When i found you, p.1
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       When I Found You, p.1

           Kate James
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When I Found You


  Is she part of the solution...or the problem?

  It could be a terrorist threat. Or is it some other sinister plot? An unprecedented rash of security breaches at San Diego’s international airport is putting passengers at risk and bringing the competence of the airport’s chief of security, Ariana Atkins, into question. With explosives the weapon of choice, police K-9 unit captain Logan O’Connor and his bomb detection dog, Boomer, might be Ariana’s best, if not only, line of defense. Logan is certain his belief in Ariana, and his growing love for her, aren’t misplaced...but it wouldn’t be the first time he’s misjudged someone’s intentions.

  She was the target.

  If Logan hadn’t been with her, she might’ve died... But he and Boomer had been. He’d probably saved her life, but he was injured because of that. All these thoughts tumbled over each other. “Oh, God,” she whispered, and stepped into Logan’s comforting arms. When they enfolded her, she broke down sobbing. Of all her concerns, she voiced the one that made most sense to her troubled mind. “You’re hurt. You got hurt because of me,” she said in a quavering voice.

  Logan held Ariana as she cried. He never would’ve imagined this strong, determined woman capable of tears, let alone falling apart as she was. Knowing that others would be joining them soon, he encouraged her to pull herself together. He recognized how fragile she was—and that caused a whole maelstrom of emotions to break loose inside him, not the least of which was a reminder of why he’d avoided relationships his entire life.

  Dear Reader,

  It seems like yesterday that I placed my fingers on the keyboard to start writing When the Right One Comes Along, the first book in my K-9 Trilogy. It’s hard to believe this third book is now complete, too.

  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past year and a half with Cal, Jessica and Scout; Rick, Madison, Sniff and Nitro; and finally Logan, Ariana and Boomer. I’ve enjoyed discovering these characters’ stories, and their heartbreaks and happily-ever-afters.

  When I Found You is a work of fiction. Although it refers to the leaked results of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s 2015 covert testing of the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA’s) operations and technology, I want to draw special attention to the difficult and demanding job that TSA’s frontline workforce performs. I would also like to recognize the San Diego Harbor Police, who have responsibility for providing law-enforcement services at San Diego International Airport. Although in the story I assigned this responsibility to the San Diego Police Department, the Harbor Police’s Explosives Detection K-9 Team is currently the only TSA-certified explosives-detection team south of Los Angeles. I hope they will forgive me for the liberties I have taken in the name of fiction.

  I hope you enjoy When I Found You, and maybe you’ll miss these characters a little, the way I do. I’ve provided some discussion questions on my website, in case you’d like to use this story for your book club.

  As always, I would love to hear from you! You can connect with me at www.kate-james.com, www.Facebook.com/katejamesbooks, @katejamesbooks or at PO Box 446, Schomberg, ON, L0G 1T0, Canada.

  Kate

  When I Found You

  Kate James

  Kate James spent much of her childhood abroad before attending university in Canada. She built a successful business career, but her passion has always been literature. As a result, Kate turned her energy to her love of the written word. Kate’s goal is to entertain her readers with engaging stories featuring strong, likable characters. Kate has been honored with numerous awards for her writing. She and her husband, Ken, enjoy traveling and the outdoors with their beloved Labrador retrievers.

  Books by Kate James

  Harlequin Heartwarming

  A Child’s Christmas

  The Truth About Hope

  The K-9 Trilogy

  When the Right One Comes Along

  When Love Matters Most

  Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin ebook!

  Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards

  http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

  To my parents, for selflessly providing me with the opportunities and encouragement to pursue my dreams.

  To the men and women who dedicate their lives to law enforcement—they deserve our unwavering support and gratitude.

  Acknowledgments

  My editor and I considered a number of titles for this book, but none seemed just right. So we asked readers. I was thrilled to see the tremendous enthusiasm demonstrated by many people. As it turned out, we didn’t have just one winner but four: Summer Halls, Laurie Iglesias, June Smalls and Jill Weatherholt. Thank you, ladies!

  I would also like to extend my appreciation to Maria Reeves for allowing me to “borrow” the name of her beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Darwin, for the newest four-legged member of the San Diego Police Department’s K-9 Unit. Darwin and his handler, Shannon Clemens, might have their own story one day!

  Thank you, once again, to Constable Jim Hilton and York Regional Police (Ontario, Canada). Constable Hilton, a member of YRP’s canine unit, was invaluable to my research for this trilogy.

  Finally, none of my books would be what they are without the contribution of my fabulous editor, Paula Eykelhof. Thank you, Paula, for all that you do! Thanks also to Victoria Curran, senior editor, for challenging me and all the Harlequin Heartwarming authors to tell the very best stories we can.

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  CHAPTER FOURTEEN

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  EXCERPT FROM SOPHIE’S PATH BY CATHERINE LANIGAN

  CHAPTER ONE

  “THE PILOT’S BRINGING the plane back?” Ariana Atkins, chief of security and asset protection for the San Diego International Airport, swiveled away from her desk and stared at her senior security manager.

  “Yeah. The plane is on its way,” Max Golding responded. He was leaning against Ariana’s door frame, a hand tucked into the pocket of his stylish dress pants. “You know as well as I do, it’s the pilot’s call.”

  “Two vacation-going women bound for Barbados overindulge in their duty-free alcohol purchase, are drunk before the plane is out of our airspace, get into a fight on board, and the pilot declares it a security risk and decides to turn the aircraft around? Have I got that right?”

  “That sums it up.” Max straightened. “I was told the flight crew had trouble calming them down.”

  He moved to Ariana’s desk, fiddled with her mouse and called up the security camera footage he’d emailed her of the women at the gate.

  “They were inebriated before they boarded! The gate crew shouldn’t have let them on that flight.”

  “I can’t argue with you about that. The San Diego Police Department is sending a team to meet the plane.”

 
This was news to Ariana. “Why? We can handle two drunken women ourselves with the SDPD officers assigned to the airport.”

  Max shrugged. “I would’ve thought so, but one of the charming young ladies uttered a threat against the crew and passengers. She said, and I quote, that she’d blow them all to kingdom come.”

  Ariana rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Great. Just great.” That added weight to the pilot’s decision to bring the plane back.

  As far-fetched as it was that one of the women involved in the altercation might have a bomb on board, the United States Transportation Security Administration required that all such incidents be taken seriously.

  They’d have to hold the plane away from the terminal building until they had confirmation that there were no explosive devices on board. Only then could it taxi to a gate.

  Her stomach rumbled and she glanced at her watch. She’d missed lunch. It wasn’t likely that she’d be having dinner anytime soon either.

  “I can handle this, Ariana, if you want to go home.” Obviously Max had heard her stomach, too. “You’ve averaged ten-hour days all week. You deserve some downtime.”

  She rose, grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair. “Thanks, but I’m okay. We’ve all been putting in long hours since the budget cuts. Besides, we could be dealing with a lot worse than two drunken women and a planeload of understandably disgruntled passengers.”

  “True.” Max’s iPhone pinged several times in quick succession. He checked the incoming messages. “Game time. The plane has landed, and two members of the SDPD K-9 Unit are on their way and authorized for the airfield. Oh, did I mention the plane has a fighter jet escort?” he said over his shoulder as he exited her office.

  Ariana groaned at the absurdity of that. She followed Max out and locked her door. “I trust they’re doing it as a training exercise rather than out of a belief that it’s a matter of national security. And to make our day even brighter, we can look forward to spending time with Brody,” she pointed out, referring to SDPD K-9 Unit officer Tom Brody, who was the airport’s primary contact when dealing with bomb-related threats or drills. Brody’s explosives detection canine partner, Nitro, was as efficient and effective as they came. Despite her phobia of dogs, Ariana had a far greater level of unease with Brody.

  “No, we won’t,” Max interrupted her musings.

  “Sorry. What?”

  “We won’t be seeing Brody again. He’s no longer with the police department.” Max’s grin was bright and white, a sharp contrast against his dark complexion. “You hadn’t heard?” he asked as they jogged down the escalator.

  She shook her head. “What happened?”

  “The department is trying to keep it quiet, but I was told he’d been on the take from one of the Mexican drug cartels. In addition to his other endearing qualities, he reportedly had a gambling addiction he had to feed. Even worse, there was something about a personal vendetta against one of his colleagues.” Max’s smile dimmed. “From what I understand, it’s sordid stuff. If the allegations are substantiated and he’s convicted, he’ll do a long stretch of time.”

  Ariana let out a hiss of disgust. How on earth did guys like that get on the police force when they’d rejected her because of a simple heart murmur? She understood the rationale intellectually—but emotionally it festered. “Who are they sending instead?” she asked.

  The smile was back on Max’s face. “The captain of the K-9 Unit, Logan O’Connor. The renowned Jagger himself!” he added, bringing up the captain’s police department nickname.

  Oddly, Ariana had never met the captain during the year she’d been in her job. It wouldn’t take much to be an improvement over Brody, but she’d heard O’Connor was a first-rate cop and an admirable leader. She was about to find out if that was true.

  * * *

  LOGAN O’CONNOR WAS feeling mean as a badger. He was on his way to the San Diego airport to deal with an absurd situation involving a couple of inebriated women uttering a bomb threat on a plane. And he was doing it after a long day, following another mostly sleepless night. To add to his annoyance, this was a call that Tom Brody should’ve been taking, if he hadn’t been suspended from the department. Logan shook his head, as much in frustration as to clear his groggy brain.

  He couldn’t spend many more nights consoling Becca over her broken heart, or he would lose his sanity. Sometimes relationships just weren’t meant to be.

  No wonder he preferred the single life—easy and commitment-free. The promise he’d made to himself because of his mother was important, but so was avoiding complications.

  What he wouldn’t have given to spend last night in his own bed. Instead, he’d sat with Becca on her sofa. When she’d ultimately cried herself out and drifted into a troubled sleep, he’d carried her to her bed. Then, as the first tentative streaks of pink and orange had stained the sky, he and Boomer, his explosives detection canine partner, had left Becca’s apartment to return to his own house.

  By the time he’d changed, gulped down a strong cup of black coffee, ate a stale muffin and made it to work, he was just in time for the start of his shift.

  When he’d finally left the division, the call came in about the situation at the airport. Thanks to Brody’s transgressions, Logan was now the only explosives detection handler on the K-9 Unit. Instead of going home, he was heading to the airport to inspect a plane that almost certainly didn’t contain any explosive devices. At least it would be an opportunity for him to observe rookie K-9 officer Shannon Clemens—whom he was still assessing for a specialization—to see if she had a feel for explosives detection.

  Logan stopped his SDPD-issue Ford Explorer at the security gate leading to the airport’s infield and lowered his window. He showed his badge to the security guard. He saw Shannon pull up behind him, and the guard inspected her credentials, too. While he waited for the gate arm to be raised, he rubbed his forehead in an attempt to relieve the dull ache that pulsed there.

  The gate arm rose and Logan followed the pavement markings to the aircraft’s designated holding area. He’d been advised the plane had just landed and that security was already there, along with the SDPD officers currently on duty at the airport.

  Nearing the location, he saw two airport vehicles and an SDPD cruiser. Three civilian males and a female were standing by the cars, along with two policemen. Logan’s attention was immediately drawn to the statuesque brunette in the middle of the group. She was slim, and dressed in narrow-legged navy pants, a matching jacket and practical, low-heeled shoes. Her dark hair—and she seemed to have plenty of it—was coiled in a bun at the nape of her neck.

  He parked beside the cruiser and released Boomer from the back of his vehicle. Affixing the dog’s leash to his collar, he waited for Shannon to park and do the same with her dog, Darwin.

  As they approached the group, Logan could see that the woman had light blue eyes, a dramatic contrast to the olive skin and dark hair. He noted the strong cheekbones, arched eyebrows and full, unpainted lips. Along with the stunning looks, she appeared capable. From the confident stance and the air of authority, he could readily see she was in charge. Based on that and the fact that she was the only female in the group, he guessed she was Ariana Atkins, head of security for the airport. He hadn’t met her before, but he’d heard she was good...and tough. They’d neglected to mention she was beautiful, too.

  The three men gathered around her must have been members of her team. The cops he recognized as being from the airport contingent of his division.

  Logan greeted the officers first, then extended a hand to Ariana. Although she offered hers, her gaze swung to Boomer and she seemed to withdraw from him.

  Well, what do you know? She doesn’t like dogs.

  “Boomer, sit, stay,” Logan commanded. “Ms. Atkins. I’m Captain Logan O’Connor.” When he released her hand, she moved slightly to her
left and away from where Boomer sat sedately.

  Logan introduced Shannon and the two dogs, and also shook hands with the members of Ariana’s team.

  “Thank you for coming, Captain, Officer Clemens,” Ariana said, keeping a cautious eye on the dogs.

  When Boomer opened his mouth to pant, Ariana took two small, hurried steps back.

  “Ah, here’s the plane in question,” she noted, looking over Logan’s shoulder.

  They watched the Boeing 767 wide-body, twin-engine jet taxi slowly into place. A deafening roar briefly drowned out all other noise as a fighter jet soared overhead. Incredulous, Logan turned to Ariana. “A fighter jet escort?”

  She shrugged. “Probably a training exercise.”

  “That would make sense.” Logan was having trouble keeping his eyes off her. It was more than her appearance. There was an indefinable quality about her that appealed to him. He forced himself to concentrate on the situation that had brought him to the airport. “Nothing came up on the two women involved when we ran them.”

  Ariana nodded. “That corroborates what we know. Not surprising. The two women are barely out of college and this, we’re told, was supposed to be a celebration of the start of their so-called independence.”

  “Heck of a way to start.”

  “I hope their field of study wasn’t law. This little fiasco is likely to leave a smear on their record.”

  Logan noticed the slight curving of Ariana’s lips and returned the smile. He was feeling distinctly better than when he’d arrived. Damn, she was beautiful. In addition, she was clearly smart and had a sense of humor. She was the whole package.

  He directed his concentration to the approaching plane. It shimmered in the dry heat rolling in waves off the asphalt. He couldn’t resist a sideways glance at Ariana. Her body was angled toward the aircraft. Loose strands of dark chestnut-brown hair fanned around her face. The sharp line of her cheekbone, small straight nose and what he could only think of as pouty lips, drawn in a straight line as she watched the plane advance, made for a profile as striking as her face head-on.

 
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