“I’m done.” Declan knew those words would get a reaction from his boss. For the last fifteen years he’d been a wolf without a pack. That was about to change.
“What the fuck do you mean you’re done? We’ve already lost over half the team. You’re team leader, you can’t just walk away.”
“Watch me.” He leaned on the desk and locked eyes with his boss. “I’ve spent the last fifteen years killing and I’m done. I can’t do this shit anymore. It’s easy for you to say ‘Think of the team’ when you’re not the one with blood on your hands.
“Every single one of those animals you killed deserved it. You know that as well as I do.”
“That may be true, but it doesn’t change the fact my hands are covered in blood while yours are still lily white. A man can only take so much before he cracks.” Declan stared his boss down. He knew the man didn’t have the balls to try and stop him from walking away.
“I can’t change your mind, can I?”
“Fine, but I want you to appoint a new team leader before you’re relieved of duty.”
“That I can do.” If he’d known it was going to take a month to find his replacement, he might not have agreed.
“You’re really leaving?”
“I’m really leaving.” Declan was packing his bag for the last time. For more than twenty years, the barracks the team lived in had been his home. During that time, he’d watched other soldiers tire of the violence that had surrounded their lives. In the last few years, he’d said good-bye to several members of his team who’d been there with him damn near from the beginning. They’d all decided it was time to return to the boring life of the everyday citizen. It was a decision he’d never held against them, and one he’d never thought he’d be making himself.
“You’ll be missed. This is the second team I’ve been on and I gotta tell you, you’re a better team leader than the last one I had.”
Declan glanced at the younger man who’d undoubtedly drawn the short stick from the group and had come to ask if he really was leaving the team for good. “Some people can be assholes. The tiger that’s taking my place is a good soldier. He’ll do right by the team.” He slung his bag over his shoulder, looked around the barracks one last time, and made his way to the door. One chapter of his life was finally ending and a new one was beginning
Declan Monroe was barely eighteen when he left his home in Slatefall, Montana to join a Special Ops group comprised of people like him. They were shifters: men and women who had the ability to get into places most people couldn’t. Men and women who could take on the worst humanity had to offer. They were trackers, assassins, extractors. Often they went into hostile territory to rescue prisoners of war or individuals who had been kidnapped. He’d killed more than his share of people over the years, and he’d finally had enough. He resigned and returned home to try and live a normal life for the first time since he’d become an adult.
Home. Everything had changed. His folks were dead and his younger brother’s irresponsibility left the house in shambles. He wanted to kick his brother’s ass for letting the house and land get in such a sorry condition. Instead, he focused on repairing the damage done by years of neglect. It gave him something to do to keep his mind off the things he’d done for so many years. Sure, he’d done it for the government. He’d saved lives and rescued innocent people, but he’d taken lives as well. That kind of thing left a stain on a man’s soul.
A lot of shifters spent their entire lives hoping to find their mate. Declan wasn’t one of them. The kind of life he’d lived, the things he’d done, they’d damaged him in a way no sane woman would want to put up with. It made him a hard man to get along with. He was stubborn, arrogant, violent when the need arose, and he didn’t put up with bullshit from anyone. He was a man who had to be in complete control, and few women, at least among shifters, were willing to give up so much control of their lives to their mate. He was better off slaking his sexual needs with casual encounters and keeping to himself.
He was hard at work, repairing the front porch of his childhood home, when he heard a vehicle coming up the drive toward the house. He stopped what he was doing and turned his attention to his visitor. He watched as his Alpha, Magnis Quinn, climbed out of his car and approached the house. “Magnis.” He nodded at his Alpha. “What brings you by? Can I get you a beer?” He asked the question as he reached into a cooler to pull one out for himself.
“Sure.” Magnis waited until he’d taken a big swig from it before he dove into why he was there. “I need your help. Six years ago my daughter, Lily, took off. Until recently I had no fucking idea where she was, or if she was even still alive. A member of one of our neighboring packs was in New Orleans recently, and he thinks he saw her there working at some coffee shop in the French Quarter. I need you to go check it out and if she’s there, bring her home.”
Declan studied his Alpha for a moment. “Mind if I ask why she took off?”
Magnis growled but he answered. “She was mad at an ultimatum I’d given her. If I’d known it would make her run, I would have reconsidered it.” He ran a hand through his hair and then rubbed his face before he sighed. “I miss my daughter, Declan. She’s the only family I have, and after we lost her mother, she was the only joy I had in my life. If it wasn’t for Lily, I don’t know that I could have survived losing my mate. Bring her home.”
Declan could hear the pain, sorrow, and regret in his Alpha’s voice. “I’ll head down tomorrow and check it out. I’ll need a photo of her to show to anyone I question about her. If she’s there, I’ll find her, and I’ll bring her home, don’t you worry.” How hard could it be to convince one female to return to the pack? There weren’t any wolf packs in New Orleans; hell there was only one pack that he knew of in all of Louisiana, and it was on the other side of the state near Texas and Arkansas, too far away for her to interact with any of them. She was bound to be missing the feeling of safety that came from being in a pack.
How fucking hard was it to find one damn woman? In a city like New Orleans, with so many coffee shops littering the French Quarter, a lot harder than he’d thought it would be. He’d been in New Orleans for nearly a week now and so far he’d struck out. Every coffee shop he’d gone into and shown her photograph netted the same response: ‘“Sorry, don’t know her’.”
This was beginning to feel like a wild goose chase. Declan wondered if the wolf who’d claimed he saw her wasn’t making shit up to fuck with the Crescent Peak Pack’s Alpha. It wouldn’t be the first time a rival pack did something like that.
He’d been working through the French Quarter one street at a time, and the thought that it was a lost cause crossed his mind. He was strolling down Bienville Street and was almost to Bourbon Street when he spotted what, at first glance, looked like a bookstore. Closer inspection told him it was also a coffee shop. Well, hell, the wolf hadn’t mentioned the coffee shop being part of a bookstore but it was worth a shot.
Declan stepped inside and took a deep breath of coffee-scented air. It smelled wonderful in there.
“What can I getcha?”
Declan turned his attention to the older man who spoke. “Black coffee, the stronger the better.” He waited until the cup was put in front of him before he pulled the photo out. “I’m hoping you can help me. I’m looking for a young woman by the name of Lily Quinn. Her family hasn’t heard from her in a while and they’re worried about her. The last they knew, she was supposed to be here in New Orleans somewhere. Have you by any chance seen her?” He set the photo down for the man to look at.
“I don’t know any Lily Quinn but I know a Lily Harper who looks a lot like dis girl here.”
Declan watched as the man looked down at the photo then tapped it as he spoke. Years of training to not give anything away kicked in at the man’s words, and Declan didn’t show his excitement at finally getting a break. “Great. Can you tell me where I can find her?”
“Naw, I can’t do dat. It wouldn’t be right, not knowin’ you. I got more respect for her den dat. But she’ll be in dis evenin’ for her shift if you really need to talk to her.”
“Thank you. I really appreciate that. I’ll be sure to stop by later.” With any luck he’d be headed home in the morning with the she-wolf in tow.