THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 20
The dirt and gravel raining down from the explosion made it hard to breathe, but the weight of Rand pressing her into the ground made it almost impossible to draw an adequate supply of air into her lungs. Tamara put her hands on his shoulders and did her best to shove him off to the side. Stubborn man that he was, he remained firmly in place, clearly determined to stay there until he was sure the last scattering of dust had settled on the ground.
Finally, she managed to wheeze, "Can't breathe."
He remained where he was, but at least he pushed himself up enough to give her some breathing room. "Sorry, babe."
He practically shouted his apology, thanks no doubt to his sensitive ears ringing from the sound of the blast. Her own hearing slowly returned to normal, leaving the sound of approaching footsteps and voices muffled. Rand didn't appear to notice them, so she tugged on the front of his shirt to get his attention. He'd been looking in the direction of the gaping hole in the ground left by the explosives. When he finally turned his gaze back to her, she pointed in the other direction. "Someone's coming."
He looked around and nodded. "Yeah, it's Ian's people."
With that, he rolled up to his feet and then offered her a hand up off the ground. They both shook off some of the dirt and picked up their weapons. So far, there was no sign of the enemy. She wasn't sure what that meant. Had the rogues all died in the blast? Or had Ian's techs misjudged the location of the tunnel? Only one way to find out. She stepped around Rand and fell into line with the other heavily armed Coalition forces as they cautiously approached the crater left behind by the explosives.
Rand pushed his way in between her and the man on her right, once again positioning himself to provide cover if any surviving rogues came boiling up out of their lair to attack. She was going to have to have a serious talk with the man about his overprotective tendencies, but that fight would have to wait for another day.
The two men in the lead held up clenched fists, silently ordering everyone to stop where they were. A second later, she could see what had caught their attention. A broken two-by-four had appeared from down in the crater. There was a white T-shirt splattered in fresh blood tied around the top. Someone was attempting to signal their surrender. That much was clear, but could they be trusted?
Stephen, Ambrose's second-in-charge hollered, "State your name and how many of you are wanting safe passage. You have thirty seconds."
The Coalition forces stood in silence, fingers on their triggers as once again they waited for a countdown to end.
Rand quietly moved up closer to the man in command. The human may not be able to detect the conversation taking place below ground, but thanks to his wolf's enhanced hearing, he could. Leaning in close, he whispered, "They're arguing whether to come out firing or to surrender. Not sure if the voice of reason is going to win out."
Stephen jerked his head in a quick nod to acknowledge Rand's warning. They both retreated to a safer distance as the seconds passed by.
Just as they were about to give up on any chance of a ceasefire, the same voice called out, "We're coming out. There are twenty of us, some badly wounded."
Stephen glanced at Rand, asking without speaking if he had heard anything that contradicted the enemy's statement. All Rand could do was shrug. There was no telling which side had won the argument. Stephen signaled his people to drop back to cover and brace themselves for whatever came next.
It didn't take long. A shriek of pain echoed up out of the crater, cut off mid scream, no doubt by a fatal blow. That was followed with a pipe bomb that came flying up out of the hole to land right where Rand and Stephen had been standing only seconds before.
Rand yelled, "Hit the dirt!"
Once again, he covered Tamara's body with his, knowing he could survive a helluva lot more damage from shrapnel than she could. This time he didn't wait for the dust to settle before going on the attack. He tossed a grenade just as the rogues came boiling up out of the crater, spraying the area with bullets.
Stephen went down, bleeding from his upper thigh. A huge wolf charged forward and grabbed the man by his collar and dragged him back to a safe location where a medic took charge of him. Having surrendered the injured man, Ian and his pack of wolves circled around through the trees to come up behind the rogues trying to escape from the damaged tunnel. Rand's own wolf ached to join the hunt, but he wouldn't leave Tamara behind. Instead, the two of them laid down cover fire to keep the rogue's attention focused in their direction.
When the first few rogues made it out of the tunnel, they broke and ran toward the cover of the nearby trees. They barely made it to the edge of the woods before the wolves attacked. The ensuing battle was short, bloody, and brutal. A second wave of rogues had already left the dubious cover of the crater behind only to find the wolves waiting for them. At the first sight of the huge apex predators with bloody muzzles and gleaming fangs, most of the men dropped their weapons and raised their hands.
It was tempting to do a mental calculation to determine how many of the rogues were left unaccounted for. Even if Tamara had known the exact number to begin with—which she didn't—there was no way to know how many remained trapped below ground, how many had died in the explosion, or how many had made it out of the tunnel before Ian had pressed the detonator. Regardless, rogues or not, it bothered her a great deal to see how few were willing to surrender rather than die for their cause.
Especially when no one seemed to know exactly what that cause even was. What could make it worth the price of throwing the rest of their lives away? As usual, that brought Riley to mind. He was both her ex-partner and ex-fiancée, with no love left between the two of them. That didn't mean she wanted him dead. Beat up and bruised, yes. After all, he'd tried more than once to kill her.
Sadly, she suspected any chance for mercy was long gone. Ambrose, the head of the Coalition's law enforcement, would make damn sure Riley and any of his surviving co-conspirators would face judgment for their crimes. If they didn't already know it, they'd soon find out that breaking the law came with a high price tag.
A deep voice murmured near her ear. "Are you all right?"
She closed her eyes and leaned into Rand's strength. "Not really."
He pressed a soft kiss to her temple. "Not for the first time, I'd like to remind you that none of this is your fault."
It was hard not to sigh as she gestured toward the small cluster of prisoners surrounded by Ian's people. "I know that he…no, they all brought this on themselves, but it's still such a stupid waste of lives. What was so wrong in their world that they'd throw their lives away like this? How many innocents have they taken down with them? And what about their own loved ones who will forever be tainted by association?"
Before Rand could answer, his brother joined them. "Ambrose called. They've broken through the doors below and are making their way through the tunnels."
The band of tension in Tamara's chest tighten. "How is that going?"
Ian shrugged. "About how you'd expect. A few of the rogues have surrendered. The rest are dug in, determined to die for their cause and take out as many of the Coalition forces with them as they can. Right now, Ambrose is calling in more reinforcements to take charge of the prisoners."
As if just remembering he had them, he tossed both her and Rand bottles of water and then pulled a handful of protein bars out of his shirt pocket. "It may be awhile before any of us get a chance to eat a real meal. These don't taste all that great, but they'll keep you going for now."
Then Ian frowned and cocked his head to the side as if listening extra hard. Rand did the same thing, making it clear that once again their wolf hearing was picking up sounds that she couldn't hear. Rand chugged down his water and gave hers a pointed look. "Make it quick, babe. There's fighting right below where we're standing."
All three of their phones pinged at the same time. One glance at the screen had them checking their weapons and ammunition supplies. Ambrose's people inside the building were running into heavier resistance down below. In addition, the drones he had circling at various distances from the factory had picked up thermal readings showing a large group of people gathering at several locations underground who were now headed in their direction. The drones were now doing lower sweeps in an effort to learn when—and if—the enemy would be leaving their subterranean lairs behind.
Ian signaled for his people to join them. Most were human, but the rest were wolves still in their furry forms. "We have incoming and coming fast. Take prisoners if you can, but don't risk yourselves trying to talk them into it. These people are choosing to come back and fight. I'm guessing they won't hesitate to kill."
He turned to her and Rand. "I'm going to lead the pack."
Rand gave his brother a quick hug. "Watch your back. Tamara and I will take charge of things here."
It was impossible to miss the worry in Rand's eyes as he watched his brother shift to run with his pack. She hated knowing he had to stay behind because of her. Even knowing her stubborn wolf wouldn't listen, she said, "Go with them, Rand. I know you want to, and I'll be fine on my own."
He didn't bother to respond. Instead, he started talking to the Coalition forces in the immediate area. His orders were short and sweet, mostly along the same lines as what Ian had said to his people and wolves. They were all professionals who knew how to handle their business.
Rand paused long enough to check his phone when it pinged again. "Okay, everybody. They're coming both above and below ground. The drones have located a couple locations where the enemy is leaving the tunnels. The closest one is about half a mile east of us, and there is a second one just south of there. It sounds like they dug several offshoots of the main tunnel that's below us. Keep your heads in the game, because there's no telling how many directions they'll be coming from."
The forces spread out, taking cover where they could. Rand remained where he was long enough to make note of where everyone settled before reaching for Tamara's hand. "Let's head for that cluster of trees toward the right. That downed log will offer some protection but still give us a clear view of everything."
Sporadic gunfire mixed with screams of pain echoed through the trees. Tamara knelt on the ground behind the log and then tugged on Rand's arm when he remained standing. "Get down. You're nothing but a big target standing like that."
An unexpected voice joined the conversation. "Actually, Tamara, you're both pretty much targets right now. Drop your weapon unless you want me to splatter your mangy wolf's brains all over the place."
She rolled over to face her ex-fiancée, taking aim straight at his heart. Riley kept his gun aimed in Rand's direction. "Ditch the rifle, or he dies now."
Rand growled, "Don't listen to him, Tamara. He's going kill me anyway."
He was right. She had two choices. Drop her weapon or try to get off a shot before Riley killed the man she loved. In the end, the decision was easy. She laid her rifle down and raised her hands.