Authors: Lorelei Moone
Tonight was one of those nights. He could hardly control the urge to let his bear out, and as luck would have it, the moon as well as stars were hidden behind a thick cloud cover typical for this time of year. Scotland was pretty well known for its wet and unpredictable weather, especially when the last of the late summer warmth had left the land.
By now, early October, there was very little chance of the weather clearing up, so Aidan felt safe to be himself, if only for a little while. The Code of Secrecy all shifters adhered to was important to Aidan, that's why he only did this very rarely. Too much had happened in recent years to be lax about shifting in full view. Even just a single human witnessing a transformation was one human too many.
When he reached the edge of the park, his brisk walk turned into an impatient jog. After ensuring he was completely alone, he hid behind some shrubs and got undressed, concealing his clothes in the fallen leaves. Then he closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief as his instincts took over.
Fur sprouted where there previously had been none. As did claws and teeth, strong and sharp enough to tear flesh and crunch bone. His body grew to almost twice its original size and when he opened his eyes again, the world around him seemed to have changed along with him.
Things made more sense now.
Aidan had never expected that he'd come face-to-face with fate today. If he was completely honest, he had never really believed that there was one true mate for every bear out there. It was a strange and wondrous thing, the feeling of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone was meant to be yours.
She'd tried her best to hide it, to pretend like everything was all right and she didn't feel the way he did, but she couldn't hide her physical reactions to his presence. She couldn't control her hormones, the slight blush of embarrassment when they were interrupted at the pub, the flutter in her heartbeat when she'd caught him staring at her from across the table.
If only Jamie hadn't shown up when he did, perhaps Aidan wouldn't have been alone tonight. After wandering much of Scotland, and parts of Europe on his own as though he didn't need anyone else in his life, he felt a strange urge to share this place with her.
She wasn't ready for it though, he knew that. He would give her some space to come to him. Fate had decided that they be together, but that didn't mean they had no choice in the matter at all. She had to come to the conclusion herself that this was what she wanted.
He deeply breathed in the fresh air in an attempt to calm himself. The scents of grass and heather, along with a bit of salt from the sea hung in the air. He enjoyed the feel of the soft muddy ground under his paws, he even allowed himself to scratch at one of the bigger trees in the area - something he didn't do normally for fear of humans discovering the marks.
Throughout his little expedition back to nature, Aidan kept his ears open for any sign of human activity. He was good at hiding in the darkness, but he was never careless. Carelessness got you killed, he knew that.
Just as he was ready to leave again, his sensitive hearing picked up another presence further up the hill. Someone out for a late night walk up Arthur's Seat, perhaps? Two pairs of footsteps and muffled voices traveled down to his position. A couple, out for a quiet stroll?
Aidan stayed extremely still, and crouched down behind some of the shrubs set alongside one of the walking paths circling the hill. Sure enough, after a ten or fifteen minute wait, two men appeared in the distance. They were carrying flashlights to help them walk the difficult terrain, but Aidan would have seen them even without.
He ducked down behind the foliage, and just listened.
"Brother, I don't know if this is wise. It's been a while since we've had any action."
"That's exactly why it's time. Plus, those animals aren't going to wait for us to be ready. We should mobilize the old guard, as well as recruit a few new soldiers."
Aidan's heart started to beat faster. The way they spoke was eerily similar to some of the chatter on the message board he'd signed up on earlier. Could he accidentally have stumbled across a couple of members of the Sons of Domnall, just as they were planning to ramp up their activities?
"What about weapons?" asked one of the men.
"Leave those to me."
"All right. I'll start recruiting then."
"Good man. I'll be in touch when the leadership has formulated a plan."
Aidan took care not to disturb the shrubbery around him but couldn't resist a peek at the two figures ahead. Both of the men were white, one in his thirties, the other perhaps two decades older. They wore football shirts, Aidan could just about make out the logo of one of the main clubs in the city.
They gave each other a quick hug and pat on the back, and the younger one walked on up the path. The older man turned to go back to from where they had just emerged, giving Aidan the chance to get a better look at his face just for a moment.
Something about him was familiar, but he didn't think he'd ever met the man. Aidan was good with faces, so to come across someone he thought he might have seen before, without being able to identify when or where, was unusual.
Who was that? And why did he look so familiar?
Aidan waited as both of the men vanished from view and even their footsteps faded away in the distance.
The conversation he'd overheard was vague and didn't even fully prove that they were who he suspected. Still, Aidan knew in his gut that this was the real deal. This was significant. He ought to report what he'd seen to Jamie.
After staying out of sight behind the bushes for another ten minutes, just in case, Aidan hurried back to where he'd left his clothes. He transformed back into his human form just as a slight drizzle started to fall.
It was during times like these he regretted having to act human for most of his life. As a bear, he wouldn't have cared at all about the rain, but there was hardly anything worse than trying to wear clothes on top of damp, shivering skin.
As soon as Aidan was dressed, he wrapped his coat around himself tighter to ward off the cold, and rushed back through the streets he'd walked earlier. Not home, but straight to the office.
A few strong cups of coffee later, Aidan had opened the familiar news articles concerning his parents' deaths again. His recognizing the older one of the two men in Holyrood Park had something to do with the accident, he could feel it, but he couldn't pinpoint just why that might be.
Despite going over everything again and again, hoping for some kind of connection to form in his mind, he'd made no progress. Aidan already knew these pages by heart, so looking at them any further seemed like an exercise in futility.
Instead, he sat quietly in his chair, his eyes closed, and tried to remember everything he knew about the case. There was something missing. Something that the computer couldn't tell him. And then he realized what it was: the local paper that used to be delivered to the house when he was growing up didn't show up on any of the websites he'd found! He didn't even know for sure if it still existed.
Just after the accident, Aidan had collected every mention of his parents in the Isle of Skye Gazette. Every article and their obituary. The short feature on McMillan Farm that had served as a sort of memorial for his parents who, although private, had been well liked by the local community. He had to obtain those clippings to see if they could shed light on the matter.
Aidan checked his watch; 4 AM. It would be hours before either of his two colleagues would turn up to start their day. As soon as it was a halfway decent time, he would phone Jamie to let him know he needed to take a few days off. That would be the only way to put his racing mind at rest.
He crossed his arms and leaned back in the rickety office chair, in an attempt to catch some shut-eye. He couldn't find any peace though. In between images of the two men he'd seen at the park, glimpses of when he first saw Heidi mere hours ago infiltrated his frazzled mind.
Aidan hadn't wanted a partner, and especially not one new to the business. But knowing that she was safe upstairs made him feel more at home in this dingy office than he did whenever he visited the farm where he grew up. That was the thing about losing one's parents before their time: it could sour the idea of family… of home.
If he could just figure out just how their deaths fit into the grand scheme of things, perhaps he could move on and have a family of his own again. Perhaps that's why fate had sent Heidi his way now. Perhaps it hadn't been a coincidence, but perfect timing instead.
It had been a long, largely sleepless night, followed by a painfully early morning. Heidi had stared aimlessly into the darkness of her room, until she must have dozed off for a while without realizing. The vivid images of Aidan, shirtless, hovering above her with a hungry look in his eyes had felt so real. When he leaned down to kiss her, it was as if she could taste his essence on her lips, feel the tickle of his breath against her skin.
Like he had actually been there with her all night.
Although even in the midst of these most intimate of dreams she was still painfully aware of how inappropriate their affair was, she hadn't been able to resist him. He had made her feel something she had never known: a sense of belonging and purpose that had nothing to do with her duty to her pack, but that answered a deeper need within herself. For just a little while, she had stopped feeling so alone in the world.
Morning came in the form of a panicked awakening sparked by… Well, Heidi wasn't sure by what, exactly. The building was quiet, it was still dark outside, and everything indicated that she was on her own.
All she knew for sure was that she had a throbbing headache, and felt uneasy about what the day had in store for her. But she couldn't bear lying in bed anymore either, so she got herself up, tried to stretch the lethargy out of her tired limbs and reluctantly climbed down the stairs.
Coffee, that would solve everything!
Heidi could only hope that she would be able to find everything on her own, until one of the others came into the office.
"Oh!" Heidi exclaimed as soon as she stepped into the office, finding Aidan already sitting there poring over various printouts and websites on his computer screen.
He quickly closed whatever he had open on the PC, and rotated his chair to face her. "Morning."
He was wearing exactly the same clothes as yesterday.
Weird. Had he been here all night?
"You're up early..." she remarked.
He just smiled, bleakly. Yeah, she was sure of it now, he had never left. If he hadn't looked so focused on his work just now, she might have wondered if coming back into the office was just an excuse to be in the same building with her. He seemed to have other things on his mind, though.
"Is something wrong?" she asked at last.
"Wrong? Not at all. Why don't you grab a seat and we can go over a few things." Aidan pointed at the wobbly looking chair sitting in front of what was going to be Heidi's desk and pulled out a few files and notes from the mess of paper in front of him. "Oh, if you want to grab a coffee, I've made some already."
Indeed the scent of freshly brewed coffee had already made it into Heidi's nose, so she quickly poured herself a cup and got her chair. As she sat down beside Aidan, something told her that this, the matter-of-fact workaholic investigator, wasn't a front, but really him. It was strange to admit it, but she liked it. Here was a guy who could take things seriously when required, unlike some of the boys she'd grown up around.
"Excuse me for jumping right into things, but we're in the middle of an investigation, as you will already know."
"The Sons of Domnall. Yes, I know," Heidi responded, trying her utmost not to get distracted by his presence so nearby. If she reached out just a little, she would accidentally brush against his arm...
"Well, we've been trying to get close to them, at least on the Internet. We have an informant who has shared a couple of websites, and one of those hosts a message board that I have joined, pretending to be someone with - shall we say - similar interests and convictions." Aidan flipped open the first file, and showed her some print-outs from the websites in question.