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Werewolf's Bravehearted Mate

The Sentinels – Book One


Copyright 2018 Alice Cain

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Smashwords Edition December 2018

Smashwords Edition, License Notes


This e-book is for your personal use only. This e-book remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you wish to recommend this e-book to a friend, please forward them the link to buy their own copy or use the gift function available on your favorite distributor. Thank you for respecting the hard work of all authors.

~ Alice



This is a fictional story from the author’s imagination and is not to be confused with fact. It is not advice or suggestion. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons is purely coincidental.

Blurbs:


Alec Grison is more than happy with his current identity as an inner-city cop. He doesn’t need or want to remember the past, the betrayal, or the resentment he still carries two hundred years later. But when one of the men on his team is arrested, Alec can only wonder at the irony as his actions to protect the arresting officer bring his own family back into his life.

Angelo Hansen is a gay man fighting for his place in a straight man's world. He's a cop, and a damn good one, but getting some of his coworkers to remember that fact is a daily irritation. Arresting someone while off duty is not unusual, but when that someone turns out to be a fellow cop there's no way it's going to be good for Angelo's career.

He's very surprised and more than a little suspicious when Alec Grison—experienced swat team leader and direct supervisor to the man Angelo arrested—steps in to support Angelo against the rest of the department.

But when unusual things start happening and secrets he never wanted to know are accidentally revealed, can Angelo trust Alec Grison is telling the truth when he can't even trust his own eyes?



Gay romance. This fictional story contains explicit adult content and coarse language and is intended for mature readers only. All characters involved in sexual behavior in this story are adults capable of consent, are over the age of twenty-one, and are willing participants.



40,100 words





The Sentinels series was originally published as short story YA urban fiction under one of my other pen names but has been extensively rewritten because my poor romantic heart simply can't leave heroes without their soul mates

~ Alice

Table of Contents


Werewolf's Bravehearted Mate

About the Author

Other titles by Alice Cain




http://alicecainromance.blogspot.com



Werewolf's Bravehearted Mate

The Sentinels – Book One






Alice Cain

Copyright 2018



Prologue


1666 in a small village just outside of London…

"We've lost entire packs to the sickness humans are calling Black Death," the Alpha said, defending the decision he'd made for his pack. He didn't have to explain—a werewolf pack wasn't a democracy—but he explained his reasoning anyway, his respect for the people he led and protected very obvious in his tone. But the hoarse rasp of his voice betrayed his exhaustion. "We can not afford to ignore the truce the vampires are offering."

"But we've always been enemies," one of the betas growled in a low voice. "We cannot trust anything the vampires say."

Most of the gathered werewolves nodded and murmured in agreement.

"Yes, we have been enemies for as long as any of us can remember," the Alpha said, raising his voice to be heard over the low growls and angry words of disbelief as they rippled through the small group. "But the time has come to put those prejudices aside."

It was pretty clear to Alec why the vampires were offering a truce to their centuries-long feud now. The Great London fire would have devastated their population in this part of the world. Survivors spoke of walls of flame and the feeling that the entire world was on fire.

Unlike werewolves who mostly stayed away from humans, vampires lived among them, feeding where the human population was most crowded. A city as big as London would have sustained thousands of vampires, and it was likely many of them had died in the fires.

Even supernatural speed wouldn't help when the fires completely surrounded them.

"What do the bloodsuckers want in return for their 'generous' offer?" one of the men asked, sneering the words as several others growled at the realization that a truce with the vampires would not come without a price.

The Alpha nodded and waited for the rest of the pack to settle before answering.

"Four healthy werewolf males."

"What the hell?" several different voices called in disbelief.

"What for?" another called.

Again the Alpha waited for the pack to settle down.

"They need protectors who can walk in the daylight." The Alpha nodded as if he'd given this matter much thought. He probably had. "We can give them that. We can protect them while they slumber and build peace between our species."

"That's how the feud started," an older pack member said angrily, pushing her way through to stand in front of the Alpha. "They kept us as slaves." Her voice shook with her emotions. "They forced us into submission. Our ancestors fought to gain our freedom. Why would you agree to enslave our people once more?"

"They won't be slaves," the alpha said, his tone low but not entirely reassuring. "They'll be sentinels."

The old woman recoiled in horror. "Alpha, you can't do this."

"I can," the Alpha said, his voice firming up, his eyes glinting with the certainty of his decision. "I will choose if I have to." He growled low in his throat until every pack member tilted their heads back and bared their throats in respect. "But first, I will ask for volunteers."


Chapter One


Present day

Alec Grison barely suppressed the growl that climbed his throat. Nothing about this raid felt right. They'd been watching this restaurant for weeks and so far hadn't really gathered enough evidence to prove that anything unlawful was going on. Yes, there was almost definitely something illegal happening in the back rooms, but proving it was a whole other matter.

"All teams are in position."

The fact that they'd been called in with only a handful of minutes notice was also concerning. That sort of haste was usually reserved for terrorist and hostage situations, not an ongoing investigation that had so far proven fruitless.

But Alec was a professional, so he was going to do his job and do it well and worry about all of the unanswered questions later.

"All teams, we have a go," he said, practically growling the last word as he led his own team through the front door. An older man and his much-younger-looking date were in the process of leaving the restaurant, so Alec signaled for his officers to detain them. Startled by their entrance—who wouldn't be?—the man tried to protect his companion by pushing her behind him at the same moment the woman tried to protect him, the scuffle thankfully ended when one of Alec's team took control and urged the couple back into the main room.

The dining room had the delicious smell of expensive food and it was clear that this part at least was a working business. But it was the deals they apparently did in the back room that Alec and his team were here to disrupt.

Nevertheless, they needed to secure the entire building and that meant checking over each and every person who was currently inside so that they weren't subjected to any nasty surprises. Underestimating people was what got cops killed.

And Alec had no intention of losing any of his officers. He tapped his communicator and ordered his teams to check in.

"Back room secure. Three suspects in custody."

"Kitchen secure."

"Second floor secure. Empty."

"Front foyer secure. Paramedics are on their way for a chick who lost her balance in the bathroom." Alec didn't miss the snicker his subordinate tried to hide by switching off his mic. Thanks to his werewolf physiology, Alec was able to hear what was being said in every part of the restaurant just fine.

And he didn't like what was being said. They weren't here to terrorize civilians or to laugh at a woman's panicky reaction to being confronted in a ladies toilet by masked men with guns.

Alec swallowed the instinctive growl at the general lack of respect for innocent bystanders—something else he'd deal with later—acknowledged the reports via comms, shoved back the annoyance at the fact that someone had gotten hurt by violence that had very likely been unnecessary, and then stepped into the middle of the main room. It contained sixteen people all of whom were apparently shocked to realize that illegal things might be happening in their neighborhood. Either they were genuine restaurant patrons or they were damn good actors. Considering how sketchy this raid felt to Alec, he'd put money on them all being innocent bystanders.

"Apologies for the interruption," Alec said, holding up his police badge so that everyone could see that they were the good guys. "We just need to ask everyone a few questions and then we'll get out of your way."

Most of the people in the restaurant nodded, willing to cooperate with authorities probably so they could have an interesting story to tell at work tomorrow. Whatever. Alec just needed to make sure they weren't involved and then he'd hopefully never need to deal with them again. He was actually feeling pretty optimistic—maybe he'd get home before midnight for a change—when three familiar faces moved toward him.

Damn, the problem with restaurants in this area was that they attracted high-income professionals such as doctors, stock brokers, and…yeah...lawyers.

So much for making it home before midnight.

~*~


Angelo Hansen shook his head, plastered a smile onto his face, and kept walking.

"Come on, Angie," Stephanie Higgs said as she followed Angelo to the exit that led to the police parking lot.

"No thanks," Angelo said, grinding his teeth against the shortening of his name and at the same time trying to be polite while shutting down the idea completely. "I have a gourmet meal waiting patiently for me at home." More like a frozen microwave meal in a plastic tray but close enough.

"It's just a few drinks, Angie."

Yeah, it was. Stephanie was actually one of the nicer cops he'd worked with over the years, and when she said "drinks with friends" that's exactly what she meant. She treated everyone the same and after five months working together she rarely slipped up by assuming Angelo knew about fashion or women's lingerie or last season's shoes.

The shortening of his name was her way of being friendly, but that didn't stop the snickering from other cops when they heard him being addressed using a feminine version of his name. Angelo worked hard to forgive Stephanie because she really did try to be inclusive, but she'd been indoctrinated by society to see gay men as the flamboyant cliché which really didn't fit many people's idea of what a cop should be. Angelo understood how difficult it could be for people to set aside preconceived notions, but that didn't make society's attitude any less irritating.

Angelo was neither ostentatious nor fashion conscious, and despite being below average height with a slight build, he'd had more than a decade on the force without injury or major incident. From the very beginning he'd studied and trained harder than anyone else on the same rung of the department's career ladder. At the very least he deserved the same respect.

Having drinks with "the girls" would mean letting the precinct see him as someone other than the ambitious, dedicated police officer he worked so hard to show the world. The only way Angelo was going to be taken seriously as a police officer was to keep his private life very far away from his work life.

And since work was his life and dating a long-forgotten experience, it was rarely a problem anyway.

"Angie—"

Angelo cut her off before she could say anything else. It was hard enough to get promoted without the rumor mill speculating on his private life. For a department that was still mostly male employees it was a surprisingly bitchy place to work.

"Sorry, Stephie," he said, shortening her name the same way she'd shortened his in the hopes that she'd realize how irritating it was. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay," she said, sounding tired as she turned toward her car.


~*~


Alec's team quickly identified the actual criminals—it was kind of hard to miss the collection of little baggies in the back room with three men who'd been negotiating a price—and then interviewed everyone else in the restaurant. Despite Alec's and his team's best efforts, the kitchen staff ended up being interviewed after all of the wealthy patrons had demanded immediate attention, threatened legal repercussions, and had eventually been cleared to leave.

It meant that by the time Alec and his team were packed up and ready to leave, two young dishwashers were still in the kitchen tiredly doing their jobs. Even the head chef had left for the night.

Alec hesitated at the doorway. It wasn't really his responsibility to make sure every person got home safely after a police raid, but it was obvious that these two employees were very young.

"Almost finished?" Alec asked as he stepped into the kitchen.

The young man gave him an irritated look, but the girl nodded her head and quietly offered a "Yes, sir."

"How do you normally get home?"

Again the young man gave him an irritated look, but it quickly morphed into one of surprise when the girl said, "My boyfriend is going to pick me up."

"And you?" Alec asked, watching the kid closely as he tried to recover from his reaction to his coworker's lie.

"Uh, my mom." He fished a cell phone out of his pocket and held it up for Alec to see. "I just have to call her when we're done."

"Okay," Alec said, using his werewolf senses to track the girl's heartbeat. She was terrified but somehow maintaining an outward calm. Alec didn't even want to think about the sort of things the child must have experienced to be able to do that so successfully. "Thank you for your co-operation tonight."

As expected the young man rolled his eyes and made an annoyed huffing sound, but the girl dipped her head in acknowledgment and continued doing her job.

Maybe he was being overly suspicious—hell, it was a trait he'd had long before he'd become a police officer—but instead of leaving the area, he dumped his stuff in the car, parked it a few streets away and then doubled back. When he was sure he hadn't been followed, he ducked into an alley, stripped off and hid his clothes in the cleanest spot he could find, and then turned into his wolf shape and waited in the shadows.

It was another hour before the dishwashers locked up the restaurant and left via the back door.

"Goodnight, Mackenzie," the young man said, moving toward the lone car that was now parked in the lot. "Assuming we still have jobs, I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Alec was glad to see the young man hesitate to leave Mackenzie alone in the dark. "You know, my mom won't mind driving you home."

"Thanks, Josh, but I'll be fine," she said, giving the guy a more confident smile than any expression she'd worn while inside the restaurant. "Honestly, it's faster to walk."

The young man didn't seem convinced, but he nodded and moved toward the parking lot. Mackenzie turned and headed deeper into the shadows.

Feeling maybe just a tad like a creeper, Alec nevertheless slipped out of his hiding spot and followed the girl home.


~*~


Angelo had walked this route more nights than he cared to remember, but tonight felt different. It was late, very late. Maybe he was still freaking out that someone might have overheard the conversation with Stephanie and that was why he felt like someone was following him now.

Unable to shake the feeling, he walked faster, breaking into a run as he rounded a corner, and then ducking behind the dumpster that belonged to an apartment building less than half a block from his home.

His heart practically climbed into his throat when he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone hurrying toward him.


Chapter Two


Angelo held his breath, desperately trying not to give away his location by hyperventilating. Damn he was out of practice. Six years of feeling relatively safe in this neighborhood, even at night, had apparently done nothing for his ability to stay quiet.

He swallowed hard when he felt something furry brush against his leg but managed not to move. He really wished he had his service revolver on him right now.

Of course, Angelo felt kind of stupid when the hurried footsteps turned out to belong to a teenage girl who seemed to be on her way home as well. The kid moved past Angelo's hiding spot without slowing down, and Angelo sighed softly with relief.

Not wanting to startle the kid by stepping onto the path behind her, Angelo waited a few more heartbeats and was about to continue his own journey home when he heard a second set of feet, these ones definitely running.

Startled, the kid dived between a low brick wall and a parked car at the front of an apartment building. The guy stopped running, doubled back a few steps, and then turned on a torch, sweeping the beam of light over several places before discovering the kid's hiding place. In the dim lighting it was hard to tell, but Angelo was pretty sure the guy had a gun as well.

"Janey, you little bitch. Get out here."

Obviously discovered and with nowhere to go, the kid had little choice but to reveal herself. She came out with her hands held above her head and nervously followed the man's instructions. He sounded like a cop at that moment, but it was also likely he'd just watched too much damn television.

Angelo thought having the kid lay down on the concrete was a whole lot of overkill—the guy was at least a foot taller and probably double the girl's weight—but Angelo forced himself to stay calm and think rationally as the kid let the man fasten a zip tie around her wrists.

It had been a long time since Angelo had felt this helpless, but at least it seemed the kid was being arrested and not mugged or raped. But Angelo was more than a little surprised when the guy escorted the kid further toward her destination rather than doubling back the way they'd come. Maybe he'd had to circle the entire block to catch up with her.

Angelo considered calling the precinct and trying to confirm that they had an officer in the area, but he didn't know anyone well enough to ask for a personal favor and it would seem strange, as if he was spying on his workmates, if he got in the way of genuine police business by asking any other way.

Resigned to following them back to the guy's car just to be sure, Angelo stepped out of his hiding space and carefully and very quietly started moving. A few moments later he was very glad he'd followed his instincts. The guy led the kid into a dark alley and the moment they were out of sight the girl cried out in pain.

"Where is she?" the guy demanded. "Take me to her."

"Her?" the kid asked, completely shocked. "Her who?"

"Don't play dumb with me, kid. I know who you are." He shook her as if she weighed no more than a rag doll. "Where have you been hiding?"

Angelo almost couldn't stop the gasp that escaped his control, fear filling every part of his mind. He needed his gun. He needed back up. He needed a goddamn miracle.

He took another quick glance around the corner, grateful to see the guy still had his back to him. Praying that the element of surprise was going to work in his favor and negate the weight difference, Angelo slowly crept into the alley and moved toward the man, staying close to the wall until he needed to step into the small circle of light.

The guy had already slapped a hand over the kid's face, forcing her to be quiet. Clearly struggling to breathe, tears streamed down the girl's face as she tried to shake her head apparently still trying to answer the guy's questions.

Obviously she didn't know what he meant, but he kept growling obscenities into the kid's ear, describing in blood-chilling, horrifying detail how much he was going to hurt her if she didn't tell him exactly what he wanted to know.

Angelo knew he needed to do something and he needed to do it fast.


~*~


Alec cursed himself for his lack of foresight. He hadn't really been expecting trouble and had only meant to follow the girl home to make sure she was safe. But being in wolf form meant he couldn't protect her from her attacker—one of his own officers for fuck's sake—without doubling back and getting his clothes.

He startled when a slender man stepped out from behind a dumpster and hurried to follow. His scent was familiar but Alec didn't physically recognize him. Maybe he worked at the precinct. They had plenty of people coming and going at all hours of the day, so it wasn't beyond the possibility that he was a filing clerk or dispatch operator or maybe even a public defender.

Whoever the guy was he followed Jenkins into a dark alley with the apparent intention of stopping a heavily armed, highly trained swat officer while he was half his weight and completely unarmed.


~*~


Angelo only caught the tail end of what seemed to be a long list of threats before the guy slammed the girl's face into a wall. He reacted angrily when she lost consciousness—apparently he'd only planned to hurt her enough to make her talk—but it didn't stop him from throwing her to the ground and swinging at kick at her ribs.

Using every skill he'd learned, Angelo tackled the officer away from the prone young woman and pushed him face-first into the wall, letting momentum and surprise do most of the work. He didn't even try to moderate the damage, more than willing to give this asshole a taste of what it felt like to be as helpless as his victim.

The guy came up swinging, cursing and swearing and identifying himself as a police officer until he recognized Angelo. Fuck. He was pretty sure the guy was one of the assholes on the swat team, but that didn't make any of this right.

The litany of "resisting arrest" excuses that poured from his mouth after that was sickening. If Angelo hadn't been following so closely, he wouldn't have heard the vile threats Jenkins had been making. Yet, even if he hadn't, it was still pretty obvious that the young woman hadn't been resisting him when he'd slammed her against the wall or when she'd been unconscious on the ground.

He apparently realized Angelo wasn't going to believe his bullshit story because he stopped making excuses and raised his gun instead. In that split second Angelo knew he intended to kill him, maybe even right there, right at that very moment.

The growling didn't even register in his mind until blood splattered across the front of his shirt. Startled, Angelo stepped back, watching with a mixture of awe and horror as a large dog—that was not a wolf, not a wolf, not a w… fuck, it looked like a wolf straight off the nature channel—sank its teeth into the arm holding the gun. Just like a well-trained police dog it took him to the ground, holding the guy facedown against the concrete as if waiting for its trainer to do the rest.

Angelo refused to overthink it, quickly disarmed the man, secured a couple of his own zip ties around his wrists and ankles, and pushed him into a sitting position on the ground. He was still screaming obscenities when Angelo went to check on the kid.

What he found had his hands shaking as he pulled out his phone and called for an ambulance.

Chapter Three


Angelo had never been on a theme-park ride—watching the attendants hose down the ride after each person lost their lunch was not his idea of a fun time—so he couldn't explain why traveling in the back of an ambulance always felt like riding on a rollercoaster.

The girl was strapped onto the bed, tough bands of nylon holding her against the chair as it swayed from side to side and lights flashed in her eyes. Angelo didn't like the look of her at all. She was too pale, too tiny, too damn young to be so close to death.

"Welcome back," the attendant said as the kid moaned and her eyelids flickered several times like she was trying to open them. "Can you tell me your name?"

"Why?" the kid asked suspiciously.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Rollercoaster?" the kid asked, frowning with distaste. Angelo couldn't help but smile a tiny bit that the kid noticed the same sickening movement as Angelo did.

"Do you know what day it is?"

"Huh?" the kid asked frowning, obviously confused as to why a complete stranger would ask her that. Then a thought apparently occurred to her. "Oh, um, do you have a concussion? That's what people need to know when they have a concussion, isn't it?" She smiled a little weirdly, her eyes still closed. "I've seen that on TV lots of times."

The paramedic laughed softly. "Yes, kid. I'm checking you for a concussion. Can you tell me what day it is?"

"Tuesd—Oh. wait, no it's Thurs—" The kid cut off her words and frowned again. "Is it Wednesday?" she asked in a tiny voice. "No, wait. I had to work really late because a police raid happened—probably arrested my boss and means I won't get paid anyway—but I think that means it's Friday."

"That's right. It's Friday," the paramedic said, glancing at Angelo as if him being a police officer was why the kid was injured in the first place. "Can you tell me your name?"

"Mackenzie."

"Is that your first name or last name?" the guy asked in a perfectly reasonable tone.

"Yes." Mackenzie huffed out a deep breath and apparently waited for the laughter to begin. "Both."

"You only have one name?" the paramedic asked. "Like those singers? Just one name?"

"Yeah, that would be so much nicer actually," the kid said sullenly, her words starting to slur messily "'s my first 'n' last name."

"Your name is Mackenzie McKenzie?"

Angelo was sure Jenkins had called the kid "Janey." Did that mean he'd misidentified his target or that the kid was lying about her name?

Mackenzie tried to roll away from the man who was clearly annoying her now, but the straps holding her in place stalled that idea. Defeated the kid nodded her answer.

"Ow," she grouched. "Eyes wanna es 'plode."

"Okay, Mackenzie," the paramedic said, moving more urgently now. His concerned frown deepened as the kid's next words slurred together unintelligibly. He shot Angelo a worried look and shook his head slightly. The ambulance came to a stop and someone opened the doors from the outside. "Time to get you a CT scan, kid."


~*~


"Gris," Alec's boss said, sticking his head in the doorway of his office, "just got a report about that kid who was injured. She's a mess."

"Fuck," Alec said on a frustrated growl. He'd doubled back to his clothes and then pretended to be first on the scene when the police officer—Angelo Hansen—had called for backup

They'd already confirmed the kid's name, lack of police record, and cleared her of any involvement in the drug and other criminal deals that had been done in the back room of the restaurant. The concierge—also innocent and oblivious of the crimes her boss had been committing—had confirmed that Mackenzie McKenzie had worked as a dishwasher for the past three years and had never so much as raised her voice.

Everything indicated that she was a good kid, so Jenkins had no reasonable suspicion or explanation for doing what he'd done. Alec hadn't been able to put the threats he'd overheard into his report simply because he couldn't exactly explain that he was the wolf who'd tried his hardest not to chew Jenkins's arms off—both of them. It had been a near thing, and heaven knows after what he'd done to an innocent young girl Jenkins probably deserved it, but Alec was a police officer for a reason. He believed in laws and justice and legal rights and responsibilities. He'd lived through too many centuries where the rich and spoiled made the rules and the poor suffered. The modern world wasn't perfect, but it was a damn big improvement over the days when "justice" produced as many victims as the crimes themselves.

Even if Jenkins had mistaken the kid for someone else, he had no excuse for his lack of control. He'd never shown any indication of being overtly violent until he'd attacked Mackenzie, and Alec had honestly believed the guy had more discipline. Yet if that had been the reality, a young kitchen worker would not be in the hospital, badly injured, and with parents probably planning to sue.

Jenkins had already been released without charge. The report he'd filed was complete bullshit, but without evidence if was hard to prove. The guy had a spotless service record and the loyal support of his fellow officers, so Alec needed to be careful. Right now Jenkins had turned the story into a "he said, he said" situation and, with Officer Hansen at the hospital with the kid, opening a formal investigation would look like a lack of faith in his officer. Alec fully intended to see the guy was held accountable for his actions, but it was the sort of volatile situation that could implode an entire precinct.

Of course, that consideration hadn't stopped Jenkins from filing a formal complaint against Officer Hansen and wanting him charged with assault for pushing him into the wall. Alec kind of smirked at the memory of that part. It had been a damn good example of what a smaller person with the right training and practice could do against a man much larger than them.

Once back at the station Jenkins had been appropriately bewildered and had said all the right things—and of course had been given the support of most of his fellow officers who now saw Angelo as having betrayed them by arresting one of their own—but Alec hadn't missed the sickly sweet scent of satisfaction Jenkins had exuded the moment the superintendent told him he was free to leave.

Alec understood the rush of adrenaline, the split-second decisions that needed to be made, but it was the fact that Jenkins had deliberately targeted Mackenzie and then taken pleasure from causing what could well be a fatal injury that had made Alec feel ill. Jenkins also apparently had no remorse about destroying a good cop's career and reputation with blatant lies just to cover his own ass

Alec hoped that this incident wouldn't infect the rest of the team, but he knew that was unlikely. What they did was dangerous—serious criminals didn't have any qualms about killing cops, even entire swat teams if they had the chance—but the last thing they needed was a person as amoral as Jenkins on the team.

They trained to react hard and fast, to take out a suspect before they could fire a weapon or detonate a bomb, but that didn't include attacking people who were simply trying to walk home. Even from where Alec had been positioned in his wolf form it had been clear that the kid had been no threat. Officer Hansen had reacted appropriately to the situation as far as Alec was concerned.

"I need you to get the kid's statement, Gris," Alec's boss said predictably. "And try to talk her parents out of a lawsuit if you can."

Alec glanced at the clock—three AM—and nodded tiredly. "I'll drop by on my way home."

"Thanks," the boss muttered before turning away. It had been a long damn day for both of them. The raid had resulted in nothing more than a few amphetamine baggies and the arrest of a couple of low-level dealers. The outcome certainly didn't justify the expense of a swat raid, and nothing they'd learned about the business since then suggested anything more sinister was going on.

It took another half hour for Alec to get out of the building, ten minutes in the car to get to the hospital, fifteen more to realize the victim wasn't in the children's ICU but in the one for adults in the hospital across the road, and then another five minutes to convince the nurse in charge to let him into the ICU. Apparently, the victim's prognosis was way worse than even Alec's boss had understood.

Unsurprisingly, Mackenzie McKenzie was sleeping.

Well, unconscious was probably more accurate considering the massive lump on her forehead and the swollen, blackened eyes and puffy face.

"Shit," he whispered under his breath. She looked even younger than she had at the restaurant.

"So far Officer Hansen hasn't been able to locate any family," the nurse said, checking the unconscious child's vitals quickly and adding a couple of notes into the tablet she was carrying. "And we won't know the extent of the damage until we can get the CT scan done."

"Has she woken at all?"

"A few times," the nurse said, nodding. "Nothing terribly coherent since being admitted, but the paramedics were able to confirm the name she gave them against her driver's license. Can you believe she's twenty-two?"

"That's surprising," Alec said, trying to reconcile the idea of the girl being an adult. He would have sworn she'd still be in high school. "Waking is a good sign, yeah?"

"Won't help her if she's got bleeding on the brain," the nurse answered, dashing Alec's hopes. She glanced at him. "I'm assuming you're after a statement."

Alec nodded. "I was hoping…" he said, letting the words trail off because they sounded so damn stupid now. Even just a mild concussion would delay getting this woman's statement. If she needed surgery, it could literally be months before she was recovered enough to answer clearly. And maybe not even then.

Acquired brain injuries usually had serious, long-term effects, even if the person did mostly recover from the initial injury.

Despite not being the officer who did this, Alec still felt responsible for the woman's condition. He was Jenkins's direct supervisor and he'd been the senior officer on duty at the raid on Mackenzie's workplace. Alec always took responsibility for the way his people acted—even after everyone had packed up and gone home—and so ultimately, he was the reason Mackenzie McKenzie now faced an uncertain future.


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