THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 18
The convoy of Coalition forces poured through the tangled remains of the broken gate. Moving like dancers who had rehearsed until the choreography had become second nature, the coalition vehicles spread out to encircle the factory, positioning themselves to take down the enemy once and for all.
Tamara's pulse beat a staccato beat in her head as they waited for the signal to go on the attack. Rand had his arm around her shoulders, holding her close and his warmth easing her fears. The last few moments before all hell came raining down were always the worst. As soon as the action started, she would lose herself in a moment of mental clarity that would last until the last shot was fired and the battle ended.
Until then, though, her mind was pure chaos filled with what ifs and worries. Rand whispered near her ear, "We'll get through this."
She hoped so; she really did. For now, all they could do was listen to the warning Ambrose was broadcasting to the men and women in the factory.
"This is Ambrose O'Brien speaking, the Chief Chancellor of the Coalition. I am offering you this one last opportunity to surrender and face judgment. You have two minutes to signal your intentions. Beyond that, there will be no quarter given."
After a long pause, he added, "The clock is ticking."
It was doubtful there was any chance the rogues would make it easy on everyone and simply surrender. So far, they'd shown little regard for human lives, not even those who shared their cause. As far as Tamara could tell, the bastards counted each Coalition death a victory no matter the cost to their own forces.
Like Rand, Ian, and Jamie, she used the remaining seconds of peace to check over her weapons. They could all wish for a reprieve, but none of them really thought one would be forthcoming. No, they expected the cost of restoring peace and order would be paid in blood. The best hope was that the enemy would foot most of the bill.
When Ambrose spoke again, it was only to his own people through the earpieces they all wore. "Get ready, folks. The new readings from the drones show the enemy has moved below ground where they think they're safe. We need to dispel that illusion on their part. Brace yourselves because it's about to get interesting around here. On my mark, light the place up."
At least every other vehicle marshalled by the Coalition forces came equipped with a laser cannon attached to the roof. In a synchronized move, each barrel raised to the precise angle to inflict the most damage on the building. Tamara watched half in horror and half in admiration as they spit fire and destruction the second Ambrose shouted, "Now!"
Everyone remained within the safety of their armored vehicles while the artillery did its job. Within seconds, whole sections of the factory had been blown open. The barrage seemingly went on forever, but by the clock it lasted but a handful of minutes. At Ambrose's second signal, the gunners quit firing, leaving behind a dusty haze that hung in the air like a shroud.
"Everybody, move in. Keep your heads in the game."
Tamara followed Rand out of the vehicle and fell into formation along with all of the other Coalition fighters. The enemy returned sporadic fire, but didn't really mount much of a counterattack. That didn't mean anyone believed that whatever welcome was waiting for them once they breached the building itself would be any picnic to deal with. Tamping down her fear to a manageable level proved harder than she expected.
Rand must have picked up on her racing heartbeat. He reached over to caress her face with his fingertips. "No one here will think less of you if you wait this one out."
She caught his hand in hers and give it a quick squeeze. "But I will. Riley brought this fight to me. To all of us, really. I can't walk away now."
"I know, but I wish we all could."
With that, they started forward. Their group had been assigned the job of clearing the top floor of the building and then the roof while others did the same for the ground floor. After those areas were secure, they would move on to any lower levels the rogues might have added since taking over the property. It would be slow going, and their enemies would only grow more dangerous the more cornered they felt.
The Coalition forces poured into the building and climbed over the debris left behind by the artillery assault. She followed Ian and Rand as they split off toward the staircase located in the back corner away from the damaged side of the building. Now that they were in motion, her nerves settled and her entire focus centered on the moment at hand.
Shots rang out from behind them, but they kept moving steadily toward their target. Once inside the staircase, they spread out along the length of the two flights of stairs. Some kept their focus on the upper floor while the rest kept their weapons trained the flight leading down to the basement level. They would play rearguard as the others swept through the building.
It didn't take long. There was evidence the enemy had used the second floor offices as dorms—bunk beds, footlockers, the odd piece of clothing scatter here and there—but there was no sign of the former occupants anywhere. Clearly, they'd moved out, most likely taking refuge below ground when the shelling had begun.
It took even less time to check out the roof. Although there were clear indications that someone had been up there recently, it was empty now. Ian and Rand did a slow sweep of the perimeter to make sure that the enemy hadn't rigged the roof to collapse. Declaring it clear of any immediate threat to the Coalition forces below, Ian left people posted to guard the staircases at both ends of the building as Rand led the charge back to the ground floor.
By that point, Ambrose had his K-9 crew spread out and searching the area for explosives or other possible traps. The dogs worked their way through the area, diligently checking every nook and cranny in the place. As far as Tamara could tell, they'd yet to find anything. That didn't mean they were in the clear.
Not by a long shot.
She carefully made her way to where the chancellor stood watching over his people. "The roof and top floor are clear. The upper staircases are secured and under guard."
"Good. As soon as we finish securing this floor, we'll turn our attention below ground."
His expression said that was anything but good news. She understood why when he added, "I sent two mini-drones down to do some scouting. We couldn't see any people, but we did find two large steel doors that lock from the other side."
There had been surprisingly little resistance from the enemy up to this point. Tamara had heard only short bursts of gunfire echoing through the cavernous factory just as they had entered the building, but things had quickly gone silent after that. That meant either the majority of the rogues had once again slipped away or that they were planning a last stand below ground beyond wherever those doors led. Maybe they had left only a skeleton crew behind to act as rearguard until the others made it to safety, but that didn't mean it would be easy to dig them out wherever they were currently entrenched.
Rand moved closer to her, resting his hand on her lower back. The small connection meant everything, but it didn't calm her growing fear. "Have your people outside the perimeter spotted any sign of people escaping from the compound?"
Ambrose shook his head. "Not so far. Either their escape routes extend a lot farther from this building than would seem reasonable, or they're all waiting for some signal before making a run for it."
Looking pretty grim, Rand lowered his voice to say, "Like someone waiting for our people to figure out how to open one or both of those doors before flipping a switch that blows this place all to hell and back."
The chancellor's fangs ran out, his eyes filled with cold fury. "Yeah, that's my thinking."
Tamara shared his anger. They were left with two choices, neither of them particularly appealing. "So either we walk away and hope for better luck the next time we corner them or we make our stand now."
They all knew the former option might save lives today. But how many Coalition citizens would die before Ambrose and his fellow chancellors managed to track Riley's people to their next lair? Taking the easy way out of today's situation wouldn't set well with any of the men and women who stood awaiting further orders.
But asking them to walk into what could be a bloodbath, not to mention a death trap, in the tunnels below wouldn't sit right with their leader. Unlike Riley and the other leaders of the rogues, Ambrose valued the lives of each and every person who served under him. So did Ian.
Rand was looking thoughtful. "What if we take a gamble on what direction those doors lead and set off some explosive rounds to see if we can break through to the tunnels from above?"
Ambrose had been about to walk away, but he turned back to face them. "Not a bad idea. If we make enough noise to sound like we're cutting through the doors, that might keep Riley and companies' focus on that long enough to get some charges in place."
Ian clapped his brother on the shoulder and then rubbed his hands together. "This could be fun, and I've got just the guys for the job."
Ambrose looked almost as gleeful as Ian. "I'll send you the coordinates for the two doors and order my troops to move into position to start working on them from this side."
Ian checked his watch. "Give me fifteen minutes to get my people in position. As soon as we have the charges ready, I'll let you know."
"Sounds good." Ambrose turned his attention to Tamara. "Do you want in on the assault down below?"
Before she could respond, Rand answered for her. "She'll stay with me and Ian."
Her temper flared hot. "Actually, I'd rather go with your people, Ambrose."
Rand started to open his mouth, but she cut him off before he could throw gas on the fire. "I make my own decisions, Rand. I know squat about explosives. However, I do know how to use a weapon, and I am both trained and experienced in close quarters fighting. I'm going where I can actually be useful. Deal with it."
Then she crossed her arms over her chest and waited to see what her stubborn wolf would say next.
All the chaos surrounding them disappeared as Rand's entire world narrowed down to the woman standing in front of him. Once again he had to fight his instincts to protect. After he stared into her eyes for the longest time, he slowly nodded. "Looks like you'll have to do without the two of us, Ian."
His brother didn't look happy, but he knew there was no way Rand would let Tamara march into battle alone. Yeah, she'd be surrounded by the people she worked with, but he didn't trust them to have her back like he would.
Finally, Ian shrugged. "Don't do anything stupid. Dad won't be happy unless I return his new Beta in pristine condition."
Rand managed a laugh. "You just don't want to listen to Declan crow about getting his old job back so quickly."
Ian grinned. "True that."
Ian surprised Rand when he gave both him and Tamara quick hugs. "Stay safe, you two."
It was hard to watch Ian walk away. Rand called after him, "I know how much you love blowing up stuff, but keep your head in the game. You aren't my only brother, but you are my favorite."
Ian shot him a quick grin back over his shoulder. "Right back at you, little brother. Steak dinners are on me when this is over."
Then he was gone. The temptation to drag him back was nearly overwhelming. Tamara must have sensed Rand's conflicted emotions. She slipped her hand in his and gave it a soft squeeze. "If you need to be with Ian, go. I'll be fine."
He shook his head. "I'm with you."
Shoving his fear for his brother down deep, he gave his mate a quick kiss. "Let's go join the party."
Together they formed up with Ambrose and his people. Everyone looked grim but ready to see this through. Some tempers might be running hot, but Rand's own was cold, the kind of freezing temperature that burned just as surely as flame.
Determined to put an end to Riley's reign of violence, the group moved out as one, weapons primed and ready to fire. It was time to end this.