I have always loved the dark of the moon, when the night is still and serene, when all that can be seen are the stars.
There are those who term the dark moon a new moon, but there is nothing new about the moon. It has been here from time forgotten and will be here long after we are dead.
I spend my days, and most of my nights, inside a stone fortress in the wilds of Montana. I’m a doctor by trade, though not the kind who gives out lollipops after dispensing vaccines and pills. Instead I mix a little of this and a little of that, over and over again.
My degree reads “virologist.” In English, that means I have a Ph.D. in the study of viruses. Don’t worry, I won’t let the excitement kill me. The boredom might, though, if the loneliness doesn’t do it first.
Of course, I’m not completely alone. There’s a guard at the door and my test subjects, but none of them are great conversationalists. Lately I’ve started to feel watched, which is pretty funny considering I’m the one in charge of the surveillance cameras.
Paranoia is one of the first signs of dementia; except I don’t feel crazy. Does anyone? I’ve come to the conclusion I need to get out more. But where would I go?
Most days I don’t mind being locked tight inside the safest place in the West. The world is pretty scary. Scarier than most people realize.
You think the monsters aren’t real? That they’re merely the figment of childish imaginations or delusional psychosis? You’re wrong.
There are things walking the earth worse than anything in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Unsolved Mysteries would have a stroke if they got a look at my X-files. But since lycanthropy is a virus, werewolves are my specialty. I’ve devoted my life to finding a cure.
I have a personal interest. You see, I’m one of them.
The powers that be say a life is formed by changes—decisions made, roads not taken, people we’ve left behind. I’m inclined to agree.
On the day my whole world changed—again—a single decision, that fork in the road and the one I left behind walked into my office without warning.
I was at my desk updating files, when the scuff of a shoe against concrete made me glance up. The man in the doorway made my heart go ba-boom. He always had.
“Nic,” I murmured, and in my voice I heard more than I wanted to.
The strong nose, full lips, wide forehead were as I remembered. But the lines around his mouth and eyes, the darker shade of his skin, hinted at a life spent exposed to the elements. The flicker of silver in his short hair was as shocking as him being here in first place.
He didn’t smile, didn’t return my greeting. I couldn’t blame him. I’d professed love, then disappeared. I hadn’t spoken to him since.
Seven years. How had he found me? And why?
Concern replaced curiosity, and my hand inched toward the drawer where I kept my gun. The guard hadn’t called to clear a visitor, so I should shoot first, ask questions later. In my world, an enemy could lurk behind every face. But I’d always had a tough time shooting people. One of the many reasons the boss kept me isolated in the forest.
I’d learned long ago how to gauge a suit for a shoulder holster. Nic had one. A disturbing change in a man who’d once been both studious and dreamy, in love with the law and me, not necessarily in that order. Why was he carrying a gun?
Since he hadn’t drawn his, I drew mine, then pointed the weapon at Nic’s chest. Loaded with silver, I was ready for anything. Except the punch of his deep blue eyes and the familiar timbre of his voice. “Hey, sweetheart.”
In college that endearment had made me all warm and stupid. I’d promised things I had no right to promise. Now the same word, uttered with cool sarcasm, annoyed me.
I’d left for his own good. However, he didn’t know that.
I got to my feet, stepped around the desk, came a little too close. “What are you doing here?”
“I didn’t think you’d be thrilled to see me, but this isn’t exactly the welcome I expected.”
His gaze lowered to the gun, and I was distracted by the scent of him. Fresh snow, mountain air, my past.
He grabbed the weapon, twisted it away, then tucked me against his body with an elbow across my throat. I was no good with firearms. Never had been.
I choked, and Nic released the stranglehold on my windpipe, though he didn’t release me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of metal on the desk. He’d put my gun aside. One less thing to worry about.
“What do you want?” I managed.
Instead of answering, he nuzzled my hair and his breath brushed my ear. My knees quivered; my eyes burned. Having Nic so close was making me remember things I’d spent years trying to forget. And the memories hurt. Hell, I still loved him.
An uncommon rush of emotion caused my muscles to clench, my stomach to roil. I wasn’t used to feeling anything. I prided myself on being cool, patrician, in charge: Dr. Elise Hanover, ice queen. When I let my anger loose, bad things happened.
But no one had ever affected me like Nic. No one had ever made me as happy or as sad. No one could make me more furious.
I slammed my spike heel onto his shiny black shoe and ground down with all my weight. Nic flinched, and I jabbed my elbow into his stomach. I forgot to pull my punch, and he flew into the wall. Spinning around, I watched him slide to the floor, eyes closed.
I resisted the urge to run to him, touch his face, kiss his brow. For both our sakes, we couldn’t go back to the way things had been.
Nic’s eyelids fluttered, and he mumbled something foul. I let out the breath I’d been holding. He’d be all right.
I doubted he was often on the losing end of a fight. Since I’d seen him last he’d bulked up—the combination of age and a few thousand hours with a weight machine.
What else had he been doing in the years we’d been apart? He’d planned to become a lawyer, except he didn’t resemble any lawyer I’d ever seen. The suit, yes, but beneath the crisp charcoal material he was something more than a paper-pushing fast talker. Perhaps a soldier decked out in his Sunday best.
My gaze wandered over him, catching on the dark sunglasses hooked into his pocket.
Suit. Muscles. Men in Black glasses.
“FBI,” I muttered.
Now I was really ticked off.
Nic’s eyes snapped open, crossing once before focusing on my face. “You always were smarter than you looked.”
I’d been the victim of enough dumb-blonde jokes to last me several lifetimes. The moronic jabs and riddles had bothered me, until I realized I could use the speaker’s attitude to my advantage. If people thought I was stupid, they weren’t expecting anything else.
So I didn’t rise to Nic’s bait. He’d been sent here by the big boys, without warning, and that meant trouble.
“I suppose you want me to hand over my gun?” he grumbled.
I shrugged. “Keep it.”
A weapon filled with lead was the least of my worries.
He struggled to his feet, and I experienced an instant of concern when he wobbled. I’d hit him way too hard.
“Let me give you some advice,” he said. “I’ve always found that the people we least expect to shoot us usually do.”
Funny, I’d found that, too.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
His brows lifted. “No hugs, no kisses? You aren’t glad to see me? If I remember correctly I should be the one who’s angry.”
He sat on a chair without being invited.
“Oh, wait.” His eyes met mine. “I am.”
Nic had every reason to be furious. I’d snuck out in the night as if I had something to hide.
Oh, wait. I did.
Nevertheless, being near him hurt. I couldn’t tell Nic why I’d left. I couldn’t apologize, because I wasn’t really sorry. I couldn’t touch him the way I wanted to. I couldn’t ever touch anyone that way.
“You didn’t come here to talk about our past,” I snapped. “What does the FBI want with the Jager-Suchers?”
I wasn’t the only one fighting monsters. I was merely the geeky member of a select group—“hunter-searchers” for those a little rusty on their German.
Though financed by the government, the Jager-Suchers were a secret from all but those who needed to know. If it got out that there were monsters running all over the place, people would panic.
Not only that, but heads would roll. Unlimited cash for a Special Forces monster-hunting unit? Someone would definitely lose their job, and we’d lose our funding. So we pretended to be things we weren’t.
For instance, I was a research scientist investigating a new form of rabies in the animal population. Most of our field agents carried documentation identifying them as wardens for various natural resource departments.
Until today, the precautions had worked. No one had ever come snooping before.
The question was: Why now?
And why him?
Lori Handeland is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Nightcreature Novels, The Phoenix Chronicles and Shakespeare Undead. She is the recipient of many industry awards, including two RITA awards, a Romantic Times Award for Best Harlequin Superromance, and the Prism Award from Romance Writers of America. She lives in Wisconsin with her family and a yellow lab named Ellwood.