Home > Standoff (Cascadia Wolves #5)

Standoff (Cascadia Wolves #5)
Lauren Dane

Chapter One

“What is this?”

The low-level Pack member tried to shut his laptop but Grace reached out and held it open, reading the screen. Her skin crawled as she saw the data there.

“I thought I said this wasn’t to be tested.”

The wolf had the good sense to look down. “Warren told me to pass the reports on to the lab down in Nashville.”

Her jaw locked and she took a deep breath. Now wasn’t the time to lose it or call attention to herself.

“Fine. But you need to CC me on everything. How can I do effective research if I don’t know everything going on? This sort of thing, people doing all this around me and messing with the stream of data could set us back. I hardly think that’s what your Alpha wants.” Alpha, ha, that was laughable.

“Of course, Grace. I apologize.”

Still, she knew none of them would do anything Warren didn’t authorize. She pulled a phone from the pocket of her lab coat and called Warren Pellini’s personal number.

“Warren, it’s Grace. Look you need to be sure that when you’re having the data sent elsewhere, I’m alerted.”

“I thought you didn’t want that data used. I wanted it to be sent where it might be seen with different eyes.” His voice was cold.

She sighed her impatience. She didn’t need to fake that. “Look, you brought me back to do this research. If you go around me and all sorts of data gets mixed from the different formulas and I don’t know it, how can I make any accurate predictions of efficacy? All this stuff just floating out there from Pack to Pack. It’s not secure, you don’t know who’s doing it under what control situations. I’m the doctor here, Warren, and I have the expertise you need. Let me do my damned job or don’t waste my time.”

He paused and she wondered for a bit if she hadn’t overplayed her hand but after a time he cleared his throat. “Very well. You’ll be alerted. I want the Nashville lab to have that data. We have some subjects down there I’m told are perfect for trials. You have full access, Grace, don’t disappoint me.” Nausea threatened at what she knew would happen to the homeless humans the Pack would use.

The call ended and within moments the wolf at the terminal got a message. A second after that he turned to her and nodded.

She needed to move and soon. Just another few days until she got more information and she’d get out. She couldn’t risk it much longer without actively helping them or really exposing herself.

Warren’s spies were everywhere, she trusted absolutely no one, not even her own parents. She just had to hold it together, every day, until she got home. Then she could turn on the shower and weep. Let the terror sweep through her until she had nothing left to cry with and managed to stumble into bed where fitful nightmares kept her awake.

So she could come back the next day, mask firmly in place, to play his fucked-up game and take him down. It had to happen and she would do what she had to. When she’d seen that first body come through her emergency room seven months earlier, she’d known Warren was responsible for it. Even if no one else in her Pack or her family knew right from wrong, Grace did. She hadn’t left the Group and headed to medical school to pledge her life to helping people so Warren Pellini could unleash biological warfare on wolf and human alike. He had to be stopped.

It hadn’t been easy to get back in touch. She’d had to earn his trust again but his ridiculous ego had been her best weapon in the end. He couldn’t believe anyone would truly ever want to leave him, so within three months she’d gotten back into his good graces enough to get access to his labs. At least at one level. Since he’d killed several of his people in a fit of anger after the whole debacle with the Great Lakes Enforcer and the Cascadia people, she’d been far more important to him. Which put her a lot closer to the information she needed

Now she had access to the information which would eventually, or hopefully, bring him down. She just had to take it little by little in dribs and drabs. And hope no one caught her because if they did, who she was wouldn’t save her.

“I don’t need your permission, Lex. If you recall, I’m the Alpha here. So, well, that means what I say goes. It’s pretty cool when you think about it.” Cade Warden crossed his arms over his chest and glared at his brother, who crossed his arms and glared back.

“I’m aware of that, Cade. I’m your Enforcer. Your Second, which means I’m your advisor. Especially on issues of safety. You going to Chicago right now isn’t safe. It’s not advisable at all. There’s a war, remember?”

“Yes. As a matter of fact I do. If you recall, I’m the one who declared it.”

“Oh. My. God.” Nina Warden, Lex’s mate, stepped into the fray. “Cade, Lex is just watching out for your well-being.”

“Nina, this doesn’t concern you. I’m not having this discussion any further. It has to happen. Not only is Tegan tied up in knots over Ben taking this position in Great Lakes, but this new FBI task force needs to be sorted out. I’m not just going to let all this go on around me while I stay here.”

“This does so concern me!”

Cade turned to where his sister-in-law lay propped in bed. “Nina, I love you so I usually let you have a lot of leeway in most things. Add to that, you’re often right. But right now, you’re supposed to be on your back in bed so you don’t lose your damned pregnancy and Lex is needed here. I’m needed in Chicago.”

“I am in bed. It’s just as easy to needle you from here. Cade, it’s so dangerous right now. Just do a conference call.” He heard the anxiety in her voice.

“Are you saying my sister isn’t worth a hug and some reassurance after she’s given her entire life to this Pack?”

She winced and Cade felt bad for a moment but it needed to be said.

“You know I don’t think that.”

“Then let me go and stop making me feel guilty about it. Tegan needs me. She’s my sister and one of my wolves. And my people need me to be active right now. The humans are pissed off and Ben can’t handle it all. He’s only been a wolf for less than a month.”

“Cade.” Lex paused and heaved a sigh. “Don’t do this. I don’t want to leave Nina right now.”

Cade relaxed and squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “Don’t leave her. That’s an order. I’m Alpha, Lex. I may not have been an Army Ranger or be used as a cautionary tale to scare young wolves into staying out of trouble, but I am perfectly capable of protecting myself. Assign me a detail, include Dave or Megan but keep the others here with you. I’m leaving in three hours.” He turned to Nina. “And you. You stay your ass in bed. Your doctor says you’ll be okay in a week or so if you’re as still as possible so shut up and be still.”

Without another word, he left the room.

He phoned his parents, who supported his travel to Chicago, both as their son and as their Alpha. Megan had packed him a bag while he’d been in the shower and he made his goodbyes quick. Lex still glowered but his place was with Nina. The first week of pregnancy for a human transformed into a wolf was a dangerous time and it was necessary she be on bed rest. So it was necessary for Lex to be there to keep her in line. No one else could.

Cade was fu**ing sick of safety. He was a fu**ing Alpha. He’d been stuck there while Tegan had been kidnapped and tortured. It was Lex who went. Damn it, his family needed him. His freaking people needed him and he was going.

Megan brought two other wolves from the Enforcer corps, including Dave upon Lex’s insistence. Cade trusted her, and them with his life. They drove to the airport in silence and loaded onto their private jet. It was quiet, near midnight and most everyone settled in to sleep for the flight.

Cade stretched out in the seat and looked out the window.

Megan came and snuggled into his side. “Hi,” she whispered. “You okay?”

He smiled. It was just the two of them now. Alone and unmated. He knew she’d started to get a bit restless but he’d been waiting the longest. At forty-two, he was more than ready to find his woman and start a family. He wanted what Lex and Nina had. Wanted what Tracy had with her mates. He wanted a woman to look at him the way Tegan looked at Ben. For two years he’d been anchored to Nina and felt deeply for her. She was like his mate, except they didn’t share the most important thing, the utter intimacy she shared with Lex. She wasn’t his. He wanted someone who was. Wanted to stop living off the echoes of someone else’s relationship and have one of his own.

“I’m good. Tired. Worried about Tee. Are you okay with her moving?” Tegan was Megan’s twin. The two were both on his guard detail. For many years after Tegan lost her first mate, she’d been a shadow and they’d just gotten her back only to lose her again to the distance between Seattle and Chicago.

“What else does she have? What other options does Ben have? He was put on leave after he was changed. He can’t be a cop here anymore. His mother has disowned him. He’s such a powerful wolf now, where would he fit in Cascadia?”

Ben Stoner, a cop and former human, had been transformed into a werewolf by a bite from the Alpha of the National Pack. The strongest wolf in the country. As wolves carried the traits of their sire if they were made, he was formidable. And there wasn’t a place for him in Cascadia unless he challenged Lex, or Cade himself. And Ben wouldn’t do that because he loved Tegan and he respected his brothers-in-law and the Cascadia wolves too much.

But it left Ben without a Pack, without a place and as war had been declared against the Pellini Group and all their affiliated Packs, all strong wolves needed to be in play. Ben needed to take on the Second position in Great Lakes, the largest and most powerful Pack in the United States. He belonged there and Tegan belonged there too.

It tore Cade apart. He loved his sisters and he’d lost two of them to other Packs in recent years. Tracy to Pacific but that was just in Portland and now Tegan to Chicago. He wanted to make things all right for the people he loved and so he’d go to Chicago and make sure Tegan understood he supported her in this move.

He nodded and put his arm around Megan’s shoulders. “I’m going to miss her.”

“Chicago isn’t so very far away when you own a jet. Good thing you have that fancy business degree and have made Cascadia so rich. I can fly out and see her and we can go shopping. After the war is over. I don’t imagine Ben is going to be up for her flitting around to shoe shop just now.”

Cade laughed. “Poor Ben. Tee seems so mellow on the outside. She’s not all hard-edged like Nina or even Tracy. But her will is ten thousand times more stubborn. I don’t imagine Ben can stop her from doing whatever she wanted.”

“Do you want to…” she paused, “…find someone? Have that? What they all have?”

“I do. So much I can’t see straight. The older I get the worse it is. The lonelier it is.”

She nodded. “I do too.”

“I wish I could just wave a wand and fix it for us both. But Grandma got on the phone when I was talking to Mom and Dad earlier and she said a storm was coming. I’m guessing the mate thing will be on hold until after the war ends. So I hope that will be fast.”

Ben and Tegan were there to meet their plane. Tegan looked better than he’d expected her to, given how badly she’d been injured just two weeks before.

His sister, long so closed off emotionally to everyone but her inner grief, saw him and smiled as she moved to him with her arms open. He hadn’t seen her this open and happy in four years.

“Hey, Tee.” He hugged her tight, fiercely pleased she’d greeted him so affectionately. When they broke the hug he took in Ben Stoner the werewolf, and saw Lex had been right about how powerful their brother-in-law had become after his change.

They clasped forearms as Megan and Tegan hugged and chatted. Their guards spread out to keep watch, mirroring Ben’s team. And clearly they were Ben’s. Attuned to him as he moved, adjusting themselves accordingly. Cade approved.

“Nicely done, Ben.” Cade indicated the guards with a tip of his chin.

Ben smiled. “Thanks. It feels right. Come on, we’ve got you and your people set up in our house.”

They loaded into several dark-windowed SUVs and headed away from the airport toward the Great Lakes compound.

“Are you sure your little cottage is going to fit us all?” Megan asked. She’d been there right after Tegan was found and had recovered.

“Maxwell gave us one of the houses about two miles from the Pack house. It’s plenty large. Six bedrooms and plenty of bathrooms,” Tegan explained. “We just moved in yesterday so things are a bit chaotic still. But the beds were delivered today and we even managed to get bedding put on them. And of course between me and Ben, the place is a fortress.”

“They must have really wanted you to stay.” Cade sat in the back with Ben. He could see Ben’s fingers itching to take the wheel but he’d have to get used to it. He was important in an important Pack during wartime. It drove Cade crazy too.

Ben didn’t speak loudly, he must have known Tegan would hear either way but he replied without taking his eyes from the back of her head. “Yes, I believe they do. I wish there was a way for me to fit at Cascadia. For her sake more than anything else. Hell, I wish I could have stayed on at the police department but I didn’t take advice and told them about my change and suddenly I was on a health leave. I hope this isn’t going to cause a problem between me and the rest of the family. I love Tegan, I want what’s best for her. They’ve made her my Second, opened the Pack to both of us.”

Cade heaved a breath. “There was no place for you, Ben. We all know that. I’m truly glad you’ve found such a good position. You’ll keep her safe. Or safer anyway. And we’re at war, we need every good soldier we can get. You bring a lot to us. Whether it’s in Chicago or in Seattle, you’re working and that’s what counts.”

They went through a series of checkpoints to get into the main heart of the compound.

“We’ve had a few attempts to breach security lately, I’ve stepped things up. There are multiple, manned checkpoints as well as remote sensors and constant patrols through the grounds.” Ben got out when the car stopped and scanned the area before stepping aside for Cade.

“Come on inside. I’ve got dinner made.” Tegan’s eyes darted as she took in her surroundings, her hand at her hip where Cade knew she carried a weapon. Megan did the same, as did a host of other wolves.

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