**We start a new serial today! Remember Agent Delaney Willis, the intrepid MBI agent? Here’s his story. Enjoy!**
The shone brightly in a cloudless sky, the light breeze ruffling my hair. Oscar was stretched out in my lap, upside down and belly exposed, snoring slightly as he dozed. He liked this kind of weather the best, and he’d investigated the lawn thoroughly before taking up residence in my lap. In deference to my suit pants, I’d settled at one of the plastic picnic tables instead of the grass, but I’d removed me shoes and socks. With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I could take the time to center myself and replenish my magic.
The past few weeks had taken their toll. The inquisition I’d just faced had made it worse. Now I was just waiting for the decision of the director and the board. As to whether or not what I had done was enough to warrant a reprimand, a mark in my file, a reassignment, or, worse, a dismissal.
I’d been an agent with the MBI for close to fifteen years. This wasn’t the first time I’d faced the internal tribunal. It was, perhaps, the worst though.
Oscar suddenly curled up and then stood, his paws points of sharp pressure on my thighs. I winced, but the cat didn’t care. He never did. And especially not when his green eyes were laser focused on something in the distance. It only took a minute before I saw what he did. My partner, Fiona Mathers, stalked toward me in that determined way she sometimes had.
We didn’t always get along, but we were compatible, and that made working together acceptable. She was far more strict and by-the-book than I was. We weren’t close, but we got the job done when we were working.
She sat next to me, leaving space between us, and she shot me a scathing look. “You fucked up.”
I shrugged one shoulder. I had, technically, done exactly that. But…”It was the right thing to do.”
Her frown got deeper. “It went against every protocol we have.”
I didn’t say anything to that. Fiona was exaggerating, but she wasn’t entirely wrong. I had broken protocol, I’d gone against regulations, and I knew exactly what I was doing when I did it. but I still maintained it was the right thing to do, and even though I valued my job and appreciated the rules, I was always going to follow my moral compass over the rules and regulations of the organization.
“I’m being assigned a new partner.” Fiona’s words dropped like a bomb. “I don’t know yet what they’re going to do with you, but since I’m being reassigned, it’s probably not good.”
It was uncharacteristically kind of her to give me a heads up, because it technically wasn’t allowed. All info should have come directly to me from the higher-ups. Not that I was surprised. I’d gone off book hard in the last case, and the two before it. I had a feeling my termination was in the works.
Oscar headbutted me and I absently scratched his ears. The bond between us thrummed with comfort. I’d called him as my familiar at twenty years old, and we’d been together ever since. Going on almost twenty years. Once again, I was thankful that familiars, once bonded, didn’t die of natural causes. I couldn’t imagine my life without this cat.
My mind wandered to Owen, the shifter familiar I’d met on a case several months ago. As much as I loved and needed Oscar, what would it be like to have a familiar who had a human shape? Who could wrap their arms around me and offer even more comfort?
Oscar nipped at my hand, and I resumed petting, sending an apologetic thought through our bond. I wouldn’t trade him for anything, and I made sure he knew it. Placated, Oscar crawled up onto my shoulder and settled himself around my neck. His version of a hug.
“Been good working with you, Willis.” Fiona bumped my shoulder with a fist, and then without another word, go up and walked away.
I sighed heavily and put my shoes and socks back on. Time to face the music. I was sure I would get a summons soon and then I’d have to face my fate.
I wasn’t sure why I was here, but I felt compelled to show up. Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door. Muffled voices filtered through before Owen pulled the door open. His expression was part skeptical, part welcoming, and all him. I’d stopped in a few times in the past couple of months, just to check in with them and follow up on the Evans’ case. We’d gotten friendly, and that was part of the reason I was in my current predicament.
“Agent Willis.” At least his tone was warmer than it had been in the past. “Please tell me you’re not here on official business.”
I shook my head, a sad smile gracing my mouth for a moment. But I couldn’t hold it. “Not an agent anymore.”
Owen was silent for a long moment. “Gareth, babe, put on the coffee.” He stepped back. “Come in.”
“Thanks.” I stepped in, slipped of my shoes, and set Oscar down. He immediately rubbed against Owen’s ankles, familiar greeting familiar, before he resumed his place at my feet.
“Lane.” Gareth had a smile for me, but the concern was evident in his eyes. “What happened?”
I sighed. “It’s a long story.”
“We’ve got time.” Owen touched my back, guiding me toward the kitchen. Gareth had rushed ahead and when I stepped into the room, he was already bustling about, pouring boiling water into a French press. I sat, leaving enough room for Oscar to jump up into my lap.
Barely two minutes later, both other men were joining me at the table, mugs, cream, and sugar gracing the scrubbed wooden surface. No one spoke for a moment. Gareth and Owen were clearly waiting for me to start talking.
“I’m sorry for intruding.” My tone was heavy.
“You aren’t,” Gareth was quick to reassure. He smiled again, then focused on making the coffee. I watched him, trying to figure out where to start my story.
As if reading my mind, Owen quirked an eyebrow and said, “The beginning is usually a good place.”
The droll tone coaxed a half smile out of me. I blew out a breath. “Yes, well. I suppose that starts with you two.”