Love Bites – Lynsay Sands

Pudge squinted through the scope of his rifle. Not just any rifle. A Tac Ops Tango 51, the ultimate tactical precision rifle. It weighed 10.8 pounds, was 44.3 inches long and had a guaranteed accuracy of .25 MOA. Its stock incorporated a semiwide beavertail— He paused in his mental recitation of the Tac Ops catalog description to peer at the weapon, not quite sure what a beavertail was. It sounded almost sexy the way it read. A semiwide beavertail. Beaver tail. Beaver. Tail. The whole description of the weapon was sexy. For instance, it was suppose to have “dual palm swells.

” He wasn’t sure what those were, but it made him think of boobs. Of course, most things made him think of boobs. Yep. He was holding “beavertail” and “dual palm swells.” Awesome. The sudden blare of a horn made him start and nearly drop his rifle. Grasping it protectively to his chest, Pudge glared down at the dark street below. He’d chosen the rooftop of this building because it afforded a bird’s-eye view of the parking lot across the street. It had never occurred to him that it would be completely unsheltered up here on the roof and cold as an Alaskan winter. If Etienne didn’t hurry, Pudge was going to freeze to death waiting for him.

He scowled at the possibility. How long was the jerk going to be in there, anyway? It was already past midnight. This was— “Shit!” The toothpick he’d been chewing on slipped from his lips as the man in question exited the building and started into the parking lot. Etienne Argeneau. And he was alone. Pudge froze for one moment, then scrambled into position. He peered through the scope, got a bead on the guy, then hesitated. He was suddenly aware that his breath was coming fast. He was panting as if he’d been running for miles, and despite the cold he was sweating heavily. Norman Pudge Renberger was about to kill a man.

And not just any man. Etienne Argeneau. His nemesis. “Bastard,” Pudge muttered. With a slow grin, he directed the laser sights of his gun onto his target’s chest. There was no sound as he pulled the trigger. He had outfitted his Tango 51 with a Tac Ops 30 suppressor, a silencer, so the only noise was a pf t of air. If it weren’t for the way the rifle jerked in his hands, he might not have believed it fired. Hurrying to focus on Etienne again, Pudge squinted through the scope. The man had stopped dead, staring down at his chest.

Was he hit or not? For a moment Pudge was afraid he’d missed altogether, but then he noted the blood. Etienne Argeneau raised his head. His silver eyes found and focused clearly on where Pudge was positioned on the rooftop, then the light in them faded and the man fell flat on his face on the pavement. “Yes,” Pudge breathed, a shaky smile coming to his lips. He worked clumsily to dismantle his rifle, ignoring the sudden trembling of his muscles as he replaced the pieces in their case. His sexy Tango 51 with dual palm swells and beavertail had cost him nearly five thousand dollars, but it had been worth every penny. Chapter One “Yo, Rach. I’m gonna grab a java. You want anything?” Rachel Garrett straightened and wiped the back of her gloved hand across her forehead. She had been bouncing between the chills and fever since arriving at work two hours earlier.

At the moment, she was in a hot phase. Sweat was gathering across her back and along her scalp. She was obviously coming down with something nasty. Her gaze slid to the clock on the wall. Almost one. Two hours down, six to go. She almost groaned. Six more hours. The way this flu bug was coming on, it was doubtful she’d last half of that. “Hey! You feeling all right, Rach? You look like hell.

” Rachel grimaced as her assistant moved to her side and felt her forehead. Like hell? Men could be so tactful. “Cold. Clammy.” He frowned and asked, “Fever and chills?” “I’m fine.” Rachel pushed his hand away with embarrassed irritation, then reached into her pocket for some change. “Okay, Tony. Maybe you could get me some juice or something.” “Oh, yeah. You’re fine.

” Rachel stilled at his dry words, suddenly realizing she had pushed her smock aside and shoved her hand into her pants pocket without removing her bloody rubber glove first. Great. “Maybe you should—” “I’m fine,” she said again. “I’ll be fine. Just go on.” Tony hesitated then shrugged. “Okay. But you might want to maybe sit down or something till I get back.” Rachel ignored the suggestion and turned back to her cadaver as Tony left. He was a nice guy.

A little weird maybe. For instance, he insisted on talking like a Goodfella from the Bronx when he had been born, raised, and never left Toronto. He also wasn’t Italian. Tony wasn’t even his real name. The name he’d been given at birth was Teodozjusz Schweinberger. Rachel had complete sympathy with the name change, but she didn’t understand how the bad accent came with it. “Incoming!” Rachel glanced at the open door to the main room of the morgue. Setting down her scalpel, she stripped the rubber glove from her right hand and walked out to meet the men propelling a gurney inside. Dale and Fred. Nice guys.

A couple of EMTs whom she rarely saw. They generally delivered their clientele to the hospital alive. Of course, some died after arrival, but it was usually after these two had already been and gone. This patient must have died in transit. “Hi, Rachel! You’re looking…good.” She crossed the room to join them, politely ignoring Dale’s hesitation. Tony had made it more than plain how she looked. “What have we here?” Dale handed her a clipboard with various sheets of paper. “Gunshot wound. Thought we got a beat before transporting from the scene but might have been wrong.

For the record, he died in transit. Doc Westin pronounced him gone when we got here and asked us to bring him down. They’ll want an autopsy, bullet retrieval, and so on.” “Hmm.” Rachel let the paperwork fall back into place, then moved to the end of the room to grab one of the special stainless steel gurneys used for autopsies. She rolled it back to the EMTs. “Can you switch him over onto this while I sign?” “Sure.” “Thanks.” Leaving them to it, she moved to the desk in the corner in search of a pen. She signed the necessary papers, then walked back as the EMTs finished shifting the body.

The sheet that had covered it for the trip through the hospital was now missing. Rachel paused and stared. The latest addition to the morgue was a handsome man, no more than thirty, with dirty blond hair. Rachel took in his pale chiseled features, wishing she’d seen him while he was alive and that she’d known what he looked like with his eyes open. She rarely thought of her work as having been at one time living, breathing beings. It made her job impossible if she considered that the bodies she worked on were mothers, brothers, sisters, grandfathers…. But this man she couldn’t ignore. She imagined him smiling and laughing, and in her mind he had silver eyes the likes of which she’d never seen. “Rachel?” She blinked in confusion and stared up at Dale. The fact that she was now sitting was a bit startling.

The men had apparently rolled the wheeled desk chair over and urged her into it. Both EMTs were hovering over her, worry on their faces. “You nearly fainted, I think,” Dale said. “You were swaying and all white-faced. How are you feeling?” “Oh.” She gave an embarrassed laugh and waved her hand. “I’m fine. Really. I think I’m coming down with something, though. Chills then fever.

” She shrugged. Dale placed the back of a hand to her forehead and frowned. “Maybe you should go home. You’re burning up.” Rachel felt her face and was alarmed to note that he was right. It crossed her mind to hope that the speed and strength with which this bug had hit her wasn’t an omen of how bad it was going to be. And if it was bad, she hoped it would burn out as quickly as it had come. She hated being sick. “Rachel?” “Huh?” She glanced at the concerned faces of the EMTs and forced herself upright. “Oh, yeah.

Sorry. Yes, I might go home early when Tony gets back. In the meantime, I signed for the body and everything.” She retrieved the necessary paperwork and handed back the rest. Dale accepted the clipboard, then exchanged an uncertain glance with Fred. Both appeared reluctant to leave her alone. “I’m fine, really,” she assured them. “And Tony just went out to grab us some drinks. He’ll be back shortly. You two go on.

” “Okay.” Dale still sounded reticent. “Just do us a favor and keep your butt in that chair till he does, huh? If you faint and hit your head…” Rachel nodded. “Sure. You two go on. I’ll just rest till Tony gets back.” Dale didn’t look like he believed her, but he had little choice. He followed Fred to the door. “Okay. Well, we’re out of here then.

” “See you later,” Fred added. Rachel watched them leave, then sat still for a moment as promised. It wasn’t long before she became impatient, though. She wasn’t used to being inactive. Her gaze slid to the body on the gurney. A shooting vic. Those were rare. It meant there was a shooter out there running around Toronto. It also meant this man had become her top priority. The police would want the bullet for forensics testing, which meant she wasn’t going home after Tony came back.

At least, not until she had removed the bullet. The official autopsy wouldn’t be done until morning, but retrieving the bullet was her job. As head coroner at night, it was her responsibility. Straightening her shoulders, she stood and moved to the table. Peering down at her newest customer, she said, “You picked a heck of a night to get shot, my friend.” Her gaze slid over his face. He really had been a looker. It seemed a real shame that he was dead —but then it was always a shame when people died. Shrugging such thoughts aside, Rachel grabbed her tray of equipment and rolled it over. She looked the body over once more before setting to work.

The EMTs had ripped his shirt open, then laid it back across his chest. He was still fully clothed and in a rather sharp—not to mention expensive—designer suit. “Nice duds. Obviously a man of taste and means,” she commented, admiring the cut of the suit and the body beneath. “Unfortunately, your suit has to go.” Picking up the shears from the equipment table, she quickly and efficiently cut away the suit coat and shirt. As the cloth fell back, Rachel paused to take in what was revealed. Normally, she would have simply moved on to remove the cadaver’s pants and underwear, but the fever was affecting her strength. Her arms felt all rubbery, her fingers limp and awkward. She decided a change in routine wouldn’t hurt.

She would start recording her findings of his upper body before she moved on to try to remove the clothing from his lower body. With any luck, Tony would be back by then to help. Setting the shears aside, she reached up to swing the overhead light and the microphone directly over his chest. Then she switched the microphone on. “The subject is…Oh, shoot!” Rachel flicked the microphone off. Quickly retrieving the paperwork Dale and Fred had left behind, she scanned the information in search of a name. She frowned. There wasn’t one. He was a John Doe. Well-dressed, but without identification.

It made her wonder if that was the reason behind the shooting. Perhaps he’d been shot and robbed of his wallet. Her gaze went to the man. It seemed a real shame he was dead for nothing more than a couple of bucks. What a crazy world. Setting the paperwork down, Rachel flicked the microphone back on. “Dr. Garrett examining shooting victim John Doe. John Doe is a Caucasian, male, approximately 6-foot-four,” she guessed, leaving actual measurements for later. “He is a very healthy specimen.

” She turned off the microphone again and took her time looking him over. “Very healthy” was an understatement. John Doe was built like an athlete. He had a flat stomach, a wide chest, and muscular arms to go with his handsome face. Picking up one arm then the other, Rachel lifted each to examine its underside before stepping back with a frown. He hadn’t a single identifying mark. No scars or birthmarks. There was nothing that could be considered an identifying feature on the man. Other than the gunshot wound over his heart, the man was completely flawless. Even his fingers were perfect.

“Strange,” Rachel muttered to herself. Usually there were at least a couple of scars—an appendicitis scar, small ones on the hands from past wounds, or something. But this man was completely unmarred. His hands and fingers were even callous free. Idle rich? She wondered and peered at his face again. Classically handsome. No tan, though. Jet-setters usually had tans from the sunny spots they visited or from the tanning salon. Deciding she was wasting time on such suppositions, Rachel gave her head a shake and turned the microphone back on. “Subject has no identifying features or scars on the front upper body except for the gunshot wound.

Death, upon first glance, appears to be due to exsanguination caused by the aforementioned wound.” She left the microphone on as she reached for the forceps to remove the bullet. The recorder was sound-activated, so it would only record what she said anyway. Later she would use the tape to write up her report, leaving out any muttered comments it caught that were irrelevant to the case. Rachel measured and described the size of the gunshot wound, as well as its placement on the body, then set to work cautiously easing her forceps into the hole, moving slowly and carefully to be sure she was following the path of the bullet and not pushing through undamaged tissue. A moment later, she had reached and grasped the missile and was drawing it carefully back out. Murmuring a triumphant “Ah ha!” she straightened with the bullet caught in the spoon of the forceps. Turning toward the tray, Rachel paused with irritation when she realized there was no container for it. Such things weren’t normally needed, and she hadn’t thought to grab one. Muttering under her breath at her lack of forethought, she moved away from the table to the row of cupboards and drawers to search.

While looking, Rachel pondered where Tony had got to. His five-minute trip in search of beverages had become a rather lengthy absence. She suspected it was a certain little nurse who worked on the fifth floor who was holding him up. Tony had fallen hard for the girl and knew her schedule like the back of his hand. He usually arranged his breaks around hers. If she was in the cafeteria when he arrived, Rachel could count on his taking his full break now. Not that she minded. If she did go home after removing this bullet, he would have no one to relieve him for the rest of the night. Finding what she’d been looking for, Rachel packaged the bullet, then carried it to her desk to make out an identification tag. It wouldn’t do for evidence to get misplaced or to be left lying around without a label.

Of course, she couldn’t find the labels right away and wasted several minutes looking for them. Then she messed up three before getting one right. It was all a good indication that Rachel wasn’t on the ball tonight, and that going home was a good idea. She was a perfectionist, and such little mistakes were frustrating, even embarrassing. Exasperated with herself and her weakened state, Rachel smoothed the label onto its container, then paused as she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned, expecting Tony to have returned, but the room was empty. There was just herself and John Doe on the gurney. Her feverish mind was beginning to play tricks on her. Rachel shook her head and stood. Alarm shot through her as she noted that her legs were a touch shaky.

Her fever was skyrocketing. It was as if a furnace switch had been flicked on, taking her from cold and clammy to burning up in a heartbeat. A rustle drew her attention back to the gurney. Was that right hand where it had been the last time she looked? Rachel could have sworn she’d laid his hand back palm down after examining it for identifying scars, yet now it was palm up, the fingers relaxed. Her gaze travelled up the arm to the face, and Rachel frowned at its expression. The man had died with a blank, almost stunned look, which had remained frozen in death. But now he wore more of a pained grimace. Didn’t he? Maybe she was imagining things. She must be imagining things. The man was dead.

He hadn’t moved his hand or changed his expression. “You’ve been working the night shift too long,” Rachel muttered to herself. Slowly she moved back to the gurney. She still had to remove the rest of the corpse’s clothes and examine his lower front body. Of course, she would need help from Tony in turning the man to examine his back. His lower front could wait until Tony returned too, but Rachel decided against it. The sooner she got out of there and went home to bed, the better. It was smarter to get as much done as possible now, before her assistant returned. Which meant cutting away the shooting vic’s pants. To that end, Rachel reached for the shears—then realized she hadn’t checked for head wounds.


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