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Dark Moon (Chapter Thirteen)

No moon, no trees, just us. I still wanted to rip off Nic's clothes, but his throat was safe.

I'd kissed him as a test: Was the talisman making me lust after him beyond reason? Since the plastic was in the corner and not on me, I had to conclude the answer was no.

However, it was doing something funky.

"Why did you not tell me that he is the man who made you what you are?"

My tongue still inside Nic's mouth, I froze. Slowly, I took it back, lifted my head, shoved my snarled hair out of my face, and sighed. This time when I climbed off Nic's lap, he let me.

I faced Edward. Jessie and Will stood just inside the apartment doorway.

"Hell," I muttered.

Will appeared embarrassed. I know I was. Jessie seemed amused. I didn't find any of this funny.

Nic got to his feet. "What's he talking about?"

Edward lifted a slightly yellowed brow in my direction. I scowled. He'd better not tell the truth.

Since the best defense is always a good offense – I was taught that by the master in front of me – I went on the attack.

"What were you thinking to tie him up and shove him in a closet?"

Jessie's eyes widened; so did Will's.

"He annoyed me."

"Half the known world annoys you."

"Three quarters," he corrected and sniffed.

"Sir," Nic began.

I stomped on his foot. "Let me handle this."

"You were handling him," Edward accused. "What were you thinking?"

I'd been thinking I needed someone – Nic – and something – sex – but I couldn't share that with Edward.

His gaze shifted past me to Nic. "You have been recalled to Washington."

"What?"

"Your work here is done. Get out."

"Pardon me if I don't take your word for it."

Edward's eyes flashed. He threw his cell phone at Nic. I ducked before it hit me between the eyes. The contraption bounced off Nic's chest and clattered to the floor.

"Call your superior," Edward sneered. "I did."

Nic retrieved the phone and dialed, then moved to the window so he could hear. Jessie and Will came closer.

"He is the one, isn't he?" Edward demanded.

A chill wind seemed to swirl about the room. My skin, warm with arousal, went tingly with gooseflesh. I knew what he was asking; nevertheless I said, "The one?"

"I am not foolish, Elise. I ran a check on him. He graduated from Stanford – not long after you left."

"Interesting," Jessie said. "You told us you changed, but you never said what set you off." She let her gaze wander over Nic's back. "Sex just might do it."

"I never – " I ended the sentence before it left my mouth, nevertheless everyone knew what I meant.

Will coughed and stared at his feet. Jessie smirked. "Never, huh? No wonder you're so cranky."

"I am not!"

"If sex didn't change you, what did?" she asked.

"Love."

At least her smirk died. She and Will exchanged glances. The one he turned on me was full of pity. I hated that.

When a human being falls in love, variations in body chemistry aren't far behind. I believed those changes were the reason I'd transformed at twenty-two.

However, my case didn't apply to the everyday werewolf, which changed after being bitten. We weren't the same, and therefore what had happened to me hadn't been of much use in my research. All that pain for so little gain.

"Now you know," I whispered furiously, after glancing over my shoulder at Nic, who was speaking with equal fervency into the cell phone. "I fell in love, turned furry, and – "

My voice broke and I couldn't finish. Of course Edward had no such problem. "She came back to Montana where she belonged."

"You couldn't tell him – " Jessie began.

"Right. Would you want to live with a werewolf?"

Jessie's and Will's eyes met again. "Maybe."

There'd been a bit of confusion during the fiasco with the wolf god – who was human, who was not?

Jessie had, for a time, believed Will was one of them. It hadn't stopped her from sleeping with him.

Will reached out and touched her cheek.

"Spare us," Edward muttered.

Jessie shot him a glare. "Leigh and Damien are fine."

"If you say so."

I had to agree with Edward. Leigh and Damien were in love, but they were far from fine. Damien lived every day, every night, with the memory of all he had done. Leigh ached for children, and she wouldn't get them from him.

"I left Nic," I continued, "and he never knew why. He hates me."

"Yeah, looked that way from where I was standing," Jessie muttered.

I narrowed my eyes, but she just laughed.

"Elise." Edward beckoned with one long, bony index finger. I joined him near the kitchen table. "Do you know why he is here?"

"Missing persons." I shrugged. "Anonymous tip. Someone's trying to cause trouble, and we know who that someone is."

"This is a little more serious than that. You didn't recognize the names?"

"I didn't get a chance to read them before I lost the list."

Edward's sigh was filled with both disgust and impatience.

"Compound exploding, Billy attacking – I was a little busy."

"You should have killed him while you had the chance. Must I do everything myself?"

"I'm not going to let you hurt him."

The two of us stared into each other's eyes until Nic stalked across the room and tossed the cell phone at Edward with more force than necessary.

"Whatever you said, whoever you know, you've got them scared. I've been ordered back to D.C."

"Good-bye," Edward replied.

"But you don't scare me. I'm not leaving."

For the first time I could remember, Edward was surprised into silence.

"I have vacation time. I'm taking it. This town appears… relaxing."

"Jessie," Edward snapped. "Get rid of him."

"No!" I shouted, and everyone jumped.

Edward shot a glare in my direction before returning his attention to Jessie. "Make sure he leaves town.

Put him on a plane yourself, if you must."

"She can't force me to go," Nic said.

Jessie drew her gun and pointed it at his crotch.

"Okay. She can."

Nic's gaze met mine, and the years fell away. I had n a future, with him. There weren't any monsters.

Death didn't wait around every corner.

Then he spoke and the fantasy disappeared. "Come with me. You don't need him."

Except I did. Edward would make certain I got a job nowhere. Without the serum, I'd be eating the populace within a week.

Since my secret no longer appeared safe – Lord knows who or what was hunting me already – alone, out in the world, I'd die, and so would anyone who got too close. Failing that, I'd kill and then I'd be killed. My choices were mighty slim.

I couldn't bring all that down on Nic. He had no idea what was out there – hell, he had no idea what was in here – and I had to keep it that way.

Edward leaned over, whispering so that only I could hear, "He knows the names of the people you've killed, Elise."

My heart seemed to stop. Time slowed. The whole world faded until it was only me and Nic and the elephant in the room.

There was more about me to keep secret than my tendency to howl at the moon. Edward, being Edward, was not a wasteful man. I was the perfect werewolf, danger without the demon. I was useful for a lot more than research. There were monsters out there that even Edward couldn't kill. But I could, and I had.

So why was I hesitating? Did I want Nic to discover that the murderer he was searching for was me? I'd rather be dead.

Still, despite the dangers, the problems, the reality of my life, I wanted to go with Nic more than I'd wanted anything for a long, long time.

I've heard that first love is imprinted on our hearts. Even if we move on to love others, have children with them, live our lives, our first love is always there. We never forget.

What's felt then, with that one person, carries a gilded sheen – both the best and the worst of times – often never to be repeated with such intensity again. For me this was even more true, because there'd never been anyone else.

But what did Nic feel? He wanted me, certainly. However, he hadn't mentioned love. Even if he did care, could his love survive both my curse and my crimes? I doubted it.

Once we'd whispered of a life together: marriage, careers, children. That dream was as impossible now as it had been then. Even if I found a cure, did I dare bring a child into this world knowing what I did about it? The end of the werewolves wouldn't mean the end of evil. Evil lived everywhere, for always.

A child would be helpless, innocent. What if he or she had to pay for the sins I'd committed? Barring that, what if someday, someone told him or her all about me?

I forced myself to speak past the longing, through the fear. "I can't."

"You heard her, G-man." Jessie motioned toward the door with her gun. "Let's go."

With a sound of disgust that dug into my heart, Nic preceded Jessie out of the apartment.

Nic never looked back.

n

One glare from Edward, and Will slipped onto the porch, then started fiddling with the door I'd busted.

"He thinks those people are missing," Edward said. "Without the bodies, he'll never be able to prove otherwise."

"Well, that sets my mind at ease."

Edward's lips tightened. "This is not a matter for amusement, Elise."

"Am I laughing? He's the last person on earth I'd ever want to possess a list of my sins. And why does he? You're supposed to cover things up."

"I thought I had," Edward murmured.

"The question remains: Who sent him?"

"We know who sent him."

"The monsters? Most likely. They want us distracted."

"I'm distracted all right."

He flicked me an impatient glance. "You are certain he never knew what happened at Stanford?"

I thought back seven years: the joy of first love, turned to pain, then confusion, the agony of the change.

I'd been alone and frightened.

I'd awoken naked and bloody in my own room. I remembered what had happened and whom I'd killed.

I had not gone anywhere near Nic. If he'd seen me running wildly across the campus, he wouldn't have recognized me. No one could have.

From my apartment, I'd called Edward, then hidden until he'd arrived and spirited me away, leaving experts behind to clean up my mess.

I'd been quarantined for the next several months. An army of doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists had poked, prodded, and questioned me.

I was different, but no one knew why, so I'd been given a choice: work for the J��ger-Suchers or eat a silver bullet. It was a harder choice than one might think.

Following the loss of Nic and the death of the future we'd planned together, I hadn't wanted to live. Yet I'd also felt a sense of responsibility. I wanted to atone for what I'd done. I could do that by finding a cure for the virus.

"Elise?"

I blinked. Edward still waited for me to answer his question. Will still stood on the porch. And Nic was gone from my life forever all over again.

"No," I said, firmly. "Nic knew nothing then, and he knows nothing now."

"You are certain?"

"Why don't you tell me? Your goons came to Stanford. What did they find?"

For an instant I thought Edward might turn on his booted heel and leave without an answer, but he didn't.

"No one saw a wolf. Or at least no one left alive."

Edward would never let me forget what I'd done. As if I could.

"I still don't understand why you kept me in the dark until you had no choice but to tell the truth," I murmured.

"You wanted to spend your life worrying about what you might or might not become? You wanted to know that whenever I was near you I kept a silver bullet in my pocket with your name on it?"

"No, sir. I could have done without knowing that, even now."

"What I do not understand is how those names were connected."

"They're connected by me," I said.

"We know that, but how would anyone else?"

"I suspect if we discover how, we'll discover who –  and then we'll have our traitor."

Edward's fingers curled into fists. He had been in charge of the J��ger-Suchers for over fifty years, and no one had ever betrayed him before. I wouldn't want to be the one who was betraying him now.

He stalked to the door. "Are they gone?"

Will jumped. "Yes."

"I think it is best if I follow and make certain the FBI agent does as Jessie says."

"She can handle herself."

"She can." Edward glanced at me. "But I need some air."

He clattered down the steps. Seconds later, his beloved black Cadillac roared to life.

"Hey." Will stepped into the apartment. "You okay?"

Not really, but since there was nothing he could do to help, I nodded.

"Mandenauer can be…" He seemed to struggle for an appropriate word. "Unpleasant."

"I just thought he was mean."

"He has good reason to be."

I knew that as well as anyone. I should cut Edward some slack; he'd had a rough life.

"He can hardly stand to look at me," I murmured. "He never could, because he always knew."

As a child I hadn't understood why Edward couldn't wait to be rid of me. His neglect had not only hurt but fashioned me into a people pleaser. I'd been teacher's pet, top of my class, everyone's darling.

Except his.

"If it's any consolation, Mandenauer never liked me much, either."

I glanced at Will. "What's not to like?"

"Thanks." His smile charmed me. "I take Jessie's attention away from her job. Drives him crazy."

"He's just jealous because he has no one."

Hell, so was I.

"There's never been anyone for him?" Will asked.

"Maybe long ago, before the werewolves."

"There have always been werewolves, Elise."

True enough. My training to become a J��ger-Sucher, combined with an intense curiosity about where I'd come from, where I might be going, had caused me to read everything I could find on the subject.

The earliest likeness of a man-wolf was discovered on a cave wall. Many historians believe the first written account of a werewolf can be found in the Book of Daniel, when King Nebuchadnezzar exhibited symptoms of werewolfism for four years.

Tales of lycanthropy abound in Greek and Roman myth, throughout the Middle Ages, and into present times. Sure, most experts insist superstition and psychosis have led to such stories, but we know differently.

The most recent rash of monsters came about because of the Nazis. Who else but Hitler and his pals would be insane enough to manufacture a werewolf army?

Edward had been a spy during World War Two. His mission had been to search out and destroy whatever

Josef Mengele – the doctor who had performed thousands of experiments on the Jews, the Gypsies, and anyone else Hitler disliked – had created in a secret lab in the Black Forest. However, Mengele had released the monsters he'd made into the world before Edward could stop him. My boss had been following his original set of orders ever since.

"You think Mandenauer was married before the war?" Will pressed.

"I don't know. Once, when he was ill…" My voice drifted off.

About a month ago, Edward had returned to the compound and secreted himself in his quarters. After a day of silence, I'd pounded on the door. When he didn't answer, I'd yanked it from the hinges.

Edward had been delirious. At first I feared he was bitten, but I couldn't find a single mark.

Turned out he'd had nothing more than a flu virus, hazardous to an old man, but not as hazardous as what he might have had.

I glanced at Will, who was waiting for me to finish, but I discovered I couldn't. When Edward had been sick, I'd taken care of him, and he'd rambled, mostly in German, words I didn't understand, but he'd also said a name.

Maria.

I'd never heard his voice that soft, that tender. I could tell that he had loved her, but who she'd been, where she'd gone, remained a mystery.

One I couldn't share with Will or anyone else. I was Edward's second in command, and though he loathed me with an intensity that made me both sad and furious,

I didn't take my responsibilities lightly. His secrets were as safe with me as mine were with him.

"Never mind," Will said, seeming to understand my hesitation. "You have a suitcase I can bring in from the car?"

"Not anymore."

"Oh, yeah. Sorry."

"An excuse to buy a whole new wardrobe. Although I doubt I'll buy one here."

"Probably not. Fairhaven is a blip on the map. No lake nearby, no tourist trade. Even before the disappearances, the place was dying for years."

"So who lives in a place like this?"

"Folks who want a lot of alone time." Will shrugged. "The highway used to lead to vacation spots on Lake Superior. Fairhaven is a little over halfway between there and Milwaukee, so people stopped for a meal, a stretch, to shop, some even stayed the night. Then they built a brand-new four-lane expressway, which bypassed the town."

"Sudden death."

"Exactly. A lot of people left. Some stayed." He stared at me for a minute. "I bet you could fit into some of Jessie's clothes."

My brain scurried to catch up with the sudden shift in subject. "No, thanks."

Jessie didn't seem like the kind of girl who liked to share.

"You could order some things off the Internet. Have them delivered by express mail."

The idea was more than appealing. Walking around in a thin T-shirt with no bra, not to mention the lack of underwear, was not very comfortable. I could also use a coat that didn't sprout from my pores under the light of the moon.

"You can use my computer." Will started for the door, turning back, curiously, when I ducked into the closet.

At first I didn't see the talisman and I panicked. Could the icon walk off or just plain disappear? Why not, when it moved and mumbled all on its own?

I caught a glint in the far corner and snatched the totem from the floor. "I want you to see this."

I held the tiny wolf between my thumb and forefinger. Will came closer, frowned and pulled his glasses from his pocket. He studied the icon for several ticks of the clock, then lifted his gaze to my face.

"Yours?"

I shrugged. "Finders keepers."

"You didn't have it made?"

"No." I tilted my head. "Why?"

His frown deepened, carving lines across his forehead and around his mouth. "Haven't you noticed that this talisman looks an awful lot like you?"

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