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Blue Moon (Chapter 2)

I'd learned to follow a blood trail before I grew breasts.

Not from my father. No. He disappeared right about the time I uttered the word Da-da. I should have kept my mouth shut. But that was nothing new.

My mother was, make that is, a true girlie-girl. She never knew what to make of a daughter who preferred to play with boys, shoot guns, and get dirty. She still doesn't.

I was a wild child. Not her fault, though she blames herself. I don't think I turned out too bad. I'm a cop, not a delinquent. That has to be good for something.

Except my mother's approval. I gave up on that a long time ago.

I don't hear much from her these days. If she couldn't have the perfect daughter, she'd hoped for perfect grandchildren –  as if she'd get them from me. Marriage and family aren't high on my list of priorities.

Oh, wait –  they aren't on the list at all.

I had no doubt Miss Larson's wolf was long gone; still I couldn't just give up without trying. It wasn't in me.

Following a blood trail through the dark was a neat trick, one I'd picked up from my best friend in the sixth grade, Craig Simmons, who'd learned it from his best friend in the fifth grade, George Standwater.

The Indian kids didn't mix much with the white kids, and vice versa, despite any smiley-faced propaganda to the contrary. Once in a while a few became friends, but it never lasted long. The adults, on both sides, took care of that.

I'll never forget how awful Craig felt when his parents told him he couldn't see George anymore. Kind of how I felt, I'm sure, when Craig decided he'd rather play with girls in the Biblical sense and he no longer had any need for a friend-girl like Jessie McQuade.

With a near audible whoosh, the forest closed in around me, leaving the civilized world of cars, electric lights, and roads behind. Beneath the canopy of the evergreens and birch trees I could barely see the stars. That's how a lot of losers got lost.

I'd learned in my years on the force that quite a few more people disappeared than the public ever heard about. Miniwa was no exception. Folks walked into the woods on a regular basis and never came out.

Not me. I had my flashlight, my gun, and my compass. I could stay out here for days and find my way home, too, even without the antiquated walkie-talkie.

The machine chose that moment to crackle, so I shut if off. All I needed was to get close to the wolf and have Zee cuss a blue streak through the receiver. I'd have one chance, if that, and I wasn't going to blow it.

I wished momentarily for a rifle. With a pistol I'd have to get awfully close, but we didn't keep long-range firearms in the squad cars. They were all locked up safe and tight back at the station –  where they were of no use to me at all.

The blood trail veered right, then left, then right again. Nearing three-quarter size, the moon was blaring bright. The kind of night most animals kept to the forest, spooked into hiding by the shiny disc in the sky.

Except for the wolves. They seemed to like it.

Tonight, I liked it, too. Because the silver sheen bounced off a glistening splotch on the ground here, a leaf there. That the blood was still wet gave me hope my quarry might not be too far ahead. The wolf could even be dead, which would solve a whole lot of problems.

Still, I kept my gun handy. I knew better than to follow a wounded wild animal without protection.

The breeze ruffled the short length of my hair and I paused, lifted my face to the night, then cursed. I was upwind. If the wolf wasn't dead, he knew I was coming.

A howl split the night, rising on the breeze, sifting through the darkness, and fleeing toward the moon.

Not the soulful sound of a lonely animal searching for a mate, but the furious, aggressive wail of a dominant male, which caused the back of my neck to tingle.

He knew I was coming, and he was ready.

My adrenaline kicked in. I wanted to move faster. Get there. Fight, not flee. Finish this. But I had to follow the blood, and that hadn't gotten any easier.

Then, suddenly, the trail was gone. I backtracked. Located the blood again. Moved forward, found nothing.

My wolf seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Uneasy, I glanced up at the swaying silhouettes of the trees. A laugh escaped, the sound more nervous than amused. What kind of wolf could climb a tree? Not one that I wanted to meet.

A movement ahead had me scurrying forward, damn the blood trail. I burst through the brash and into a clearing, nearly stumbled, and fell at the sight of a shiny log cabin that hadn't been there a few weeks ago. Had it sprouted from the dirt?

My curiosity about the new house vanished when my gaze lit on a swaying, shivering bush at the far side of the clearing. The windows of the cabin were dark. If I was lucky, the occupants were asleep or, even better, not in residence. I didn't want to scare anyone with gunshots outside their new home at 4:00 a.m., but I wasn't going to let my quarry get away, either.

Gun drawn, I advanced.

A single, glistening drop of blood on a leaf made me cock my pistol. The bush stilled.

I was so tense my body ached with it. I couldn't just shoot without knowing what was there. But what if the wolf leaped out, jaws slashing before I could fire?

Decisions, decisions. I hated them. Give me a nice, sure, clean shot any day. Black-and-white. Right and wrong. Good versus evil.

"Hey!" I shouted, hoping the wolf would run the other way and I could blast him.

No such luck. The bush began to shake again, and a shadow lifted, lengthened, grew broader, and took the shape of a man.

A very handsome, well-proportioned, naked man.

"What the –  ?"

From far to the north came the cry of a wolf, silencing my question, reminding me I needed to move on.

Ignoring the naked man –  which wasn't easy, he was quite spectacular and I hadn't seen one in a long, long time –  I searched the ground and the trees for the blood trail. However, it was well and truly gone this time.

"Damn it!" I holstered my weapon.

"Problem?"

His voice was deep, almost soothing, flowing like water over smooth stones. He was taller than me by a good five inches, which made him six-three in bare feet. The moon shone silver across his golden skin, which appeared to be the same hue all over. He obviously had no qualms about going bare-assed beneath the sun as well as the moon.

He stared at me calmly, as if he didn't know, or maybe just didn't care, that he'd forgotten his clothes when he'd stepped outside.

Well, if he could be nonchalant, so could I. "Did a wolf run through here?"

He crossed his arms over his chest. His biceps flexed; so did the muscles in his stomach. I couldn't help myself. I stared. Ridges and dips in all the right places. He'd been working out.

"Seen enough?" he murmured.

With no small amount of difficulty, I raised my gaze to his face. I refused to be embarrassed. He was the one standing naked in the night.

"Why? Is there more?"

His teeth flashed against the darker shade of his face. His eyes were black, his hair, too, and nearly as short as my own. A golden feather swung from one ear.

Interesting. Most Native American jewelry was silver.

If he were white, he'd take a lot of heat for that earring in a place like Miniwa. This might be a new millennium, but in small Midwestern towns earrings were for faggots, just as tattoos were for motorcycle gangs. Unless you were an Indian; then folks just ignored you. However, I doubted a man who looked like he did was ignored by the entire population.

"You're after a wolf?"

He stepped from behind the bush, giving me a much clearer view of a whole lot more. My cheeks heated. For all my bravado and smart-mouthed comments, I'd never had much use for men beyond friendship. Probably because they'd never had much use for me.

Still, a girl has needs, or so I discovered beneath the shiny, silver moon.

"You wanna put on some clothes before we chat?" I aimed for a bored, woman-of-the-world tone. I got a breathless, sexy rasp. To cover my embarrassment I snapped, "What are you doing out here?"

"I'm not out anywhere. This is my place, my land. And I don't have to explain anything. You're trespassing."

"Hot pursuit. Exigent circumstances," I mumbled. "Just seems odd to be out in the dark in the buff."

"Why have a cabin in the woods if you can't walk around naked whenever the urge strikes you?"

"Oh, I don't know. Maybe poison ivy in all the wrong places?"

I thought he laughed, but when I glanced at him, he'd turned away. I lost my train of thought again at the sight of his back. The muscles rippled as he moved. Was it hot out here?

"You're chasing a wolf, alone, through the woods in the middle of the night, Officer… ?"

Suddenly he was right in front of me. Had I been so entranced with my fantasies that I hadn't noticed him slip in close? Obviously.

A slim, dark finger reached out; the white moon of a nail brushed the nameplate perched on my left breast. " ' McQuade,'" he read, then lifted his eyes to mine.

I had to tilt my head back, not a common occurrence for me. I could usually stare guys straight in the eye, and I was rarely this close to them. They were never naked.

He smelled like the forest –  green trees, brown earth, and… something wild, something free. I felt as if I were falling into his dark, endless eyes. His cheekbones were sharp, his lips full, his skin perfect. The man was prettier than I was.

I took a giant step back. Just because I was in a woodland clearing with a gorgeous, naked Indian man didn't mean I had to swoon like the heroine of a historical romance novel. I wasn't the type.

"I'm doing my job," I said, as much to answer him as remind myself. "A wolf bit a woman out on the highway. I need to find the thing."

Something flickered in his eyes and was gone so quickly I wasn't sure if I'd seen anything beyond the shift of the moon through the trees.

"I doubt you'll succeed." He turned away again, and this time my gaze caught on a nasty bruise along his hip.

"Ouch," I murmured.

"What?"

"I –  uh –  " I waved my hand vaguely at his ass. "What happened?"

He twisted, glanced down, frowned, then raised his eyes to mine. "I'm not sure. I must have been clumsy."

As he strolled toward the cabin, I watched him move. Funny, he didn't appear clumsy at all.

He plucked a pair of cutoffs from the porch and yanked them on without benefit of underwear. Why I found that incredibly erotic, I have no idea. But there it was.

Not bothering with a shirt, either, he returned. I found myself entranced by his chest. Smooth, strong, no hair to mar the perfection, would he taste as good as he smelled?

I rubbed my eyes to make the image go away. I needed to get laid and fast. When my pulse leaped in response to the thought, my cheeks heated again.

Down, girl, I admonished my panting libido. You're in the minors; he's a major leaguer.

Still, I could dream, couldn't I?

"Uh… Um. Could you help me pick up the trail?"

Nice, Jessie. Why don't you stutter and drool while you're at it?

Thankfully, he didn't seem to notice my red face and awkward tongue.

"Me?" He ran his fingers through his short hair, frowned, and shook his head, almost as if the cut was new, unfamiliar. His earring danced in the moonlight.

"The blood disappears beyond that bush where you –  " I frowned. "You're sure you didn't see him?"

He gave an impatient sigh. "I'm sure."

"Then maybe you could help me pick up the trail again?"

"Why would you think that I know how to track a wolf? Just because I' in Ojibwe?"

"You are?"

He rolled his eyes. "Come on, Officer, you aren't blind and you've been looking."

"You've been showing. I'm also not stupid."

His lips twitched. He nearly smiled before he caught himself. "Even if I knew jack about tracking in the dark, I wouldn't help you find that wolf. You'll kill him."

I shrugged. "He bit a woman. She's going to need rabies shots if I don't find him."

"You won't find him."

Annoyance flashed through me. "You psychic or something?"

"Something."

Whatever that meant.

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