THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 13
Rand let Ian lead the charge to their vehicle, the one they'd driven to get to Ambrose's headquarters. He made sure Tamara remained between him and his brother, not ready to trust any of her co-workers. When they reached the car, he and Ian checked it over top to bottom, back to front. There was no sign of tampering, but he still held his breath as he started the engine.
Ambrose and his people had already started to pull out, so Rand hit the accelerator hard to catch up. Ian glanced in his direction and then back at Tamara, who had resumed her position in the backseat. "Any opinion on whether it would be safer to be the tail end of the convoy or somewhere in the middle?"
Tamara didn't hesitate. "I'm guessing neither of you would be comfortable with any of the others at our backs, so I'd let everyone else go first."
She was right, even though he knew she hated that they felt that way. Meeting her gaze in the rearview mirror, he tried to explain. "It's not just your people we don't trust, Tamara. We've been taught from birth to walk carefully when it comes to outsiders. Pack history is full of bloody, violent cautionary tales of what can happen if the wrong people are allowed to get too close. We've kept our secrets for good reason."
When she finally nodded, he let out a slow breath and turned his attention back to driving. The vehicles wound their way up the ramp to the street level and waited for Ambrose to signal the gate to open. The first vehicle charged out, the second following dangerously close behind. At least there was no sign of anyone lying in wait to attack. Not exactly a surprise since Ian had checked in with his people a short time ago. They had assured him that the enemy had withdrawn from the area, at least the ones who had survived.
Other than their convoy, the streets outside of headquarters were strangely empty and quiet. After the day's events, it would only make sense that the coalition authorities would have sent out a citywide order for everyone to take shelter. Rand applauded that decision even if the surrounding area now had an air of abandonment that was more than a bit spooky. At least it meant the civilians were safely out of the line of fire.
The only question was what came next. He glanced at Ian. "What's the plan?"
As if Ambrose had been waiting for someone to ask the question, the handheld radio that had been issued out to every vehicle crackled to life. "Listen up, everybody. We're going to divide and conquer. Every vehicle has been assigned a route to the target location. It will be uploaded to your navigation system just before we split up. Stay close to the others in your assigned group and keep a sharp lookout. Thanks to Ian's drones, we do have eyes in the air, but the enemy may as well. Also, I want live captives if at all possible. There's not much we can learn from corpses."
After a pause to let that sink in, he added, "Having said that, better them than any of us. Happy hunting, everybody."
That last bit had Rand huffing a small laugh. "That man never fails to surprise me. Good thing I never forget those fangs of his aren't just for show. I learned early on that he only puts on those expensive suits and that polished air to disguise his bloodthirsty nature."
Ian grinned big time. "Yeah, that's why I like working with him whenever I get a chance. In a lot of ways, Ambrose really does go strictly by-the-book. For sure he enforces the Coalition law equally across all segments of the population. He shows no preference to the purebred humans and vampires, not to mention all of those have elements of both of those gene pools in their family tree. He's also been fair to the packs in the area while protecting their secrets as much as possible."
He twisted in his seat to look back at Tamara. "And from what I've seen, there is nothing he won't do to protect his people. I respect him for that."
"Me, too." After a pause, she added, "He also holds himself and his people to a higher standard than the general public. If someone who is sworn to protect the members of the Coalition was foolish enough to betray that oath, he will show no mercy."
She sounded so incredibly sad. Rand knew she was thinking about her ex-partner/fiancé and what would likely happen to Riley once Ambrose got his hands on him. Maybe there would turn out to be extenuating circumstances, some outside force that had compelled the man to act as he had. Rand almost hoped there was. It might not save the man, but it might help Tamara understand why Riley had gone rogue.
If in fact he had actually gone rogue. At this point, all they really knew for sure was that Riley had helped steal a set of license plates. A crime, true, the sort of thing that might end his career but wouldn't get him executed by Ambrose. At this point, that seemed liked the best case scenario for the jerk. Whatever happened wouldn't just affect him, though. However it played out in the end, it would hurt the woman sitting in the backseat. For that alone, Rand wanted to punch the guy.
Once again, he sought out the small connection to Tamara offered by the rearview mirror. "Ian and I will do whatever you want, and neither of us will think less of you if you'd rather sit this one out."
She didn't hesitate. "I have to do this. I have to find out why…to understand why he's gotten involved with these people."
"Because you want to know how you could have been so wrong about him."
"Exactly." Her dark eyes had turned fierce, and her fangs were on full display. As a quarter-breed, hers weren't quite as flashy as those Ambrose sported in times of high emotion, but she could still do a lot of damage with them.
Was it weird that he found them pretty damn sexy? They'd never had a chance to talk about how she thought about having a mate who turned into an apex predator. He had to think she didn't mind considering she hadn't made any effort to distance herself from him. Now wasn't the time for that discussion, but the need to take her back to his cabin and begin their life together was riding him hard. "All right then. The coordinates just came in, and we'll be peeling off with the three vehicles directly in front of us."
He picked up his rifle. "I'm betting we'll be going in hot."
Tamara checked all of her weapons as Ian did the same. Then she set hers aside to make sure Rand's sidearm and rifle were also ready to go. No doubt he'd rather do that for himself, and she wouldn't take offense if he did exactly that once they were out of the vehicle. No one wanted to put their life on the line without knowing they could depend on their weapons.
It also gave her something to do besides worry about the situation they were heading into. She'd feel a lot better if they had an up to date report about what lay ahead. "Ian, are you still getting the data feed from the drones?"
He nodded and checked his tablet. He typed something in and then waited a few seconds for a response. "My men have the drones parked in the air about a block away from the target. Any closer, the transmission turns into nothing but static. I'm guessing that crew have their jammers running most of the time. That's what I would do if I were them. Well, except for a brief break at scheduled times so that their own people can report in. They may also use good old-fashioned landlines since the jammers don't work on them."
That set her to thinking. "Call Ambrose and ask if they've cut the landlines to that building. In fact, I'd take out the power, too. Even if most of their equipment is able to run on batteries, they won't last forever. Even generators will run out of fuel eventually, especially if we end up in a siege situation rather than an immediate assault."
Rand grinned at her in the mirror. "Damn, you've gotta love a diabolical woman. At least I do."
Her cheeks burned hot, embarrassed a bit at the high praise, not to mention his reminder that she meant more to him than a mere client. After the way her ex-partner had denigrated her abilities, she really appreciated Rand's assessment of her skills. Meanwhile, Ian was already on the phone with Ambrose. She could hear the chancellor's wicked laugh coming through loud and clear. "What the heck, we'll also cut off the water and gas. Any other suggestions, Tamara?"
She couldn't think of any, but Rand had one. "Once we get close, we should put out spike strips on any obvious escape routes. Make them a couple of blocks out in case the building they're in has underground connections to others in the area. Actually, I would assume it does. They've managed to fly under the radar this long. They didn't manage that without being smart. It would be plain stupid for them to hole up someplace with no way to escape."
Ambrose didn't hesitate. "I'll get the local police to put out the strips. Ian, ask your guys if they can get quick access to the building plans for the area. Maybe that will tell us what we're dealing with."
Considering they were only minutes at best from reaching their destination, it seemed unlikely that Ian's men would have enough time to come up with anything useful. Still, they'd already pulled off a miracle or two earlier when they'd helped clear the way for the three of them to reach the sanctuary offered by Ambrose.
The vehicles ahead of them started to slow down, meaning time was running short. She set her weapons aside and reached out to put her hands on Rand's shoulders. He kept one hand on the wheel while he used the other to cover one of hers. Even that small connection sent a jolt of awareness, of need, dancing along her nerves. "We'll do what has to be done, Rand, and it won't be easy or safe. Having said that, I've got plans for you afterward. Don't do anything that will interfere with them."
Then she gave his brother a hard look for good measure. "That goes for you, too. Your wife wants you to come home in one piece tonight."
Ian winked at her. "Yes, ma'am."
Meanwhile, Rand squeezed her hand. "The same right back at you, babe."
He had to release his hold on her to maneuver their vehicle into the alley where the other three cars had already come to a stop. As soon as they did, the radio crackled to life again. Ambrose was speaking, but only about every other word came through clearly. They must be right on the edge of the jammers' range. Rand muttered curses under his breath when the radio went totally silent again. "This could turn into a disaster if we can't coordinate efforts."
He wasn't telling her anything she didn't already know. But then the radio came back on, this time with little static and Ambrose's voice coming through clearly. "Sorry about that. I've relocated a little farther from the target. Check your feeds—Ian's drones are sending through pictures of what we're facing. The spike strips are already being deployed."
Ian held up his laptop so she and Rand could both see it. The place where Riley and his buddies had taken refuge was a squat, two-story brick building. The side walls were solid with no doors or windows. The front had two windows flanking the only door with three more windows on the second floor. The back faced an alley. It had the same five windows but with a double door made of heavy metal. There wasn't much to distinguish it from the adjoining buildings, at least from the outside. No telling what they'd done to the interior to make it more defensible.
Rand leaned over to give the screen a closer look. When he spoke, the growl in his voice made it clear his wolf was riding close to the surface. "If we didn't need to capture at least a few of these people alive, not to mention limiting the threat to any civilians in the area, I'd just blow the damn place up and be done with it."
His bloodthirsty attitude didn't bother her in the least. Their enemy had already proven to have little regard for who they hurt in the pursuit of their agenda. All agents, herself included, knew that danger came with the job, but their families shouldn't be considered acceptable collateral damage. It was only by sheer luck that she and Steve's family had survived.
"We're moving in."
She handed Rand his weapons over the back of the seat before picking up her own and exiting the vehicle. He joined her a second later, each of the scanning the area around them. Ian was still communicating with his people, so they held their positions, standing guard, until he was finished. She could hear him talking, making it likely he had news to share with Ambrose before the chancellor and his men crossed back into the area where the jammers would limit communication again.
Ian joined them outside the vehicle. They fell in line with the other agents in their group and started moving slowly down the street toward the staging area Ambrose has designated. It seemed strange that it was so quiet. The only sounds were their footsteps and the sound of their breathing. Granted, although most people in the area had probably followed the instructions given in the emergency order Ambrose had issued, past experience had taught her that there were always a few idiots who thought they were invincible and wouldn't take shelter.
She crept closer to Rand. "I don't like this. It feels wrong."
He nodded in agreement and caught his brother's attention. "We're waltzing into a trap."
It said a lot about the trust between the two brothers that Ian didn't argue. He jogged ahead to reach the leader of their small group. It took some arguing, but finally the man nodded and motioned for everyone to slow down. While they hashed things out between them, Tamara and Rand stood back-to-back and continually scanned the area. She used the scope on her rifle to do a slow study of the surrounding buildings.
There was just a hint of movement inside the building on the far corner. She paused to see if it happened again. When the same dark head popped up into sight next to the front window she forced herself to go back to scanning. No use in letting the enemy know they've been spotted.
"Rand, someone is watching us from that red brick building. Could be someone who's just curious."
"Keep an eye on him while I let Ian know."
No sooner had Rand taken a step forward than the rumble of a huge explosion rolled through the area. It came from several blocks away in the direction of their target building. She fought hard to maintain her balance.
Suddenly the door of the building she'd been watching slid open and the motorcycles came pouring out. Before she got off a single shot, Rand grabbed her hand and dragged her back down the street toward the alley. They barely made it to the corner when he shoved her to the ground and threw himself on top of her. One explosion was followed closely by a second, most likely grenades.
As she waited for the world to right itself, she prayed like she'd never prayed before that Rand was still breathing, that he lived. Because if he had just traded his life for hers, she wasn't sure how she would ever forgive him.