THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 8
The scalding shower spray pelted Rand's skin and washed away the mud and blood and sweat leftover from the fight. If only it was as easy to shed the emotional aftermath. Right now it felt as if a boulder-sized chunk dread mixed with pride sat squarely on his shoulders. He also hated that the already rocky relationship with his oldest brother had just taken a definite turn for the worst.
He had no doubt that Declan would acknowledge Rand's victory and the shift in the pack's hierarchy. There would be no point in him denying it; their father would have already announced the name of his new beta. That was no guarantee Declan would lift a finger to help smooth the transition as Rand stepped in to take over. It was also hard to gauge what the reaction of the members of the pack would be. Declan could be a real pain in the ass, but he did have friends who wouldn't be happy to see him take a backseat to the youngest member of the Lyell family.
Worse yet, Rand couldn't give the problem his full attention, not with Tamara still in danger. Keeping her safe until they could track down whoever had pinned a target on her back had to receive his primary attention. So, the bottom line was that even with his father's help, Rand was in for a rough time of it for a while. No wonder he was feeling cornered.
However, he had to face the world sometime, even if right now he really preferred to test how long the hot water would hold out while he hid in the bathroom. And with that cowardly thought, he turned off the shower and reached for a towel. As soon as he dried off, he checked himself over for any wounds that might yet require treatment. One of the perks of his twin nature was accelerated healing. Any small cuts and scratches were all but gone now.
However, there was a jagged gash on his right thigh that looked raw and leaked a small trickle of blood. After slathering on antibiotic ointment, he applied some butterfly bandages to pull the edges of the wound back into alignment and then covered the whole thing with a thick layer of gauze and surgical tape. He also made quick work of the four parallel lines of claw marks across his ribs, making do with just the ointment and gauze this time. The deep furrows would be faint scars by tomorrow, but he didn't want to freak Tamara out with a visual reminder of the vicious fight she'd been forced to watch.
That just left the wound on the middle of his back. He could catch a glimpse of it looking over his shoulder into the mirror. Unfortunately, it was just out of his reach, so he'd need someone else to bandage it. He resigned himself to having to ask Tamara for help or, failing that, he'd have to get Ian to do the honors. It would be far from the first time he'd had to ask his brother for such help, but then he'd done the same for Ian on far too many occasions.
He pulled on his briefs and a clean pair of jeans, grabbed the first aid kit, and headed out of the bathroom. The first person he saw was Tamara, who was wearing a rut in the living room carpet as she paced back and forth. Ian stood by the front window, staring out into the trees. No doubt he'd rather be back at his own place with his wife. He'd have to thank him for hanging around long enough for Rand to get his head back on straight.
"Can one of you check the wound on my back for me? I can't reach it."
Ian remained where he was, but Tamara cut her trip short across the room to head straight for him. When she held out her hands for the first aid kit, Rand surrendered the heavy box rather than point out he was perfectly capable of carrying it himself. As soon as she had it, she turned away. "Come into the kitchen. The light's better in there."
Like he didn't know that. This was his house, after all. He glanced at Ian, who was fighting the urge to laugh. Rand flipped him off as he followed Tamara to where she was setting up shop. She pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and turned it around. "Sit on it backwards."
Her tone was brusque, almost angry. Rather than take offense, he simply said, "Yes, ma'am."
This time Ian didn't bother to hold back the laughter, which Tamara didn't appreciate one bit. "You think this is funny, Ian? Is watching your brothers try to kill each other what passes for entertainment in your pack?"
While Rand might have found her testy attitude amusing, too, he was smart enough not to show it. Instead, he tried to explain. "He's not laughing about the fight, sweetheart."
"Then what's so funny?"
Should he tell her? What the heck, he might as well. "It's that I gave him all kinds of grief when he tumbled head over heels for Jaina. He went from being this strong, independent wolf to a guy who fretted for hours over whether he was buying her the right flowers or flavor of chocolates. He thinks it's funny the newly ordained beta of the pack is meekly taking orders from his lady without hesitation."
She gave him a dark look, making him wish he'd kept his mouth shut. Clearly she was in no mood to think anything was funny right now. "Sorry, Tamara."
"For what exactly?"
Not trusting his own expression, he straddled the chair, turning his back to her in the process. "Actually, I'm not sure. It just seemed like maybe the situation called for an apology."
Neither of them paid any attention as the front door opened and closed. Rand would have to thank Ian later for allowing them some privacy. Tamara didn't say anything for a few seconds. When she did, the edge in her voice had softened. "Maybe I need to apologize, too. I shouldn't have snapped at Ian like that, but I'm upset about what happened between you and Declan. That doesn't mean I'm mad at you. Just confused."
He twisted around to look at her more directly. "That's understandable, babe, and I'm sorry as hell that you had to see it. I swear that dominance fights don't happen all that often, but there's no getting around they can be pretty brutal. I'm sorry if it freaked you out big time. I'll understand if it's changed how you feel about getting involved with me."
If she needed to walk away, he'd somehow find the strength to let her go. It would kill him, but he'd do it. A wolf didn't chain his mate to him if being together made her unhappy. At least this one wouldn't.
She gave his back a soft touch. "Let's get this patched up, so you can finish getting dressed."
He supposed he had his answer. If she didn't want to look at his bare skin, it made it likely she had no interest in getting completely naked with him. "I can get Ian to do this if it bothers you."
Tamara had been about to use an antiseptic wipe on the still seeping wound, but she froze mid-motion. Was he saying he would prefer Ian be the one who patched him up? Or was it that he thought she was too upset about the dominance fight to deal with its aftermath?
"There's no use in dragging Ian back to apply a couple of bandages when I'm standing right here."
Rand stiffened as if her words had hurt him somehow. Darn it, things had been so easy between them right up until Declan stepped out of the woods. She really wanted to kick his furry behind for spoiling the day for them. For her, anyway. It was hard to tell how Rand felt about his new position in the pack. Maybe it was something he'd secretly wanted all along, and today had been as good a time as any to settle the matter.
She got busy and swabbed the deep cuts, wincing at Rand's hiss of pain when she pressed a little too hard. As soon as she finished taping the gauze bandage in place, she stepped back and waited for Rand to turn around.
He immediately stood up and walked away to fetch the shirt he'd left in the bathroom. As much as she wanted to follow him, she focused on packing up the first aid kit and tossing the bits and pieces of paper and wrappers in the trash. When Rand returned, she decided it was time to clear the air.
She brushed his hands back out of the way as he started to button his shirt. Before finishing the job he'd started, she pressed a soft kiss to his bare chest. Lifting her gaze to meet his, she gave him her truth. "Taking care of your wound didn't bother me, Rand. Watching your brother try to hurt you did. For his sake, it would be best if our paths didn't cross anytime soon."
She followed that declaration with another kiss, this one to his jawline. "And for the record, I needed you to put on your shirt because looking at your bare skin makes it hard for me to keep a coherent thought in my head."
His mouth quirked up in a hint of a grin. "Good to know. And I'm guessing Declan will make himself scarce. His ego took an understandable hit today, and it's going to be hard for him to come to terms with the shift in pack hierarchy. He also knows that now that he's proven vulnerable, he might have more fights headed his way. Like I said, dominance fights don't happen often, but they tend to come in spurts. He'll have too much on his plate to bother us for a while."
Tamara took a step back. "Is being your father's beta really something you wanted? Will it mean giving up your job with Ian?"
He sighed, his smile turning a bit rueful. "Before today, I would have said no to both of those questions. But now that the role of beta has fallen to me, I plan to do the best job I can. Declan has his strengths, but there were things he did, policies he put in place, that people weren't all that happy with. I need to see what I can do about that. I do worry I can't give it my best effort if I'm dividing my time between the pack and working for Ian in Eire."
He gently cupped the side of her face as he continued. "To tell the truth, I didn't want to go back to work for Ian at all after I got shot. I know none of this makes sense, but it's true. I didn't want to be responsible for protecting anyone else after I almost got you killed."
When she immediately started to protest, he shushed her with a finger across her lips. "Let me finish. I know it wasn't all my fault the shooter got past our security screening, and I know you and I both let ourselves get distracted by the sparks that shot off whenever we were in the same room. Regardless, I only went back to work because Ian was shorthanded. I chained myself to a desk and did all the computer busywork that Ian hates and never has time for. I can do that from anywhere—his office, my kitchen table, or your apartment. Working from here on the estate would be best since I need to keep up with my new duties as beta, but my schedule can be flexible."
This time he initiated the kiss. She liked that he took his time and did a thorough job of it. They were both breathing hard when he spoke again. "We'll figure out what comes next for both of us after we eliminate the threat against you once and for all. As long as we end up together, I'll be happy. How about you?"
She smiled up at him. "Sounds like a plan to me."
"Okay, then, what do you say we check in with Ambrose?"
Before stepping back, Tamara straightened his collar and then let her hand slide down to rest over his heart. "I wish we didn't have to make that call, but hiding from tough situations has never been my strong suit."
He caught her hand in his and kissed it. "Mine either. I'm going to text Ian to let him know it's safe to come back in, and we'll then find out what happens next."
Ambrose must have been waiting for them to call, because he picked up on the first ring. "About time you checked in. I've been working my ass off while you've no doubt been galivanting out in the woods with one of my best agents."
Rand winked at her as he put the call on speakerphone. "Yeah, Ambrose, it's been a real hoot of a day. And by the way, speaking as the new beta of our pack, I'd appreciate being treated with a little more respect."
The stunned silence coming from the other end of the line was funny. It took a lot to shock Ambrose. Finally, he spoke again. "Well, Mr. Big Deal Beta, congratulations or condolences, whichever you think best fits your feelings on that situation."
Rand laughed. "I'll have to get back to you on that. For now, I'm more concerned about what you've found out about Tamara's situation."
"You both need to come in. We've done our best to recreate the original reports that set off alarm signals when Tamara first read them. I want her to look at them again, and then we'll backtrack to find who made the changes and go from there. I want this mess cleaned up. I can't do my job if I can't trust my people."
Tamara's breath caught in her chest at his assessment of the situation. Being betrayed by one of their own had to cut deep. Rand wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. "How bad is it, Ambrose?"
"Let's just say that right now I trust my assistant, my second-in-command, Tamara, Ian, and you."
Considering how many people worked for Ambrose—humans, vampires, and the half-blood chancellors—that was a damn short list. Things must have gotten pretty bad in the time since her car had exploded.
She leaned in close to speak directly into Rand's phone. "We're on our way, Ambrose. Watch your back until we get there."
"Will do. But just in case, hurry."