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National Forest K-9 Book 2
BY KATHLEEN DONNELLY
“Hide, Maya. Don’t let the bad people find you.”
Those are the last words Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler Maya Thompson ever heard her mother say.
Returning to the Colorado mountains, ex-soldier Maya is no longer a scared little girl. She’s here to investigate her mother’s cold case, but fear creeps in when it comes to her personal life—things are getting serious with sheriff deputy Josh Colten.
After new DNA evidence surfaces, both her beloved grandfather and Josh warn her away from the case, suspecting that she could be the next victim. But Maya doesn’t listen.
Instead, Maya and her K-9 partner, Juniper, track a suspect deep into the forest and directly into grave danger…
Juniper put her nose to the ground and at first seemed to have a hard time catching a scent. Maya took her toward the area where she thought she heard the twig snap and started casting her out. Juniper followed her direction, making a louder noise, sniffing and sucking in air. Maya could see she hadn’t caught a scent yet and continued to cast the dog out in different directions, looking for any signs of a human being in the area recently. If Maya saw a footprint or a snapped branch, she could help her dog pick up the track. They could also place a piece of sterile gauze over the shoeprint to not only help preserve it for Miranda to get a cast of it later, but the cloth could become a scent article to use with Juniper. Maya kept packages of sterile gauze in her BDU pockets just in case.
She and Juniper continued to work the area. Maya was concerned that they were tracking at a difficult point in the day because as it warmed up, the scent would dissipate.
Just as Maya was worried that they wouldn’t find a solid trail, Juniper’s body tensed. Her tail poked straight up in the air and her body language switched to an intensity that Maya knew well. Her dog was in odor.
Maya let Juniper work out the scent and then followed her as the dog took off, putting slack in the leash so Juniper didn’t yank her off her feet. Maya scrambled to keep up, slipping on some of the loose rocks in the area. She and Juniper headed off in the opposite direction of the trail they had used to come down to the crime scene.
“This is Deputy A1. I need immediate response to Big Gulch including medical, coroner and crime scene,” Josh said.
Hearing Josh’s call, Maya knew it wouldn’t be long before there were more deputies, firefighters, search and rescue volunteers and the coroner. They really needed to have someone secure the scene, but with Juniper in hot pursuit, the priority had changed to finding the suspect.
Josh was behind Maya as her backup officer. He would cover her so she could watch and work her dog without worrying about the suspect ambushing them. They’d been practicing some scenarios like this since Maya returned from certification, so they were all a better team. Josh fell into place behind them and followed her and Juniper off toward a stand of pine trees.
Juniper came into a small area in the middle of the trees and Maya pulled her up.
“Footprints,” she said to Josh.
“Got it,” he said, placing a marker.
Maya stopped Juniper for a second and took the gauze out of her pocket and handed it to Josh. “Let’s put this gauze over these shoeprints and see if they can be used for a scent article later on.”
This area would now be part of the crime scene and hopefully Miranda could get a good shoe imprint to use for when they caught this killer. She gave Juniper the command to keep tracking. Juniper took off on another trail in the opposite direction of the trailhead parking area.
“Where does this trail go?” Josh asked.
“It wraps back around to Little Gulch Meadow. There’s a parking area there too, but it’s a lot smaller so most people drive to Big Gulch.”
“About a half mile.”
Maya continued jogging to keep up with her dog. Juniper had a solid scent and her nose stayed on the ground. Maya was always amazed at what the dogs could do when it came to tracking. Juniper was following the “hottest” scent, or last scent left along with any ground disturbance. For this type of work, she didn’t need a scent article.
They continued on the trail that wove around and started an uphill ascent. Juniper didn’t seem tired at all, but Maya’s lungs burned as her respiration increased. Josh was huffing and puffing behind her. Maybe their morning coffee and doughnut habit was catching up with them. They continued climbing uphill. At least this part of the trail wasn’t as rough as the previous one.
She could hear someone ahead of them running. Another branch snapped, and Maya heard a person swear.
We’re getting close. We can catch this suspect.
Adrenaline fueled Maya as she and Juniper continued on the trail. Tree branches smacked Maya in the face, and she tried to warn Josh, but words were hard to get out as her breathing elevated. Juniper picked up her pace even more while her body language showed that her full attention was on this one track.
We’re going to catch this killer. We’re going to get justice for Kendra.
Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly has been a handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a Colorado-based narcotics K-9 company—since 2005. Enjoying the work and partnership with the dogs, in 2010, Kathleen became part owner of the company. She loves crafting realism into her fictional stories from her dog-handling experience. Along with working dogs, Kathleen trained horses and enjoys spending time with her own mare. Her love of the mountains came from growing up in Colorado. Her debut novel, Chasing Justice, won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest and was a 2023 Silver Falchion finalist in the Suspense category and Readers’ Choice Award. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and four-legged coworkers. Sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter to receive her free short story eBook collection, Working Tails.
Links to Kathleen’s websites, blogs, books, #ad etc.:
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Photos courtesy of PiperAnne Worcester Photography
Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing your book with us!
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