Dawn of the Jaguar by Terry Spear

 

Chapter 1

The winter wind whipped around the Big Cat Private Investigations Agency building situated in a wooded area of The Woodlands, near Houston, Texas when private investigator Cannon Chambers got a call, spoke on the phone, and then ended the call, and waved to Jason Biggerstaff. Jason really liked the retired police detective who owned the jaguar shifter run PI agency. Cannon had hired him to be his investigator three years ago and Jason wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else after he left the police force where he had worked previously. But the situation at the job was dramatically changing at the agency in about an hour, only three days into the new year.

Cannon’s only surviving daughter, an FBI agent, was joining the business. Jason had seriously thought of finding another investigative agency to work for when that happened because he and Erin didn’t see eye-to-eye about anything. Eventually, Cannon wanted his daughter to take over the business and then Erin would be running things. Even worse.

“I’ve got a client coming in shortly,” Cannon said.

“Okay.” Usually they didn’t have clients who specifically asked for one or the other of them and Jason often went through the cases first to pull the ones for Cannon he knew he preferred to handle.

Jason owed it to her father to continue investigating cases for him as long as he could. Not to mention he loved working at a jaguar run office, especially after he had been raised in foster care by humans who’d had no knowledge of what he was. Cannon had treated him like a son and Jason had even had the far-out notion that Cannon might someday give the business to him because he hadn’t been sure Erin was ever going to give up her FBI job and join them. Now, she had resigned her position at the FBI as a field agent and had wrapped up whatever she had needed to do there and was returning home today—for good. If things got too bad between Jason and Erin, he was out of there.

He'd been working on a bunch of background security checks for some potential new employees at a nursing home and then he was looking into a case of a runaway teen. Normally, he was focused totally on his work, but he couldn't help thinking about Erin and how she was going to turn things upside down at the office. He hoped not. But she was strong-willed and so was he, so he could see them butting heads.

Cannon walked out of his office where Jason was working at his desk. Across the room was Erin's desk. It had never been filled. It was just sitting there, waiting for her to come to work and had been for three years. Except for the cleaning service dusting it off daily, no one touched it. Jason knew Cannon had wanted his daughter to leave her job sooner, but he also knew she had to do what she felt she needed to before she gave it up. Jason didn't blame her. He would have felt the same way as her.

While he was searching for any criminal records on the employees, he found one had ten outstanding driving violations and he flagged it. He wasn't doing the hiring, so all he did was hand over the information to the personnel manager of the organization who was paying for their services, and she would decide which employees were all right to hire, and who might be a risk. If it were him, he'd seriously consider all the driving violations. Those were just the ones officers had caught her at. What else had she done that she had gotten away with?

Everyone else looked fine, so he typed up his report and sent it to the personnel manager who immediately responded, thanking him. He could follow up on the case, just to see who was hired, but there was no need, so he let it go. Once he had given the office the report, it was out of his hands.

Next, he had to look into the situation of the runaway teen. It had happened so many times before that no one even worried if the boy was in trouble any longer. The boy who cried wolf came to mind. Jason had found him twice already, so it was just another one of those days. He pulled up his file on the teen and looked through the notes he had on where he'd found him before, who all his friends were, where he normally hung out. The kid had a great home life—as far as he knew—devoted parents, a nice home, everything he could ask for, but he liked the drama of running away and being on the lam and then being found. Jason just hoped that he would always be found safe and sound. The kid was foolhardy to believe he would always be safe. There were a lot of bad people out there.

So many kids didn't have half of what the boy had. Some came from broken homes, a parent, or both, sitting in jail, bad neighborhoods, no one to mentor them. Jason had really needed a jaguar mentor while growing up. When he'd lost his parents, he'd had to live in foster care, and he had been a runaway. But he'd had a good reason too. As a jaguar shifter, he had hated to be confined to a home, a regimen, a world that didn't understand him. He hadn't been a good kid growing up. He'd only survived because he was a big cat, and he had a fighting spirit that rivaled any human kid's. Or adult's, for that matter.

Somehow, he'd managed to survive those tumultuous years, but he always shook his head at the kids who had everything and acted like they were so put upon, when he'd had virtually nothing. He'd even counseled the teen about his behavior, but he could tell his talks went in one ear and out the other. The teen had just been lucky he hadn't been hurt while he was running around wild.

A woman walked into the office and Jason greeted her. "How may I help you?" That was his other duty as assigned—the receptionist for the agency. They'd had one two years ago, but she'd had a drinking problem and wasn't filing papers correctly, calling in sick, sleeping at the desk when Jason and Cannon were out doing surveillance, and finally Cannon had had enough and fired her. Jason would have done it much earlier than Cannon had. Jason didn't have a lot of tolerance for people who didn't pull their own weight. He guessed it was because he had to finally pull himself up by the bootstraps and work hard to make something of himself. He didn't have any use for people who threw their lives away for nothing.

The woman who had walked into their agency was a blond, her eyes olive green like a cat’s, and she appeared to be in her mid-fifties. She was looking at the certificates on the wall and then she glanced at him. "I'm looking for a PI to investigate a man who has been stealing from my bank account. I spoke with Cannon about it." Jason smelled her scent and realized she was a jaguar shifter like them, unless she worked at a zoo in the big cat's enclosure, which he highly doubted.

"I've got it," Cannon said, eager to meet with the woman, practically racing out of his office as if Jason might steal the case from him. Cannon didn't often grab a case before Jason had a look at it, but Cannon loved cases like this, having been a police detective before he retired and had worked a branch of financial fraud cases prior to starting the PI agency. He'd actually started it because his wife had been a PI, working for an unreasonable boss and when Cannon had fallen hard for her, he had used his savings to set her up in the practice of her own and joined her once he had the training and qualifications too. The car accident that had killed her and Erin’s twin brother had been a real travesty, but in memory of his wife and son, Cannon continued operating the agency because it had been his wife’s lifelong pursuit and then he had hired Jason to take up the slack.

All smiles, Cannon welcomed the client into his office, shaking her hand in a more than familiar way. "I'm Cannon Chambers and I worked as a financial fraud investigator for a number of years." Then he shut the door to have a private consultation with his client.

Smiling, Jason shook his head. He'd never seen Cannon mix pleasure with business. If the woman was single, who knew where things might lead.

Jason made a few calls to see if he could locate the teen and then learned he'd been picked up by the police for stealing a thirty dollar-pen from an office supply store. Jason made a courtesy call to the parents, and they were devastated, naturally, after having heard from the police already. Some people just had a propensity for self-sabotage. Early in life, so did Jason. He had been so angry that his parents had been taken away from him that he had wanted to take it out on the whole world. At some point, a police detective had talked to him about it, told him he was going to end up in jail if he didn't see the light. And that made him want to be a police officer, to help kids in need, if he could reach them. He'd done pretty well at it in the past, both as a police officer and in this job. But this kid? Well, Jason didn't want to call him a doomed case because there was always the possibility that someone could turn themselves around.

He just hoped it was sooner than later.

Then the lady left Cannon's office, not looking any happier than she did when she had walked into the office, and Jason hoped she hadn't decided Cannon couldn't do anything for her.

But then Cannon came out of the office, smiling as she left the building. "You'll need to pick up Erin at the airport in an hour."

"I thought you were going to do that." The words were out of Jason's mouth before he could stop them. Erin had been so looking forward to seeing her dad, she was going to love it if Jason picked her up instead. Not.

"I have this case to work on. What about yours?" Cannon looked at the runaway teen's file on his desk, his inbox empty.

"All taken care of."

"That's what I like about you. You're not sitting around waiting to get a paycheck. You earn it."

"That kid got picked up by the police."

"Timothy Benton? We knew it was going to happen sooner or later. So are you going to pick up my daughter at the airport?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Good. I need to make a trip to the bank and then I've got a lunch engagement."

"With Erin," Jason reminded him, in case Cannon had forgotten he had planned to welcome Erin to the agency properly by taking her out to lunch while Jason took care any of the cases that arose here. Though he took work-related calls on his phone anywhere at any time.

"Uh, with a client. You take Erin out to our favorite spot. I'm going to a different place."

Jason raised a brow.

"Strictly business. The client believes the manager of the Seafood and Steak Alehouse is stealing from her bank account."

"So you have to eat with her there?" That was a new one on Jason.

"Yeah. Anyway, tell Erin you’ll take her to lunch once you pick her up from the airport. I'm off to the bank."

Jason watched as Cannon slipped out of the office with a spring in his step. He wasn't sure how Erin would take being stood up by her father because he'd gotten interested in a she-cat client. Unless Jason was totally off the mark, but he didn't think so. Big cats had an extraordinary sense of smell and they sensed things humans might oversee. There was more to this case than just learning about stolen funds from the woman's bank account.

He hadn't believed the woman had known Cannon before this, but maybe she had. It appeared she had never been to the office, didn't know Cannon had a separate office, and so she had taken a moment to orient herself when she walked into the agency. He also would have smelled her scent in here before.

Jason wasn't about to tell Erin why her father didn't come for her though. He would let Cannon explain it to his daughter if he was getting interested in a client. That had never happened in or out of the office since Jason had known him. So maybe he was mistaken.

He just had to remember to pick up Erin at the airport on time or she would be all bent out of shape, more so than she probably already was. As far as lunch went, he figured he'd leave it up to her as to whether she wanted to have lunch with him or not, like he usually did with her father. Hopefully, Erin would have other plans that didn’t include Jason.