DANNY HURRIED along the sidewalk, hugging his satchel close to his body to keep it dry. The torrential rain from earlier had eased, but he didn’t want to take any chances with the remaining drizzle. It also made his satchel harder to steal, which was the real bonus.
He didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods, but normally it didn’t bother him. Most of the time he didn’t have much to steal, but today he had a pair of iPads in his bag that probably cost more than the majority of the beater cars parked along the curb on his walk home.
He’d sold the Rolex his parents had given him for his high school graduation to buy these. Months of nonstop fundraising had paid for the rest of the bounty that was safely locked up in his apartment, but foster services had referred two more teens to the Janus Foundation last week, and he didn’t want to leave them out of his gift-giving extravaganza.
His kids often came to their foster families with nothing, and Danny did whatever he could to ease their transitions and give them what they needed to succeed. This year he’d wanted to do something extra. Something special and completely impractical. The kids deserved a surprise, and he had a whopper planned for them.
Danny had grown up in a family that lacked for nothing. That Rolex would have been many people’s prized possession, but he’d had two when he moved out of his parents’ Manhattan townhome. He’d never worn either of them—he was more of a Casio guy at heart. Rough-and-tumble, waterproof, takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. No, wait. That was Timex.
He was living in what his father not-so-lovingly referred to as squalor. Danny poured all of his savings and the hefty inheritance he’d gotten when his grandmother died into the Janus Foundation. He drew enough of a salary to support himself, assuming he didn’t splurge on things like a car. Or air-conditioning. Or that one notable month, dinner.
But it was worth it. When Jillian and Tomas, his newest charges at the day center, unwrapped these iPads, the gesture would mean a lot more to them than the Rolex had meant to him. The Janus Foundation served supernatural kids who had lost their parents, secretly working alongside the foster system to help support more than just their physical needs. The foster system was tough enough without worrying about how your foster family would react if you sprouted fur or accidentally broke a bookshelf with telekinesis.
So Danny provided a safe space for the kids to gather and hang out, in addition to helping pay for basics like clothes and school supplies since supernatural kids tended to be a bit harder on their possessions and DCFS would only buy a kid so many pairs of jeans before caseworkers started asking questions. He also made sure the kids had access to the things they needed to help keep them balanced, like regular trips to the river for nymphs and weekend campouts for druids and dryads who needed to reconnect to the earth.
Danny had been twenty-two when his parents verbally disowned him, and that had been hard. He couldn’t even imagine the strength it took for these kids to keep soldiering on, day after day, when they couldn’t be with their own kind.
Danny curled in on himself with a shout as a black town car passed too close, showering him with dirty water. He shifted his satchel away from the wetness, cursing the driver for cutting the corner.
He was almost home anyway. His only plans for the evening involved Netflix and sitting in front of the fan in his boxers.
He’d wrap the iPads and add them to the stash in his coat closet, and then his responsibilities for the Janus Foundation would be done until the big back-to-school party in three weeks. He couldn’t wait to hand out the presents. He’d picked something expressly for each kid, whether it was an iPad or a laptop or expensive software or accessories, and he couldn’t wait to see their faces. Each present was tailored to their interests. It wasn’t really the cost that would make it so special—it was the thought that went into it and the extravagance of the gesture. Who buys a foster kid a GoPro? One of the few adults in her life who knew she wanted to be a filmmaker and had been secretly making documentaries with her crappy borrowed Motorola phone, that’s who.
He had plans for music and lots of food and expected the gift giving to be absolute chaos. He couldn’t wait.
Danny jogged up the two steps to his building’s foyer, muttering lowly when the security door opened with the slightest touch. It was supposed to be locked all the time, but it hardly ever was. He didn’t even try the elevator, which was out of service more than it was in, and trudged up the three flights of poorly lit stairs to his floor.
Half of the apartments were either vacant or had bright orange eviction notices taped to them. It made his heart hurt to think of the Robinsons, a nice family of four who’d lived next door until a few days ago. He’d helped out whenever he could, leaving them bags of groceries and helping the kids with their homework when they were home alone after school, but they’d needed more assistance than he could give them.
His father said his willingness to bend over backward for strangers was his biggest character flaw. It was ironic that a person who gave away millions every year for a photo op would turn his nose up at giving a family in need a bag full of canned goods.
Then again, his father had probably never seen a bag full of canned goods. God knows Danny had been surprised you could get things like meat in a can when he’d struck out on his own.
Danny’s heart jumped into his throat when he realized his apartment door was ajar. He’d definitely locked and dead bolted it this morning when he’d left for work. He pushed the door open, swallowing hard when it fell off its hinges in a cloud of dust and splintered wood.
Break-ins weren’t that common around here, mostly because no one had anything worth stealing. Hell, he didn’t even have a TV. But he did have a closet full of almost fifteen grand in gifts.
Danny rushed into his apartment, wincing at the way the door whined and cracked under his weight. His living room looked exactly like it had when he’d left, right down to the cereal bowl on the coffee table. The only thing amiss was the coat-closet door, which was wide open and revealed a few scarves on the ground and the pair of boots with the floppy sole he kept meaning to have repaired.
“Oh fuck.” Horror welled in his throat, making it hard to swallow.
They were gone.
His stomach lurched and he had to blink quickly to stem the hot flood of tears that threatened. He was not going to cry or throw up or sit down and bury his head in his knees.
He was an adult, dammit, and he could deal with this on his own.
Danny stared at the empty closet.
He could not deal with this on his own.
“Siri, call Sloane.”
His cousin was in her last year of med school. She was several years younger, but she’d been his designated adult since his parents had all but written him off when he’d pursued a master’s degree in social work.
She didn’t pick up, so he called again.
His knees almost buckled in relief when she answered this time. Sloane would know what to do. She’d tell him how to fix this.
“Danny, it’s not a good ti—”
“My place got robbed, and everything is gone,” he said in a rush, his voice wobbling. So much for handling this like an adult.
“Fuck. Hold on a sec, okay? I have to leave class so I can talk.”
He’d forgotten she was still on campus. Shit.
“I’m back. What the hell happened? Are you okay? Were you there? What did the police say?”
Danny blinked at his splintered door. “I haven’t talked to the police yet. I just got home.”
“Oh my God!”
Danny had to hold the phone away from his ear, cringing as she shrieked.
“Get out of your apartment, you idiot! What if they’re still there?”
Fuck, he hadn’t thought of that. He tamped down the panic building in his chest. “I’m a werewolf, Sloane. What is a burglar going to do to me?”
“I don’t know, shoot you?” she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
A bullet wouldn’t kill him, not unless it was a head shot, but it wouldn’t feel good either. And to be honest, he was a bit wimpy when it came to werewolf powers. He’d grown up in Manhattan, for Christ’s sake. It wasn’t like he was a tough guy. Besides, Alpha Connoll would have his balls if he shifted in front of a human.
“Right,” Danny said, glancing behind himself as he gingerly stepped over the door. “Okay, I’m in the hallway.”
Sloane sighed. “Outside, Danny. Go outside. Wait for the police to come.”
Danny wrapped an arm around his satchel, pressing the weight of the two boxes inside it against his side as he ran down the steps. He sure as hell wasn’t going to lose these. If the burglar was still around, he’d have to peel them out of Danny’s cold, dead claws.
Was that sexist, to assume a burglar was a man? It could have been a lady burglar. Or that would probably just be burglar, right? Putting lady in front of something was definitely sexist.
“Are you outside?”
Danny nearly dropped the phone he still held pressed to his ear. He’d forgotten about Sloane.
“What if it’s a woman?”
“What if what is a woman? Are you outside or not, Danny? Jesus.”
“Yes, I’m out front. What if the burglar is a woman?”
“Oh my God, you’re losing it. Listen, I’m hanging up. Call the police, and I’ll be there as soon as class is over.”
Danny probably was losing it. The burglar’s gender didn’t matter here. It was just his brain trying to distract him from the growing panic in his chest. He’d used tangents like that to help control his shift right after his Turn, and old habits apparently died hard.
“Police,” he muttered to himself. “Right.”
He dialed 911, looking around nervously. That number was for big stuff. Should he be calling the nonemergency…?
“911, what’s your emergency?”
Danny nearly fumbled the phone in his sweaty palm.
“Um, I need to report a burglary?”
Damn it. It sounded like he was questioning whether or not there had been one. He needed to pull himself together.
“I mean, my apartment has been robbed, and I need to report it.”
“Is the burglar still on the premises?”
“I don’t know? I could go in and check—”
“No, sir. If you’re outside, please stay there until an officer arrives. Can you give me your address?”
Danny ran through all the information with her, and she assured him a uniformed officer would come by to clear his apartment and take his statement. Then she disconnected.
Weren’t 911 operators supposed to stay on the line with you until help arrived? Or maybe that was only in case of a life-threatening emergency.
Danny sat on the steps and put his bag in his lap, curling around it protectively. The rain had let up, at least. The operator’d told him to stay where he was, but if it started up again he’d have to move inside, where Mr. Rodriguez in 1A would yell at him for blocking the mailboxes.
He held off looking at his watch for what seemed like an hour, only to discover it had barely been fifteen minutes. Was it normal to take this long for police to respond? What if the burglar was still in his apartment? They’d have gotten away by now.
What if the burglar came out this way? The back way out took a winding path through the laundry room and the building’s basement. It wasn’t marked, so if the burglar didn’t know the building, he probably wouldn’t be able to find it. That meant the burglar would be coming this way, right past Danny on the front steps.
Danny cursed at himself for not taking better note of his surroundings when he’d been upstairs. What kind of werewolf panicked so hard in the face of danger that he didn’t even think to listen for heartbeats in the room? He could have solved the question of whether or not the thief was still there in ten seconds.
God, he couldn’t even remember what the apartment smelled like. Everyone left a scent trail, and that closet had been full—it wouldn’t have been a quick job to load it all up and haul it out. There should have been a trail he could follow to see if the thief had left the building.
Danny hesitated. He could go back in and check, but he’d promised Sloane he’d stay outside. And what would he do if someone was still in the apartment? Jump him? He didn’t trust himself not to wolf out under the pressure, and that would make this an even bigger clusterfuck.
He checked his watch. Twenty minutes.
If the police still hadn’t come by the time Sloane showed up, they’d go in together. They could take a human burglar together, no problem. And having her there would ground him and he wouldn’t shift. Probably.
She certainly wouldn’t. His cousin had great control. She’d only had to stay one month at Camp H.O.W.L., but it had taken Danny two months to get his shit together enough not to sprout fur and fangs when he got startled. Hell, it was still a struggle. There was a reason his father referred to their wolf side as the beast.
Maybe that’s why he identified so hard with the kids he worked with. He knew what it felt like to have everything on the line and worry constantly that he’d be the one to out the supernatural world to humans.
Fuck. Those kids meant everything to him, and thinking about how much he’d let them down by not storing their presents somewhere safer made his stomach hurt. They didn’t even know they were getting them—he threw a back-to-school party every year and gave them basic school supplies, so that’s what they assumed this party would be. They were so damn grateful for backpacks and pencils. He’d really wanted to do something special for them. Show them that they were loved.
It had been forty minutes by the time an unmarked police car with lights on the dash pulled up. He wouldn’t have noticed it if he wasn’t watching for it. It slid into a space across the street, and Danny shot up, waving his hand frantically so the officers could see him. Only one guy got out, and he wasn’t wearing a uniform. When he turned and started walking down the street, Danny streaked after him, using more speed than was cautious. He dodged a Prius. Its driver slammed on the brakes and honked, and the cop turned around. He stopped and watched Danny run, and Danny didn’t slow down until he noticed the calculated way the guy was looking at him.
This was why he rarely used his Were strength or senses. He was so bad at hiding it.
“You got a problem, buddy?” the cop asked when Danny skidded to a stop in front of him. “Pretty dangerous move you just pulled there.”
When the cop squinted at him, Danny remembered a human would be out of breath after a stunt like that. He heaved his chest as best he could, but the cop just rolled his eyes and took him by the arm, pulling him into an alley between buildings.
“Look, you can cut it out. I can smell you’re a wolf. What the hell are you trying to pull?”
Danny’s fake hyperventilation turned into an actual gasp, which triggered a coughing fit. He hunched over, and the cop smacked him on the back a few times, hard enough to bruise a human.
“My apartment was robbed, but you were heading the wrong way. I wanted to catch you before I had to wait another forty minutes for someone else to show up.”
The guy gave him a long look. “You called dispatch?”
“They said they were sending someone right out.”
The cop laughed. “You could be waiting a lot longer.”
Danny couldn’t help the way his lower lip trembled. He swallowed hard, but he knew the cop had scented his tears. The guy’s nostrils flared, and his face softened.
“I’m coming off shift. I’ll come over and take a report. You live across the street?” he nodded toward Danny’s building. Mr. Rodriguez had come out, probably drawn by the screech of brakes and honking. He had his arms crossed, and he was looking right at Danny.
“Let me call it in and tell dispatch I’m taking it,” the guy said.
He walked back to the car, got in, and fiddled with the radio. Danny tuned it out, not wanting to hear how he might recount the story. It had been stupid to run blindly across the street like that. He’d just been so worried when the guy went the wrong way.
After he finished with the radio, the guy got out and popped his trunk. His movements were sure and economical as he opened a safe and took out a scary looking black gun, which he strapped to his waist.
“What unit?” he asked as he slammed the trunk shut.
Danny gave him directions to his apartment, and the two of them crossed the street at a much more sedate pace than Danny’s first crossing. Mr. Rodriguez had disappeared by the time they reached the steps, which was the first thing that had gone Danny’s way all afternoon.
“You stay out here while I clear the place. I’m sure the burglar’s long gone, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe.”
Danny couldn’t help but watch as the man ran up the stairs. He had a superb ass. All of him was pretty superb, actually. Now that his panic was receding, Danny could actually appreciate the way the officer’s slacks and button-down couldn’t quite hide how nicely built he was. His face was attractive too.
And he was supernatural. He’d sniffed out that Danny was a werewolf immediately, but Danny couldn’t place the officer’s scent. He definitely wasn’t a werewolf, and he wasn’t fae either. He smelled earthy, like a shifter, but not anything Danny could pin down.
He’d had a gun. Did that mean he shifted into something that didn’t have claws? Though as a cop he wouldn’t be able to use them, so that’s probably why he had the gun.
He heard the cop thundering down the stairs a few flights before he saw him, and he was ready when the man burst out of the door. He had stowed his gun, and he didn’t look nervous or upset. He motioned Danny up the stairs.
Danny followed the detective inside.
“No one was in your apartment, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure,” he told Danny over his shoulder. “You had a pretty flimsy lock on that door. It wouldn’t have taken much to break it.”
The detective had moved the door aside instead of walking over it like Danny had. It was in pieces, and he had no idea what he was going to do about it. His super was useless, so Danny would have to figure out how to salvage the door until he could get someone to come by and put up a new one. God only knew how much that was going to cost him.
“It doesn’t look like they tossed the place. Do you know what’s missing?”
The lump in Danny’s throat grew. “A lot. I’m the director of the Janus Foundation, and I was storing things for the foundation here. We’d raised enough money to give each of the kids we work with a laptop or an iPad for the start of school.”
The detective winced. “How many kids does your foundation serve?”
“About forty,” Danny said. He hesitated, then looked up at the detective. “They’re all Supes. I have a network of social workers who refer kids. On paper the foundation serves hard-to-place kids in the foster system. Someday I hope we can fund a facility so these kids don’t have to go into the regular foster system, but I don’t have that kind of fundraising power right now. But social workers know when a kid is different, you know? And they refer them to me. Not all of the referrals are actually Supes, and those kids I refer on to other agencies that can help. But a good number of them are supernatural kids, and I work to get them placed with families that can handle them and get them the resources they need. Money for nymphs and dryads to go to summer camp up in Maine, grants for selkies and shifters to attend smaller private schools where their senses won’t get overwhelmed, or funds to retrofit a foster family’s house with insulated wiring so witchlings and mages can’t short-circuit it—that kind of stuff.”
The detective looked stunned. “I had no idea. I mean, in my Pack, no kid would ever be left to the foster system. I can’t even imagine it.”
Danny grimaced. “It’s totally against our instincts to let one of our Pack fend for themselves, but not all Supes belong to a functional Pack. Some of them get tossed out because a new Alpha takes over and the kid is a threat. With witchlings and mages, sometimes they’re surfacing after years of the bloodline being dormant, and parents don’t understand what’s going on. They think the kid is just trouble.”
He’d never had a werewolf, but that was probably just because Weres didn’t actually go through the Turn and gain their supernatural abilities until the first full moon after their nineteenth birthday. Most shifters and other supernatural beings had their powers from birth. He couldn’t fathom what growing up that way would be like—he’d presented as 100 percent human until his Turn. All Were kids did. Scientists didn’t know why Weres were different, but he suspected it was some sort of biological coping mechanism. Weres were more common nowadays, probably because they’d developed the second puberty as a means to hide among humans.
“I can’t believe I didn’t know about this.” The cop shook his head. “I mean, we’ve got a network of Supes on the force. We should be keeping an eye out for kids who need help.”
Maybe this was the silver lining to this incredibly shitty day. Danny had a few ins with the police since two of his Pack members were officers, but maybe this guy could expand that.
“If you’re serious about helping, we can set up a time to meet and talk about it. I’m always looking for new contacts.”
“What are you going to do about the stuff that was stolen? Are you insured?”
Danny winced. “No, not for something like that.”
“Shit,” the detective muttered. He dug out his wallet and shoved a wad of cash at Danny. “It’s not much, but it’s a start. I’ll talk to my Pack about getting a donation together. Maybe you can raise enough money to replace the stolen stuff.”
Danny felt awkward taking the money, but he shoved it in his pocket anyway. He wasn’t in the position to turn any help down.
“I really appreciate that. Thank you. Is there any chance of getting my stuff back, do you think?”
“Honestly? No. They’re long gone by now, and even if you found them in pawn shops there wouldn’t be a way to prove they were yours, not unless you have all the serial numbers.”
Which he definitely didn’t. He hadn’t unwrapped any of them. He’d wanted the kids to know they were brand-new and not refurbished hand-me-downs. He was kicking himself for it now.
“If you send me a list of everything that was stolen, I can get it in the official report, but it’s not going to do you much good. Even though this was a huge blow for you, it’s not really big enough for us to investigate. Not unless you have an idea of who might have done this. Who knew you were keeping them here?”
“No one except my cousin Sloane, and she’s one of the donors.”
That wasn’t exactly true, Danny realized. Joss, one of the older kids who was a regular at the day center, knew about them. He’d been there when Danny had signed for a big delivery, and he knew where Danny lived because he’d been the Janus Foundation’s first client, way back when Danny had been working out of this apartment, before the lease on the office was finalized. But Joss would never do something like this. Would he?
“Do you have a plan for securing that door?”
Danny followed the detective’s gaze over to the open space where his door used to be.
“No,” he admitted. Maybe he could use duct tape to put the door pieces back together? He could prop it up with a couple kitchen chairs.
The detective sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll file what I got from you and hand it off to the officers who should have taken your statement in the first place. And then I’m going to call one of my brothers, and we’ll fix your door.”
Danny gaped at him. “You don’t have to—”
The detective cut him off with a sharp look. “I’m not going to leave you with an unsecured door in a neighborhood like this. And I’m not doing it as a cop. I’m doing it as a neighbor.”
He held his hand out, and Danny took it. It was warm and soft, and the brief contact of their handshake was more comforting than Danny wanted to admit.
“I’m Max, and I live across the street. It’s great to meet you. I’ll be back in about an hour to help with your door.”