Exhaustion slammed against Sydran with brutal force, so he blinked his eyes, desperately trying to stay awake. Now that all the adrenaline had worn off, he was left feeling empty—just the empty hole inside his chest pulsing and throbbing with the need for Jindi, only she was gone.
Bruce walked inside the interrogation room. They’d kept him here for hours—exactly how long, he didn’t know. Time passed meaninglessly and his sluggish mind struggled to keep up with everything going on. “You’re free to go, Sydran. You’ve been cleared.”
Sydran stood from his chair and cleared his throat. A lump still formed there, making it harder to speak—especially when all he wanted to do was cry. “Tell me about the case, Bruce. I—I have to know.”
Bruce shook his head. “You’re a private detective, Sydran and too close to this case. I’m sorry—”
Sydran’s entire body trembled and he charged toward Bruce. At the last second before gripping Bruce’s collar, he stopped himself with a profound curse. “I have a right to know! If you won’t tell me, I’ll find out myself.”
Bruce glared at the ground. “I know things are difficult for you right now, Sydran. I can’t imagine how you feel but—”
“You have no idea what I feel,” Sydran snarled. He turned toward the door and slammed an open palm against the wall. “I have to know.”
Bruce cleared his throat. “Do you have someone to stay with tonight? Your place is still a crime scene. If I see you back there, I’ll bring you in. Stay out of it, Detective Barks. I mean it. Go stay with someone and get some sleep.”
Sydran glared at him over his shoulder before marching out of the interrogation room. It was so noisy—too noisy. His head pounded furiously in his skull, like an angry beast, so he rushed outside in a flurry. The cool, crisp night air did little to stave off the grief that overwhelmed him… or the pain. It surged through his shoulder, all across his chest, merging until he couldn’t tell whether it was physical pain or internal—or both.
Sydran collapsed to all fours in an alley between the police station and the jail next door. His wolf form emerged from inside him, clawing and angry, eager to sink his teeth into whoever did this to Jindi.
This time, as he stood in his wolf form, no relief came to him, only the ache of half of his soul being ripped away from him at Jindi’s death, at the mate bond shattered. Sydran ran, ran as quickly as he could through the waking streets of the town in the early morning hours. By the time he reached the woods of the National Park outside it, the sun slowly peaked over the horizon, casting the world in a pink and orange glow.
Sydran held in his grief until the woods closed in on him, swallowing him up into their warm embrace. Then, he howled up into the sky, telling it of his pain and anguish, telling him of his love, and of Jindi, whom he would never see again.
Every fiber of Sydran’s being longed for sleep and his aching body desperately needed it. His shoulder throbbed but he shoved it aside where he stood in front of Jindi’s parents.
How was he supposed to tell them? They had already lost one daughter a year and a half ago. At Christmas just two months prior, they had chosen to stay home, unable to bear the holiday without their oldest daughter. The pain inside their eyes had been palpable.
They would never be able to bear Jindi’s. Their youngest daughter—gone.
Sucking in a deep breath, Sydran pounded a fist into the door. No answer, so he pounded again and again. Still nothing.
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his nerves fired off. The sharp scent of blood reached his nostrils and he reached for his gun—only to realize that in all the madness of last night, he had left it back at his house.
Gritting his teeth, he kicked the door in. “I’m coming in! Mr. and Mrs. Harper? Are you home?” Sydran called.
His eyes peeled across the entryway and into the living room and dining room. Everything appeared to be in place, yet his muscles refused to relax. The longer he searched the house, the more his nerves screamed at him that something was wrong. Blood and death—the stench of it consumed this house, making every inch of it reek.
Sydran jogged up the stairs, passed the open door to the bathroom. Yet still, everything was in its place. “Mr. and Mrs. Harper?” he asked, standing in front of the closed master bedroom door. He remembered a story Jindi had told him, that she and her sister used to sneak up here as children around Christmastime to try to find their presents and guess them when their parents weren’t looking. His chest ached at the thought.
Holding his breath, teeth gritted, Sydran shoved open the master bedroom door. The stench overwhelmed him, horrible enough to make him stumble backward.
Jindi’s parents lay on the bed side-by-side. From the smell, they had been dead for a full day, if not two days. He shook his head, staring at them in shock. Jindi and her parents had flown together to visit her mother’s sister—her aunt and their side of the family. From the decay on the bodies, they had to have died the night they came back. Why? Who would have killed them and then waited before coming after Jindi?
Tears fell from his eyes. It was too much—all too much. He collapsed against the doorframe, but sucked in a deep, trembling breath. No. There wasn’t time for grief. Right now, he was the only one here, so he had to pull himself together and solve this; it was all up to him.
Careful not to disturb the scene, Sydran walked around the bed and gazed at it intensely, from what he could see without touching anything. There was dried blood on both of their chests and the bedroom window, across from the bed, was open. With a frown, he approached it and peered out of it. It overlooked the neighbor’s house. He didn’t know much about their neighbors, and had never met them. Though Jindi had mentioned that they didn’t get along well and her parents usually kept their distance.
Sydran took out his phone as he made his way back downstairs. Bruce picked up on the first ring. “Sydran, I thought I told you to—”
“Jindi’s parents were killed. Likely as soon as she got off the flight the night she came home the day before yesterday. Whoever killed her might have killed them first, but I don’t know why,” Sydran explained without waiting for Bruce to finish.
“I’ll send a team over—” Bruce started.
Sydran shook his head, though Bruce couldn’t see him. “No. I’m going to need help. You once told me you knew another Detective like me who was a werewolf. Can you call him?”
Bruce grunted. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ll get a hold of him.”
“Do you know anything about their neighbors? Did you investigate them when you first looked into Jindi’s sister’s murder?” Sydran shoved open the door to the Harper’s house and marched to the neighbor’s front lawn.
“Not much. They’re a bit reclusive, didn’t have much to do with the neighbors so they were written off pretty easily. Why?” Bruce asked.
There were no cars in the driveway, but Sydran walked up the stairs and onto the front porch. “The Harpers were shot, Bruce. Shot. Neighborhood like this, they would’ve heard. Why didn’t they call the police? I gotta go.”
Bruce sighed. “Sydran, I really think you should—”
Sydran hung up and slipped his phone into his pocket. He knocked on the door, but wasn’t surprised when he found no answer. The blinds on the front windows were twisted, so he peaked through them to try to see inside. It wasn’t much of an opening, but from what little he could see, the inside of the house looked bear. The grill from the front of the porch was missing. Between that and the cars, Sydran cursed. Either they were gone and hadn’t heard the gunshots when the Harpers were killed, or they left for a reason.
Either way, Sydran needed answers.
It was nightfall when Sydran arrived at Xander’s house. Xander gestured to a pizza sitting on the dining room table, but Sydran ignored it. “I’ve tried calling Bruce to get me what he has, but he wants me to stay out of it,” Sydran said.
“But he is calling this werewolf detective he knows, right?” Xander crossed his arms and leaned them on the table, beside the pizza. “You said his name was Detective…?”
Xander snapped his fingers, but winced from the movement. His left arm, just below the elbow, was wrapped tightly in gauze from the gunshot wound the previous day. “I’ve heard of him. My cousin worked with him whenever his friend was killed by a vampire.”
“Sydran…” Xander leaned back in his chair and ran his fingers through his black hair. “Do you think it was the hunters?”
Sydran stayed silent. He stared out the window into the woods behind Xander’s trailer house.
Sydan snapped out of it, blinking to try to focus his thoughts. “All we know is that the hunters came after Lacy and her son. She was supposed to be running in the National Park, but she was somewhere else when they grabbed her, tortured her, then they brought them to that specific area and left them for us to find.”
Xander nodded and tapped a finger against the table. “They left their scent for me to find and stayed in a camp about four miles away—all were easy kills. That was to lure us into a trap.”
Sydran closed his eyes and rubbed his head, which still pounded and throbbed, just like his shoulder. “But why let a group of their own die, just to ambush us and get away?”
Xander shook his head. “And if it was the hunters, why kill Jindi’s parents a day before this? And then her when we escaped?”
Sydran cursed. “I don’t know. I just don’t know. Then, there’s that rogue werewolf running around killing rich men. I just—I can’t—” Sydran cursed again and slammed a fist into the drywall that connected the living room and dining room. His knuckles came back bloody and bruised, but he didn’t feel it. Nor did he feel how badly that jolted his shoulder.
“Sy, why don’t you get some sleep?” Xander asked.
Sydran froze and glared at him. “Don’t call me that. Don’t you ever call me that!” he growled.
Xander pressed his lips together in a thin line. “Sorry. You look like a mess. Go get some sleep. I’ve got the guest bedroom ready for you—”
Sydran shook his head and turned away from him. “No. I can’t sleep. I have to figure this all out.”
Sydran gazed at him over his shoulder. “I’m going back to the station to convince Bruce to give me the files he has. You coming?”
Xander blinked but nodded. “Y—yeah. Yeah, you don’t need to be alone right now.”
Sydran ignored his comment and rushed out the door.