THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 21
Rand growled, his wolf straining to break free, ready to fight to the death to protect their mate. Only by digging down deep for control kept him from shifting and letting his wolf out to play. As much as he'd really love to rip Riley's throat out for threatening Tamara, one wrong move right now could lead to both of them ending up dead.
Meanwhile, Tamara stood glaring at her former partner-slash-fiancée, her entire demeanor radiating fearless defiance. He could only hope that she'd be able to rein in her desire to unleash all kinds of hell on Riley. Not that he blamed her for wanting a little revenge; they were on the same page when it came to making the bastard bleed.
Giving his wolf one last order to stand down for the moment, Rand turned his attention back to whatever line of garbage Riley was spouting now. "If you want your doggy friend there to survive the day, Tam, you will come with me now. You have my word that he'll get safe passage from here."
Rand huffed a small laugh at the idea that Riley's word meant anything. How stupid did he think they were. It ceased being funny when he realized that his mate seemed to be actually considering taking the man up on is offer. Why would she even think that he would let her sacrifice herself to save him? Not even the most submissive wolf would step aside and let his mate die in his place, and Rand was on the opposite end of the aggression scale. His chest rumbled with another deep growl, and he was seeing the world through the yellow gold tint of his wolf's eyes.
When he planted himself between Tamara and Riley, she tried to sidestep him just as Riley pulled the trigger. Rand's lower right thigh burned as the bullet tore through his muscle. That did it-he didn't bother trying to save his clothes as his wolf broke free. Between one second and the next, he went from two feet to four. The sudden change distracted Riley long enough for Rand to hit the man hard enough to knock him off balance.
His jaws clamped down hard on Riley's gun hand, easily ripping through both muscles and tendons. A second bite snapped both bones. Tamara was yelling something, but both man and wolf were too focused on the enemy to make sense of whatever she was trying to tell them. It didn't help that Riley was screaming as he tried to scramble back out of Rand's reach.
Tamara picked up Riley's weapon and fired off several shots in rapid order. More of the enemy fell to the ground, some already dead, others well on their way to joining them in death. By that point, Ian's pack swarmed into view, adding to the chaos as they chased down their two-legged prey.
The ensuing battle was long and brutal. Rand remained in wolf form, fighting with teeth and claws while his mate stayed close by and used her own weapons with lethal efficiency. The rogues seemed determined to go down fighting while taking as many of the good guys with them as possible. By the end, few walked away completely unscathed, but the Coalition forces gradually turned the tide to win the day. When the last enemy fell, the grim task of sorting the living from the dead began.
No one celebrated the victory. The cost had been too high. Rand used what little energy he had left to shift back to human form. After letting a medic bandage his thigh, he put on some borrowed sweats and then held Tamara in his arms as she wept for the loss of both friends and foes.
By the time everything was wrapped up, night had fallen. Tamara couldn't remember having ever been so tired. While none of the blood staining her clothes belonged to her, she was wounded in spirit. The pain would have rendered her useless without Rand there to offer his unconditional support. He knew she grieved for Riley and his people as much as she did those who'd fought for the Coalition. Such a waste of lives and pain would flow out like ripples on the water as friends and family learned the fate of their loved ones.
Rand tugged her in closer to his side. "You ready to go home?"
When words wouldn't come, she made do with a simple nod. As soon as she did, he nudged her forward to join the slow moving line of Ian's people and wolves as they headed toward their vehicles. She took some comfort in knowing that all of Ian's employees had survived the day. A couple would need some time in the hospital before they could go home, but at least they were expected to make a full recovery.
They'd almost made it to their ride when Ambrose stepped out of the shadows to join them. "I won't keep you long. I just wanted to let you know that we've found all of their records. If any of the bastards escaped today, they won't be able to hide for long. I will put a stop to this, once and for all."
"Did any of the captives tell you what they were after other than spreading chaos and death?"
She smiled at the rough rumble in Ian's voice when he spoke. Like Rand, Ian's wolf was also pretty much in the driver's seat. Ambrose knew it, too. When he answered, he kept his own voice at a soft pitch and made no sudden moves despite the flash of fury in his eyes. "They thought to topple the local government. Once they had everything here in New Eire under their control, they planned to repeat the process until they have taken over the entire Coalition."
He shook his head. "Seems they want to impose their own set of rules on everyone else. Anyone who might not like the new order would either be imprisoned or worse. In their warped minds, majority rule means nothing. They should have the right to do whatever they damn well please even if it stomps on the rights of others."
Ambrose paused to stare up at the night sky for a long second or two. "My wife has been pushing for me to retire or at least cut back on the number of hours I work. After this mess gets cleaned up, I might just do that."
Tamara wouldn't blame him if he did, but she really hoped he wouldn't. The Coalition would be hard pressed to find a replacement who came anywhere close to his caliber. Ambrose wasn't the only one considering making changes. All combined, the recent events had her seriously rethinking her choice of careers. She loved her job, but she loved Rand, too. Choosing between them wouldn't be easy.
Ambrose must have sensed something of what she was thinking because he nodded in Rand's direction before smiling at her. "Take all the time you need, Tamara. Let me know what you decide."
Then he was gone, already barking more orders at his people.
Rand waited until they were safely inside the back seat of Ian's command vehicle before asking the obvious question. "What was he talking about?"
This wasn't the best time for such a discussion, but they'd have to deal with it sooner or later. She leaned her head back against the headrest, too tired to sit up straight. "Whether I'm going to come back to work or not. He understands that my personal life has taken a new turn recently."
Her comment was met with nothing but silence. Rather than press Rand for answers, she gave him time to process that idea. Finally, he let out a slow breath. "I want you to be happy, Tamara. If that means us living in the city so you can work for Ambrose, so be it. All that matters to me is that we're together."
That wasn't true, but she appreciated that he at least made the offer. She was also well aware that they had an audience, but at least it was just Ian. He knew how to keep his mouth shut, so whatever they said to each other would go no further. "I would think the alpha and the pack would need their Beta close at hand, especially since he is new to the job."
At least Rand didn't bother to deny it. "It would make for a smoother transition, but I want us to have an equal partnership. You shouldn't have to give up everything for me." The reverse was also true. He'd fought for the right to be Beta. Even if he hadn't set out that particular day to take over the position, it was clear to her that it had only been a matter of time before he would have challenged his brother for the job. While considering what to say next, she studied the man in the front seat.
"Ian, do you happen to have any job openings for someone who is a trained investigator and has mad computer skills? Also, do any of your employees work from home?"
"Well, it turns out my brother has a new job working for the pack, so I'll need to fill his position soon. For one thing, he does all of the paperwork I hate doing. Having said that, he's always kept his hand in doing investigations and the occasional bodyguard job. Since he's family, I've pretty much let him pick and choose what he wanted to do."
He met her gaze and then Rand's in the rearview mirror. "I would do the same for his replacement, especially if she becomes officially family, too."
Rand grinned and slid his arm around Tamara's shoulders to pull her closer to his side. "Good to know. She'll get back to you on that."
One month later
"Have you got the lunch I made you?"
Tamara rolled her eyes and held up the bright red lunch bag he'd bought for her. "Yes, Rand, I have my lunch. My phone is charged, my car is fueled up, and my weapons are locked and loaded."
Even though she frowned as she spoke, there was no missing the spark of amusement in her eyes. She'd tendered her resignation to Ambrose a couple of days after the big battle. There might be a few occasions when the Chancellor might need her to return to testify or to review some files pertaining to his investigation, but otherwise her obligations to the Coalition forces were officially over.
After taking a few days to rest and recuperate from the ordeal they'd both been through, Rand had taken her out for a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant and proposed to her over dessert. Neither of them wanted a long engagement, so they'd arranged to have a small ceremony officiated by Rand's father in his role as Alpha. Since then, the two of them had been figuring out their duties as the Beta couple. Surprisingly, Declan had been really helpful in making it a smooth transition. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do next, but evidently he was thinking about going to work for Ian in some capacity.
Knowing his brothers, Rand wasn't sure that was a good idea, but that was between Ian and Declan. As long as it didn't cause Tamara any problems, they could do whatever they wanted.
She'd also decided to take the job Ian had talked to her about. To facilitate that, Rand had been working with her at home to bring her up to speed. For now, she'd be going into the office two days a week and working from home the rest of the time.
He tugged her in close for a long hug and even longer kiss. "I'll miss you while you're gone, mate."
Tamara straightened his collar and then rested her hands on his chest. "And I'll miss you, too." Seeing her leave for the day wasn't going to get any easier, but he knew she needed to go now if she didn't want to be late her first day. "Don't take any crap off your new boss. If he gives you any problems, let me know."
That was his wolf talking. She knew it, too, because rather than kissing him, she patted him on the head before getting in her vehicle. "Down, boy. I can handle anything Ian dishes out."
He took a deliberate step back. "Stay safe. I'll be waiting for you."
She smiled one last time. "And I promise to make it worth the wait when I come home."
The flash of heat in her dark eyes just before she drove away had him and his wolf howling in anticipation. Other wolves joined in the song, their voices ringing out across their territory. Rand stripped off his clothes and shifted to run with the others for the first time in ages, his wolf taking joy in his pack and knowing his beautiful mate would soon return.