**Episode 2 for Lane! I have a feeling this one is definitely going to be on the longer side. Lane is a complex kind of guy and there is stuff and things going on in his life, more than him just meeting his person. Enjoy!**
Gareth offered food and before I had a chance to decline or accept, Owen hopped up and started pawing through the fridge. The scowl on Owen’s face was pretty impressive, and he was banging around, slamming ingredients on the counter as he pulled them out.
“I, uh.” I cleared my throat. “I don’t want to be a bother. You don’t have to—”
“I already told you. You aren’t a bother. And he’s not mad about the food. He’s…aggrieved on your behalf.” Gareth tucked his feet up under him and regarded me with a small smile.
“I’m fucking pissed!”
Owen’s shout startled Oscar, and my familiar scrambled off my shoulder to my lap. I barely noticed the sting of claws as they pierced my skin. I was used to it by now. My entire body had small scratches and nicks. It was part and parcel of being bonded to a cat.
From behind the counter, Owen took a deep breath and pressed his palms to the surface. After a moment or two, he seemed calmer.
“I’m sorry. And I’m sorry, Oscar. But I’m angry.” Another deep breath. “But it’s bullshit. All because you broke protocol for us? You did the right thing.”
“It wasn’t just you.” I let my lips quirk in a sardonic smirk. “Though that was a fairly large breech of said protocol. I should have never let help find your brother, let alone let you in that building.”
Owen snorted. “Like you could have stopped us.”
Gareth touched my hand, bringing my attention to him. His gaze held all the apologies his voice didn’t say. “We know you took a risk. We’re sorry it led to your termination.”
“I technically still have a job.” I blew out a frustrated and angry breath. Those emotions wouldn’t help me, and I was trying to let it go. “And I’m technically still an agent.”
Confusion creased Gareth’s brow. “But you said…”
“I’ve been ‘reassigned’ to archives.” I didn’t need to physically put the air quotes around the word. My tone said it all. “It’s a huge demotion. And it means no field work. None. But because of my training, they can’t take my title away. But it doesn’t mean the same thing. At all.”
And that’s what stung the most. It almost would have been easier if I had been fired. Because I’d worked hard to get to where I’d been. Lead field investigative agent. Fifteen years of blood and sweat, long hours and longer cases. And the leadership was trying to teach me a lesson like I was some naughty child. Punishing me by sending me down to the farthest recesses of the building to catalog old cases and do research for active agents.
Owen brought the sandwiches and chips to the table, then returned a moment later with tall glasses of iced tea. He touched Gareth’s face, earning him a smile from his mage, before he sat next to Gareth. He picked up his sandwich and shot me a look.
“Like I said. Bullshit.”
He was not wrong.
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but it would be rude not to eat, so I picked at my sandwich, feeding some of the turkey to the cat on my lap before taking my own bite. Gareth radiated sympathy, and he fiddled with his own food before sucking in a breath.
“I feel terrible that this is a result of us. Perhaps if we spoke with—”
I cut him off with a sharp shake of my head. “It wasn’t. Or at least, not wholly. I’d already been on thin ice. But I close cases, so I got more leeway than the higher ups liked. Perhaps if I’d toed the line afterward, things wouldn’t have gotten to this point but, well, my next case needed more, uh, drastic action as well.”
My blood still boiled when I thought of my last interview. After a shifter had been found dead under unusual circumstances, the MBI had been called into investigate. Technically, Fiona had been lead on the case, instead of me, and she’d been hunting the killers while I’d been sent to do interviews with pack members who had escaped the rogue pack. The wolf shifter I’d spoken with had been one of the lucky ones, but the things he’d told me about his abuse at the hands of his former pack. Though he was doing well now, the scars ran deep. His information corroborated that there’d been others involved, ones we didn’t have in custody. But since we had the alpha and his most involved accomplices, no one had listened to my information. So I’d taken it upon myself, going against orders, to track down further evidence. When I’d gone to interview my suspect, things had gotten dicey, and I’d had to use extreme force to protect myself.
The asshole was still alive, even if he hadn’t woken up yet.
But it had been the last straw. I’d known it was a possibility even while I was doing it. My mother had told me as a child that my moral compass was strong. She’d said it like praise. Apparently the director and my chief didn’t feel the same way.
Suddenly, Gareth sat up and his eyes glazed over. Owen’s attention went on high alert and he dropped his sandwich. It took me a second to figure out what was going on. I’d seen that look on Gareth’s face once before.
Gareth shook himself. “Aeron’s on his way over. He…something’s going on.”
I set down my uneaten sandwich as well. “I’ll go.” I pushed back from the table. I shouldn’t have come here anyway. Gareth and Owen were barely friends. But I’d felt a connection to them during our long interviews. It was why I’d broken the rules and warned them about Gareth’s mother. Why I’d allowed Gareth to track Aeron. Why I hadn’t stopped them magically from entering the building where Aeron was being held. It had been the right thing to do anyway, but I’d been more apt to do it because I’d known, deep in my soul, that these men were good people.
Gareth stayed me with another fleeting touch. “Stay. They’ll be here in a minute. And I feel as though it’s important.”
Not sixty seconds later, the front door flew open with a bang that caused me to jump, though Gareth and Owen seemed to expect it. Aeron strode into the room, followed by two wolves. He was as beautiful as ever, tall and lean, looking a little like a pirate with his shoulder length hair and the cockatoo on his shoulder. I’d met the one wolf before, the big and brawny Marco. He’d been Aeron’s guard, the one who’d been magically attacked by Bianca Evans. By how close he hovered to Aeron, it seemed clear he was still guarding the mage.
“We have a problem.” Aeron’s voice was low, serious, and he stopped short when his gaze landed on me. He stared for a long moment, and then said, “Agent Willis.”
“Just Lane.” I cleared my throat.
“What’s wrong?” Owen stood so quickly the chair wobbled, and he righted it with an apparently unconscious move as he stepped around Aeron. He reached, and then the other wolf, the one I hadn’t been able to see clearly behind the two taller men, emerged.
My breath caught and my gaze was riveted to the lithe man. He was beauty and grace, dark hair and eyes, skin a lovely tan. My pulse picked up as my heart started to pound. He looked upset, and I had the desperate urge to soothe him. To pull him into my arms and hold him tightly, take away whatever was hurting him and make it pay.
“Walker?” Gareth stood, stepping closer, and when he held out a hand, Walker too it. I had an insane flash of jealousy at the touch before I was able to tamp it down. That made no sense.
Walker gulped, loud enough to be heard, and I watched his Adam’s apple bob. “My son’s missing.”