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Dark Moon (Chapter Twenty Six)

I slept a bit, coming wide awake several hours later, with one thought. The talisman was still at the junkyard.

Throwing on Jessie's clothes, I cursed as I remembered I'd split my tennis shoes the last time I'd changed.

"Dumb, dumb, dumb."

At least the lack of them made it easier to sneak out. I could have woken Nic, taken him along, but why?

He couldn't help if I ran into ghost wolves, and in truth, I didn't want to see him right now.

Just sex? Sure. But what were we going to do about the embarrassment that came from sharing bodies and not hearts?

He'd said when we were done in Fairhaven, we'd be done. Nic might not have a problem with that, but I would. He was my first, and even if I didn't love him, such a thing would be hard for me to forget.

I hurried through the chilly darkness in bare feet. No one was out this early, or was it late? Lucky for me, because when I reached the junkyard I found something strange.

My stuff was gone – clothes, shoes, or what was left of them, and the talisman, too. I'd have thought the watchman cleaned up a bit, but –

I glanced around at the tangle of metal. Really, why?

I continued to search in larger and larger circles until I reached the damp earth at the edge of the grass.

There I found a footprint.

Make that a paw print. Too big to be a dog – hell, too big to be a coyote; too real to be that of a ghost wolf, unless they could become unghostly, too. And wouldn't that be special?

My neck prickled as a howl rose toward the sky. The first I'd heard in Fairhaven, the call tempted me.

Wolves howl for many reasons: to assemble the pack, warn of danger, locate one another, communicate.

Each animal has his own pitch, and a pack can harmonize, making it seem as if there are twenty wolves, when there are only three or four. What sounded like a lot from a distance could be a lot, or only a few.

But this was one, and that in itself was strange, considering the pack nature of both species. Which of the two was calling me now, I couldn't say. I'd only be able to tell if I saw the beast up close.

A breeze swirled in from the west, lifting my hair, fluttering the ends; my skin seemed to buzz.

Embrace what you are.

I was getting a little tired of the wind being so chatty, however, I had no problem doing what it said.

Lifting my face, I barely thought of the moon before I changed.

My clothes tore and fell away; the night came at me like a lover, surrounding me, caressing me, making me his. Strong, free, in command, the change now brought power with none of the pain.

If Edward or Jessie were here, we'd have trouble. They wouldn't trust me. They'd want to kill me, or at least lock me up until they knew what was happening, and I hadn't even told anyone about the voice yet.

The breeze brought not only a message, but the trace of another like me. Maybe just a witchie wolf or two, I couldn't tell, but I followed the scent into the forest.

Squirrels skittered out of my way and up the trees. Small furry things ran into the bushes with a screech.

Because I was wolf first in this form, I became distracted by their movement, their smell, and I lost the trail.

Retracing my path, I lifted my nose and sniffed. Nothing. Growling, I pawed the earth just as a crow swooped low, nearly clipping my ears with its wings.

Wolves have been tracking crows for so long the behavior is ingrained in our DNA. One glance at the bird's flight pattern, and I adjusted my direction.

A few hundred yards away, I stumbled on a ravine encircled by brambles. From deep within came a moan. Was someone hurt? Bitten? Dying?

Bracing myself against the inevitable scrape of the thorns, I put my belly to the ground and crawled closer. The earth tilted downward. I continued to inch along, stopping at the edge of a culvert.

I heard voices along with the moans. The latter had taken on a distinct tinge of pleasure, not pain. I knew what I was going to see even before I stuck my muzzle over the edge.

Bodies entwined on a soft bed of moss; the moon flowed through the branches speckling the man's skin with silver. His buttocks tightened and released in an age-old rhythm as he pumped himself into the body of the woman beneath him.

Her long, tanned legs wrapped around his back, tugging him closer. Fingernails digging into his shoulders, she urged him to greater speed. When she left red welts on his skin, he emitted a rumble that was half growl, half purr. The sound pulled at my belly, made my skin tingle and my fur stand on end.

I'd never watched anyone have sex before – except in a movie. I shouldn't be watching now.

Carefully I inched away, but my claws freed a waterfall of stones and dirt down the side of the crevice.

The man and the woman froze. I ducked my head against my paws, flattened my ears and tried to get small.

Caw!

Caw, caw!

I didn't dare lift my head, but the flutter of wings told me I'd been saved by the crows, even before the man murmured, "Just a bird, baby. Don't get distracted."

I knew that voice. If I hadn't been so interested in the mechanics of the act, I'd have recognized his hair.

As it was, when I peeked again, the man had turned his face to the side, the better to nuzzle his partner's breast. The scar that bisected his cheek was a dead giveaway.

No wonder the deputy hadn't returned to Fairhaven. Basil Moore was otherwise occupied.

I craned my neck higher as the rhythmic thud of flesh on flesh and the accompanying moans recommenced. The woman now had her ankles crossed behind Basil's neck.

I tilted my head. She must take yoga.

Basil lowered his face to her breast again, tongue flicking one nipple, before he took it in his teeth and tugged.

The woman arched, cried out, and he stiffened, yanking her body against his and slamming into her one last time.

I shuffled backward, uncaring if they heard me now. I doubted they'd give chase. Even if they did, I could definitely outrun them.

Besides, I'd seen too much. Not only Basil, naked, but his partner, too.

Lydia Kopway.

The crows flew off. I was on my own as I attempted to pick up the stray werewolf scent again, even as my mind mulled over what I'd observed.

Why had Lydia and Basil been doing it in the woods when they had a perfectly good house for such things?

Why did their liaison bother me? They were young, attractive, single, as far as I knew. Maybe they had an outdoor-sex fetish – there were worse things.

Nose to the sky, I gave a snort of annoyance. The scent I'd tracked was gone. Frustrated, I headed for the cabin.

Taking the long way, I skirted the woods, hugging the shadows. What was it about the deputy and Lydia that kept nagging at me? Merely embarrassment at observing a private moment, even when that moment had been performed in public? Or something else?

On the back porch I had no choice but to change, unless I wanted to scratch at the door and wait for Nic to let me in. Not.

I imagined myself a woman, and I was. Turning the doorknob, I slipped into the cabin, then into the bathroom, just as it hit me.

According to both Will and my own observations, Basil didn't like Indians. But if that was true, why was he screwing one?

A puzzle: maybe nothing more than a bigot who made himself feel superior by sleeping with those he considered inferior. However, I didn't think Lydia was the type of woman to give someone who looked down on her a minute of her time. She definitely wouldn't allow him free use of her body.

Of course, I hardly knew her, or him. I could be wrong about them both.

Footsteps sounded in the hall. I wrapped a towel around me just as Nic appeared in the doorway.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

My feet were grubby, my fingernails, too. I'm sure there were leaves in my hair and quickly healing bramble scratches all over my body. Did I really have to answer that question?

I tilted my head and saw comprehension dawn in his eyes. "Oh. Why?"

I filled him in on my excursion, the loss of the talisman, the werewolf scent that came and went, and the free porn in the forest.

"You watched?"

"I was stuck."

"I bet." He inched closer and pulled a leaf from my hair. "Did you like it?"

My gaze lifted to his. "Not exactly."

"Liar," he whispered, and kissed me.

My skin still buzzing from the change, my body aroused from the power and the real-life adult video in the woods, I let him.

Hell, I let him do a lot more than kiss me.

What had happened to "never again"? The vow flew out the window the instant Nic touched me.

My back against the wall, my legs around his waist, his body again buried deep in mine, I came screaming. I wasn't going to be able to give him up. I was addicted.

This time, instead of leaving me alone without a word or a even a kiss, Nic brushed my brow with his lips and turned on the shower.

"Who do you think has the talisman?" he asked.

"No idea. The junkman could have thrown my clothes into the incinerator."

He glanced over his shoulder. "But you don't think so?"

"It's a junkyard. Why clean up?"

"True."

"I don't like not knowing where the icon is," I said,

"but I don't need it anymore, and, according to Will, the thing shouldn't work for anyone but me."

"He's sure about that?"

"As sure as you can be with magic."

Nic nodded, as if he discussed magic every day. He was fitting amazingly well into my world, which should be disturbing but wasn't.

"We need to talk to the ME," he continued. "And Basil, if we can find him."

"I don't know if I can look the man in the face."

"You're gonna have to."

He offered me first dibs on the shower with a lift of his brow. I shook my head, as I wrapped the towel around my body. Despite the steamy heat filling the room, I was chilled. Losing my fur always had that effect.

"You think you smelled ghost wolves?" he asked.

"Maybe. Probably. I don't know."

"I left a message for Lydia asking if she had a book on witchie wolves."

"Isn't it awful early to be calling people?"

"I woke up and you were gone."

He went silent for a minute and I frowned, wondering if he'd thought I'd left. If he'd cared.

Had that been what the sex, the kiss, the gentleness had been about? He didn't want me to leave any more than I wanted him to? At least not yet.

I couldn't ask, couldn't take the risk that he'd laugh and walk away. I still needed him. Not only for the sex but for the job. I wasn't up to solving this case by myself.

"I wanted something to do," he continued. "So I called Lydia. But she wasn't there."

"Obviously."

Nic shut off the shower and whipped open the curtain. Any other words that might have come to my lips died at the sight of his body streaming with water.

His muscles appeared bigger, polished and smooth, the curls that covered his chest, his legs, his genitals, had darkened. With his hair slicked away from his face, he seemed younger, again the boy I remembered, the one I'd lusted after so completely. I wanted him all over again. Hell, I wanted him all over me.

Nic grabbed a towel, started rubbing himself down, which only excited me more. Turning away, I grabbed my toothbrush, then forgot what I was supposed to do with it.

"We need to get moving." Nic handed me the toothpaste. "Sun's up. Day's a-wasting."

I nodded and climbed into the shower, taking the toothbrush with me. The air of domesticity – sharing a bathroom, a shower, the toothpaste – was both disturbing and comforting. Which would I miss more, the sharing of our bodies or the sharing of everything else? That I couldn't decide was more upsetting than the decision itself.

Half an hour later, Nic and I strolled along Midtown Road. We checked the sheriff's office – no Basil, no kidding – then headed for the clinic.

The door wasn't locked. Nic walked in first. Practically on his heels, I smelled it right away.

Fresh blood.

I shoved Nic to the ground, nearly ran over his back.

"What the hell, Elise?"

"Stay down," I shouted, and the rear door slammed open as someone ran out.

I followed, taking note of a dead Dr. Watchry as I went past. One step outside and a brick landed on my head.

Or at least that was what it felt like. I fell to my knees, then onto my face. By the time I glanced up, the assailant was gone and Nic was there.

"Person or werewolf?" he asked.

"Daytime."

"Which only means a person at the moment."

He was catching on. To discern a werewolf in human form I had to touch them, and they hadn't waited around long enough for me to get a good grip. I wasn't thinking clearly. I blamed the brick in the head.

Nic helped me sit up, touched the knot on the back of my head, mumbling, "Sorry," when I winced.

"Man? Woman?" Nic lifted me to my feet, and I wobbled.

"No clue." I put my fingers to the throbbing ache, and they came away wet with blood.

"We should probably get that stitched," he said.

"By who? The damn doctor's dead."

Which really pissed me off. I liked Dr. Watchry. He'd called me "sweet child."

"Unless he hit me with a silver brick, I'll heal fine on my own."

Nic picked up a fist-sized rock lying near the building and shrugged. "You're safe."

"Swell."

"Come inside," he murmured. "We shouldn't be out in the open right now."

"If he wanted me dead, he'd have shot me with silver."

Which meant this assailant and the one in Montana were not the same. Yippee.

"He?" Nic asked. "I thought you didn't see anyone."

"He, she, it. Whatever. Let's get inside."

"Try to be nice to someone and they bite your head off," he muttered.

"Watch it or I will."

Nic actually laughed. Was he getting used to what I was? How could he, when I wasn't?

He tugged me into the clinic, slammed then locked the door. I collapsed on a stool next to the work station.

"You okay?" Nic asked. "I'm going to take a look at him."

I nodded, then regretted the movement as agony sliced through my brain. Nic knelt next to the doctor, checked his pulse, then sighed.

"How did he die?" I wondered.

"Skull bashed in. Assailant probably had the same thought for you, except your head's too hard."

"Ha-ha. Is there a bite mark?"

Nic stood and found a pair of gloves. Snapping them into place, he proceeded to search. My eyes were caught by the microscope nearby. The doctor appeared to have been using it recently – perhaps when he died – since there was a slide on the stage. I inched closer and read his notes.

"There was a bite mark on the doctor's receptionist, too." I leaned closer and read a notation to the side.

"Body stolen, like the sheriff's."

Nic grunted as he continued to check the doctor for evidence.

"According to Dr. Watchry the same set of teeth was used for both bites."

"We kind of figured that," he said.

According to the notes, the slide held a saliva sample from the bite mark on Sheriff Stephenson. Curious, I peered through the lens. At first I merely stared, then I lifted my head, blinked, rubbed my eyes and tried again. The specimen on the slide remained the same.

"Nic," I murmured.

"Give me a minute. He's dead weight."

"Nic!"

He heard the urgency and stopped what he was doing to join me. "What is it?"

"The slide." I pointed at the microscope, but I couldn't force the words from my mouth.

He squinted into the lens, then shrugged. "Means nothing to me."

"This is saliva from Stephenson's bite. I've seen it before."

Nic's gaze sharpened. "You know who the sample belongs to?"

"No. But – "

"Where did you see it?"

"In my lab."

"The bite mark is human. How can that be werewolf saliva?"

"It isn't."

"Explain. Slowly. For those of us without the doctorate."

"When a person is bitten their chemistry changes. Even when they're human, they're different."

Nic stared at me, and I could see from the tightening of his mouth that he knew what I was going to say before I said it.

"The sample on that slide is from a werewolf in human form."

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