Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 6! Prepare for action, because hoo boy. Enjoy!**

Before the mages could fill me in, the wolves turned as a unit toward the door. Human growls weren’t as chest rattling as in wolf-shape, but were terrifying enough. Especially in unison. Marco moved like a flash, putting himself between Aeron and the door. Owen took up a defensive posture as well and stalked toward the door. I raced to keep up.

“What is it?”

“Fox,” Owen growled. 

I almost asked whether it was a shifter or an animal, but I caught myself before it escaped. No one would be reacting this way if it was simply an animal. I quickly put a hand on his shoulder, trying to temper his reaction. I knew everyone was on high alert and with good reason, but I was pretty sure the person on the other side of the door was the agent we were waiting for.

Owen, it seemed, trusted me enough to curb some of the obvious aggression, though he was still tense with it under my hand. He took another deep breath through his nose, shot me a look, and then opened the door. Owen made sure to keep himself between the door and everyone else in the house.

The agent was at least smart enough to have his badge on prominent display. We technically didn’t have to wear it out, as long as we had it on us, but O’Neil had it on a chain around his neck. His nostrils flared, taking things in, but otherwise didn’t move. He rather looked like prey caught in a predator’s gaze. Which wasn’t inaccurate.

“Agent Willis?” O’Neil kept his tone low, and though he spared me a glance, he kept most of his attention on the pissed off wolf standing between us. “AIC Wright sent me.”

“Agent O’Neil,” I greeted. “You’ll have to cut the wolves some slack. As you can imagine, everyone is on edge.”

“Understandable.” His voice was deep, and he had that no nonsense tone many field agents possessed. Being on Sharon’s team, it wasn’t a surprise. “Read me in.”

“Owen, let the agent in,” Gareth called.

Owen grumbled, a rumble of noise in his chest, but then he stepped back. Agent O’Neil entered but kept his guard up. He only went as far as the entrance to the living room, not encroaching too far into the territory. I wasn’t sure if it was his training or his instinct as a shifter, but either way, it was a good call.

I took point, because emotions were running high. As quickly and as concisely as possible, I filled O’Neil in on all we knew. Gareth chimed in with what he and Aeron had seen in the scrying glass, and Aeron made a pained noised when O’Neil turned his attention to him. Silence reigned for a moment, and I cleared my throat.

“Agent O’Neil, I believe our problem is even worse than first suspected. Archer had a sigil on his chest.” I glanced at Walker, hating that I was dropping this on him. I turned my attention back to O’Neil, giving him a meaningful look, so he’d know it wasn’t just drawn there. “While I didn’t recognize in its entirety, it was similar to ones I’ve seen in worship to Crom Cruach.”

O’Neil let out a curse, vehement and with feeling. He whipped out his phone, pressed the screen, and lifted it to his ear. Within a second, he spoke. “Collins, we have confirmation. Yes, credible. Move in. Now!”

“What’s happening?” Walker’s voice was high and panicked.

“Stay here,” O’Neil barked, racing for the door. “We will get your son back.”

The wolves moved, but O’Neil was faster, out the door and gone. The car peeled away from the curb a second later. Marco yanked off his shirt, then dropped, and I knew he was prepared to shift and follow.

“Hold!” My blood raced, and I knew I had seconds, maybe less, to get this situation under control. “Please, just wait.”

No one wanted to, I knew that. But we didn’t have enough information to go tearing after O’Neil.

“Explain,” Marco growled, fangs pressing against his lips.

“If the agent was prepared to move this fast, they already knew more than they’ve given us. Sharon hinted something more was going on, and if O’Neil didn’t have time to explain, time is of the essence.” I blew out a breath. “I’m not privy to details, and I’m sorry about that. But what I do know is that the MBI had a team in place, ready to move in as soon as they got the go ahead. That means they’ve had the situation under surveillance and were getting everything in order. This is the piece they needed to take the perpetrator down.”

“You trust this woman?” Gareth asked, not unkindly.

“I do.”

Owen snarled. “But the MBI fucked you over.”

That was true. 

“But she didn’t. She wouldn’t. Especially not with a kid involved. I know you all want to race in.” Hell, I did too. I looked straight at Walker, wanting nothing more than to be the one to rescue his child and give him back. I shook that thought off. Now was not the time. “But in this situation, it’s better to wait.”

Walker took a shaky breath, then walked over to me. He wasn’t entirely steady, stumbling the last step, and I caught him. He clutched my shirt. “Please, tell me what’s…. I need to know what’s going on.”

I cupped his cheek, not caring that it was completely inappropriate. His big brown eyes were wet and fearful. And as much as I didn’t want to scare him anymore, he deserved the truth.

“Archer has been marked for sacrifice.” I kept my voice low and soft. “My guess is he’s not the only one, which is why agents were ready to move.”

“My kid is—”

I cut him off before he could complete the sentence. “Don’t think about that.”

“How can I not?” The growl was fierce

I didn’t have a good answer, and I held Walker tighter because the way he sagged made me think his knees were about to give out. I caressed his cheek with my thumb.

“I know. I’m sorry.” I had no words to make this better. I wasn’t even going to try. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what he was feeling.

Then my phone rang, and I only let go of Walker enough so that I could pull it from my pocket. Sharon’s name flashed across the screen. I nearly fumbled it in the haste to answer it.

“We’ve got him.” Sharon said quickly, before I could even get a word out. “He’s doing okay, as are the others. Bring the father to HQ.”

I didn’t need to relay the message to Walker. With his ability, he had no trouble hearing. He sagged against me, and I nearly stumbled under his weight. The he buried his face against my neck and sobbed his relief.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**And here’s episode 5! Again I say it’s probably going to be a little on the longer side, because I’m not even sure what they’re doing yet, but I do know Lane is drawn to Walker. Enjoy!**

Gareth and Aeron together were a formidable force. I hadn’t ever seen them work together, not like this, but I knew enough about Gareth’s power when he rescued his brother to know it was going to be powerful. Aeron’s latent power was nothing to scoff at either. Just being around the mage was enough to feel that. So I braced myself for the swell of power, tucking Oscar up under my chin.

Gareth placed his hand on the gilt mirror they’d set up on the altar, and Aeron followed suit. Owen stood behind Gareth, snugging his front up to Gareth’s back, staying out of the way but lending power. Remy hopped from Aeron’s shoulder to the top of his head, spread his wings and bobbed. The cockatoo let out a piercingly loud screech, and then whistled.

“Go time,” the bird squawked, and I would have laughed if I wasn’t afraid of disrupting their focus.

Magic built, grew and pulsed like a living thing. The wolves couldn’t feel it like I could, but they must have felt something because I heard gasps from my left. I purposefully didn’t look because I didn’t want to see Walker still leaning on Marco. It was a selfish, but I allowed myself to have the emotion. I also didn’t dwell on it, and instead, forced myself to pay attention.

I couldn’t see the mirror from where I was, not clearly, but the swirl of colors meant it was working. Even if I’d been up close, I would only be able to make out the magic caressing the surface, and not the actual picture. Only the mage working the spell could see that. 

From how long it was taking, I knew they were having trouble. Since the amount of magic pinging around the room let me know power wasn’t the problem, I surmised that they must be running into some kind of ward or protection spell on the other end. 

Shit. That wasn’t good. Whoever had the boy had magic, or at least magic at their disposal, and that meant the situation was more dire and pressing than we’d known. My heart picked up, adrenaline coursing, and my brain started working in overdrive. We needed to move quickly if this was going to have a good resolution.

Every second counted now.

Walker was suddenly at my side, his warm seeping into my arm as he leaned against me. I tore my gaze away from the mages to look down at him, and the fear I saw there made my stomach drop. He must have heard my heartbeat, or sensed my worry, something because there was no doubt Walker now knew something bad was up and he wanted to know what it was. I couldn’t blame him. This was his child.

Without much thought, I moved my arm and tucked him up against me. He pressed in, his nose going to my throat, and I held him as tightly as I was able. Oscar reached out with on paw and laid it on Walker’s cheek, the only place the cat could reach. I bent so I could speak directly in his ear.

“Don’t get more worried, not yet. Just because we’ve hit a snag doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get Archer back.” My voice was barely more than breath, the barest of sound, not wanting to interrupt Gareth and Aeron. But Walker was a wolf, so I knew he had no trouble making out my words.

He trembled in my hold, and tried to nod, but it was nothing more than a twitch of his head. This man was terrified for his child, and though I would never lie to him, I wanted to soothe. Almost unconsciously, I stared rubbing his side in short strokes, not wanting to release my hold. Oscar pushed a little closer as well.

“I’ll explain as soon as their done,” I said in the same tone. “Just hold on for me.”

Another twitch of his head. I wanted to say more, do more, and almost reached for my own magic to project a little calm right into him, when Gareth’s strained voice stopped me.

“Lane. Join in. You have to see this.”

Walker immediately let me go and almost pushed me toward the mages. I glanced back enough to make sure Marco was there to hold him up, pushing down that little spike of jealousy, then transferred Oscar to my shoulders as I jogged the few feet across the room. As soon as I approached the altar, both Gareth and Aeron reached out and I clasped their hands.

Their magic slammed into me. Deep in the casting, they couldn’t be gentle, and though I needed to lock my knees so I didn’t buckle under the power, I’d been in this sort of situation before. It took me a few seconds to get oriented, but then I joined my magic with theirs. I wasn’t that adept at casting a scrying—it wasn’t in my wheelhouse—but they were doing all the work. I just needed to latch on to the spell and add my magic in.

It took a minute. Maybe two. But the picture on the mirror came into focus. I saw a young man, who had to be Archer. Even if I didn’t know they were casting specifically for the teen, there was no mistaking Walker’s jawline and warm, brown eyes on the kid. He looked in relatively decent shape, but he was shirtless and chained to the wall by a heavy collar. His feet were bare too. But the sigil carved into his chest was the biggest concern. It wasn’t bleeding anymore—wolf healing—but it was red and raw. And while I didn’t recognize exactly what it is, I saw some familiar shapes in the mark that had me mentally cursing. My fear for Archer ratcheted up another five notches.

Because if I saw what I thought I was seeing, Archer had been marked for sacrifice.

In the image, Archer suddenly looked up, his eyes flashing gold and he snarled. Something was happening where he was because the teen tried to struggle to his feet. A flash of magic had him down again with a painful looking thump. And though Archer did not move again, his eyes stayed focus on something just out of frame.

“Can we—” I started to ask, when suddenly I was thrown backward, the magic breaking in a horrible backlash. I landed against the couch, the cushions breaking my fall. Gareth and Aeron were thrown as well. Owen kept Gareth from falling, but Aeron hit the floor hard. Marco was there an instant later, cradling Aeron and helping him upright.

I couldn’t catch my breath, the air having been knocked out of me despite the softer landing. Walker rushed to my side, but he didn’t reach for me. I tried to marshal my thoughts, and was grateful when Oscar scrambled up from wherever he’d landed, thankfully unhurt, and settled on my chest. 

“What happened?” Walker’s voice trembled.

I shook my head to clear it. “A lot of not good. Archer is alive and all right, for the moment. But we don’t have much time. That agent needs to get here and quickly.” I pushed myself to stand, clutching Oscar against me. “Gareth, Aeron, I need to know everything you saw before I joined in. We need a game plan and fast.”

“Lane.” Gareth’s voice was gentle. “If you’re not a field agent anymore, then you—”

I whipped around. “I don’t care. We don’t have time. I will do whatever it takes to save that kid.”

The way Walker looked at me, like I was his path to salvation, had me feeling ten feet tall. But even if he hadn’t, I would have said the same thing. I was not going to let anyone suffer. Especially not a teenager.

Consequences be damned.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 3 for Lane. Things are getting serious, and Lane is ready to help. Enjoy!!**

Everyone spoke at once, loud and over each other. Panic filled the room, and I could only make out parts of sentences. It was a blast of sound that had Oscar scrambling off my lap and huddling under the chair.

“What happened?”

“How long…”

“Wolves are looking…”

“…lost the scent trail…”

I released a pop of magic, a quick pop, just to get everyone’s attention. They froze, and the wolves head turned to me in a sort of robotic way. Gareth and Aeron winced, but a smirk crossed Aeron’s face at the same time Gareth scowled.

“Let’s all take a breath. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Agent Willis on the job,” Aeron muttered, that smirk becoming more pronounced.

My stomach soured at the reminder. He didn’t know, and he was just being himself, but it still poked a tender nerve. I shook it off. Because I wasn’t a field agent anymore, but that didn’t mean I would ignore what was going on. I wasn’t in me to let this go, active agent or not. 

“My son is missing,” Walker repeated, his desperation clear.

“Okay.” I went for soothing. Not only because that’s how I was trained, but because that’s who I was. More than that, I didn’t like the distress on his face. It was warranted, sure, and completely understandable. But I wanted to make it better, and I wasn’t quite sure if that was just my personality or if there was something more. I was drawn to him in a way I wasn’t going to explore at the moment.

Instead, I motioned him closer. “Tell me what happened.”

Walker took a breath, then another, before he stepped closer. I wanted to reach out and touch, but I managed to keep my hands to myself. Oscar let out a trilling sound and hopped back up into my lap. The cat stretched, then headbutted my stomach. He was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t know what yet. I was focused on Walker.

“Archer went for a run, on two legs, and he didn’t come home. He’s never done that before. I immediately went looking. Called the pack. The trail goes cold and we can’t…I can’t….” He had to stop, fear and frustration rising.

“Okay,” I said again, still trying for calming. “How old is Archer?”

“Fifteen.”

I nodded. “And has he ever done something like this before?”

“No!” Walker was pissed now, loud, and his dark eyes blazed. “He’s not that kid. He always tells me where he’s going, when he’ll be back, and he never, never, disappears or doesn’t do what he says he’s going to do.”

“All right, I needed to ask—”

“I know parents say that all the time. But I’m telling you, this is not like my son. This is out of the norm. There is no way he would just not come home, or not let me know.”

“Hey.” I did touch him then, because he wasn’t listening, and I understood why, but I needed him to hear me. Walker snapped his gaze to mine, and it was full of anger and worry. But I held his gaze, so he’d know I was sincere. “I believe you. I’m not questioning that.”

Walker deflated, the anger seeping away to be replaced with out right fear. He was so scared, and I was petting his arm before I even realized it. It seemed to help, so I didn’t stop. Even when Oscar surprised us both by hopping from my lap to the table, and pushing his little face against Walker’s hand. 

Walker pulled away from me but started petting my cat. Oscar crept forward just enough so that he could get the loving exactly where he wanted it. Walker trained his gaze on the cat, focused on rubbing Oscar’s ears and coaxing the motorcycle purr out of him. Oscar wasn’t one to purr that loud, not usually, so I knew he was doing it on purpose. I was glad for it in that moment.

“You taking the case, Agent Willis?” Aeron’s voice was all snark, and maybe I was hearing things that weren’t there because my emotions were still so raw, but I fought to keep my expression passive.

“Get me up to speed. Tell me everything you’ve done so far,” I instructed instead of acknowledging his comment.

Marco spoke, giving a succinct briefing. “Walker headed out to the park where Archer usually runs. He followed his scent trail, but lost it. Which is when he called in the pack. Our best trackers are out there searching, widening the perimeter. Alpha is with them, but she sent us here to see if Gareth and Aeron could help.”

I nodded, taking out my phone. “Gareth? Is there something you can do?”

Gareth snapped to attention, reaching for Owen. “Yes. Aeron and I can set up a scrying. With us boosting each other, we can see if we can locate Archer.” He glanced at his brother, and Aeron lifted his cockatoo off his shoulder and nodded, determination crossing his expression. 

“Good. You guys do that, and keep me updated.”

“You’re going to help? You’ll find my son?” The hope in Walker’s tone made my stomach swoop. In that instance, I wanted to be the one to swoop in and save the day. To fix this for him and make his life whole again.

It pained me to have to say the next words. “I can’t take the case myself.” I didn’t elaborate, and I hated seeing the disappointment cross Walker’s expression. “But I’m going to make a call. Cash in a few favors. I promise, Walker, I’m going to do everything I can.”

He stared at me for a long moment before giving a single nod. Then he turned away from me, and walked straight into Marco’s arms. The big man squeezed the back of Walker’s neck and let him lean his weight. Marco had no problem holding him.

The jealousy was once again irrational, so I pushed it down. Shut that feeling in a box and refused to acknowledge it. I couldn’t help directly, but I knew just who to call to get Walker the help he needed.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.”