When i found you, p.18
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       When I Found You, p.18

           Kate James
 
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  “Like it or not, it’s happening. It’s been authorized by the chief. The threat is specific and you are the target. Since explosives are the weapon of choice, I’m primarily responsible, but I can’t be with you all the time.”

  Ariana sprang up from her chair. “This is crazy. Why would anyone want to hurt me? And this isn’t even about physical harm, because none of the bombs have been big enough to cause significant injury.”

  Logan was glad that she’d at least gotten her spirit back. He watched her pace restlessly. She eventually stopped in front of him.

  “And what I just said is wrong...and stupid.”

  He trailed a hand down the length of her hair. He couldn’t resist, despite his earlier misgivings. “It’s not stupid. It’s a natural reaction. But as you concluded yourself, it’s wrong. You are the target,” he added gently but with certainty.

  “But why?”

  “That’s what I can’t figure out. At least now we can focus our investigation. I know we’ve been through this, but try again, please. Try to think of anyone who might hold a grudge against you.”

  “Enough for everything that’s been happening, including injuring innocent people? If that were the case, I’d know it.” She shook her head. “I can’t argue with what you’re saying, but it has to be some nut targeting me because of my role here.”

  “Could be.” But there was skepticism in his voice. “Give it some more thought, will you? Remember, there wasn’t enough explosive material to seriously hurt you,” he reminded her, hoping to ease her anxiety.

  She nodded. “Okay. Good to know, but I don’t need a security detail. I’ll be careful.”

  “It’s not an offer. It’s done. Be thankful it’s only while you’re at the airport. I couldn’t get authorization for around the clock, since the incidents have all been restricted to this location.”

  She shook her head but didn’t object. Now that she seemed steadier again, Logan thought he might as well clear up the question of why she’d been rejected by the police force. He suspected she wouldn’t react well. He believed in and trusted her, but he had to get it out of the way. “There’s something else I’d like to discuss,” he said and gestured for her to take a seat again.

  The apprehension in her eyes was immediate and pronounced.

  He sat down next to her.

  “You never told me you applied to the SDPD.”

  Her eyes widened and her lips parted to form a small O. “How do you know that?” she asked, her voice barely audible.

  He reached for her hand but she slid it back before he could touch it.

  “I found it on file.” He tried to make it sound more routine and happenstance than it had been. He suspected he wasn’t fooling her, and she’d know he’d done a background check on her.

  “Right. The information simply appeared on your computer screen.”

  He was about to explain, but she held up a hand. “I suppose I should have expected it.” She broke eye contact. “I told you about when I was attacked by the dog. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a police officer. I watched the officers who came to help me. They were kind and gentle with me, but they were fierce in their resolve to hold the man responsible accountable. To bring him to justice.”

  Logan could tell this was costing her. He wanted to take her in his arms but knew she wouldn’t welcome it at that moment. She wouldn’t even look at him, but she seemed determined to tell him the rest.

  “So, when I was older, I went to police college, wrote all the tests, put in my application and thought I was on my way.

  “I was wrong.” She paused for long moments. “I didn’t pass the physical. I have a heart murmur that hadn’t been diagnosed at the time. They rejected me on the basis of health reasons.” Her gaze swung back to meet his. “Does that answer your question? I can have it verified for you, if you want.”

  He hadn’t noticed any sign of physical weakness in her and his concern was immediate. “Are you okay? The heart murmur, I mean?”

  She shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”

  Brave words, but Logan could see the pain of rejection on her face. He didn’t know what to say, so he nodded.

  “Fine.” She rose. “I don’t suppose I can go back to my office right now?”

  Logan shook his head.

  “Then I’m going home.”

  As she walked out of the meeting room, his heart ached for her and he wondered where everything that was happening left them on a personal level.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  AFTER ARIANA WALKED out of the EOC, Logan had a silent debate with himself. Should he follow her or let her go? It was obvious that she wanted to collect her belongings and go home. He was probably the last person she wanted to be with. He wasn’t going to give her the choice.

  He’d seen the hurt and confusion in her eyes. He cared about her too much to let her go like that. He also wasn’t prepared to allow her to drive home in the state she was in.

  Catching up to Ariana, he dropped a hand on her shoulder. She must not have heard his footsteps, a sure sign of the degree of her agitation, because she gasped and spun around as if ready to do battle. He saw recognition register before he took her into his arms.

  He could sense her desire to resist. To push back.

  Her heart was racing, but as he continued to hold her, he sensed the tension easing. It felt just so darn good holding her in his arms. It didn’t matter how strong she was. At that moment she needed comfort and Logan was pleased that she was letting him provide it, especially since they were in a public corridor.

  She rested her head on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around him.

  She appeared a little steadier when she stepped back and tilted her face up, questions swirling in her eyes.

  He could see the cracks in her brave outer shell. He couldn’t blame her. The attacks were getting more personal, and that worried him no end.

  “Let’s get you settled in the SDPD’s site office, while I finish up.”

  He was mildly surprised when she didn’t object or insist on going with him to see firsthand what was happening.

  Once they got to the police office, Logan grabbed a blanket from their first aid supplies and wrapped it around Ariana. “Don’t protest,” he said when he saw that she was about to. “Let me take care of you for a minute.”

  He gave her another bottle of water and was relieved to hear that her voice, although subdued, was calm when she thanked him. He watched her closely as she took a long drink. There was a slight tremor in her hand, but he had to give her credit for keeping it together as well as she was.

  She ran the cool bottle over her brow and hung her head. “What am I missing? What is it that I should be seeing that I’m not?”

  “I wish I had the answers.” Logan’s frustration mingled with a sense of failure.

  She raised her head. He could read the uncertainty, the exhaustion and the residual fear as clearly as if it was written in ink.

  “I don’t know what to do. This is about me. There’s no denying it now. It’s personal. But why?”

  The expression on her face tore at his heart. He crouched in front of her, resting his forearms on his knees and taking her hands into his. He wanted to dismiss what she was saying and comfort her, but she was speaking the truth.

  “I... I don’t know what to do. Knowing I’m the target, and responsible for what’s happening—”

  He cut her off abruptly. “You’re not far off the mark with most of what you’ve said, but you are not responsible for it. Stop thinking that.”

  Ariana nodded rapidly. “It is my fault. Like Bryan Carpenter’s death was my fault.”

  “Ariana, it’s not your fault, but who’s Bryan Carpenter?”

  Ariana was appalled that had slipped out, but the memory
had hit her full force.

  “Ariana...who’s Bryan Carpenter?”

  She knew what Logan had to be thinking. He had to be wondering if Bryan had something to do with what they were dealing with now. She had no choice but to explain.

  “It happened nearly two years ago. Remember I told you about the job I had with Sector Security?”

  “Yeah.”

  “We provided guard services to retailers and financial institutions. We had operating policies that said money transfers always required two guards. It was the middle of the summer, so we had more than a few guards on vacation, but we always kept the necessary number on duty. Then there was an unexpected job action by the union. We dropped down to a lower level of staff for a couple of weeks, but we were able to maintain our normal services, until one of our clients called late one afternoon. They’d run a special promotion and had a large amount of cash at their store. They wanted an unscheduled pickup.”

  She inhaled deeply. “I was overseeing scheduling and dispatch. I only had one guard available. Procedure required two for that type of transfer, but the client insisted he needed the pickup. My boss told me to go ahead with it, using a single guard. I offered to go with the guard, but I was told to stay in the office, since I was the only manager on duty. I gave in and did what they told me.”

  She paused again, recalling vividly what Bryan had looked like—young, attractive, full of life. “Bryan took the assignment happily. He was at the end of his shift. He was a new father and welcomed the overtime pay. He was ambushed, the money stolen. When he tried to stop the robbers... He shouldn’t have. He should have let them go.” The anguish was as intense as it had been on that hot summer afternoon. “Bryan took a bullet. He died in the hospital later that day.

  “So no, it’s not related to this, but that was my fault and somehow so is this. I should have seen it. I should have known...”

  “First, you’re not responsible,” Logan repeated again. “Not for Bryan Carpenter’s tragic death and not for what’s been going on here. You’re not,” he said with vehemence when she was about to object.

  * * *

  LOGAN FILED THE name in his mind. Ariana might not have thought there was a connection, but he’d do some digging before he was prepared to eliminate the possibility. An unbalanced, grieving and angry family member might be just the type of person they were looking for.

  Ariana seemed to reflect on his outburst for a few seconds then nodded slowly. “Okay, but there are others who do think I’m responsible, and that was before what happened today.” She took a drink. “For the first time in my job, I don’t know what to do. How to stop this.”

  “That’s why we’re here. That’s my job. You’re not in this alone.”

  She nodded again. “Thanks. I can’t help but doubt myself when it’s obvious that my CEO and the board don’t have confidence in me.” Her voice cracked. “Calvin has frozen the budget for my improvements.”

  That astonished Logan. He would have thought that they’d want to accelerate the improvements, not curtail them, in view of what was going on.

  “My team...” Her voice drifted off, but he knew what she was thinking. She was worried about her team losing trust in her. He hadn’t seen any hint of that from anyone in her department, but she’d have to work through that on her own. As a leader, he knew how important it was for her.

  “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” she said in a voice that was barely audible. “If these things are happening because of me...or I’m unable to stop them from happening... I... I have to think about whether I’m the right person for this job... If I don’t quit, how long before they fire me? Or someone else gets hurt?”

  “You can’t do that! You’re doing as well as anyone could be expected to, and they need you here.” Listening to Ariana unburden herself, Logan felt an overpowering anger at whoever was doing this. He understood how important this job was to her. His determination to catch the person responsible intensified. He struggled to control his fury before he spoke again.

  “Ariana,” he said gently, “don’t think that way. You’re doing everything you possibly can and should. You’re smart. You’re very good at your job. Don’t worry about things that haven’t happened.” He held her gaze until she broke eye contact.

  “So where does that leave us?”

  “We need to determine motive. If we get that, we stand a good chance of finding him. In addition to the added security for you at the airport, I’m officially going to become part of your protective detail until we figure this out.” He could see the rebellion building in her eyes.

  “What, exactly, does that mean?”

  Logan understood that for the normally independent and in-control Ariana, the concept of someone having to look out for her would be troubling. He sensed that the objection was coming before she opened her mouth to speak.

  “Let’s not argue about this, okay?” he cut in. “It’s a waste of time and energy. I know that with your background in security and threat assessment you would usually be perfectly capable of taking care of yourself.” He squeezed her hand. “But we’re dealing with explosives here.” He stopped short of mentioning the close call in her office.

  Logan didn’t want to think about what could have happened if not for Boomer. He took some comfort in the fact that the perpetrator had had a number of chances now to seriously hurt Ariana but hadn’t. That baffled Logan from a motive perspective, but he was glad for it. Regardless, he would be with her as much as he could manage. And she’d also have to get used to Boomer’s ongoing presence, whether it unnerved her or not. In the situation they were dealing with, Logan had to admit that Boomer offered better protection for Ariana then he did.

  When his cell phone rang, he answered with a curt, “O’Connor.”

  “It’s Ramirez,” the person on the other end of the line said. He was the officer Logan had left Boomer with. “Your dog found something else. You might want to come back here.”

  Logan shot Ariana a quick glance. As he’d anticipated, she was watching him. “Yeah. Sure,” he said and disconnected.

  “Is there anything you need from your office before you go home?”

  “Just my laptop and briefcase,” she said. “Is there something wrong?”

  “No. No... I just need to go get Boomer. I’ll check in with the team, get your things and meet you back here.”

  Logan hurried back to Ariana’s office. He hadn’t liked the tone of Ramirez’s voice. If the bomb on the door was on a timer and not intended to harm Ariana, was it possible that there was a more powerful explosive inside?

  “What did you find?” he asked as soon as he reached her office.

  Ramirez handed him a sealed evidence bag with some papers inside.

  “What’s this?”

  “They appear to be bills of lading, but there’s explosives dust on it. You know, like the note that had been taped under the chair in the departure lounge the day those IEDs detonated.”

  Logan inspected the papers through the clear bag. There were two of them, back-to-back. One was a bill of lading for a shipment of children’s toys. The other was for packaged foods, including canned goods, originating from Texas.

  “Where did you find these?” Logan asked.

  Ramirez pointed to her desk drawer. “In there. Just stuck in at the back. No file folder or anything. The rest of the drawer is very well organized, with printed labels on all the folders and alphabetically filed. These—” he gestured to the pages Logan was holding “—were stuck in the back, as if she was trying to hide them.”

  As if someone was trying to hide them, but who? Logan wondered. If they carried the scent of explosives, it had to be a setup, he told himself.

  * * *

  ARIANA WAS FAR more conscious of her driving than normal, with Logan following behind her. He’d
insisted he would escort her home. She’d put up a bit of an argument, but it was more on principle. She was relieved, if she was honest with herself. Every time she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw Logan’s headlights a few car lengths back, she checked her speed. She never drove in a reckless manner, but she had a tendency to go a little over the speed limit.

  It had been a long, difficult day, but she found she could smile as she again glanced in her mirror and saw the headlights bounce as his SUV bumped over the uneven road.

  Ariana had always prided herself on her fierce independence. She might have been overtired but somehow it didn’t bother her, having someone looking out for her for a while. It was his job, she reminded herself, before she got all soft and dreamy over it. It felt surprisingly nice that he was following her home. And maybe she could fantasize a little about what it would be like to have her very own knight in shining armor. She thought about the dog competition on Saturday, the one Logan had invited her to, and the fact that they’d be going public with their relationship.

  She pulled into her parking spot and glanced up at the windows of her apartment, comforted to find them dark. She waited for Logan to pull into a visitor’s spot and then walked over to his driver’s side window. Before she could tap on the glass to say good-night, he was stepping out of his SUV.

  “I just wanted to say thanks for...for what you did today for me, and for...” she said. “You know. The police escort home.”

  “I’m glad we were there with you. But I’m not done yet. We’re going up to your apartment.”

  She looked up at him with wide eyes.

  “Ariana, I know you appreciate the seriousness of what might have happened today. When I said I was your protective detail, I wasn’t joking. It’s nonnegotiable.” He rested a hand on her shoulder. “Consider it a sign of my confidence in you to take care of yourself that I’m not planning on spending the night.”

  Her shock must have shown because he amended his statement. “On the sofa.” The lines around his eyes and mouth softened, and he gently cupped her face with his palms. “Don’t misunderstand me. I care about you and hope to be able to spend time with you on a personal level. But right now? This is the job. I’m going to keep you safe until we catch this nut.”

 
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