were holding a kid. A vulnerable boy who could get hit by cross fire even if someone didn’t try to take him out on purpose.

And, oh, yeah, Chief Alec Raynor, in charge of this whole freaking operation, loved that kid, his nephew.

“Just the way I want to make a living,” Clay muttered, to nobody, but another shape near him turned.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he growled, identifying Abe Cherney, who was with ABPD rather than the sheriff’s department. Cherney was a big guy who, with Carson Tucker, a sheriff’s deputy, would be using the battering ram to break down the double doors into the barn. “You ready to go?” he asked, and Cherney gave him a thumbs-up.

* * *

E
VERY
SENSE
HEIGHTENED
, Clay stood in the darkness, intensely disliking his role. Hovering in back, command central, he would make the final decision. Although they had a warrant based on a tentative witness identification of Tim Hansen as the deputy who’d picked up thirteen-year-old Matt Raynor at his house, everyone here would be happier if they had confirmation the kid really was being held inside the barn before they went in with guns blazing. Some skinny ABPD officer who looked about sixteen—Ryan Dunlap—and Jane were the two who were taking a huge risk to try for that confirmation.

And goddamn—Clay wanted to be one of the first in the door, not the last. But there was no way he could get his shoulders through either of the windows, and Raynor and McAllister had claimed prime entry positions.

It was Dunlap’s voice Clay heard first through the radio, next thing to soundless.

“Can’t see much. Back of someone’s head sitting at a table, a corner of an interior wall. Sorry.”

Then Jane’s whisper, chilling him. “Two—no, three guys at a table. Playing cards. There’s a door— Wait.”

Oh, shit. Oh, hell.
All one of them had to do was turn his head and he’d see her face in the window. Clay’s jaw hurt and the tendons strained in his neck.

She’d told him not to worry about her. She couldn’t have made it any clearer that there was no do-over for him.

Didn’t matter. The need to keep her safe raged in him.

Head in the game,
he reminded himself, trying to take slow, deep breaths. He wouldn’t do her or Raynor’s kid in there any good if he didn’t get in the zone that would let him shutter the emotion and do what had to be done.

“It’s opening,” Jane continued. “Man coming out. That makes four—” She stopped abruptly. “Kid on a cot.” Soft as her voice was, he heard the triumph. “Looks like tape over his mouth.”

Clay closed his eyes. But he thumbed his radio and said it. “Go.”

* * *

G
LASS
SHATTERED
. F
LASH
BANGS
. Oh, Jesus, gunshots.
Jane.
The motion-activated light above the barn doors came on as Cherney and Tucker charged forward and smashed the battering ram into the doors. McAllister and Raynor were poised to enter.

Wait, Jane. Goddamn it, wait until there’s some confusion. Don’t play heroine.

At the next rush, the doors cracked and fell open. Already running, Clay was only steps behind McAllister.

Inside the barn was chaos. Trapped in stalls, horses kicked and screamed. Men were shouting. A couple of voices yelled, “This is the police! Hands in the air.” The light was unnaturally bright. Clay made himself slow down in his head, see that the broad aisle opened into a space probably designed for a veterinarian or farrier to work. He saw only one room separate from the stalls—a tack room? Smells were sharp in his nostrils: hay, manure, beer and burgers, gunpowder, fear. As reported, a group had been sitting around a card table, already kicked over. Clay saw Raynor vault it. Metal folding chairs were flying, tangling underfoot.

Nearly in front of him, Carson Tucker went down, clutching his belly and screaming something. No time to stop.

There was Jane—
alive, yes!—
but someone swung a chair at her. As she ducked away, it connected with her shoulder and knocked her to her knees. Even as Clay fired, he saw her gun bark, too, and the guy collapsed, sprawling hideously over the chair. She didn’t even look at Clay, only swung in a circle with her weapon held ready.

A burst of gunfire from the small room brought Clay’s head around and an expletive escaped him. That was where she’d seen the kid.

Don’t be stupid. Make sure it’s secured in here first.

They all had assignments. Raynor had gone after the boy.

Like Jane, Clay was turning carefully, looking for targets. All four were being cuffed or lay still on the floor. Clay checked to be sure the guy he’d shot no longer held a weapon, then crouched by him. His eyes were open and sightless. Dead. And no wonder—his body was riddled with bullet holes.

Clay was the closest to the open door that led into the tack room. He spun in, weapon extended, and found two more bad guys down, one dead, the other bleeding and cuffed. The kid was alive but bloody. Chief Raynor was trying to yank the boy’s T-shirt off, hampered by the duct tape binding his hands and ankles. Clay had forgotten the poor kid wore a cast on one arm already.

“Where are you hurt?” Raynor was saying in a voice Clay hadn’t heard from him before.

“I’m okay.” The boy’s voice was thin and high. “I’m okay.” And, damn, the skin where the duct tape had been ripped off his face was painfully red.

Clay saw the moment relief hit Raynor. “I need a knife,” he said hoarsely.

“I’ve got one,” Clay said. He’d worn a backup .38 on one ankle and a knife sheathed on the other. He pushed up his pant leg, took out the knife and sliced the duct tape, freeing the boy’s ankles and then his hands.

Matt Raynor leaped into his uncle’s arms, clutching on with his one good arm while the chief grabbed tight and bowed his head over the boy’s.

Clay backed away, feeling an unfamiliar sting behind his eyelids.

It was all over but the mop-up.

* * *

W
ITH
THE
TAILGATE
of her Yukon open again, Jane peeled off the vest. She felt...weird.

She was in the here and now, but every blink brought a miniflashback. The effect was like a strobe light.

Dark, slow shapes moving in the pasture—horses.

Diving in the window, shards of glass ripping at her vest and clothing. Fear.

Blue, white and red lights swirling atop aide cars.

Knowing she couldn’t totally evade the chair swung at her. Dodging, feeling it connect.

She gingerly fingered her shoulder and upper arm and knew there’d be a bruise. A whopper.

The weapon jumping in her hand. Blood. Astonishment on the man’s face as he stumbled and began to fall.

Men’s voices on the other side of her SUV, a rumble that might be comprehensible if she could bring herself out of this fugue state.

The slackness of death. Death
she
had caused.

Jane heard herself make a sound. Either she had killed a man tonight—or Clay Renner had. Or both of them.

“You okay?”

Of course it was his voice. Of course she hadn’t heard him coming.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” she said sharply.

“You ever shot anybody before?”

The angle at which she thrust her jaw forward made her neck hurt. Pride was a powerful force. Even so, she hesitated. “No,” she admitted, grudgingly.

He swung the back door of the Yukon wider open and half sat on the back, one booted foot braced on the ground. “I have,” he said, tone flat, reminding her of his military service. “This is the first time as a cop I’ve killed a man.”

“You sure you did? I thought
I
killed a man.” The words were no sooner out than she cringed at the hostility in her voice. What? Was she turning this into a
competition?

And what did that make her?

Clay didn’t say anything for a minute, only watched her. Uneasily, she wondered how much he could see.

Finally he stirred. “The M.E. will let us know eventually. My guess is, we killed him a couple of times over.”

She squeezed her eyes shut and saw it all over again.

Astonishment on the man’s face as he stumbled and began to fall.
She swallowed and opened her eyes.

“We all hope we’ll never have to do that,” Clay said, in a tone so gentle she didn’t recognize it coming from him.

Jane was suddenly horrified at how terribly she was behaving. If he could be decent, she could, too.

“No,” she said. “Or yes. I never wanted—” At the taste of bile, she had to swallow again. She turned her back on Clay.

The faint sound of the Yukon sighing made her realize he’d risen to his feet and stood behind her.

“Jane.”

“Don’t say anything,” she whispered.

A pause. “Why?” His voice, too, was so soft he wouldn’t have been heard by anyone more than a foot or two away.

“Because—I can’t talk to you.”

“You don’t trust me.” Now he sounded harsh.

“No.” She steadied. “I can’t.”

“You can, but you’ll never believe it, will you?”

She held herself together by pure force of will. “No.”

It was as if they were in a bubble of silence. Everything around them seemed far away. Jane didn’t move, wasn’t sure she breathed.

Then the bubble popped and she heard him walking away. One of the aide cars was pulling out, accelerating. She realized she should have been out there while the wounded were loaded, not hiding here in the darkness.

Following Clay, she reached a second aide car and saw that Ryan Dunlap had been hoisted aboard on a gurney. He was swearing, an impressive litany that made her smile despite everything. Thank God he’d regained consciousness. Apparently the bullet had only grazed his skull.

She leaned into the back of the ambulance. “Headache?”

“Like I got slammed with a two-by-four.” He swore a little more. “Sorry, Lieutenant.” Then, “Is it true? The kid’s okay?”

“It’s true. He’s safe. We did our job.”

One of the EMTs hopped to the ground. “Lieutenant, we have to go.”

“See you at the hospital,” she told Ryan, and stepped back as the doors were slammed and, a moment later, the aide car pulled away.

She watched it drive away for a minute, then trudged toward the barn, wishing Sergeant Clay Renner wasn’t sure to be there.

Copyright © 2014 by Janice Kay Johnson

ISBN-13: 9781460335338

DATING A SINGLE DAD

Copyright © 2014 by Christine Fletcher

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now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher, Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 225 Duncan Mill Road, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada M3B 3K9.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

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BOOK: Dating a Single Dad
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