Authors: Lorelei Moone
"Yes please. Two. Well, as I said, I have this photograph. I apologize, it's not very clear..." Aidan took the folder with the newspaper cutting out of his bag and placed it on the desk ahead of him.
The woman leaned over to look at it, then turned back to face the kettle when it clicked to tell her the water had boiled. "I see. Don't think I know the man."
"If you could take a look again, I'd really appreciate it."
The woman turned around again, mugs in hand, and slid one of them towards Aidan. "You understand I can't just hand out contact information for former firefighters. It's against the rules."
Brilliant. The rules. "I just wanted to ask him a few questions. Thank him for his assistance in the matter. That's all."
She wrapped her fingers around her mug and cocked her head to the side. Then she looked up across the room, seemingly aimlessly as she spoke. "I want to help you, I really do, but I can't jeopardize my job here. It's a nice bit of extra change, you understand. Especially since my husband has had to stop working, it's been a great help to us."
"I understand. I don't want to cause any trouble for you." Aidan sighed.
"I think I need more milk in my tea, but I'm all out. Be a dear and wait here while I get some more..." The woman placed her mug down on the desk, while still staring across the room, then walked out, leaving Aidan on his own.
What had she been looking at so intently? Aidan scanned the wall behind him, then got up for a better look. There it was, another one of those group photos, this one labeled "Portree Fire Station, 1998". Among the dozen or so men portrayed, in the back row, third position from the left, there was a familiar face. Much clearer than the newspaper photograph, and unmistakably the same man that he'd seen in Edinburgh, only a bit younger of course.
The caption underneath gave Aidan everything he'd come here for. He counted the names written underneath. Back row, third from the left: Lee Campbell. He repeated it a few times in his head.
Lee Campbell, member of the Sons of Domnall, shifter killer.
Aidan never forgot a face, and rarely forgot a name, especially one so important, but he felt the need to record this new find anyway. While listening out for footsteps signaling the woman's return, he quickly whipped his phone out of his pocket and took a picture of the entire group photograph, and another one of just the caption containing the names.
Who knows, perhaps this Lee Campbell person hadn't worked alone. Perhaps someone else in this picture had something to do with the accident?
Aidan quickly emptied his cup of tea, retrieved the folder with the newspaper clipping from the desk and stuffed it into his bag. He left without even catching a last glimpse of the woman who had helped him.
If he hurried, he could still make it to the town hall, and hopefully get some more information about this Lee Campbell character, before starting his journey back to Edinburgh. If all went well, he would even be able to catch a good shut-eye before going back to work in the morning.
Everything had seemed okay, at least at first. Heidi kept going over it in her head but still couldn't understand exactly where things had gone as horribly wrong as they had. One moment, she was being introduced to people over drinks and small talk, the next, they were dragging her into a dark alley with a bag over her head and stuffing her into a van.
And now, who knows how many hours or days later - it was hard to keep track of time when locked up in a windowless room - Heidi still had no idea what these people wanted from her. Nobody had come in to talk to her, nobody had even given her anything to eat or drink. She was parched, starving, and close to giving up.
Despite how things turned out, she still was pretty sure she hadn't slipped up. Throughout the brief meeting at the pub, she'd stayed in character perfectly. So how did they know to suspect anything? Were they perhaps just being cautious?
The worst part was, the longer she was stuck here, the more her inner wolf fought to come out. If her captors only had a vague suspicion so far, a transformation would definitely push them into action. They would kill her, Heidi was certain of it. These were not people you messed with, especially if you were a shifter.
A loud click and creak interrupted her panicked thoughts, and the heavily reinforced door swung open.
"So, young lady, are you ready to tell us who you are yet?" The older guy she'd met at the pub walked in, flanked by two of the younger ones who had also been there earlier.
Heidi tried to focus her frazzled mind, so that she might remember every detail about these people. Although it was dark, her vision was much better than that of the humans, so she barely stirred, just observed from the bed she'd been shackled to.
Shaved heads, all of them, making it hard to figure out what their original hair color would have been. The younger guys had lots of tattoos, the sleeve type that covered their entire arms - at least as far as Heidi could see. The older one - she estimated him to be about fifty - also had a tattoo on his arm, but one of those old school, simpler ones. A couple of swallows holding a banner with the initials A. C.
"Not talking yet, I see. We have ways of making people change their minds," the older guy, presumably their leader, hissed.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just concerned about where this country is headed, like you are. We can't stand by while we're overrun by those animals-" Heidi rambled.
"Quiet! There's something not right about you... You're not a copper, are ya?"
Heidi blinked a few times. They think she's police?
"Look, you invited me. If you thought I was up to no good, why do that?" Heidi pleaded.
"How did you find out about the message board?"
That was a good question indeed, one that she hadn't rehearsed an answer for... "A friend... a like-minded friend tipped me off to it. He said he'd come across it while browsing. He's a lot better with computers than I am, I don't know..." Her stomach growled, painfully.
Focus. Don't shift.
Heidi pressed her lips together tightly. She had nothing. If she mentioned any of the handles of other members of the message board, she had no way of knowing if this guy knew those people personally and would be able to verify that she was lying. There was only one name, one username that she knew for sure didn't belong to any of these people's associates... Aidan's.
"He goes by 'Fight4Independence', that's all I know," Heidi whispered. She felt bad that she had to ruin his cover too, but she had to give these people something, anything to go on that would sound plausible. This way, perhaps she'd get out of this yet, or at least buy some time to think up an escape plan.
The man didn't respond, just turned on his heel and left her cell again, followed by his two silent henchmen. A loud creak and click from the lock later, and Heidi was alone again.
Heidi breathed a sigh of relief. At least they had just questioned her and not done anything to hurt her. Perhaps they'd believe her story, and let her go.
That was still possible, right?
Or maybe they were planning to just let her rot here until she starved to death...
She flopped back onto the hard mattress and covered her eyes with the back of her hand to soothe the dull ache that had started to develop in her temples.
Ironically, the decor of her cell wasn't so different from her accommodation at the Alliance, with one exception: the mattress was even worse. She curled up on her side and tried to ignore the poking from the springs trying to break free from their flimsy covering.
If she could stick to her story, perhaps there was still hope, but with every passing moment, it became more and more difficult to stay positive. Unless she could get out of here soon, there was only one possible outcome. Sooner or later the wolf would win. And the man with the swallow tattoo would come in and put her down like a rabid dog.
Heidi thought back to what had led her here. Leaving Rannoch for the first time, saying goodbye to her family for who knows how long - potentially forever, considering her current situation. The Alliance office, and… Aidan.
Aidan, who had received her on that first night in Edinburgh, and made sure she got a good meal in her at a time when she felt more alone than she'd ever felt. She could almost taste that first meal all over again.
Aidan, who by all accounts seemed to be a complete professional, and capable member of the Alliance, but who hid a passion she'd never known before - the brooding looks he'd given her over that first dinner were as clear a sign as she needed.
And yet, he hadn't acted. He'd kept his distance, and treated her with respect. Was it because he was a bear and she was a wolf and he knew nothing good could come from it? No, if that had been the case, he wouldn't have been so kind to her.
She knew that if they gave in to their instincts and paired up, it would go against everything she'd been taught. It would even go against the rules put in place by the truce between their species.
Just because they were working together as part of the Alliance, didn't mean their species had all of a sudden forgot centuries of rivalries. If she followed fate and paired up with Aidan, she could never go home. She would never see her family again.
But as things stood now, and she was faced with the very real possibility that she'd never see any of them again, what hurt more? Realistically, the moment she left Rannoch, she'd changed forever. She would never be her parents' little girl again. She already didn't conform to what was expected of a she-wolf in Rannoch. She didn't want to play second fiddle to a man who would decide everything for her and their future children.
She wanted Aidan.
More than anything, it dawned on her that perhaps that was why fate had chosen him for her. They were mates, which meant that everything she had felt, he had felt too. He would have wanted to claim her from the moment he saw her, but he didn't. He had waited.
Tears started to burn in the corner of her eyes as she let her imagination take over. If they got together, he'd continue to respect her like that, she just knew it. He would treat her as an equal, not as a submissive. Perhaps that was why wolves didn't like bears and vice versa, their ways of life clashed too much. But Heidi wasn't an ordinary wolf...
In a last ditch attempt to keep her emotions in check, she tried to quit crying, but it was pointless. Tears were flowing more heavily now, running down the side of her face and into the dirty mattress. Perhaps this was for the best. If she vented like this, perhaps she could stay in control of her animal side a little bit longer.
Heidi lay there, curled up and motionless except for the occasional sob, until her body and mind tired and pulled her into a confused dream-state. Visions of Aidan filled her thoughts.
He opened the door to her cell, came inside and scooped her up in his strong arms. As he lifted her, the world spun out of focus and what had been just dirty bare concrete turned into a lush, green forest. Like the one in Rannoch. She looked up at his face, and saw that he was smiling down at her.
"I'm so glad I found you," he said.
She smiled back at him, closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Those strong, muscular shoulders she'd previously only stolen glimpses at, but never touched. She'd been missing out.
Her head rested against his chest, which might as well have been made of steel. Rock hard muscles, all over. What a specimen. Gorgeous. All hers.
"I'm getting you out of here, don't worry," Aidan whispered in her ear, before stealing a kiss on that most sensitive of spots just down the side of her neck.
It tickled, and she couldn't suppress a giggle. "I know. I'm waiting for you."
That heat she'd first felt when she sat across from Aidan on her first night in Edinburgh in that pub had made a return. An intense fire burned in her, lighting up her lower abdomen. There was just one way to soothe it. One man who could soothe it.
She opened her eyes again and found Aidan staring down at her. His normally brown eyes had turned a deep, dark black. Just looking into them gave Heidi shivers.
The air seemed to prickle with tension, like the kind you feel in the calm before the storm.
His scent overwhelmed her senses. Sweet with a bit of spice. A little woody, like a forest in the fall after shedding all its leaves.
"What?" he asked.
"You bears, you even
sweet." Heidi grinned up at him.
Aidan let go of her, but she didn't fall. Heidi felt like she was floating in the air in front of him. He cupped her face with both hands, closed his eyes as she did too. His breath tickled her lips, making the wait almost unbearable, but she didn't stir.
"All right, missy," A voice shouted, dragging her painfully out of her fantasy just as it was about to hit its climax.
Heidi opened her eyes to find the same man with the swallows standing in the doorway.