BEFORE XANDER MET KHAKI

© Paige Tyler, 2015
© 2012 Paige Tyler
Senior Corporal Xander Riggs looked around the mostly empty honkytonk bar they’d stopped in for a few drinks after a crazy day at
the SWAT compound. The country music had been turned down a bit as the bar edged closer to closing time, though there were still a
few people two-stepping on the well-scuffed wooden dance floor in the corner.

But they weren’t what had grabbed his attention. In all honesty, he couldn’t say what was nagging him. All he could say for sure what
that a distinct sensation had been building over the last few minutes, telling him that something was off in the place. He couldn’t tell if it
was his cop senses honed sharp after fourteen years on the force, or his werewolf senses honed even sharper after eight years with
claws and fangs. But either way, something was warning him that trouble was coming at some point before the bar closed down for the
night.

“Do you really think Gage can talk this female officer into quitting her job and joining the SWAT team?” Becker asked, distracting
Xander from his perusal of the line of mostly drunk customers bellied up to the big bar along the front wall.

Xander glanced at his squad’s electronics expert, Eric Becker, not surprised he hadn’t picked up on the same tension in the room.
Becker had only been a werewolf for two years. He was practically a pup.

Becker took a pull of his beer before continuing. “I mean, how does he even know she wants to move all the way from Washington
State to Dallas anyway?”

Xander shrugged, scanning the room again, looking for that one person who stood out as different. But no matter how many alarm
bells were ringing in his head, there was nothing going on that indicated where the problem might originate. He turned back to Becker,
considering his question.

Under pressure from the brass and a few well-placed politicians, Gage Dixon, the Dallas police department SWAT team commander,
had left for Washington State this morning to find the perfect female cop to add to their team. It had either been that or let a politician
fill the position with someone he chose. The team had immediately started spinning at the news, and as senior squad leader, Xander
had to be the voice of reason and somehow keep a lid on everything. Mostly that had meant breaking up a few fights—werewolves
tended to get snappish when they were tense—and telling the team over and over that Gage would handle things, just like he always
did.

It had been a hell of a crazy day, which was why he, Becker and Cooper had hit the nearest bar right work to have a few beers and
relax. A few attractive women had already chatted them up, but he and the other guys had begged off for the time being. Today’s
events had left them too keyed up to think about flirting and dancing.

It wasn’t that the guys on the team had a problem working with a woman—far from it. But when your SWAT team was composed of
sixteen testosterone-laden alpha werewolves, it made finding that one female officer who could fit in somewhat of a challenge.

“This is Gage we’re talking about here,” Landry Cooper, the squad’s demolition expert chuckled. “He has a knack for showing up in a
person’s life right when it’s time for a change and a fresh start. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has her convinced and on the way back by
dinner tomorrow.”

“By dinner?” Becker snorted. “No way.”

Cooper raised a brow. “Care to bet on that? Fifty bucks says Gage comes through by six o’clock?”

Xander shook his head as he took a swig of beer. Becker and Cooper were like all the other guys on the SWAT team, meaning
competitive as hell—about everything. The only shocker was the meager dollar amount. Cooper must not have as much confidence in
his team commander as he was letting on.

“You’re on.” Becker chucked. “Though to tell you the truth, I’m sort of hoping you win. It’d be pretty frigging cool to have a woman on
the team, even if I’m not sure how the heck the Pack will survive it.”

“You’re not kidding,” Cooper agreed. “I still remember what it was like when Mac first started hanging around the compound. The
feminine scent she was putting out just about caused a riot.”

Becker laughed at the memory of Mackenzie Stone and how she had inserted herself into the Pack structure and ended up engaged
to Gage. Xander didn’t think it was so funny. Sure, it was easy to laugh now, but at the time, it seemed like the whole SWAT team was
going to be torn apart. Not only had it been damn distracting have a sensational smelling woman around a pack of edgy alpha
werewolves, there was also the little issue of Mac almost revealing their identity to the world.

Xander could only pray that nothing like that happened if Gage was successful in getting this female officer to join their team.
He was abruptly distracted from his thoughts by movement over on the dance floor. He was so damn keyed up that for a second, his
claws almost slipped out. But then his head processed what it was seeing—a woman in a mini skirt and some sexy looking cowboy
boots slapping the hell out of a guy who’d gotten a little too fresh while dancing.

On the other side of the table, Becker and Cooper were silent, waiting to see where the spat might go. If they had to, all three of them
would be across the room and on that dance floor in no time.

But it didn’t seem like their help was required. The cowgirl had no problem at all backing down the jerk who’d pissed her off. No shock
there. When people said
Don’t Mess with Texas, what they really meant was Don’t Mess with Texas Cowgirls.

Xander let his gaze wander around the bar again, wondering if that little fuss had been what he’d been picking up on. Maybe. He just
couldn’t be sure. Out of his corner of his eye, he noticed Cooper was surveying the place now too, using his heightened sense of
smell and keen hearing to figure out what his internal senses had picked up. Well, it was good to know that he wasn’t imagining things.

Once again, Becker’s voice pulled him out of his musings. “Wouldn’t it be cool if this woman turned out to be
The One for somebody
on the team?”

God, sometimes Becker could be so damn…young.

Xander didn’t necessarily put a lot of faith in the whole mythical one-in-a-billion soulmate thing werewolves called The One. But ever
since Gage and Mac had stumbled over each other and into a relationship that even the most jaded guy would call insanely intense,
every guy on the SWAT team had been wondering out loud when each of them might find the perfect mate.

Xander was all about women and great sex—who wasn’t? But having one of the guys fall for this female cop would be a train wreck.
Police work depended on the knowledge that cops on looked out for each other, and that counted tenfold on a SWAT team. When
they went through a door, they never knew if there was going to be a bad guy on the other side ready to keep kill them all. They had
to trust the team would work as one, single-minded body. There couldn’t be any distractions, favoritism, jealously, or distrust. Xander
had seen that happen up close and personal, and when the bonds that held a team together started getting strained, people died.
If this woman showed up and one of the guys in the Pack thought a soulmate connection as strong as
The One was a possibility,
Xander couldn’t imagine how ugly it would get. Their pack was strong, but he doubted it could survive something like that.

Xander was just wondering if maybe he should say something to Becker and Cooper about his concerns when he realized Becker was
staring at something behind him, his eyes glowing a faint but visible yellow-gold.

“I know this sounds really crazy,” Becker said. “But I think those three guys in that booth on the far side of the dance floor are about to
rob this place.”  

Xander casually turned his head that way and quickly took in the three guys sitting at a booth in the darkest section of the bar. They
weren’t talking and their beers had been sitting there untouched for so long that there were big puddles of condensation around each.
Who the hell robs a beer joint?

Then again, maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea. Lots of people come to a bar with a set amount of cash. They buy a few drinks, listen
to some music, dance a little, talk with friends, and then go home. There was a pretty chance that the registers behind the bar were
stuffed at this time of night. Not as big a payoff as hitting a bank, but definitely less security. Plus, with the place about to close, there
were less people around, and a good portion of those left wouldn’t be in any condition to put up a fuss. From a criminal’s point of view,
it probably seemed like a good plan, except for the fact that this was Texas and at least some people in here were probably carrying
concealed weapons.

Oh, and there were three alpha werewolf SWAT officers in here, too.

“Two guys in long dusters just came in and went straight to the bar,” Cooper said, slowly pushing his beer away from him. “The ones in
the booth just sat up straighter. They’re about to kick off this little game any minute.”

Xander didn’t bother turning around to look. Cooper was the most intuitive wolf in the Pack. If he thought these new guys were part of
the equation, they were.

“Maybe you two should see if those women who were hitting on us earlier are still interested in dancing while I head to the bar for
another round,” Xander suggested.

There were a lot of benefits of being in a werewolf pack, one being that Xander rarely had to explain anything in detail. They’d been
working together for so long that Becker and Cooper automatically filled in the blanks.

Xander pushed back his chair and walked over to the bar. Catching the female bartender’s eye, he held up a hand and gestured for
three more beers as he casually eyed the two men in the dusters. They were standing at the other end of the bar, close to the
polished brass rails where the waitresses drop off drink orders. That was also where the cash registers were.

Xander was careful not to make eye contact was the men’s gaze swept over him, not wanting to spook them into doing anything crazy.
Instead, he motioned to the bartender that he’d pick up the beers down by the brass rails, then threw a quick glance at the dance
floor. Becker and Cooper were already out on the floor with two of the women, laughing and flirting as they spun the ladies around at
the same time moving closer to the three men in booth who were even now getting to their feet.

The shit was definitely about to start.

Xander turned back to the two men at the bar just as one of them pulled a shotgun from under his long duster and the other took a
handgun out of a pocket.

Shotgun Man fired a blast into the ceiling while Handgun Guy turned to the bar and pointed his weapon straight at the bartender.
“I want all the cash out of the register. Now!” he yelled, leaning over to thrust the barrel of his pistol right into the woman’s face.

The bartender probably would have screamed, but she looked too terrified to even move, much less open her mouth.

The place immediately erupted into bedlam, but Xander caught sight of the three men who’d been in the booth quickly moving to cover
the bathrooms and the exits. At least that’s probably what they’d intended to do, if Becker and Cooper hadn’t gotten in the way.
Knowing Cooper and Becker would handle them, Xander focused his attention on the two idiots in front of him. He went for Shotgun
Man first. The guy had already shown he was willing to pull the trigger. He had to go down first.

While everyone else were stumbling back to get away from the bar, Xander moved forward, slipping easily through the other patrons
as if they weren’t there. The guy jerked his weapon around, trying to aim in Xander’s direction, but it was too late. Xander grabbed the
barrel of the gun and shoved it back, slamming the barrel—and his fist—into the man’s face.

Bones crunched and Shotgun Man dropped like a rock. Xander stepped over him and headed for his buddy with the automatic—who
was more interested in threatening the terrified bartender than in realizing he was completely fucked. When he finally realized Xander
was behind him, he spun and got his weapon lined up for a shot. Xander’s reached out faster than the guy could pull the trigger,
ripping the gun away.

The bad guy didn’t even blink. He got one hand on Xander’s chest and shoved, reaching down with the other to grab a quick-opening
hunting knife from his belt. Lightning fast, the guy jabbed it straight at Xander’s heart.

Xander blocked the guy’s arm just in time, but the tip of the blade slid deep into the meat of his bicep. Xander ignored it, getting a grip
on the man’s knife hand, twisting his wrist until he dropped the weapon with a cry of pain.

Xander wanted nothing more than to punch the guy in the face so hard he’d see next week, but he restrained himself and instead
simply spun the attacker over his hip and put him on the floor face down. Then he put a hand on the man’s back and shoved him
down as he tried to push himself up.

“Don’t move,” he growled.

After making sure the man was fully aware that this fight was over, Xander glanced at the dance floor. Becker and Cooper had already
dealt with the three other would-be robbers, and were looking at him as if wondering what the hell had taken so long.

Behind the bar, the bartender was calling 9-1-1. Xander looked down at the guy he had pinned to the floor and bit back a growl. He’d
come here tonight looking to unwind, but this idiot and his friends had to screw up everything. He’d be up until sunrise filling out
paperwork because of these jackasses. To make it even worse, he’d gotten stabbed. There was no way to hide the blood, so he was
going to be stuck trying to come up with an explanation of where it had all come from by the time the paramedics got here. Because
while the cut was deep, it would be completely closed up by the time the cavalry arrived—werewolves healed really fast.

But he pushed that thought aside, more pissed about the lack of sleep than anything else. With this new female team member coming
in—and Xander had no doubt Gage would get her to transfer to the Dallas PD—the next few days were going to be crazy insane. As
Gage’s second in command, it would fall on Xander to set up most if not all of the training she needed to get up to speed. He’d be
lucky if he got an hour or two of sleep a night.

At least she wouldn’t be on is squad. That honor would fall to Senior Corporal Mike Taylor, the team’s other squad leader. For
whatever reason, Xander had been saddled with a constant string of newbies over the last few years. He had more than his fair share
of rookies. Everyone agreed it was Mike’s turn now.

As Xander dragged the bad guy to his feet and led him across the dance floor, amidst the cheers and applause of the bar patrons, he
almost felt bad for Mike. Integrating a female officer into a pack of alpha werewolves was going to be tough, no matter how special she
turned out to be.

But at least Xander didn’t have to do it.