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Dark Moon (Chapter Eight)

Okay, so it was him.

"I could have done without that particular trip down memory lane," I murmured.

"You asked me to tell you a secret, which only we would know."

I'd meant something more along these lines: On my sixteenth birthday he'd taken me to Paris. He'd dumped me on a colleague – who'd shown me the city, the museums, the sights – then gone off to kill someone. But he had taken me there.

However, Edward was right. Anyone could discover that information if they took the trouble to look. No one could know that the man who had "raised" me was also the man who had made me an orphan.

I couldn't blame him; my mother had been a werewolf at the time.

"Elise!"

How long had Edward been calling my name? I

wasn't sure. I'd drifted too far down the unpleasant road to my past.

"Sir?"

"You must come to Wisconsin. There is trouble in a place called Fairhaven."

That much I knew. Edward wouldn't be there, along with several other agents, if there wasn't. I assumed the issue was werewolves, since those were Jessie's specialty. I also assumed some type of Native American mysticism since Will was there, too. Although you couldn't have Jessie without Will and vice versa. They'd been inseparable since they met.

"The usual kind?" I asked, which was shorthand for any mysterious increase in the wolf population, wild animal attacks, or sudden, random, and inexplicable bloody death.

"Perhaps. Join me, Elise, and we will sort everything out."

I found it odd, sad, and just a bit rude that horrible things were happening in a town by the name of Fairhaven.

But I had more important concerns on my mind. How was I going to tell Edward there was someone after me? Someone who knew they needed a silver bullet to do any kind of damage.

"There's a slight problem – "

I broke off as Nic stepped through the door. My time had run out.

"Do you have my research with you?" I asked instead.

That question was innocent enough.

"Not with me. But it is safe." Edward sighed. "Everything is gone?"

"Yes."

"Your serum?"

"Dust."

"Then you'd do well to hurry."

The line went dead without a good-bye. Why should tonight be different than any one of a thousand others?

He hadn't asked if I was all right. Of course, I was as hard to kill as most of the things he hunted.

Another of the reasons Edward kept me around. Still, it would have been nice, just once, if he'd asked.

"Everything okay?"

Nic seemed better. Less pale, and he no longer wobbled. I still wasn't going to let him drive.

"Everything's fine."

Or as fine as it was going to get.

I bought some snacks – beef jerky, my favorite, sodas, juice, coffee – and gave Nic the bill. After thanking the attendant, we went outside and contemplated Nic's brand-new car.

Or new to him anyway. The vehicle had to be at least thirty years old and resembled a tank. The Plymouth Grand Fury, once the car of police forces everywhere, had been retired in favor of the Crown Victoria and various SUVs. When that happened, the fleet of Furys had been sold at auctions across the country. We'd obviously been gifted with the results.

I climbed behind the wheel and Nic let me, which telegraphed his thundering headache more clearly than the three aspirin he doused with a cola chaser as soon as his butt hit the passenger seat. I started the car and headed east.

One minute Nic was staring at the dark expanse of highway that seemed to appear magically in front of our headlights, the next he was asleep. Though I'd have to wake him periodically in case of a concussion, still I uttered a sigh of relief. I was too tired to field any more questions right now.

I kept my eyes on both the tree line and the road. Every movement, every shadow made me start. Who knew what was out there? Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

Although I felt as if I were navigating the Starship Enterprise from behind the long, shiny, navy blue hood that seemed to stretch forward into infinity, the engine in a Fury could outrun even a werewolf. The knowledge soothed me somewhat, though not as much as having a few thousand silver bullets would have.

In the close confines of the car I could smell Nic's skin, feel his heat, hear him breathing. My body responded in a predictable manner. I insisted I was better than the animal that lived inside of me, but tonight I had my doubts.

In most cases, the lycanthropy virus destroys a person's humanity. They might appear normal in the daylight, but inside there was a demon panting to get out. And with that demon whispering, a lot of bad things happened.

A werewolf in human form is the most selfish being in existence. In the modern world, the behavior has been been written off as aggression, drive, ambition, which makes a werewolf pretty hard to spot in the sun.

Sadly, there isn't a tail or fangs or pointy ears to mark them as one of the bitten.

Sure they're evil, but so are a lot of people. I've always been of the opinion that there are a helluva lot more werewolf lawyers than werewolf pediatricians, but I've never had the time to prove it.

One way to know for certain: Shoot a person with silver. If they explode, werewolf. If not… oops.

All I can say is, don't try this at home. You can get in a whole lot of trouble if you're wrong. Homicide detectives don't often swallow the excuse "I thought he was a werewolf."

Such technicalities have never stopped Edward. Lucky for him he's a law unto himself.

A howl rose in the distance, long and mournful. The sound called to me, and I wasn't sure why. I'd never been pulled by the moon, tempted by the pack.

Once a month, I shifted beneath the silver sheen. Though I loathed becoming what I was, I had little choice when the moon was at its apex. But I never enjoyed that night. I merely endured.

Tonight had been different. I recalled the painless change, the rush of energy, the power. To experience that again was more tempting than it should be.

What if I stopped the car, got out, got furry and ran with the others? We'd hunt as one, together we'd kill. I'd no longer be a lone wolf, scorned by both humans and lycanthropes. I'd have friends. A family.

Maybe even a lover.

Absently I fingered the talisman in my pocket. My ringers warmed; my skin hummed. I heard whispering, but I couldn't make out the words. I didn't recognize the voice. Male or female? Real or imagined?

Heat radiated from my fingers to my wrist. Curious, I glanced down and choked. My hand had sprouted fur, my nails become claws, and I hadn't felt anything but warm.

I stopped touching the talisman and recited the table of elements in my head. When I looked again, my hand was just a hand.

Had the change actually happened? I'd never heard of such an occurrence. We became wolves, completely, when we shifted. We were not able to pick and choose what part of us turned furry. I should try again, but I was afraid.

If I was turning into something other than what I'd always been, my days were numbered. Edward would have no qualms about killing me and neither would any of the others. Though there'd been times when death was more appealing than life, now wasn't one of them.

I let my gaze drift over the still-sleeping man at my side. Foolish as the idea was, I wanted to be with Nic for as long as I could.

I drove on, tense and alert, slurping coffee as if it were water and waiting for the sun to explode over the horizon – or a werewolf army to explode from the trees. Thankfully, I didn't have long to wait before the first one happened. The sun was as reliable as the moon.

With daylight came a sense of security. At dawn werewolves shifted back into human form. If any had been following us, they'd find themselves a long way from home without clothes or a car.

Nic mumbled and stretched. I'd woken him every few hours during the night, asked his name, his age, my name. Each time he'd answered correctly, then gone back to sleep. He didn't have a concussion as far as I could tell.

His hair was as rumpled as a set of tangled sheets, his eyes were heavy. I imagined touching his taut chest, tasting his smooth back, rubbing my cheek against his, then wrapping my legs around his waist and –

THE TALISMAN SHIMMIED and muttered. I slapped a hand over my pocket. "Quit that!"

Nic, who'd been staring at my chest, no doubt outlined in pornographic detail by the thin T-shirt I'd purchased at the gas station, jerked his eyes to mine.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I can't seem to stop myself."

My fingers began to tingle, and I glanced at them, still resting on top of the talisman. Were my nails growing longer even as I watched?

Impossible. The sun was up.

Nevertheless, I jerked my hand from the icon, and wrapped it around the steering wheel. I was "oh, so tempted" to throw the white wolf totem over the nearest bridge, but I didn't dare. I might need it.

I had to get to Edward, to Will Cadotte, to someone who could help me – and quick. I glanced at Nic.

"You ready to drive?" I asked.

He rubbed a hand over his face. "Sure."

We continued throughout the day in alternating four-hour shifts behind the wheel. Drive-thru and Gas 'n'

Go were our friends. Bad roads, winding detours, and shitty weather were our enemies.

As we neared the Wisconsin border, darkness threat-ened. Trees lined the road, so thick I could barely see beyond them, so numerous they seemed to stretch into infinity – or at least to Canada.

Shadows lurked behind every trunk. One minute taking the form of a wolf, the next a human, then something in between.

"Where to?" Nic asked.

I'd been working out the directions as we went, poring over an interstate map since I hadn't had the opportunity, or the hardware, to MapQuest the best route to Fairhaven.

The closer we got to my boss, the more nervous I became. In my head I knew I couldn't have left Nic behind, but in my heart I was worried.

Dominic Franklin had government agent written all over him. Edward might have been one himself, once upon a time, but he no longer had any use for them. And what he didn't have any use for, he often got rid of.

"There's something I should tell you," I began. "My boss can be…"

"Eccentric?"

"More like dangerous."

Nic's eyes shifted to mine, then back to the road. "From what I've been able to uncover, Edward Mandenauer is eighty-something years old."

"He can still point a gun." Better than anyone I knew, and he was never afraid to use it.

"He's going to shoot me if I ask a few questions?"

"It's happened before."

A second glance was filled with both disbelief and a certain wariness. Nic didn't believe what I was saying, but he was having a hard time disbelieving the conviction in my voice.

"Why are you so afraid of him?" Nic murmured.

"Because I'm smarter than I look?"

I threw his words back at him and was rewarded with a grimace. "I shouldn't have said that."

"You were angry."

"I still am."

The car stopped. We were at the end of the road –  literally. A sign pointed left to Fairhaven, right to Wausau. Nic lifted his brows and waited. With a sigh, I jerked my thumb to the left.

We rolled into town well after midnight. The place was silent and still. Not a light flared, even on the street.

I hadn't been in too many small towns. Boarding schools were usually located near large cities, making it easier for parents to fly in for a visit, then out just as quickly.

The few vacations I'd had were to the previously noted Paris, another to Berlin, then London and Moscow. Edward always mixed business with pleasure, and for the most part, werewolves gravitated to large metropolitan areas where it was easier to hide the amount of killing they did.

Only in the past few years had they started hanging around scarcely populated areas, becoming bolder through sheer numbers and the use of magic.

My experience with small towns had been restricted to two: Clear Lake, Montana, and Crow Valley, Wisconsin, where I'd been called about a month ago to test my new antidote on a just-bitten J��ger-Sucher.

Fairhaven was enough like Crow Valley to be a clone: a single main street, a few side roads, dark alleys, no streetlights, the woods coming to within a hundred yards of the town.

Werewolf heaven.

Nic parked in front of what appeared to be a bar. But what kind of bar was closed at midnight in a state where the largest town was nicknamed Brew City? Perhaps one that was scared to death of things that went bump, or woof, in the night?

The headlights threw garish yellow streams across the sign on the front of the building.

Murphy's, open every day until tomorrow.

Sounded like a bar to me.

"Where's Mandenauer?" Nic asked.

"No idea."

"You have to trust me sometime," he said quietly.

"I do?"

Nic's fingers curled around the steering wheel, as his lips thinned. Why did I insist on baiting him?

Because if he was angry at me, he wasn't kissing me. I was afraid of what I might do, or say, or admit, if he touched me again.

"I really don't know where Edward is," I blurted. "He neglected to share a forwarding address beyond Fairhaven – unincorporated."

"Oh." Nic took a deep breath and let it out. "Now what?"

"I'm not sure." My eyes wandered over the seemingly deserted town, the chilly, shadowed forest. "But if I know Edward, he won't be hard to find."

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