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Dark Moon (Chapter Seventeen)

"Elise!"

Edward's voice. What had I said about being doomed?

The back exit was only a few steps away. The rear of the cabin stood very close to the forest, a convenience I hadn't noticed until now.

I tried to brush past Edward, reach the out-of-doors, where I could give in to the change pulsing in my blood like a full moon pulsing in the sky. Edward would keep Nic here; I could disappear out there. At least until Nic went away.

But Edward caught my arm, held on tight. He was strong for an old man but not stronger than me. Still, I had been raised never to hurt him, to obey him, so I paused and looked into his face.

He flinched when he saw my wolf eyes. "What is going on?"

"Yes," Nic said from the bedroom. "What's going on?"

Edward's face darkened, and he reached for his gun.

"No," I said, and my voice rumbled between human and wolf.

"Elise?" Nic asked, stepping forward.

"Stay back."

I should not be losing control; the full moon was days away. Even then, I could control myself better than this.

I'd thought having sex hadn't changed me, but maybe it had.

"What is he doing here?" Edward demanded.

I didn't answer. Wasn't it obvious he'd been doing me?

"Fool," Edward spat. "You have no idea what giving in to such urges might cause you to become. Was the experience worth dying for?"

I wasn't going to answer that since I kind of thought that it was – a fact I should never admit to Edward Mandenauer, who'd be happy to oblige,

"What's he yammering about, Elise?"

Edward drew his sidearm. I put myself between him and Nic, but I needn't have bothered. He pressed the barrel to the base of my throat.

"Outside." Edward shoved me toward the back door. I tripped over the trailing blanket. "You as well, Mr. Franklin."

Nic came without argument. He had to believe both Edward and I had lost our minds.

The moon spilled from the sky, cool, welcoming, lopsided. The wind lifted my hair. I smelled the forest, the earth, and I was drawn to them. I wanted to run through the trees, feel the breeze in my fur, chase something small and furry, catch it and taste its blood.

Usually, I found such thoughts disgusting. Tonight I was tempted. I'd taken one step toward the woods when Edward's voice made me pause.

"Prove you haven't given your soul to evil by giving your body to him."

"What in hell are you talking about?" Nic snapped. "Is he nuts?"

"You know what you must do," Edward murmured, ignoring Nic. "Show me."

I shook my head, confused.

"Shift and follow instructions," he whispered in my ear. "Change and do not kill."

"No problem."

I started for the forest once more. He yanked me back and pressed the gun to my spine. I growled, low and threatening.

"Behave yourself!" He jabbed me harder. "Change here. Now. For him and for me."

"No."

His sigh revealed his impatience. "There are two ways to ascertain he departs and does not return. Your way, or mine. Choose."

Edward's way was death – always had been. Mine? Easy.

If I showed Nic my true nature, he would run. He'd live – there was my reward. But best of all, if he told anyone what he'd seen, they wouldn't believe him.

A win-win situation. Edward's specialty.

I glanced at Nic from beneath the curtain of my hair. His expression reflected both fury and confusion.

He had no idea what he'd stepped into when he'd insisted on accompanying me to Fairhaven.

If he stayed he'd be in danger from every monster, alive or dead, if they found out I loved him. I really didn't have much choice.

I moved into the silver glow from the sky. Spreading my arms wide, I threw back my head. Opening my mind, I let in the moon.

The power was a blinding white light pouring through me. I heard things no man could hear, saw worlds beyond imagination, caught the scent of wolves that couldn't be real, heard them, too, like a ghostly pack circling through the sky.

The moon filled me, caressed me, changed me. The bedspread fell away as I became a wolf. Strength, speed, agility were mine.

"The perfect animal," Edward murmured. "People brain, wolf body. They are very hard to kill."

I opened my eyes, and the first thing I saw was Nic. He'd fallen to the ground. His chest was heaving, and I feared he'd gotten sick, but he was merely trying to catch some air so he wouldn't faint.

I couldn't blame him. Not every day do you see a woman become a wolf. He took it pretty well.

"How?" he managed, then lifted his head.

I'd crept closer, and when he looked up, his nose nearly brushed my snout. He cringed, confusion flowing over his face.

"Sign of a werewolf." Edward's voice was far too jolly. "Human eyes. Makes the phrase 'never shoot until you see the whites' actually mean something, jawohl."

I turned in his direction and snarled. Edward laughed. Nic skittered backward and to his feet. His hand reached for a gun that wasn't there, and my heart cracked just a little.

I hadn't realized until that moment I'd been hoping he could see the true me and not care. His arm fell to his side.

" J��ger-Suchers don't hunt rabid wolves at all," he murmured.

"Nein."

"Then what?"

"Werewolves. Among other things."

For Nic, curiosity seemed to be taking the place of concern. However, I wanted to be a sideshow freak even less than I wanted to be a demon-possessed horror.

" She's a werewolf."

"Elise is a special case. The only – "

I woofed once.

"Oh, him." Edward shrugged, his expression reflecting his lack of enthusiasm in the matter. "Elise and Damien are the only werewolves in their division."

"Damien," Nic murmured. "Didn't see that coming."

"Neither did Leigh." Edward's tone was no longer amused. "It was most disturbing."

"I'll bet. What did you mean by 'other things'?"

"Different monsters, different needs, different divisions."

"Different monsters?"

Nic's face appeared a little green. I whimpered.

"I'm okay," he said. "What kind of monsters?"

"Anything that you can imagine and many that you cannot."

"You're sure you're not in the FBI?" Nic asked. "X-file division?"

"What is this 'X-file' I am always hearing about?" Edward glanced at me, but I was in no condition to explain.

"Television show," Nic said absently. "You probably wouldn't like it."

"No doubt. Television is an immense waste of time."

Edward's sources of amusement were few – guns, bullets, and death. What a life.

Mine hadn't been much better. Serums, antidotes, and werewolves.

Oh, my.

"Why are you telling me this?" Nic asked. "You planning to kill me?"

"Of course not, Mr. Franklin."

Both Nic and I let out a long sigh of relief, which ended with Edward's next words.

"I plan to let her do it."

Silence settled over the yard, lengthening uncomfortably.

Edward laughed. "Just kidding."

I emitted a low, rumbling growl, and his expression became one of mock surprise. "But you are always telling me I need to grow a sense of humor."

"You still do," Nic said.

"And therein lies the trouble. Humor is so subjective."

I considered knocking Edward to the ground and sitting on his chest – werewolf humor. However, he'd be more likely to blow my head off with silver than laugh.

Humor certainly was subjective.

"I do not plan to kill you, Mr. Franklin. As Elise has pointed out on several occasions, killing people who annoy me can be more trouble than it's worth. A dead FBI agent would be the height of trouble, I think."

"Then why are you telling me this?" Nic repeated.

"No one will believe you."

"They will if I – "

"What? Bring them Elise? You'd subject her to the questions, the government, the press? What about the tests, the injections, the blood work?"

Nic's eyes narrowed, and he muttered, "Bastard," so low only I could hear. Then his head tilted, as if he'd caught a whiff of something interesting. I could almost see the idea popping up in his head like a lightbulb as he turned to me.

"What were you up to in that secret compound, Dr. Frankenstein?"

I blinked. He believed I was manufacturing monsters?

I was suddenly tired of the questions, the secrets, the lies. Edward wanted Nic to know everything? Let Edward tell him.

The forest called to me, and I answered, loping toward the trees, leaving Edward, Nic, the world behind.

"Find Jessie and Will," my boss shouted. "They went searching for the sheriff far to the north, and they have been gone too long."

He had said I needed to prove I was still his instrument and not evil, but being told to fetch like a dog annoyed the hell out of me. Better annoyed than dead, I suppose.

In a tiny corner of my mind, I remembered the talisman had been in the pocket of my sweats and not in my hand when I shifted faster than a speeding bullet. What did that mean?

Was I losing control of my beast? If so, then why did I feel more in control, more powerful, more right than I had ever felt in my life?

Werewolves might have a people brain, but it was still hard to concentrate on the mystery of the instantaneous change with the sensory overload of a new forest surrounding me.

The desire to run was all-consuming. If I wanted, I could travel over a hundred miles in a day, chase a herd for five or six miles, and then accelerate. Werewolves don't need superhuman abilities when just being a wolf makes them more than a man, or in my case, a woman.

I headed north, trying to catch a familiar scent but having very little luck. The moon pulled at my soul; a howl pressed at the base of my throat.

I lifted my nose just as a crow swooped low and cawed, startling me so much that I yelped instead.

Several others sat in a nearby tree. At my glance, they rose, like great, black bats and followed the first.

They were trying to show me something.

A whiff of water reached me long before I stumbled across the creek. Splashing in, I dipped my muzzle to the bottom and let the chilly liquid ease the buzzing from my brain.

I drank until the burning thirst faded, but it wouldn't go away completely. Because the thirst wasn't just for water. The full moon was coming, and unless I made more serum, I was going to crave blood.

Edward and I needed to have a discussion. Where was my research? Had he retrieved it? And if not, why not?

The crows circled above me. I tilted ray head. No, they circled above something else – over there.

As I shook my coat, I could have sworn I caught the scent of werewolf. But when I tested the air, I smelled nothing but trees. Nevertheless, I could no more have gone back to the cabin then than I could have ridden a bicycle, so I followed the crows to a clearing surrounded by towering evergreens.

In the center lay a body – the sheriff's, from the appearance of the uniform. However, there was no werewolf but me, no wolf at all, no human left alive.

The crows were gone, not a trace of them in the sky. Strange. Had they led me here to help or hurt me?

Hard to say with crows.

I should check on the sheriff. Though I smelled death, maybe I was wrong.

Hey, maybe I wasn't a werewolf. Maybe this was all a dream and I'd wake up at Stanford in Nic's arms.

A fantasy I'd tried on a hundred times before. I knew better.

So I circled the body, hoping for a hint of movement and finding none. Creeping closer and closer, belly to the ground, I stretched my neck, longer and longer, until it cracked with the strain, then I sniffed his hand.

And someone pumped a shotgun next to my head.

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