Authors: Mandy M. Roth
Tags: #[email protected], #dpgroup.org
He was quiet a moment and she feared he might actually leave the chat. Something close to panic began to rise within her at the idea he might be upset with her and stop speaking to her. As the realization settled over her that she couldn’t go a full day without conversing with him, her pulse raced and beads of sweat began to form on her brow.
Holy crapola, I’m really into this dude.
“Thank you,” he said, breaking the long pregnant pause that had bloomed in their conversation. “There are certain anomalies I’m attempting to isolate so that I can better understand a few other things.”
It was easy to hear he didn’t want to expand further on what he was doing. She could respect that. She cleared her throat and decided a new topic was in order. “I wanted to thank you for the suggested reading material on servicemen suffering from PTSD. It’s been very helpful.”
“The veteran you’re refusing to tell me much about,” he said softly. “How is he doing?”
“As good as can be expected,” she said. “It helps me to understand a little more about what he might be going through. I can’t thank you enough. I’ll never really get what it’s been like to walk in his shoes, to see and do what he’s had to do, but now I’m at least better able to try. As a doctor, do you treat a lot of men and women who served?”
A shaky laugh came from him. “You could say that. Also, I’ve served myself. I can very much relate.”
It was difficult to keep from liking the man even more. Laney had a soft spot for veterans. “Thank you.”
“For?” he asked.
“Serving,” she said.
Dead air seemed to last forever before he spoke. “I’ve told you already that if you want, I can come to you—meet somewhere neutral—and see what I can do to help these men. I’m more than qualified as both someone who has been in their shoes and a medical professional.”
“How do you know there are more than one?” she asked.
He laughed softly. “Your voice. The things you say to me. Makes me think you’re keeping an eye on a number of men who served in the military but who no longer fit into society’s norms.”
“They’re good men,” she said a little defensively. She would do anything to protect them.
“I know,” he returned. “I can tell by the way you talk about them that you care. A lot. That is a good thing. A really good thing. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re totally and completely alone.”
“I do care about them,” she said, her voice low. “They’re like family to me.”
“I guessed as much. And I’m happy to hear you’ve made a breakthrough in your data mining,” he said, sounding anything but pleased with the news she’d shared. “Can you tell me anything more?”
“This group I’m looking into is totally screwed up and they need to be stopped,” she said, before thinking better of it. “Never mind. It’s nothing.”
He sucked in a slow breath. A prickle of unease settled over her and she could have sworn it radiated from him. That was crazy. “Tell me what you’re working on,” he said, a cautious note in his voice.
“You’ll tell me I’m nuts. My best friend tells me that daily,” she said, hoping to lighten the mood. “The guy your info on PTSD helped me with, he’d believe me, I’m sure of it, but I don’t tell him what I’m doing. He’ll lecture me on the dangers out there and how the big bad wolf will come and eat me for interfering.”
“He’s probably not far from wrong,” he said. “I won’t judge you.”
Laney bit at her lower lip and then decided to give him a small sample of what she’d been doing. “What if I told you I think supernaturals are real?”
“Like Bigfoot?” he questioned, a teasing note in his voice. “I’ve heard there are already teams dedicated to trying to find him. I’m pretty sure he sits in a tree, looking down at them, thinking, ‘Stupid humans’.”
Laney’s cheeks lifted as she smiled wide. “I’m being serious.”
“So am I,” he said. “Okay, so you’re talking more on the lines of vampires and stuff?”
She shrugged. She was about to admit to him, out loud, what got her labeled a nutjob. “Yes. But all kinds of other supernaturals too. Like men who can turn into animals. Werewolves and other were-creatures. Even skinwalkers. Witches. Faeries. Other mythical creatures.”
“Go on,” he said, something raw in his voice.
“And what if I told you there was a group of powerful companies, certain governments and people that banded together to form a coalition of sorts—a corporation—that while on the outside they appeared normal and helpful, behind it all they were monsters who hurt people and supernaturals? That they want to create a master race? That they have an end goal to make super-supernaturals?” she asked, waiting for him to laugh.
“I’d say it’s dangerous to be digging up information on this corporation and that it would be unwise to continue to put yourself in harm’s way.”
“You don’t think I’m batcrap crazy?”
He spoke, “I think you’re painting a target on yourself.”
“You sound like Casey,” she said.
“I take it Casey is the veteran you wanted information on PSTD for.”
Laney stilled. She hadn’t meant to say Casey’s name. She knew how private he was. How much he didn’t want to be on the grid in any way. “Do you believe me?”
“Does it matter?” he asked.
It did. More than it should. “Yes.”
“Then I believe you. And I believe this corporation would have to be powerful and willing to do anything to silence someone they viewed as a threat to their coalition. And GothGirl, I would think a young woman mining data in their servers would be viewed as a threat. Do you agree?”
“I guess, but they’d need to know what I was up to and they don’t,” she boasted. “I’m that good. I get the data I need right under their noses and they’re none the wiser.”
“Or they want you to believe they have no idea, but in reality they’re monitoring you,” he returned, sounding very sure of himself.
She tensed. “Maybe. I’m careful though.”
“GothGirl,” he said, real concern radiating from his voice. “These people don’t sound like people you should cross.”
Laney reflected a moment, weighing how smart it was to give away information about herself to someone who was technically a stranger. Something deep within told her it was the right thing to do. Harmony was the only other person beside her “boys”, as she referred to them, who knew her name. She was about to add one more person to that short list. “Laney. Please call me Laney. It’s my name.”
“Laney.” He hummed softly, the sound making her belly tingle with desire. “That is a great name. Rolls off the tongue much easier than GothGirl.”
She smiled. “I understand if you don’t want to share your name.”
“James, but most people call me Jimmy or Hagen,” he said quickly. “Guess it depends on whichever you prefer. I went through a brief spell in the last ten years or so that I picked Jimmy, but honestly, no matter how far I run or how much I try to change, or what someone calls me, under it all, I’m still just me.”
Laney ran a hand over her upper chest and leaned in towards her monitor as if she could see him. In reality, she saw only a blank window on her screen with his user name in it. She could have done a search on his name to find out everything there was to know about him, but somehow, in this case, it felt like a violation of trust. No. She’d leave learning about him up to chance, something she rarely did. “Nice to meet you, Hagen.”
“Laney,” he said softly. “I’d like to really meet you. In person. I realize that may seem unwise given the short time we’ve been talking, and the fact that while we converse a great deal, we don’t know that much about one another.”
She enjoyed the way he talked, often as if he were a man out of place in time, while other moments he spoke like he was totally in the know. “I want to meet you in person too. Can you get away and meet for coffee around eight tonight? I know you’ve been spending a lot of time in your lab and that you want to crack whatever mystery it is you’re working on, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to take time out for this tonight.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Where do you want to meet?” he asked.
She licked her lower lip, very pleased that he wanted to see her too. “It’s a good thing we figured out we’re local our first night talking, or this meet up would take some serious planning.”
“True. But you should know, I’d do whatever it took to get a chance to meet you.”
She wasn’t sure what to say to that, but did know that it warmed her to hear him say it. “Let’s meet at
on Ninth,” she said. “Got a pen? I’m going to give you my cell.”
“Go ahead and tell me. I’m good. I’ll remember it.”
James found himself humming classic rock tunes as he went back to work, feeling energized after speaking to GothGirl. He had a date with her and he felt like a young man again. He’d not been on a date in so long he only hoped he still remembered how to handle himself.
“Laney,” he said in a soft whisper.
He had a name now, and he knew he should notify Corbin of his progress, but he didn’t want to share her with anyone. Not even the captain.
He mentally slammed to a stop.
Where the hell did that come from?
Had the Corporation’s experiments on him left him so out of touch with his natural responses that he was now fixating on some random woman—the first woman who caught his interest after his horrible ordeal? Was his body really betraying him in such a cruel way? Giving him false positives on his body’s inborn need to lay claim and mate?
The door to the lab swung open so fast it struck the wall. James tempered his elation over his upcoming date with Laney. He raised a brow and looked to the side as two of his teammates entered, arm in arm, swaying as if they might be too drunk to stand.
Knowing them, they were.
Being immortal shifters, the men could pack the liquor away and metabolize it at an extraordinary rate. For them to be in the state they were currently in, they must have drunk a whole hell of a lot. He’d once found Duke, Striker and Boomer asleep on a pile of empty bottles in an alley behind a bar in New York. None of them could remember how they’d gotten there and each smelled like they’d drank their weight in whiskey. It was the early eighties, and whatever had happened that night had left Duke wearing a pair of spandex pants—something he would never wear willingly. That wasn’t the best part. Striker had on full makeup and his hair teased all while wearing a t-shirt for a pop-rock band that James knew the guy hated.
That must have been one hell of a drinking night.
James’s mood lit with the memory of it all.
Miles “Boomer” Walsh’s long dark hair was down today, and when he entered the room more, the lights caught varying colors running through his hair. In the right light it looked almost blue-black. His unnaturally violet gaze found James and he stopped, causing the man currently hooked to him to nearly fall on his face.
That would have been something to see considering just how big Dougal “Striker” McCracken was. He was easily the biggest of James’s team of men. He was currently the hairiest as well. Already there was a challenge going at PSI to see who could convince the guy to shave. So far, no one had won. The auburn-haired giant had given up shaving some time back and resembled a mountain man more than the Scottish Highlands warrior he truly was.
James noted the kilt Striker wore and didn’t comment. No point. The man was the type of supernatural who was proud of his heritage, of the long life he’d lived. His friend was more comfortable in kilts and more often than not Striker said fuck it to society and wore one around. Of course, the guy paired it with combat boots because it was Striker and that was his personality. He’d been in jeans most of the week, which made James wonder if tonight was one of Striker’s “I miss the motherland” nights.
Songs and odes to William Wallace were sure to follow. James had been on the receiving end of countless conversations where Striker tried to convince him that PSI should get a day off work each year in honor of the fallen hero of Scottish lycans. So far Striker hadn’t made any great strides in making that happen.
Wasn’t for lack of trying though.
Striker had the kilt paired with a t-shirt that read
Have Stake Will Use It
. The man wore stranger things. James didn’t question.
Striker looked up, a shit-assed grin on his face. “Och, lookie, told ya we’d find the doc in here, playin’ with nerdy things. Find the beakers, find the doc. A quote we could live by. Well, unless the doc is in hiding for ten years again, then you do nae find jack shit.”
James refrained from comment as he had indeed gone to ground for a decade, lying low, going rogue before he’d been captured and held captive all those months. He was back now. That was all that mattered, despite how much it clearly still bothered Striker. Though he did miss some of his street contacts.
Boomer lifted his left arm and clicked his fingers. “You
a genius,” he said, his speech slurred. He made a move to high-five Striker, but ended up hitting Striker in the side of the head instead.
Striker didn’t seem to notice or care. He reached down with his free hand and scratched his ass, thankfully through the kilt, or James was sure he’d have gotten an eyeful of Striker’s naked self. Not that he hadn’t seen the man naked before. They were shifters after all and had run together when letting their wolves free too many times to count. Still, he wasn’t really up for getting a glimpse at the Scot’s man parts.
“You’re coming out with us tonight,” said Boomer, pointing to James. “We’re going clubbing.”