Unconditional, page 1
For the family who makes my life better every day. Both that of my heart and that of my biology. Your love and support enable me to write about love and support every day.
The sun hadn’t finished rising when Michelle’s phone rang and jolted her from sleep. One bleary eye opened to look at the clock. Six. She’d only been off shift for three hours after working a nasty domestic-violence case. It wasn’t just physical exhaustion, but emotional that burned behind her eyes.
But that was the way of it when you were a cop.
Still, it had better not be her mother or anything less than an emergency. Reaching out, she managed to grab the phone without knocking everything off the bedside table.
“Michelle? I’m sorry to wake you. It’s Kathy. Allie…”
The sound in her best friend’s mother’s voice, the raw choke of Allie’s name, brought Michelle upright immediately, her heart pounding.
“What? Is she all right?”
This hit close to home, but she managed to get her work hat into place as she pulled out a pad and pen. “Where are you?”
“I’m at her apartment. It’s been broken into. There’s…” Kathy lowered her voice, “…there’s mage energy here. It’s wrong. Like they said it would feel.”
They being the visiting witches from Clan Owen in Seattle who’d taught them some defensive magicks against the mages who’d been attacking witches across the country.
“I’m getting dressed right now. I’ll be there as soon as I can. We’ll need to call this in as well. But let me get the magickal stuff dealt with first. We’ll find her, Kathy. Sit tight. I’m on my way.”
Michelle managed to brush her teeth while pulling her clothes on and brushing her hair up into a quick ponytail before rushing out the door.
She still had her work vehicle so she sped over to Allie’s place with the siren and lights on, the windows down to wake up.
She had to think. She had to push aside her fear and worry and focus on the facts. Worry wouldn’t find Allie. Skill would.
Allie’s place wasn’t too very far away, just about a mile, so she arrived within seven minutes of waking up. She jogged past the two main buildings and over to Allie’s and up the stairs.
Allie wanted safety. So she’d spent the extra money and chosen well. The neighborhood was quiet and relatively crime-free. Her apartment was on the second floor, and when Michelle got to the top of the stairs, she found Allie’s mom Kathy there.
“Thank God you’re here.”
Michelle hugged her. “I’m going to need you to stay back, okay. I don’t want any of your energy to mix with hers.”
Some witches from Clan Owen up in Seattle had offered a class on how to read different magickal energies, and Michelle had jumped at the chance. She was really glad for that as she entered the place and used her othersight. There was seeing things, and then there was opening up your senses and seeking to truly understand the energies and signatures all living beings gave off. Learning how to use it had been revelatory to Michelle. Both as a witch and as a cop.
Allie’s energy was there—bright and vibrant—as was Michelle’s. And then she saw it, the cloudy smudge marking a mage. It was toxic, hanging in the air like oil.
Where the mage energy hung, Allie’s vitality had muddied. Fear. Michelle’s shiver slid into nausea. Her best friend had been terrified of whatever the mage had done. She moved through the apartment, increasingly grateful for those classes. Just a few months before she might have missed all the clues hanging in the air.
She took quick notes about the color and feel of everything. Once she finished up there with the police, she’d give the witches up in Seattle a call to see if they had any advice or information.
That done, she needed to call in to report the crimes. Magick could only help so much. Now it was time for good, old-fashioned cop work. Though she was wary, her boss was pretty anti-shifter. The witches hadn’t come out yet to humans, but if this looked like any sort of supernatural anything, he’d close his mind off, and she needed him so she could remain on the case until they brought Allie home.
“Answer their questions and be as helpful as you can. I’ll handle the mage part, but the rest will be investigation.” She hugged Kathy once more and made the call.
Michelle had to put her human mask on when her brethren came in. She got out of the way and assisted with canvassing neighbors and getting Kathy interviewed on the record.
Allie had been missing for at least four hours. She’d left the hospital where she’d been on the night shift, and that was the last anyone saw of her. Given the dishes in her sink, it was likely Allie had arrived home and eaten and had a cup of tea. It was her after-work ritual. A quick look at the DVR and it appeared she’d caught up on a few of her favorite shows. Allie usually went to bed about two hours after she got home, once she’d eaten and relaxed a while.
Given the folded sleep pants and shirt at the foot of the still-made bed, it looked like she’d been taken about an hour to two hours after she’d gotten home from work.
They’d discovered she was missing so much more quickly than it could have been. Michelle tried to hold on to that. On a normal day, no one would have noticed anything until Allie wouldn’t have shown up for her shift later that night. A whole day would have passed, clues growing colder.
This was a plus. Michelle needed to keep that in mind to hold back the fear.
When she’d gone next door to speak with the neighbor who’d called Kathy, Michelle had learned the neighbor had heard a scuffle but thought it was the television. She hadn’t given it another thought until an hour or so later when the neighbor had left for work and saw Allie’s door had been left ajar.
Allie was fastidious and hyperaware of her safety. She’d never have left her door open like that. She even locked up when she went downstairs to check her mail. Knowing it had been out of character, the neighbor called Kathy right away. Another plus. Though Michelle did urge the neighbor to call the police immediately if she came upon something like that again in the future.
After they finished up at the scene, Michelle took Allie’s mom home. She made Kathy stay in the car while she did a pass through the house, making sure all was well before she gave the all clear.
She hugged Kathy tight, kissing her cheek. “Everything is fine here. No signs of attempted entry.” Worry ate at her along with the need to be doing something. Anything to bring her friend back safely.
“If there are mages around…well maybe you should go stay with friends a while.”
“I can’t leave while she’s out there. What if she calls? What if she shows up needing me and I’m not here? This is her home, Michelle. I need to be here.”
Michelle nodded. She’d expected that answer but she had to try anyway. “All right. Why don’t you ask someone to stay here with you? Being alone means you’re at higher risk.” After she spoke with Clan Owen, she needed to contact the local coven to be sure people were told to use extra caution.
But the coven was really just a group of people who got together to barbecue once every few months. That was the extent of their organization as witches, though they had instituted a phone tree after Owen had suggested it a month before.
She stood, looking out the windows of a house she’d spent more time in than her own growing up. The enormity of it all hit her with sudden force. Her hands shook and she balled them into fists.
It was not the time.
She pushed it back, as far away as she could because now was the time to focus. Allie needed her to be smart and strong.
She’d never had the two most important parts of her life cross this way before. But the
“You have to find her.” Kathy wrung her hands and pulled Michelle out of her little panic attack.
She gently untangled Kathy’s hands and took them into her own, squeezing. “You have my word. I will do everything I possibly can to find her.”
Michelle didn’t promise to save Allie, though she’d do her damndest. Allie was more like her sister than a friend, but Michelle was a realist. She’d seen enough in her time as a cop. Sometimes no matter how hard you worked, no matter how much you wanted it, things still came to a bad end.
“Will you call someone? To stay here?” Allie’s dad had died of cancer four years before and Kathy lived alone. But she had friends and family in the area who’d pull together to help.
“You think they’d come for me?”
“From what they say? Yes. They’re dangerous and they’re using our magick to fill a need. Like a fix. They don’t care about anything else. So if they know witches are here and they know they can use Allie to get themselves one more? They will. If you’re not alone, you present a less easy target. I’ll feel better knowing you’re safer.”
Kathy sighed, nodding. “I’ll call my sister and ask her to stay a while.”
“Good. I’ve got to get moving. I want to hit the ground running.”
“You’ll keep me updated? And be safe yourself?”
“Yes to both.” She hugged Kathy one last time and headed out the door.
She needed privacy for the next call she had to make to Clan Owen. They had a contact number they’d given her to call in reference to any mage activity so she’d start there.
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 supre
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.
LAUREN DANE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Making ChaseBlade on the HuntWhiskey Sharp--JaggedTri MatesA Touch of FaeMesmerizedBroken OpenAll That Remains (Metamorphosis Book 1)
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