To Love a Wolf (SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team #4)
by Paige Tyler
Coming June 7, 2016
HE’S FOUND THE ONE…
SWAT officer Landry Cooper is certain Everly Danu is The One. The problem is, she has no idea what Cooper really is. And as much as he wants to trust her, he’s not sure he can share his deepest secret…
When Everly’s family discovers Cooper’s a werewolf, her brothers will do anything to keep them apart—they’ll kill him if they have to. Everly is falling hard for the ridiculously handsome SWAT officer, and she’s not about to let her brothers tell her who she can love… Until Cooper’s secret is exposed and she discovers the man she thought she knew is a monster in disguise.
BUT CAN HE KEEP HER?
Outside Samarra City, Iraq, 2009
Staff Sergeant Landry Cooper moved carefully through the rubble covering the floor of the partially demolished building, inching his way closer to the target. The maze of shattered brick and broken pieces of wood weren’t the biggest reason he was moving slowly, though. That had more to do with the hundred-degree temperature and the seventy-five-pound Kevlar bomb suit he was wearing. He despised the army’s suit with a passion that few people outside the Explosive Ordnance Disposal community could understand.
It wasn’t simply that it was hot and heavy. No, what he hated most about the suit was the nearly complete sensory deprivation that came with wearing it. Inside the claustrophobic helmet surrounded by a neck gusset designed to keep your head from getting ripped off your body during an explosion, you couldn’t hear much of anything, your line of sight was distorted by the thick, curved face piece, and your peripheral vision was nonexistent. Having to make a manual approach—better known in EOD circles as the long walk—on a suspected improvised explosive device, or IED, was bad enough. Doing it when you had an armor-plated pillow wrapped around your head?
But he didn’t have a choice. Local construction workers had come in this morning and found a suspected IED half buried in the dirt between two buildings. Cooper and his team had been able to use a robot to drop a small demolition charge near the device, but his disposal charge, combined with a bang from the IED, had caused part of the surrounding buildings to collapse, pissing off the locals and making it impossible to get the robot back in to clear the area.
If there was one cardinal rule in EOD, it was that you never released an incident location back to the good guys without being one hundred percent sure all hazards had been cleared. That meant doing a manual approach in the bomb suit to make sure there weren’t any explosive materials or secondary devices around.
Cooper wasn’t too worried about walking up to the package he’d just blown in place. While the relationship between the city’s Sunni population and ruling Shiite government forces would never be described as anything other than tense, lately things had been better. IED responses were way down, and they hadn’t seen a secondary explosive device, typically planted to target police and other first responders, in months.
Still, he played everything by the book, keeping the protected front of his suit facing the spot where the IED had been, and using the building’s structure for protection as much as possible. At the same time, he kept his head on a swivel, looking for anything that seemed out of place.
“I’m about twenty feet from where we blew the IED,” he murmured over his suit’s radio to his team members waiting in the safe area three hundred yards away, and then remembered he was wasting his breath. The damn radio had stopped working about a month ago, and a replacement wasn’t due for weeks. He was on his own.
Sweat trickled down his nose as he stepped over a low wall and moved toward the crater where the IED had been. He automatically lifted a hand to wipe the sweat from his face and thumped against the plastic face piece.
“Shit, I hate this suit,” he muttered, forced to make due with wiggling his nose.
He reached the edge of the shallow crater and looked down. Two feet deep and six across, it looked like a big soup bowl. There were some rusty nails the bomb maker had added for fun, but the IED itself was long gone. Even better, his demo shot hadn’t exposed another one buried underneath.
Cooper pulled a sharpened fiberglass rod out of his pocket, then jumped into the crater. If there was anything here, the blast from the disposal shot would have uncovered it, but it didn’t hurt to check. Unfortunately, the heavy spine protector in the suit that helped keep an EOD tech’s back from being crushed if blown backward against something hard meant he had to squat down like a sumo wrestler to stick the probe into the dirt. He ignored the sweat and aggravation and made it work.
He’d moved almost all the way around the shot hole and was about to climb out to walk around the rest of the area when his probe hit something hard. He tensed, but then relaxed. He was still here, so it couldn’t be that bad. Dropping to one knee, he used his hand to slowly uncover what he’d found. When a horizontal, cylindrical pipe took shape, he assumed it was a water or sewer line.
They weren’t exactly common in structures as old as this one, but it could have been placed here to supply another building nearby. As he uncovered it, the pipe began to get smaller on one end. His gut clenched as realization dawned on him. He brushed off more dirt, revealing the nose of the 155-millimeter artillery round, as well as the metal electrical conduit extending out of it and running underground.
Cooper pushed himself to his feet and backpedaled toward the edge of the crater as fast as he could. An artillery round didn’t usually have a conduit sticking out the end. This one had been booby-trapped so the bomber could set it off manually whenever he wanted. The conduit was there so the IED wouldn’t cut the line if an EOD tech like him destroyed it. And with the conduit there, Cooper couldn’t cut the line either.
This device was an EOD killer put there because somebody knew a bomb tech would come down and look around before turning the site over to the local police.
His mind raced. A projectile this size carried fifteen pounds of high explosive. When it went off, even a bomb suit as good as the one he had on was unlikely to stop all the frag that came off it.
He reached the top of the crater and backed away as fast as he could. He would have been able to run faster if he turned around, but the weakest part of a bomb suit was the rear. If this thing went off when his back was to it, he’d have no chance.
Time slowed as a thousand thoughts zipped through his head. How he seriously didn’t want to die. How maybe the bomber on the other end of that firing line might have needed to go take a piss, and the 155 wouldn’t go off. How his parents and brothers were going to be crushed when they found out. How he should have gone to the prom with that cute girl in his math class back in high school. How one of the junior members on his team was going to be forced to step up and take over his job. How the new unit lieutenant was going to have to write a condolence letter on his first fucking day on the job.
Cooper pushed those thoughts away, yanking his hands inside the arms of the suit to keep them from getting ripped off in the blast as he focused his attention on moving backward as fast as he could.
Just get twenty feet away. Then you might have a chance.
He didn’t make it ten.
The blast threw him backward before his head even registered the flash of the projectile exploding. Luckily, he was so close that the wave took out the brick wall behind him before he could smash into it. But that luck ran out, and he slammed into the one behind it.
He felt a sharp stab in his back, then nothing from the middle of his chest down. The suit’s spine support had broken—and so had his back.
He hit the ground hard, tumbling like a kid’s toy until he came to a sudden stop against a pile of bricks. He felt pain—lots of it—at least from the chest up. He wasn’t sure how he was able to, but he lifted his head enough to look down, and saw long, jagged fragments from the 155 sticking out of him like he was a damn pincushion.
Cooper let his head drop to the ground and swore long and hard. He was so fucked.
A detached part of his mind noticed that pieces of the building were burning around him. That was interesting, considering how little flammable material was in the area. The flames weren’t too bad, but the smoke would probably choke him to death sooner or later. Not that he was likely to live long enough for that to happen. The frag had penetrated the bomb suit. He’d bleed out fast enough. He’d just be too numb to feel it.
Then someone was at his side, roughly prying up his face, telling him to hold on. That’s when he realized his ears weren’t working right. He could barely hear the person speaking. No shock there. The blast had blown out his eardrums.
He opened his eyes, expecting to see one of his junior teammates, and was shocked when he saw that it was Jim Wainwright, a fellow senior team leader and the best friend he’d ever had. Cooper hadn’t even known another team had arrived.
“Get the hell out of here!” Cooper shouted. Or at least he tried to. The words came out as nothing but a gurgling whisper. “Jim, you know this is stupid. There could be another device down here.”
Jim didn’t answer, but simply shoved his arms under the bomb suit, as if he thought he could pick up Cooper and carry him out of here. He didn’t bother to tell his friend how stupid that was. Besides all the frag sticking out of his body, making the task of picking him up akin to hugging a porcupine, Cooper and the bomb suit he wore weighed nearly three hundred pounds combined.
There was no way in hell Jim could pick him up.
“Go!” he ordered again. “You know I’m done anyway.”
Jim ignored him. Tears running down his face, he tried grabbing the heavy-duty rescue strap at the suit’s shoulder and dragged him across the rubble.
“Shit!” Cooper wailed in agony, white-hot fire shooting through his neck and shoulders. “Just fucking leave me alone and let me die!”
Jim disregarded that request too, grunting like a crazy man as he dragged Cooper over, around, and through the obstacles that separated them from the dilapidated building’s exit. Cooper was stunned his friend could actually move him at all. He’d heard of soldiers doing some insane shit in battle to save a buddy, but this had to be the craziest. Too bad he was already a goner. Cooper only hoped Jim would get a medal out of it. Then, at least, one good thing would come out of this day.
Cooper didn’t get much time to think about what the award write-up would sound like because the pain climbing up his neck like a wave of water drowned him until everything went black.
Download the first six chapters of To Love a Wolf here!
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