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.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here it is! Episode 9 and the conclusion for Rowan and Luca. It’s been a ride, and went places I didn’t expect, but now they’re settled. Or at least getting there! We’ll start a new one soon, but in the meantime, enjoy!**

I closed the door behind Agent Willis and let out a sigh, leaning against the cool wood for a moment. It didn’t take a whole second before Luca was behind me, gathering me into his arms and holding me tightly. I turned in his arms and rested my head in the crook of his neck. It was as though the spot had been made for me since my forehead fit there perfectly.

Luca rubbed my back but didn’t say a word, just held me and let me breathe. It was what I needed. The interview had lasted hours, Agent Willis had done his best to be kind and gentle with his questions. His partner hadn’t shown up with him, and I’d let him record everything. Before he turned on the device, he implied his partner wasn’t as compassionate as he was. Or maybe empathetic was a better word. Either way, I appreciated that he took care to ask me what he needed to but had been kind about it.

“You okay?” Luca’s voice rumbled through his chest, and it comforted me even more. I snuggled in closer, though it wasn’t really possible, and then squeaked when he picked me up. It startled a laugh out of me and I clung on while he walked the few yards to the couch and sat, settling me half across his lap. 

“Eh. I don’t know.” I took a few moments to really take stock of my emotions, then pursed my lips. “Is it weird that I feel kind of, I dunno, relieved?”

“No.” The firmness in his tone made me smile. “It’s not weird at all. You’ve been in fight or flight for most of your life. It has to be a relief to know your abusers can no longer hurt you. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

I squinted one eye at him. “You’ve been talking to Tenley, haven’t you?”

He shrugged one shoulder, not the least bit ashamed. Not that he should be. Our pack counselor was as wise as she was fair, and had a way being blunt without being harsh. Without her, I wouldn’t have made the progress I had.

“She’s going to not so gently insist I see her regularly again for a while.” I sighed, but I wasn’t upset. Right this moment, I was okay. But I was sure that wouldn’t last. I licked my lips. “I might, uh, have a little bit of a setback. So just, you know, you need to be—”

Luca stopped me with a quick kiss. “Sidestep, not setback. Healing isn’t a linear process. See her as much as you need to.”

I smiled then. He was so supportive, and I appreciated it so much. But then a thought struck, and I sat up straighter, grabbing his biceps.

“Luca, you have to…I mean…” I stopped and took a breath. “Yes, this brought up a lot for me. And it’s going to be rough for a bit.” I paused again, squinting as I thought. “Though probably not as bad as before, since I’ve come along way. But what I’m trying to say is that if you need some time for yourself, or a break or—”

“We aren’t breaking up!” It wasn’t a roar, exactly, and time was even that much would have made me flinched. But it was Luca, and I trusted him, so I didn’t.

“No, no,” I soothed. I loosened my hold and started petting. “That’s not what I mean. But your mental health is as important as mine, and even though I’m a little broken—”

“You aren’t broken!”

I continued like he hadn’t interrupted. “Doesn’t mean that I take priority. Remember? So if you need some time for yourself, I want you to take it, okay?”

He made some grumbling noises but didn’t say anything as he gathered me in close again. He stuck his nose against my neck, rubbing and scenting me. I just smiled and held on, let him do his thing, because I knew there was a comfort in that for him. When he was done, he adjusted our positions until he was lying down and I was lying on top of him.

For a few minutes, we just stayed like that, breathing in sync and listening to the ambient noises. Luca hand creeped in my hair and started rubbing my scalp. It was so soothing that I almost nodded off. I knew that was part of the stress of the day, the high emotions crashing down, but the rest was all him and the contentment I felt in his presence. A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have expected that. Wouldn’t have believed it even. But the time spent with Luca had changed it all.

“Rowan?” his voice was barely above a whisper. 

“Hm?” I stretched a little, then snuggled into a more comfortable position.

“I love you,” he murmured, tone sure. “Just want you to know.”

“Mmm. That’s good.” 

“Yeah?”

“Mhmm.” I kissed his collar bone. “Because I love you. And it would suck if it was just me.”

Too quick to track, Luca flipped us over, so I was on bottom, and he was crouched over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled and reached for him, putting my hands on his face just so I could touch him. When he bent to kiss me, it was sweet and loving, with just a hint of the passion he’d shown me before. I was ready to take it there, but he pulled back before I could. I wasn’t worried. I knew we’d get there soon enough.

Then he settled his body weight on me, and the deep pressure relaxed me even further. It was like my own personal weighted blanket, but with the exact right amount of pressure, and I sighed happily.

This was just the start of us, and it wasn’t always going to be easy. But I knew it would be good and exactly what we both needed.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 8 for Rowan and Luca. It’s been a journey, and I’ve missed a week here and there, but here you go. There’s one more episode after this. Enjoy!**

It wasn’t exactly surprising that Luca’s Jeep was in my driveway. Over the past few months, he’d been here more often than not. He claimed he liked my house better than his, but I just thought he liked to spend time with me and knew I was more comfortable in my own space. He didn’t seem to care where we were though, so I didn’t worry about it. It had taken time, but we were pretty good at communicating, and I trusted him to tell me if that change.

That being said, I wasn’t sure why his Jeep was in my driveway now. I’d been out running errands, but Luca was working today. Or at least I thought he had been. If his grumbles this morning as he forced himself out of my bed were anything to go by, then he and his crew had a lot of work to do on the house they were renovating, and I hadn’t expected him to be back until early evening.

The timing of his return was suspicious.

It could be that they’d actually finished early. Or run into a problem that stopped their work for the day until it got resolved. Hell, it could be that he just decided to cut out early to spend some time with me. Except he’d never done that before because Luca was too dedicated to his work. So it probably wasn’t that, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

Even though the logical part of my brain tried to tell me that it was most likely one of the former reasons—since odds were it wasn’t the latter—my rising anxiety immediately jumped to worse case scenario. Panic burbled in my gut, making my stomach ache in that way it did. I had to swallow hard just to keep myself breathing normally.

I had groceries in the car, but I was too anxious to bring them all in, so I just grabbed the cold bag that contained the refrigerated and frozen items from the seat beside me and rushed into the house. The front door was open, but the screen door had a tendency to stick, so I fought with it for a second before I managed to yank it open.

“Luca!” I dropped the bag and headed toward the living room

“In here.”

“What’re you do—” I sucked in a breath as I rounded the corner and saw not only Luca sitting in his favorite recliner but my alpha perched on the edge of the couch. Both men held themselves stiffly, concern etched into ever line of their body. My heart went wild, adrenaline bursting through my veins. “What’s happened?”

Luca tried for a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He held out a hand. “Come here. It’s okay, baby.”

My legs shook but I managed to make it across the room and take his hand. When he tugged me right down onto his lap, I went, even though I didn’t really fit. I wasn’t worried about being too heavy for him. It took a little finagling before we were comfortable.

“What’s going on?” I asked and my voice shook but I didn’t care. Luca’s arms tightened almost to the point of pain, but the deep pressure helped to settled me. I had a feeling, just from the look on Tom’s fac, that I was going to be needing a lot of that.

“I hope I didn’t overstep by calling Luca and asking him to be here. But I felt you’d want the support.” Tom’s voice was gentle. “I received a visit from the MBI. A Special Agent Willis. He came to speak to me about your former pack.”

For a second, I couldn’t breathe, but then Luca nuzzled my neck and held me even tighter, and air moved through my lungs again. I nodded, a jerk of my head, and Tom let out a breath.

“He would like to speak with you, but he allowed me to talk to you first. Not that he had a choice. I’m your alpha.” The possessive and protective growl in his tone helped me relax even further. I tried for a smile.

“What happened?” I’d asked it before, and I appreciated Tom’s attempt to ease me into things, but it was making my anxiety worse. Luca lifted his head, and I felt more than heard the growl, but Tom put him in his place with a look.

“He and his partner were investigating your old pack due to a death—”

I let out a mirthless snort. Tom quirked an eyebrow. I gave as much as a shrug as I was able due to Luca’s tight hold.

“Death is nothing new in that pack.” My voice wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be, but it was no longer shaking, and I called that a win.

“Perhaps.” Tom let out a sigh and clenched his hands together. “The death was a daughter of another pack, though. She was kidnapped and tortured before being beaten to death and left in a field. She was found two days later, and an investigation was immediately launched. It didn’t take long to find the culprits. Or to have them remanded to custody.”

None of that surprised me, exactly, even though it was horrible. I always knew my former alpha and his cronies were capable of such things. I just didn’t think they’d be so stupid as to do it to someone who wasn’t pack. If it was a wolf under the alpha’s control, he could almost always explain away the damage. But a wolf belonging to a different pack? That was another matter entirely.

“Who?” I had to clear my throat. “Uh, did they tell you who was arrested?”

“The alpha, two betas, and several other pack members.” Tom’s voice was low. He looked me straight in the eye. “Including your mother.”

I sucked in a breath as emotions warred within me. Most of me was fiercely glad they’d been arrested. Since the MBI was involved, chances were good that they’d not only be held accountable but that they’d get the harsh punishment they deserved. But there was also a part of me that was sad the woman who gave birth to me had been involved in it.

“Baby?”

I gripped Luca’s hands tightly where they were crossed over my chest but didn’t take my gaze off Tom. “Good.”

Tom studied me for a long moment, and then some of the tension left his body. “You don’t seem surprised.”

It wasn’t a question. I answered it anyway. “I’m not. Or rather, I can’t believe that they took the violence to an outside pack like that. But that they were capable of it? That’s not a shock.”

“Even your mom?” Luca’s voice was soft and his breath tickled the skin of my neck. I shivered but shook it off.

“The woman who birthed me was indifferent at best and cruel at worst. She allowed this to happen to me and others without doing anything to stop it. She didn’t even try. And it’s not because she was controlled like the rest of us.” I breathed deeply, using my coping techniques. I consciously let some of the tension go. I wasn’t in that place anymore, hadn’t been for years, and I was safe and secure now. Especially with Luca’s arms around me. “You said the agent wanted to talk to me?”

Tom took a moment to make sure I was actually okay. Then he nodded. “He’s willing to wait until you’re ready. He understands the trauma you’ve experienced.”

“Can, um, can Luca be there with me when I talk to him?” I gulped. “Or you?”

“He can just try and stop me,” Luca growled and then bit my neck. Not hard, it was just a nip. Just letting me feel him so I knew he was there. As if I could miss it. I turned my head to nuzzle his cheek.

“Are you up to speaking with him?”

I nodded, squeezed my eyes shut, and took a breath. “Yeah, okay.”

“All right.” Tom stood. He walked right over and cupped the back of my neck, rubbing his fingers and leaving his scent. “I’ll let him know.”

“He’s still around?”

Tom nodded. “He is. I’ll give you some time then send him over.”

With another squeeze to my neck, he left. Luca didn’t even wait until the door shut behind Tom before he turned me around and cuddled me in close. For a long moment, he didn’t say anything.

“Tighter,” I whispered and Luca squeezed so hard I could barely breathe. It was perfect.

“You okay?” He murmured into my ear.

“No.” I made it a point never to lie to him and I wasn’t going to start now. “But as long as you stay with me, I will be. Eventually.”

“Not going anywhere.” Luca’s voice was quiet but full of conviction.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 7 is finally here. Sorry for the delay. Sometimes the boys just don’t want to talk to me, or other things get in the way. But our wolves are back and they have one more episode after this. Enjoy!**

I was out watering the garden when I heard him. I kept my gaze focused on my task, but I dialed up my hearing, tracking his movements. Luca wasn’t trying to be quiet, and I smiled even though I didn’t turn in his direction. He was so good about letting me know exactly where he was at all times, so he never snuck up on me. And that took effort, because as wolves, we were naturally stealthy.

He came up alongside me, and I still didn’t turn, but I knew he could smell how happy and content I was. I wanted to see what he would do.

“Hey.” Luca’s voice was soft and low. He stepped closer, then behind me, and wrapped his arms around me, hugging me. I tilted my head, exposing my neck, and I shivered when he bents and kissed my skin. “Whatcha doing?”

I snorted a laugh and lifted the nozzle of the hose high, because I thought it was pretty obvious what I was doing. Luca playfully nipped my skin, a reprimand for my cheek that he wasn’t serious about. His amusement came through clearly in his scent.

“I meant when you were done.” Another nip to my neck, this one lower down, right at the juncture of my shoulder. A frisson of arousal shot through me, and I let out a little gasp that made Luca chuckle wickedly. I dropped the hose and turned in his arms, wrapping my own around his neck and pushing against him. 

Luca rumbled out his approval, pulling me even closer, so our bodies fit together perfectly. He pushed my hair back with one hand, then settled that same hand on the back of my neck. The arousal was still simmering, but it was pushed back but the happy hum of contentment at just being held. At being looked at like I was important and special. And as much as I wanted to jump his bones—especially because we hadn’t gotten that far yet—I was just as happy to stand there and let him hug me.

“I can be done,” I murmured, pushing up on my toes so I could reach his jaw. I kissed him there, lingering a little, and then settled back down and tucked myself tighter against him. He pushed his face against my hair at my temple, scenting me. 

“Wanna shift and run with me?” He grinned, then waggled his eyebrows, making me laugh. He kissed the smile off my face. He pulled away gently, adding a few quick pecks, and then lifted a brow as he stared down at me.

I was breathless when I answered. “Yes, please.”

He released me so fast I almost stumbled, but he was there to steady me. then he started stripping, dropping his clothes where he stood. I rushed to catch up, but stopped in the process of unbuttoning my jeans when he whipped off his boxers, whirled them in a circle and tossed them away. I didn’t know whether to laugh or moan, and in the end, the sound I made was a mixture of both.

Luca took a step toward me. I couldn’t tear my gaze from his body, all sleek muscle, toned and cut, and golden skin. He was simply breathtaking, and my libido reminded me that it did, in fact, exist. And was very healthy. I licked my lips, Luca’s expression turned heated, and he stalked closer a few more steps before freezing. I jerked my gaze to his, but he just smirked, shook his head, and dropped to one knee to let the shift overtake him.

Ah well. He was probably right. If he came closer, we’d never get to run in our fur, and we both needed it. Besides, I loved running with Luca. He made it fun and joyful, while also making me feel wholly safe and protected. I quickly got rid of the rest of my clothes, a little less carelessly than Luca had, then shifted. It took me longer than him, and by the time I was shaking my fur to settle it, he was sitting next to me. I approached, head lowered, and he licked my muzzle then rubbed against my face and neck, leaving his scent all over me.

I loved it.

He yipped and took off, and I raced after him. Wherever he went, I followed. Any time he stopped to scent the air or investigate an interesting smell, I did the same. He lead, and I was only to happy to follow.

Eventually we made it to a clearing on the far side of pack territory. I wasn’t tired, exactly, but we’d come a long way and I was pleasantly fatigued. I sat on my haunches and panted as Luca inspected the the entire space. Then he found a shady spot under a maple, laid down and yowled out a sound that I clearly understood.

Come here.

I obeyed, eager and happy, and pushed against him. Luca didn’t move, but he did give me the side-eye. I huffed out a wolf-version of a laugh, and he grumbled, so I pushed against him, tucked myself into the curve of his body, and laid down as well.

There was no denying his contented sigh. I echoed the sound.

Behind me, Luca adjusted until he could get one paw over my shoulders. I pushed in tighter. Only when we finally settled did a realize that we were cuddling there on the ground. Wolf cuddling. I’d never done it before. Not like this. I’d settled into a wolf pile before, of course. Wolves were tactile in any form. But this, with Luca, was something else entirely. It was intimate and comfortable, and meant more to me than I even could words to.

I breathed out, Luca set his bit head on top of mine, and cuddled together, content and happy, I fell asleep.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Saturday Edition! Sometimes, the words just aren’t there when it’s time for an update, but I didn’t want to leave y’all hanging, and my mind was occupied yesterday. So! Here’s episode 5 for Rowan and Luca. As per usual, I’m not sure how long this is going to be. Enjoy!**

I wasn’t nervous. I had been earlier, when I thought about a date with Luca. But now? Now I was just excited. Okay, so there were still a little bit of nerves fluttering in my belly, but they were the regular kind. The nerves that went along with excitement, of not knowing exactly what would happen, and wanting it to go well.

Because now I knew that Luca’s interest wasn’t new. That he’d been watching out for me for years. And that might have been creepy, except he’d never pushed, never demanded. Just quietly took care of things, and me, without ever expecting anything in return. Hell, he hadn’t even let me know how he felt, because he didn’t want to put any pressure on me.

He’d said as much, back on the porch, but until my conversation with Tom earlier today, I hadn’t really understood. Hadn’t really believed it, I guess. For most of my life, I’d been conditioned to think and feel a certain way about myself and the people around me. And it had taken long years and a lot of hard work to get past that. I still wasn’t completely there, but trust came easier these days. As did healthy ways to process and cope. I still had set backs. Yesterday’s panic attack was proof of that. But I was okay today because of all the work I’d done.

I was able to go to dinner with Luca today, and trust that he had my best interest in mind, because of that too.

So when the knock sounded, I all but raced to the door to answer it. And when Luca smiled at me, I grinned back. I didn’t hesitate to give him a once over—head to toe—taking in his big, muscled glory and his nice clothes and his styled hair. I didn’t even try to hide the big inhale as I took in his scent. And I didn’t question the happiness and excitement I caught from him.

“Hi.” My voice was a little breathy, but I didn’t care. “You look amazing.”

Luca preened a little, and by the glint in his eye, I knew he was showing off  just to get me to laugh. But then his smile turned soft, and he took a step closer.

“Thanks. But it’s you who looks great. Damn, but you’re beautiful.”

With how soft his voice was, I wasn’t sure he meant to say that out loud. But he didn’t seem embarrassed, and even though my first instinct was to dismiss the compliment, I checked that impulse and thanked him instead.

“Where are we going?” I asked, as I stepped out onto my tiny porch and pulled the door shut behind me. I’d already triple checked that I had my wallet, keys, and phone. But I couldn’t help patting my pockets one more time just to make sure.

“I thought Michelle’s.” Luca turned so we could stand beside each other. “It’s a nice night, and it’s only a few blocks over. I thought we could walk, enjoy the weather.”

I nodded my agreement and followed him off the porch. I liked that he stopped when he hit the sidewalk and waited for me to step up even to him. Then he fidgeted for just a second before holding out his hand. I appreciated that he hadn’t just reached for me, that he was giving me the option. And I only hesitated a second before sliding my fingers along his. His skin was so warm, and there were calluses on his palm, but there was a strength there I enjoyed. And I knew he’d never use that power against me. I felt it down to my bones.

We walked for a moment in silence. It wasn’t exactly awkward, but I could sense that there was something he wanted to say. Those previous nerves fluttered and grew just a bit. But I waited to see what it was, and hoped he’d get to it soon.

It was only another minute before Luca sucked in a breath. “I’m really glad we’re doing this, Rowan.”

Uh oh. “But?”

Luca shot me a look that lasted only a second before he faced forward again. He squeezed my hand. “No but. Well, a sorta but.”

I laughed, sure he was trying for amusing. “Okay. What’s the ‘sorta but’?”

“I’m nervous.” He gave a embarrassed kind of chuckle as he glanced at me again.

“Me too,” I admitted, keeping my tone soft. “Why’re you nervous?”

Luca shrugged one massive shoulder. “Because I’ve wanted this for a while, and I really want it to go well. Because I don’t know how to navigate your trauma to make you feel safe and comfortable, and I don’t want to do anything to upset you or trigger you. Because you’re beautiful and kind, and I’m just me.”

“Hey.” I stopped, and so did he. But he wouldn’t look at me. So I tugged gently on our still joined hands so he would face me. It took him a second, but then he met my gaze. Steady and strong, but I definitely saw the apprehension lurking there. “I appreciate the honesty. And I appreciate that you want to take care of me and make me feel safe. But here’s the thing. A relationship is two people, right?”

“Or more.” He gave me a wink which made me laugh. Then he got serious again. “But right. You and I are both in this.”

“Right. So I want you to remember two things. Are you listening?”

Luca’s lips twitched like he wanted to smile, but he kept his face very serious. “Yes.”

“Good. Thing one is that your feelings are just as valid as mine, and you have to be honest and open about them. You do not get to bend over backward or mask your own emotions just because you want me to be happy. That’s not fair to either of us.”

For a long moment, Luca didn’t say anything. And though his expression didn’t change, I could see the reeling of his mind in his eyes. So expressive. I’d have to remember that, now that I knew to look. I could clearly see that he didn’t want to agree, that he thought his own feelings should take a backseat to mine. He was a caretaker at heart, so I understood it, but it wasn’t something I would allow.

“Okay,” Luca finally said, his tone not quite solid. We’d have to work on it, but I’d take his agreement for now.

“And the second thing is, I’m going to get trigger.” I said it quietly, and I stepped in closer to him as I spoke. When I reached with my other hand, Luca was quick to take it. “Whether by you or something else, it’s going to happen. Yesterday proved that. I’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still more to do. But I know you’ll be there to support me, and help me out of a panic attack if that happens again.”

His eyes blazed with conviction as he said, “Damn right I will.”

I held his gaze as I lifted one hand, kissed his wrist, and then settled his hand against my neck. Luca’s breath caught when I tilted my head, giving him access, and though it took him thirty seconds, he finally cupped my skin, rubbing gently, scent marking me.

We both released a gusty sigh, and all I wanted to do in that moment was cuddle into him and let him hold me. The thought took my by surprise. Because even though I mentally trusted him, I hadn’t been sure the rest of me was on board. Clearly, I was all in. for a moment, I contemplated voicing that, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready to do that. So we stood there on the sidewalk for a long few minutes, just breathing the same air, his hand warm on my neck.

“All right,” Luca whispered, and he reluctantly pulled away. With our hands still joined, he gave me a tiny tug and we started walking again. “We both promise to be honest with each other then.”

It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “That’s the only way this works.”

“I agree.” He tucked me in against him, and I loved the warmth and the closeness.

“So tell me,” I said, trying to keep the happy sigh out of my voice, and going for conversational instead. “Just how long have you been pining for me?”

He groaned, but it was playful, so I let my cackle loose. Luca shook his head, but when I peered up at him, he was grinning. I laughed harder when I saw his cheeks color.

Yeah, we were going to be just fine.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode four of Rowan and Luca. Late again, but I had to sort out what was going on with Rowan. Enjoy!**

I wasn’t surprised that Tom came by to check on me. He was the best kind of alpha, the kind that took care of his pack, so when he showed up at my door, I released a breath and leaned into his touch. The scent marking soothed my soul, and when he pulled me into a quick, tight hug, the last of the tension left me. 

was surprised that the first thing out of his mouth was, “We need to talk.”

Just that fast, panic started to coil in my gut. But Tom knew me well by now, and he slid his hand to the back of my neck and squeezed tightly, holding on, which steadied me. He ducked his head so he was staring into my eyes.

“Nothing bad. Breathe, Rowan. I’m sorry my choice of words was triggering.”

I tried to wave it away. “It’s fine.”

He shook his head, a little frown marring his face. “It’s not fine. I need to be more careful with my words with you.”

“You shouldn’t have to walk on word-eggshells with me.”

Tom’s smile was kind. “No, but because I care about your well-being, it’s important that I be conscious of my words and actions.” Another pointed look. “We should all have those considerations for each other, yeah?”

He was right, of course. And that’s was yet another reason he made a good alpha. Another reason I was glad that I’d gotten out of my old pack and that Tom had taken me in. Taken care of me until I was on my feet again, and made sure I had the time and therapy to heal. 

I took a few breaths, using my coping techniques until I felt steady again. Then I was able to pull away and offer him a genuine smile and something to drink. He declined but headed for my living room. By the time I followed him in, he was already making himself comfortable on my couch. Oh. So this was going to be one of those kinds of talks.

I reminded myself, yet again, that I was safe with him. Usually, it wasn’t a challenge. But since the panic attack yesterday and the ensuing feelings, everything was closer to the surface than usual. The run had helped. Luca’s attention had helped.

“I wanted to check in with you, see how you’re doing.” Tom’s tone was conversational, and I was adept enough at reading people to know it was deliberate. It came from a lifetime of figuring out people’s tones on the fly, needing to know how I had to react to them in order to keep myself safe. 

I appreciated his effort nonetheless. “I’m fine.”

He quirked a brow. “Really?”

I almost chuckled at the disbelief in his tone. “Really.” I shook my head and blew out a breath. “I’m not back to baseline yet, but I’m getting there. Fine is an apt descriptor.”

Tom laughed then, and he relaxed even more. “Good. I’m glad to hear it. Now. You okay about Luca?”

I froze for a second, not sure how to respond, but then decided I would go with politely puzzled. “What about him?

Tom just stared at me. Just stared, no expression, blue eyes piercing me from where I sat across the room. I knew he wasn’t disappointed, just waiting me out, but I didn’t squirm and I didn’t break. I had far too much practice at being still and quiet, going unnoticed and unseen. 

“Rowan.”

Oh right. Tom always saw me. No matter what. He saw everyone in the pack, all the time. He knew us inside and out, because it was the only way he could see to our needs. I’d…not forgotten, because I could never forget, but falling into old patterns was easy when I was coming back from trauma response.

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I couldn’t look Tom in the eye, but I knew I didn’t have to. “He was really good to me and he said some…stuff. But I’m okay.”

“What stuff?”

“About his….feelings.”

Tom was so quiet for so long that I eventually looked up. Tom’s lips were quirked up in a small, and he had his hands clasped over his stomach. He held my gaze for a moment, making sure he had my attention, before he spoke.

“And what are your feelings about his feelings?”

“I don’t know yet. I don’t know him well enough,” I said, because I could be nothing but honest with my alpha. “But we’re going to dinner tonight to get to know each other better.”

“Good.” Tom’s satisfied tone made my eyes widen. I opened my mouth to ask what that meant but before I could get the words out, he spoke. “Luca is a good man, with a good heart. And he’s been pining for you. I’m glad you’re taking the time. And you can trust that he’ll respect any boundaries you set, all right?”

Pining? Really? Luca had been pining? How had I not seen that? Not noticed? I mean, granted, I hadn’t always paid attention to Luca. But Tom had clearly seen it. Was it because he was that in tune with his packmembers? Or had Luca been obvious and I’d just been freaking oblivious?

I nodded in response to my alpha’s question, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around words, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, my mind raced back, trying to think of all the interactions I’d had with Luca over the past few years. There hadn’t been many, really. We’d always been in the same room when the pack gathered, but direct interactions? There’d only been a handful of times, really.

Like about a year ago when the door had slammed, and I startled and nearly fell off the front stoop and Luca had been there to steady me. Or when I’d been sick with Lycan influenza six months ago and he’d dropped off soup and drinks a few times. Or both times a group of us had gone into the city to hit up the clubs and he’d put himself between me and rowdy, handsy patrons. Or the time the storm tore the shutters off the front of my cottage and they magically replaced themselves, fixed and repainted, before I could even think to fix them, and I’d seen Luca later with a smear of the same pale blue paint on his hands.

Oh. Oh.

I smiled then, warmth filling my belly. It helped, too, that my alpha approved.

But yes, I definitely had to get to know Luca better.