Home > Operation K-9 Brothers

Operation K-9 Brothers
Author: Sandra Owens

Chapter One


   “Stupid me. I trusted you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

   Jack Daniels, Whiskey to his SEAL teammates, blinked sleepy eyes at his bedside clock. Three in the morning sucked for getting angry calls from women. What the hell had he done to this one?

   “Who’s this?” That was the wrong thing to say. Jack held the phone away from his ear in an effort to save his hearing. He didn’t recognize the number on the screen. Her voice wasn’t familiar either.

   “Sweetheart,” he said, interrupting her tirade. “You sure you have the right number?” Even though her voice and phone number didn’t ring any bells, he couldn’t say for sure he wasn’t the douchebag—along with some other impressively creative names she was calling him—in question.

   Ah hell, now she was crying.

   “How could you?” she said, her words slightly slurred. She hung up on him.

   After thirty minutes of trying to go back to sleep, Jack let out a long sigh. How could he what? That question was going to bug him until he got an answer. Although her voice hadn’t been at all familiar, he’d liked it, even when she’d been calling him names. He grinned. Sewer-sucking slimeball and twatwaffle were good, but his favorite was doggy doo. That one had a nice ring to it.

   He got out of bed and padded to the living room where he’d left his laptop. Dakota sighed in resignation before hoisting herself up from her dog bed, her nails clicking on the wood floor as she followed him. She liked her sleep, something he interrupted too often for her taste because of his nightmares. At least they weren’t occurring every night anymore. She sat near his leg and peered up at him with worried eyes.

   “Not a nightmare this time, girl. We got a mystery on our hands. What do you think of that?”

   She knew him inside and out, knew from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t weighed down by his memories this time. Once she determined he didn’t need her comfort, she made two circles, got her damaged leg under her, then curled up on the floor at his feet, apparently liking her sleep more than mysteries. Jack was intrigued, though, his interest in something flaring for the first time since coming home.

   It only took a few minutes to find a name and address attached to her phone number. Nichole Masters, currently living in Asheville. Nope, not ringing even one little bell in his memory bank of female acquaintances or hookups. It was possible he’d forgotten one but not likely. He had a good memory, especially for women, and she had a sexy voice he was sure he wouldn’t have forgotten.

   Jack stared absently at the half moon framed by the window. Coming to a decision, he nodded. “All right, Nikki girl, you have me curious.” As his teammates would tell anyone who asked, get on Whiskey’s radar and all bets were off.

   He showered, and after staring at himself for a minute in the mirror, he shaved off his beard, seeing his face for the first time in months. He felt naked.

 

* * *

 

   At sunrise Jack made a recon run on one Nichole Masters. Her house was a cute little bungalow near the River Arts District of Asheville, North Carolina. As soon as he downloaded her Facebook profile picture to his phone, he knew that he’d never met her. There was no way he’d forget that face.

   He should let it go, but she’d fucking cried, believing he was the cause. That couldn’t stand. And yeah, he recognized that his reasoning was skewed. She’d thought he was some other douchebag, but Jack couldn’t get her voice out of his head. Then there were her eyes, a warm golden brown. Were they as beautiful in person as they were in the photo? But it was her smile that drew him. It was an honest smile, and he sensed that Nichole Masters was a happy person. That some faceless man had made her cry didn’t sit well.

   It creeped him out a little that he was stalking her—and it sure as hell would her if she knew—but he needed to learn where she worked. Once he knew that, he’d come up with a plan to meet her in a way that wouldn’t freak her out. Besides, he had nothing better to do.

   He was on medical leave after getting too up close and personal with an IED. Dakota had saved his life by putting herself in front of him and pushing him back, in all likelihood preventing him from being blown to bits. She’d been severely injured, had almost lost a hind leg. Thank God she had survived, though, and was now recuperating, along with him. He would be returning to his team. She would not. She’d served her time, had saved the lives of many of his brothers, along with his, and had earned her retirement.

   But it was preying on his mind. Dakota needed him, but he’d have to leave her behind when he was healed enough to go back. The problem was that he didn’t know who to give her to. It had to be someone both he and Dakota trusted, and the only names that came to mind were his teammates. Because he’d given himself a deadline—two more months to get his arm and shoulder in shape—he was running out of time to make a decision.

   Since there was a VA hospital in Asheville, he’d come home as soon as he’d been released from Walter Reed Bethesda Medical Center. After a month in the hospital—first in Germany and then at Walter Reed—he’d been ecstatic to leave that place behind. Physical therapy on his arm and shoulder was a bitch, but the sooner he was healed, the sooner he could get back to his team.

   The first thing he’d done after getting out of the hospital was to track down Dakota. He almost hadn’t recognized her. She’d been curled up in a corner of the kennel, rib bones showing, eyes dull, and fur lackluster. At the sight of him, she’d tried to stand, only to fall over when she put weight on her damaged leg. Since she belonged to the military, he’d had to call in some favors to get her released to him, but he’d been relentless in making that happen. When he’d first brought her home, she had been depressed and lethargic, and Jack thought she’d as much as given up. Thankfully she’d come a long way, and except for her leg, she was back to the dog she’d been before the bomb.

   At precisely eight, Nichole Masters appeared, wearing a blue-and-white striped dress and white sandals. Jack blew out a breath as she walked down the steps of her little porch, a mug in one hand and the end of a leash in the other.

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