The insistent buzz of her communications alarm woke Lina from a light sleep. She rolled over on the bunk and swiveled a nearby monitor around so that she could see the readout. The ID signal showed a familiar origin at Central Command, an agency that had intergalactic jurisdiction in hate crimes, terrorism, and many other areas.So much for the vacation, Lina thought as she opened the com-link and with a groan rolled to her feet, stretching and yawning.
The smooth, silver-gray floor was cold beneath her bare feet and above her hands, the textured gray ceiling hid storage space. Her ship was roomy and the communications camera would follow her wherever she moved inside of it.
“Cadian here, are you just checking up on me, Callie or is there a reason for this?”
Dark haired and slender, the image of Callie Meuru grinned at her from a cushy office in Central Command’s headquarters. “There’s a reason, but it shouldn’t interrupt your vacation too much.”
Lina rolled her eyes as she walked forward to the pilot’s seat. Idly, she checked the readouts on the advanced instruments on the gray panels in front of her. She would believe that when it happened. The last time Callie had said something like that Lina had been stranded for two months, playing nursemaid and guardian to six scientists at an isolated base until Command personnel could get there.
Lina wasn’t an agent for Central Command, just someone they found useful at times. Although she was a shifter, she had no qualms about working for them. They paid well and when she had first started taking assignments from them, she had badly needed that money.
“What is it this time?” Lina settled back into the well-padded, black, pilot’s seat waiting for the worst. If it was just a normal mission, they would have sent one of their own agents on it. She got the assignments where they didn’t want to be directly connected to the mission or the ones that required a shifter touch.
“A woman on a planet known as Nariu Minor, a large world in Shifter protected space, has gone missing. She was there with a group of researchers studying the ruins on the planet.” Callie paused and thought for a moment.
“Why do you need me for a disappearance?” Lina narrowed her eyes. She knew there was more to this than just a mere missing person report. “One of the Shifter patrols will take care of it. They certainly won’t welcome interference.”
“A distress call has come in from her. When I heard it, I thought of you.” Callie smiled, an annoying, this-is-just-your-type-of-mission, encouraging smile.
That drew a groan from Lina. A woman went missing in Shifter controlled space usually for one reason and it wasn’t pirates. This woman had been chosen by a shifter as mate and had run. Lina would rather go up against a shipload of the worst space scum in the known universe than mess with a shifter mating. “Show me the distress call.”
Callie nodded, a satisfied smirk crossing her face. “Here it is. Audio only, no vid on this one. The method she used was archaic.”
“Help me . . .” The sound of panting breaths and breaking foliage, as if the woman was running through a forest or an overgrown area, came clearly over the link. “You’ve got to come get me. They’ll come after me. I drugged them, but they know where our camp is. I can’t go there. They took me from there.” The woman’s voice was thready and high-pitched. She sounded panicked, almost incoherent. “They’re animals. They can be animals. Please, send someone for me.”
“It sounded as if she was dealing with one of your kind.”
“Well, she is probably dealing with a shifter. The message did seem to indicate that. My kind, I don’t know. I can go there, look for her.” Lina pursed her lips as she considered the difficulties of this mission. There were obviously some shifters there or somewhere nearby which could make it difficult.
“You don’t think you can find her?” Carrie raised her brows, but her smile taunted, challenged.
“If the man is already mated to her when I get there, she won’t want to leave. I won’t try to take her from him. As long as she isn’t mated, any help I give her won’t get me killed.” Lina nodded accepting the assignment and giving Callie the conditions.
“Why would they kill you?” Callie frowned, clearly perplexed.
Lina ignored that question, trying to explain the seriousness of a shifter mating to a non-shifter was useless. “If she is still free and not mated, I’ll get her off the planet and rendezvous with one of your ships. As I’ve told you before, even getting her off of the planet probably won’t help in the long run.”
“We’ll get her out of Shifter Space. She’ll be safe if you can get her to us.” Callie radiated confidence in her cheerful smile and perky attitude.
“Shifters are persistent. I’ll need everything you have on her. If she’s hiding, I’ll need to know where she’s most comfortable.” She doubted that Callie believed or even grasped just how intense a shifter would be in the search for his woman. He would come after the woman he considered his mate. Tracking her across galaxies was normal for them.
The transmission of the woman’s files as well as those of the people with the research group came almost immediately. There was no information about the shifters.