“I’ve told them an hour, no more.” Smoothing out a wrinkled map after picking it up off the floor, Matthias put it on Hawke’s desk with pointed care. “Alexei says his snipers are ready if we can set them in position ahead of time. They’re not trained to get themselves through enemy fire yet.”
Hawke nodded. “Riaz can handle that.” The lieutenant was an excellent sharpshooter.
“Have you made a decision about the den?” Matthias asked, his expression now devoid of any humor.
“It can’t fall.” Even if SnowDancer survived, seeing the enemy in their home would savage them. “We blow it up if necessary.”
“I’m not going to argue. No one will.”
“Yeah, but let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that by kicking their asses.”
As it happened, things didn’t go quite as expected.
“Some kind of viral infection,” Judd said to him the next day. “Eighty percent of the troops in the Pure Psy compound are down. From the medical chatter the techs were able to intercept, it looks like the bug’s going to lay them out for three, maybe four days.”
“Yes. Henry’s not playing us.”
“We could hit the compound now,” Indigo said when he pulled his lieutenants—and Drew—together for a meeting. “Force Henry to move.”
“Yeah, but we still haven’t discovered the weapons cache in the city,” Riaz pointed out. “This could be our chance. Henry’s people might get sloppy because of the delay.”
“If we don’t find that cache,” Judd said, “and they strike, what they have in there could give them a decisive advantage.”
In the end, it was decided that since eliminating the compound now as opposed to later didn’t give either pack any tactical advantage, they’d hold off and spend the extra time intensifying the search for the weapons. “If we do locate the cache,” Riaz said, “the teams need to know not to let on.”
Alexei was the first to catch Riaz’s meaning. “If Henry doesn’t realize the warehouse has been compromised, he won’t hesitate to launch the assault even after he loses the Pure Psy compound.”
“Yes,” Judd said. “Riaz is right. Henry and his supporters won’t mobilize if he feels they’re at too much of a disadvantage.”
That was not an option they wanted Henry to consider, because fact was, the packs couldn’t remain at “red” status forever. It would wear out their people, leave them vulnerable when the assault did come.
“I’ll brief our teams and the Rats, too,” Indigo said, then glanced at Judd. “I meant to ask—can Tks ’port in with bombs?”
“Components, yes. Functional bombs, no. They’re too unstable and tend to go off during the teleport.”
“The vulnerable,” Jem said to Hawke after Judd finished speaking. “You still planning to wait to evacuate them?”
Hawke nodded. “Less chance of Henry discovering their location and changing the focus of his attack.”
“I’ve been talking with Mercy,” Riley said as Jem nodded, “and we both realized that there’s a last-ditch alternative if something goes wrong and we can’t get the children and elders a good distance away.” He pulled up a holographic map that showed the abandoned subway tunnels beneath San Francisco. “We get them down to the city—Rats will make sure the enemy never finds them.”
Indigo shuddered. “Wolves inside those narrow tunnels? In the dark?”
“We can tell them it’s an adventure.” Riley’s voice was pragmatic. “The elders will make sure the young ones are okay. And it’s not dark. The Rats have a nice setup down there—better than you’d believe.”
“My wolf’s not a fan, but it’s a good plan to have in hand,” Hawke said, then looked around at his men and women. “We’ll not only survive this, we’ll come out of it stronger than we went in, because we have something the enemy can’t imagine: heart.”
RILEY waited until after Hawke had left the room with Andrew—who’d been told to make certain the alpha was the first to leave—before speaking. “I realize this isn’t the best time,” he said, “but we need to do something for Hawke.” He told them his idea. “It needs to be finished before everything goes to shit. He deserves that much after everything he’s done for the pack.” They hadn’t had time before, but the virus had just given them at least a three-day reprieve.
“He deserves a hell of a lot more,” Indigo said to a round of nods, then grinned. “He’ll fight better when he’s not in such a bad mood anyway.”
Matthias shook his head. “I dunno, feral and mean is how I like him.” But it was clear he was joking. “Tactically speaking, we’re set—so, hell yeah, we can take a few hours to complete this project.”
“The pack’s morale could use a boost, too,” Riaz pointed out. “Once word gets out about this . . .” His smile was broad.
Judd rose to his feet. “It isn’t a done deal, you understand.” Quiet, solemn words.
“We know.” Tipping back his chair, Riaz met the other lieutenant’s eyes. “But we have to hope. None of us likes the alternative.”
Loneliness, Riley thought, absolute and unending, that was the alternative. No life for any wolf, but particularly not for an alpha who’d given his blood, his sweat, and his soul to the pack since he’d been little more than a child. “Then we begin in an hour. I ordered the materials two weeks ago.” Just in case.