MARKED BY THE MOON

The Nightcreature Novels Book #9

  

   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 Jager-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?”

   “You wish.”

   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 was 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 barbequed beast a whole lot easier than barbequed 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 two twenty 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 looking at in front of her.  One glance at the photograph--a woman, pretty and young, blond and laughing—and Alex closed her eyes.

   Ah, hell. 

   “You know her?”  His fingers tightened 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. 

   For her.

   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 tightened, 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?”

   “Die.”

   “You wish.” 

   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 Jager-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 mid-summer 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.

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