THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 2
Tamara decided she shouldn't have come. Not here to Rand's home-his private sanctuary-without being invited. She knew it, and so did he even if she could argue that she had no choice. But when death had once again come too close to claiming her for its own, all she could think of was to find Rand, the one person she trusted to keep her safe even if things had gone awry last time. That was something Rand no doubt still blamed himself for, but she'd been as much at fault as he'd been.
From the minute his older brother had introduced them, there had been an unexpected spark of…awareness, for the lack of a better word, between them. Maybe the effects had been heightened by a situation fraught with danger, but that was no excuse. They were both adults and should have known better than to indulge in a bit of flirtation when lives were at stake. Not just hers, but his as well. If it hadn't been for his lightning fast reflexes, she would have died. Instead, he'd taken a bullet that had shredded his shoulder. Anyone else would have died, bleeding out in a matter of minutes. Only his pigheaded stubbornness had kept him alive.
She loved that about him, not that she'd admit that in a million years.
Meanwhile, he was still waiting for her to explain what had happened. She'd planned on telling him as soon as he returned from his run, but one look at that luscious wolf body left her brain cells a scrambled mess. Needing a few seconds to regroup, she picked up the glass of water she'd poured for herself and took a long sip. The tepid liquid eased her dry throat and bought her enough time to collect her thoughts.
"I returned to work two months ago. My boss didn't want me to come back even that soon after everything that had happened, but I was going crazy sitting at home with nothing to do. Besides, we might have taken down one of the worst polluters in New Eire, but there's always another one who is almost as bad. I reluctantly agreed to not accept any more field assignments until after the case goes to trial and the threat to me was over."
Meaning when the culprits were locked away for good. Ambrose O'Brien was the incredibly powerful half-vampire/half human chancellor in charge of carrying out justice for the Coalition. He was ruthless when it came to protecting his own and that included the officers who, like her, were charged with investigating threats to the environment. The men who'd come after her would be lucky if they saw the light of day anytime in the next century.
Finally, she put the empty glass aside and sat down on the far end of the sofa before continuing. "I spent most of my time helping other agents get caught up on their paperwork, freeing them up to catch more bad guys."
He remained standing but leaned against the wall, letting some of the tension in his stance fade away. "Riding a desk sounds harmless enough."
"That's what I thought. For sure, I was bored out of my mind shuffling papers from one stack to another. It was almost as bad as sitting at home by myself. I hated watching everyone else getting to do all the fun stuff."
Rand shook his head. "Since when is getting shot at fun?"
She stared at the scar on Rand's shoulder and couldn't quite hide the shudder of fear that burned through her. Not for her own safety, but the memory of seeing Rand lying in a puddle of his own blood. A gold sheen washed over his bright blue eyes, his wolf making its presence known. He stalked closer to sit on the other end of the sofa, his big body taking up far too much of the space. "So what did you do to put yourself back in the crosshairs again?"
Tamara tried to ignore the enticing woodsy scent that uniquely Rand's, something else about him that made it hard to concentrate. "I was proofreading the files for two separate cases that were heading to court soon when I noticed some inconsistencies in the reports. If I hadn't also read the field agents' notes, I wouldn't have caught the changes. Someone had doctored the files in a way that could have easily resulted in probable mistrials."
Rand might have looked relaxed, but she knew better. There was a new thrum of energy in the small space between them, a clear warning that both he and his wolf were now on high alert, ready to face down any threat that came their way.
"Who did you tell?"
She hesitated to give Rand the name, knowing this time he wouldn't hesitate to go after anyone he viewed as a possible threat against her. The guard who had tried to kill her had been a recent hire by Ian's security company. He'd had all the right credentials, and nothing about his background had raised any red flags. Naturally both Rand and his brother had taken it personally that they'd failed to keep her safe, and they'd used their considerable resources trying to figure out how the guard had managed to pass their background investigation with flying colors. The bottom line was that he'd betrayed both her and them for money.
As far as she knew, they'd never been able to track the payment back to whoever had hired him to take her out. It made it hard to trust anyone when it was clear that someone had wanted her dead. Maybe still did.
"The only person I told was my boss." She held up her hand when Rand started to speak, cutting him off before he uttered a word. "I trust Steve implicitly. As I sat in his office, Steve called Ambrose directly. I know for a fact that's who he spoke to because he put the call on speaker phone. If we can't trust Ambrose, then we're in a whole lot more trouble than anyone knows."
Rand slowly nodded. "Tell me what happened that sent you running here to me. Why not call Ian or even Ambrose himself? Either of them could have protected you."
Why? The truth was she'd been looking for an excuse to seek him out ever since that night when he'd offered up his life for hers. Not that she was going to admit that right now. Instead, she focused on how close she'd come to dying again.
"I stopped at the store to pick up something for dinner after I left the office. It was a spur of the moment decision, not part of my usual routine. I had an urge to make my mother's goulash recipe and needed to buy some of the ingredients."
She closed her eyes and let the next few memories play out like a movie in her head. "When I came back out, I realized I'd left my keys on the counter inside. I grabbed my purse and left my bags in the cart when I went back inside."
Rand glared at her. "What were you thinking? You should have made sure you had them in your hand before you walked out of the store. Every extra second you spent in that lot just made you more of a target. Ian and I both gave you long lectures on how to keep yourself safe out in public."
Leave it to Rand to get angry over the one mistake that had actually saved her life this time. "I know that's what I should have done. Forgive me if I sometimes forget to be as paranoid as you are, and I promise to be more vigilant in the future. At least I took off running when I realized what I'd done. The car exploded just as I made it inside the store. I have no idea if the bomb was on a timer or if someone triggered it from nearby. Either way, I didn't look back, and I didn't hang around to talk to anyone. I went out the rear exit and headed for the nearest bus stop. From there, I went to the airport to rent a car. I didn't stop driving until I got here."
And now that she'd managed to tell him everything, the tight lock on her terror shattered, leaving her a shivering, crying mess. Rand cursed a blue streak. Despite his fury, he gathered her into his arms with surprising care. She leaned into his strength and warmth, knowing he'd stand between her and whatever danger came her way next.
He was her safe harbor in a world where someone wanted her dead.