Enforcer Ewan “Cal” Calder hasn’t shifted into his Scottish wildcat form in two years. He should’ve gone crazy by now, because that’s how these things are supposed to work. The governing body of all shifters, the Council, has sent him and his adopted teenage son Kit to a sanctuary in Finland. It’s a last-ditch effort to wean Cal off the morphine he’s been using to keep his cat at bay. If he doesn’t shift soon, there’s no way he’s going to retain his sanity.
Two years ago, Council security officer Derek Lamont was tentatively dating and getting to know Cal, but then he lost an eye in a tragic accident. While he was recuperating in the hospital, Cal and Kit vanished from the house they’d all shared. Derek has been searching for them ever since, traveling the world and grasping at straws because of the undeniable truth: Derek knows Cal is his mate, even though humans aren’t supposed to be able to feel the mate bond.
When Derek finds Cal and Kit at a small farm in the middle of nowhere, Finland, he feels relief. But their problems are far from over. From Cal’s guilt over the accident, to stray hunting dogs, to figuring out how to deal with the Council, things keep piling up.
“Hello?” Derek called as he stopped by a stack of tires right outside the double doors.
The clinking stopped, and soon a tall blond man emerged from behind the vehicles.
“Hi, can I help you?” he asked, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Yeah, are you Joonatan?” Derek asked, trying to pronounce the Finnish name like the café guy had.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Now, the man seemed a bit suspicious for some reason.
“You’re friend of the people at Jarvela farm? I’m here to surprise them, and I don’t know how to get there. I came by train, so I don’t have a car,” he explained quickly, somehow sensing that his window to get this right was short.
“Who do you know exactly from there?” Joonatan asked, leaning to the back of a car, keeping his distance from Derek.
For two seconds, Derek thought about lying, but then decided truth was the best policy.
“Nobody. Or, I’m actually not sure. I know that a man named Mikael owns the place, but I’m looking for someone important to me, and his son. I’m not sure if they’re here or not, but it seemed like the most likely place.”
Joonatan narrowed his eyes. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Derek, Derek Lamont.”
“Wait here.” Joonatan went back into the bowels of the deep garage and Derek could hear soft murmuring soon. Joonatan walked back with a phone on his ear. “Here.”
Derek took the phone. “This is Derek Lamont.”
“Hi, I’m Mikael Jarvela. I hear you’re looking for our farm for some reason.” The voice was nice, but with obvious steel behind the words that Derek recognized as protectiveness.
“Yeah, I’m looking for Cal Calder and his son. I’ve been trying to find them for the last couple of years, and I got a tip that they might be in Finland. When I looked up other --” he realized Joonatan might not be in the know “-- places like yours, I realized there weren’t many and yours was the most remote, so it seemed like a good idea to start here.”
Mikael hummed. “And why do you want to find these people?”
“Nothing bad, I swear on my own grave. I ... I worked in Italy, with Cal. We ... we were close, once. But then something happened and we ... lost touch. It’s ....”
“In Italy? Same employer?”
“The Council, yes.”
“Are you human?”
“Yes, I am. If you need to check with the Council, I understand.”
After a moment of silence, Mikael said, “All right. You can come here, but I won’t say anything more than that on the phone. Give the phone back to Joonatan.”
He listened to a Finnish conversation and then Joonatan ended the call. “I’ll drive you. I was finishing up for the day anyway.”
“Okay, thank you.”
The drive wasn’t that long, but it felt as if it took ages. The roads went from asphalt to dirt and then narrower dirt, and Derek found he loved it. What he didn’t care for was the barely concealed hostility from Joonatan. The man was protective of Mikael and his farm, but there was no way for Derek to ask him if he knew what his friends were without sounding insane if Joonatan didn’t know about shifters at all.
Suddenly, the car emerged from the forest-lined road into a large yard with several buildings.
“Here we are,” Joonatan murmured.
“Thank you so much. I know you didn’t have to do this, but… thanks.” Derek hoped his expression conveyed the feeling of genuine gratitude he felt. He got out of the car and grabbed his backpack from the back seat.
Joonatan turned his car and drove off again.
Derek looked around, enjoying the quiet and the fresh air. The door to the large, modern log house opened and a man who seemed a bit younger than Derek jogged down the steps to greet him.
“Hey, I’m Mikael Jarvela,” he said, holding out a hand to shake.
“Derek Lamont. Thanks for welcoming me to your home.”
“For now,” grunted another man from the porch. He was ruggedly handsome, tall, and muscular, and Derek found himself pinned under his gaze.
A bigger predator, then. Derek’s lizard brain was used to shifters by now and only reacted to the large ones.
“Behave, Maxim,” Mikael scolded over his shoulder, then smiled slightly. “I’m sorry for my mate, he’s protective of everyone.”
“No, I understand.” They didn’t know Derek from Adam, after all. “I’m not here to cause trouble.”
“You’re looking for Cal? It’s pretty interesting that you just happen to be looking for him when he’s only been here for a few days. Can you explain me what’s going on?”