She double-checked the address before heading inside the building in downtown Portland. Allie had been missing for twenty-four hours now. Each minute that passed, the chances of finding her alive were lower and lower.
The contact at Clan Owen had sent out a call for help. They were feverishly working on several fronts on these disappearances and something else the witch she’d spoken to had only hinted at, but sounded pretty bad. He’d been sorry not to have been able to rush down and assist on the case, but he’d done what he could, which was to hook her up with Others who could help.
Which had worked out because she’d followed a few leads of her own—a blue SUV that had been sighted at the apartment complex with Washington plates had also been seen at two rest stops on I-5 heading north, and when Michelle had gone to them she’d found that same mage energy signature she’d caught at Allie’s apartment.
Michelle was on the right track, but the track itself was pretty narrow and faint and she was terrified of fucking up and missing something.
So there she was going through the revolving doors of the Pacific Werewolf Pack headquarters to seek their help with tracking. They had some sort of relationship with the clans now and heaven knew they had better noses than she did and there was the added plus that they knew the area.
She walked through one set of doors where two very large men stopped her. One raised a brow at her. “You’re armed.” His voice was a rumble she felt over the surface of her skin.
“I’m Michelle Slattery. Roseburg PD. Gage Garrity from Clan Owen sent me here to request some assistance in an investigation. My credentials are in my pocket if you’ll allow me to retrieve them?”
Eyebrow appeared to relax a little. “First things first. The weapon needs to be put in the bin. We don’t allow anyone in the building armed.”
She reached, slowly and totally within view, to remove her weapon from her under-arm holster. She popped the magazine out and made sure the chamber was empty before placing it all in the bin they’d indicated.
“Thank you. Credentials?”
Slowly, so he knew exactly what she was about, she pulled out her badge, handing it to him. He looked it over and turned his gaze and attention back to her, apparently satisfied with her documentation. “I haven’t been told about anyone coming in, but I only just started my shift a few minutes ago. What’s your business here?”
“I’m investigating the disappearance of a young woman.” She looked around and lowered her voice. Wolves were out to the humans, but witches were still debating the whys, whens and hows of revealing their existence. “A witch. I believe she was taken by the mages.”
He stood up straighter.
“I’m here to appeal for some help in tracking them. Gage said you had some sort of cooperative agreement thing with them.”
“You smell like magick.” Eyebrow gave her a once-over, clearly interested in more than the way she smelled. It was more admiring than leering. Novel and, well, nice. She wasn’t used to being found attractive in connection with being a witch.
She smiled, blushing. She didn’t know a whole lot about shifters, but she did know they had an affinity with witches. It wasn’t a blow to her ego, or her libido, to be standing in a lobby bursting with all that earthy magick wolves carried. They were sexy and that they found her sexy? Well that was sexy too.
And interesting. “What does my magick smell like?”
“Always a little vanilla. Like from yellow cake.” He paused and then nodded. “Yes, you smell like yellow cake.”
“I really like yellow cake.”
“Who doesn’t?” He grinned. “If you want to hang on a sec, I can call up to see who is available to meet with you.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that very much.”
She moved to the mini-reception area he’d indicated and checked her messages while he did whatever it was he needed to do.
“Do we have a problem here?”
She froze before turning slowly to face none other than Josh Neelan.
Josh tried not to gape at the witch whose ass he’d just been admiring. But it wasn’t her ass that stunned him into long silence as he took her in from the tips of her sensible work boots, up shapely legs, the nip at her waist, the swell of her tits—he remembered those quite well—and into her face.
She blinked and he scented her blush. His wolf pushed at the human in charge. He’d wanted her back then. More than he should have. Apparently his wolf agreed about wanting her now.
Well now. A hundred years’ worth of memories fell down all around him at the sound of his name on her lips.
He sucked in a breath and it was filled with her. And with her magick. Fuck. She was a witch?
“I take it you two know each other?” Shaun, one of his wolves who had the door shift that afternoon, spoke, his brow rising.
“Yes. Michelle and I are both from Roseburg. She used to be a cheerleader.” He smiled at that memory. Her in tight sweaters and short skirts. Christ.
Shaun looked her over. “Yeah, I can see that.”
Josh did not like it one bit that Shaun looked at his Michelle that way. He gave the other wolf a look, but Shaun wasn’t cowed.
But the amusement he’d expected to see in her features wasn’t there. Just hurt and devastation and most likely he’d put it there.
“You’re here because you need our help?” He took her upper arm and moved her toward the elevators, keying in his code.
She nodded and disentangled herself from his hold.
“Let’s go up to my office to talk.” He led her into the elevator and punched his floor number and his code before turning back to her. “Damn, it’s really good to see you.”
He pulled her into a hug, burying his face in her neck. His entire system went wild at her scent as he dragged it in. Her body felt good against his. He’d thought he’d forgotten her, what it was to have her in his arms. But he’d been so, so wrong.
He pulled back as they arrived on his floor, his wolf displeased that she hadn’t relaxed into the embrace.
“This way.” He led her through the halls, finding himself having to stop from touching her. His wolf was agitated, pressing against his human skin, fighting for supremacy because it wanted contact with her.
He was better than this. He shoved the wolf back as he indicated a couch near the windows. “Sit. Do you want something to drink? Are you hungry?”
“Gage Garrity from Clan Owen sent me to ask for your assistance. My best friend was taken from her apartment by mages yesterday. There were signs of a struggle. I followed what little bit of a trail I could find up here. You guys are great trackers. I need your help.”
Mages. Great. He poked his head out of his office, speaking to his assistant. “Can you get us some coffee and sandwiches?”
“I don’t need to eat. I need to find Allie.”
He sat next to her on the couch she perched upon, and she edged away a little, pressing against the arm to keep her distance.
“This is dangerous. More dangerous than you probably know. Of course I’ll help. I need the facts first so we can figure out what’s happening. You’re a witch. You never told me?”
“You weren’t around to tell. And I know it’s dangerous. That’s why I’m so worried.”
“I need to explain. About leaving Roseburg, and you.”
“Don’t bother. That’s long past. Very ancient history and all that jazz. You moved on. Looks like to a far better life. I’m not here for that anyway.”
He didn’t want her to think it was about her. He hated that part. He’d left for his sanity, for the safety and security of those around him. He’d left to step into a new life and he didn’t regret that part. Still, it agitated him that she was upset in any way. And she was. She could say all the right words, but he could feel it in the tension of her body, hear it in the tone of her voice. Could scent the acrid burn of her emotions.
“I was bitten my first semester of school. It’s…difficult to be changed when you’re a nineteen-year-old. I didn’t know how to handle it. The wolf who changed me was out of control and his Alpha came to find me. They brought me back to their pack house. It took a year to learn how to handle the wolf. I couldn’t go back to Roseburg. That part of my life was done. We weren’t out then. What was I going to tell you? You were still in high school.” He’d had to leave everything and everyone behind. And in the end, it had been the right choice.
She let out a long sigh and he had to force himself not to push.
He changed the subject. “Tell me about your friend. Were the police called? Why are you here instead of the local coven people? Why isn’t Gage here? You’re part of their territory. This is big deal, big bad stuff. You could get hurt. Or worse.”
“I am the police. I’ve been a cop for seven years now. And from what I understand, Owen is doing all it can with all the disappearances. Gage sent me here but said to remain in touch and that they’d send help when they could.”
The food arrived, and he found himself sort of shocked at the bone-deep need to be sure she ate it.
“How did you know it was mages?” He indicated the food. “You should eat. If we’re going out tracking, you’ll need the energy.”
She frowned slightly, but took a bite and then several more.
“I knew it was mages because Owen did these classes, taught the people in our coven how to detect their energy. Once you see it, the mage energy, you can’t mistake it for anything else.” She shuddered. “Allie—you might remember her—Allison Packer? She’s been my best friend since third grade. Her mother got a call from a neighbor. She went over to Allie’s place, saw the mess and called me.”
“Tell me about what you found at the scene.”
“Tell me why you’re so bossy about it.”
He wasn’t the only one who’d changed over the years. This Michelle was firmly in charge of herself. So sexy. He shouldn’t be thinking about that. But he couldn’t stop.
“I’m the Enforcer here. I’m a sort of cop too. These mages are a way bigger issue than you know.” He scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to work out how to send her away from the danger.
“You are so not going to convince me to go home like a good little girl.”
“You always could read my mind.”
She could mainly because he wore his emotions on his face so clearly. Not so much now, but she knew, given the way he was talking, that he figured he could take over and send her away and that was not going to happen. He was obviously used to being obeyed. Ha. He’d better buckle up because she wasn’t the blind-obedience type.
“So stop dicking me around and tell me what is going on.”
“This is bad, Michelle.”
“Give me details. Help me. Help me find her, damn it.”
He blew out a breath.
Josh had been a big guy in school. Broad shouldered. His honey blond hair had been very short then. But not now. It reached his shoulders and matched the neat goatee he wore. He was sun-kissed. Which only highlighted the pale green eyes. He was still big, but now he was a man.
Ha. A man. He was a freaking werewolf. God.
He smelled good. Wore some seriously well-fitting and expensive clothes. Given the size of his office and the view it came with, Josh was someone within Pacific. That and the respect she’d seen him given.
Gone was the genial, laid-back football player she’d loved so hard when she was young. He was bossy now. Way bossier than he had been then. She was around bossy men all day, most cops tended to be alpha personalities. She dealt with it, knew how to handle them, how to push back when it was necessary. She was an alpha too after all.
But Josh? He emanated that energy that only his kind of alpha male had. Charismatic. Powerful. He commanded attention simply with his presence.
Josh the man made her tingly in ways she couldn’t have even begun to dream about when she was sixteen. Still, she wasn’t going to be managed or handled, even by a man as searingly sexy as the one next to her was.
“I can scent it, you know.” His voice had gone low, stroking over her senses like a caress.
“Huh?” She knew she blushed.
“Arousal.” He leaned in very close, and she told herself—quite sternly—to get up and move out of his reach. And sat right where she was, fascinated by the way his nostrils flared a little and his eyes had gone an otherworldly shade of green. “I can scent the rush of blood to your skin in your blush. The way you just got all wet.” He paused, breathing deep again, and she nearly moaned. She should be horrified, but that was not what was happening at all.
She swallowed the moan back. “I’m in charge of my parts. Tell me about what’s going on.” Her voice was breathy, so not authoritative.
He smiled. A slight tip upward at the corner of his mouth where his dimple showed. She wanted to lick it. The moment stretched between them in a way she couldn’t find the energy to disentangle herself from.
She sat back, getting some distance, and his hand shot out, far quicker than she’d anticipated, latching on to her knee. She gulped, her heart thundering as she licked her lips.
“Allie,” she said out loud, and he nodded, but kept his hand on her knee.
“The mages have been working with turned witches. In an increasingly organized fashion. All across the country—hell, Canada too—witches have gone missing, only to be found a few days later.” He shut up and she shook her head.
“I need to know the details. I’m a cop, Josh. I can’t find her…I can’t protect my people if I don’t know what’s going on.”
“They’re found dead. Totally drained. The numbers have been increasing and they’ve recently begun kidnapping Weres too.”
She knew she’d paled, could feel the blood rush away from her face as shock smacked her. “Good God.”
“Yes. Since you’ve spoken with Gage, you know we’ve got some contacts with them and Clan Gennessee to the south. The witches are aware and working on a unified defense. Back east where this all first started, we’ve created a coordinated effort with the de La Vega Jamboree. Jaguar shifters,” he added when she looked confused. “And of course with National. That’s the sort of united governing pack for all wolves in the United States. Anyway, Cascadia, that’s the big pack in Seattle, they’ve recently lost two of their wolves. The cats have had similar losses in the major cities. We’ve had some stalking, but so far our people have been safe. We think they might be working with human anti-Other hate groups.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
He started and then laughed. “Grown-up, gorgeous woman and she’s got a potty mouth? Be still my heart.”
She sniffed in his direction. “If anything deserved all the big bad cuss words, Josh, it’s this. How long? I mean, I know the longer we don’t find her, the lower our chances are that she’s alive. But tell me what the odds are.”
He swallowed hard and she knew he did not want to say anything.
“The longest case that I know of was five days. And when they found her, she was in very bad shape and spent two weeks in the hospital.”
She stood and began to pace. “Well then, we need to get going.”
“There’s no way I can convince you to stay at your hotel while we track, is there?”
“No. Which would be dumb anyway. I can see the mage energy and you can’t. The last place I saw it was at a rest stop in Aurora, Baldock, northbound.”
“Are the state police looking for the vehicle?”
She nodded. “I sent out an alert yesterday afternoon. Though I had to do some fancy footwork with just why I knew that particular car was of interest. Can’t very well say I followed my othersight up the freeway.”
“Witches really need to come out. It’s awfully hard to hide what you are in the modern world.”
She shrugged. “I’m not in charge of any of that. I only know ten other witches. Well, eleven if you count Gage, and I only know him from one phone call. All those decisions are made far above my pay grade.”
He sighed. “Yeah. I get that too. With these disappearances, well I can’t see how it can go on much longer. It’s come out on your own or get outed.”
“Easy for you to say. I guess you’re part of that pay grade I’m not in. So? We gonna get on this or what?”
“Step one is to go to that rest stop. You said you saw their energy at two stops?”
“I pulled off at every single one between Roseburg and here. There may be more north of Portland but I wanted to come here first.”
“Good idea. Let’s go to the first one so I can get a good scent, and we’ll head to the second one so I can compare. I just need to stop by my apartment so I can get changed, and we’ll get moving.”
“Don’t you have minions to do this sort of thing?”
He snorted. “Yes. But I don’t want to assign this to anyone else.”
“Josh, it’s just a job.” She needed him to know there was nothing beyond this. He’d wrecked her heart already, she wasn’t about to give him another shot.
He paused, going very still, the pupils of his eyes nearly swallowing all the green. She sucked in a breath and got pine and loam. “Oh my God, I just smelled your wolf, didn’t I? That’s so cool.”
The flash in his gaze sent a shiver through her, and she had to ball her fists to keep from touching him. Damn it, she had to not be fascinated. No. She needed to remember two things. One, he left her life without even a word, and two, her best friend was missing and in grave danger.
“I’ll help you, but I have a price.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Are you serious? Never mind.” She grabbed her bag. He took her hand and turned her to face him.
“You don’t even want to hear my offer?”
Sighing, she gave him the get on with it hand sign.
“Dinner. After we go to the rest stops. Let me take you to dinner. Let me get to know you again. Catch up. It’s been…”
“Twelve years. It’s been twelve years. And there’s no catching up. That’s over.”
She knew him well enough to understand the set of his shoulders meant the discussion was not closed. But whatever.
“We’ll see. Come on. I’m going to have one of my people come along with us so more than one of us has the scent. Then I can send them north.” He began to gather his things with one hand while he shoved another sandwich into his face. On most men it would have made her cringe a little. But this one managed to make it look sexy.
Why couldn’t he have lost all his hair or gotten a huge beer belly? Why did he have to look so damned good?
He escorted her out, his hand at the small of her back. She quickened her pace but he did as well, keeping contact. “Hold up a moment. I need to speak to my people.”
She could have suggested she meet him downstairs, but in truth she wanted to see how his operation worked. It wasn’t as if she had regular dealings with the werewolf pack structure. Or werewolves at all.
They had a sort of magick too, she noticed as they entered a large room with several desks occupied by large men. Lots of large when it came to werewolves, apparently. They all came to attention when Josh entered the space, gazes straight to him, waiting.
“Who has some open time to help me with a tracking project?”
“I’ve got some.” Tall, dark and gorgeous stood, tipping his chin in Josh’s direction.
“Great. Damon, this is Michelle Slattery, she’s an old friend and a cop from Roseburg. She’s here tracking a missing woman, a witch we think has been taken by mages.”
He took her hand, engulfing it in his, and she wasn’t a tiny woman by any means. “I’m happy to help however I can.”
“Bring GiGi with you. I want everyone working with a partner until we’re clear of this mage business.”
A tall blonde approached, smiling at Michelle as she thrust a hand in her direction. “Nice to meet you.”
“Meet me at my place in forty-five minutes. We’ll leave from there.”
He spoke quietly with another guy for a bit and then turned back. “Ready?”
Once they got to the elevator she spoke again. “I have a car.”
“Why don’t I follow you to your hotel and you can drop it off and we can drive together?”
“I don’t have a hotel yet. I came straight here. I might go north after we go to those rest stops today. I need to keep moving.”
“How long has it been since you’ve slept?”
“So anyway, why don’t I drive and then I can drop you back here when we finish up?”
“Why do you have to resist so hard?”
“What does it matter? My best friend is missing and she could be dead. I can’t just fucking sleep and I don’t understand why it matters to you anyway.”
God. Her voice nearly cracked and he totally heard it. Truth was, she hadn’t slept more than those four hours before she’d gone over to Allie’s place the day before. She was freaked and exhausted and on edge, and it was all bad business for a cop to get that way.
But what else could she do?
The guys back in Roseburg were on it. Her boss had given her some time to come up and look for Allie, but he’d made it clear there was an official investigation and she was too close to the missing person to be effectively on it.
“I’m driving. You can stay in my guest room. And I care because I care about you. I never stopped caring about you. I left Roseburg behind but it didn’t have a thing to do with you.”
“I’m not staying in your guest room.”
“Where are you parked?”
“I found a street spot about two blocks up.”
“I’ll drive you to it, and you can follow me to my place and park there.”
“You’re very bossy,” she muttered. It was a good plan, but he was so pushy about it.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that a few times.”
His car was waiting at the curb because someone had brought it out for him. “Must be nice.”
He grinned as he opened her door and she slid in. “It is.”
And so of course he lived in some swanky, cool loft-type building a few minutes away from the office. He’d told her to go inside the gate when it opened and to park in spot fourteen so she did. She sat there in the silence for a while.
She needed to hold herself together. To keep her eyes open and not miss anything. It didn’t matter that she was tired. That she’d been slapped in the face with one of the worst memories of her life. What mattered was finding Allie.
When all this was over, when Allie was back at home, Michelle could break down. Until then, there simply wasn’t time.
He rapped on her window, concern on his features, and she did her best to put her cop face back on as she got out.