He's in trouble with a capital T
There's never been a female on the Dallas SWAT team and Senior Corporal Xander Riggs prefers it that way. The elite pack of alpha male wolfshifters is no place for a woman. But Khaki Blake is no ordinary woman.
When Khaki walks through the door attractive as hell and smelling like heaven, Xander doesn't know what the heck to do. Worse, she's put under his command and Xander's protective instincts go on high alert. When things start heating up both on and off the clock, it's almost impossible to keep their heads in the game and their hands off each other...
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SWAT: Special Wolf Alpha Team
By PAIGE TYLER
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Paige Tyler
All rights reserved.
Three Months Later
Xander Riggs shifted in his chair, wondering why the hell his boss had asked him to come to this meeting. Gage Dixon knew Xander hated rubbing elbows with the brass down at police headquarters. Other than Deputy Chief Mason, everyone else at headquarters was a waste of space. It had been so long since some of them had carried a weapon, Xander wasn't sure how they could still call themselves cops.
"What's this meeting about anyway?" Xander asked the commander of the Dallas SWAT team. They'd been left stewing in this small conference room for fifteen minutes, and Xander couldn't wait to get out of there.
Gage shrugged, which was his way of saying he didn't know, but Xander didn't buy it for a second. His boss never did anything without a plan.
Xander was tempted to pull out his phone and check his email while they waited, but he resisted the urge.
"I noticed Mac was moving a little slow yesterday at the compound," Xander said instead. "Is her knee still bothering her?"
Gage's jaw tightened. Even though Gage had killed Walter Hardy, the man who'd kidnapped and come close to killing his fiancée, reporter Mackenzie Stone, he still held himself responsible for the fact that she'd hurt herself while trying to get away from the bastard in the first place.
"Only when she goes running," Gage muttered. "Every time she does, her knee swells up; then it's sore as hell the next day. Her doctor told her to stay off it for a while and take a break from running, but Mackenzie refuses to listen."
"That sounds like her — stubborn to a fault. Maybe you should hide her running shoes."
Gage snorted. "Trust me, I thought about that. But then she'd go running in her bare feet and her knee would probably be even worse. I need a better plan."
Xander lazily swiveled back and forth in the fancy leather chair. "Talk her into taking a week off with you and refuse to let her get out of bed. That should do the trick."
"I thought about that too," Gage said. "But I'm saving up vacation days for the honeymoon."
Seriously? Xander couldn't remember the last time his boss took leave. Not unless you counted the few days he'd taken off after they'd all almost gotten blown up in that meth lab, courtesy of Walter Hardy.
"Gage, you haven't taken a vacation in what, five years? You have plenty of leave. Take a week off and spend it with Mac."
If Xander was ever lucky enough to stumble over that one-in-a-billion woman who was perfect for him, he sure as hell wouldn't think twice about taking off to be with her.
Gage opened his mouth — probably to say he was too busy — but then he grinned. "You know, that might actually work. She's been after me to take some time off since we got engaged so we can go house hunting."
"House hunting, huh?" Xander grinned. "What's next, a minivan?"
"Now that you mention it, I have had my eye on one of those."
Xander did a double take. "Seriously?"
Gage just looked at him.
That was a relief. It'd be a shame if Gage traded in that Charger of his.
"Speaking of Mac," Gage said. "She has a friend she wants you to meet."
Alarm bells went off in Xander's head. "Tell Mac thanks, but no thanks. I don't do blind dates."
"You sure? This friend of hers could be The One for you."
The One — capital T, capital O.The One soul mate every werewolf supposedly had. A soul mate like Gage had found in Mac.
Xander had always been on the fence about soul mates. Part of him wanted to believe it was true, but his pragmatic side — okay, his cynical side — told him it was nothing more than silly folklore, no different than all the legends about moonlight, silver bullets, and werewolf hunters. Even after seeing Gage and Mac get together, he still wasn't convinced. There was no denying they were amazing together, and Xander could admit he'd gotten caught up in the whole idea, but at the moment, he was more ready to believe it was random luck than cosmic werewolf destiny.
"The odds are probably greater that she's a serial killer who got chased off Craigslist and is looking for her next victim the old-fashioned way," Xander said drily.
Gage's laughter was interrupted by the sound of voices in the hallway.
Xander gave his commander a sharp look. "I thought we were just meeting with Mason."
"I thought so too."
Gage stood as Deputy Chief Hal Mason walked in, so Xander did too. The chief was accompanied by two men and a woman. Xander recognized one of the men as the Dallas Chief of Police, Randy Curtis. That was weird. Curtis never got involved in the day-to-day police operations.
Xander saw Gage stiffen. Shit. That just ratcheted up his own concern another notch.
"Sergeant Dixon, Corporal Riggs." Mason gave him and Gage a nod. "You know Chief Curtis, of course." Mason gestured toward the other two people. "This is Janet Hayes, one of the department's human resource managers, and Mitchell James, one of the lawyers who serves as an advisor to the city council."
Xander said nothing as he shook hands with Curtis, then the other two people. He was already getting a bad feeling about this. What the hell did a human resource manager and a city council lawyer want with SWAT?
James smiled at Gage as they all sat down. "I've been looking forward to meeting you for some time now, Sergeant Dixon. I've followed SWAT's work since I arrived in Dallas a few years ago. Your team's record is truly amazing. But I have to tell you, I was especially impressed by how you handled Walter Hardy and kept him from fleeing the country."
Xander almost laughed. The department's official reports had downplayed the part of the story where Hardy had kidnapped Mac and tried to kill her. While they hadn't lied, they'd left out certain critical details about what had happened at that private hangar where everything had gone down and let everyone assume the rest. Luckily, none of the local and national media had dug too deeply. That was a good thing, considering the SWAT team had pretty much torn Hardy and his men to shreds in the fight. The medical examiner's office had concluded the bodies had been savaged by coyotes postmortem, and even though no one had ever seen any coyotes hanging around the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, that became the official story.
"I'm just glad that none of our own got hurt," Chief Curtis continued before Gage could say anything. "You back that many desperate criminals armed with automatic weapons into a corner, and you usually end up with a bloodbath on your hands."
"That's just a testament to the quality people that Sergeant Dixon has brought onto his team over the years, and his commitment to demanding, rigorous training," Mason said sharply.
Had Xander imagined it, or had Mason just snapped at his own boss? If he didn't know better, he'd think Curtis was about to reprimand Gage and the team for something. If that was the case, Mason wasn't on board with it — whatever it was.
Curtis frowned but didn't respond. Instead, he exchanged looks with James. The lawyer offered Mason a smile that just oozed bullshit. "I think everyone would agree with you, Deputy Chief. But I'm sure even Sergeant Dixon would admit we can make the SWAT team even better."
Better? Their team was already the best in the state of Texas, if not the whole United States.
Xander slid his boss a sidelong glance to see Gage taking part in a staring contest with Curtis.
"Sir, maybe you should just tell me what this meeting is about," Gage said.
The chief nodded, then looked at the woman from human resources. "Janet?"
The HR manager's eyes widened. Did she think they were going to bite her?
"Of course, Chief." She swallowed nervously, smoothing back her graying hair as she turned to address Gage. "Sergeant Dixon, I'm sure you're aware of the police department's goals with regard to diversity. We pride ourselves on having a department that's as broad and varied as the population we serve."
Xander frowned. Where was she going with this?
"What Janet is trying to say is that several members of the police union, as well as those from local civil rights groups, have raised concerns over the fact that there aren't any women on the SWAT team," James said. "You may not realize this, but your unit has developed a reputation as being something of a boy's club. Since I'm sure that was never your intent, I've approached the chief with a plan to rectify that and improve the department's image."
Xander felt like he'd been punched. This was what he and the rest of the Pack had dreaded for years — that a regular, average human cop would get assigned to the team. If that cop were a guy, it would be bad enough. But if that cop was a woman? It would be a catastrophe. Having Mac around the compound those first few days had thrown the whole team into a tailspin. He couldn't imagine how much worse it would be with a female cop, a person trained to be suspicious and notice things that others dismissed. He and the other werewolves in the Pack would never be able to use their supernatural abilities. They'd have to go back to acting like regular cops again. Everything Gage and the rest of them had worked so hard to build would be gone. And at some point, it would end up getting someone killed.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" Xander demanded. He knew he should probably keep his mouth shut, but he'd never been very good at that. "You come in here and blow sunshine up our asses about how impressed you are with our performance, then tell us you want to add someone to the team for no other reason than you think it will improve our image?"
James lifted a brow. "Are you implying that women aren't good enough to be in SWAT?"
Xander bit back a growl. This jerk had reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out the male chauvinist card rather than admit the truth.
"Don't even go there. You don't know a damn thing about me," Xander said. "As far as I'm concerned, if someone is qualified for SWAT, they're qualified — male or female. But if we were talking about qualified candidates, we wouldn't be doing it in a conference room, and we sure as hell wouldn't need a lawyer in the room with us."
On the other side of the table, Curtis and Mason refused to look Xander in the eye. That was when it all clicked into place, and the sinking feeling he'd been getting in his stomach got worse.
"That's what this is about, isn't it?" Xander demanded. "You want to put someone on the team, but bypass all the normal qualification requirements, don't you?"
Xander didn't even realize his claws were out until Gage put a hand on his arm. Shit. Thank God his hands were under the table, where no one else could see them.
"That's enough, Xander." Gage's voice pulled him back from the edge as only an alpha werewolf's could. Xander retracted his claws and took a deep breath, clenching his hands into fists in his lap, so he wouldn't be tempted to reach across the table and choke the crap out of the idiot across from him.
"Mr. James, there's a reason SWAT has a demanding selection process," Gage said. "It ensures the police officers we bring in can do the job that's required. Anything less puts everyone else on the team at risk and, ultimately, the people we're supposed to serve."
The lawyer nodded. "I'm aware that it's a difficult job, Sergeant, but I'm sure there are a few positions on the team that can allow someone with less experience to contribute?"
Beside James, Hayes nodded in agreement. Xander ground his teeth to keep from saying something he shouldn't. Clueless bureaucrats.
Gage, on the other hand, didn't look as if he was going to be nearly as successful at keeping his anger in check. In fact, his face darkened so much that Xander thought his boss might actually launch himself across the table at the talking ass with feet who was trying to screw up the perfect team he'd built. Xander wasn't so sure he'd try and stop Gage if he did. Hell, he might just help.
Gage swung his gaze at Mason. "When I took over the team almost nine years ago, you assured me I'd be able to handpick the personnel. Has that changed?"
The deputy chief's mouth tightened into a thin line. "Dammit, Gage. This isn't my doing. The city is worried we're exposing the department to a discrimination lawsuit. My hands are tied here."
James leaned forward, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. "Gentlemen, please, let's not be dramatic here. There's no reason this has to come down to a discrimination case or a lawsuit. I already have a list of suitable candidates. All you have to do is pick the best of the best."
James took a piece of paper from his briefcase and slid it across the conference table. Gage scanned the list, then passed it to Xander without a word.
Xander didn't know everyone on the list, but the names he recognized scared the hell out of him. Instead of cops from narcotics, homicide, or any other division that dealt with high-stress life-and-death situations on a daily basis, they were from internal affairs, the training academy, and community outreach. Xander didn't hate cops who did those jobs — they were important and needed doing — but that kind of work simply didn't prepare you for the SWAT team.
It didn't make sense. If the department seriously wanted to put a woman on the team, there were a lot of them out there with better résumés. Xander knew that for a fact because he'd worked with many of them.
What was this dumbass lawyer trying to do, destroy the SWAT team from the inside out?
Xander was ready to tell all of them where they could stick their stupid list, but Gage beat him to it.
"There's no one on here who's even remotely qualified to work on my team."
"Your team?" James snorted. "Forgive me, but I was under the impression that the SWAT team worked for the city of Dallas and that it answered to Deputy Chief Mason, who answers to Chief Curtis. They'll decide who's qualified to work on the team."
This time it was James who initiated the staring contest, and Xander knew that the only reason Gage looked away first was so he could glare at the deputy chief. "You'll have my resignation before the end of the day."
"Gage —" Mason started, but James cut him off.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Sergeant," James said. "I'm sure Senior Corporal Riggs will do an outstanding job in your place."
Xander would have laughed if he wasn't so damn pissed. "Thanks, but no thanks. And before you ask why not, it's because I'll be turning in my resignation along with Sergeant Dixon. I'm pretty sure the rest of the team will do the same."
Xander liked Dallas and his job, but protecting the Pack was the only thing that mattered to him. And he knew every other member of the Pack felt the same way.
"All fourteen of them?" James countered.
"All fourteen of them," Xander confirmed. "But look on the bright side. Then you'll be able to fill your new SWAT team with as many people as you want."
"Gage, let's talk about this," Mason said.
"Let them go," James said. "They're bluffing. There's no way the entire team will quit just because their commander wants to take his ball and go home."
Mason shot James an irritated look. "Do me a favor and shut the hell up. You couldn't even comprehend why cops get out of bed in the morning, much less how they decide who they're willing to work — and die — for." Mason turned to Curtis. "I told you this would happen. If there's one thing the incident with Hardy should have taught us, it's that every one of those men on the SWAT team live and breathe for Sergeant Dixon. If he leaves, I have absolutely no doubt they'd all leave with him. And trust me, another city like Houston, Austin, or San Antonio will scoop them up in ten seconds flat."
Xander had always liked Mason — well, as much as he could like a man who was closer to being a politician than a cop. While Mason might back Gage, Xander doubted Curtis would do the same. The chief's job was purely political.
Curtis worked his jaw as he looked from Gage to Mason and back again. "Gage, we're in an impossible position here. Your team is the best in the country, but the city is going to get its way on this whether you and your men like it or not. And I'm with Deputy Chief Mason when I say we don't want that to be at your expense. We need to put a woman on your team. How do we make that happen?"
Excerpted from Wolf Trouble by PAIGE TYLER. Copyright © 2015 Paige Tyler. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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