Authors: Lorelei Moone
It was then that Derek turned the tables on Aidan and started asking
Why are you here?
There was something in Derek's tone that made Aidan defensive. As if he had to have a reason to come home.
Still, being vague about everything wasn't going to help any. As Aidan and Derek finally headed into the cozy kitchen for some much needed warmth and nourishment, Aidan felt it was time to share at least some of his recent activities with his brother.
He was going to tell him about his job at the Alliance, but it was Derek who spoke first.
"She's my mate, Aidan." Derek's words explained everything.
He started to clarify how he felt, but Aidan didn't need further details to know exactly what was going on. The way Heidi had made Aidan feel from their very first meeting onward had driven him to act out of character too. Now that the woman, whose name turned out to be Clarice, had seen the two of them as bears, there was no turning back either. Derek wouldn't let her go, that much was obvious. He couldn't, just as Aidan couldn't ignore his feelings for Heidi.
When it was Aidan's turn to speak, he indeed opened up to his brother. About the Alliance, and their work with the Sons of Domnall. Aidan didn't believe in fear-mongering, but it was only sensible to inform people, and especially Derek, so that he could prepare himself.
But Aidan's concerns about exposing his real self to a human didn't fade. Derek would never be able to do anything to harm Clarice, the woman, because she was his mate. But would the same rules apply to her? He tried to tell Derek about the dangers that existed nowadays. How the Sons of Domnall had actually been hunting shifters, so the Code of Secrecy all shifters lived by had become doubly important. You never knew who was watching, or whom to trust. As far as Aidan was concerned, any human was a potential threat.
"I'm not sure we can trust her," Aidan insisted.
"I am," Derek responded.
Something in Derek's eyes had changed, a glow that hadn't been there before. Bears' eyes glowed when they were in danger, angry, or otherwise riled up. But Derek's body language wasn't threatening. When a female voice started to speak from behind Derek, all was explained.
Clarice, the human, had woken up and found her way into the kitchen. As she started to speak, Aidan could see that there was something more to them than what he'd witnessed of human relationships. They acted like mates, seemed to know the other's thoughts. She said their secret was safe with her, and sounded pretty damn convincing.
Aidan decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, for now. What was he to do, anyway? Tell the Alliance? Try to scare Clarice away in the hopes that she wouldn't return? In his work with the Alliance, Aidan had seen what happens to shifters who lose a mate. It wasn't pretty. There was no way he could do that to his own brother.
"I think I'm going to give you two some space," Aidan said, sensing that his presence was no longer wanted.
Neither of them responded, in fact they acted like he had never even been there.
Aidan walked down the hall straight to his old bedroom. He'd come here for a reason, and the unfortunate incident earlier had thrown him off track long enough. He didn't think either Derek or Clarice would come looking for him tonight, but he felt compelled to lock his door anyway.
Once safe, he switched on an emergency lantern on the bedside table. It wasn't bright, but it was enough for Aidan to start emptying the large wardrobe that contained all his old things.
On the top shelf, behind stacks of old woolen sweaters and other winter clothes, sat an old cookie tin. This is where he'd kept all of the newspaper clippings he'd kept just after the accident. He hadn't looked at it in years, and opening that box was never easy for him.
He carried it over to the leather arm chair in the corner and held his breath as he flipped the lid open. Inside, everything was as he remembered. Newspaper articles, sorted by date of publication, and bundled according to which paper they'd come from. And a sealed envelope.
He weighed the envelope in his hand. It was heavy, which was only natural considering its content, and inspected the seal. The red wax was still intact, and looked exactly the same as the day when their cousin, Elise, had handed it to him for safekeeping. He set it aside and continued to rifle through the contents of the box.
Underneath all the papers, he found the gold locket his mother had always worn. The policeman who had come to the farm to notify them of what had happened had given that to him. Although not strictly relevant to his mission, he opened the pendant anyway. Inside, exactly as he remembered, was a photograph of his dad on the left and one of Derek and himself, when they were only boys, on the right.
It hurt. Seeing these things always hurt.
He quickly shut the pendant again and placed it back into the bottom of the tin, and started going through the various clippings instead. It didn't take him long to find exactly what he was looking for: one of the first articles in the Isle of Skye Gazette, titled
Tragic Road Accident Claims Two Lives
The article was accompanied by a photograph of the wreckage, along with a man in a firefighter uniform. Bingo.
Aidan squinted at the picture, but it remained as grainy as ever. He was certain that this was the same man he'd seen in Edinburgh the other night. Neither the caption, nor the article mentioned him by name.
This could not be a coincidence. After all these years, following instinct alone, he finally had some proof: their parents' death had been no accident.
Heidi's second morning at the Alliance office wasn't perfect, but at least she'd slept well enough. Somehow, knowing that Aidan was going to be gone for a couple of days had helped her relax.
She was up by seven and headed straight down to find the office eerily quiet. After figuring out how to work the coffee machine, she settled down into her chair and looked through the files she'd started working on yesterday. The news that Aidan might have found actual Sons of Domnall members running around Edinburgh had been very exciting indeed.
The one thing she didn't understand was why Aidan had run off all of a sudden, giving Jamie some nonsense excuse about a family emergency. She couldn't explain how she knew, but there was no family emergency. It had something to do with the job, she was convinced of it.
It was too bad they hadn't had the chance to talk further until Jamie came in, or she might have known more about what exactly Aidan had seen, and what he thought it meant. Still, just because Aidan wasn't here, didn't mean Heidi had to sit around doing nothing. She knew about the websites, she had read the files Aidan and Jamie had given her, and she was plenty motivated to get started and make some real progress.
She had only taken a few sips of her hot coffee by the time she logged on to the main website.
She needed to create a profile for herself, just like Aidan had done. Heidi made a few notes, picking phrases from Aidan's glossary that she felt would make her sound authentic.
Although the member profiles of the other people on the website were vague at best, Heidi opted to fill out the "gender" field anyway. Perhaps they'd be more inclined to talk to a new
member? That was how the world worked, wasn't it?
Once her profile was set up and her introduction typed out, she sat back, lukewarm cup in hand and admired her handiwork. Not a bad start.
Rather than wait around for responses - she couldn't imagine any of these people would log on so early in the morning anyway - Heidi started working on something else that had been bothering her ever since she'd arrived day before yesterday: the state of the office.
She began with her new desk, but as soon as she'd gotten into the swing of things; tidying up papers, throwing away random bits of rubbish, and wiping the top down with a moist cloth, she found it hard to stop just there. She moved on to the coffee maker and stationary cupboard, then finally sorted out the final empty desk in the corner of the room, until everything looked clean.
Everything except Aidan's and Jamie's desks. She didn't dare touch those.
Just as Heidi poured herself a second cup of coffee, Jamie arrived.
"Morning," he said, as he started removing his coat, hanging it up on the shabby rack near the door.
"Morning," Heidi responded, observing the man as he walked across the office, straight to the coffee maker, pouring himself a large one. She counted six heaped teaspoons of sugar, and although she really wanted to comment on it, she kept quiet.
He's the boss. None of my business.
After the first sip, followed by a satisfied sigh, Jamie turned in Heidi's direction and caught her still staring at him.
Heidi glanced away, embarrassed he'd busted her. "Nothing."
"Oh, the coffee? Did you want a refill?" Jamie asked, in between further sips of what must have been the sickliest sweet hot beverage Heidi had ever seen anyone drink.
"No, it's nothing, really." Heidi felt her cheeks burn up.
She might as well explain herself, before he drew even worse conclusions. "Just, I've never seen anyone add that much sugar..."
Jamie let out a laugh and wandered over to his desk, placing the cup down and taking a seat in the much too small looking office chair, which groaned under his weight.
"That's the thing about bears, we have a giant sweet tooth," he remarked, while picking up his cup again and holding it in both hands.
... Heidi's heart started to beat faster. That was right, Jamie was a bear; the first one she'd ever met. In all the confusion over the past few days, she never stopped to wonder about working in such close proximity with a bear, when for the most part, their species didn't get along very well. Perhaps that's why Aidan didn't trust Jamie fully either...
"No need to look so uncomfortable. We don't bite." Jamie winked at her, and leaned forward to switch on his computer. "In fact, Aidan and I fully stand behind the truce. We're better off working together, don't you think? As it is, the humans outnumber all of us."
The way he said it:
Aidan and him... As if... Holy Crap!
If Heidi had managed to maintain at least some of her composure earlier, every last bit of it was gone now. She felt her chest tighten and her airways narrow.
That meant Aidan was a bear, too!
"Heidi? Are you all right?" Jamie asked.
Her vision blurred a bit, her head went fuzzy, and although she could hear his chair creak as he presumably got up, followed by footsteps in her direction, she couldn't bounce back and act normal.
"Fine. I'm fine!" she heard herself say, but it didn't sound convincing even to her own ears.
Of course Aidan was a bear. That's why he smelled different. That's why he was pretty much the same height and build as Jamie, taller as well as broader than most wolves. How the hell had she not noticed that before?
"Here, have some water." Jamie handed her a half-empty plastic bottle, which she accepted with trembling fingers.
"Thanks," Heidi mumbled.
she told herself.
Deep breaths, calm down
... How could she calm down, though, when for some stupid reason she the man she was meant to mate with was a bloody bear?! Not just a colleague, but a bear on top of it! There had to be some way out of this mess. There was no way she would ever be able to show her face in Rannoch again if she paired up with a bear.
When the world came back into focus, she could see Jamie towering over her, with a concerned expression on his face.
"I'm okay, really," she said, while returning the water to him. "Low blood sugar. I haven't had breakfast."
"Ah, well that's understandable. How about we head out and rectify that, huh?" Jamie suggested.
Although it had been just an excuse, Heidi's stomach was indeed growling as well. She nodded, and got up to grab her things. She was still a little wobbly on her feet, but determined to follow along with her chosen cover story.
What Jamie had said was proven true after reaching the nearby cafe: bears evidently did have a massive sweet tooth. While Heidi opted for a full breakfast with extra sausages and bacon, Jamie ordered a huge stack of pancakes just for himself.