Love Bats Last (The Heart of the Game)
to do the job well. He also didn’t like miscalculating. And try as he might, he couldn’t decipher the powerful desire that kept drawing him back to the Center.
    “Hey, Alex!” Gage called to him from across the lot. “You’re just in time. How about giving us a hand with this baby?”
    It was no baby. A full-size male sea lion bucked against the walls of the extra-large dog kennel he’d been herded into. It took four of them to carry it to the pen Gage indicated. When they put the kennel down and opened the front gate, the animal reared and swung around, teeth snapping. Gage dodged out of the way and motioned for Alex and the other volunteers to back out of the pen. He clanged the gate shut, then leaned against it, his breath heaving.
    “The diatom that’s taking these guys down is making them crazy aggressive.” Gage nodded to the volunteers. “Go get yourselves some coffee. I made it, so it should be good.” He caught Alex’s eye and pointed to two unmoving harbor seals in the next pen. “That’ll make four more dead since yesterday if you count the two we brought in last night.”
    Alex stared at the dead seals. “Any clue as to what’s taking them out?”
    “Jackie has a pretty good idea, but she’s waiting for more test results.” He opened the pen and motioned Alex into it. “Give me a hand getting this big one to the necropsy lab.”
    Alex hefted the tail of the animal onto the wheeled gurney and steadied it as they rolled it up the ramp and into the squat building. A sign over the door said “So That Others May Live.”
    “Not much of a lab,” he said, looking around.
    The steel lockers looked like they’d been pried out of a high school gym, the walls were discolored and one of the windows had a full-length crack. Two rivulets of rusty water had stained their way down to a drain in the center of the room. The massive steel table along one side was the one quality item in the building.
    “Don’t tell Jackie that—she spent her salary converting this shed,” Gage said as Alex helped him lift the lifeless animal onto the steel table, positioning it next to two others already there.
    Alex glanced out the lab window and watched Jackie march across the parking lot, clutching a stack of papers to her chest, dodging potholes and cursing as coffee spilled down the front of her sweater. She breezed in the door and plunked the mug on the steel table, dropping several of the papers.
    “Good morning,” she said as she bent down to retrieve the fallen papers. “There’s no food in sight,” she said with a wavering smile as she stood, “so I cannot imagine what you might have that’s holding Gage’s attention.”
    The sound of crumbling wood drowned out Gage’s reply, and Jackie tottered as her right foot sank through the floor. She flung out her arm and the papers she still held flew from her grasp. Alex lunged for her. He caught her under the arms, but not before her leg had sunk knee-deep through the flooring.
    “Easy,” Alex said as he steadied her. “Hold still.”
    Ignoring him, she tried to pull her foot free, but a sharp splinter of wood pierced through her slickers. She winced and Alex fell to his knees.
    “Don’t take suggestions very well, do you?” He steadied her with one arm and pressed against the rotted board with the other. “Can you relax your leg?”
    “Sure. And I’ll just sip a martini and pretend that the USDA isn’t coming in less than five hours.” She waved at the papers. “No problem.” She looked up at Gage. “Surprise visit, just what we needed. I was coming to tell you.”
    Learning what had her riled didn’t make Alex breathe any easier.
    “Hold steady,” he said. He felt her hand against his shoulder, felt her lean into him. He pulled the board away from her leg and held the splintered flooring back. He wrapped his other hand around her calf, freed her ankle and then eased her foot up and out of the hole.
    She teetered and her fingers dug into

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