THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 12
Rand listened as the meeting continued. No one was happy to see proof positive that one of their own was implicated in the attacks on Steve and Tamara, not to mention the bomb that had killed another agent. He was eager as any of them to get his hands on the bastard, but Rand's motivation was more complicated. Not only had Riley Niell betrayed his co-workers, but he'd committed the far worse crime of having been engaged to Tamara first.
He knew that was his inner caveman talking, but wolves were possessive by nature. Once they found their mates, that was it. Granted, Rand hadn't exactly been a monk before meeting Tamara. But how could she have ever looked at that guy and thought he was marriage material? Had their breakup been friendly or had the jerk broken her heart? Did he even want to know?
A sharp pain in his leg jerked him out his angry mental conversation. His brother, who had just kicked the heck out of Rand's shin, glared at him from across the table. "What?"
"You're growling. It's making the others nervous, so stop it."
Trying to act as if nothing was wrong, Rand glanced around the table. More than one of Tamara's co-workers were giving him odd looks. When he glanced in her direction, she gave him a huge eye roll. "Sorry."
It took considerable effort, but he forced himself to relax or at least give the impression that he wasn't about to lose control. No matter what Tamara's relationship with her former fiancé had been like, it was over. And when Rand got his hands on the guy, there would be a careful discussion about what role he'd played in the attacks on Tamara. If he'd even brushed up against the plans to kill her, Riley wouldn't live long enough to say he was sorry.
Ambrose stood up. "Okay, that's enough for now. You all have your assignments. We'll meet back here in two hours to see where we are on everything. Contact me directly before that if you think the situation warrants it. I'm tired of playing catch up, so let's see if we can't get ahead of the bastards for once."
Rand remained at the table with Tamara and his brother. Ian waited until Ambrose was finished talking to one of his men to stand up. "Do you have an office I can use? I need to check in with my people."
"Sure thing. I'll get you set up down the hall."
The two men started for the door. When Ian realized that Rand hadn't moved, he frowned. "Are you two coming?"
Tamara answered before Rand had a chance. "We'll be along in a few minutes. I need to check on something first."
Ambrose must have picked up on the tension between her and Rand. After looking at each of them in turn, he asked, "Everything okay?"
Rand didn't answer the question but responded with one of his own. "Where's the office where you're going to park Ian? I'll need to track him down in a few minutes."
"Turn right, go to the end of the hall, turn left. First door on your right. There are three computer stations, so you'll each have your own. Let me know if you need anything else."
Ian gave Rand one more long look and then followed Ambrose out the door, closing it behind them. Not sure what he wanted to say, Rand bought himself a little more time by hitting the refreshment table again. The doughnuts were pretty picked over, but right now he wasn't feeling all that choosy.
He carried two cups of coffee and the doughnuts back over to the table and set them down. Tamara didn't look particularly interested in his offerings. Instead, she angled her chair to face him more directly, crossed her arms over her chest, and stared at him. "Are you going to say something?"
What did she want him to say? He wasn't the one with a rogue ex-fiancé. No, that was all on her. At the same time, a little voice in the back of his mind pointed out that he hadn't exactly shared his dating history with her, either. Fine, he was being a jerk. He just couldn't seem to help himself.
His words were underscored with a deep growl, but at least she didn't pretend to not understand what he was asking. "We were partners for about six months before we became something more. It didn't last."
"The partnership or the something more?"
"The something more. Once we got engaged, everything changed. He suddenly started acting all weird about me doing my job. Telling me that he wanted me to transfer to a desk job after we got married. That he couldn't stand the thought of his wife carrying a weapon or facing down the bad guys? When I called him on it, he said it wouldn't be fair to our kids if both of us put our lives on the line on a regular basis."
Rand hated the echoes of pain in her voice. That didn't mean he didn't have some of those same protective instincts. "Even if I get where he was coming from, it doesn't make sense that he'd make the decision you had to be the one to give up your career. That sounds like the kind of choice the two of you should have made together."
"Exactly. I didn't even disagree that we'd have to make some changes at some point in the future once we started a family. That is, if we started a family. Evidently that was something else he decided for us. I wasn't against having kids, but it was just another decision he made for us. He assumed that the minute he put an engagement ring on my finger, I surrendered all right to make my own decision about things. At the time, I was being considered for a possible opening with the agency that would mean a promotion but also involved a transfer to another city. Riley couldn't believe I was seriously considering accepting if they offered me the job."
She paused to sip her coffee. "Looking back, I'm not sure if it was the transfer part or the fact that I would have outranked him that had Riley pushing me to turn it down."
"Considering you're still here in New Eire, did you turn it down because of him?"
"No, I didn't. As it turned out, the job fell through because evidently the person who already had the job decided against retiring for another year, maybe two. It was probably for the best, but the damage had already been done."
Rand took her hand in his. "How long after that did you break it off with him?"
"Almost immediately. Even though I didn't get the job, he was really mad that I even considered it in the first place. The next time he made another decision without consulting me, it was something minor. I can't remember now if it was where we were going to have dinner one night or which movie we were going to watch. Anyway, an image flashed through my mind of how the years would play out for us if I didn't push back. He saw himself as being the man in charge and me playing the role of dutiful wife. I tried to explain how I felt, but I already knew that it wasn't going to work."
She stared off into the distance for several seconds before once again making eye contact with him. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I expect to always get my way, but I do believe marriage should be a partnership, not a dictatorship. I would have end up hating him and, worse yet, myself for letting him walk all over me."
After another long silence, she shrugged. "Rather than drag things out, hoping he'd change, I gave him back his ring and walked out."
"How did he handle that?" Because Rand was pretty sure it wouldn't have gone well.
Her next statement confirmed it. "Basically, he told everyone we worked with that I had gone off the deep end and that he'd had to break our engagement. He tried to convince our boss that I'd become unreliable as a field agent. Fortunately, Steve knew better. He immediately reassigned both of us, making sure our new jobs meant we didn't cross paths very often. Riley's next partner dumped him within three months. I moved over to a different division investigating environment violations by manufacturing companies."
"No new partner for you?"
"Nope, I'm now a solo act." Then she gave him a look that kicked his pulse up a notch. "Well, there's you. That is, if finding out about Riley didn't change your mind about us."
"Honey, I'd never be that stupid."
She relaxed back in her chair. "So now that we've covered my past entanglement, let's talk about yours. Any she-wolves going to come after me once the word gets out that you've picked a quarter-breed vampire/human mutt for a mate?"
He waggled his eyebrows, trying to look sexy but knowing he probably looked more like an idiot. "Well, I will have to let a bunch of ladies down easy. You know, as the new Beta, it wouldn't do to start off the job by breaking a bunch of hearts."
When his woman decided to swing a punch, she didn't hold back. His arm really stung where her fist had connected with his arm. Instead of getting mad, he grinned as he rubbed his bicep. "Okay, fine. No, there's nobody you need to worry about. There were a few short relationships along the way, but none of them were serious by mutual agreement."
He tugged on her hand, coaxing her to sit on his lap. She resisted for all of a heartbeat before giving in. "Kiss me, woman."
Her lips had just brushed across his, her mouth curved up in a teasing smile. Before Rand could convince her to take kissing him seriously, Ian poked his head through the door. "We've got a hit on Riley's location. Haul ass if you want to be part of the posse."
Unlike her idiot former partner, Rand sensed Tamara had to be the one to decide if she wanted to be there when they took down her former partner. Rand brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear. "Tamara?"
She closed her eyes and then nodded. A second later they were both up and running for the door.