A blast of a story from K. L., who describes it thus:
“This short story was written very quickly, pretty much on the spot, as a get-well fic for a friend, some time ago! Mostly I was trying to make them smile. I’ve sometimes thought about doing something else with it—Alex and Blake are such fun, and this is clearly just their first encounter—but it’s a little out of my usual genres, and I haven’t had the time to give it more attention. Still, I like it, and I hope you do too!“
Alex Lyster was lying in a hospital bed, alternating between trying to sleep and not wanting to sleep and worrying about deadlines and wondering whether giving a main character appendicitis would be a good plot twist, given recent real-life experience, when his door slammed open and the werewolf burst in.
The werewolf had impressive shoulders and shaggy brown hair and angry eyebrows over ink-pool eyes; he was wearing a nicely fitted suit in a way that suggested he didn’t enjoy it, and he snapped, “Blake Forrest, FBI. What do you know about the cancelation of MysteriCon 2023, and why do you smell guilty?”
Alex was definitely no longer trying to sleep. And probably shouldn’t be enjoying the shoulders and the angry competence and the undeniable presence, at least not quite so much. It was an annoyed kind of enjoyment, because the sexy werewolf FBI agent had shoved his door open and was yelling at him, but his day had inarguably become a lot more interesting.
He sat up more. And folded the blanket over his lap. “Nothing, because I’ve been in the hospital. Busy, you know, getting my appendix out. I canceled as their Guest of Honor yesterday.”
This earned him a noise in response. It was almost a growl. Alex’s spine did a little shiver, thrilled by danger or want or both.
The werewolf FBI agent said, “If you were ill, why do you feel guilty?” and began glaring around Alex’s hospital room, presumably looking for clues, or simply very irritated with nondescript chairs and beeping monitors.
Alex crossed his arms. “Because I had to cancel, and I feel terrible about that? Also, I think interrogating a suspect using meta-human senses, without disclosing your meta status beforehand, is illegal under the Extra-Sensory Perceptions Enforcement Act of nineteen-eighty-eight, thanks.”
The werewolf—Agent Forrest—stopped in the act of glowering at the underside of Alex’s bed to turn the glower on Alex himself. His eyes smoldered, which was not a phrase Alex would normally have written into action-packed thriller crime novels. But they did. “How did you know—”
“About the Enforcement Act? Public knowledge.” He threw the werewolf a smile just to be annoying right back: every drop of golden youthful brazen charm he could muster. “Plus, mystery writer. How did I know you’re a werewolf? Apart from the whole announcing you could smell me line, you mean?”
Agent Forrest had enough self-awareness to look mildly embarrassed about that. “If you haven’t done anything wrong—”
“I don’t have anything to worry about?”
“You canceled less than twenty-four hours before the entire convention apparently ceased to exist, and attendees lost their entire—”
“What division do you actually work for? How to make friends and cross-examine people just out of surgery?”
Agent Forrest paused again. His nostrils flared. “You do smell…”
“I told you, they took my appendix out. You want to see the incision, too?”
“No. I…” Those intense inkwell eyes hesitated, skimming Alex’s face. “You almost died, didn’t you?”
“Yes, because, according to my agent, I’m an idiot who ignores massive painful warning signs and then gets on a plane to Seattle. Does that exonerate me from whatever nefarious plot you think I’ve come up with?”
Agent Forrest stared at him for another second or two. Then muttered, “Maybe,” and turned about and stomped out of Alex’s hospital room. And slammed the door behind him. Hard.
“Okay,” Alex said to the suddenly much less occupied space. “Okay.” And then he looked around for his bag, and a notebook, and his phone.
He had an idea or two. He had the contact information for the convention’s organizer, or the woman who’d claimed to be, who’d invited bestselling author Alex Lyster to speak; he also knew some of the volunteers, who’d helped out with previous convention years. He was thinking about the brand-new organizing committee, and the new tech team they’d brought in. About people no one had known, not even by reputation.
He also wanted to make some notes. He did not normally write much paranormal crime, but he’d done one or two; sometimes that was what a story wanted to be. A new hero, maybe. Tall and dark and grumpy. Dangerous, but sensitive. With broad shoulders and extremely intense eyes.
About an hour later, Agent Forrest reappeared. Once again, he did not knock, though he’d lost his suit jacket someplace and rolled up both sleeves, white fabric against tanned skin, delicious. He opened the door and said, “I talked to your surgeon.”
Alex surfaced from scribbling notes about a werewolf private investigator firm. “I’m glad for you. Did you get his number? Are you going on a date?”
Pink flickered behind dark stubble—artistic stubble, too, which Alex considered unfair—and faded. “I do have his number. Work. Personal. Home. In case you need it.”
“Why would I need it?”
“If you’re in pain. If your stitches open. If you require more attention. If he’s an idiot and left a scalpel inside you—”
Agent Forrest crossed his arms. Muscles rippled. “It happens.”
“I could tell you the statistics about—”
“I also ought,” Agent Forrest said, with the caution of a man unused to the words, “to apologize? For earlier.”
“Oh, ought you.”
Alex waved a hand. “Don’t worry. Mystery writer, remember? I like puzzles.” And attractive FBI agents, he nearly said. But didn’t. Self-control. Practicing it. “I have a present for you.”
Agent Forrest now appeared profoundly baffled, as if this were not the script he’d had in his head. Up close, and somewhat perplexed, he became younger: Alex’s age, or a couple of years older, maybe late thirties or barely forty, and confronted by new information. “When did you…why…you shouldn’t even…you almost died, yesterday…”
“I didn’t get out of bed. Is that concern? You look concerned. Sit down for this, it’s fun. Would you like the names of all the new organizing committee members, and their official convention-related emails, and, this is the big one, the email one of them sent to an external address, containing financial account information? With some interesting transfers?”
Agent Forrest stared at him more. And then, slowly, sat down. The chair creaked in protest.
“See,” Alex said. “A present.”
“I know a lot of the volunteers from previous years, and most of them weren’t happy with this weird takeover by a whole new group of organizers, claiming to have new ideas and all. And one of the previous committee members, someone who worked with the convention finances, still has account access.”
Agent Forrest leaned forward. Intense, alert, poised, and—protective? “You investigated. On your own.”
“I made a call or two. Not dramatic. I thought it might help. Does it?”
“Yes. You should be recovering.” He actually moved as if planning to take Alex’s hand, and then visibly seemed to think better of it. “I don’t want you hurt.”
“Neither do I, so we’re in agreement.”
“But you were investigating.”
Alex raised both eyebrows at him: yes, obviously.
“You…” Agent Forrest exhaled. Ran a hand through his hair. Muttered something under his breath that sounded like, “Humans.”
“My great-great-grandmother was a siren, I’ll have you know.”
This time the grumble sounded like, “Of course she was.”
“What was that?”
“I said,” Agent Forrest snapped, “of course she was. Luring people into trouble.”
Alex grinned. “You think I’m trouble?”
“I think—” Agent Forrest stopped, exhaled, scrubbed the hand through his hair again. In golden afternoon light, small lines lingered around his eyes. “I also brought you something. Here.”
It was a book. A paperback. Clearly used. “Unsolved Mysteries of Victorian London.”
“I thought you might be bored. And writers like…books. I didn’t realize you’d be attempting to give me a heart attack.”
“Because you care so much?” Alex looked back at the book. At ruffled pages, and warmth, as if it’d been left lying someplace in the sun, on a table or in a car, just this afternoon— “Is this yours?”
“No. It’s yours.”
“You gave me your book. That you were reading. While you were waiting to talk to someone?”
“I thought,” Agent Forrest said, stiffly, “that I owed you an apology. For suspecting you.” His shirt was just on the right side of too tight, Alex decided. The tempting side. And his tie was loose. Drawing attention.
And the room felt warmer. Because an irritable werewolf agent had glared at Alex and accused him of some sort of crime, and then had fretted over him and worried for him and given him something personal, something real.
He said, “Thank you.” He meant it.
Agent Forrest sighed. “Again, I’m sorry. Long day. Not much sleep.”
“I get it. And, hey, I must’ve looked suspicious. Siren blood, crime novelist, canceling the day before a big—what, money laundering? Embezzling? Fraud-related crime?”
“We didn’t know you were a siren. But…yes.”
“I’m flattered, Agent Forrest.”
Agent Forrest hesitated again, and then said, “Can I introduce myself properly? Blake Forrest, Financial Crimes Unit, meta-human, werewolf.”
“Very formal of you.” Alex saluted him from the bed. “Thank you.”
“Do you take anything seriously?”
“Yes. My friends, my career, the fans who’ve lost a lot of money and who’ve been hurt by this. They’re who I write for.” He touched the book cover; he thought, this is serious. You giving me something of yours. A scent of yours, a belonging. “And I’m not much of a siren. It’s diluted enough to not even show up on the registry. Which is why you didn’t know.”
“I should’ve known,” Agent Forrest said. “You’re—never mind.” He also bit his lip, and shifted in the chair. “I’ll let you rest.”
“Get some sleep. Are you in pain? Thirsty? Can I get you anything?”
“I’m good, thanks. I’m what?”
“I didn’t say anything. I’m leaving now.”
“They’re letting me out of here tomorrow morning,” Alex informed his retreating back. It was also a very nice back. Extremely so. “If you want to know. If you want more help with your financial fraud case and the mystery of the vanishing convention. If you want your book back.”
Agent Forrest paused halfway to the door.
“So I’ll see you in the morning,” Alex said.
“I…maybe. If I have the time.” He put his head on one side, studied Alex. “You’re smiling.”
“Excellent deductive skills.”
“I mean you smell like you’re smiling. Like…sunshine.” Agent Forrest did the hand-through-hair gesture again. Dark strands slid through his fingers, touched with one or two stray streaks of silver. “But you are tired. Get some sleep.”
“It isn’t. I’ve disclosed it. Rest, Mr Lyster.”
“It’s just Alex,” Alex told him. “Please. We’re sharing books and all, now.”
That earned a tiny evanescent grin, there and gone, tempted out for a second, and oh Blake Forrest was even more glorious when grinning. “I’ll see you in the morning. To ensure your safety. Since you’re recovering. And apparently asking questions. Without oversight or any consultation with the agent in charge.”
“Which is you. And you want me to be safe.”
Blake managed to both blush and glare at him again, which made Alex’s heart do an excited small flip, because yes, yes to the hotness and the hint of power and the protectiveness, please. “I take my responsibilities seriously.”
“I’m your responsibility now?”
Blake did the almost-a-growl noise again, and flung open the door, and vanished with surprisingly little noise, given annoyed werewolf size.
Alex looked back down at the book in his lap. His stitches ached a little, but not badly. His body felt tender, bruised, aware of recent last-minute surgery. But also alive, alert, awake. Intrigued, because he had a mystery and a tantalizing crime-solving werewolf, and he wanted both of those. He wanted them in a way that felt like possibilities, like questions that might have answers, a story unfolding, taking shape before his eyes.