Authors: Lorelei Moone
Later that afternoon, Heidi was still upset about the bear thing, obviously. But at least Aidan wasn't around to send her instincts into a tailspin. She'd been resisting him so far, how hard could it be to continue? Perhaps if she just worked hard enough, she could keep herself focused on the job alone.
Growing up, she'd heard a lot of stories about bears. They're lazy, greedy, anti-social... But now that she was working more closely with one, she had to wonder how much of that stuff was true.
Jamie seemed to be quite a reasonable person, save for his strange appetite and occasional grouchiness. He was easy enough to work with, and patient as well. So was Aidan, though. Kind, caring, and just reserved enough to be mysterious... And so very sexy.
Stop it! Stop getting distracted! You’re not mating with a bloody bear!
Heidi took a deep breath and tried to focus on her screen again. Luckily, her earlier prediction about females getting more attention online had proved to be true. Just eight hours after first signing up she had already received a bunch of responses from other members on the suspected Sons of Domnall message board. It was way more than Aidan's introductory post had received in days.
A lot of it was small talk, racist-style, but some people seemed eager to chat with her in more detail. She kept reading up on them, looking through Aidan's notes as well as existing discussions on the website, hoping to absorb as much of it as possible, while occasionally typing out hopefully authentic-sounding responses to everyone who had gotten in touch.
Time seemed to pass quickly, until finally later that same evening, the unthinkable happened: a private message arrived from one of the senior members of the forum.
A few of us are getting together tomorrow. Just drinks among friends, would you like to come along?
A sense of achievement welled up in Heidi's chest, or maybe nerves. Perhaps a bit of both. This was huge, exactly what they'd been working towards. Never once did she expect to get results this quickly, though.
"Hey, Jamie," Heidi called out, while waving at him excitedly.
Jamie looked up from his phone - who knows what he had been doing on there for the best part of the last hour. "What have you got?"
"I've got a way in with these people. They've invited me for drinks," Heidi explained.
Jamie got up from his chair and walked up behind Heidi, looking over her shoulder at the screen. He took a moment to read through the message, then Heidi showed him the discussion she'd been having publicly on the forum.
"Wow, great work." He patted Heidi on the back and pulled up a chair next to her. "Just a couple of things..."
"Yes?" Heidi asked.
"These are potentially dangerous people, but I don't have to tell you that, do I?"
"Indeed." Heidi nodded.
"And they're expecting you to go in alone, presumably."
"How are your fighting skills?" Jamie asked.
Heidi shrugged. She'd been training for years, with various weapons as well as hand-to-hand. Everyone in Rannoch knew how to fight. "I'm pretty decent. Easily the strongest in my class."
Jamie smiled. "Your father did tell me that, but I wanted to hear it from you. Very well, then. Keep it simple: in and out, say a few hellos, try to remember as many faces and names as you can, then report back to me. Do not under any circumstance engage them, understand?"
"I understand." Heidi forced a smile. She understood the potential danger she could get into. If they were Sons of Domnall members, and they suspected any foul play at all, things could go very badly for her. She only hoped she was a good enough actress to convincingly disguise her true intentions. "No problem, I'll handle it."
"Good girl." Jamie got up and gave her a final nod. "I suggest you take it a little easy tomorrow, so you're well rested for the meeting in the evening."
Although the storm had calmed down overnight, Aidan hadn't been able to catch much sleep. Yesterday's discovery had been simply too exciting, and his mind kept racing to come up with a plan to identify the man in the picture. So, Aidan was already up and enjoying a hearty breakfast in the farm kitchen by the time anyone else stirred.
"Morning," Aidan greeted his brother, who had wandered in topless and half asleep.
"Mhm," Derek responded, while pouring two cups of coffee.
Behind him, a slightly disheveled looking Clarice came into the kitchen and eyed Aidan suspiciously. "Morning."
She was wearing a t-shirt big enough that it could pass as a nightie. One of Derek's, no doubt. Aidan nodded at her and started clearing up his used dishes, keeping them in the dishwasher.
seemed too weak a word to describe the current atmosphere.
"I'm sorry if I seemed hostile last night," Aidan attempted to break the ice. "I was just concerned. This is all new to me."
"I understand," Clarice responded.
"No reason to be concerned," Derek added, while putting his arm around Clarice's shoulders. They did look happy together, like there was nothing else in the world that they could ask for. This was the kind of happiness you only saw between true mates.
Aidan shot them a bittersweet smile. His own mate was hundreds of miles away. A day's drive, but even when they were in the same room together, the distance between them seemed insurmountable. She had to come to him willingly, he reminded himself. He couldn't - wouldn't - force her.
"So, did you find whatever it was you were looking for last night?" Derek asked. He had a way of getting right to the heart of things.
Aidan glanced at Clarice, then reminded himself that they wouldn't have any secrets between them anyway, so he might as well tell both of them together.
"Yes. Have a look." Aidan sat down again and leaned over to retrieve the clear plastic folder with the newspaper clipping he'd found out from his shoulder bag, which was hanging from the back of the chair. Placing it down on the table, he slid it forward as Derek and Clarice both pulled up some chairs and sat down as well.
"This man." Aidan tapped on the picture with his index finger. "I saw him in Edinburgh two days ago. Overheard him discussing an attack."
"Wow." Derek picked up the folder and squinted at the picture, then passed it to Clarice. "You're absolutely sure?"
"I never forget a face."
"What does it all mean?" Clarice asked.
"Where do I begin? What does she know?" Aidan asked Derek.
"I overheard quite a bit last night, sorry about that." Clarice averted her eyes.
Derek took her hand and squeezed it encouragingly. "There shouldn't be any secrets between us. It's fine."
"So, I suspect that this man, and the one he was with in Edinburgh are members of the Sons of Domnall."
"Those are the people who hunt shifters, right?" Clarice asked.
Aidan nodded. "Yes. If he was around when our parents were killed, it wouldn't be such a big stretch to think he might have had something to do with it. Maybe he found out who they really were somehow."
"Right..." Derek scratched his chin, like he often did when lost in thought. "One thing doesn't make sense to me. If he figured out Mom and Dad were bears, why not kill us too? Why let us live?"
"That, I don't know... If I find him, I'll make sure to ask him that." Aidan shook his head. That was strange indeed. He hadn't even considered that point. Trust his brother to find holes in his seemingly air-tight theory...
"So now that you've found this, what's next?" Clarice asked.
Aidan looked up at her. "I find out who he is. Get a name."
"Of course." Clarice sat back and held her coffee in both hands, staring at nothing in particular in the distance.
"Well, if I'm going to be successful, I'd better be off. Who knows what the storm has done to the roads." Aidan took the folder, put it back in his bag and got up. "I'll let you know what happens."
Derek got up as well, and the two brothers hugged each other goodbye.
"Clarice." Aidan nodded at her.
"Bye, Aidan," she responded.
Aidan picked up his bag, slung it over his shoulder and made his exit.
The small town of Portree, about an hour's drive from the farm, might be the biggest settlement on the Isle of Skye, but it was still small by most people's standards. With a population of just under 2500 people, you could drive through the place in minutes.
Still, it was exactly here that Aidan expected to find his answers.
He drove up to the fire station, the only one on the entire island and hence the one that would have dealt with his parents' accident. If anyone knew who the man in the photograph was, it would be these people.
Everything looked quiet. There was no sign of any activity inside, and no cars parked in the marked bays next to the building. Aidan walked to the main entrance only to find it locked. Of course. Fire stations in small towns like this didn't have permanent staff, they just called people in whenever there was an emergency.
On the wall next to the bright red entrance door, there was a sign with a phone number to call if one needed assistance. Aidan took out his phone and dialed without hesitation.
"Hello?" a female voice answered after just a couple of rings.
"Hello there, I'm here at the fire station and I was wondering if I could talk to someone to help me identify one of your former firefighters?" Aidan responded.
There was a pause, and a low crackle in the line.
"To what end?" the woman asked.
To what end indeed. Aidan couldn't very well tell her the whole truth, so he opted for a partial version of it.
"Around fifteen years ago my parents were killed in a traffic accident on the island. I would like to speak to the man who was there. I have a photograph."
"I see..." she paused again. "Fine. I will be there in a little while."
The call was cut with a rustle and a click, and Aidan was left pacing the fire station parking lot back and forth on his own. He hoped she would be willing to help him out. And if she did, he hoped that the man in the photograph had actually been a real firefighter, not just someone dressed in a fake uniform.
But that wasn't his only concern: Derek was right. Why kill their parents and leave Derek and him alive? If the Sons of Domnall were trying to cleanse the world of all shifters, they should have come to the farm and finished the job just as soon as they found out that his parents had left two sons behind.
"Mister?" A voice called out to him from behind.
He turned to find a middle-aged woman standing a few feet away. She looked to be in her fifties, her long gray hair tied into a pony tail, and slightly dusty clothes that could only be described as 'sensible'.
"Forgive me, I was doing a bit of gardening when you phoned." She stretched out his hand towards him for a handshake.
"No problem. Aidan McMillan," he introduced himself.
"Helen Brown," she responded, while scrutinizing him over her small red-rimmed reading glasses. "Please tell me again what's the matter."
"You probably wouldn't remember, but fifteen years ago, my parents, Gillian and Matthew McMillan were killed in an accident on the A850..."
"I remember. Terrible business."
"It's been very difficult for my brother and me to come to terms with it, especially him since he was only a teenager when it happened. So, I was hoping to speak with the man who recovered the wreckage."
"I understand." She pushed her glasses further up the bridge of her nose and rummaged around in her handbag, retrieving a bunch of keys. "Why don't we discuss this inside?"
Aidan followed the woman as she unlocked the door, and walked into the dark, empty fire station. Through the hallway, towards the left, she opened another door leading to an office, where she offered Aidan a seat.
"How about a cup of tea?" she gestured at the kettle in the corner.
Aidan nodded and sat down, while taking in his surroundings. There were photographs on the walls, group shots with little captions that were hard to read from where he was sitting.
"So who is this fellow you're trying to find then?" the woman asked, while dropping teabags into two empty mugs. "Sugar?"