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Dark Moon (Chapter Thirty-Six)

I braced for the ice pick of pain. Instead, all I felt was darkness – like a blanket over my mind.

Somewhere in that darkness, the soul that had been Jack at eighteen whimpered. A tiny light became brighter and brighter, and suddenly the shadows were gone.

Jack stared at me in confusion. He appeared exactly the same as he had when I'd touched him. He hadn't aged fifty years. He didn't sport deadly wounds he could no longer heal. The only thing that was different were his eyes. There was no longer a demon panting to get out.

"Who are you?" He glanced around the clearing, flinching at the carnage. "Where am I?"

"Get him out of here," I told Edward.

"Not so fast," he murmured. "Perhaps we should perform one final test."

"What kind of test?"

"The full moon comes."

I glanced up. Night approached. I had been in the Land of Souls longer than I'd thought.

A hum filled my head, a desperate need; thirst pressed at the back of my throat. I was both different and still the same.

Fumbling in my pocket, I found the spare vial of serum and drained it in one long pull. The pulsing call of the moon and the intense craving for blood receded.

"When the moon hits the sky, if he doesn't change, he is healed." Edward glanced at me. "If you have cured him, you will have more work in your future than you will be able to manage. You will not have time for kissy-kissy with the FBI."

A flash of annoyance at the man's audacity caused me to speak more sharply to him than I ever had before. "That's all you have to say? No words of wisdom for your granddaughter? No apology?"

"Apologize? For what?"

"My mother. Your daughter."

I could have sworn I saw him flinch, but it might have just been a trick of the fading sunlight through the dappled trees. Edward Mandenauer cared for no one and nothing but the hunt.

"I had no choice," he said.

"You had a choice with me. You could have told me who I was. Given me some affection."

"No I couldn't." His bony shoulders slumped, and he turned toward the horizon. "I've lost too many women I love. Every time the monsters took another, a part of me was destroyed."

"He must have lost a lot of women," Jessie muttered.

I moved across the dry leaves until I stood right behind the man who was my grandfather.

"I didn't know what you would become," he said quietly, "if I might have to kill you someday. How could I bounce you on my knee and tell you everything would be all right? Wouldn't that have been a bigger lie than all the others?"

I wasn't sure, but I saw his dilemma. Besides, the idea of him bouncing a child on his knee was more frightening than some of the things that wandered the night.

"When I shifted, why didn't you kill me?"

"Every time I looked at you, I saw…"

"Who?"

"You have your grandmother's eyes." He took a deep breath and straightened his sloping shoulders. "I was right to keep you. You were the key to everything."

"Funny how that worked out."

"Life has a way of coming full circle if you give it enough time."

"You could have told me the truth after I came back from Stanford."

"By then it was too late. Too many lies. And I didn't want anyone to know."

"How mortifying to have a granddaughter who turns furry."

"Yes, it is."

He walked away without another word. Some things never changed.

"Well, that was… interesting." Jessie shifted her gun toward Jack, who was so confused he appeared in a near-catatonic state.

I stared at Edward, who had gotten as far away from us as he could without leaving the ravine.

"He'll come around." Nic touched my shoulders. "Somewhere inside his icy cold heart he loves you."

"I doubt that." I turned in his arms. "I'm always going to be the way I am, and he'll never be able to love what he hates."

I paused and considered the rest. I had to tell Nic the truth. There'd been too many lies for too long.

"I had a choice in the Land of Souls. I could have become human instead of…" I lifted my palm.

"And left the world to rot?" He shook his head. "I don't think so. You made the right choice, Elise."

Some of the tension slid out of me. "Thanks."

The sun inched below the horizon, and I shuddered as the silver glow of the moon threatened.

Moving out of Nic's embrace, I murmured, "Stand back."

The moon rose, spilling light into the shadow, spilling magic across us all. Jack didn't change, but I did.

Instantaneous and without pain I became a wolf. Wild and free, I ran through the night. My beast at one with myself, I felt a peace I'd never suspected could exist within me and a power beyond anything I'd imagined.

As dawn filled the sky, I returned to the cabin. All was quiet. Edward was gone, along with Jack. Will was back. I was certain Jessie had already called Leigh, and soon I'd be able to fix Damien. Life was good.

I slipped into the bathroom and turned on the shower, then I stared at the brand-new me in the mirror.

No makeup, hair tousled and cascading to my waist,

I appeared younger, probably because the lines of worry and stress had flown, along with the shadows.

I didn't think I'd ever wear a suit again, to hell with panty hose, but I'd have to get some new Italian shoes. I liked them too much to give up.

My days in the lab were over, which was lucky since there wasn't any lab. I had places to go, werewolves to find, and I knew just who I was going to take with me.

As if my thoughts had conjured him up, Nic slipped into the room. His arms slid around my waist. He kissed my neck, then glanced into the mirror.

"You okay?" he asked.

"Better than okay. What about you?"

"Same." He laid his cheek on top of my head. "Or at least I am now."

"We won. Most of the bad guys are dead. Everyone on our side still alive. Sometimes that doesn't happen."

I hesitated. Nic wanted me, that much I knew, but he'd never mentioned love. I still didn't want him to leave – ever.

"I have a proposition for you." Nic wiggled his eyebrows and I laughed. "Not that kind. A job."

"I've got one."

My hopes fell. It really wasn't fair to ask him to give up a career he was so good at.

"Edward hired me."

My head came up so fast I nearly clipped him in the nose.

"Hey! Take it easy."

I spun around. "Really?"

"He pointed out that I couldn't go back to the tame old FBI now that I'd seen the true nature of the world. He's right."

"You're sure?"

Now that I knew he was going to become a J-S agent, I was scared. He could get killed a whole lot easier that way.

"I accepted the offer, although I think Edward was just trying to be nice – "

"He doesn't know how."

"There'll be a lot of legal issues to work out."

"Like?"

"Are cured werewolves responsible for the actions they committed while possessed?"

Huh. That was a toughie.

"I'm going to be… a liaison I guess you'd call it –  between the J¨¹ger-Suchers and the Feds." He shrugged. "Someone has to."

I breathed a secret sigh of relief. That sounded safer than blasting monsters with silver. Although I had a feeling Nic wasn't going to stay in the office 24/7.

"As long as that's what you want."

"After all these years my law degree is going to come in handy." Nic tilted his head. "I still think Edward is trying to make up for his mistakes."

Nic didn't know Edward. The man apologized never, admitted he was wrong… also never. Still –

I stared at the pentagram on my palm. Times changed.

Edward and I would have a talk – a long one – about my mother and grandmother, and my father, too.

We'd need to discuss our pasts and the future.

"Whatever his reasons," Nic continued, "I agree with him. The FBI was just a job; the J¨¹ger-Suchers are a lifestyle."

"If we ever need a recruiting poster, I'll be sure to use that."

"Ha-ha." He tugged on the ends of my hair. "Edward was right about one thing. This is just the beginning.

There are a lot of werewolves to find, and someone has to hold them down while you heal them. If you don't mind a rookie on your team."

"I can't think of anyone I'd rather have next to me."

He went still. Everything that hadn't been said, and a lot that had, hung in the air between us.

"Elise, I – "

I caught my breath, uncertain of what he meant to say – fearing one thing, hoping for another, not really certain what would be the best for us both.

"I've been an ass," he blurted.

"Which time?"

His eyes narrowed. "Would you let me finish?"

"Sorry. Far be it from me to stop a man when he's admitting to being an ass."

"You're funny." He took a deep breath. "I was an ass when I said there was nothing between us but sex."

I no longer had any desire to make a joke.

"There's more than that?" I whispered.

"I love you. Always have."

"This wasn't something you thought I should know?"

"You left me, Elise, when everything was great. I had no idea why. I figured there was something wrong with me."

"Not quite."

"When I found out the truth –  Well, it was a little hard to declare everlasting love while you were drooling."

"Now who's funny?" I muttered.

That he could joke was encouraging. Only if he was comfortable with what I was, would he be able to do that. The weight on my chest lifted just a little.

"All this secret J-S stuff, conspiracies, witches, silver bullets – I was afraid you might be killed. I didn't know if I could stand to lose you twice. I didn't handle the first time well at all."

"You didn't?"

"When you disappeared, I lost it. Spent months searching. Sometimes I think I went into the FBI subconsciously believing I could find you that way. But years went by, and you were just gone. I got over you."

"You did?"

"No. I told myself I had. Believed it, too. Until I walked into that office and saw you again. I thought my heart had stopped."

"Mine did."

"You've been a part of me from the day I first dropped that book on your foot. I don't ever want to be separated from you again."

"And I don't want you to be. Except – "

I took a deep breath. There were quite a few things that we had to discuss. I loved Nic, but I'd been given a job to do, and no one could stop me from doing it. Not even him.

"You need to know what you're getting into."

"A life with you. It's all I've ever wanted."

"Life with me means no life, Nic. Constant threats, too much work, the high probability of a bloody death."

"And that differs from my present life how?"

"Being an FBI agent is a far cry from being a J¨¹ger-Sucher."

"I know," he said. "I can hardly wait to start."

I shook my head. "There'll be no children."

"I don't recall saying I wanted some."

"You did. When we were at Stanford."

"When I was a kid myself. For me the world's a different place than it was last week. Bringing children into it… I'm not sure that's the best idea."

My thoughts kept coming out of his mouth. Eerie.

"You're all I need, Elise. My dream has always been you."

"I'm more like a nightmare."

"You're the same you I fell in love with, both then and now. Becoming a wolf under the moon doesn't change anything."

"Then you haven't been paying attention."

"I see who you are inside."

" Woof, woof," I mocked.

"That's only a small part."

"Shows what you know."

"I know the truth, and I don't give a damn. You're Elise Hanover. You collect toy crows and Italian shoes. You like rare cheeseburgers and white wine."

"Not together."

"You laugh at my jokes, when I used to make them. Now that I've found you, I might even learn to laugh again myself."

"Did you know I won't age? Ever."

My gaze wandered over the sparkle of gray in his hair, the lines the sun, the wind, time had put next to his eyes and his mouth.

"I'm always going to appear to be twenty-two, which is going to get harder and harder to explain."

"Who do we have to explain it to? The people who matter know the truth."

I'd never looked at the situation quite like that before. Still…

"You'll die," I murmured, eyes burning. "And I won't."

"Everyone dies, Elise."

"Not me. At least not from disease or old age."

"You'd rather not be together at all than worry about my expiring ahead of you? The way I see it, your days are a little more numbered than mine."

I frowned. He made excellent points.

Nic grabbed me around the waist and hauled me against him. "You can try and convince me to leave you for the rest of our lives, but the only thing that'll make me go is your telling me you don't love me."

I stared into his eyes. Was he hiding his doubts? I couldn't see any. All I saw was love.

When I continued to hesitate, he leaned in slowly, giving me time to protest, to escape, to lie and tell him I didn't want him, didn't need him, didn't love him.

I couldn't, so with a kiss, I surrendered.

He lifted me into his arms and carried me across the hall to the bedroom. Excitement prickled along my skin as he laid me on the bed.

As our lips touched, our bodies joined to the sound of gentle whispers and promises for a future that suddenly seemed so bright. There was nothing we couldn't accomplish.

"Together," Nic murmured.

Later, much later, when the sun was high in the sky, and we were still in bed, I contemplated the white wolf icon Nic had brought back from the forest. I should destroy the thing, but… you never knew when something like this might come in handy. Instead, I slipped the talisman around my neck, and it settled comfortably between my breasts.

The moon would always call to me, and that was okay. That was as it should be. Instead of dread I awaited the next month with anticipation. The monsters would change the rules again – they always did – and the J¨¹ger-Suchers would have to adapt.

What would the future bring?

A phone rang somewhere in the house. Nic woke up and glanced my way, then took the hand marked by the pentagram and kissed me right on my tattoo.

"I love this," he whispered. "Very hot."

For Nic, I never had to be anything other than what I was. What a gift. What a guy.

There was a knock on the door.

"Get up," Jessie announced. "We've got work to do."

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