Embracing the Wolf Page 1

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Chapter One

Kate scurried around the worn out Formica counter with three bacon and egg breakfast platters, two orders of wheat toast, and an English muffin, without butter, in her arms. She stopped short in front of the pie case and the only thing that registered in her brain at two in the morning was…

Why is a dog sitting in the middle of the restaurant?

Then it seemed all hell broke loose.

“Hit the floor,” the voice behind the knit mask yelled from the cash register.

Kate stared, not completely sure the man spoke to her.

“Hit the floor, bitch!”

Her eyes shifted to the customers who huddled behind their cushioned seats, eyes wide with terror, then back to the man who yelled. She opened her mouth to talk when the object in his hand leveled her way. “I said, hit the floor.” Kate froze. The deadly grey barrel of the pistol aimed directly at her face, slid fear deep into her soul. The plates she held crashed to the floor, and she took one giant step back.

Her only thought was of Joey.

The gun she focused on moved toward the register. The man hit the keys repeatedly but nothing opened.

His eyes shot her way. “Open it!” Breath, coming in short gasps that resonated all the way to San Bernardino County, rushed from her lungs.

“Open it!”

Go along with him, and you’ll go home. Alive!

“Hurry!” The gun twitched, or maybe the man.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and wiped her damp palms over the polyester of her uniform skirt.

Going against every instinct known to man, she stepped over the broken dishes and closer to the deadly weapon.

The gunman jarred her shoulder with his free hand, waking her from her frozen state. “Hurry.” His voice wavered. Either his patience grew thin, or he had some doubt as to what he was doing.

Kate’s shaky hand removed the key to the cash register from her pocket, dropped it into the lock, and opened the drawer with a ding.

She removed the twenties and tens and handed the cash to the thief standing over her.

“All of it!” His putrid breath rushed past her nose with his command. He thrust the money in a bag he drew from his pocket.

The animal at his feet snarled, baring massive teeth.

The hair on the back of her neck rose. Kate’s gaze focused on the ice blue eyes of the dog.

Although it didn’t look like a dog at all, more like a wolf, maybe.

“Hurry up.”

Reaching inside the till, her fingers scrambled to remove the cash. She handed the masked man every dollar and even grabbed the cash from under the drawer. “That’s all there is,” she told him, cringing away from the gun.

“Don’t move,” he ordered, backing out of the drab interior of the lobby without taking his eyes off her. As if in slow motion, the side door to where the help took the dirty dishes opened, and Julio stepped through not knowing a robbery was taking place.

The gunman turned, Kate’s mind raced ahead.

She thought of Julio’s four kids without their father.

On reflex, Kate pivoted, shoved the gunman away, and yelled a warning.

The explosion of the gun permeated the silence of the room. Something hit her and spun her around.

Screams elevated over the blast.

Kate started to fall and heard the glass from the pie case shattering before her world went black.

****

Something cold pressing against her forehead tore her from the blissful darkness that surrounded her. Damn, how could so many parts of my body hurt at once? Kate struggled to sit up, only to have someone she didn’t know tell her to relax.

Her eyes fluttered open. The kid, or at least what appeared to be a kid, not more than twenty years old, held her down. Still confused, she watched his head turn to talk with a man dressed in a uniform beside him. A stethoscope hung from his neck.

He’s a paramedic, she thought.

The memory of what happened came back in a flash. Kate jolted to an upright position.

“Julio,” she called out, her voice crazed with panic.

“He’s okay. Everyone’s okay.” The medic’s concerned face drove away her fears. “You took the worse end of things.”

Relief swept through her. Kate closed her eyes and sunk back to the cold, hard floor. The aches she knew instinctively were nothing, started to seep in.

“What happened?” She peeked again at the kid taking her blood pressure.

The medic eyed the police officer at his side; their unspoken communication frazzled her already shaken nerves. “Do you remember any of it?” The back of her head ached. No, it hurt. Really bad. She grimaced. “I remember a dog,” she told

them.

“What else?” the cop asked with his pen poised in his hand and a small notebook ready for dictation.

“There was a man in a mask, holding a gun.”

“What kind of gun?”

“I don’t know—a gun. Big, black. I’ve seen guns on TV but never before in real life.” She shivered with the memory.

“What else do you remember?”

“There was a dog with him. Vicious, barking.” The piercing eyes of the animal would never leave her. How they followed her every move, the way he watched her was downright surreal. Just thinking about it brought moisture to her palms and quickened her heartbeat.

“What did the dog do?”

“He watched.”

The cop slid a sideways glance at the medic, then back to her. “What else do you remember?”

“Julio came in from the back… The man with the gun pointed his weapon at him. I thought he was going to shoot. I panicked.” Her chin trembled. “And then I fell.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes,” she replied in a small voice.

The cop, somewhat disinterested, took a couple more notes before walking away.

The medic took her blood pressure for a second time since she had come around. The sound of metal ground against the tile floor. She peered over his shoulder and saw a gurney being wheeled in. “I have to go to the hospital?”

“Yeah.” The medic nodded, then he and his partner loaded her onto the gurney.

The chime on the door to the restaurant rang.

Kate glanced over on impulse and focused on the person at the door. The number on the side of the threshold suggested he was well past six feet tall, his build large. He strode in as if he belonged, his

gait wide and confident.

“This is a crime scene.” The police officer lifted his hand out to stop him.

“I know.” The stranger pulled back his coat exposing his identification. At the same time, Kate caught a flash of the gun he had holstered on his hip. Kate closed her eyes when the gurney started to move. “Is this really necessary?” she asked.

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