Sydran Barks narrowed his eyes with a deep frown as he crouched in front of the body. From what was left, the body was a male in his mid-thirties—just a tad bit older than Sydran—and the guy had been rich.
“What do you see?” Sydran’s good friend, a local cop by the name of Bruce, crossed his arms over his chest with a frown as deep as Sydran.
Sydran gestured to the watch. “Guy was rich, just like the others. But based off the bites, I’d say this is a rogue wolf. You need to keep your guys off this.” He recovered the body and stood, gaze flicking to the scene. Investigators took photos, while other police held back a crowd, where those bloody leeches of the press tried to sneak as many photos as possible back behind the yellow line. Tonight, the moon was half full, but the sight of it made Sydran’s muscles tighten in longing. He hadn’t wolfed out in days and his nerves ached. They felt antsy, just like he did, but there’d been too many cases lately for him to transform safely. Not without the humans in the town picking up on it.
Especially with this. His gaze trailed back to the covered body.
Bruce grunted with a sigh and rubbed his bald head. “Dang it all, Detective Barks. You know how hard it is to call my guys off a case. They hate private detectives.”
Sydran nodded and slid his gaze over to meet Bruce’s. His belly nearly poked out of his uniform, but he was a good man—and an even better police chief. “I know, but this rogue wolf isn’t just attacking people randomly. He isn’t feral, Bruce. He’s specifically targeting a victim type.”
Bruce, as one of the few humans who knew about werewolves, still tried to stay out of it. His job was mostly to have Sydran assess whether the case was normal or… not normal. If it wasn’t, then he handed it over to Sydran. Still, it wasn’t always easy for him to know or even understand werewolves like Sydran. “So, what you’re saying is…” Bruce rubbed his head again. “… we have a serial killer on the loose, but this killer just so happens to be a werewolf.”
Sydran nodded. His gaze flickered back toward the body. It was fortunate that the man died from his bite wounds. If he had lived, he would have transformed into a wolf and the town didn’t need an out-of-control new wolf right now. The humans here and especially the town council were already tense enough as it is. They suspected a pack was living nearby, so Sydran and the pack had split up a year ago to protect themselves. They still lived in town, of course, because it was their home—and belonged to their ancestors longed before the town had even been founded—but they stayed away from each other and didn’t transform as much as possible. If the council got any more suspicious, they’d call the werewolf hunters and the entire pack would be slaughtered.
It was the entire reason why Sydran did the job he did—not only to protect the town from werewolves and other mystical creatures like them, but to ensure that any rogue wolves didn’t cause trouble for his pack.
“Right.” Bruce grunted. “Well, I’ll go see what I can do. Find this killer, Detective Barks. And I mean it.”
Sydran nodded. For once, not even the humorous irony that his last name was Barks when he was a werewolf reached him. All he could think about was the five dead men—all rich, all lured out at night, and all killed by a rogue werewolf.
Bruce stood with a crowd of other officers and gestured to Sydran. Other mystics like him had gotten involved with the FBI ages ago, for this reason. They had created a special unit for cases like this. He’d graduated from the academy years ago and worked in this town to help the people, but his unit had agents all over the US. Mystics were everywhere, so unfortunately, every town needed detectives like Sydran.
Overhead, the moon cast the world in a hue of grey. It was a small clearing in the middle of the woods at the edge of the National Park. No vehicle had been found nearby. So, had the man walked all the way here?
Sydran frowned and crouched down near the body again. This time, he uncovered the man’s feet—but his shoes were missing. He cursed. The werewolf had taken them—unless they were a sick trophy, this confirmed it. It was the second body with missing shoes. If the victim had had his shoes, Sydran could have used his wolf senses to smell where they had been. It was likely he could have picked up a trail. The rogue wolf knew that. Which could only mean one thing:
The wolf knew he was investigating.
By the time he grabbed the victim’s files, did some research on the man’s background, and got back home, it was well after 1 am. He was always on call, which meant the instant a crime came in, he went to work, even if it was just before midnight.
His chest ached. It had been hours since he’d last seen her—Jindi, his mate. She was human, not wolf, but werewolf mates didn’t just happen between werewolves. They’d met on a case after her sister had been murdered and their love blossomed after that. What had shocked Sydran the most was that Jindi had already known about werewolves. “My brother and I were attacked by one years ago… My brother got bitten and saved my life,” Jindi told him one night after a date. “He ran away and I’ve never been able to find him.”
“Some people, when they turn, they just want to leave their old lives behind.” Sydran had been born into the pack. So, he had no idea what it was like to be just a normal human until one day, the entire world would flip upsidedown. Part of him was grateful for it—he’d always known werewolves existed and even looked forward to his first transformation at age twelve—which was the typical age for werewolves who were born. Not the case for anyone bitten and forcibly turned.
Yet, Jindi hadn’t been terrified of him. He wondered about it all the time—and his suspicious, detective mind had often thought of conspiracies for why she so easily trusted a werewolf when she’d been attacked by one as a young girl. But he loved her so much and the mate bond grew with each month that had passed. Jindi was alright with it—mating in the werewolf tradition—so long as they got married in the traditional way too.
Even though mate bonding came with a price.
His chest ached again, feeling as if someone squeezed his ribs from the inside out. Tossing his keys onto an end-table near the door, Sydran didn’t even bother to stop and take off his shoes or his gun. It was all he could do to stand upright as he made his way into the living room.
Jindi. She slept on the couch with her hand on her smartphone where it rested in her lap. Her head leaned back on the couch with her brown straight hair splayed back behind her in a mess. Her worry for him gnawed at Sydran too, through the bond. It had been two days since they’d last seen each other. She’d been visiting family and when he had come home from work earlier, she still hadn’t been home. Just before he had been called out on a case, Jindi had called and told him she was on her way. It meant he had just missed her and two days away from his mate was too long. Every muscle in his body ached, as if it had been dehydrated and parched of food and water.
“Jindi,” Sydran whispered in relief.
Jindi’s eyes fluttered open and she leaned up. When her blue eyes landed on his, Sydran’s heart melted. “Sydran! I came home and you were gone. I got your message that you were on a case, but I was worried. It’s been all over the news!”
Sydran shook his head and threw himself toward the couch. “I don’t want to talk about the case, Jindi. I just want to see you.” He sat beside her and brought her against his chest in a warm embrace. She smelled of flowers—roses and lilies and oddly… pine? “Were you in the woods?” Gently, Sydran pulled away from her.
Jindi shrugged. “I suppose you could say that. We visited my aunt’s cabin yesterday. How did you…?” She slid her arms around his waist and looked up at him, twinkling her eyes. “Oh. The wolf-smell thing.”
Half of Sydran’s mouth slid up into a smirk. “Sorry. I can’t help but smell where you’ve been.”
Jindi cracked a wide grin and held up her shirt sleeve up to his nose. “Bet you can tell I smell like airport.”
Sydran coughed and slid her arm away. “Yes, so please don’t do that again.” But he couldn’t stop the smile that spread over his face.
Jindi giggled and pressed her sleeve against his nose, which brought her closer against him.
Sydran jokingly shoved her away and kept her pinned against the back of the couch with his hand. “Are you trying to knock me out, Jinds?”
“Maybe…” Jindi’s eyes sparkled, flashing with mischievousness that he felt fluttering inside his chest. “It could be fun.”
“I’d rather be awake and spend time with you, not knocked out cold, thank you very much.” Sethyrn shifted so that he leaned against the back of the couch beside her. He brought his arm around behind her, resting against the back of the couch, and she naturally leaned into him. “Do you have to work tomorrow?”
Jindi nodded, pursing her lips. She grabbed one of the decorative pillows and played with the frays on the end of it—a nervous tic of hers, one that Sydran didn’t miss.
Sydran sighed and kissed her temple. “Jinds, you’re going to have to go back to work eventually.”
Jindi nodded with a sniffle. “I know. Traveling on a flight to see my family is one thing. I—I was barely able to do that a few months ago. It’s been a year and a half, so I know that I need to, you know, get back into the flow of things. My boss is only okay with me working remotely because I can still do my job. But he texted me yesterday and told me that my job isn’t a permanently remote one and that he’ll replace me if I don’t come back in another week.”
Sydran swallowed deeply, thinking about his words before he spoke. They’d only been married for seven months now and had known each other for a year before they’d married. A year and a half after she and her sister had been kidnapped at their workplace and held hostage by a rogue vampire. It wasn’t near long enough to overcome the trauma, but the rest of the world moved on, as it always does. People eventually stop caring and sympathizing and then expect the victim’s family’s to just get back to normal. How could he tell her that, though? “You can’t let fear rule your life, Jindi. A vampire or rogue wolf or anything could attack you here at home. Not just while you’re working.”
Jindi threw her head back against his arm with a frustrated groan. “I know.” She ran her fingers through her hair and turned her head to peak over at him. “I’ve gotta get over it, but I just—the fear is paralyzing, Sy.”
Sydran ran his hand along the side of her arm and tightened his hold on her. Every part of him longed to hold her close, to protect her, to ease her fears. It was an ache that throbbed through him and not just because he felt what she felt, but because she was his mate. It was his job to protect her, including from her own fear. “I’d take the fear away from you if I could, Jinds. You know that.”
Jindi nodded and relaxed into him. “I know, Sy. I know. I wish you could do.” Tears fell down her face and each one felt like a knife in his gut, so he wrapped his other arm around her and let her fall against him in an embrace. Softly, she sobbed, and he rested his chin against her head and held her—
He held her as close to his heart as he could.