“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely –having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
Jim chuckled as his Guide stopped speaking. “Moby Dick, Chief?”
Blair sighed. “It seemed appropriate.” He lowered himself so he could sit on Jim’s lap. “The forensic artist will be here in the morning and we’re no closer on the research front than we were when we started.”
“It takes time and it isn’t helping that we can’t reach out to the public with a profile.” Jim sighed. He was positive that Blair had initiated a grounding ritual the minute they got home for himself rather than for his Sentinel. “You know if we did… one or both of his parents would step forward.”
“Maybe, and he’d disappear. A year from now there’d be another dead child in another city or maybe even Canada. We can’t risk him escaping us.” He moved closer and tucked his face against Jim’s neck in a sure role reversal and took a deep breath. “I see why you like this, it’s very nice being close to you like this.”
Jim ran his hands down Blair’s back carefully and sank a little bit lower into the couch. “It’s the most peace I’ve ever known in my life, Guide.” He closed his eyes as Blair moved closer. “How is Daryl doing?”
“Good. Sydney said he’s already falling into a good rhythm and that he’s maintaining his personal shield for longer periods of time. He could probably function without a Conservator inside of six months but we’re probably going to do a full year since he’s so gifted and we can’t risk a blow out or a setback with him. Especially not with his mother in the picture.”
“Simon is going to sue for sole custody and limit her visitation to a few hours supervised a month,” Jim admitted. “I sent him to Derrick Bell since the case will concern Sentinel-Guide law. Bell took the case and has applied to the Center for payment since the Banks family became a Guide source overnight.”
Blair chuckled. “Wow, how did that go over?”
“Simon’s older brother was a little overwhelmed to discover that two of his children were latent. So that makes three in Daryl’s generation, but he’s the only one online.”
Blair lifted his head and sat back on Jim’s thighs. “Thanks, I needed this.”
“I could tell.” Jim’s fingers trailed through his hair briefly and then he settled hands on Blair’s hips. “How did you know she was a wolf Guide? Did you see her spirit animal before she died?”
“No.” Blair played with Jim’s belt with careful fingers and took a deep breath. “She was far to damaged by the time I came to Cascade to reach out to me like that. I started to suspect it when we were talking to the social worker. There was something about his tone of voice and the guilt he carried—it was stronger and somehow a little unnatural.”
“I don’t understand.”
“He was attracted to her sexually and it upset him a great deal. It’s one of the reasons he rarely visited her foster home and was relieved when she wasn’t home for him to check on when he stopped by the house.” Blair bit down on his lip. “The same for the foster father. Jean Daily said her husband wasn’t happy when Jessica came online but what she didn’t say was how unhappy he really was. As much as they loved her, they were relieved when she was taken.”
“Jesus, Chief.” Jim closed his eyes briefly. “I don’t understand.”
“Parents of Guides are buffered from the sexuality their children exude. They don’t have inappropriate thoughts or desires but Arnold Daily didn’t have that biological connection to buffer out that attraction. He never acted on it but it must have made him feel like the sickest fuck on the planet to want a child like that and not already have that compulsion in him.”
“Is that why most Guides don’t come online until they are nearly adult?”
“I think it’s a protective instinct, yes. It’s also why the Center does their best to isolate really young Guides. The amount of anger a mundane can build against an online Guide because of the sexuality issue is overwhelming.”
“Like Joan Banks?”
“No, her maternal instincts should buffer that out.” Blair frowned. “I mean, he is her biological child, right?”
Jim took a breath. “I… I didn’t know them when Daryl was born. I know he’s an only child because they had problems. Simon is definitely his father—there is a connection between them, a scent they share.”
Blair grinned. “Wow, you can smell their genetic connection?”
“Yes, it’s strong between them.” Jim frowned and then closed his eyes as he relaxed on the couch. “Not as strong with Joan as it is with Simon but there is something there—something related.”
Blair slid off his lap. “We need to go see Simon.”
– – – – –
Simon cradled a beer bottle in both hands and shook his head. “Joan couldn’t have children. We tried for a few years but she got angry and so frustrated that we finally decided to… her half-sister offered to have a baby for her and that’s what we did.”
“Is Daryl’s biological mother around?”
Simon shook his head. “No, she was killed in a car accident when Daryl was six. He knows about it. He understands and he’s always thought of Joan as his mother. Why is this an issue?”
“Because Joan doesn’t have the biological imperative that you have to keep your son safe and like most mundanes she’s probably unwillingly attracted to him when he isn’t shielded. Which explains some of the anger she’s carrying around.”
“Attracted to him?” Simon demanded in a yell. “Jesus fucking Christ, Sandburg!”
Blair took a deep breath. “Jim, we need to show him.”
Jim sighed. “Ah, Chief, no, I don’t think I can let you get that close… I can’t…”
“Let me,” Sydney said from the doorway of the kitchen. “Daryl is in a deep sleep so he won’t be disturbed if I drop my shields and let Captain Banks have a really good look at an unshielded Guide.”
Blair’s mouth twitched a little. “If you’re sure?”
“Oh, I am.” Sydney shrugged out of the sweater he was wearing. “He really needs to understand what kind of threat his son faces every day that he’s not bonded to a Sentinel so when the time comes for a Sentinel to enter Daryl’s life… he won’t be concerned if it’s a man or a woman.”
Simon flinched a little. “I can’t… I understand bonding… I really do.”
Sydney unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on the table with his sweater leaving himself clad in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt that said ‘I support Ninja Rights’ which made Simon chuckle a little when he saw it. “We know. We also know you want to be open minded but the thought of your son taking it from another man has you a little homicidal.” He wiggled his eyebrows when Simon took another step away and met with the kitchen counter. “Relax, Captain, you’re probably going to like this a lot more than you ever thought possible.”
“You’re just a kid yourself,” Simon muttered as his beer was taken from his hand and set aside. “I should take a belt to your ass for this.”
Sydney laughed. “Yeah, okay, but not in front of Blair and Jim. I don’t think they are that kind of kinky.” He watched the older man’s face as he let his shields bleed away and smiled when Simon’s eyes got a little bright. “Relax, Captain, this won’t make you gay. It’s not contagious.”
Simon snorted and then wet his bottom lip as the last of Sydney’s shields bled away and he was exposed to a fully unshielded Guide aura for the first time in his life. “I… Jesus… fuck.”
“Something like that,” Sydney murmured. “You understand the anger and the denial of wanting something abnormal to you?”
“Yes,” Simon tried to look away but his gaze returned to Sydney’s too pretty face. “Jesus, Jim is that what you feel from Sandburg?”
“Nope.” Jim leaned back in his chair. “It’s about four times as strong for me—because I can engage all of my senses not just sight.”
“You’re a cock tease, kid.”
Sydney laughed. “I’m totally not but you would be very uncomfortable with me for the rest of your life if I proved how wrong you are.” He stepped back from the Captain and pulled his shields back into place with practiced ease and watched as Simon relaxed by degrees. “Take a few deep breaths, Captain Banks.”
“I think, kid, you can call me Simon. I normally let people who give me erections call me that,” Simon said roughly as he rubbed his head with one hand and reached for his beer with the other. His face hardened. “Joan was feeling that for Daryl? That’s… Jesus. She didn’t touch him, did she?”
“No, he’s pretty much an innocent,” Blair murmured.
“Pretty much?” Simon questioned.
“It would be a violation of his privacy to discuss that, Simon.” Sydney patted his arm and went to the refrigerator for a beer. “Let’s just say that all of the experiences he’s had, they’ve not been particularly intimate and it was all with people his own age.”
“Right.” Simon sat down in a chair and emptied his beer in one swallow. “I wasn’t going to use that against her in court. I really wasn’t. It’s not fair… and we agreed a long time ago that it didn’t matter to either of us. It never came up in the divorce that he was my biological child and her adopted one.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Blair murmured. “I’ll have to report this to the Center and until he can maintain shields on his own for an indefinite period of time he can’t be around any mundanes alone that aren’t his biological parents. I know she’s an aunt but that isn’t enough of a biological connection to matter when it comes to this situation. It would damage him for life if he realized that the woman who raised him was sexually attracted to him—no matter how unwilling she is to accept or acknowledge that the attraction is there. She can’t help it and it has to be tearing her apart.”
“It explains why she called us a perversion,” Sydney said. “She has to blame him for it which makes him the abnormal one. The one that is sick and has a problem.”
“Why did this even come up?” Simon asked wearily.
“I was telling Jim about Jessica and how I knew she was a wolf Guide.” Blair drew a circle on the table in front of him with his index finger. “She was untrained but she seemed to have shields in place that protected her. Her foster parents talked about how people liked her, even those who maybe didn’t want to and how she handled being in large crowded places after she had time to acclimate. It was familiar… to me. I knew she was powerful just from the way everyone who met her spoke of her and the guilt that her social worker and her foster father carried around was heavy and difficult to shift through. For her to be exuding that kind of sexuality at five years old and the fact that she’d survived as long as she had in his care—she had to be more than just powerful. She had to be a wolf. Nothing else made sense.”
“He’ll search for another like her,” Sydney murmured. “He won’t be satisfied with a latent child—the next one he takes will be online. You know that.”
“Yes.” Blair nodded. “I’ve made the Center aware of that as well. We’ve been talking with all the parents of online children in the area. There aren’t many and none close to her age. The youngest is eleven and lives in Seattle. Her parents have already agreed to board her at the Guide School under twenty-four hour guard until he’s caught.”
“Is Daryl at risk?”
Blair paused as he considered it. “I don’t think so. Daryl is a big kid and he’s a lot older than the UNSUB’s normal target. His fragile state, your status as a cop, and Sydney being glued to his side makes him an unattractive victim to try to acquire. He’s going to go for someone who is left alone for long periods of time or who is out in public a lot.”
– – – – –
“How much does Sydney know about the case?”
“Enough—most of the high level Guides who were exposed to Jessica understand what happened to her and that she wasn’t the first. They aren’t going to speak to the press, Jim, none of them want that kind of exposure.” Blair slid out of the passenger side of Jim’s SUV and waited for his Sentinel to join them before continuing into the in-take Center in Seattle. He hadn’t been all that keen to return to the place but Elizabeth had requested him personally and he hadn’t seen her since he’d led the pride in meditation. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Not a problem, Chief, I really don’t like you running around without me.” Jim let his hand fall to the small of Blair’s back as they entered the building. The first floor was one large waiting room with a central desk. There were couches and large chairs built for comfort all over the space—a space clearly designed for a Sentinel. The Sentinel Guide In-Take Center for Seattle was the largest in the state and Jim had been avoiding the place like the plague ever since he’d come online. The Sentinel-Guide Council for the Pacific Northwest had an office tower on the north end of town and he’d been in it enough recently to last him a lifetime.
The territory hadn’t had a true Alpha Sentinel Prime in over a century so it was taking some adjustments on everyone’s part. The Council had wielded power over all of the prides with equal measure for some time and now they were faced with a very powerful Sentinel and his Guide—they’d already learned that they wouldn’t be browbeaten into submission like other Sentinel-Guide Alpha pairs in the region.
Blair checked them in with a few words to the receptionist and then they were given directions to Elizabeth’s room. Elizabeth Arnold had been progressing very well and since her gifts weren’t as strong as Daryl’s she hadn’t been labeled fragile. There was still some discussion of a Conservator but in the end that would be her decision and not the Center’s. They couldn’t force a Conservator on a Guide of her age and low level abilities no matter how much it might benefit her.
Sylvia and Nathan Arnold were good people and they’d been bending over backwards to make everything easier for their daughter. Blair knew that Nathan Arnold had a difficult past but his problems with his family had little to do with the Guide gene he’d passed to his daughter. He hoped the man would eventually be able to confide in his daughter.
Elizabeth greeted him with a smile and held out both hands in greeting, her fingers wiggling like a professional cheerleaders in anticipation. Blair could hardly deny her and took her hands the moment he could. Her little sigh of contentment amused his Sentinel and her parents.
Blair sat down on the edge of the bed she was in. “Why are you on bed rest?”
Elizabeth sighed and her fingers tightened in his. “I had a… I became upset.”
“Upset,” Blair repeated. “Your shields seem strong and flexible. What upset you enough to put you back in a hospital bed?”
Nathan Arnold cleared his throat. “She was eavesdropping.”
Blair chuckled. “Ah, and what did you hear that upset you?”
Elizabeth blushed. “It was bad and mean and so untrue. You wouldn’t do that. You wouldn’t take a Sentinel who wasn’t meant for you just because you’re a Shaman. You wouldn’t do that. You’re not a power hungry ego-maniac.”
Blair took a deep breath and patted her hand. “Calm down. I won’t have you get upset again. Just take a few deep breaths for me and close your eyes. No one is perfect, Elizabeth, not even Guides. We are all capable of jealousy and ill-will when we do not get what we feel we are due. You will always encounter situations and people that upset you but if you let their words and their actions rule you—you will be doing a disservice to your gifts and eventually your Sentinel.” He released one hand and brushed her hair from her face with careful fingers. “Tell me, what is a Guide’s role?”
“To provide emotional and mental shelter for her Sentinel through the primary mental bond.”
“That I must be in control of mind and my responses to outside stimuli otherwise I will never be able to properly shelter my Sentinel.” She blushed and looked at Jim briefly. “It’s not true.”
“No, little one, it’s not true,” Jim offered her a small smile. “His animal spirit appeared to me and led me right to him. That would have been impossible if we weren’t a true pairing.”
She smiled then and relaxed. “Administrator Murray is an asshole.”
“Elizabeth!” Sylvia gasped and then flushed. “Language!”
“Well, he is Mama.” Elizabeth frowned. “I want to go home to Cascade. Can I be transferred to the in-take Center there?”
“We have you in the Seattle Center because it’s facilities are better prepared to deal with Guides in distress.” Blair relaxed on the bed. “The in-take Center in Cascade is really more of an emergency facility so we can stabilize someone in trouble and then move them to a larger facility like this one for treatment.”
Blair bit down on his bottom lip to keep from laughing. “Yeah, he probably does. Just stay a few more days until your doctor is confident that you have things under control. You certainly didn’t do yourself any favors this morning.”
She blushed. “It’s all his fault for saying those horrible things.”
“You could go home sooner if you’d agree to a short term Conservatorship.”
She pursed her lips. “I’m not a baby.”
“I had a Conservator for a year after I came online, Elizabeth and I was sixteen. It has nothing to do with being strong or being smart or being adult. Think about it really hard and make the decision that is best for you.”
– – – – –
Marie Edwards dropped down in her desk chair and nodded. “Yes, I was there when it happened. In fact, Administrator Murray was speaking with me when the young woman came into the meditation room where we were and launched into a fit at him over what he’d said.”
Blair raised an eyebrow. “What is his problem with me, Marie?”
“Beyond the fact that you’re the epitome of what every Guide wants to be?” She asked dryly and smiled softly when Jim laughed. “You’re educated, highly successful in your own right, and you’ve bonded with a powerful Sentinel. That would be enough in most circumstances but what you don’t know is that Jim Ellison had two perfect matches in the Guide system and two other highly compatible Guide choices.”
Blair’s mouth dropped open and he turned to look at Jim who’s gaze had dropped to the floor. “Jim?”
“Yeah, Chief.” Jim nodded. “But you were the only one in New York so I knew you were the one that I needed—I hadn’t traveled half way across the country on a whim. I was so focused and intent on finding you that the people in New York didn’t even attempt to get me to wait until the other three Guides could be contacted and brought to me.”
“Murray was his other perfect match?” Blair questioned. “He shouldn’t know that! If Jim refused to meet any of the others—they should have never been notified of a match in the system.”
“Gerald Murray has worked within the system for ten years, Blair, he had his records flagged. He received notification immediately of a Sentinel match.” Marie blew air out between her lips. “He tried to lodge a protest over the fact that he wasn’t called to New York for a formal presenting. He believes that he would have been Ellison’s choice if he’d been presented—especially since he’s from the area and he thinks you purposely used your abilities as a Shaman to wake and lure Jim to you for bonding.”
“He didn’t make me come online,” Jim said from his place by the window. “I was online for ten months before I went to New York. What he did do was wake me from a sound sleep because he was in so much distress I felt it. His animal spirit appeared to me once I landed in New York and lead me to the in-take Center for treatment because I was in a fairly fragile state by that point. Then, he led me straight to Blair when his former boss at the FBI tried to put him in protective custody.”
“Ten months,” Marie Edwards whispered. “Ten months? With your gifts? On your own?”
“Yes.” Jim looked at her. “If Murray had been my Guide—the chances are I would have been compelled to go to the Seattle Center for testing. He may be a genetic match but he’s by no means a match for me spiritually or personally. He could certainly never work with me—not the way Blair does and I needed a Guide who could be my partner in all things. Gerald Murray is married and would have insisted on a platonic bond—which would have made him undesirable from the start.”
Marie Edwards blushed and but a little smile played on her lips as she digested that information. “I see.”
“It’s good that you do—I consider his behavior insulting and it borders on pair-bond interference.” Jim left the window and walked to stand by the chair where Blair was seated. “There is a reason he was never supposed to know. I sincerely hope that you are much more careful about the kind of access your non-bonded employees have in the system in the future. It’s an abuse.”
– – – – – –
“So this Murray guy, is he a problem? I mean it’s got around the pride pretty quickly that he resents Blair and thinks Ellison is his Sentinel.”
“Not that I know of. He doesn’t have a lot of power and he’s pissed off the Seattle Alpha in the extreme by irritating his Guide. Everyone should know better than to piss off Marie Edwards. Heath doesn’t tolerate anyone putting her in a bad mood with any kind of good will.” Thomas Howard shrugged when his Sentinel looked his way. “You’ve seen the way he looks at people who get her food wrong at the drive thru. Trust me, that’s mild compared to the kind of trouble Gerald Murray just took on.”
Markus sighed and pinched his nose together. “Did you hear about their grounding ritual?”
Thomas chuckled. “Yes, do you want me to start quoting Shakespeare in your ear, love? Whisper sonnets of love and passion and sacrifice?”
“No, but you could come over here and let me play with your cock.” Markus pulled his Guide under the shower spray and let his senses spread out over the locker room. “We’re alone.”
Thomas sighed as his back met with the tile. “Don’t be greedy, Markus, you know we don’t do this here.”
His Sentinel sighed. “I need…”
“I know.” Thomas pressed a kiss against his Sentinel’s shoulder as Markus lifted him right off the floor and prodded his legs around his waist. “Are you sure we’re alone?”
Markus sank his teeth into his Guide’s shoulder, hard but not enough to breach the skin, as he settled his weight more and pressed his Guide fully against the wall. “Yeah, well, Daniel and Chad are on the door.”
Thomas chuckled and let the tension ease out of his body. His Sentinel moaned at the overt submission. “Take what you need, Sentinel.”
“Just you, Guide, always just you.”
– – – – –
The Alpha Sentinel of Seattle was sitting like a coiled viper as Jim paced in his office. It was fitting since his spirit animal was a black mamba. Heath Edwards was ten kinds of pissed off for both the situation and the fact that due to the actions of a member of his pride he had the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest in his office stalking around like a big cat. He could practically see Ellison’s tail twitching. In another situation he might have felt compelled to analyze just how much Sentinels acted like their spirit animals when they were pissed.
The door to his office opened and his Guide entered with Dr. Gerald Murray in tow. He could tell they’d been arguing but the white noise generators he ran in the room had shielded him from their conversation.
“Sit.” He pointed at the chair in front of his desk and Murray gamely sat. “I don’t even know where to start, Gerald.” Heath held up one hand when the man started to speak. “Let me be clear, Gerald, your input is neither required nor demanded in this conversation. You are here to listen.”
Murray nodded and crossed his arms in a defensive posture that spoke volumes. “Yes, Alpha.”
“You’ve violated the Sentinel-Guide Center policies on the handling of Guide notification by flagging your own records so you would be notified of a potential Sentinel match and in doing so you’ve created a hostile situation between our pride and the Cascade pride. You’ve let your ego and your own selfishness damage a young, fragile Guide who was entrusted into your care because she overheard you disrespecting her Alpha Guide. A man she happens to idolize. You tried to lodge a formal complaint for not being presented to Sentinel Ellison, something that is simply not done! And you’ve accused the Alpha Guide of the Pacific Northwest of manipulating his own Sentinel for material gain.”
Murray took a deep breath. “It was my right to be presented.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Jim finally said.
“I’m a perfect match.”
Jim met his gaze without flinching. “Even if I hadn’t believed deeply that my Guide was in New York and in distress—I would have never consented to your presentation. You’re married with three children and I would have been unable to tolerate sharing you with your wife. Also, it would have been offensive to me to be the cause of your marriage failing because I require a sexual bond with my Guide.”
Murray’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Platonic bonds…”
“Are unnatural,” Jim finished coolly. “And anyone who says differently has no idea what they are talking about. I bond with my Guide several times a day and have since the full imprint was made. As attractive as you are, I would have never chosen you because it is obvious we’d never agree on that subject. We aren’t compatible, no matter what the genetics say and your disrespect for my Guide is irritating.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“See that it doesn’t,” Heath murmured. “Dismissed, and take some time off, Gerald. Reconnect with your wife and children—I think you could use some perspective.”
– – – – –
“I’m not sure I understand.” Simon admitted as he gazed on Blair and the forensic artist from California. They’d been in meditation together for over an hour and hadn’t moved from the spots they’d claimed in the conference room they were using for the task force.
Thomas grinned and then carefully prodded the larger man from the room. “Blair’s memories of the event that took Jessica’s life are the most clear and precise of anyone else in the pride. His perfect memory aside, he is able to convey more about what he saw if he interacts directly with Guide Simmons’ mind. Once they are finished, Simmons will be able to render entire scenes from Jessica’s last moments—in detail that when we find where she was killed you’ll be convinced he was there in the room.”
Simon’s mouth dropped open. “Are you serious?”
“Casey Simmons is renowned around the world for this ability and he normally does it with mundanes. I can’t imagine what he’ll get out of an encounter with someone like Sandburg—the results will probably better than pictures.”
Simon looked around and found himself in the bullpen. “Are you managing me?”
Thomas grinned. “No, sir, I leave such skills for my Sentinel. You have no idea what a pain in the ass he is. Especially right now since all of the Sentinels in the city seem to be channeling Ellison’s pissy mood.”
“Well, go get him. I want to speak with you both.”
“He’ll be along shortly, Captain. He always keeps an ear on me when we are in the same building together.”
Simon only ended up having a few minutes to settle in his office with a cup of coffee before Markus Jergens entered his office and closed the door behind him. He motioned the man to sit. “Tell me why you want to be in Major Crimes, Detective.”
Markus cleared his throat. “I’ve worked in Homicide for several years and I’m ready for a change. While my solve rate isn’t as high as Ellison’s… I believe I have a lot to contribute to the unit and it would make my Guide happy. He likes you, finds being around you safe. When he’s happy and safe—I’m more productive. Therefore I believe I would be a better Detective and a better Sentinel if I were in Major Crimes.”
“Captain Tilman hasn’t been exactly pleased with you since you bonded with a Guide.”
“No, shortly after I came online and reported my status I had to register with the Center. There were no matches in the system so I was assigned a Conservator who basically buffered out everything and kept me shielded. It was the only way I could function without a bonded Guide. The Conservator was female and Captain Tilman had no problem with her being with me on the job. Then I was notified that a man in the Navy had come online as a Guide and was my genetic match. A perfect match which was more than I expected under the circumstances. They’d told me I should prepare myself to accept a near match.”
“Tilman wasn’t happy with that?”
“He seemed okay with until he walked in on us in the middle of a grounding ritual. After that he kept me at a distance and made it clear he did not approve of the relationship I had with my Guide.”
Simon bit down on his lip. “I don’t even know why I’m asking… but what exactly is your grounding ritual?”
“We have several depending on our circumstances and the location,” Thomas admitted with a grin. “It wasn’t sexual but what he walked in could have been perceived as intimate.”
“I get a little skin hungry when I need to be grounded.” Markus shrugged when Simon’s mouth dropped open. “It’s not uncommon with Sentinel’s. You’ll find that Ellison will untuck his Guide’s shirt or unbutton him enough to get access to skin he can’t see. In the situation with Tilman, I’d stripped Thomas to the waist and I might have been biting him… well let’s just say he was shocked.”
Simon snorted and leaned back in his chair. “I take it you’d had a difficult day?”
“Yes, we’d worked a family murder. Four kids, one an infant, and both parents—all shot at point blank range. Tilman rarely gave us a break on that front—it was the fourth child murder he’d dropped into my lap that month. I know he gets pressure from the higher ups to dump high profile cases in my lap because of my abilities but it isn’t always the best situation for me or my Guide.”
“Okay, I can see that. I try to make sure Jim doesn’t get murders back to back…” He trailed off and winced.
“It’s okay, Captain, we knew Ellison was online for a while.” Thomas offered a small smile. “He might have been hiding it from most of the mundanes around here but he wasn’t hiding it from me or any other Guide he crossed paths with. I was honestly going to corner him and insist he get help at the Center… only to discover that he’d left Cascade in the middle of the night and bonded with Blair Sandburg within twenty four hours of leaving. He was in a great deal of pain near the end and his ex-wife certainly wasn’t helping.”
“Why didn’t you go through the short course for ex-military at the Academy?” Simon asked bluntly.
Thomas sighed. “I offered when I first bonded with Markus. Captain Tilman told me it wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t here to be a cop.”
“Tell him the rest,” Markus instructed softly.
“He said my job was to keep his resident freak in line.” Thomas softened a little when Simon’s expression went stormy. “I would have lodged a formal complaint but Markus didn’t want the drama.”
Simon nodded and opened a file on his desk. “I signed off on your transfer to Major Crimes an hour ago. Howard, I expect you to enter the next session at the academy –your military experience and your field experience with the PD should make the short course a cake walk for you. In the mean time, you’ll qualify to carry a weapon and one will be issued to you. Understood?”
“Not a problem, Captain Banks.”
Simon focused on Markus. “Jim is my Senior Detective in Major Crimes but Captain Joel Taggert is my second in command. I realize your position as the Beta Sentinel for the Cascade pride puts you directly under Ellison’s authority…”
“Not on the job, sir. I understand the chain of command.”
– – – – –
The forensic artist stumbled briefly as he left the conference room and then reached out blindly for the Sentinel who had accompanied him. The man had settled into a small office near the conference room and had interacted with no one during the session and now it was clear why. They were both pale and shaking.
The Sentinel cleared his throat. “Captain Banks, my Guide will take a period of rest and then he will begin his work. Due to our fragile state, we have a car waiting for us to take us back to the hotel. Once we are ready to return… we will do so immediately.”
“Yes, of course, Sentinel Granger. Let me know…” He looked at the young man he’d seen cloistered with Sandburg for several hours and found the Guide shaking and clearly troubled. “Just let me know.”
“We will.” The Sentinel pulled his Guide closer. “Let’s go, Casey. We can work after you’ve rested.”
Jim watched the pair of them leave and then looked at his own Guide, still deep in meditation. He sighed. “Shit.”
“Yeah.” Simon took note of the stiffness of Sandburg’s posture and the slight tremble in his fingers. He’d seen the man meditate more than once and it looked nothing like he was seeing now. “What do you do?”
“I have no clue,” Jim admitted roughly.
Chad moved closer to him then and prodded him towards the door. “Do for him what he normally does for you. The grounding ritual works both ways you know. He finds comfort in your touch and in your undivided attention.”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
He walked into the conference room and closed the door behind him. He didn’t bother with a lock because he knew that Chad and Daniel were outside and would linger until this was done. With a flick of his wrist he closed the shades and then walked to where Blair still sat. Jim sat down on the floor in front of his Guide and Blair immediately opened his eyes and crawled right into his Sentinel’s lap.
“Ah, Chief.” Jim pulled him close and ran his fingers over his hair. “I hate that you had to do this. I hate it.” He pressed a kiss to his temple.
Blair shuddered. “It had to be done.”
“I know.” He ran his fingers through his Guide’s short curls and took a deep breath. “Tell me what to do.”
Blair sighed and pressed close to his Sentinel. “Just keep talking to me.”
Jim grinned at the role reversal and considered his choices. He didn’t think his Guide would really appreciate him quoting the Art of War or departmental procedures. He pressed another kiss against his forehead and sighed. He turned all of his senses toward his Guide – finding his heart rate a little high and his breathing a far too rapid.
“You have heard of the Danish Kings
in the old days and how
they were great warriors.
Shield, the son of Sheaf,
took many an enemy’s chair,
terrified many a warrior,
after he was found an orphan.
He prospered under the sky
until people everywhere
listened when he spoke.
He was a good king!
Shield had a son,
child for his yard,
sent by God
to comfort the people,
to keep them from fear–
Grain was his name;
he was famous
throughout the North.
Young princes should do as he did–
give out treasures
while they’re still young
so that when they’re old
people will support them
in time of war.
A man prospers
by good deeds
in any nation.”
Blair grinned against Jim’s throat. “I don’t know that anyone would believe me if I told them you could quote Beowulf from memory.”
“My mother read it to me when I was little. It was my favorite story,” Jim admitted. “Let’s just relax here for a while, baby.”
“Yeah.” Blair shuddered.
“I’ve got you.” Jim rocked him gently.
– – – – –
Blair startled awake in his Sentinel’s embrace, his whole mind snapping into focus in one brilliant second. “No.”
“He took her. Christ, he took her.” Blair scrambled out of Jim’s lap and went for his cell phone. “She doesn’t fit. She isn’t young enough—why didn’t I think? We knew… we knew he’d take an online Guide next!”
“Blair talk to me,” Jim grabbed his Guide. “Talk to me.”
“Elizabeth Arnold is missing. Her parents probably don’t even know it, yet.” Blair took a deep breath. “We need to start moving now, Jim. Every second we waste is a second closer he gets to breaking through her mental shields and using her up.” He quickly dialed a number on his phone and didn’t even look up when Jim left the conference room at a run. “This is Dr. Blair Sandburg, I need to speak with Dr. Edwards immediately. We have a missing Guide.”
– – – –
“Casey is up and working despite the fact that he’s not ready,” Chad reported as he entered the bullpen. “I asked him to specifically to focus on drawings of the killer so we can get something out to the public. Every local station in the tri-state area and several in Canada are broadcasting her picture.” He came to a halt at Blair’s desk. “Are you sure he won’t kill her?”
“Not immediately. All of the other children were kept for months even with media exposure. He kept Jessica longer because of the lack of press coverage but he would have still kept her for several months after he took her to help calm down his mind.”
“He’s off pattern.”
“Yes, living as long as he did with an online Guide made living without one seem impossible. He won’t kill Elizabeth unless he has no choice. She’s a smart girl and by no means a child like what he’s used to dealing with. She also knows exactly what he did to Jessica. We need to know the location of every online child within three hundred miles of Cascade—seventeen years old and down. They need to be secured as quickly as possible.”
“He’d take more than one?” Chad asked softly.
“If he finds Elizabeth too difficult he might try to secure another. The fact that he didn’t go for an adult or a male teenager tells me he doesn’t think he could handle someone his own size or strength. Elizabeth barely weighs a hundred pounds soaking wet—she was as close as he could get to finding an online Guide that fit with his needs.”
“Yeah, okay, the press conference is about to start. We set up a TV in the conference room.”
Blair nodded. “Thanks.” He gathered up his laptop and several notebooks and left his desk. “How did Jim look when you left him?”
“Furious but in control. After what happened to Jessica, the last thing we need is another powerful Guide to go down like she did. Moreover, he’s met this girl and I think… well you know.”
“Yes, it makes it more personal,” Blair agreed. “He knows her scent, has felt the touch of her mind—she doesn’t have a lot of control and when we entered her hospital room she immediately reached out to us both for comfort.” He settled down at the conference table as Chad turned on the television and took another chair in the room.
– – – – –
“Good afternoon, I am James Ellison and I am the Alpha Sentinel Prime of the Pacific Northwest. I will be making a brief statement and then I have a statement for my pride. I will not be answering questions at this time.” Jim ignored the groans from the camera crews. “Two hours ago, Elizabeth Leigh Arnold was taken from her home by force. She is seventeen years old, an unbonded, online Guide, and a member of my pride. Her picture is being circulated as I speak as widely as possible in an effort to secure her safe return. Her parents and the pride are cooperating with the police in the best interests of Elizabeth. If you should see Elizabeth, I urge you not to take action yourself but to immediately call the police. The man we believe to have taken her is extremely dangerous and has already proven himself capable of violence.”
He paused and watched the press maneuver around in front of him vying for a better position. “The pride in Cascade is new and barely on its feet. I don’t know you all as well I should or as well I will in the weeks to come. We have already suffered a loss so profound that it brought us to our knees but we are on our feet again and where we have failed in the past we will not fail again. Guides are precious. Each one who steps forward and accepts their gifts and their place in a Sentinel’s life is a gift without price. They are to be protected, defended, and sacrificed for. Every Sentinel within my reach will carry that belief in their heart and in their mind—no matter their status. I don’t care if you are online, latent, or dormant—as your Alpha I am making it clear today that you have no higher purpose on this Earth than the protection of the Guide.”
Jim looked over the shocked faces of the crowd and his gaze connected briefly with Heath Edwards. The Alpha of Seattle gave him a brief nod and a grim smile slipped across his lips. He knew exactly what Jim was doing and if the mundanes didn’t get it immediately that was all the better.
“That is all.”
Jim ignored the questions that were immediately fired at him and let Daniel and Markus provide a buffer for him as he left the room. The new press liaison was hot on his heels as he entered the precinct and passed the watch desk.
“Detective Ellison, that is not the statement you were given.”
“That was pride business, Ms. Dennison,” Jim returned evenly as he headed towards a bank of elevators.
“The Chief of Police tasked me with the creation of statements on your behalf concerning this matter and you ignored me.”
“I did not ignore you.” Jim turned on her and glared. “I read it and decided that it did not convey the message I needed to send to my pride. You are not, nor will you ever be, in the position to tell me what I can say to my own pride or to the prides of the Pacific Northwest. When I am discussing pride matters with the press—I answer to one man and one man only and that is the Alpha Sentinel Prime of North America. The last time I checked he was a fifty year old retired CIA agent who likes to fish, build devices which he uses to spy on people, and watch South Park. You look nothing like him.”
“You are an employee of this department and your statement was not approved by my office.”
“Ms. Dennison, the last time we let your office make a statement to the press about a missing child—that child was butchered and left like garbage in an alley,” Jim responded in a cool voice that had people stopping in the tracks all around him. “Did you know he stabbed her with such force that he practically cut off her head?” He watched the blood drain out of her face. “The Chief of Police asked me to speak as the Alpha Sentinel of this city—I agreed. If he had wanted to control what I said he should have asked me to speak as a detective under his command.”
“It’s the same thing!”
“You would be well served to read the Sentinel-Guide Protection Act, Ms. Dennison and not just the summary. Because it’s not even remotely the same thing. There is not a circumstance on this planet where I would take orders from a mundane on pride business. I am not nor will I ever be the mouth piece of this department.”
– – – – –
Blair’s gaze jerked from his computer screen to the large doors that Jim pushed through. A woman he hadn’t met was fast on his heels, talking rapidly enough to make him wince in sympathy. “Hey, there. Who’s your stalker?”
Jim snorted and the woman turned to glare at him. “Ms. Cynthia Dennison, Public Relations Office. My Guide and partner, Dr. Blair Sandburg.”
Blair didn’t take the hand she offered. Instead he frowned at her. “It’s rude to offer your hand to a bonded Guide, Ms. Dennison. In the future, you should wait for the Guide to offer his hand to you—because otherwise you have no way of knowing if the bonded Sentinel within the pair would tolerate anyone else touching his Guide.”
Jim pulled on his jacket and grabbed his Guide’s satchel. “I want to go over the Arnold crime scene personally. Is it still sealed?”
“Yes, they are waiting on us. They haven’t let anyone in since we confirmed with her parents that she was missing.” Blair pulled on his jacket.
“Detective Ellison, we’re not finished,” Cynthia snapped and reached out for his arm as he passed her.
“Don’t touch him,” Blair snapped, his voice rich with Guide power. The woman stumbled back against Brown’s desk, completely unprepared for the mental slap Blair had given her. “Until you have learned to how to interact with a Sentinel-Guide pair, I would suggest you stay far away from my Sentinel.” Blair took his backpack from Jim and looked the woman over in disgust. “We don’t have time for your little games, Ms. Dennison. Go file a formal complaint and see how far that gets you.”
– – – – –
There were twenty Sentinels lined up along the police barricade when Jim arrived. He knew they were making the uniforms nervous but that was hardly his problem. He paused on the sidewalk and took the time to look each one of them right in the eye. Jim knew they would listen to him while he was in the house and he wouldn’t order them not to.
They worked in a variety of professions in the city ranging from medical to search and rescue. The police force only had fifteen Sentinels on the job across the entire city. Jim knew that nearly ten of his pride had applied to the academy since he’d been recognized as the Alpha of Cascade. He wasn’t offended that they wanted to join him on the job—far from it. He tilted his head and they all did it with him—mundanes all around them gasped.
“I will not tolerate vigilante justice in my city but if your senses are mine to command—I ask you to listen and to see all that you can. If you are Guided, search as far as you can. If you are not bonded, do not. There is no need to make work for our pride while we have such a task before us.”
“Yes, sir.” Came the reply—delivered just as softly as his command but twenty voices strong.
Jim nodded and continued up the sidewalk with his Guide tucked close. “Have her parents gather clothing that she has worn and present it to the Sentinels that are here. They will divide the city up amongst themselves and start searching for her.”
“You can’t use Sentinels like blood hounds, Jim.”
“That’s exactly what we are going to do,” Jim returned evenly. “It’s up to you and the other Guides to make sure they can do it without zoning out.”
Blair grimaced but pulled out his PDA. He made quick work of sending out a text message to his Beta and then set up a notification grid. “I’ll have temporary Guides on site for the unbonded in ten minutes. We already have volunteers offering to shield unbonded Sentinels within the pride. We hit two hundred members this morning. Did you know that?”
“No.” Jim swallowed hard. “Are they moving here or just coming forward?”
“Mostly coming forward. Three re-locations from Seattle so far. Heath is taking it well.”
“Contact Edwards—I want his pride searching with us. Let them know what I want to do and have them come prepared for it. I want their best—ex-military, search and rescue, and cops are preferred but I won’t turn down anyone who has hunting experience at the very least.”
“Why is that important?”
“Scent tracking in an urban environment is an advanced skill. We can’t afford to have Sentinels zoning out on us.” He took a deep breath. “He wasn’t in the house—there are no male hormones outside of her father’s.” He turned and walked out of the house to stand on the front porch. “She opened the door for him. Why would she open the door for him?”
“She was expecting him.”
“Why?” Jim frowned. “She was expecting someone.”
“Yes, otherwise why open the door for a stranger? She would have trusted him initially. She’s a gifted Guide but still immature and her intuition is still developing—in the young it is often flawed because of hormone changes and their own emotional state. She’s been under a great deal of stress and came online with a horrific experience.”
“How much training has she had?”
“Primary shielding, basic Guide stuff because she was going to the Guide school. Once she demonstrated she could build her own shield—the Center didn’t even pressure her to take a Conservator.” Blair looked around the modest neighborhood. “She wasn’t even been home ten hours, Jim. How did he find her?”
“He followed her. He followed her all the way home from the Seattle Center and then took her when her parents went shopping to get the stuff she talked them into buying her.”
– – – – –