Silence shattered, gunshots echoed across the roof, too many to count, too difficult to determine an exact location of the two suspects. A new building, not yet fully occupied, the roof was flat, obstacles cluttering the area. Enough places to hide, to sit and wait . . . too many opportunities to ambush and kill and they wanted to kill; Luke Wilkinson was certain.
Crouched low, shoulders hunched, the small ventilation structure barely managing to protect his six foot two frame, Luke struggled to plan a needed retreat. Nothing else they could do. To go forward would mean a violent confrontation, the risk too great.
He lifted his gaze. Opposite, in the same crouched position, Ellie Delfont-Bogard stared back at him, her blue eyes wide, the fear she was trying to hide too palpable. He couldn’t blame her . . . didn’t blame her; could feel his own fear gripping his chest. Their current position a mistake; an accidental stumble into a situation neither was prepared for. A simple, routine interview – Ellie given the opportunity to gain more field experience, to work with Luke – had gone wrong too quickly.
A familiar, wanted suspect sighted, Luke had reacted; a previous intake of information reminding Luke the suspect could be armed and possibly dangerous. He didn’t stop to think, only reacted, enough time to grab his vest before making a pursuit. Voice loud, he had yelled to Ellie to stay behind and call for backup. To call Sebastian, a GPS track of Luke’s phone giving them a signal to follow, to provide a destination. He hadn’t expected Ellie to disregard part of his instructions; the most sensible part, Ellie explaining when she found him that she was doing her job, backing up her partner in the field. He had been grateful, admiring her courage, her loyalty but now . . .
The set up had been a surprise. The suspect on the ground an attraction to lure police officers into the building and up onto the roof into a waiting ambush. It had worked. A second suspect on the roof, ready and waiting with enough firepower and ammunition to displace Luke’s confidence. Weapon fire had forced them to take cover, too far from the door, the ventilation structure their only option. Now trapped, with no immediate means of escape, their lives in danger, communication with the rest of their team his only means of knowing what was happening on the ground.
“Sebastian, where’s our backup?” said Luke, keeping his gaze on Ellie.
No answer from tech support. “Sebastian?”
Still no answer.
He knew they were still listening in, encouragement and support given, none of it much help, more of a distraction. Only small pieces of information filtering through. The silence wasn’t good; indication things weren’t going well. Not good news, could only hope Ellie hadn’t arrived at the same conclusion.
Several more gunshots, bullets penetrating metal, embedding somewhere deep in the structure. Lucky so far they hadn’t passed through . . .
Surprised when he heard Ellie gasp with shock, his concern sudden, worried she had taken a hit. He reached for her, ready to search for an injury not immediately visible to him. “Are you all right? Were you hit?”
“No. I’m all right,” said Ellie, readjusting her grip on her weapon. “This is the first time I’ve been in this position.”
“You’re doing great.”
“But you’d rather be here with Arabela.”
He looked away, not the time or place for an honest answer. Didn’t want to reveal the guilt he was feeling. This was the first time he worked with Ellie in the field and he had placed her in danger. Not intentionally but he still felt the guilt. He trusted her to follow her training, knew she would do the right thing but . . . her lack of experience in this kind of situation was making his job more difficult.
He was confident in his skills, his ability, but he also knew he was vulnerable right now. He couldn’t take the same risks as he could with Arabela by his side. Arabela was one of the best officers he’d worked with, always able to read each other’s intent in any setting, words not always necessary. He’d only been with the ICC a few months but it felt as though he’d worked with Arabela for a number of years. So comfortable in each other’s company, they worked well together, Luke teamed with Arabela more often than he teamed with any other member of the ICC investigation team. They were partners, unofficially.
Here, with Ellie, things were different. They didn’t know each other the way he knew Arabela. Ellie would not know what he was thinking, what he was planning unless he told her, not always time to explain before an idea became a reality. He would have to stall his automatic reactions, slow down his response, take the time needed to allow Ellie to understand his intent, better able to follow his lead when they had the opportunity to respond without the threat of physical harm.
Unless he had no choice but to react.
Still aware a retreat their only way out, Luke looked past Ellie, toward the Gudenå River. Turned his head to the left, gaze resting on the open doorway that would take them back into the depth of the building, to safety. The distance was too great, once out in the open, exposed, shot down before they could reach the door. Their bulletproof vests would take the brunt of the impact but there were factors increasing the risk: the gunmen were using automatic weapons, a wider spread of impact, limbs becoming vulnerable, knowledge of the type of ammunition used lacking and if they were skilled enough to take a head shot . . .
They needed supportive gunfire.
They needed their backup.
Before the gunmen stopped playing with them, an obvious game of cat and mouse, building the tension and fear in their prey.
Carine. He was right. Bad news now expected.
“Your backup is having difficulty getting to the roof.”
Looked back at Ellie. “Define difficulty.”
Arabela, her interruption welcomed, his confidence boasted just by the sound of her voice, if only for a moment. “Problem. Trouble. Complication.”
“Smartarse,” said Luke, his voice low.
Ellie smiled, anxiety still evident . . .
“Why?” said Luke, asking the obvious.
“They received an anonymous call claiming there was an explosive device in the building,” said Carine, her tone professional, nothing given away. “They’re not willing to move up onto the roof until they’ve cleared the building. Luke, it’s obvious this is a planned attack. They want to get as many officers into the building before they set off the device. Either they plan to die with you . . .”
“Or they have another way off the building.”
“Or it’s a hoax,” said Ellie. “It’s gives them the opportunity to take their time.”
“We made that suggestion but they’re not willing to take the risk.”
“And the air support we were told was on its way?”
“The helicopter is still twenty minutes out. There was no one closer.”
“A sniper on the roof of one of the buildings nearby? Anything that will give us an advantage?”
“They’ve tried but they can’t get a direct line of sight on either gunmen. The buildings near you are too low.”
“Jesus. Someone has to be making this up.”
“If there’s no backup coming . . .” said Ellie.
“It’s just going to take longer than it should. These men know what they’re doing. They’ve planned this well in advance. They’ve put themselves in a prominent position. They have the advantage. For now. But they have made one mistake. They’re overconfident. By taking their time, they’re giving us time to get backup to you and we will get to you.”
No. They hadn’t made a mistake. These men knew exactly how much time they had to play, to intimidate, their plans so meticulous, their schedule so precise. They knew when, how they would end the game . . . Luke didn’t and that’s what made it so frustrating. He had no control over their situation and he didn’t like it. He felt helpless, an emotion he didn’t feel very often, not as an adult. It left him feeling vulnerable and angry.
“How are you both holding up?”
“Ellie’s doing great,” said Luke. “Keeping her head better than I am. You should be proud.”
“I am. Ellie, you’ll be fine. Remember your training and follow Luke’s lead.”
“I can’t say I’m not scared.”
“We both are,” said Luke, knowing he was at fault, leading Ellie into a premeditated ambush, placing her in this position, putting her life in danger.
Too much revealed in his expression, Ellie said, “This isn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known.”
“Ellie’s right, Luke. This isn’t your fault. Listen, Dorn and Marco are making calls, they’re doing everything they can to get things moving faster.”
A barrage of continuous gunfire, sound of dozens of bullets striking the metal structure grating his nerves. He kept his head low, curling his shoulders forward, confident Ellie was in the same position, her smaller frame allowing the small structure to provide her better protection. It seemed to last forever, only seconds passing. Possible the suspects had moved closer, the gunfire a tactic to keep their prey down, keep them in a vulnerable position while the gunmen gained an even better, closer advantage.
“Are you all right?” Carine’s voice full of concern.
If they had moved closer . . .
Their intent becoming obvious. Time was running out.
He had considered taking the shot. Standing, weapon ready to fire but without first visually confirming their exact positions it would take too long to find his targets, too many seconds and those few precious seconds could easily cost him his life. It nagged him, not knowing where they were. It was like an itch he had to scratch. He needed to know their position. Needed to know if they had moved closer. Tilted his head, looking up, his body shifting with anticipation.
Ellie, her gaze on Luke, watching him carefully, a frown slowly crossing her young features, said, “Yes. We’re fine. We think they’ve moved closer to our position.”
He looked at her, a quick glance.
“Be careful,” said Ellie, nodding in understanding.
She had quickly interpreted his intent.
“Give us a few minutes. Sebastian is trying something.”
They may not have a few minutes. If they moved again, getting too close . . .
He hesitated. Argued with himself . . . he shouldn’t do it. He had to think of Ellie; taking the wrong risk could remove him from the equation, leaving her alone to fend for herself. Once he was down, they would move in for a second kill; two against one, automatic weapons taking the advantage.
Ellie, obviously reading him like an open book, said, “We have to take the chance.”
“I have to take the chance.” He had to take the risk. “Just a quick look.”
Another nod from Ellie.
A quick breath, his heart rate increasing. Shifting, only raising his body until he could see over the top of the ventilation structure, top of his head now visible to the gunmen, his gaze snapped right . . . left. Two gunmen, distance between them, stepping up, weapons raised, gunfire erupting . . . Luke dropped back toward the ground, not quick enough, bullets biting into the small ventilation building. Felt the blunt sting of metal fragments, a snap of pain when a something larger tore through his right temple.
Snapped his head away from the hit, the pain. A bullet his first concern. For a second, the moment too long, he had thought death was within reach, touching him, brushing its fingers across his skin but the moment passed. Still upright, still alive. Slapped his left hand against the injury, grimacing at the increase of pain. Felt the warm touch of blood against his palm . . .
Could hear Arabela’s voice, her concern, her fear evident. “Luke!”
Ellie moved toward him, reaching out, taking his left wrist and pulling his hand way. Gripped his chin, turning his head, frowning at the sight of blood. Before he could stop her, she probed the area around the injury with the tips of her fingers, a little too close. He grimaced, a sucked in breath, a hiss of pain.
She rested her open palm against the side of his face and said, “Look at me.”
Knowing she wanted to check his pupils, he did as told, staring back at her. Taking her time, still aware of the two gunmen, she looked into each pupil. Ellie nodded, her diagnosis simple and direct.
“You’re okay.” A stuttered breath, quick expression of relief. “You’re okay.”
He nodded under her touch. A deep breath, his body trembling as the adrenaline leached out of his system. Nodded a second time, Ellie removing her hand and moving back to her previous position. Lowered his head, taking a moment, regaining control. If it had been a bullet . . . he’d never had such a close meeting with death before. Lifted his head, stared back at Ellie.
“Luke?” Arabela, now sounding calm but he knew better.
“He’s all right,” said Ellie, dousing their fear. The others, blind to what was happening, had heard everything, Luke’s reaction enough to reveal he’d taken damage. “It was a ricochet. A piece of metal. He might need some stitches though.”
“I’m okay,” said Luke, heart still pounding.
“Don’t do that again.”
“They’ve moved closer.”
“How much closer?” said Carine.
“Close enough to be on top of us the next time they move. We’re running out of time. We need some good news.”
No response. Arabela also silent. A telling moment. Possibly something wrong on their end. Didn’t have the patience to wait, not in the mood, frustration and anger growing.
“If something’s gone wrong, we need to know, now. Boss?”
Luke wasn’t expecting that, even more concerned Dorn had used his first name. Tempted to ask if someone had died, sure the man wouldn’t appreciate it. He wondered if this was an attempt to keep him distracted while the others dealt with what could only be bad news. Luke wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what Dorn was going to say, no choice though. Couldn’t ignore him . . . as much as he wanted to.
“Are you all right?”
“You’re a distraction aren’t you, sir,” said Luke, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Is it working?”
“I’ll take that as a no.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t started off with my first name, sir.”
“My concern for your health is genuine.”
“For the moment my health is fine.”
“Luke,” said Dorn, his tone serious. “I know your intention is to protect Ellie the best way you know how and I know what that would entail but I want your word you’ll also do everything you can to keep yourself safe.”
“I can’t do that, sir.”
“Luke,” said Ellie, her eyes wide with understanding.
A quick glance at Ellie before looking away, refusing to look back. “We’re under fire, sir. I’ll do what needs to be done to protect my partner.”
Gunfire exploded, bullets scattering through the metal. Felt the heat of a bullet as it passed too close. Watched as Ellie’s body jerked before she stumbled, falling forward onto her right side, hitting the roof with a soft grunt of surprise.
“Wilkinson!” Dorn, his voice suddenly full of fear. “Carine! Something’s happened to Ellie. Luke? Luke, answer me!”
Felt as though his heart had stopped, breath caught in his throat, chest clamped tight with fear and dread. Hesitated, all his training pushed to the side, mind and body in shock, knew it was the fear keeping him back . . . if Ellie . . . brain snapping back into reality, body responding, he moved quickly, his training finally taking control of the situation as he reached for Ellie.
“Ellie’s been hit.”
“Luke, we now have eyes on you,” said Carine. “Sebastian has a drone in the air above you. Tell me she’s okay.”
“You tell me if they start moving.”
He put his gun in his holster . . . placed the fingers of his right against her carotid artery, his gaze watching her features for any sign of life. Lowered his head, closed his eyes with relief when he felt a strong, steady pulse. Looked back when he felt her move beneath his touch.
“Ellie?” He rolled her onto her back, a slow, gentle movement, worried he was only going to cause pain. He searched for a bullet in her vest: nothing, no blood, no injuries . . . felt a surge of hope. Turned her quickly onto her stomach . . . there, a bullet stuck in her vest, the back of her left shoulder. Not a life threatening injury, bruising hopefully the only consequence.
Feeling weak with relief, he leaned back, body against the structure behind him. “She’s okay.”
“Give me a minute.” He looked down at Ellie only to find her staring back at him. He reached toward her, repeating her words back to her . . . “You’re okay.” Grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up into a sitting position. Let her go, hands quickly embracing her face, a palm on each cheek, her skin soft beneath his touch. “You’re okay, Ellie. Your vest took the impact. You’re okay.”
Ellie swallowed, licking dry lips.
“I’m okay,” said Ellie as she raised her arms, wrapping her fingers around his wrists. A soft pressure, their body language speaking volumes.
Ellie afraid they were going to die.
Luke afraid he wasn’t going to be able to save her.
In an attempt of reassurance, he smiled at her. “We’ll be okay.”
“Take a deep breath for me.”
Ellie did, features filling with pain.
“Another one.” When she took a second one, her pain less noticeable, he said, “Any difficulty breathing?”
“No.” She let out a shattered breath, her body shaking.
“It’s all right. You’re in shock. It’s only natural.”
“I’ve never been shot . . .”
“First time for everything, yeah.”
“You’re okay?” This time it was a question.
She nodded. “I’m okay.”
“Move your left arm.”
Ellie released her grip from his left wrist. Moved her arm, her shoulder, grimacing in pain at the motion. “I’m okay, Luke.”
“Good, because I’m going to need you to back me up,” said Luke, releasing his grip and lowering his hands. “Somehow, Sebastian has managed to get a spy drone above us.”
“How did he manage that?” said Ellie with a look of surprise and was that a little pride. “He isn’t in Denmark.”
“I’m sure when we get back to the office, he’ll tell us. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s going to brag.”
“He has a right too.”
“Yes, he does and Ellie . . .”
“Pick up your weapon.”
“What are we going to do?” said Ellie as she reached toward her fallen weapon, fingers wrapping around the grip in a familiar embrace. She released a small groan of pain. Sat back and nodded at Luke.
“Boss? Are they moving?”
“No. How is Ellie?”
He didn’t think he needed to go into detail; they had been listening to the conversation, watching their movements. “Can Sebastian send the footage to my phone?”
“Luke? What are you thinking?”
“Can he send it or not?”
Sebastian answered. “I’m sending the live footage to your phone via a link in an email. Just be aware there’s a two-second delay. Is Ellie okay.”
“I’m okay,” said Ellie, her gaze steady as she watched Luke.
“I doubt you’ll be able to make out their faces--”
“I don’t need to know what they look like. I just need to be certain of their positions.”
“Luke,” said Carine. “What are you planning?”
“A way out.”
“I need to know what that is.”
Slipped his left hand into a trouser pocket, removing his phone. A few moments before he could access the footage. Finally. A black and white image, the footage grainy but he could see them. He could now confirm his targets before taking the shot. Knew he would easily take down his first target but also knew by the time he trained his weapon on the second shooter, the man would already be pulling the trigger. He wasn’t sure he would survive but he had confidence in his ability to hit the target; if not to kill then to create a debilitating injury that would allow Ellie to follow through, her own safety assured.
He frowned, noticing something unexpected.
“What is it?” Ellie leaned forward, turning her upper body, her face close to his so she could have the same view. “They’re wearing bullet proof vests.”
“That’s going to make this a lot more difficult.”
Ellie sat back, her left shoulder against the ventilation structure. Still watching him, understanding and concern etched into her features.
“Luke, the risk is too great. You need to wait for backup.”
It hadn’t taken long for Carine to understand what he was planning to do. He couldn’t wait. When they opened fire again, and he knew it would be soon, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Sebastian, I need you to give me a direct point of view from my position. I need you to be my eyes.”
“That will mean putting the drone behind and above you. They’re going to see it.”
“Then wait until I tell you to do it.”
“Can you guarantee me these guys won’t open fire again before backup arrives?”
“You know I can’t, Luke.”
“Then you also know I have to do this.”
“I know . . . Luke, be careful.”
“Luke . . .” said Arabela.
Knew what she was going to say . . .
Arabela always had a way of putting him off balance. Shrugged it off with a facial expression, as though caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Glanced at Ellie, pulling his gaze away when he saw the smile tugging at her lips. Stuck in a dangerous, life threatening situation and they still take a moment to tease him. He was grateful . . .
Now he had to explain his intent to Ellie. Took a long deep breath before releasing it. He looked back at her, saw the change of expression, her concern. Understanding was already forming in the back of her mind.
“Ellie, do you trust me?”
No hesitation. “Yes.”
“I want you to do exactly what I tell you, no deviations.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to take out both shooters--”
Ellie leaned toward him, her expression revealing a moment of doubt, replaced quickly with shock and defiance. “No. Luke, you can’t take the risk. They’ll shoot you before you can--”
“This is what I do, Ellie. I’m a military trained marksman--”
“You said you trusted me.”
“I do, but--”
“No buts. You either trust me or you don’t.”
A change of attitude, a determined tone. “I trust you.”
“I’ll take the shot with both targets--”
A released breath, a sigh of frustration. Held up his phone. “I can see where they are now.”
Ellie nodded in reluctant acceptance, Luke understanding she was trying to delay him, giving herself time to come up with an alternative plan.
“I can distract the one on the left,” said Ellie. “I can give you enough time to--”
“Luke . . .”
“We’re not going to argue about this, Ellie. I’m the senior officer, this is my decision. You’ll do what I tell you to do.”
Saw a flash of anger . . . of disappointment flicking across Ellie’s features. He disregarded her emotions. He had to. This wasn’t Ellie’s responsibility. It was his. He had gotten her into this situation. He will get her out of it without further injury. Understood guilt was taking part in his decision but . . . if she died while he lived . . . that wasn’t going to happen. Took a moment to look away from her disappointment, her anger.
His own impatience growing, Luke turned his gaze back toward Ellie, noticing her anger was dissipating but the disappointment was still there. He’d let her down, in too many ways. There wasn’t time to explain his guilt . . . he had to do this. He had to do it now. Calmed his guilt and his frustration before continuing . . .
“When I’ve taken both shots, I need you to follow through and secure the scene. Make sure they are no longer a threat. Okay?”
“Yes. I know what to do.”
“I know you do. I’m not worried about that but . . . whatever happens, Ellie, I need you to do your job first. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
She frowned at him.
“If I go down,” said Luke knowing there wasn’t any doubt he would. “I need you to clear the scene first.”
A determined expression, Ellie was going to argue . . . “Sebastian can do that from the air.”
“No, he can’t. If I don’t make a kill shot, one or both of the gunmen will still be a threat.”
“Luke . . .”
She nodded, her delaying tactics over.
“Are you ready?”
“Yes. Luke, are you sure about this?”
He had to be sure, no other choice. Nothing else they could do. Waiting for backup – delayed beyond a healthy risk – was no longer a choice he was willing to take. Knew the two gunmen were about to make a final move; his only option was to make his own move, end the situation before it ended them.
This was the only way Ellie was going to walk away with her life still intact.
He held his phone out toward her, Ellie taking it with fingers trembling with anxiety. “I need you to hold it up in front of me. You and Sebastian are going to be my eyes.”
Adjusting his grip on his weapon, Luke shifted his body and turned to face the ventilation structure. Hunched low to the ground, he nodded to Ellie, watching as she raised his phone, holding it in front of him. Her fingers still trembling, it was moment before the image became steady. His gaze adjusted, finding the two gunmen. A slow deep breath, a slow release. Raised his upper body, stopping short just below the edge of protection, not yet visible to the two men, Ellie moving the phone with him.
He was ready, in position . . . firing stance familiar, comfortable . . . left foot forward, his weapon an extension of his right arm.
Watched as the footage changed direction, the drone moving into a position behind him, the motion a little disorienting. The movement stopped, now able to determine the gunmen’s exact position in reference to his own. Turned his body slightly to the right, Ellie still moving with him.
First gunman now directly in front of him, Luke stood up, a quick, confident reveal of his upper body. Pulled the trigger, only one shot required, already turning to face the second gunman as the first gunman’s head snapped back, the body falling forward. Sighted the second gunman, no hesitation before taking the shot.
A mirrored response, the gunman firing, an eruption of weapons fire . . .
A moment of satisfaction, Luke confident he had hit his second target, the gunman’s body jerking, falling, gunfire tapering off . . .
The impacts explosive, pain tearing through his chest, the air crushed from his lungs, Luke fell forward, knees buckling. Beneath the heavy weight of restriction, he tried to pull in a breath . . . felt the impact as his head hit . . .
As soon as Luke moved to take the shot, Ellie turned away, quietly putting his phone down. She couldn’t watch . . . couldn’t watch him take a bullet, couldn't watch him go down. If she did, she didn’t think she would be able to do what was required of her. He trusted her to do her job. She had to make sure both gunmen were down, their threat of violence over. Once she was certain the scene was clear, she could return to Luke.
A single shot.
She did trust Luke, aware of his skill as an expert shooter but this . . . taking down two gunmen without receiving an injury; she couldn’t be certain, afraid for his life. Less than a second later, a second shot, the sound interrupted by automatic weapons fire.
Held her breath, her heart pounding in her chest. In the sudden silence, the sound of Luke falling . . . ignored the sound of his body hitting the roof; she had too. If not eliminated, the gunmen would retaliate, Ellie sure, she would have very little chance against an automatic weapon.
Hoped for a moment someone would tell her Luke was all right. Safe and uninjured, that he had only stumbled over clumsy feet. They didn’t. He hadn’t. She couldn’t look. Ignoring the tightness in her chest, the pain gripping the back of her shoulder, she took a firmer grip on her weapon . . . hesitated.
All previous thought, her determination to do her job quickly disappearing. She didn’t want to leave him. Couldn’t leave him. If a bullet had struck flesh, if Luke was bleeding out . . . she couldn’t leave him, not yet. Certain she could afford to take a moment, to make sure he was still alive. Ellie turned her head toward Luke, a prone, unmoving body in her peripheral . . .
“Ellie. Go. Now.”
There was a tone to Carine’s voice Ellie found unsettling, a touch of fear, of concern. She knew what that meant. Turned away from Luke, guilt and shame filling her chest. Weapon ready to fire, Ellie stood upright, saw no immediate threat to her life. Moving to her left, she stepped around the ventilation structure, unable to ignore the sight of damage caused by dozens of bullets. She paused, her breath catching . . . couldn’t understand how they had survived . . . wasn’t sure they both had.
In front of her, so many obstacles scattered across the flat roof, not sure where to start, nothing immediately obvious, the gunmen out of sight. A moment to remember the footage on Luke’s phone, to look for the familiar. Took a moment too long, only looking at the footage of their location for a few seconds. She began to move, this time with more confidence; knew where she was going. She knew what she had to do, what was required.
“Eleven o’clock, Ellie,” said Sebastian, his tone gentle.
Ellie understood the intent, Sebastian giving her a direction. Not needed but the help appreciated. She quickened her pace, her weapon held in front of her, ready to defend her life if needed . . . ready to kill to protect herself . . . to protect Luke.
Ellie, surprised by how calm she felt, her nerves under control, instinct and training now in control of her movements, stepped around the edge of a large ventilation fan encased in metal and cement. She paused, sight of the gunman reaching for his fallen weapon causing her to hesitate. A quick movement, Ellie stepped forward and using her left foot, pushed the gun away from his reach.
Then she saw the blood . . . so much blood.
Luke’s bullet had torn through the side of the gunman’s throat, blood pumping from the carotid artery, pooling on the roof beside him. Life leaching out, the man stared up at her, mouth open, lungs gasping for breath, a wet, choking sound.
She didn’t want to handcuff a dying man . . .
Didn’t have to, the man releasing a final breath, death refusing him another. She knelt down beside him, steady fingers pressing against the unblemished side of his neck. Sebastian’s voice in her ear, giving direction a second time, reminding her there was a need to hurry, to secure the other gunman. A flash of anger, frustration, Ellie understanding the fear she felt for Luke created the emotions.
She couldn’t feel a pulse. Waited to be sure, moving on a few seconds later. She knew the other gunman was behind the ventilation shaft running the width of the building’s roof. Unable to move around it, Ellie stepped up onto the metal frame and looked down at the gunman on the ground in front of her, no need to go further to check for life, the large exit wound in the back of his head telling Ellie what she needed to know.
Holstering her weapon, Ellie turned and ran back toward Luke. Afraid of what she would find, Ellie faltered, fear weakening her limbs. Told herself he would be okay. That he was okay. Moved past the small ventilation building . . .
She saw his feet first, the limbs tangled.
Her pace increasing, she stepped around its edge, Luke now in full view. He laid half on his side, chest to the ground, his back to her, his arms caught beneath him. An unpleasant sight . . . unable to determine if he was breathing, her own breath catching in her throat when she saw the small puddle of blood gathering on the roof beside his head, soaking into his hair. She was never going to forget this, the image burned into her mind.
Stomach churning, her chest clenching with fear, Ellie knelt on the ground beside him. Fingers of her left hand gripping his shoulder, she pulled him over and onto his back. She checked for a pulse, fingers pressed against the side of his neck. A strong, steady, regular heartbeat. A sudden bout of relief, so strong, it caused her to stumble, a moment before she could regain control. With the sound of Sebastian’s drone above her, voices of her teammates remaining silent, giving her the time she needed, Ellie searched Luke’s body for injuries.
She couldn’t help but notice the weapon still held in Luke’s right hand. Ellie carefully clicked on the safety before uncurling his fingers. Removed the gun from his grip and placed it on top of the ventilation building, her gaze torn back when she saw the damage to his bulletproof vest.
Five impacts scattered across his chest, Ellie remembering how it had felt when a single bullet had hit her. She was unable to imagine how it must have felt for Luke. More relief felt when she realised the bullets had gone no further, lodged in the vest, couldn’t be sure, though, about the damage to his ribs. Tore open the velcro straps and pulled the vest away from his chest, revealing a shirt still white: no sign of blood.
A good sign.
A very good sign.
Ellie watched and waited while Luke took a breath, and then another . . . a third. Short and static. Ribs bruised, cracked or broken, Ellie couldn’t be sure. She loosened the knot on his tie, undoing the top two buttons of his shirt before turning her attention to his skull. A second injury to the right side, skin torn, blood matting his hair, bruising already forming, an ugly display. Leaning closer, fingers gentle on his chin, she turned his head, a closer look. She wasn’t sure if a bullet had caused the damage or something else. Lifting her gaze, she saw the blood . . . short dark hair and pale skin on the edge of the ventilation building. Not a bullet.
Ellie released a breath of relief, a soft sigh. Turned his head back, lifting his eyelids, left then right, the pupils equal. A good chance he hadn’t received a concussion. With nothing else to use, she pressed the palm of her left hand against the injury, her other hand on the right side of his head, keeping him in place and applied as much pressure as she dared; already too much blood, head injuries known for their excessive bleeding, this one no different.
A slow breath, her fear curtailed, Ellie felt ready to inform her teammates, to inform Carine of Luke’s condition . . . to relieve Arabela of the fear and concern Ellie knew she would be feeling for her partner and friend. Hoping her voice would be steady, not sure she could hide her fear, Ellie said, “Carine . . .”
Paused, not even sure, where she should start.
“Is he alive?”
Ellie could hear the collected sigh of relief.
“What’s his condition?”
Ellie was grateful for Carine’s confident tone, her voice giving Ellie the courage she needed to voice her fears. Gaze watching Luke’s face for any sign he was regaining consciousness, Ellie went through the short list, her voice steady, his injuries sounding far worse than she hoped they were.
“His breathing worries me the most,” said Ellie, glancing down at Luke’s chest, his abdomen, his breathing still stuttered. Looked back up at his face, his skin pale, freckles more obvious . . .
A small gasp of surprise escaped him, eyelids flicking open, green eyes stumbling as he tried to focus on her, his pupils dilated. His features no longer relaxed, quickly creasing with pain. He held his hands to his chest and tried to turn his body onto his side, long legs curling.
“Luke . . .” said Ellie, hands snapping at his shoulders, an attempt to keep him still, to stop any further injury . . . if a rib was broken. Her breath caught in her throat, her fear growing when Luke began to struggle for his next breath.
“Ellie! Sit him up. It’ll be easier for him to breath.”
She struggled to comprehend how she would be able to lift a six foot two man before she realised she could use Luke’s momentum, his body still curling forward. Her hands gripping his shoulders, she pulled him toward her, adjusting his position until he was sitting up. Moving her body behind him, she leaned back against the ventilation structure behind her and allowed him to lean back against her, his head falling back onto her right shoulder.
Ellie felt awkward, slightly embarrassed, neither emotion important. Luke needed to breathe . . . she wanted him to feel her concern, her comfort . . . her gratification for saving her life. She pressed her hand against the still bleeding wound on his forehead, applying pressure and turning his head toward her neck . . . a sudden need to feel his breath, to reassure herself he was still alive.
Hearing the drone, too close, she looked up into its camera lens. Turning her head away, she adjusted the position of her left arm, covering more of Luke’s face, keeping his features hidden from his teammates, certain he wouldn’t want an audience. Not the only reason; she didn’t want them to see his pain, his fight for each breath.
Careful of his chest, she held onto him when he began to struggle within her hold. Uncertain as to why, understanding coming too slowly. Her voice low, soft, Ellie whispered to him, words of encouragement, of support.
“Luke, it’s all right. We’re all right. It’s over. We’ve cleared the scene. It’s over.” Aware she had said the right thing, Luke relaxing against her before he went still. Fear stuck in her chest, a tight band of anxiety . . . quickly released when she felt his warm breath against her skin. Held him a little tighter. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”
Her emotions catching up with her, the adrenaline lingering, Ellie released a sharp cry of frustration and anger. Turned her head further away, left cheek resting against the top of his head. Everything seemed to hit her at once. This man had risked his life to save her . . . he could have died saving her; almost had. The violence, the death . . . it was overwhelming. Took a deep, slow breath, a stab of pain in her shoulder. She ignored it, compared to the pain Luke had felt . . . the pain he would feel when he returned to consciousness . . .
He could have died.
He had been willing to die to save her.
“We’re okay,” said Ellie, her voice catching.
“Has his breathing improved?”
“Yes.” She didn’t need to look, didn’t need to check. She could hear his breath; short, sharp, quick breaths but he wasn’t struggling.
“Is his life in any immediate danger?"
She lifted her head, her features filled with confusion and turned to look at the drone. Refusing the need to snap, to voice her anger . . . why would Carine ask such a question . . . waited for an explanation. She didn’t need to wait long.
“Ellie, they’re still insistent on clearing the building first. Your backup is fifteen minutes away, at least, but there is an ambulance waiting. If Luke is at serious risk . . .”
The decision left to her, Ellie knew what she wanted to say but it wasn’t the right thing to say. She couldn’t put more lives at risk. If there were an explosive device in the building . . . if it exploded because they rushed up onto the roof before clearing the scene . . . all of this would be for nothing. Understood with clarity, Luke wouldn’t be happy, saving her life only to lose it because they had disregarded procedure to get to him.
They could wait fifteen minutes.
“We’ll be okay.”
“No, his life isn’t at risk, not anymore. We’ll be okay.”
“Tell me if his condition deteriorates.”
Ellie refused to answer. She wasn’t angry with Carine. She was angry at their situation. A simple reaction by a man only doing his job; Ellie couldn’t find fault with what Luke had done, only admiration. His recognition of the wanted suspect quick, his reaction just as fast. She admired the way he worked, his relationship with Arabela; Luke and Arabela’s connection quick, clicking together as though they had worked together for years.
Ellie hoped one day, she would have the same kind of working relationship with a partner. She knew she worked well with Sebastian, her admiration for the man growing everyday but it wasn’t the same. She had been grateful for the opportunity to work with Luke, wanted to work in the field with him again.
What did Carine want her to say?
“Are you all right?”
No. She wasn’t.
“Yes. We’re okay.”
She turned her face away, her chin resting on the top of Luke’s head, her hold, her embrace tightening once more. She stayed that way, whispering to an unconscious form, anything to distract her during the strenuous wait, grateful when their backup finally arrived.
Eight stitches later, Luke was asleep, pain medication giving him no choice. He’d regained consciousness a few times, mind coherent, the doctors confident of a full recovery. A mild concussion, his ribs badly bruised, it would take at least four weeks until he was back in the field . . . Ellie grateful his condition wasn’t more serious, relieved her decision to wait hadn’t been detrimental to his health.
There hadn’t been an explosive device in the building, no need to wait but they had to be sure, Ellie understood that, knew Luke would. It had been a hoax, grappling equipment found close to the dead gunmen, an obvious means of escape, their intent to go over the edge, balconies scattered across the side of the building.
Sitting in a comfortable chair at his bedside, she squeezed his hand, his fingers lax, restful. He looked peaceful, his breathing easier, painkillers working, as they should. When encouraged to rest, she had refused to leave him, knowledge the rest of their team would be arriving soon, keeping her in place. She wanted to spend as much time with him as she could before the others insisted she eat and rest.
She looked up when she felt his fingers move in her grip. Green eyes stared down at her from an upright position, Ellie below his line of sight. Waited as he closed his eyes, as he released a breath, pulling in another, his face creasing with the pain.
Ellie smiled at the expletive. It was so like him. Squeezed his hand.
He opened his eyes again, gaze staring at her for a few seconds before he spoke, “Are you okay?”
“You have a mild concussion and some bruised ribs,” said Ellie, noticing the confusion on his face. “You hit your head when you went down.”
“An embarrassing act of bravery, then.”
“And all caught on video.”
“Do you think Sebastian could edit that bit out?”
“Luke, I’m fine.”
“The others are on their way. They should be here soon. I think Arabela is mad enough to cause you further injury.”
“Luke . . . thank you.”
“I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“We should do it again,” said Ellie.
“Ellie . . . when you said that I would rather have Arabela there instead of you . . . I never doubted you. I just . . . I felt guilty for putting you there--”
She leant forward, closer to him, hands still embraced. “You didn’t. Luke, you told me to stay with the car. It was my choice to follow you. It was my job to back you up and if you feel guilty because I did my job . . .
“You did a good job, Ellie. You exceeded my expectations.”
“How much were you expecting?”
She smiled . . . her pale cheeks flushing with embarrassment. She felt proud, respected, her confidence growing beyond her own expectations. This was a good man and she could understand why Arabela had liked him so much, so quickly. She was going to learn a lot from Luke Wilkinson, Ellie was certain.