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Dark Moon (Chapter Seven)

Nic sat up, groaned, fell back.

I caught him before he cracked his head against the ground again. "Maybe we should get you to a doctor."

"You're a doctor."

"Not that kind."

"I'm all – " His voice faded, and his eyes closed as he slumped in my arms.

Concerned, I leaned close. He was out cold, so I gave in to the urge that had been haunting me since I'd first seen him in the doorway. Pressing my lips to his forehead, I breathed in the familiar scent of his hair.

All the feelings rushed back with a force that staggered me. I'd known I still loved him, but I hadn't realized that I always would.

Once we'd dreamed of sharing a life: marriage, careers, family. Together, we would never be alone again.

I longed for that normal life – a normal me. But I'd come to understand that even if I cured myself, there were things I'd done in the interim for which there could be no forgiveness. Nic was as lost to me now as he'd been the first night I changed.

The wind slapped snow against my face. The drop in temperature had turned the fluffy flakes into icy needles.

I smelled death – probably just Billy's. Nevertheless, we had to keep moving. With the clouds covering the moon, the road was dark. Though there wasn't much of a chance a car would come along and run over us… then again, one might.

Taking advantage of Nic's momentary lapse of consciousness, I lowered him gently to the ground and hurried to the ATV. After a quick glance to make sure he was still out, I picked up the machine and set it back on the road.

There was a dent in one side, a bit of dirt on the other, but when I started the engine, it worked.

Nic began to come around. I tugged on his arm, grunting as if he were "oh, so heavy," though I could have lifted him with one hand. "Wanna help me out a little?"

"Sorry, I'm – "

"Hurt," I supplied when he seemed to lose his thought again.

Thankfully, he was too spacey to notice how much I helped him as he got to his feet, too woozy to see that my clothes were torn and I had flecks of blood in my hair.

I hoisted Nic onto the ATY, crawled behind, then adjusted his body so that I could see, drive, and hold on to him. If I hadn't had superpowers, I wouldn't have been able to manage, making this one of the first times I was glad to be what I was.

Nic drifted in and out of consciousness. I'd wondered how to make him stop asking questions. I'd have preferred another method.

The wind shifted, or we were able to get ahead of the storm, because the highway outside of Clear Lake was dry, the forest surrounding it devoid of white. Most of the businesses on the main drag were closed, probably had been for a while. The town was small, innocent, clueless.

I'd been toying with the idea of dumping Nic with a doctor – they had to have one – then disappearing again. But an hour on the ATV with little to do beyond think had nixed that idea.

Billy might be dead, but Billy hadn't blown up the compound. Whoever had, could be right behind us.

I let my gaze wander over Nic's still face. He'd say he was a highly trained FBI agent; he could take care of himself. But I knew better. To werewolves he'd be an easy lunch.

No matter how dangerous it was for us both, I was going to have to take him along to Wisconsin.

I pulled into the only gas station in Clear Lake. The attendant stepped outside. His gaze wandered over my torn suit, the spatters of blood and the leaves in my hair, then flicked to Nic's lolling head. With the typical understatement that characterized inhabitants west of the Mississippi, he murmured, "Trouble?"

"Nearly hit a… deer. We flipped."

The story, close enough to the truth to be believable, explained Nic's injuries and my appearance.

"Need a doctor?" he asked.

"No." Nic struggled to sit up. "I'm okay."

The attendant's brows drew together. "If you say so."

Nic tried to prove it by climbing off the ATV. He wobbled, but he didn't fall down.

"You know where I can buy some clothes?"

As the word buy left my mouth, I realized I had no money. I glanced at Nic; he was already extracting his wallet.

"And a car," he added, pulling out an obscene amount of cash.

"Got some T-shirts and sweatpants for sale inside." The man scratched his head as he contemplated the money. "Car we'll have to talk about."

I hesitated, prepared to deal, but Nic waved me away. "I'll handle the car."

I let him. The less time we hung around, the better. Inside I snagged a pair of gray sweatpants and an equally cheery gray T-shirt.

Making use of the restroom, I stripped off my torn and dirty suit. After extracting the wolf totem, I tossed the clothes into the nearly full garbage can. Holding the tiny bit of plastic between two fingers, I stared into the sparkly blue eyes.

The idea that something this small, this tacky, could carry enough power to make me superduper wolf was laughable. But standing in a dirty women's restroom in the middle of nowhere, I didn't feel like laughing.

I shoved the talisman into the pocket of my new sweatpants just as I remembered the little wolf wasn't the only thing that had been in my skirt.

Both the list of names Nic had given me and his .38 were missing. I must have dropped them somewhere along the road. I didn't care about the list, but the gun might have been good for a bluff or two.

Since I couldn't go back for the weapon now, I shoved my bare feet into my tennies and picked one last flake of blood from my hair. My nails looked as if I'd been burying dead bodies in the woods, which was close enough to the truth to make me worry. I could only hope that the people we met between here and Wisconsin were less concerned with personal hygiene than I was.

When I exited the bathroom, I found the attendant behind the register. I peered around the station, which was packed ceiling to floor with chips, soda, candy, and borderline pornography. But no Nic.

"I sold your friend a car."

From the man's grin, the deal had been sweet. Of course, we couldn't exactly be choosy. We had to get out of here, and we couldn't do that on an ATV.

"He went across the street to pick it up."

Though I didn't like Nic being out of my sight for more than a minute, his absence did give me time to do something I should have done before now.

"Do you have a phone?"

He pointed to the wall behind me.

I considered the risks. I doubted anyone would have thought to put a bug on this particular phone, and Edward always had his own lines meticulously swept for listening devices. By the time someone traced the call, Nic and I should be long gone.

I punched in the numbers as the clerk moved off to refill a potato chip display. Edward answered on the second ring. "Elise?"

How did he do that? The caller ID should have read "Joe's Gas Station," not "Elise Hanover." Sometimes the old man was spookier than everything he hunted.

My response – "Yes, sir!" – was rewarded with a vicious stream of German curse words.

"I know you aren't often glad to hear from me," I muttered, "but is that necessary?"

"I have been calling the compound every half an hour, and the line is dead. If we are having a malfunction, Elise, it is your job to inform me."

"It's a little bit more than a malfunction."

"Be specific."

I'd known Edward all of my life. He'd practically raised me – although paying various nannies, shipping me off to the best schools, then recruiting me to be his right-hand woman was hardly raising someone.

There was little warmth between us, no matter how much I might want there to be.

"Specifically…" I glanced around. No one was in the gas station but me and the attendant, who was more interested in straightening the Hustler supply than listening to me. Nevertheless, I lowered my voice. "There's a crater where the compound should be."

Silence greeted my statement.

"Sir?"

"Sabotage?"

I thought of the shadow, the shot, the silver. "Definitely."

"The guard?"

"Dead."

"Subjects?"

"Could be alive." Edward's grunt told me he understood the ramifications of that as much as I did.

"Except for Billy."

"And Billy is not alive because… ?"

"He pissed me off."

Though his sigh traveled hundreds of miles before reaching me, the sound lost none of its power to belittle.

"Your temper is, as always, a problem."

Only Edward would think that I had a temper. Everyone else considered my personality one step removed from ice bitch of the universe. Except Nic, but then, he didn't really know me as well as he thought.

"I will send someone to Montana," Edward said. "Someone who can take care of things."

Taking care of things being a J-S euphemism for cover-up. Even if Nic managed to send some of his pals into the woods, by the time they got there, there'd be nothing left to see.

"Who is responsible for this travesty?" Edward continued.

"Bad guys?"

The line went silent again, and I waited for the inevitable set-down. But instead of a lecture, I was rewarded with a dry chuckle, which made my heart stutter.

"Who is this?" I demanded.

He had the heavy German accent down to a T, but there was no humor in Edward – never had been.

Which was understandable. His life had not exactly been one laugh riot after another.

"What have you done with my boss?"

"It is me, Elise. I have just lightened up in my old age."

Lightened up ?

Okay, the world had stopped turning, and I had been too busy to notice.

"So much time with Jessie and Leigh…" I could almost see him shrug in that way he had that implied both nonchalance and Old World European manners. "They are amusing."

My teeth ground together at the reminder of Edward's favorite J��ger-Suchers. I had known him the longest, had helped him the most, yet when Edward had chosen pets, I was not one of them.

Jessie McQuade and Leigh Tyler-Fitzgerald were Edward's darlings as well as bosom buddies. Not that they hadn't tried to kill each other on occasion – when you released hunters into the same field you got explosions more often than tea parties – but they were two of a kind, and I didn't fit in.

I wasn't the type to banter and snipe. I didn't dare participate in the physical scuffles they relished.

Sarcasm wasn't my venue. Nevertheless, having them take the place that I'd always wanted in Edward's affections made me a lot less enamored of them than he was.

"If this is Edward," I continued, "then tell me something only we would know."

Another long swell of silence drifted over the line. For a minute I thought I was right, maybe someone was impersonating my boss. I should have known that no one got the better of the old man, including me.

"By that," he said in a hard, cool voice that made me straighten even though he wasn't there to see, "I suspect you're referring to the fact that I killed your mother."

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