He’d been sitting right next to me. I could smell him and, god, how I wanted to touch him. But he only seemed interested in keeping a distance between us. He’d pressed himself against the passenger side door the entire ride to his aunt and uncle’s place. Then out of nowhere, he’d kissed me. No, that hadn’t just been a kiss. That had been memories of paradise reborn. It had been everything I’d ever wanted but never thought I’d have again.
I wasn’t sure whether to praise the sensitivity of my car horn or damn it to hell. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if he stayed in town. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if he decided to leave.
“Haven, you might not want to contaminate the crime scene. Just sayin’.” Meagan’s voice halted my progress a second too late. I’d stepped in a still slick pool of blood. She let out a long suffering breath. “We’re going to need your shoe, sir.” She was clearly trying not to laugh at my fauxpas. I appreciated it, I really did. The irritation still didn’t go away.
“Of course you do.” I grumped.
“You can wear these.” She held out a pair of booties. “I mean, if you’d been wearing them in the first place you wouldn’t have to go around deshod.”
“Whatever,” I grouched. Then gritted my teeth and tried to be less of an asshole. “I’ll just get reshod when I stop by my house.”
“That just sounds wrong for some reason.” Alex walked through the doorway to the living room.
He looked at Meagan. “That’s Haven for ya. Keeping Journeys’ open one crime scene at a time.”
I tool a swing at him and he ducked away grinning. I took a couple more ending with a feint that had him practically dangling from his leather jacket as he refused to slip out of this favored article of clothing.
“Wait,” he said, all seriousness. “Do you smell that?”
“You’re gonna need to come up with something better than that,” I respond smirking.
“Meagan! Wait!” he raised his arms letting the jacket hang empty in my grip. He really was serious. He grabbed the little forensic scientist and pulled her away from the body.
“Hey!” she screeched as she flailed against him.
“Meagan, that body’s practically a bomb right now.” He turned to me. “Do you smell that?”
A polar bear had a better nose than a bison, but I took a deep breath through my nose anyway.
“Garlic,” I said numbly. Dammit, I should’ve noticed it sooner. “Evacuate the building and call it in,” I state as I herd the rest of the forensic team out while Alex pushes Meagan before him.
Several hours later we were back at the office staring at a dry erase board full of information about Murrell. This was the second body, aside from his cousin, that he’d killed in this town. He’d left a trail of bodies over the last month starting in Texas and traveling north to the upper mitten of Michigan, ending here in Hidden Pines.
We weren’t a large city, though we weren’t too far from a couple, but we were nestled near a restricted access national park on a shifter reservation. This allowed space for both shifters and humans, the ones who lived outside the reservation, to feel safe. On the reservation, our Guard upheld the law and even FBI had no jurisdiction without our allowance. Which meant that as soon as Murrell passed into our territory, he was now our responsibility. Joy.
Walking in on the latest scene, my heart had stopped as I’d thought it was Keelan lying in a pool of blood. The bone-melting relief I’d felt at realising the truth had me feeling guilty toward the dead man. He likely had people who cared for him. People who would be devastated by his loss.
It was strange though. Murrell hadn’t left more than one body at any location on his way here. The only reason they’d known he’d killed them were the MO and the knowledge he’d escaped. Now there were two bodies. Here. In Hidden Pines. If he was here for something, what was it? What was his goal?
“Maybe he just wanted to be on a shifter reservation?”
My head whipped around to see Alex standing right next to me. He handed me a mug of coffee. Black. It’s not that I had anything against fixings. Sometimes I’d add sugar or cream, but black was quickest and the earthy scent of the beans were the best. The smells and sounds in the office must have meshed togther in the background for me not to have noticed his approach.
“You seem distracted lately.” Alex took a sip of his coffee, shifting his eyes from the board to focus on my face with a smug grin.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I responded to his first comment pointedly ignoring his second.
“Of course it makes sense, silly. The stunning Ash-cloud is back in town and, by what I hear,” his grin turned devilish, “you can’t keep your hands off.” I glared, not that it would do any good. He was a little smaller than Keelan at 5’9”, but our sparring matches were a bookie’s wet dream. Shifted or not.
“There are closer reservations to where he escaped. Hell, he could’ve just headed west to Yellowstone and might even have been able to disappear for good.”
“Oh, he’d disappear alright. The dragons there have a no tolerance policy, and while they’re on reservation land, they can’t be touched.”
“Not that anyone’d dare.”
“No, not likely.” Alex yawned.
“Go home. I got this.”
“No, I’m good,” he said as he stiffled another yawn.
“Go home,” I insisted. I turned him around and started pushing him toward the door. “Tell Kiki I said hi.” As soon as I said her name I no longer had to push as his eager footsteps carried him faster.
He paused at the door and looked back with a tired frown.
“Go.” I made the shooing motion with my hands and he chuckled and all but ran out of the office. I went back to the board and picked up my coffee, wrapping my hands around the waning heat of the mug. I stared at the board some more but all the pictures of the victims just reminded me of Keelean.
I had been angry at him, furious, when he’d left all those years ago. I couldn’t comprehend how he’d come into the company of the Architect much less worked for her. The bitch had been in slave trafficking as well as selling endangered species to anyone with deep enough pockets. Endangered species of shifters fetched the highest price. Ironic considering she was the Great Lakes’ lochness shifter herself, one of the rarest species. It had taken decades to bring her down. Turns out a Nessie isn’t so terrifying on dry land.
It wasn’t until I’d joined the Guard that I’d had access to all the details, but I had seen her trial. I’d seen Keelan take the stand. I’d heard his part in her organization. As her secretary he’d kept hefty documentation of her hierarchy, her deals, relationships to other organizations and individuals in various governments. It had been the trial of the century.
But it hadn’t been real until I’d read it for myself. Until I’d seen the interview tapes. Keelan had looked so small and more regal than I’d ever witnessed in those recordings. I’d learned that he’d approached the Guard rather than the other way around. He’d been so brave, so strong, so… alone.
I understood why he’d left me when he went into witsec. I understood why he’d said nothing to me. I could even understand why he didn’t come back when Jeanine Mor, the Architect, died.
I didn’t, however, understand what was happening between us now.
I took a sip of coffee. And promptly spat the cooled liquid back into the cup. It was time to go home myself. I wasn’t getting anything done and some sleep might help. I’d swing by the McCormick’s on my way. Just to check in.
“Haven!” Peggy all but shouted. “It’s good to see you, come on in.” She’d never had much of an indoor voice, but tonight she had to compete with two squeeling 5 year olds, a 9 year old who was chasing them and a 2 year old riding on the shoulders of the 9 year old and giggling hysterically.
I stepped back and motioned to the porch in front of the door in invitation for her to come outside. The noise cut off abruptly as she complied. Without stopping she walked down the covered deck to a pair of chairs and circular glass table that angled a little toward the street. I looked at the wicker pieces and opted instead for the wide, heavy duty porch swing opposite them. She turned one of the chairs to face me a little more while allowing her a good view of the street as the sun began to set.
We sat in silence for a while. There was a sharp array of purple and pink vying with the orange and red around the lowering sun as the rest of the sky fell into a blue melancholy. It was a riot of colors, sad but also, somehow, beautiful. I had to wonder if it represented what I was really feeling, that I came looking for closure.
“Well, spit it out, boy,” she said at last.
“I-” I cleared my throat, “I came to check on everyone.”
“Oh?” Her lip twitched, as she glanced at me from the corner of her eye. “Everyone’s doing fine. But I’m sure what you really want to know about is Keelan.” I only shifted slightly, but she didn’t miss anything. “He’s doing fine. He’s working for Basil if you can believe it.”
My eyes fixed on the side of her face. Basil? The one who’d refused to talk about his brother? Who’d flipped out whenever his name was mentioned? Who’d just glare at me whenever I walked into a room? That Basil?
I must’ve spoken aloud, because Peggy’s next words were, “the very same.”
“Hey, Aunt Peggy?” a voice called from the front door. “Uncle Joe says-”
Keelan froze a couple steps from the doorway, his eyes fixed on me. Nope. I still didn’t know what to do, but I was sure as hell that what I wanted was definitely not closure.