Authors: Lorelei Moone
"Okay." Heidi took the first sheet and studied the screenshots. The whole thing was quite vague, nowhere did it mention that these people knew about shifters, or were out to hunt them down. Of course they'd keep that kind of content locked away from the general public...
"They present themselves as ordinary right-wingers; racists and bigots," Aidan clarified, before she had the chance to voice her observations.
He showed her another few sheets of paper which contained conversations - presumably printed from the message board, as well as a glossary containing phrases and words the members had used regularly.
"Has anyone made contact with you?" Heidi asked.
Aidan looked up, meeting her gaze with his. Their eye contact was almost painful, making her heart race and stomach flutter. Heidi quickly looked away again and reached over to pick up her coffee from the desk, knocking the cup over in the process and spilling the remainder of its contents across the floor.
"Oh, crap, I'm so sorry!" Heidi jumped up instantly, picked up the cup and set it aside, before looking around for a towel, or a cloth of any kind.
Aidan just observed her for a moment, before reaching into one of the drawers of his desk, taking out a large pack of paper napkins.
"Here you go," he said, his voice a lot gentler than it had just been when he was briefing her. How had he managed to switch from complete pro to warm and friendly in a split second?
His finger brushed past hers ever so gently when he handed her the napkins, sending shivers down her spine. She flinched and retreated instantly, but somehow something had changed in her. She felt like he was still touching her, even though they were at least three feet apart from one another.
No way, that was stupid.
She was just tired, and the lack of sleep was starting to mess with her mind.
While she tried her best to contain the mess on the floor, he seemed to go right back into work-mode as if nothing had happened.
"One of the regular members of the message board has sent me a couple of messages, yes. Nothing beyond that, but I'm hopeful." Aidan took a deep breath, before continuing. "But that's not why I came in last night."
"No?" Heidi asked, while picking up the coffee-soaked napkins and putting them into the trash.
"I overheard a conversation, while I was out for a walk after dropping you here. The details are inconclusive, much like these websites are, but my instincts tell me there's something more to it. I may have accidentally stumbled across two of their members..."
Heidi stopped what she was doing and stared at him.
Wow, could it be?
Obviously this was what she was here for, to make a real difference, but she hadn't heard of the Alliance actually making much progress yet. To find that Aidan had come across some potential real life members of the Sons of Domnall on her first night in the city was incredible. She couldn't wait to tell her dad the good news.
"That's amazing! Does Jamie know? What are we going to do, follow them?" Heidi asked.
Aidan shook his head throughout her questions and raised his hand, making a calming gesture. "There's no point in doing anything until my suspicions are confirmed. But there is something else..."
"What's that?" Heidi thought she could pick up on a vibe that told her he was about to share something significant.
"I think I may have recognized one of them," Aidan's voice was low, clearly this information was something he had intended to keep secret.
She didn't respond straightaway, and before she had the chance, the lock on the front door clicked, revealing a wind-blown Jamie Abbott.
"Morning, guys! You're up early!" Jamie greeted them with a wide grin, which to Heidi looked a bit off.
"That's what she said," Aidan remarked dryly while getting up from his chair.
Heidi nodded and smiled back at Jamie, while trying to figure out if she was just tired and hence seeing things that weren't actually there. He was nice enough, had been last night as well, but something made her feel like he was hiding something from the two of them. Perhaps she was just picking up on Aidan's emotions, who clearly preferred being alone with Heidi over having Jamie around.
It's all in your head, woman!
"I'd like a word, please," Aidan told Jamie, who nodded and followed Aidan into the stairwell, leaving Heidi on her own.
While the two were outside, Heidi wondered why she wasn't more curious about their exact conversation. Her instincts told her that Aidan had taken Jamie aside not to hide something from her, but to handle him. Why she would think that, she wasn't quite sure. It must have been a fated mate thing, some failsafe that ensured mates trusted each other implicitly.
Instead of pondering their strange relationship further, Heidi picked up some of the papers Aidan had showed her and started to read. She went through the glossary, the transcripts of various conversations between suspected Sons of Domnall members that had taken place on that message board, and finally, she studied the beginnings of a members list Aidan had put together.
They all used aliases, which didn't mean much to Heidi. Nobody had put up their own picture either, but Aidan had somehow managed to put together a few relevant details about each one of the people he'd followed online. Their profiles contained suspected locations, as well as age ranges for some of them based on turns of phrase or slang they used. Aidan had also added certain special skills to some of the profiles. If this information was true, it was impressive work. She did wonder if half of the details were just wild guesses, though.
By the time Aidan and Jamie appeared again, Heidi had already switched on her computer and started browsing the website and message boards herself.
"Heidi?" Jamie called out to her.
"Yes?" She got up and joined the two men in front of Aidan's desk.
"Aidan has just briefed me about an important development in our investigation. Unfortunately he has a family emergency to attend to, so he's going to be away for a few days. In the meantime you and I will work together."
Heidi looked up at Aidan, then back at Jamie.
A family emergency?
It didn't feel right, but from the look in Aidan's eyes she knew not to question Jamie's explanation. She would find out what was really going on when the time was right.
Jamie led her back to her desk and took a seat beside her, while Aidan busied himself stuffing various items into a worn leather shoulder bag.
She turned around, observing him for a moment.
she thought. Aidan looked up and shot her a subtle smile just when their eyes met. As though he had heard her. That couldn't be, though… could it?
"Let's go through the rest of these files together," Jamie said.
She turned back again and responded with a quick nod. "Okay."
Jamie opened another folder and handed it to her. Inside were pictures and names of people - shifters - who had gone missing under mysterious circumstances. She didn't recognize any of them, but felt deeply sad seeing their faces anyway. The list read "Suspected Sons of Domnall Victims" across the top.
Behind the two of them, the door creaked open, and then fell shut with a click, and Heidi felt that Aidan had gone.
The drive from Edinburgh to Aidan's home on the Isle of Skye was a long one. Six hours in the best of conditions, without taking any breaks. But these weren't the best of conditions...
By the time Aidan made it to the island, a storm was lashing the rugged landscape, making conditions treacherous at best, lethal at worst. He knew his brother Derek would have taken precautions, so he wasn't worried about what he'd find there. Still, it didn't help that the thick clouds overhead had made dusk arrive much earlier than normal.
The stores were always fully stocked with food, as well as firewood and other supplies they would need to weather a storm. Especially at this time of year, shortly before winter would properly set in, the farm would have everything he'd need. Although he didn't visit home nearly often enough, he could always count on a warm enough welcome, including good food, courtesy of his brother.
The landscape on the island was starkly beautiful: barren hills, covered with a smattering of heather and tough grasses, broken up only by the occasional patch of woodland. The black cliffs that rose up from the center of the island stood proudly against the dark gray skies, like timeless giants, bearing silent witness to whatever went on around them.
He kept on driving, despite the winds trying to push his car off the narrow road and into the nearest ditch, until finally Aidan had to admit defeat. With the woods surrounding McMillan Farm already in view, he parked his car to make the rest of the journey on foot. The trees were old, weathered - a legacy from Aidan and Derek's ancestors who had planted the first of them two centuries ago when they first settled here, and downed branches would make driving conditions even more treacherous up ahead.
The storm had brought in cooler air from the north, and rain and sleet would seep into Aidan's clothes, chilling him to his core. He knew what he had to do: if he wanted to make it home safely, he had to shift.
Still in the car, safe from the elements, Aidan got undressed. A deep breath later, he stepped out into the icy cold, and let his instincts do the rest.
The entire process was over in less than a second; the cold was a brilliant motivator for quick shifts. He started to run in the direction of the farm, his paws carrying him over the mossy, wet ground much faster than human feet could have. Plus, he didn't have to worry about the cold creeping into his muscles, slowing him down.
Although the roads would be empty in these conditions, he kept off them anyway out of habit, which was just as well because his car wasn't the only one out this evening. A gray hatchback stood still in the middle of the road just inside the woods, its lights still on and filtering through the rain.
Aidan's heart started to race. He checked the car from afar first, then investigated it up close once he realized there was no sign of life anywhere around it. He could smell blood. Human. But whoever had been in the car at the time of the accident wasn't around anymore.
He decided to get back on course to his original destination, home. Aidan couldn't explain it, but he felt that something had gone very wrong.
Still anxious, Aidan entered the farmhouse in a rush. Coming up the drive, he had seen that most of the house was dark, save for a dim light in the bedroom and the kitchen. The storm must have knocked out the power. When he found the kitchen empty, save for a pot bubbling away on the fire, he proceeded down the hall and burst into Derek's room. Nothing could have prepared Aidan for what awaited him.
In the bed sat a woman, her mouth wide open in shock. The bright red bruise on her forehead stood out against her pale skin. Aidan stared at her, equally surprised, then spied his brother's form lurking in the corner of the room, as if he'd been guarding the female.
"Aidan. Bad timing," Derek growled.
"Well... This is awkward," Aidan responded.
They weren't very close, Aidan and his brother, but Aidan just couldn't imagine Derek and this woman... Derek had never shown interest in the opposite sex. While Aidan had been the more curious one, Derek had been content tending the farm on his own.
So, what was different about her?
"A word, please?" Derek said. Aidan agreed and they both exited.
"She's human," Aidan said as they made it into the hallway, shutting the bedroom door behind them, and immediately shifted into his human form again.
"She's seen us." The more Aidan thought about it, the more he realized the disaster he had gotten himself into. It was obvious that the car wreck on the road had belonged to this woman; she had the cut on her head to prove it. And yet he had marched into the house as a bear, expecting that Derek was on his own like he always was.
They moved into Aidan's old room and got dressed. As Aidan continued to question his brother, and Derek kept insisting that she was a guest who had rented one of the cottages, he was certain that there was something else Derek wasn't telling him. So what if she was a tourist? So what if she crashed her car? None of that explained why she was in Derek's bed rather than her own.