Major changes have been made to this chapter.
Breakers was packed.
Nick scowled as he followed Tom through the doors, squinting in the dim light after the bright evening sun outside. Behind them, someone cursed as he slipped past them into the noisy shifter bar.
“Why’s it so busy?” Tom muttered as they took in the crowded space. The vibe in the room was less frenetic than Friday and Saturday nights, but it was still a meat market and still sketchy as fuck. And a lot busier than usual for a Sunday night.
“Dunno.” Nick wasn’t a fan of crowds, especially in social settings. He found them stifling and invasive. On the plus side, at least they were mostly shifters.
A few familiar faces leapt out as his eyes adjusted to the light, some of them friendly, others not so much. The size of the crowd aside, it was good to be back at Breakers. Back in Nick’s Fire & Rescue days, he used to come here all the time. That was before the Captain had recruited him to the Guards. Since then Nick managed to swing by once every couple of years if he was lucky.
Not much had changed. The walls were still lined with game trophies and framed historical photos of Boulder and the Letourneau family and the battered wooden floor still looked like a stampede of horses ran over it. Daily. A wall of shelves stocked with Breakers’ world-famous selection of liquor ran behind the live edge wooden bar along the length of the room, the most polished thing in the bar.
A smile curved Nick’s lips at the burly, white-haired form pouring someone a draught with his trademark flourish. Caleb Letourneau had inherited Breakers from his father over forty years ago but was a permanent fixture behind the bar long before that.
Memories flashed through Nick’s head like a reel of shorts...memories of Caleb, of the bar, of his old Fire & Rescue unit. Of arriving in Boulder for the first time with his adopted brother Gage, dead now some thirty years. Nick had never been in neutral territory before and seeing rogues and pack shifters mingling freely had completely blown his mind.
“There he is.” Tom’s voice was a rumble in Nick’s ear.
Shaking off his thoughts, Nick followed Tom’s gaze to a single man sitting alone at a table for four. It was the most conspicuous thing about him. Senior Intelligence Officer Erik Erikson had medium brown hair, a forgettable face, and an average build in a medium-blue polo and khakis. Totally non-descript right down to his drink, something clear and carbonated with a lime.
In spite of the angle and the milling crowd in front of the doors, Erikson had already seen them and flagged down the waitress by the time Tom and Nick reached the table. She greeted them with a flirtatious smile, her eyes lingering hungrily on Tom’s hairy, oversized form. Tom was big even by shifter standards, topping Nick’s six-three by a good four inches.
Tom didn’t notice, of course. His attention was on Erikson as he rattled off his order and dropped into one of the heavy wooden chairs with a grunt.
Erikson held up his glass to the waitress. “I’ll have another.”
Nick settled into an empty chair facing the bar. “Pint of Lupo,” he told her when she turned to face him.
"Someone likes them big and hairy.” Erikson grinned at the lingering look the waitress gave Tom over her shoulder.
“That’s most of the males here,” Tom grumbled, but he shot a look from under his brows at the waitress’s receding form. Nick bit back a grin. So he had noticed.
“Some of the females, too,” Erikson quipped, earning a chuckle from Nick and a grunt of amusement from Tom. His eyes were sharp, but not unfriendly as he scanned their faces in turn. “Good to see you boys.”
Tom’s gaze was equally assessing. “Same.”
“You too,” Nick said.
It wasn’t a lie. Erikson was a good guy for an IO. Reggies—warriors in the Royal Empire Guard—had a native distrust of the Ministry of Intelligence, a lot like how the human military felt about the CIA. Spies were shifty, two-faced, and condescending. The few Nick had dealt with had been dicks and took themselves way too seriously.
But Erikson was none of those things. And if he was, he was fucking genius at hiding it. This was the fourth time they’d met, not counting their introduction in Willow Beach, where they’d immediately hit it off despite the circumstances. Or maybe because of them.
“So how’s it going?” Tom’s tone was casual but his eyes glittered with interest. He was low-key obsessed with Erikson’s case and still smarting from being shut out of the investigation.
After compelling Tom and Nick to secrecy that day—including to their higher-ups—the Minister sent them to help Erikson investigate the scene of The Incident, as they called it. Evidence disappeared and witnesses’ memories eroded with every passing hour. But with every new piece of information learned in those first few days, the questions exponentially multiplied.
There was nothing Tom loved more than a puzzle, and this one was five thousand pieces and no picture to go by. But Minister Rael didn’t want the Royal Guards involved. He barely wanted the Ministry of Intelligence involved. Everything about the way the Minister was handling The Incident screamed of personal interest. His own, or the Emperor’s.
Nick tried not to think about it too much, to be honest. That shit was way, way above his pay grade. Unlike Tom, he was fine with being kept out of the loop. Thanks to his dreams, Nick was already more involved than he wanted to be.
Erikson didn’t pretend not to know what Tom was really asking. “Not great,” he admitted, swirling the ice around in his glass.
Tom’s brows lifted in surprise. “That last lead didn’t go anywhere?”
It was the best lead they’d given Erikson yet. The Minister believed Nick’s weird first-person dreams were not only real, but in real time, and his original plan was to commandeer Nick and keep him Ainu for the length of the investigation. Thank fucking Goddess Tom managed to talk him down.
Instead, Tom promised to reach out to Erikson every time Nick had one of those dreams which thank Goddess again, wasn’t often. It was the only reason the Minister agreed.
The compromise worked great for Tom, letting him keep his foot in the door of the investigation, but it was a pain in the ass for Erikson, who always seemed to be on the opposite end of the Empire when they reached out. The Minister had forbidden digital communication of any information related to The Incident—no emails, no images, no texts—so they always had to meet face-to-face.
Nick had dreamed of the girl—he tried not to think of her by name—four times since then. The first two were mostly uneventful, random snippets from her life, like they used to be before The Incident. Back when Nick used to enjoy them. Back before he knew she was real.
Like the old dreams, the backdrops were generic. In the first, the girl was sitting in a kitchen, sketching the woman across the table feeding her baby. The window faced the neighbour’s stucco wall on one side and a sad-looking tree in the yard on the other. Eventually the girl’s shifter friend came into the kitchen—they now knew his name was Ian—followed by a man in low-hanging jeans and neck tattoos. The girl gave the woman her sketch before she left. It was amazing as always. Watching her hand, like it was Nick’s own, move across the paper, bringing life and movement to the blank white page, had always been one of the coolest things about the weird POV dreams.
In that dream, the girl followed her friend to the door and went outside, but at a glance the street was indistinguishable from any other lower-income urban human neighbourhood and the girl didn’t spend any time looking at street signs. Not much for Erikson to go on.
The second dream was slightly more useful. Very slightly. The girl and Ian were in a farmer’s market and everyone around them spoke Spanish. Which meant they’d gone south, and they were still on the West coast. But it was six weeks after wherever they’d been in Nick’s last dream and Mexico was a big place.
It was about a month after that Nick had the next dream. The runaways had headed back north to the English-speaking region of the Empire and had hitched themselves a ride with two human females.
In the dream, three patched bikers were harassing them on the highway, trying to get them to pull over. Her friend, also in the back seat, was urging the human females to stop before they got into an accident. Not surprisingly they didn’t believe him when he said he could protect them. The driver was becoming hysterical and the girl finally lost her temper and shouted out the window for the bikers to stop.
And just like the rogues the night of The Incident, they listened. The bikers stopped right then and there, right in the middle of the highway. Something the 18-wheeler going eighty behind them was unable to do.
It had been some next-level gory shit. Human media coverage made the details and location of the accident easy to find and witness accounts and contact information had already been collected by the local highway patrol. Erikson had been optimistic when Nick and Tom left his Santa Rosa hotel suite that night. But seemed like it hadn’t panned out.
“Yes and no.” Erikson sighed. “No one actually saw the subjects except the human females in the car. They picked up them in Camp Verde. Apparently ‘the brother’—” He bobbed his fingers in air quotes. “—Went to the same college in Salt Lake City as they did and the ‘sister’—” More air quotes. “—Was going to church youth camp there for a week before school.”
“So they’re Mormons now?” Nick said with amusement. It wasn’t a bad story, to be honest.
Erikson obviously agreed. “Great way to build trust. Sadly—” His voice became dry. “—Their car broke down and they didn’t have the money to fix it.”
Nick shook his head in sympathy for the fictional tale. “That’s some bad luck.”
“Why couldn’t their parents help?” Tom quirked a brow. “Or are they orphans in this story?”
“Their parents are missionaries in Africa,” Erikson said gravely. He didn’t bother using air quotes this time. “It would take them days to get to a bank.”
“Right.” Tom nodded. “Of course.”
The three men exchanged a humorous look.
“Got to say, they’re pretty damn good.” Erikson shook his head with an almost paternal exasperation. “After the accident, they finally got the driver to pull over and took off into the fucking desert. They could’ve caught another ride along the I-17 or hiked over to the 179 and hiched a ride over there.” He held up a hand, looking at Tom. “And before you ask if we searched whatever place you’re about to name, the answer is yes. Including Salt Lake City just in case that wasn’t total bullshit.”
Tom frowned. “And no hits at all?”
Erikson took a large swallow of his drink. “One. A real estate agent in Flagstaff sat next to an older couple and what she assumed were their grandchildren at a restaurant a few days after the accident. The grandchildren fit the subjects’ description. The witness remembered them because of how much food the girl ordered. Two separate entrees plus soup plus garlic bread, plus fries!” He imitated the real estate agent’s shocked tone.
Nick couldn’t help a laugh. “Yeah. She eats a lot.” It was an understatement. The girl could put away as much as he could.
With every dream Nick got to know the girl better, even as he understood her less. She could face down human law enforcement when her friend was almost arrested in the Mexico, but fell silent and awkward with kids her own age. She could eat her weight in carbs and capture a person’s face on paper in minutes. She talked to flowers and plants and made friends with every animal she encountered. Not just domesticated ones but squirrels and bobcats and coyotes. Nick shook his head in bemusement. Who the fuck made friends with a coyote?
“I take it you couldn’t track the older couple down,” Tom was saying now.
Erikson shook his head. “The witness left the restaurant first. No leads on the vehicle or destination. It wasn’t a complete bust, though.” He finished what was left in his drink in a single gulp. “We learned a few interesting things.”
The waitress arrived then and by Erikson’s grin, he’d seen her coming and dropped that cliffhanger deliberately. Nick almost laughed a loud at Tom’s expression.
“A pint of Lupo, a Bacardi 151 with Coke, and a Pincer Shanghai and soda with lime.” The waitress placed their drinks in front of them, positioning herself to display maximum cleavage. “You fellas want to run a tab or settle up now?”
“Now’s good.” Tom handed the waitress a twenty. “Keep the change.”
“Ooh. Handsome and generous.” She threw him a sexy wink. “I’ll be back to check on you boys in a bit.”
The waitress flashed them a smile and strutted away, Tom’s eyes glued to her ass. Nick buried a grin in his beer. The Captain liked to pretend he was above random hook-ups but not-so-deep down he was just as horny as the next guy. It was weird since in every other way Tom was all about embracing your wolf and its instincts.
“You going to indulge yourself tonight, Captain?” Erikson squeezed his lime wedge into his glass with a crooked grin.
Tom tore his eyes off the waitress and indicated the premium 75-proof rum and Coke in his hand. “I’m indulging myself right now.”
“Wow.” Erikson shook his head as Tom took a civilized sip. “You’re a real wild man.”
Nick snickered. “The Captain’s celibate. Saving himself for his mate.”
Erikson’s jaw dropped. “Really?”
“No, not really,” Tom snapped, shooting Nick a dirty look. Nick snorted a laugh. If the Captain wasn’t exactly a monk, he was close enough for the squad to roast him for it on a regular basis.
“Ah.” Erikson nodded as if he understood, which he very clearly didn’t. His eyes went to the leggy, dark-haired waitress, now standing at the bar. “Not your type, eh?”
“Oh, no, she’s exactly his type,” Nick said matter-of-factly, earning another death glare from his Captain.
“Oh...” Erikson took in Tom’s strong, weather-beaten features and tall, jacked up form with combined sympathy and surprise. “You got no game, huh.”
Nick laughed out loud at Tom’s expression. If looks could kill, he and Erikson would both be reduced to ash. Tom opened his mouth and snapped it shut again, his face turning red as he realized he couldn’t defend himself without sounding like a douche.
“Cap does all right, when he’s inclined,” Nick spoke up, taking pity on him. It was true. Tom was from a powerful line of Alphas and exuded a dominance and authority that female shifters and a large number of human women responded to. And that was totally aside from the uniform. Women of every species loved a man in uniform. It was how Nick managed to score with such minimum effort. Nick wasn’t much of a player himself, to be honest. As much as he loved to roast the Captain, it was actually one of the things they had in common.
“Why would he not be inclined?” Erikson’s frown was confused. “She’s smoking.”
Tom pursed his lips. “Why don’t you go for her then.” His tone made it clear he was done with the conversation.
“I’m not the one she’s creaming for.” Erikson shrugged. “Besides, she’s not my type.”
Tom scoffed around a large swallow of his his drink.
“No, seriously.” Erikson shook his head. “Too tall.”
Tom choked a little. Nick laughed. Erikson was on the short side for a male shifter at five-ten but as a spy, his average human height was an advantage.
“That’s got to narrow the field some.”Tom’s sense of humour was back now that he wasn’t the butt of the joke.
“Not if you include humans,” Erikson said.
Nick’s eyes widened over the lip of his glass. “Seriously?” Human females were fragile and high maintenance, an all-around pain in the ass.
“Sure.” Erikson shrugged. “They’re hot, they’re everywhere, and they can’t track you down later by scent. And they’re more easily impressed. Performance-wise.”
Wolf shifters were stronger, better endowed, and had far more stamina than human males. It was just a fact. Nick and Tom burst into laughter.
Erikson grinned good-naturedly. “What about you, Nick? What’s your type?”
Nick shrugged. He didn’t spend much—or really any—time thinking about women. Sex was like a good fight. Brief, enjoyable, and he got punchy if he went too long without one. His encounters with females were brief, mindless, and interchangeable.
“Does ‘inebriated’ count as a type?” Tom said blandly.
Nick rolled his eyes. Erikson guffawed.
“Come on,” he urged Nick. “Everyone has a type.”
Nick shrugged again and took a swallow of beer. “Unmated, uncomplicated, and over eighteen. That’s about it.”
“And willing, I assume?” Erikson waggled his brows over the rim of his glass.
“Falls under ‘inebriated’,” Tom deadpanned.
Nick gave him the finger. Erikson laughed again, loud enough to turn heads. It didn’t seem to concern him.
“Okay, enough shit talking,” Tom said abruptly. He directed a piercing look at Erikson. “What interesting things did you get out of that lead?”
“Right. ” Erikson sighed a final breath of laughter and shook his head. “Well...her hair’s red now, for one thing. The shifter friend’s using his own name but the girl was going by Sarah. And those bikers? You were right, Nick, they were patched. Night Reapers. According to the human females, one of them tried to approach the ‘sister’—” He was back to air quotes. “—In the restaurant parking lot before they followed them out onto the I-17 North.”
Night Reapers? Tom and Nick exchanged a troubled look. The one-percenter MC was littered with shifters and known to be loyal to the Rogue King.
“Yup,” Erikson agreed grimly, easily reading their thoughts. “Looks like King is still looking for our targets too. Let’s just hope he’s having the same shit luck finding them that we are.”
🐺 Thank you for reading! 🐺
If you enjoyed this chapter, please vote by clicking the ❤️ below