July Fourth Weekend – Queen Anne Hill – Lachlan
“Don’t panic,” Vector whispered under his breath, which did more to put Lachlan on edge than it reassured him.
“Why?” he asked, turning to the werewolf. He jumped a little when the other man grabbed his hand and squeezed his fingers. It sent a flutter of anxious tingles through Lachlan’s arm and made his stomach jump. He would have blushed if he hadn’t already been sweating under the outrageous summer sun. Wasn’t it supposed to rain on the Fourth of July? It always had before.
Instead of answering, Vector straightened his shoulders and greeted the woman approaching them across the field—he was exaggerating when he called it a field, but this deep in the city, it felt like a field to have such an extravagantly large backyard. Lachlan had sort of gotten the impression that Vector came from a comfortably well-off family, but he was starting to reassess just how comfortable from the looks of this house, as well as the townhouse in Upper Queen Anne Hill.
The woman—she was half a head shorter than Vector, but not too much shorter than Lachlan himself—had dark hair and pale blue eyes that shone almost grey from her pale skin. An air of authority weighed down the lines of her shoulders, and Lachlan couldn’t miss the way the other members of the pack unconsciously shifted around her, moving out of the way without the woman having to make a sound. She stopped in front of them, eyes flicking down to their linked hands, brushed across Lachlan’s face, and settled on Vector.
“Auntie,” the wolf said, temporarily letting go to lean down and wrap her up in a brief hug.
Lachlan twitched—this much be the pack matriarch, the alpha: Teagan Clanahan.
“It’s good to see you,” she replied, squeezing her nephew tight before letting him go. “And you brought a friend.”
“Ah, yes, this is Lachlan Graham. My ex-partner from the SPD. Lachlan, this is my Aunt Teagan.”
Teagan held out her hand for him to shake. Lachlan’s own palms were sweating, both from the heat as well as nerves. He shook her hand firmly, trying not to let his nerves show.
“I’m sorry that we haven’t had a chance to meet before this,” she addressed him, eyes serious, “but I’m glad you could join us. Our Fourth of July BBQs are not something to miss around these parts.”
“So I’ve been told,” he said, swallowing as she turned their hands and covered the back of his with the palm of her other hand. There was something possessive about the gesture and the way she swept her eyes over him once before staring again. It felt a little bit like she was attempting to peer into his soul and it made Lachlan feel itchy and desperate to let go.
Finally, after what felt like forever, Teagan’s eyes slid away from him back to her nephew—though she kept her hold on his hand. He wondered if it was some sort of test.
“I take it you checked your email this morning?” she asked Vector.
The other werewolf cocked his head. “No?”
Teagan’s mouth pressed into an amused line and she squeezed Lachlan’s hand a hair too hard. “Would you excuse us for a couple minutes, Mr Graham?”
“Lachlan’s fine,” he mumbled.
“Thank you. I’ll return my nephew to you in just a minute.”
The two werewolves walked off, Vector shooting him a confused look and a shrug over his shoulder before they disappeared into the house.
Lachlan stuck his hands in his pockets and tried not to feel completely out of place in the middle of a writhing werewolf pack, but it wasn’t easy.
He could feel eyes on him but no one made any move to approach, which he counted a small mercy. It was hard enough figuring out where he stood with Vector when it was just the two of them, and they still hadn’t discussed what they were going to do about the future—and Vector’s work situation. If anyone here asked him what he was to the wolf, he didn’t think he’d be able to give them a satisfactory answer. That uncertainty drove a little part of his brain to distraction.
But Lachlan had had other designs on attending than just seeing Vector: he had to talk to Patrick Clanahan. Even if it was gauche to go to the man’s family gathering to get information on a case, it had been a week and Lachlan hadn’t heard anything from Mallory despite her promise to keep him informed.
He’d already had to call Alan’s grandmother back east and break the news to her, had to listen to her cry quietly into the receiver for the better part of half an hour before he’d been able to end the call. And he didn’t have any more information than when the EMTs had called to let him know his best friend was dead.
What good was he as a private investigator if he couldn’t get information on his own friend’s death?
Well, he wasn’t technically an investigator at all, but that was another matter.
It wasn’t going to do him any good standing around here like a schmuck, he might as well take a look around and see if he could find Patrick Clanahan for himself.
He ducked his head and strolled back towards the house, eyes sweeping over the crowd of werewolves knotted around the grills and the picnic tables laden with chips, buns, paper plates, and disposable silverware. He caught the eye of a young woman sipping a beer and looked away. A quick glance back showed her still staring at him but she’d been joined by a familiar pair of broad shoulders in a white tank top and khaki shorts: bingo.
Lachlan cut around the throng, headed towards Patrick Clanahan and the woman. He was still trying to come up with something to say when the girl raised her hand and waved at him. Confused, Lachlan walked over. She was sitting on top of one of the weathered picnic tables, her feet propped up on the bench seat. Patrick Clanahan had sat down next to her sneakers and was bent over a book, the sunlight glaring off the page almost too painful to look at. This, however, did not seem to deter the werewolf whose eyes never left the page.
“Hey—are you V’s friend?”
“’V?’ You mean Vector. Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Hi!” she greeted brightly, smile visibly growing as she patted the table next to her.
Lachlan ignored the invitation.
“I’m Grace,” the said. “Vector’s cousin, and this is my big brother, Patrick.”
“Yes, we’ve met.”
“You have? Patty never said anything.” Grace slapped her brother’s shoulder until he grunted and looked up, squinting irritably. “Why didn’t you say you’d met Vector’s friend here?”
“What?” Patrick Clanahan snarled and turned his squint on Lachlan. “Oh.” He shrugged.
Grace rolled her eyes and grinned at Lachlan. “Ignore him, he’s useless. You’re a cop too, right?”
“Used to be.”
“Are you in the FBI now too?” she asked with a confused expression.
“No. I work over in the U District. And I do some, uh, consulting work.”
His explanation seemed to confuse her anymore if the frown on her face was any indication, and Lachlan remembered how useless it probably was to try and bend the truth around werewolves who could literally hear and smell when he was lying. Still, it was his story and he might as well stick with it now that he’d spun it.
“That’s cool,” she said, nodding her head and raising her beer to him.
It took him a second to realize that she had done it as a toast. He clinked their bottles together and glanced at Patrick, but the other werewolf had already lost interest in their conversation. His head was bent back over the large tome in front of him. Lachlan thought it was odd that the werewolf had brought what looked like a history text to his family’s holiday party.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
“Work,” Patrick grunted without nothing to look up.
Grace rolled her eyes again, kicking her feet against the edge of the picnic bench and making the entire seat shudder a little.
“Like I said, useless.”
Lachlan’s eyebrows edged up his forehead. He drained his beer, racking his brain for something he could say to draw Patrick Clanahan out of his book when it was clear he wasn’t in much of a mood to talk to anyone, let alone his cousin’s pet human.
“So, you and Vector, huh?” Grace asked with a wide grin and her eyebrows waggling at him.
“Me and Vector, what?”
“You’re together, right? He looks really happy about it.”
“Oh, well, no— We’re just, clearing up some stuff between us… It’s complicated.”
“Ah, man, don’t be like that. You can be honest with us,” she said, digging her knee into her brother’s side.
“Leave him alone,” Patrick growled and stood up. He gave Grace a stern look before he grabbed his book and stomped back inside the house.
Grace sighed at his retreating back and wrapped her lips around her beer bottle, drinking deeply. She flicked condensation off her fingers and dropped her head. “I can’t figure out what’s eating at him.”
Lachlan shifted, uncomfortable at being witness to the tension between the two.
“Anyway, sorry about him. And sorry if I made you uncomfortable with my question.”
“It’s fine,” he said.
“I’m really happy that Vector’s back. Happy for you both,” she gave him a weak smile.
“Yeah. Um, will you excuse me?” He didn’t wait for an answer, spun on his heals, and hurried in the direction Patrick had disappeared.
He followed his gut, winding through the chattering cooks in the kitchen, and found the beta tucked up in a study off the main hall. It might have been more accurate to call the room a library, rather than just a study, as it was decorated with plush rugs, ample seating, and floor to ceiling bookcases full of books. The lighting in the room had been left off, and the house’s central air pumped in a cool, artificial breeze that made goosebumps ripple across his bare arms.
“What do you want?” a grim voice asked.
He jumped and caught Patrick Clanahan’s glare.
“I’m sorry, I just wanted to ask about the case.”
“I’m working on it,” the wolf said, gesturing angrily with the book in his lap.
Lachlan crossed the room to get a better look, surprised when he saw that the pages appeared to be covered in runes.
“What does magic have to do with Alan’s murder? I thought it was a mugging.”
“Who’s Alan?” Patrick asked with a frown. “This is about the St Mark’s bodies, which I shouldn’t even be talking to you about. Since you’re not a cop anymore.”
Lachlan’s gut lurched and he felt a coolness settle over his brain. “We already resolved the St Mark’s break-in. That was Mitchell Melody. And Alan is my fri—was my friend. You know, that dead guy you found in South Park a week ago? You’re not even working on it?”
“Oh, that one.” Patrick waved his hand, looking back at his book. “Mallory is taking point on that case. We’ve got too much to do.”
“But that doesn’t explain why you’re still looking into the St Mark’s bodies!” Lachlan snapped, reaching out to grab the book in Patrick Clanahan’s hands. The wolf moved faster—grabbing his wrist and shoving him away with a growl.
“Keep your hands to yourself,” the wolf snapped, glaring at him.
“Ouch.” Lachlan rubbed his wrist. The wolf was stronger than he’d expected. He wouldn’t be surprised if he had a couple finger shaped bruises by the end of the day, and all it had taken was a second of contact.
“And don’t think you’re fooling anyone with that little story of yours.”
“What story?” he asked petulantly, drawing back.
Patrick snorted, and shoved his shoulders into the back of the couch. “The one about doing ‘consulting’ work,” he said, spitting out the words.
Lachlan gritted his teeth and brushed out of the room. It was clear he wasn’t going to get anything from that angle.
“Hey,” Vector’s voice drifted down the hallway. “I wondered where you’d gotten to.”
Lachlan pasted a bland smile onto his face and slid his hand into his pocket. His guts squirmed with anger, but he wasn’t willing to let Vector see just how upset he was.
“Just doing a little snooping. I hope you don’t mind.”
“It’s fine. You want to see if the food’s ready?”
“Sure.” Lachlan let his ex-partner lead him back outside and tried to put thoughts of Alan out of his head for an hour.