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Chapter 1: Gifts


Coppery, thick, metallic blood clung to the walls of the alley. The rusty scent had seeped into the stones told me that the blood was nearly dried, not fresh. I stuck to the shadows, as close to the police tape as possible, and pricked up my sensitive ears.

“Looks like another wild animal attack,” one of the detectives mumbled.

“Wild animal, pfft, we all know what that means,” another detective spat.

I sighed and shoved my hands in my pockets, heading down the street, away from the rotating red and blue lights and flashing cameras. Other than ‘wild animal attack,’ I didn’t need to know anything else about the murder. And, it was a murder, not a wild animal attack. I knew it, and the police knew it, but classifying something as a ‘wild animal attack’ in the middle of a major metropolitan area was just a polite way of saying it was a werewolf attack.

Of course, if humans went around accusing werewolves of attacking them, we’d all be dragged into a destructive war that none of us wanted. At least, enough Alphas didn’t want it and enough human leaders didn’t want it. So, this kind of “attack” was classified as accidental – case closed. No bad blood between humans and werewolves.

I knew I should have just returned to my office and closed up shop for the night, but instead, I headed to the police station down the block. I had a theory about these wild animal attacks but I’d need someone on the force to confirm it.

Fortunately, I had my own police informant. Detective Zinnia Ross, recently promoted to homicide detective, and nothing like any other cop I’ve ever met.

Her desk was empty, so I sat in her chair and kicked my heels off the floor, swinging the chair from side to side.

In a city like New Charleston, the largest metropolitan area on the coast, I imagined half the “wild animal attacks” that happened weren’t even reported. I’d gone years in the city without ever encountering a fresh crime scene. Now, I’d somehow stumbled across five in the past month.

“Gen, what are you doing here so late?” Zinnia asked when she approached her desk, a file folder in one hand and a glazed donut in the other.

“Your police station is connected to all the others, right?” I asked.

“Umm… we all work for the city government,” Zinnia said. She gobbled down the donut and sucked the glaze from her fingers.

“Yeah, but, you have a network or database where crimes are reported?” I clarified.

Zinnia arched a chocolate brown eyebrow, matching her wavy chocolate hair. She kept it long, even though a lot of her female cop counterparts cut it short. We’d been unofficially working together for four years, so no one else in the station was bothered by my presence.

“We do have a crime database. But Gen, you know that’s not something I can let you see,” she said. “You’re a civilian.” She shooed me from her chair.

“I don’t need to see it. I just need you to confirm a few things for me,” I said. I batted my eyelashes playfully.

Zinnia glared at me for as long as she could, before her lips cracked into a smile. “Yeah, yeah, what do you need?” She plopped down in her chair, the springs squeaking under her curvaceous figure.

“Can you tell me the dates and locations of all reported wild animal attacks over the past six months?” I asked.

“Whoa, that’s a tall order,” Zinnia said with a sigh.

“You are the first woman in this station to be promoted to homicide detective. I think you can handle it,” I teased.

I grabbed a chair next to another desk and pulled it over to Zinnia’s desk. Her fingers typed furiously across her keyboard and she threw me a playfully annoyed look now and then.

Late nights sitting across the desk from each other, Zinnia hard at work researching police facts for me, it was a familiar scene. Only this time, it felt different. All the other times we worked together it had been for cases I was working on for my business. This was personal and I hadn’t told her that.

“Okay, I’ve got it,” Zinnia said, pulling me from my thoughts. “Wow, there were a lot of attacks reported in just the past three months.” She grabbed a pen and paper and started making notes.

“No changes in protocol for reporting wild animal attacks?” I asked, leaning my elbows on her desk.

Zinnia glanced at me without lifting her bowed head. We both knew the lax requirements for reporting those cases. Zinnia just shook her head and went back to writing.

“Alright, then just focus on those three months,” I said.

Zinnia scribbled down several notes and tore the page from her pad. She handed it across the desk. “I’ve got to get back to my reports,” she said, pointing to her computer screen with her pen.

“I won’t make a peep,” I said. I pretended to lock my lips with an invisible key.

I quickly glanced over the dates and locations of the attacks. They looked familiar, so I pulled my phone out and checked my calendar schedule. It was exactly what I had thought. Over the past three months, more of these “wild animal attacks,” had happened in close proximity to my location. They were left within hours of my arrival on the scene.

So, they weren’t murders, they were gifts.

“Thanks, Zinnia, I’ve got to run,” I said.

“Wait, you’re not going to tell me what this case is about?” she asked, running fingers through her bouncing, wavy hair. “What unfaithful husband is this about?”

“You know I do more than just follow unfaithful husbands around at suspicious wives’ behest,” I said.

“Oh, so this is an actual tracking case?” she asked.

“I don’t know if it will involve tracking, but it is definitely not about cheating husbands,” I muttered. I slipped the paper into my pocket. “Okay, I’ll let you know if I need anything else.”

“Yeah, if I can help with the detective part, let me know,” she added. She beamed a smile at me and waved as I departed.

As a PI to both humans and wolves, my caseload varied. Sometimes I was just following cheating husbands around and taking pictures. Other times I was tracking down missing children or helping the police on murder cases. With my sense of smell, I had made quite a name for myself in the human world.

I would have loved to go home and cuddle up with my insomnia while every little creak and bump in the night had me sweating, but I had to go lock up my office. My feet ached with each step and for the first time in four years, I wondered why I tortured myself by keeping my office and my apartment so far from each other.

To be honest, it was by design. It made my routines and movements harder to follow when there were so many varying routes between the two.

I paused that my office door, hand on the knob.

Someone was inside.

And by their scent, it was a wolf. If I really had to guess, a male. I should have just turned around and run. I could head down the coast to Port Argile and just start over. It wouldn’t be hard. Zinnia could make a few calls to help me get a contact in the police department. If I left now, he wouldn’t be able to follow me.

Yeah, that’s what I should have done. Instead, I opened the door.

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