THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 16
Other than a brief skirmish right after they were picked up, the ride to Ian's headquarters went surprisingly well. That didn't mean that Rand relaxed for a single instant of the entire trip. Not for one second did he think that their people had completely neutralized the threat presented by Riley and company, which was a damn shame. Instead, all he could figure was that the survivors had gone to ground to lick their wounds and regroup.
No, the threat wasn't over. His gut said that eventually the bastards would resurface and come after Tamara again. And she wasn't the only one in danger. Her boss Steve had also come under attack, and there could be other targets among Ambrose's people as well. Tamara's safety would always be his primary concern, but he and Ian would do what they could to help protect the others.
As soon as they pulled into the underground parking garage at headquarters, Rand and Tamara followed Ian as he led the charge upstairs to his central command. No doubt he was anxious to see how many of his security people had been injured…or worse. Rand knew he would take each and every casualty to heart. Although everyone who worked for the company knew that risk was part of the job, that didn't mean Ian ever thought any of them were disposable. They were friends, not just employees. Some had been with him since the day he'd started the company.
Rand knew just how Ian felt. He'd served beside his brother from the beginning, too. If any of the good men and women had died today, neither of them would take it well. By the time he and Tamara reached the nerve center for the organization, Ian was already perusing the list Jamie, his second-in-command, had prepared for him.
Ian didn't answer for several seconds. "Bad, but not as bad as it could have been. Three required hospitalization. One is in surgery right now, so we're still waiting to hear his prognosis. Five more were treated and released. Jamie has posted guards at the hospital and stashed everyone else and their families in our safe houses."
Rand pointed out the one positive out of all of that. "No fatalities is good news."
Tamara leaned in close to him. They all knew the fact that everyone had survived the day didn't mean that there wouldn't be long term repercussions from the injuries. However, that worry would have to wait for another day. At least Ian's people knew that he'd take care of both them and their families, now and for the long term, no matter what.
"So, what's next?"
Ian continued to study the list for a few more seconds before responding to Tamara's question. "You two should eat something, get some rest, and then we'll regroup."
He set the paper aside before first meeting Rand's gaze before turning his attention to Tamara. "I'm guessing you won't be happy about doing any of that until you check in with Ambrose."
She managed a small smile. "He is my boss, you know. I don't want to worry him any more than absolutely necessary. He at least needs to know where I am. What's the best way to reach out to him without further endangering your people?"
Ian blinked as if surprised that her first concern was for the men and women who worked for him, putting their safety ahead of her own co-workers. "Rand can have my second-in-command hook you up with a secure channel, one that won't lead anyone right to our doorstep."
Rand took Tamara's hand in his, ready to introduce her to Jamie. "Thanks, bro. While we take care of that, you should follow your own advice about rest and regrouping. There's no telling how long before Riley and company will go on the attack again. We all need to be back at full strength by then."
When Ian didn't immediately agree, Rand brought out the big guns. "Don't make me call Mom to tell her you're being an idiot. Better yet, I'll call your wife."
There was a ripple of laughter from the other people in the area. Even Ian's mouth quirked up in a small grin. "You always were a little snitch. Just remember my go-to policy for dealing with my brothers has always not to just get even, but get ahead. I'll take some downtime in a few minutes, but just know payback will be a bitch, little brother."
"Bring it on anytime. And use some respect when you speak to me. Don't forget you're talking to the new Beta of the pack, and I have the Alpha on speed dial."
Ian huffed a small laugh. "First, you threaten me with snitching to Mom and my wife. Now you want to go tattling to Dad. I knew kicking Declan's ass for him would go straight to your head."
It felt good to be giving his brother a hard time, mostly because it helped erase some of the shadows from Ian's eyes and shed some of the tension that was riding all of them hard. But now it was time to get with the program. Who knew how long the respite in the ongoing battle with their elusive enemy would last?
"Come on, Tam. Let's make that call."
She surprised him by letting go of his hand long enough to give Ian a quick hug. "Thanks for everything you've done, Ian. I won't forget it. Now get something to eat and rest before Rand makes good on his threats."
Then she followed Rand out of the room.
Tamara wasn't sure what noise had jarred her out of a sound sleep. She tightened her grip on the pistol under her pillow but otherwise remained motionless, opening her eyes only far enough to do a quick survey of the room. The door was ajar a few inches. She was sure it had been both closed and locked when she and Rand had stretched out on a pair of cots. They both would have preferred to cuddle up together, but they'd reluctantly agreed that getting some decent sleep was more important. The cots were too narrow to share comfortably, especially with a man the size of Rand.
Speaking of him, she raised her head high enough to check on his whereabouts. The other cot was empty, which explained why the door was open. She'd give him another couple of minutes to return in case he was only making a quick trip to the restroom down the hall. While she waited, she checked the time and was surprised how long they'd slept. It would be dawn in about two hours. It was tempting to go back to sleep, but she needed to know what Rand was up to.
If he didn't return, she'd hunt him down and see what he was up to. It wasn't that she didn't trust him, but his overprotective nature was driving him to find Riley and end the threat to her once and for all. That was fine with her, but she was worried he might be tempted to leave her behind.
She got that he wanted to keep her safe, but that was so not happening. Riley was her problem, and she had every intention of being there when the man was brought to justice.
When several minutes passed with no sign of Rand, she headed for the restroom to wash her face and give her hair a good brushing. There wasn't much she could do about her wrinkled clothes, but at least the splash of cold water left her wide awake and ready to face whatever came next.
Last evening, she and Rand had taken a rather circuitous route to the room where they'd slept, stopping first to call Ambrose from a secure line before moving onto the kitchen to scrounge something to eat. She'd been too distracted to keep track of all the twists and turns, so it took her longer than she liked to find her way back to the command center.
Just as she suspected, both Rand and Ian were already decked out for action. At least a dozen of Ian's people were similarly attired and checking out their weapons. Her temper flared hot, hating that she'd been right about Rand's intention. Before she could say a word, though, Rand grinned and pointed at a pile of stuff on a nearby counter. "That's your gear over there on the table. I was just getting ready to wake you up. Ambrose called a few minutes ago and invited us to join him and his people for a little surprise party for Riley and company."
Her anger disappeared as quickly as it had come. Rather than immediately heading for the goodies he'd laid out for her, she cut through the crowd to give him a quick hug. She should have trusted him. After giving him a quick kiss, she whispered, "Sorry, I should have known you wouldn't try to leave me behind."
"No apologies necessary. I probably would have if I thought I could've gotten away with it. Riley really wants you dead, and I don't want you anywhere near him." He brushed a strand of her hair back behind her hear. "But I understand why you have to be there when we take him down."
"Thank you for that. I promise to show you my gratitude when all of this is over."
His eyes flashed gold, his wolf joining the party. "I'll hold you to that. Now, get geared up. We'll be leaving as soon as Ambrose calls back with the rendezvous location and details on the final plan."
The phone rang just as she stuffed two flashbangs and three extra clips for her guns into the side pockets of her cargo pants. Next she strapped sheathes to her wrists to hold her favorite throwing knives and then added a nine-inch combat knife to her assortment of weapons. While she'd rather be far enough from the enemy to use her guns, she also needed to be prepared if the fight got up close and personal.
Ian hung up from talking to Ambrose. Before relaying any information, he typed on his laptop and brought up an aerial photo of a rundown building. It was situated in the center of a large parking lot. A chain-link fence with concertina wire running along the top surrounded the complex. There was little doubt the rogues would have surveillance cameras, so stealth was out of the question. The lack of cover from the fence to the building itself was a kill zone that could cost a lot of lives just to get across the parking lot. Who knew what they'd face one they breached the building itself?
After giving everyone a short time to study the picture, Ian gave them all a quick summary of the situation. "Here's what we know—Ambrose's people have been patrolling the city with drones in addition to the ones we've had up. As near as we can tell, Riley and his people have all left their former headquarters. We've tracked them to an abandoned factory about twenty miles outside the city. The heat signatures tell us that there are somewhere between fifty and seventy-five people in the building. They're moving around a lot, so it's hard to get an exact count. We also don't know if they've added floors below ground. Considering all the tunnels they've managed to dig here in the city without anyone noticing, it's pretty safe to assume they've done the same here."
Rand spoke up. "I'm also guessing they'll have installed a few surprises for any outsiders who try to approach the area, both inside and outside of the fence."
Ian looked particularly grim. "I wish I could say you were wrong about that. However, we're bringing our bomb robots and a couple of bigger remote-controlled vehicles to make the first approach. We should learn a lot from the kind of welcome they get."
If Tamara hadn't already been impressed by the kind of operation Ian and Rand had created, she would be now. It would still be a tricky assault, but they were doing everything they could to minimize the danger to their people. He called out everyone's assignments, making sure they understood what was expected of them.
"We plan to get there a little before sunrise. With luck, we'll catch them with a good number of their people still sleeping."
Any small advantage would be good, but Tamara knew they couldn't count on it. Meanwhile Ian was still talking. "I want everyone locked and loaded and ready to pull out in twenty minutes. If you haven't eaten, there are breakfast sandwiches and coffee in the back corner. Otherwise, come see me or Rand if you have any questions."
Tamara made her way to the food table. She was a jumble of nerves, but she'd need to refuel before the battle started. Rand joined her a few seconds later, slipping his arm around her waist and pulling her in close to his side. "Promise you'll stay beside me."
"I'll try. You know even the best plans go haywire once the shooting starts."
Rand didn't look happy, but he didn't contradict her, either. They used the last few minutes to simply hold onto each other, letting touch communicate everything they didn't have the words to say. It was almost a relief when they finally piled into the line of waiting vehicles and headed out into the night.
No one felt much like talking on the half hour drive to the enemy's stronghold. Tamara held Rand's hand in a tight grip and leaned into the comfort of his strength. It was still dark enough outside to limit the view outside of the vehicle, but she knew they had to be getting close. Five minutes later, Ian's voice came over the radio.
"Get you heads in the game everybody. We're almost there."
She looked up at Rand, his eyes flashing gold in the darkness. "This ends today. Then we go back to the estate and begin our lives together."
He smiled and gave her a quick kiss. "Sounds like a plan."
The line of vehicles coasted to a stop. Swallowing hard, trying to tamp down her nerves, she gave Rand one last kiss and then joined the gathering crowd of people checking their weapons. She spared one second of regret for the mess Riley had made of his life, and then started forward flanked by Rand and Ian.
The final battle was about to begin.