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Lone Wolf: A Tale from the Mercy Hills Universe (Mercy Hills Pack Book 8) by Ann-Katrin Byrde (1)

Chapter One

They were somewhere in the middle of Corn Central, staring at a non-descript looking warehouse in the middle of endless grain fields. Snipers were moving into position on the perimeter while the rest of them followed the scouts as they crept toward the building.

Damian was in his wolf form, as was usual for these types of assaults. He had no special training except for being a shifter, but that had been the reason they’d recruited him. The radio hooked to his head crackled. “Let’s move in a little closer.” All around him, as far as his ears could hear, the rustling of the men of his squad and the other one backing them up filled the air. It was loud to him, but he’d always had good hearing. Unless they had sound detection in the warehouse, it was unlikely that their target would hear them.

The organization they were targeting tonight was an offshoot of another, more dangerous one that the Agency was picking away at in a death by ten thousand cuts style campaign that was having, as far as Damian could tell, only indifferent success. The group inside the warehouse was an unholy mishmash of drugs, guns, religion and a rumored level of deviancy that made Damian sick to his stomach. Very likely just a stalking goat for the larger group, but they couldn’t ignore it, and so Damian’s people had been sent off to wipe them out and, if possible, bring back some new sources of information.

An hour later they were in position, just outside the range of the cameras dotted around the building. Someone to the west had already found a tripwire and traced it to buried explosives, which had set them back by nearly half an hour on their original schedule. The ground was clear now, or at least they’d marked some safe paths. If the bad guys came running out and headed into their own ambush, well… that wasn’t Damian’s problem, was it?

“Delta group, in position,” his earphone said.

“Copy, delta. Stay ready,” said Oscar, his team leader. “Damian, I’m going to send you in with the point crew. We’re trying not to kill anyone—immobilize and move on. Take them down and someone else will ziptie them. Copy?”

Damian made a low crooning howl, keeping it soft enough that only the humans around him would be able to hear it. They’d only tried keeping a live mic on him once during an operation and after that, it had been agreed that, for everyone’s peace of mind, he would be micless in wolf form.

When the signal came, they swarmed over the ground. The popping sound of the cameras being shot out was closely followed by the boom of the front and back of the building being blown open and they burst through the opening, appearing through the smoke like so many demons from the Barrenlands.

Shouts, screams, the sound of shots being fired… Damian streaked through the mayhem, knocking people over, breaking arms and ankles. His fur was matted with blood, but if he didn’t do this, they’d be shooting people left, right and center—it was better this way.

It only took about twenty minutes for the first rush to be done and then Damian and a team moved out on a clearout pass, sniffing and listening for signs of anyone they’d missed.

They flushed a couple in the northeast corner of the building. A woman came for him with an axe, ducking out from behind a crate that smelled like ammunition but was labeled as green beans. Damian dodged and went for the man behind her, ramming his entire body weight against the machine gun in the guy’s hands and taking them both down to the floor in a tangle of fur and snap of bones, while random bullets ricocheted off the floor and cement chips flew everywhere. Oscar bludgeoned the woman with the butt of his gun, then swiftly secured her arms behind her back, kicking the axe out of the way.

“You good?” he asked as he frisked the man trapped beneath Damian’s body and pocketed two handguns and a hunting knife that made Damian’s eyes go wide. “Yeah,” Oscar said dryly. “Someone’s overcompensating for something.”

Damian flicked an ear. He’d broken the guy’s forearm, but a quick field dressing stabilized it enough that they could drag the two out into the hallway for pickup.

Oscar dug his fingers into Damian’s ruff, a habit that irritated the hell out of Damian but Oscar was his superior officer and he wasn’t going to stick his paw in that trap. “You wanna go change now, go for it. We can finish up here.” Oscar nodded to him and let go of his ruff, turning away in implied dismissal.

Damian slunk out to where he’d left his kit and used the water bottle he always carried with him to rinse the blood from his skin after he’d changed back to human. The moonlight bleached the color from the water as it ran down over his chest and he felt a sudden tug, right under his heart. When was the last time he’d just gone outside to enjoy the moon? Probably the last time he’d spent with a shifter—nearly ten years now.

Lysoon, he missed the feel of someone else’s fur, the way they smelled so different from a human. But he could never have that again. This was his life, his future, and probably someday his death.

He turned his eyes away from the moon and began to get dressed. There’d be a ton of work left to do before they could finish clearing this site—him sitting here feeling sorry for himself wasn’t going to get it done.

But even in the noise of hauling captives out of the building and shoving them into transports, he could still hear the moon whispering wolf-truths to him, calling to him like a lover and a mother and a packmember—things he hadn’t had in years.

Was this the start of moon-madness? Or something worse?

He shook the thought off, grabbed another ziptied captive and started dragging.

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