Authors: Lorelei Moone
Would the inside be any better?
Finally, a short wait later, someone opened the door. Her disappointments about where she'd found herself vanished instantly and were replaced by utter shock and disbelief, along with something else. Something more intimate.
His scent hit her first. A mixture of clean laundry and unmistakably male hormones made its way into her nostrils, setting her insides alight with a need she'd never felt before. His fragrance was different, unlike any other wolf she'd ever met.
The confused sensations she felt reminded her of the stories she'd heard, about when a wolf finds his one true mate. And yet, she wasn't elated like most of her peers would have been, she was royally pissed off. She's been sent on this important mission, and the first thing that happens is she wants to mate with a coworker?
Heidi couldn't quite make out what the man who had opened the door looked like, only that he was tall, so tall he blocked out most of the light from inside the room. Two amber eyes burned into her with such intensity that she wanted - but couldn't bring herself - to look away from them.
Damn. This was definitely the most inconvenient thing to happen to anyone, ever.
"Jamie gave me this address," Heidi heard herself say. "I'm Heidi."
Aidan McMillan shook his head, before focusing on Jamie Abbott's face again. "Just now, when we're starting to make progress, you want me to partner up with a rookie? You know I work better on my own."
"If the Alliance is to be successful in its campaign against the Sons of Domnall, we've got to keep growing. And it's not like you're in the middle of anything in particular right now," Jamie remarked.
Aidan glared at him, still incredulous over what he felt was a rash decision he should have been consulted about. But Jamie was the team leader, a role he took much too seriously indeed.
Team leader, but not a team player,
"You'll meet Heidi soon enough, don't worry. I'm sure you'll find her to be a valuable addition to the team. In the meantime, how are you getting on with that human you've been questioning?" Jamie crossed his arms and stared Aidan down until the latter finally backed down with a dejected sigh.
Involving a newbie was the wrong call. Aidan was certain of it but if he gave Jamie too much shit, he might stop being the laid-back leader and exact his revenge by turning into a micro-managing prick. That was something Aidan was keen to avoid, given how much of his day was spent on his private investigation, instead of the official one.
"The human, Alison, yes. She's given me a couple of websites to check out which at first glance appear to be just the usual racist, skinhead crap, but some of the wording used indicates they're speaking in code. They keep referring to themselves as 'the Sons', so that's promising. She's hiding something, I'm sure of it, but I think her information is sound."
"Good job, stay on that," Jamie said.
Aidan nodded. He'd already created a log-in on one of the sites, a discussion forum, and posted a fake introduction of himself. Although he wasn't sure how this group worked, he hoped that if he made all the right noises, perhaps someone would be in touch to find out if he'd want to be involved beyond just spewing hateful nonsense on the Internet.
"Right, well, I had better make a move." Jamie checked his watch, probably just to make a point, and put on his coat.
Edinburgh could get quite chilly this time of year and bears weren't so resistant to the cold while in human form. Shifting, of course, was completely out of the question in Scotland's second busiest city.
"Later," Aidan mumbled, as he watched Jamie leave the dingy office space they'd recently moved into. Then he folded himself into his much too small office chair and opened a browser window on the outdated desktop computer on his desk.
In addition to reading as many existing posts as he could on that skinhead website, he'd also been going through old articles about a certain event that had happened almost seventeen years ago to the day: the death of Aidan's parents. That's what he returned to.
He knew the words of most of them by heart already. Suspected car accidents on the far away Isle of Skye didn't get a lot of news coverage, so he'd been going through the same handful of articles again and again. Aidan felt like he was close to discovering something new in all that old information, but he wasn't quite sure if that was just because his frazzled brain was playing tricks on him.
Heidi, the rookie,
Aidan scoffed to himself. Sure, he'd meet her, he'd force himself to be civil enough in person too, but no matter what Jamie and the Alliance wanted, his thoughts were still his own. A very dainty name for a girl joining a covert task force out to hunt shifter killers. Aidan could just imagine her: a fragile little thing who'd worry more about the state of her hair and nails than the mortal danger in which they may find themselves.
After reading the end of the Google search results about the accident, he logged onto the skinhead website again. To his pleasure, one of the most prolific members had already commented on his introductory post. The greeting was full of national-socialist symbolism, with a few marked differences.
Along with calling themselves "the Sons,” the fact that they didn't refer to foreigners as much as "animals" or "monsters" signaled to Aidan that they weren't just ordinary skinheads. If only he could gain their trust somehow.
He browsed through the older discussions, adding to his existing notes about terminology to compile something of a glossary alongside other random observations he'd made. Every day he ended his shift with a quick read-through of all the new material, in an attempt to assimilate and learn about their "culture" to the point of it becoming second nature to him. There was no way of knowing if he'd need to apply it all someday soon, if he indeed managed to meet any of these people in person.
A knock on the door interrupted him.
Damn, was that her already?
Aidan got up, his chair creaking loudly as though relieved to be rid of the burden. He quickly crossed the half dozen steps towards the door, and turned the heavy lock until it released with a loud click. He tried his best to force himself into a more neutral facial expression, but he'd always had a hard time keeping his emotional state under wraps.
As he pulled the door open, revealing a wind-blown female figure outside, he had even more trouble keeping himself in check.
The statuesque silhouette standing in front of the doorway was less dainty and a lot more Amazonian than his expectations had allowed for. Long strawberry blond hair blew in the wind and two eyes cut through the darkness, staring right at him. But none of that explained how he felt – not even her irresistibly sweet perfume could explain it. He was frozen in place, helpless and enchanted, his massive frame blocking the entire entrance.
"Mr. Abbott sent me here," she said, while shaking the odd fallen leaf off her coat. "I'm Heidi."
"Right," Aidan responded, barely.
"So..." She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head to one side.
The pause that followed wasn't just awkward, it was painful.
"Are you going to introduce yourself, or...?"
Aidan had trouble focusing on her words, such was the immense pull her presence had on his inner bear. The beast was going crazy, fighting against his human side, desperate to break free and pounce on her.
"Oh, sorry. Aidan. Please come in." Though his feet felt like they were made of lead, Aidan stepped aside at last, allowing her into the office.
She eyed him suspiciously as she stepped inside and quickly pulled the door shut behind her.
They say there's nothing less flattering than fluorescent light, but Aidan couldn't recall ever seeing a more radiant sight than the woman who stood in front of him now. Her strong build suggested she came from a healthy lineage. She was a fighter. Intelligent yet slightly hostile green eyes stared at him; clearly, she did not suffer fools kindly and was used to being in charge wherever she went.
"So you're the rookie," Aidan remarked, more to himself than to her.
She frowned and pressed her lips together to form a tight line. Yep, a dominant personality, this one – as beautiful as she was strong-willed. Although she looked younger than him in years, she was no girl, but all woman.
It didn't seem like it at the time, but Aidan was usually good with the opposite sex. He was a reasonably witty conversationalist, and could usually get a laugh or two out of even the most difficult audience. It certainly helped that his large, muscular frame meant that most women found him attractive as well.
All that was wiped away now. In front of Heidi, Aidan felt helplessly stupid, like anything that would come out of his mouth would be all wrong.
. He should play it cool and talk about work.
"Welcome. You can take that desk." Aidan pointed at the unused table set against the far wall of the office.
Their eyes met again. Hers looked strangely fiery, even if they were a cool shade of green, and distrustful.
"Thanks," she said, her intonation making it sound like a question rather than a statement. He observed her as she walked to the dust covered desk and placed her overnight bag down onto the ground beside it.
Her gait suggested she was strong, flexible, but even that coat couldn't disguise that she had curves in all the right places, especially around the hips. She certainly didn't seem fragile, which pleased Aidan's inner bear to no end.
"Do you have anywhere to stay?" Aidan asked finally, after watching her inspect her new workplace for a few painful seconds. He had no idea what expectations she might have had of the place, but was pretty sure the reality would have been a disappointment either way.
She turned and shook her head. Her expression didn't give him much to go on, except she didn't look all that pleased to be here.
"No problem. There are rooms upstairs. The stairs are through there." He gestured at the door near what was now her desk.
As usual, Jamie had been economical with the details about Aidan's new partner. Would it have killed him to mention that she was going to live here as well? He might have made sure the place looked a bit more presentable. No, actually that was a lie. Aidan would have done nothing of the sort, he would have left things as messy and dirty as they were now, because up until the point of actually meeting Heidi, he would have loved nothing more than to see her run right back out of the office, never to return.
"Thanks," Heidi repeated herself.
"Say, I was just going to head out for the night, how about we grab a bite to eat? I know this great pub nearby. Best fish and chips in town. My treat," Aidan suggested.
It immediately occurred to him that his offer might seem way too eager, but it was too late to worry about that now, since he'd already blurted it out.
"Through here?" Heidi asked, while turning the knob on the door leading to the stairs, as though she never even heard his invitation. She didn't wait for an answer either, and reached over to pick up her bag again before marching off into the dimly lit stairwell.
"Yeah, just take any room, they're all empty," Aidan called after her, just before the door shut behind her.
Very smooth, you idiot,
he thought to himself while shaking his head. He could already tell that an uphill battle lay ahead if he was going to get along well enough with Heidi. She might be his mate, but she certainly wasn't all that friendly about it.
Heidi didn't know what to do. Should she take up Aidan on his offer of dinner? It would be the civil thing to do, and yet she really wasn't sure she was up to spending her evening socializing. All she really wanted was to crawl into the steel framed bed in the sparsely furnished room she found herself in, and hide under the covers.
So this was where she was going to stay and work...
It wasn't anything like what she thought a home ought to look like. Clearly this place could benefit from a feminine touch.
And Aidan? He seemed unusual, very unlike the boys she grew up with in Rannoch. Oddly enticing, like he was carrying a deep, dark secret that was just begging to be uncovered.