Tracefinder: Changes

Tracefinder Book 2

by Kaje Harper

Changes - Kaje Harper - Tracefinder
Part of the Tracefinder series:

Brian can Find a lost child or a wanted criminal, but when his secret gets out, even Nick’s skills and connections may not be enough to keep them safe.

Brian Kerr is now free of his dangerous boss and his domineering brother. He’s eager to start using his psychic Finding talent to help people, if he can figure out how to do that safely. His dyslexia, and his tendency to act simpleminded under stress, make building his new life a daunting challenge. And while his not-quite-boyfriend, Nick, is willing to support him, in bed and out of it, Brian doesn’t want to lean on Nick. If their relationship is going anywhere, he has to be a full partner and handle his own problems.

Nick Rugo’s walking a tightrope instead of settling into the ordinary cop’s life he’d hoped for. He’s hiding too many things from too many people. He has told professional and unprofessional lies that will come back to haunt him. Now, with Brian determined to start Finding again, he’s not sure he can protect the man he cares for. If all that wasn’t enough to make him start punching walls, he also has a suspicion that Brian’s brother Damon and sister Lori may be out there, lurking, ready to complicate their lives.

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Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Brian didn’t flinch when the front door slammed open, banging the wall. He knew it was Nick, even before that familiar voice snapped out behind him, “What the fuck? Are you okay?”

On the TV screen, the painful scene played again. He nodded, as he watched it for the twentieth time.

Brian!” Nick’s tone was loud enough to make him turn around. “Why’d you text me? What happened?”

There was Nick Rugo, one very hot cop in full uniform, standing in the doorway. That sight normally had Brian immediately interested. Today, all he felt was a flood of relief, despite Nick’s darkening glare.

Nick took a fast step closer. “Hey dude, I stuck a finger down my throat and puked all over the patrol car to get out of work. You’d better be dying!”

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Brian shook his head, and pointed to the TV. A man stood at a podium, leaning forward, speaking urgently. Off to the side stood three children, their faces miserable and bewildered, the younger two clinging to the oldest boy’s hands. Behind them, a video of the missing woman played over and over. A wife and mother, ordinary, blond-haired, smiling, laughing, playing with the children. The Missing Persons tip line number crawled silently across the bottom of the screen. Brian had turned the sound off after the sixth time. It’d scraped over his nerves like a knife on a chalkboard.

She’d vanished into thin air, her car abandoned, her family terrified and begging for help. Just like a dozen other innocent people he could’ve probably saved by now, if he wasn’t still playing it safe and hiding in this house. Hiding, pretending he was doing his best, even though every missing person and AMBER Alert made him cold and sick inside as he changed the channel. Today, something had snapped.

“I could Find her.” He knew it was true, with every fiber of his being. “If I had something. I tried from touching the picture—” his hand on the screen, hovering over the woman’s face, every sense focused inward in vain “—but it didn’t work.”

“You know that doesn’t—”

“I had to do something!” Even knowing it was useless, he’d tried until his vision faded and he couldn’t catch his breath. And he’d failed. “If I could touch something of hers, I could Find her. I can lead them to her.”

“Probably. But dammit, you can’t call me off work in a panic for shit like that. You’re gonna lose me my fucking job!”

He winced, because he didn’t want his choices to hurt Nick. He really didn’t. But today he couldn’t just change the channel. “She matters more than your job.”

“The hell she does!” Nick hesitated, and flushed. “I mean, yeah, she matters. But fuck! There are a hundred people, probably a thousand, you could Find who all matter. You can’t live like that! I can’t drop everything and come running to Find some woman now and some guy tomorrow, some crook—”

“Some missing kid?” He glared at Nick as hard as he could. “Like, drop everything and risk your job for some missing little girl?” He’d done that for Keesha, to Find her, because it was right, but also because it mattered to Nick. He’d risked more than just a job.

“Do you have any idea what kind of thin ice I’m already on because of you?”

Those words would be painful to remember, later. He knew Nick’s bosses had reamed him out more than once for his actions in the case against Marston. Nick’s current commander had apparently warned him about stepping even a half inch out of line— with threats of losing the job Nick loved, if he ever screwed up again. But Brian had thought he and Nick were on the same page in the scrambling mess of those last impossible choices. It hurt that apparently Nick blamed him for how it came out.

The ache was distant, though, in the immediate need to do something good. “She has three kids. They need their mom.” A driving, sweaty, queasy urgency rose inside him. “I have to help.”

Nick pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yeah. I guess. But dammit, I heard she went missing yesterday. There’s a search ongoing. You couldn’t wait two more hours till I got off patrol? Use your head!”

“In two hours she could be dead.” He dashed a tear off his cheek and made an effort to firm up his voice. He needed to be strong and adult and in control right now, if he was to get the chance to do a good thing again. To Find this mom for three little kids who’d probably cried themselves to sleep last night, and were walking through the day in a cold, dark fog. For that oldest boy, whose bleak stare was painfully familiar. “Please, will you help me? If I phone the hotline, even if I somehow get the number right, they won’t believe me. They’ll think I’m nuts.”

“Too fucking true.” Nick came and sat beside him on the couch. Brian hit the remote to restart the recording, and turned on the sound. Let Nick watch this play out, see the man beg for help to find his kids’ mother, and then say no.

Nick took the control from him and froze it again. “You don’t need to convince me it’s important. But…” He shook his head. “You’re gonna just dive into this? Risk everything? You know it’s gonna go bad, one way or another.”

“That’s why I called. I need your help to make it as safe as we can. Please, Nick.” They’d started this discussion half a dozen times in the last two months, with the missing person just theoretical. What if I could help… Every time, Nick had convinced him to be safe, to wait, to get some kind of system established for his talent, and go slow. He couldn’t stand one more day of slow.

Nick ran a hand over his head like he was going to tug at his dark hair, except it was too short, now that he’d cut it to go with the uniform. He rubbed his forehead instead. “Maybe we can set something up secretly with the family or their rep. Like we did last time.”

“I don’t want waiting, with meetings and lawyers.”

“So you want what? Should I call the tip line and say, ‘I’m an MPD cop, and I know this real psychic who can find her’ and expect them to believe me?”

“If it would work? Yeah!”

“And then they either laugh their heads off, or you’re outed to the world.”

“I don’t care about that.” He did, really. It scared the heck out of him. But he needed to do this. “Maybe it’s time. We haven’t found a better answer.”

“You may not care now… Aargh!” Nick stood, paced across the room, and whirled around. “What about when they sit you down with the entire Missing Persons list and say, ‘Start at the top’?”

“Would that be so bad?”

“You’d kill yourself.”

Brian knew Nick was right, although dying for a good cause sometimes seemed easier than living uselessly, doing nothing real, nothing that mattered. Nick hated when he said stuff like that, so he didn’t say it anymore. He’d tried to stop thinking it too, but that was harder. It ate away inside him like acid, to keep hiding the one useful part of himself, just because using it was risky. He wanted to keep Nick happy, but… but… “Help me do something good, just this once!”

“Once? Bullshit.” Nick stared back and forth between him and the screen, for several minutes.

Brian sat as still as he could, biting his lip, holding back more words.

“Fuck. How’m I supposed to keep you safe?” Nick’s tone was rough. “You have this hero complex, you want to save the world. I get it. But you can’t do it if you’re dead.”

“I can’t do it if I never try.” He couldn’t explain how watching chance after chance go by while he played the coward was killing him another way. Or say it wasn’t Nick’s job to protect him, because he didn’t want to start that argument. “Who are you to talk about a hero complex, anyway? Mr. Great Cop. I thought you liked taking chances in a good cause.”

Finally Nick said, “Okay, all right, shit. Gotta figure this. They’ll be swamped with tips from cranks and fakes, and people who saw someone who maybe looked like her. It’s going to be hard to get to the front of the tip line.”

On-screen, a police department representative was speaking at the podium. Brian said, “Those are your people. Can’t you, like, jump the queue?”

“Let me think.” Nick paced a couple of steps away, then back. “You’re really sure?”

“I’m very sure.”

He nodded once and pulled out his phone, scrolled, then tapped a contact. “Hey, Joelle, it’s Nick. Listen. You know that favor you owe me? I’m calling it in… yeah, I know you’re swamped, that’s the point. I have a lead, but I need to give it to the right person. Can you read off who’s involved in the missing woman case on TV, the blonde, where they found the car? Yeah, Emily Stewart… Ninth precinct? Not the top brass. Start with the sergeant and go down… okay… yeah… good enough. Thanks. Yeah, I will… I hope so.”

He glanced at Brian. “Last chance to stop this and be safe.”

“Hurry, please.

“All right.” Nick scrolled, touched the screen. Then tapped the number again, and again. Finally he got an answer, and said, “Hey, Quentin, yeah I know you’re busy. Listen. I think I have a way to locate the Stewart woman, but you have to trust me....

COLLAPSE

About the Author

I get asked about my name a lot. It's not something exotic, though. “Kaje” is pronounced just like “cage” – it’s an old nickname.

I live in Minnesota, where the two seasons are Snow-removal and Road-repair, where the mosquito is the state bird, and where winter can be breathtakingly beautiful. Minnesota’s a kindly, quiet (if sometimes chilly) place and it’s home now.

I’ve been writing for far longer than I care to admit (*whispers – forty years*), mostly for my own entertainment. I mainly publish M/M romance (with added mystery, fantasy, historical, SciFi…) I also have a few Young Adult stories released under the pen name Kira Harp.

My husband finally convinced me that after all that time writing for fun, I really should submit something, somewhere. My first professionally published book, Life Lessons, came out from MLR Press in May 2011. I have a weakness for closeted cops with honest hearts, and teachers who speak their minds, and I had fun writing the four novels and three freebie short stories in the series. I’ve been delighted by the reception Mac and Tony have received.

I now have a good-sized backlist in ebooks and print, both free and professionally published. A complete list with links can be found on my Books page.
I also have  an author page on Goodreads where I do a lot of book reviews. You can find me to chat there– I hang out on Goodreads a lot because I moderate the  Goodreads YA LGBT Books group there. I also post free short YA stories on that group, more than 50 of them so far. Or find me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/KajeHarper