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Run to Ground

By´╝ÜKatie Ruggle

Chapter 1


The new waitress was hot. Squirrelly, but hot.

Theo always got to the diner early for the K9 unit’s breakfast and informal roll call. Those fifteen minutes before Otto and Hugh showed up usually were, if not exactly peaceful, at least a break from having to hide the mess he’d become. This morning, though, he was distracted by the way the dark-haired stranger kept trying not to stare at him. Since she didn’t seem to be bothered by anyone else in the diner, Theo assumed his uniform was making her nervous—and her nerves were putting him on edge. He’d caught himself watching her four times already, and he’d only been in the diner for five minutes.

A mug thumped on the table in front of him, and Theo turned his frown toward Megan. They had a morning ritual: He scowled. She aggressively delivered his food and coffee. Neither said a word.

This morning, as Megan was turning away, Theo was almost tempted to break the silence. He caught himself before a question about the new server popped out of his mouth. Stopping the words just in time, he snatched up his coffee and took a drink, burning his tongue in the process. He set down the mug with enough force to make the coffee almost slosh over the rim. Shit.

Before Theo could stop himself, his gaze searched out the new waitress again. She was delivering two plates of food to a table across the diner. By the look of concentration on her face and the exaggerated care she was taking, Theo assumed she was new to waiting tables. She was definitely new to Monroe, Colorado. If she’d been around, he would’ve noticed her. There was no doubt about that.

As she turned away from the table, smiling, their gazes caught for a second before she ducked her head and hurried toward the kitchen. He knew he shouldn’t take it personally. Theo had the feeling she would have had the same response to any cop.

“Who’s that?” Otto dropped onto the bench next to him.

Tearing away his gaze, Theo gave his fellow K9 officer a flat stare. “Move.”

“No.” Otto stretched out his legs until his lumberjack-sized boots bumped the opposite bench. “I always sit here.”

Just for the past two months. Theo didn’t want to say that, though. That might’ve led to talking about what had happened two months ago, and he really didn’t want to discuss it. Still, he couldn’t let it drop. “I’m not one of your wounded strays.”

Otto made a noncommittal sound that heated Theo’s simmering anger another few degrees. Before he could rip into Otto, Hugh slid into the opposite side of the booth.

“Hey.” Hugh greeted them with his standard, easygoing grin. “Who’s the new waitress?”

“You’re not going to squeeze onto this bench, too?” Theo asked with thick sarcasm.

Hugh gave Theo an earnest look. “Did you want me to sit with you two? Because I can. It’ll be cozy.”

Several smart-assed retorts hovered on Theo’s tongue, but he swallowed them down. All that would do was convince Hugh to move to Theo’s and Otto’s side of the table, and they’d be uncomfortable and awkward all through breakfast. Behind Hugh’s placid exterior was a mile-high wall of stubbornness.

Theo stayed silent.

With a slight smirk, Hugh settled back on his side of the table. “Anything fun and exciting happen last night?”

“Eh,” Otto said with a lift of one shoulder. “Carson Byers got picked up again.”

Hugh frowned. “That’s not fun. Or exciting. In fact, that’s something that happens almost every shift. What was it this time?”

“Trespass.”

“He was drunk and thought the Andersons’ house was his again?”

“The Daggs’ place this time.”

“Wait. Isn’t that on the other side of town?”

“Yep.”

“Dumbass.”

“Yep.”

Only half listening, Theo let the other men’s conversation wash over him. His gaze wandered to find the new server again. She was topping off the coffee mugs of the customers sitting at the counter as she listened to something Megan was telling her.

“I ran into Sherry at the gas station last night.”

Otto’s too-casual statement jerked Theo’s attention back to their conversation.

Rubbing the back of his head, Hugh asked, “How’s she doing?”

“Not good. But what do you expect when her dad—”

“Let me out.” Theo cut off the rest of Otto’s words, glaring at him until the other man slid out of the booth. As Theo stalked from the table, there was only silence behind him—a heavy, suffocating silence. He didn’t have a destination in mind except away, but his feet carried him toward the new server as if they had a mind of their own.

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