She’d been following the man for a week. She’d been after him for a month. Werewolves weren’t that easy to find.
They weren’t that easy to kill, either, but she managed. Once upon a time Alexandra Trevalyn had been a member of an elite Special Forces monster-hunting unit known as the Jäger-Suchers. Then they’d gone soft, and she’d gone rogue.
Night had fallen over LA hours ago. Once she might have stared at the sky, dreaming about…Well, she really couldn’t remember what she’d dreamed. Seeing her father die at fifteen had turned any dreams Alex had ever had into nightmares. Tonight she was just glad the moon was full and soon the guy would shape-shift. Then she’d shoot him.
But, as usual, nothing ever went according to plan.
Suddenly the man appeared before her. Her heart gave one quick, painful thud before she controlled the panic. Werewolves drank the smell of fear like vampires drank blood, gaining both pleasure and sustenance.
“Hey, Jorge,” she said. “¿Que pasa?”
His eyes narrowed. “Why you followin’ me, puta?”
“Nice. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
“My mother is dead.”
“Since you killed her, I guess you’d know.”
“You a cop?”
Confusion flickered over his face. “Why would I wish that?”
“Because a cop wouldn’t know how to kill a werewolf.”
He growled, the sound no longer quite human. But instead of shifting into a wolf, he grabbed her, too intent on pawing her breasts, squeezing them as if he were checking for the best set of melons in the local produce section, to watch her hands.
“Little girls who come looking for the big bad wolf usually find him,” he muttered in a voice that hovered between beast and man.
“I always do,” she said, and fired the gun she’d slipped from the back of her pants while Jorge was squeezing the melons.
Fire shot from the wound, a common reaction whenever a werewolf met silver. Alex tore herself away from his still-clutching fingers and patted at the flecks of flame dotting her black blouse. Then she emptied the rest of her clip into his body, just to be sure, and watched him burn. It was her favorite part.
Luckily they were in a section of LA where gunshots didn’t draw any notice. Jorge had led her here, and she’d followed gladly.
Still, she probably should have waited for the change before she’d shot him. The powers that be wrote off barbecued beast a whole lot easier than barbecued man. However, Jorge hadn’t given her much choice. She certainly wasn’t going to let him kill her. Or worse.
“You think shooting a dead man more than once will make him any more dead?”
Alex spun toward the voice, beneath which she could hear the familiar trill of an inhuman growl. A man lounged against the nearest abandoned building as if he’d been there for hours.
Except he hadn’t been there a few minutes ago. No one had.
He was big—probably six-three, about 220, and dressed in loose black slacks, a black long-sleeved shirt, his hair covered with a dark knit cap. The outfit was a bit warm for the balmy California night, but then so was hers. The better to conceal guns and knives and other shiny things, the easier to slink with the shadows or even disappear into them.
Alex couldn’t determine the color of his eyes beneath the moon and the smog-induced shadows, but she thought they might be light like hers, blue perhaps instead of green.
She’d never seen him before; she’d remember, but that didn’t mean anything. There were werewolves all over the place.
He strolled toward her as if he had all the time in the world, as if he had no fear of the gun, and that made Alex twitchier than him being here in the first place.
What man didn’t fear a gun? What beast didn’t fear the silver inside it?
Then in a sudden flash that made her stomach drop and her head lighten, Alex remembered…
She’d used every last bullet on Jorge.
She went for a clip, and his arm shot forward, blurring with speed. She braced for the punch that could knock her ten yards. Instead he touched her with a metal object. She had one thought—stun gun—before she fell.
He leaned over her, and she knew she was dead. She waited for the violence, the pain, the blood. Instead there was a sharp prick; then everything went black.
She awoke to a small room lit by a single bare bulb. She ached everywhere, and her mouth was as dry as an August wind. Her clothes were still on, but she couldn’t detect the weight of any weapons—no gun, no ammo, no silver stiletto blade. Without them, Alex felt naked anyway.
Her shoulder-length light brown hair had come loose from the tight twist she preferred when working and now covered her face. She moved only her eyes as she took stock of the surroundings—four walls, a door, and the man who’d done this to her seated at a rickety wooden table nearby.
Alex was tied to a cot, and though she wanted to yank at the bonds, see how strong they were, instead she lay still, breathing slowly and evenly, in and out. She knew better than to let on that she was awake before she figured out everything she could about where she was.
She studied her kidnapper through the curtain of her hair as he leaned his elbows on the table, staring at something between them. From the sag of his shoulders he seemed sad, almost devastated, but she’d never known a werewolf to feel bad about anything, unless it was missing a kill.
He’d removed the knit cap, and his golden hair shone beneath the light. He’d drawn the length away from his face with a rubber band to reveal sharp angles at cheek and chin, as well as the shadow of a beard across his jaw.
He turned his head. His eyes were the shade of the sky right after the sun has disappeared—cool and blue, dark with vanished warmth. For an instant Alex could have sworn she saw a flash of russet at the center, which made her think of the flames of hell that awaited him just as soon as she got her gun back.
Hey, everyone has their fantasies.
“Alexandra Trevalyn,” he murmured, getting slowly to his feet. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
He crossed the short distance between them and pushed her hair out of her face, then grabbed her chin, holding on tightly when she struggled.
“Look at her,” he said in a voice that chilled despite the heat in his eyes.
He dangled whatever he’d been peering at in front of her. One glance at the photograph—a woman, pretty and young, blond and laughing—and Alex closed her eyes.
“You know her?” His fingers clenched hard enough to bruise.
Alex knew her all right. She’d killed her.
Julian Barlow could barely stomach putting his hands on the murdering bitch. He was torn between an intense desire to release her and an equally strong urge to crush her face between his fingers, listen to the bones snap, hear her scream. But that would be too easy.
He had something much better planned.
She tried to jerk from his grasp, but he was too strong, and she only ended up hissing in a sharp, pained breath when he tightened his grip even more.
“Her name was Alana,” he said, “and she was my wife.”
Alexandra’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “She was a werewolf.”
“She was a person.”
“No.” Her eyes met his, and in them he saw her utter conviction. “She wasn’t.”
Just as all people weren’t the same, all werewolves weren’t, either. Some were evil, demonic, out-of-control beasts. But his wife—
Julian’s throat closed, and he had to struggle against the despair that haunted him. He’d do what he’d come to do; then maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to sleep.
Julian drew in a deep breath and frowned. He didn’t smell fear. His eyes narrowed, but all he saw on Alexandra’s face was a stoic resignation.
“Get it over with,” she said.
“What is it you think I brought you here to do?”
Alexandra’s teeth ground together as he repeated the words she’d used to Jorge. He released her with a dismissive flick of the wrist. Best to get it over with as she’d said.
Lifting his fingers to the buttons of his shirt, Julian undid them one after the other, then let the dark garment slide to the floor. Her eyes widened, and she let her gaze wander over him. Wherever that gaze touched, gooseflesh rose. He didn’t want her looking at him, but he didn’t have much choice.
Julian lowered his hands to his trousers, and her eyes followed. But as soon as he unbuttoned the single button, they jerked up to meet his. The sound of the zipper shrieked through the heavy, waiting silence.
She started, paled, and it was then that he at last smelled her fear.
“Dying doesn’t scare you,” he murmured as he eased his thumb beneath the waistband of the black pants and drew them over his hips. “Let’s see what does.”
“You’re going to have a mighty hard time raping me with that,” she sneered, lifting her chin toward his limp member.
“Rape?” He yanked the tie from his ponytail and let his hair swirl loose. “Not my style.”
Confusion flickered over her face. “Then what’s with the striptease?”
Instead of answering, he threw back his head and howled.
The scent of her fear called to his beast. He’d dreamed of this, of her, planned it, lived for it. He wanted Alexandra Trevalyn to understand what she had done, suffer for it a very long time, and there was only one way that could happen.
Julian’s body bowed as his spine altered. Bones crackled, joints popped; his nose and mouth lengthened into a snout. Hands and feet became paws, claws sprouted where finger and toenails had been. When he fell to the ground on all fours, golden hair shot from every pore. Last but not least a tail and ears appeared as he became a wolf in every way but two—human eyes in an inhuman face, human intelligence in the guise of an animal.
“No one can shift that fast.” He swung his head toward the woman, who stared at him wide eyed.
Having once been a Jäger-Sucher, she had to know the basics. To paraphrase Shakespeare: There were more things in heaven and earth than could ever be dreamt of.
And Julian was one of them.
He had been born centuries ago, and with age comes not only wisdom but talent, at least to a werewolf. The older Julian got, the faster he changed.
He stalked toward her on stiff legs, ruff standing on end, upper lip pulled back. Her jaw tightened as she tried not to cringe, but her body wouldn’t obey her mind’s command. His hot breath cascaded over her arm, her neck, her face. She was helpless. He could do anything that he wanted. She knew it, and her fear whirled around him like a midsummer fog.
Had this been what Alana felt in the moments before she died? Or hadn’t she had a chance to feel anything before this child had shot her with silver, then watched her burn. A growl rumbled in Julian’s throat.
The girl tensed and shouted, “Do it!”
So Julian sank his teeth into her shoulder.
Alex refused to scream even though the pain was worse than anything she’d ever known. Multicolored dots danced before her eyes; then the world wavered, shimmered, and disappeared.
Hours, moments, seconds later, she came awake sputtering. Someone had thrown water into her face.
The werewolf, now in human form—he’d even gotten dressed—leaned over her, empty plastic bottle crunched in his huge hand. “Soon,” he murmured, “you’ll understand.”
Her shoulder on fire, she was weak, dizzy, feverish, but she remembered everything, and the horror of it almost made her retch.
“You bastard!” Alex shouted, pulling at her bonds. “You bit me.”
“You told me to,” he said.
“I didn’t. I’d never—”
“Did you or did you not shout, ‘Do it!’”
“I meant tear out my throat. Kill me.”
If a werewolf bit a human, the human become a werewolf. If the ravenous beast ate from its victim, blessed death was the result.
Her tormentor tilted his head, and his long hair slid across his neck, spreading outward like a golden fan. “You’d rather be dead,” he murmured, “than a werewolf.”
“And my wife would rather have been a werewolf than dead.” He shrugged, unconcerned. “I guess you’re even.”
Frustration and fury welled within her. She yanked on her bonds again, and the cot rattled as she lifted first one side, then the other from the floor. She was already getting stronger.
“Let me go.” He did nothing but laugh. “Why are you doing this?”
“I want you to understand what you’ve done.”
“I killed monsters. Evil, demonic creatures that belonged in hell.”
“You killed wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, someone’s children. You think we don’t love? You think we don’t mourn?”
“Animals don’t feel.”
He grabbed her by the chin again. “You’re wrong.”
Alex should have a huge bruise from when he’d wolf-handled her before. His touch should hurt, but it didn’t. She was already healing faster than humanly possible.
He let go of her with a flick of his wrist, as if he couldn’t bear to have his skin in contact with hers for one second longer than necessary—she knew the feeling—and walked away. Alex had to crane her neck to watch him disappear out the door.
“Hey!” she shouted, then paused. Would she be better or worse off if he left her behind?
The question became moot when he reappeared carrying an inert body, which he placed on the floor.
“Don’t worry.” He walked to the door again, drawing it closed behind him. “He’s a very bad man.”
As soon as he was gone, Alex fought to get loose in earnest.
He’d bitten her instead of killing her, then tied her down and left her in a room with a helpless human being. She had to pull free and run, then find a silver…anything and kill herself before she changed. Because as soon as she did, she’d need human blood, and there was some right here.
Her struggles only served to make her sweat. The room had no air-conditioning, no window. She pulled on the restraints so hard her wrists bled. The scent of blood, of man made her stomach growl.
Once bitten, a human shifts within twenty-four hours. Traditionally werewolves can only change between dusk and dawn—except that first time. Then it doesn’t matter—day or night, full moon or dark, new wolves become. They had no choice.
Suddenly the room vanished, and Alex ran through a dense forest. Warm sun cast dappled shadows through the branches. The cool air seemed to sparkle. The scent of pine surrounded her.
She burst from the trees onto a rolling plain. Here and there patches of snow shone electric white against just-sprung grass threaded with purple wildflowers. In the distance loomed piles of ice that appeared as high as a mountain.
A sense of freedom, of utter joy filled her. She wanted to run across this land forever. It was…
Except Alex had no home. She’d been born in Nebraska—not many mountains there, ice or any other. They were a little short on forests, too. And she hadn’t lived in one place for longer than a month since she was five.
She caught the scent of warm blood, of tasty meat, and turned tail—she had one—to return to the forest. Something flashed up ahead, crashing through the brush in terror.
Alex fell back into her body, still lying on the cot in the horrendously hot, horribly small room. She wasn’t any closer to being released, but from the way her skin felt, too small to contain her, she was much closer to being inhuman.
“Collective consciousness,” she muttered. “God.”
Once a victim is infected, the lycanthropy virus changes him from human to beast. He begins to remember things that have happened to others—the thrill of the chase, the love of the kill, the taste of the blood.
“It’s coming,” Alex said in a voice that no longer resembled her own. Deeper, garbled, she’d heard the sound before.
From the mouths of the soon-to-be-furry.
The pain became more of an itch, a need to burst forth. Alex tried to fight that need but couldn’t. Her dark jeans and black blouse tore with a rending screech; her boots seemed to explode as her feet turned to paws.
Her nose ached; her teeth were too big for her mouth. Then suddenly that mouth became part of the nose, and those teeth felt just right.
The bonds restraining her popped. She writhed, contorted, snarled, moaned, and when she at last rolled to the floor, she was no longer human but a wolf.
Alex stared at her paws, covered with fur the same shade as her hair; she didn’t need a mirror to see that her own green eyes stared out of an animal’s face.
The world expanded—sounds sharp as the blade of a knife, smells so intense her mouth watered with desire; she could see every mote of dust tumbling through the air like snowflakes of silver and gold.
Hunger blazed, a pounding pulse in her head. If she didn’t eat soon, if she didn’t kill something, she thought she might go mad.
Then she saw him—there on the floor, trussed up and still. What was his name?
Oh, yeah. Brunch.
Alex took one step forward, and the door crashed open. The silhouette of a man spread across the floor. She skittered back, startled, growling, then lifted her snout and sniffed. Recognition flickered, just out of reach. She knew him, yet still the hair on her neck lifted as the growl deepened to a snarl.
The urge to attack warred with the clawing hunger in her belly. Her head swung back and forth between the two men as her human intelligence weighed the possibilities.
The bound one could wait; he wasn’t going anywhere. Once she took down the newcomer, there’d be twice as much to eat and a lot less to fear.
Her muscles bunched, and she leaped. Before her body began the downward arc that would send her sailing directly into the man in the doorway, a sharp pain bloomed in her chest. Her limbs felt weighted with sand but strangely her mind cleared, and as she tumbled to the ground, she remembered who he was.
Now she was definitely dead.
MARKED BY THE MOON Copyright © 2010 by Lori Handeland.