THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 17
During the trip out of the city, Rand considered whether or not he should fight as a man or let his wolf out for the upcoming battle. There were strong arguments to made on either side of the debate because each half of his dual nature offered its own advantages. His human form could not only use a variety of weapons, but it could serve as a physical shield between Tamara and those who would seek to harm her.
On the other hand, his wolf's superior senses might make a huge difference when it came to detecting any boobytraps and explosives the enemy might have put in place. Rather than decide on his own, he put the question to his brother, who was coordinating their offensive plan with Ambrose and his forces.
Rand waited until there was a break in Ian's ongoing phone discussions with Ambrose and said, "I'm thinking maybe I should go furry before we launch the assault."
Ian gave the matter some thought before responding. "I've been thinking along those same lines. I'm supposed to call Ambrose back in a minute. I'll ask him if there'll be time for the two of us to do a little advance recon before we launch the full attack."
As they waited while he made the call, Tamara tightened her grip on Rand's hand and rested her head on his shoulder. He took solace from her touch but hated the tension thrumming through her body right now. They both knew the danger they were heading into and that these few stolen moments might be the last ones they would share.
She shifted to look at him more directly. "Don't worry so much, Rand. We'll come through this."
He pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. "I wish I was as confident about that as you are."
His fear was all for her. The thought of Tamara being hurt, even the slightest wound, made him furious. The need to protect the pack was hardwired into every alpha wolf. That urge was exponentially stronger when it came to keeping his mate safe. No doubt Tamara would prefer to see Riley and his companions face Coalition justice in a court of law. Rand got that. After all, she had dedicated her career to upholding the letter of the law.
Rand just wanted the man dead. Given the chance, his wolf would shred the bastard with his teeth and claws. As a man, he'd use bullets, a blade, or even his bare hands to make sure Riley would never again breathe the same air as Tamara. She might not like it, but that's who Rand was. If she couldn't accept his need to protect her, then she picked the wrong wolf to fall in love with.
He settled for whispering, "I love you. No matter what happens, don't forget that."
She studied his face for several seconds. "I love you, too. But right now, I'd give anything to know what's going on in that head of yours."
Before he could decide how to respond to that, Ian reentered the conversation. "We're a go to do the recon. He can give us about thirty minutes to do a quick sweep around the perimeter. We'll go together and see what we can learn and then meet back up with Ambrose at the rendezvous point."
Ian turned his attention to Jamie, who was driving. "Look for a spot where the shoulder widens and pull over. I've already told the other drivers to drive on past us to the rendezvous point. Once we're stopped, you'll wait until after we shift and then escort Tamara to Ambrose."
Rand leaned forward. "Don't leave before we toss our clothes back into the vehicle. I'd rather not charge into battle stark naked."
The man shuddered. "Believe me, Rand. None of us want to see your bare behind leading the way into the compound."
Tamara immediately protested. "Speak for yourself, Jamie."
That had all three man laughing, which helped dislodge the huge knot of tension in Rand's chest. Meanwhile, he and Ian began stripping off their clothes. By the time Jamie found a place to stop, they'd already stripped off their vests, shirts, weapons, boots and socks, but both waited until they left the confines of the vehicle to remove everything else.
Rand appreciated that his brother made sure to use the open door as a screen rather than going full commando in front of Tamara. For her part, she'd kept her focus on folding their clothes and setting them in a neat pile next to her on the seat.
When she finally risked a quick peek in Rand's direction, he reached out to brush the back of his fingers along the soft curve of her cheek. "We'll meet you at the rendezvous point. Stick close to Ambrose until I get back."
"I will, but you be careful out there."
Ian finished giving Jamie a few last minute instructions and then gave Rand a nod. Seconds later, the brothers were gone, leaving two enormous wolves in their place. After giving his mate one last look, Rand followed his brother into the underbrush and started the hunt for the enemy.
Tamara met Jamie's gaze in the rearview mirror. "Does watching them do that ever become any less magical?"
He shook his head. "I've worked with them since the beginning, and I haven't gotten tired of it yet. To be honest, most of our jobs don't call for them to shift, but there have been times when we've been damn glad to have that option. It can freak out some of the newer employees, but us old timers are just fine with it. I can't tell you how many times they've saved us from walking into ambushes or triggering some unpleasant surprises like landmines."
She stared at the woods, hoping for one last glimpse of Rand and his brother, but they were already long gone. "We should get moving. Ambrose isn't the most patient of men, and he won't be happy if we late to the party."
Jamie started the engine and pulled back on the road. "I'm actually more worried about how Rand would react if he reaches the rendezvous and you're not there. He's usually easy going, but it's easy to see his temper is running pretty hot right now. Considering the current situation, he's feeling pretty damn protective of you. For what it's worth, that's just how Ian acted when he first met Jaina. I might be speaking out of turn, but I'm happy for both of you. Rand's a good man, and he's lucky to have found you."
"Thank you, Jamie. I'm feeling pretty lucky myself."
She could only hope that the luck would see them all through the battle to come.
Rand and Ian had grown up hunting together and fell into familiar patterns as soon as they reached the tree line. They'd already covered half a mile and had another to go before they would reach the enemy compound. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to cover every inch of the surrounding area. They did their best to cover as much ground as possible by taking a zigzagging route through the undergrowth with Rand ranging right and Ian going left before they came back together. So far, they hadn't picked up any indication that humans had passed that way in recent days.
Right now, the woods were understandably quiet, with only the soft rustle of small critters taking cover as soon as they realized two large predators were roaming through their territory. While it might have been fun to chase down a rabbit or two, now wasn't the time. They had bigger game to hunt.
Another mile came and went with no sign of the enemy, but still they slowed down. It was unlikely Riley and his people would have had the time or the money to lace the ground this far out with mines or other traps. No, they would have concentrated their efforts closer in to where they'd taken shelter. That didn't mean they hadn't installed surveillance equipment at some distance from the fence.
Sure enough, there was a faint buzz of something electronic coming from just ahead, maybe six feet above Rand's head. He narrowed it down to one tree where he paused to sniff the ground and picked up the faded scent of two—no, three—humans. It had been awhile since the trio had passed that way. He followed the scent further to the left before turning back to meet back up with Ian.
I spotted a motion-activated camera back that way about thirty yards. None since that one. How about you?
Ian bobbed his head. Two back that way. I almost triggered a trip wire buried in the leaves on the ground. Didn't smell like explosives, but we need to slow down and be more careful from this point on.
As one, they turned and moved forward, concentrating their efforts closer to the narrow road that Ambrose's forces would be following toward the compound. A few minutes later, they could see the fence. There were no guards in sight, which was a good thing. Trigger-happy humans might not see two wolves as a real threat, but they just might think they would make for good target practice.
Keeping to the edge of the trees, they slipped through the shadows until they reached the edge of the road. On the way, they'd carefully stepped over two more wires and detected the faint scent of explosives coming from somewhere between where they stood and the fence itself. They picked up speed, needing to finish circling the compound in order to get back to Ambrose with the information they'd gleaned.
Both were breathing hard by the time they returned to the convoy. At least Ambrose had had the good sense to post Ian's men around the circumference, knowing they wouldn't panic when two wolves came charging into their midst. The first one of their men who spotted them pointed to the right. "Jamie's parked about ten vehicles back in that direction."
Tamara was pacing back and forth beside the vehicle, stopping every so often to stare into the trees. Rand hated that she looked so worried, but her expression changed when he woofed softly to let her know he was back. She knelt on the grass and wrapped her arms around his neck, her fingers stroking his fur.
He would've been content to remain in that position for as long as she was willing to keep petting him, but time was running short. She knew it, too, because she quickly released her hold on him and opened the car doors so he and Ian could hop inside and change back. They might be comfortable in transforming in front of their own people, but a fair number of the nearby troops worked for Ambrose, not them.
Rand managed to get his pants back on inside the vehicle but found it easier to finish dressing outside where there was more room. After he slipped on his socks and boots, Tamara held out his shirt and vest. When he was fully clothed, he loaded up on weapons and waited impatiently for Ian to do the same.
Tamara looked past them. "I called Ambrose to tell him you were back. He's on his way to hear what you've learned. He'll also update you on the latest scan from the drones."
The tall Chancellor appeared seconds later. His fangs were on full display, a sign his own predatory nature had kicked it into high gear. "What can you tell me?"
Ian had just taken a call from his headquarters, leaving Rand to make their report. "We picked up signs of surveillance cameras on trees in the last quarter mile of the woods. They're scattered pretty randomly, so it will be hard to avoid triggering them at some point. There are also tripwires, but we couldn't tell what they were connected to. Landmines are buried every twenty yards apart all the way around the fence. We didn't want to risk checking out the road too near the gate, but we did run along the edge for quite a distance from a short distance out. No scent of explosives or sign of wires that we could tell. No surprise there, though. They have to allow safe passage for their own people."
Ambrose's expression had turned more grim at the mention of explosives and trip wires, but he didn't looked surprised, either. "Anything else?"
"No guards walking the perimeter. A code is required to operate the gate from the outside. There's a keypad mounted on a post about twenty feet out from the fence. It also has a speaker, so people who don't know the code can request admittance." Rand flashed a wolfish smile and added, "Sadly, I don't think they'll make it that easy for us to get in. We'll just have to give the expression 'gate-crasher' a whole new meaning."
Several of the people listening to the conversation laughed as did Ambrose. Then he clapped Rand on the shoulder. "The latest drone feed continues to show no movement in the compound, and the heat signatures we can detect shows people going about their business inside. We're pretty certain that there is at least one level underneath the building that doesn't show on the original specs we have. It would be foolish to think they haven't built an escape route or two while they were expanding below ground. I've got people monitoring key points on the roads around the area to keep an eye out for any mass exodus from the location. Unfortunately, I don't have enough boots on the ground to stop them if that happens without stripping badly needed personnel for our assault on the compound."
Ian joined them again. "My people confirm the same information. I would suggest we get a move on before any enemy stragglers stumble across our forces on their way to the factory."
Ambrose nodded as he turned to face the men and women who surrounded them. "You all have your orders. Remember to stay behind the bomb detectors and the remote controlled vehicle. Once it crashes the party they're having inside, engage the enemy. I want as many taken alive as possible, but don't take unnecessary risks. Their lives are not worth yours. Am I clear about that?"
When everyone nodded, he asked, "Are there any questions? Or anything about the plan that you don't understand?"
When no one raised their hands, he nodded. "Okay, get back to your people. I want us on the move in ten minutes."
Before heading for his command vehicle, Ambrose walked over to where Tamara stood. "I'm sorry about Riley, Tamara. I'll understand if you need to sit this one out."
Rand wished she'd accept Ambrose's offer, but he knew she wouldn't. When she shook her head, Ambrose gave her a quick hug before walking away. As he passed Rand, he muttered, "Stubborn woman! Keep her safe."
"I will do my best, sir."
Ten minutes later, the convoy moved out. Fifteen minutes after that, they turned onto the narrow road that led toward the factory. Five minutes later, the remote vehicle tore through the gate and the dying began.