The Immortal Beside Me, Book II

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Chapter 3

Hugh’s friend at Calember County was a thirty year veteran of the sheriff’s department by the name of Skip Danson. When he received the call from Hugh, Skip was reluctant to discuss the case with another person. However, any friend of Hugh’s could be trusted. He agreed to meet Lynch at the LeVale diner.

From his friend’s description, he didn’t think he would miss his entrance. Despite that, he found his eyes roaming about the room, settling on each person for a few seconds. People watching was something he learned early on in his career. It was a sociological thing, he supposed. However, Skip considered it an art he quite enjoyed. It also helped identify suspicious looking folks when searching for a perpetrator.

A young woman caught his eye. She was quite attractive, obviously wearing a wig. It was long, flowing, and flame red. Oddly enough, the color was pretty close to the victim. There was nothing wrong with wearing a wig, of course. Yet, it seemed in poor taste. Surely, she didn’t know about the murder. Perhaps in his cynicism of the human race these days, everything offended him after a murder. Was that so wrong? For a moment, he was tempted to approach her and ask that she remove the wig. He didn’t have time.

When the cowbell jangled over the door, his eyes immediately followed the sound. Entering the establishment was a man in his thirties with dark wavy hair. He was tall, dressed casually in jeans, and a dark tee-shirt. Skip immediately deduced that this gentleman had to be Lynch Tackett. He noticed that Lynch trained his eyes on him. He nodded toward the other man and began to wait patiently for him to close the distance between them.

Lynch approached Skip Danson’s table, pulled out a chair, and sat down. He offered his hand to the other man. After a moment’s hesitation, Skip took it, pumping his hand swiftly three times before releasing it. Immediately, Lynch thought of a politician. The Calember County veteran of the sheriff’s department shook hands like a candidate wishing greatly to be elected. Lynch couldn’t help but wonder if this man was out to run for office when he retired.

Although he was certain Skip would conduct his own evaluation, Lynch sat back without speaking. He was right. Skip judged Lynch’s handshake in much the same fashion. The other man seemed aloof, quiet. He was the complete opposite of Hugh Norwood. Skip wasn’t certain why the two men got along so well.

“I’m Lynch Tackett,” he said finally. “Hugh’s partner.”

Skip nodded nonchalantly, acknowledging his introduction with his usual cynicism. Duh. Who else would you be? “Skip Danson,” he said absently. “Hugh said you had some questions about our business out in Calember County.”

Lynch couldn’t blame him for being slightly suspicious. It wasn’t normal for one police agency to share information with another unless there was some type of connection, or another similar murder. Sure, other cops talked, shot the shit and all. They were still protective of evidence and facts about the case. No one knew whether or not someone in the brotherhood would spill their guts to the most interested news agency, therefore ruining their investigation.

“I understand why you’re hesitant,” Lynch began, “what do you believe happened to your victim?” It was the question he most wanted answered. After that, Skip Danson could go back to Calember County and find the killer.

“Before I tell you, Lynch, why are you so interested?”

Lynch saw that Skip’s beady muddy brown eyes were staring a hole into him. I’m a werewolf and I want to know if I killed her. The thought entered his mind as easily as a hot knife through butter. In this situation, it was best to lie. No shit. Telling the truth will get you thrown into the nearest mental institution. “We may have a victim in common.”

“Hugh didn’t say anything about that,” Skip said incredulously.

“Do you want to tell me or not?” Lynch asked pointedly. “I’m not interested in screwing you out of the glory you will receive once you find the killer. Since we have that out of the way, will you please answer my question?”

He wanted to punch the bastard, but internally appreciated his honesty. “Her body had bites all over it. It looked like something wild was at her before and after her death.”

The words hit Lynch like fists. It was definitely not what he wanted to hear. He stayed calm and collected. If he wanted to react like he felt, Skip Danson might as well have cuffed him, stuffed him, and carried him to Calember County. “You’re saying something tried to consume her?”

Skip shook his head. “Not exactly. It appeared as if something was after her blood, not her flesh. We feel it was some kook who had his canine teeth replaced with fangs. We’ve seen it before, in those Goth kids.”

Lynch folded his hands before him. It was the best way to keep them from shaking. “Any way I could see the crime scene photos?”

“No,” he answered shortly. “That’s too much to ask.”

The dream was real, even more so than before. In slumber, he had reveled in drinking her blood, not consuming the flesh. It wasn’t his nature to kill in that fashion. Part of him didn’t believe he was responsible. It was a small part. His heart was heavy in his chest. He felt Skip’s eyes on him, once again evaluating him. What he wouldn’t give for something to drink, something to dull his nerves. Alcohol was not the solution. He had to find a way to view the body.

Lynch focused his eyes on the other man’s face. “Thank you for what you could share.” He stood up without offering his hand in a departing shake. He was usually more polite than this, but their conversation suddenly squashed that inside him. “I need to disappear.”

Skip watched Lynch as he left the diner. Their short meeting had left a bad taste in his mouth. Something was simply not right with this fellow. He didn’t know what it was yet, he simply knew he didn’t like it. Skip made moves to exit himself. Before he could, he noticed that the girl in the bad wig had approached his table.

Smiling at him, she asked, “Can I have a moment of your time?”

Cursing under her breath, Jenna wiped her eyes and peered down into the annoyingly small microscope. For the past hour and a half, she had been trying to develop a new vaccine. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Lynch was becoming resistant to the current strain she had last concocted. She hated to admit it, but they were running out of compounds, out of choices. Before long, either she or Andy would have to carry out Lynch’s wishes. Completely unable to think about it, she tightened her grip on the tweezers and gently manipulated a speck of the enzyme on the slide.

To her tired eyes, it didn’t appear as if this particular agent was meshing well with the current injections. The cellular growth was nil, seemingly blackening before her very eyes. She lifted her head, caressed the bridge of her nose, and fought the greatest urge to smash the microscope against the wall in front of her. She resisted, only because it would mean spending money they didn’t have on another.

With the exception of Lynch, no one else earned any outside money. Decades ago, Lynch, Andy, and her mother spent the last of Lynch’s inheritance purchasing new equipment. Nikolas Tackett had left his son a modest amount of money. It was enough to keep the house from being foreclosed upon, replace outdated equipment with that more modern, and two cars. One was mainly used by Lynch. The other was left for Jenna and Andy. Money in today’s economy never lasted long. Jenna had a degree, even volunteered to find work. However, Lynch had asked that she forgo her plans so she would have more time to continue her research, especially since it was something her family had done for a very long time. She couldn’t say no.

Those who knew them often asked Jenna why she simply didn’t leave. It was obvious Lynch would never be the man she needed. She couldn’t think of leaving. It was true that she had loved Lynch all her life, from the first moment she met him at the tender age of ten. Her mother brought her to the house when Lynch asked her to move in. Gretchen Vos explained to Jenna that it was her lot in life to follow along with the family, to continue to help ‘Uncle’ Keagan as long as he was alive. She was directed to marry and produce heirs so that Keagan would never be without ‘special’ assistance.

Faithfully, Jenna followed her mother’s orders without understanding what she was giving up in order to do so. Nothing else, except Lynch, mattered. After her mother’s death, Jenna took her room, read her journals, and set about taking her place. Many times through the years, Lynch begged her to leave, to find a life, and have babies. He wanted her to forget her promised duties. She couldn’t lie; she had to be honest with herself. There were times when she wanted to leave, when she had been more than tempted. Although she loved Lynch, it was difficult getting close to him. It took a massive amount of time to simply know him. When they fought, she would creep into her room and pack her things. She would make it only as far as her bedroom door, and then she often crept into his room to watch him sleep. Her love for him kept her loyal. If he would admit he loved her, he would always have her. He could turn her. Jenna realized she wanted that more than any man she would ever meet.

There had been a few other men in her life. She once promised Lynch she would try. None of them compared to him. Each time, she came back, feeling more love for Lynch than ever before. At first, it didn’t matter that he took company with women he didn’t know. She was unaware if any of them were whores, but he often brought home women whom he met at bars. When Jenna was younger, Lynch was a terrible drinker. It seemed alcohol made his resistance grow quicker. After a hard drinking binge, Jenna discovered that Lynch had come home with a nameless woman. She saw them in bed together and watched in horror as he began to transform. Somehow, she and Andy managed to get the woman out of the house. Andy quickly injected him with a new serum which stopped the process in its tracks. The next morning, Lynch swore off alcohol for good.

He also swore off women. He wasn’t blind; he appreciated more than a few. Despite this, he didn’t bring any home. It was on that day, seven years ago, when Jenna professed her love for Lynch. As she expected, he didn’t seem surprised or angry. He took the news to heart, groaned, and rubbed his chest where he assumed his heart was located. Lynch didn’t return the sentiment. Instead, he told her that an affair would be disastrous. He had yet told her about his past. He was certain his father had taken a lover after his mother died, but he would never tell her about it. She treated him like a lover or a husband, always worrying about him, asking questions, showing great concern. She knew this behavior irritated him at times, but he never asked her to leave. He explained that pursuing a relationship with him was completely pointless; she told him his asking her to leave was just as pointless.

It hurt to live with a man who would never return her love. That was why most people she knew in the outside world told her to leave. She imagined her mother was rolling over in her grave. Jenna was close to turning thirty. She had yet to find a man, marry, and produce heirs, one of whom would eventually replace her. Gretchen Vos had been adamant about one thing. Jenna was never to develop feelings for Keagan Tackett. He is a handsome, loving man, Jenna, her mother told her. Ignore that, my daughter. Never fall in love with him. The continuation of our work absolutely forbids it. It was the very rule Jenna had not followed, and it was easier said than done. No one had the ability to control with whom they fell in love.

Loving Lynch, becoming immortal would ruin everything. It was hard enough controlling one lycan. Two would increase their problems tenfold. Although Andy was adept at science, he couldn’t invent compounds like she. Lynch’s self-described sickness would overtake the world. He didn’t want that, he didn’t want to be responsible for unleashing the curse of immortality upon innocents.

Jenna was about to focus her attention back on the slides when she heard the front door crashing open. It was late, but obviously Lynch had come home. From the sound, the news was bad. She was about to head upstairs until she heard his heavy footsteps moving toward her direction. She turned around just as Lynch entered the basement.

His hair was wild and corkscrewed from running his hands through it. She saw that his fists were clenched, his brow sweaty. “What happened?”

Jenna’s soft voice was normally music to his ears. Not tonight. He was ready for them to carry out his plans. “The woman was chewed, her blood obviously consumed.”

She saw that he was crying. It was something he didn’t do very often. She wanted to hold him; certain he would push her away. “Lynch, you’re not altogether certain it was you,” she said gently. “Andy and I are here for you. We can try to find out if there is another imm-”

The instant she uttered the first syllable of the word, he cut her off. “I told you it’s impossible, Jenna. Why won’t you take my word and leave it alone?” He unclenched his fists. “I’ve killed a woman. It’s time.”

This time, she couldn’t avoid approaching him. Within seconds, her hands were on his face, caressing it, wiping away his bitter tears. He was clearly terrified, horrified at what he thought he did. He wasn’t aware of her gentle touch. If he realized what she was doing, he would have withdrawn.

“No,” she said forcefully. “I won’t allow it. Don’t be rash. There are still avenues we can take. It could be anyone. You must understand this.”

He closed his eyes against her words, clearly unable to deal with her explanation. “If that was the case, why would I dream about it?”

Unable to help herself, she kissed each of his closed eyelids. “I don’t know, Lynch. We’ll find out.”

He was close to dropping his guard even further, allowing himself to kiss her. Mere millimeters separated their lips. It would have been so easy. Just as he was about to move in, the spell broke. He gathered his senses and self-consciously pulled away from her.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“I’m not,” she said.

She approached him and kissed him. It felt like she thought it would. His lips were soft and warm. As they parted against hers, a move that allowed their tongues to touch gently, she felt his strong hands at her waist. He pulled her body up hard against his. In moments, he wouldn’t be able to contain the need building inside him. It was incredible letting go, finally kissing her, tasting the sweetness of her mouth, feeling the firmness of her body against his. Lynch most certainly loved her, she definitely knew it, but he had never uttered the words. Was tonight the time for it? Was it?

After a few moments, Lynch broke the kiss so the two of them could catch their breath. He gazed at her, boring his eyes into hers as he noted her lips were slightly swollen. “Jenna…”

As he spoke her name, she heard the desperation in his voice. She knew where this was going; it was a place they had been so many times before. This was the first time they had seriously kissed, just not the first time they had been in this situation. “Why is this so hard for you?”

“You know why,” he insisted.

Jenna lowered her head for a moment before meeting his gaze again. “If you hadn’t expected something like this to happen tonight, why seek me out? You could have unraveled before Andy and left me to my work.”

He sighed heavily. “I can’t do this right now.”

She would hate herself in the morning, knowing how utterly despaired he was. “Fine. Leave me.”

Without listening to her command, he slowly approached her, reached out, and placed his large hands on her shoulders. “Jenna, you don’t realize how much you mean to me. With that said, there is nothing I can do to fulfill either of us. I can’t do to you what is within myself. If I did, you couldn’t be my lover or wife, because I simply cannot allow it. I would spend eternity hating myself, unable to love you as much as you deserve.”

She stepped back quickly, the action made his hands fall away immediately. For a brief moment, they dangled limply at his sides. “Whores were good enough for you? I told you to leave me.”

Her words were sharp, cutting him deeply. “I know you will not listen to me, Jenna. I still have to insist that you move out. You deserve a normal life.”

She turned away from him and walked back over to her desk. She gripped the back of her chair so tightly that her knuckles had turned white. “No matter how much you insist, I’m not leaving you. For now, I simply want you out of my personal space. I should think that isn’t too much to ask.”

Lynch didn’t respond to her comments. Instead, he did as she asked. When he slammed the door upstairs, Jenna visibly jumped. She scrubbed the wetness off her face and went back to her work.

Callie slipped into the living room just after Hugh left for work. She had stayed in hiding at the library after her encounter with Skip Danson. He offered to give her a ride, but she told him she needed the exercise. After all, the library was not that far from Hugh’s place.

Once inside, she went to her room, stripped off her clothes, and jumped into the shower. Skip Danson might have been an excellent detective or whatever he was in Calember County. As a human being, however, he was severely lacking. When she asked for information, he wasn’t willing to accommodate her request until she produced an official FBI badge, which was as counterfeit as her wig. Yet, it was produced in a manner that completely fooled Danson.

They left the diner and walked out to his cruiser parked nearby. After gunning the engine, he took her for a ride out to Calember County, showing her the crime scene. He gave her as much information as he could, embellishing it more for her than he did Lynch. After their conversation, he parked near the crime scene. The area was wooded and desolate. She completely believed she was in deep trouble. Where could she go? There was no way out. She didn’t understand how she could be so stupid.

Callie completely expected Danson to either ask for a sexual favor or take things in his own hands. Fully anticipating fighting for her life, she waited for his hands to strike. She was wrong. Absolutely nothing happened as she imagined it. Believing her story completely, Danson asked her to say a good word for him at the FBI. He was about to retire and wanted a job consulting for the federal agency. Callie almost burst out laughing. Not only was it amusing, she was relieved as well. Out for sex he was not. Completely stupid he was.

As she scrubbed her hair, she directed her face right into the spray. Somehow, she had to get through the barrier of Jenna Vos so she could get closer to Lynch Tackett. He was the reason she played such a dumb role today. He was in trouble and she

After Lynch left for his shift, Jenna came out of the basement, in search of Andy. It didn’t take long to find him. He was already dressed for bed. He sat on the large sectional sofa in the den with his long legs stretched out before him. His feet were resting on the coffee table. He had his nose in a thick book. Andy usually frowned on others when they had their feet on the table, but she supposed he was free to do anything he wanted in the house. If Jenna hadn’t been so disturbed by her encounter with Lynch earlier, she would have laughed.

Jenna chose to sit in an uncomfortable straight backed chair close to the TV. She grabbed the remote, fully intent on rotting her brain for a few hours watching reality TV. Once she lightly fingered the power button, she dropped the remote where she found it. She crossed her arms before her, now deciding that staring at a portrait of Nikolas Tackett would be what she would do for the rest of the evening. It struck her odd that there was no portrait of Constance Tackett in any room of the old house. Lynch’s mother was a touchy subject to breach. Although she clearly wasn’t trying to get Andy’s attention, she could see that he had lost interest in his book.

Andy placed a bookmark inside his novel before putting it casually on his skinny left thigh. “What happened with you and Lynch tonight? He barely spoke two words to me today. I know he is rattled by the murder, but I haven’t seen him like this in a long time.”

He had heard many stories of incidents between the two of them. She hadn’t ever spoken of any heated moments. Of course, until today, there hadn’t been any. Andy was one of her closest confidants. She had other friends with whom she attended college. Since she took on her duties at the Tackett house, she hadn’t seen them in some time. After tonight, she thought she might take a short vacation. Andy knew of her feelings for Lynch. He was one person she could trust above all others. It would be difficult to rehash what happened.

Jenna sighed and placed her palms flat on her thighs. She was quite tempted to dig her fingernails into them. “Lynch burst into the lab to tell me what happened during the meeting between him and Skip Danson. Did he tell you?”

Andy shook his head, pursing his lips for a few seconds, and said, “No, he didn’t mention a word.”

A sinking feeling struck her. Andy didn’t know. Great. “The woman who was killed had injuries that could be consistent with an animal attack. He is certain he’s guilty, and requested we end his life.”

Her words suddenly sunk through to him. He swung his legs over before him and sat up straight. “I don’t think Lynch is alone.”

“Nor do I,” she said, agreeing with him. “There is another immortal very close to us, and I have my suspects.”

“You’re not thinking it’s Hugh’s sister, are you?”

She detected the disbelief in Andy’s response. “I have no way of knowing completely. LeVale is a small town, so it isn’t hard to find a new citizen. Her timing moving here is no coincidence.”

Andy chewed his lip with gusto. “Outside killing her, how do we find out?”

“If I can obtain a small sample of her blood, I can surely test it in the lab,” she said. “You know if she is, there will be the same proteins in her blood that Lynch has.”

“I suppose you’re about to invite them to dinner someday soon the next time they both have a day off?” Andy asked, his eyebrows lifted, a lilt in his voice.

Jenna smiled brightly. “But of course.”

“What happened, Jenna? You seem upset about something else.”

Damn him. She knew he would notice the continued rumble of discourse deeply within her being. “I told you he was upset,” she began, “I offered him comfort, and for the first time, he allowed me to do it. After twenty years, we finally connected. We were so very close to becoming lovers. He…he drew away. I suppose he still sees a ten year old kid when he looks at me. I’m not her anymore, goddamn it.”

Andy nodded sympathetically, all the while gnawing on his lips, which meant he was thinking. “I know how you feel about Lynch, Jenna. Perhaps you should put some distance between you. I can see that he isn’t fit for a mate right now, if he ever will be. You surely do not want to become someone’s…how do you say? Fuck buddy?”

Jenna nearly choked on the saliva in her mouth. Since knowing Andy, she had never heard him utter one f-bomb. “Holy shit, Andy,” she hissed incredulously. “I see your point. I don’t know if I can simply stop loving him. I do have friends I can go see, I suppose.”

He smiled at her brilliantly. “Then you have your answer. When this episode passes, go to your friends. Give yourself some time away.”

She hadn’t been away from home in a very long time. She didn’t know how she would act away from her life here. “I think you might possibly be right, Andy.”

He laughed heartily at that. “Of course. I’m always right. I thought you knew that by now.”

Lynch and Hugh had been working for hours on their caseload. There were dozens of people who needed to be interviewed. Despite this, they were having trouble locating the folks they had to find. After four or five hours, both men needed a break. They drove to a convenience store and bought coffee for themselves. Instead of drinking it in the cruiser, they chose a small table at the back of the store.

Hugh sipped greedily at his coffee. It was like crack to an addict. He had to have it whenever the craving hit. Otherwise, he thought he might go crazy and run wild in the streets. He watched his partner cautiously. For hours tonight, he had been unusually quiet. Lynch Tackett wasn’t a chatty sort to begin with; however, he was talking less than he normally would. Even when he jokingly told him stories that he was already close to throwing his sister out, Lynch didn’t laugh. Hugh might be an insensitive asshole, but he knew when to tell a joke to get a guy in good humor. Tonight, it failed. He tried asking Lynch several times what was wrong. He simply mumbled ‘nothing’ and went on with whatever he was doing. Hugh knew Lynch had a ‘domestic partner,’ and had asked about her as well. Like everything else, he received nothing other than a blank stare. This wasn’t good cop work.

Lynch wasn’t at his best tonight. It didn’t take a professional to know it. Even so, he honestly wished Hugh would look in another direction. For most of their shift tonight, Hugh had been grilling him over his lack of vocalization. He wasn’t one who said much as it stood, and surely wasn’t a man to share his emotions. Just ask Jenna, she will tell you. There was plenty for him to keep cooped up. He was more than freaked about the murder in Calember County, and he had to deal with Jenna as well. He clearly didn’t understand why she simply could pack her bags, give up, and just go away. He wouldn’t like it if she left. It didn’t matter, it was best for her. Why fight it? Skip Danson’s information had put things in his mind, events he didn’t want to think about again. He had to. There was no other way around it.

“How did the meeting with Skip go?” Hugh suddenly asked.

He almost visibly jumped at Hugh’s question. He gazed into his coffee. It was awful. How he craved some of Jenna’s brew. Hers was coffee, not just scared water. “It went well. He answered my questions.”

Hugh blinked. Lynch reminded him of how cavemen were portrayed in movies. Answers given were grunts, ughs, or two sentence responses. He hated that. When witnesses or suspects did it, he was tempted to shout at them until his voice was gone. “Okay,” he said bluntly. “Care to tell me why you are so interested? You never mentioned that.”

“I know I didn’t,” Lynch admitted. “I simply needed to know what was going on. If something like that happened there, it’s possible it will happen here. We’re not that far from Calember County.”

“That I know, friend,” Hugh said. “Other than that, is there anything else going on? Maybe on the home front? I mean, you never talk about that stuff, about Jenna.”

Lynch shrugged. “I know I don’t, Hugh. Jenna is a friend of the family, that’s all. There’s nothing going on between us.”

He lifted his eyebrows. “Jenna is a beautiful woman. Maybe I’ll ask her out.”

You,” he said rather sharply. “Jenna’s not the slightest bit interested.” He sipped at his coffee. “Hate to tell you that.”

Hugh laughed and shook his head. “Man, don’t bite my head off. If you want to keep her locked up in the tower, I won’t interfere.”

Lynch honestly didn’t mean to be so aggressive in his response. Their fight was too current, too attached to his heart. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to snap at you. This has just been a shitty day and I’m ready for it to be over.”

He finished his coffee in one large gulp. “I hear you, Lynch.”

Lynch came home from work on time for a change. All he had on his mind was taking a run, jumping into the shower, and hitting his bed for several hours’ worth of uninterrupted, dreamless sleep. He left his car and looked up at the roof. There were more boards beginning to rot. Sooner or later, he would have to call someone in to repair it. The sight depressing him even more, he slouched along to the front door and let himself inside.

Surprisingly enough, Jenna was already in the kitchen. Usually when he arrived, she would either still be in bed or napping on the couch. She was cooking breakfast. From the smell of it, she was preparing bacon, eggs, and waffles. His favorite. Something was up. After their argument last night, there was no way she would be here cooking for him. Jenna didn’t sulk, but when she was pissed, she normally stayed in that state of mind for hours afterward.

Not speaking to her at first, Lynch approached the coffee maker. She had already brewed a pot for him. He snagged a cup from a hook on the cabinet and poured himself a steaming mug. Even though it was very hot, he slurped up a mouthful anyway, swallowing as fast as he could. It burned as it went down; he didn’t care. He loved Jenna’s coffee as much as he loved her. She began to sing as soon as his first taste of coffee was down. He didn’t immediately recognize the tune. It was probably something from the 80s. Her musical taste was definitely stuck there.

“What’s going on, Jenna?” He finally asked. “Last night you couldn’t be in my presence. This morning, it seems like you’re cooking my favorite breakfast.”

She stopped singing long enough to turn her head slightly. “We’ve got to eat, don’t we?”

“I still don’t get it, sorry to say.”

She deftly lifted several strips of bacon out of the pan, laying it on top of paper towels to drain. She then checked the waffle maker, noting that the one inside was almost done. She turned again, just enough to make eye contact with him so the waffle wouldn’t burn. “It’s just another day at Tackett House Manor,” she said with a smile.

Tackett House Manor was the name of the place when his father had it built for his wife in the 1700s. It was pretentious, and his family was surely in that category. “No,” he said carefully. “I can’t say that, especially after our fight.”

“It wasn’t a fight, Lynch. We don’t fight, we disagree.”

He waved her comment aside. “Whatever,” he said distractedly. “Do I have time for a run?”

“Nope. Postpone it until after breakfast.”

He agreed uncertainly. When he took his coffee into the den, he passed Andy briefly in the hallway. He greeted him as he always did when he came home. Andy didn’t answer in his usual fashion. Instead, he quickly nodded his head and kept moving down the hall. This gave him the idea that something was definitely out of place. It didn’t feel like a horrible thing, like another murder. It was still crazy, unreal.

Lynch was called to the breakfast table about twenty minutes later. By then, he was ready for another cup of coffee. He helped himself to it before sitting at the table. Jenna actually served him a heaping helping of everything. This behavior was definitely out of sync. They served themselves on a daily basis. Their meals were lively events, not recreations of family TV shows. He felt as if he stepped into another dimension.

He forked some eggs into his mouth, chewed, swallowed, and repeated the process on his waffle. After digesting his first bites of food, he looked from Jenna to Andy. Both were eating as if nothing was out of the norm. Andy was more jumpy, though, and he thought the other man would spill his guts sooner rather than later. He was never one good under pressure.

“Who’s going to tell me what the hell is going on?” Lynch finally asked. His tone of voice was light, even if he didn’t feel like being nice.

Jenna took a sip of hot tea and placed her cup primly on the place mat. “We’re having guests over in a couple of days for dinner.”

He had picked up his cup to take another sip, but when he heard Jenna’s words, he set it down heavily. If it hadn’t been close to empty, it would have sloshed out all over the table. “We’re doing what?” He asked incredulously.

“You heard me,” she said evenly. “I thought we could have a dinner thing to welcome Hugh’s sister to town, as soon as the two of you have a day off.”

They had never done this before. Hugh had been to his house, not in a social setting, just generally. He didn’t know how much he liked that idea. Their house was in ill repair. The furnishings were nice, the house fairly clean. There were just a couple of problems. They had a fucking chemist’s lab in the basement and the homeowner was a damned werewolf. If anyone saw the lab, especially another cop, he might assume they were cooking methamphetamine down there. What if he finally ‘wolfed’ out in front of the guests? What the holy hell was Jenna thinking?

Jenna looked very proud of herself. “Shouldn’t we have discussed this first?” He noticed Andy wasn’t saying a word, which meant this whole thing was Jenna’s idea.

“No, I don’t. I know the risks, Lynch. I don’t think we have anything to worry about. Besides, Hugh is like family to us, isn’t he? I think it would be nice to welcome Callie to the area. Since she is Hugh’s sister, we’ll probably see more of her as well.”

“Andy, what do you think?” Lynch asked, focusing his eyes on the other man.

“I think it’s a grand idea,” he said solidly. “If you’re afraid of any transformation issues, we can inject you doubly if you’d like.”

They were crazy. That was it. They were fucking crazy. It was possible he had killed a woman, and they wanted to throw a goddamned dinner party.

Much later, Lynch jumped into the car and drove to his favorite running spot. It was close to where Hugh usually ran. Today, he had a lot of frustration to work through. Jenna had already called Hugh and asked about the dinner party. Much to his chagrin, the two of them had agreed readily enough. He pushed it all out of his mind and began to focus on his feet pounding on the pavement.

There were normally dozens of other people on the track. Today was no exception. He didn’t notice that another runner was getting close to him. People never distracted him while he was running. He did his own thing, then left. As the person drew nearer, his keen sense of smell kicked in. Perfume. Who the hell wore perfume when they exercised?

“Hello there,” a voice called out.

Lynch slowed down and turned toward the voice. It was Callie. She wore nothing but a sport bra and tight shorts. There was no make-up on her face, save lip gloss, and of course, the perfume. “Hi,” he said vaguely. He came here to run, not socialize.

She had other ideas. “I didn’t know you were a runner.”

His wardrobe consisted of little more than a pair of shorts. It gave her a chance to admire his long, muscled arms, toned abs, and strong legs. He was different from any cop she had ever seen. Her brother Hugh was fit, but nothing like this.

By now, they had slowed to a trot. It was obvious she wanted to talk. Sighing heavily, he moved slower still. He couldn’t blame an innocent kid for his bad mood. “I try to do it at least three times a week. It’s easy to get out of shape these days.”

“I certainly agree with that. One bite of a doughnut and my ass increases tremendously,” she said with a brilliant smile.

When she mentioned her ass, he couldn’t help but look. He might not have been interested; it didn’t mean he couldn’t take a peek. There was nothing about her that screamed she was out of shape. She was beautiful, young, and crazily fit. He was certain she would be very popular when she returned to college.

“It gets worse the older you are,” he commented lightly. What the hell did he know about that? He was immortal and never changed.

“Oh, you look incredible,” she said. Blushing, she turned her face away from his for a brief moment before looking his way again. “Thanks for the invitation to dinner. I’m looking forward to seeing your house.”

“It’s nothing special, needs a lot of repairs, and I don’t think you’ll find anything interesting about it.”

“Hugh has told me you’re the most modest man he has ever known,” she began. “I didn’t believe him, because most men I’ve met aren’t. He was right about you, though.”

Lynch smiled at her. He couldn’t help himself. Optimists in his world were few and far between. “Not modesty, I assure you. Wait and see. You’ll know what I mean.”

She touched his arm lightly. Moving gracefully and fluidly, she closed the distance between them. Before he could react, she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. Her lip gloss smelled like mixed berries. When she moved back, she noticed a stunned look on his face.

“I think you’re wrong,” she said softly. “I think you’re everything Hugh has said and more.”

Silenced by her words, he couldn’t respond. He watched as she gave him another smile before turning away.

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