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Dark Moon (Chapter Eleven)

"Relax," I ordered before Jessie and Leigh could threaten me again. "I'm not going to flip out and start eating the populace."

At least for another few days.

"You can make more," Damien pressed. "Can't you?"

"Sure."

As soon as Edward handed over the formula.

I'd planned to send Damien some of the serum before the next full moon. The item had been on my to-do list. Along with a whole bunch of other things I couldn't quite remember.

I stood and crossed to the window, peering at the second floor of the antiques store. A light was on inside, but no shadows moved beyond the curtains.

"Maybe I should see if they're okay."

"Why wouldn't they be?"

I turned at Jessie's words. "You've never told me why you came to Fairhaven."

The four of them exchanged glances. I was getting really sick of being on the outside looking in. I should have been used to it by now, but I wasn't.

"What?" I demanded.

"We're not exactly sure," Damien said.

Leigh shushed him, and I shot her a glare. "If the compound wasn't toast, you'd be sending me a report.

You never had a problem with that before."

"Before, you weren't one of them."

"I was. You just didn't know it."

Leigh's fingers curled into fists. "I can't believe you let your hair down and run naked in the woods once a month."

"It isn't as if I have a choice." I didn't want to talk about my affliction – with her or anyone else. "Can we move on? What's happening here?"

Silence reigned for several ticks of the clock before Will spread his hands. "People are disappearing."

I wanted to say "Same old, same old," but that wouldn't be helpful, would it?

"Who called Edward?" I asked instead.

"The sheriff."

"Bodies in the woods? Mangled? Eaten?"

"Not this time."

"What, then, this time?"

"People go missing," Leigh chimed in. "There's blood but no bodies."

"We thought the victims were shifting more quickly than usual," Will said. "Maybe some new kind of spell."

"Instant werewolf." Jessie made the motions of a drum roll with her hands. "Presto changeo."

My hand went to the talisman in my pocket. Uh-oh. I opened my mouth to explain, and Will jumped in.

"But there hasn't been an increase in the wolf population to account for the vanishing citizens. Damien says there aren't any werewolves here at all, except for him."

"No werewolves?" I glanced at Damien.

He shook his head. "No wolves of any kind."

"There are wolves all over this part of the state."

"Except in Fairhaven," he said.

"The only reason for no wolves in a place like this would be werewolves," I murmured. "They don't like one another."

"Exactly," Damien agreed. "So what does it mean if there's neither one?"

I had no idea, but I doubted it meant anything good.

"No one's seen any wolves," Leigh continued, "but the forest is full of crows."

Crows and wolves work together in nature. Wolves tolerated the birds, even let them feed off their kills.

In return, many naturalists believe crows fly ahead of the packs, leading them to prey. The behavior transfers to werewolves. Where there's a lot of one, there's a lot of the other.

My own fascination with the large, black scavengers had begun in childhood. While many people used them for target practice, I'd drawn pictures of crows over and over again. When I got older, I began to collect figurines, paintings, stuffed animals – like the one Nic had found on my desk. Heckle and Jeckle had been my favorite cartoon.

No wonder Edward had kept such a close eye on me.

"When I'm out in the woods," Damien murmured. "I sense… I'm not sure. It's as if something's coming, or maybe just left. I feel watched even when I'm certain nothing's there."

I'd say he was paranoid, except I'd felt something, too.

"What were you shooting at when I got here?"

"Shadows," Jessie muttered. "We're all spooked."

Which wasn't like them. Werewolf hunters were the least spookable creatures on earth. They had to be.

She saw my expression, must have read my mind. "I can kill anything I see. But what am I supposed to do when I know it's there, but it isn't?"

I had no answer for that.

"Axe you sufficiently brought up to speed, Elise?"

Edward's voice from the doorway made me gasp and spin around. "I hate when you sneak up on me."

That he could was amazing in itself. I had the hearing of a wolf.

I glanced past Edward, searching for Nic, my mind already scrambling for a way to explain our discussion of disappearing bodies. But my boss was alone, and that made me more nervous.

"What did you do with him?"

"Who?"

"You know damn well who!"

His eyes narrowed, and I swallowed the rest of the angry words that threatened to spill off my tongue.

They'd get me nowhere.

"Where is Agent Franklin, sir?"

"Where do you think?"

My heart skipped, then lunged into my throat. "You didn't."

"That depends on what you think I did."

"You can't go around killing FBI agents."

He frowned. "Why would I do that?"

"Because your answer to every problem is to shoot it?"

"It has always worked well for me."

I couldn't just stand around while Nic might be dead or dying. I started for the door, and Edward yanked me back. "Relax. He is safe."

He dropped my arm immediately, surreptitiously rubbing his fingers against his black pants. Though I'd been expecting it, Edward's typical reaction to being anywhere near me hurt more than usual.

The only man who had ever touched me gently, willingly, was Nic – and he didn't know what I was.

Seeing him again made me long for what I didn't, and couldn't, have.

"By safe you mean – "

"Alive," Edward snapped. "I am not completely senile. Yet."

" Yet being the operative word," Jessie muttered.

I tensed, anticipating an explosion of German obscenities. Instead, Edward smirked, winked, and the two of them chuckled. I stifled my childish jealousy. He would never care for me the way he cared for Jessie or Leigh, and I'd better get used to it.

Edward glanced at the Fitzgeralds. "I thought I sent you two… elsewhere."

"We wanted to hear the story of why your second in command turns furry every month."

The last flicker of humor fled his eyes as he glanced at me. "You told them everything?"

Not everything. There were certain secrets only Edward and I could ever know.

"I told them the basics so they wouldn't shoot me."

"They were ordered to leave you alone." He fixed the others with a glare. "Elise is beyond your reach.

She answers only to me."

"La-di-dah," Jessie mumbled. "There isn't a scratch on her."

"But not for lack of trying," Will countered, taking her hand when she would have slugged him.

Edward scowled at Jessie, then Leigh. "You are not to play games with Elise. No physical fighting, do you understand?"

A warm glow began in my chest. Edward was worried about me.

"She could kill you without even trying," he continued, and the glow died.

He was worried about them. I should have known.

"Can I talk to you?" Damien jerked his head. "Outside?"

I looked at the others, but they were studiously avoiding my gaze. Except for Edward, who merely rolled his eyes and shrugged.

"Sure."

Damien preceded me onto the porch, where he pondered the sky for several moments. I didn't press. I was just glad to get away from everyone else for a while.

"There's more to your story than you told them," he said at last.

"Isn't there always?"

Our eyes met and a flash of understanding, a tug of camaraderie, passed between us.

"What is Mandenauer to you?" he asked.

I was surprised by the question. "My boss."

Edward was the father I didn't have, the mother, too. Even if he didn't love me, more than likely hated me, he was the only constant I'd ever had in my life.

"How close are you, really?" he murmured.

At first I thought he was asking again about me and Edward. Did everyone believe the old man and I were lovers? Hadn't they seen the way he treated me? Worse than a junior agent. Then I studied Damien's face and understood he meant something else entirely.

"To an antidote?"

I didn't wait for his answer. This was why he'd asked me outside. He didn't want Leigh to know if I was further away from a cure than they thought.

"I haven't discovered anything new," I admitted.

Dismay filled his eyes, and I touched him before I thought not to. Power blazed – bright, blinding, painful.

I snatched my hand away.

"We're going to have to watch that," I said. "It hurts"

I'd never touched any of my test subjects skin to skin. I couldn't afford to have them know what I was.

But there'd been other times, other places, where I had touched a werewolf in human form. They hadn't lived to see another moon, or blow my cover, but my secret was safe with Damien.

"I will find a cure," I promised. "Count on it."

"I feel better knowing…" His voice drifted off.

"That I have a personal interest?"

Damien nodded.

No one could desire a cure more than me – not even Damien. Leigh loved him despite what he was. I didn't have that luxury. No one loved me, and while I was like this, no one would.

"I never doubted you weren't working as hard as you could," Damien said.

"But I did."

Neither one of us jumped at the sound of Leigh's voice. I'd heard her coming, and so had Damien. She wasn't as sneaky as Edward. Not yet.

"Leigh – " Damien began.

"Let me talk." She moved onto the porch and stood between us. "I never trusted you, Doctor, and now I know why. Werewolves murdered my family. I don't like them."

"Yet you're married to one."

Her eyes flashed, and her fingers curled into fists. "We can't help who we love."

"I know."

Leigh cast me a quick glance, and her fingers relaxed. I understood her dilemma. She both loved Damien and hated his curse. She wanted him cured, needed him to be, and she had to depend on someone she distrusted to do it. Whoever said life was fair?

"She saved you, Leigh. Show a little gratitude."

"I thanked her. What do you want?" Leigh tilted her head in my direction. "A hug?"

"I'll pass."

I'd never been big on physical contact. Never knew when a simple touch, like Damien's, could give me a blistering headache.

My gaze was drawn to the throbbing pulse at the base of Leigh's neck – or an intense desire for red meat.

I might be able to control my craving for human blood through medication, but that didn't mean I wasn't blindsided by a longing for it at the oddest moments.

Leigh didn't trust me? Hell, I didn't trust myself.

"Just so we're clear," she continued. "I want you to quit dicking around and fix him. That's what you're paid for."

"Leigh – " Damien sounded exasperated.

"I'd get more done if you weren't bugging me," I interrupted. "Don't you have someone to kill?"

"Always."

"Have a nice trip."

A modicum of respect flickered in her eyes before she took Damien's hand. "We'll be in Washington."

"D.C.?"

Which reminded me of Nic. The Fury remained parked in front of the tavern. Where was he?

"Washington State," Leigh answered.

"What's there?"

"Trees. Wolves. Dead people. There's been a significant increase in werewolf activity pretty much everywhere over the past few days. Edward's cell phone's ringing like crazy. Drove him bat shit when he couldn't get hold of you."

"Strange that there's so much action when the moon isn't even full," I murmured.

"They're up to something," Leigh said, "but then, they always are."

With a nod that passed for both agreement and good-bye, Leigh headed for the car, stopping at the bottom of the porch steps when Damien didn't follow.

"I'll be right there," he said.

With one more glare for me, Leigh climbed into the passenger seat.

"I was thinking," Damien continued. "Maybe the werewolves are after more than Mandenauer. If they want you or the information you've gathered, they'll be back as soon as they know blowing up the compound didn't do them any good."

I considered the silver bullet that had nearly hit me in the head. "I think they already know."

"Where's your research now?"

"Edward has it."

Damien shot a quick, concerned glance at the cabin.

Hell.

What if someone killed Edward before he could tell me where the information was? The thought sent a shiver from my head down to my toes.

I was surprised they hadn't tried already, though Edward wasn't easy to eliminate, and the werewolves, despite their pack nature, weren't exactly organized. Unlike real wolves, they didn't take orders well.

There was always a new alpha fighting to be in charge, if not of a certain pack, then the world.

Thus far they'd never joined together with any success. If they did, we might be in serious trouble.

And wouldn't killing my boss, then putting an end to a cure for lycanthropy be a good way for an up-and-coming leader to gain everyone's loyalty?

I didn't like the direction of my thoughts. I had to find Edward and quick.

"Be careful," Damien said.

Instead of shaking his hand – we both knew what a mistake that would be – I murmured, "You, too,"

before slipping into the house.

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