Blue Moon (Chapter 38)

I should have slammed the door, but I couldn't. I was rooted to the floor in the hallway, unable to drag my eyes from the sight in front of me.

Clyde's body contorted; his shoulders hunched; his legs bowed. He threw back his head and howled.

The sound shot ice down my spine. The wolves in the forest paused in their flight and answered.

His clothes split open with a shriek of rending cloth and bursting seams. His shoes seemed to explode and paws popped out. He dropped to all fours and the hands that caught him had claws.

Black hair sprouted from every pore, thickening, lengthening, becoming fur. A tail erupted from his spine.

The last thing to change was his head.

I sensed movement behind me, but I couldn't tear my gaze away. I braced myself, expecting Mandenauer to shoot. But he didn't. Odd, he'd never hesitated before.

The popping of bones, the stretching of skin, caused a horrible sound. I winced as Clyde finished the change.

His nose and his mouth stretched, melding into a snout. His teeth grew; his tongue must have, too, since it lolled out the side of his mouth. His brow bulged. When he swung his head in our direction his face was that of a skinned wolf with Clyde's eyes.

Nasty. I wished for the fur to arrive. My wish was soon granted.

Black hair flowed over his face, obscuring the bones that marred his cinnamon skin. He shook himself as if he'd just come out of the water, then turned toward me.

I gasped. Clyde was the black wolf that had dogged my steps and haunted my dreams. He was most likely the wolf that had bitten Karen Larson and countless others.

The gunshot made me scream and fall to the floor, throwing my hands up in front of my face. My ears rang, but I still heard Clyde shriek. I didn't want to look, but I had to.

Flames burst from a neat hole near his heart. The scent of scorched hair and cooking meat filled the air.

The howl of a wolf, the cry of a man –  he writhed in pain, twisting, turning, his claws scrabbling against the planks of the porch as he died.

I stayed on the ground. I couldn't gain my feet. Man-denauer stepped around me and shoved at Clyde wkh his boot. The wolf's head lolled sickeningly.

I leaned my back against the cabin wall. I was weak, limp. I couldn't stop staring at what had once been my boss. I'd liked Clyde, trusted him as much as I trusted anyone –  except maybe Zee. I couldn't get my mind around the idea that he'd forever be a wolf. That Clyde would never again spit chew or quote Clint.

"Why did you let him finish the change before you shot him?"

"It is easier to explain a dead wolf than a dead sheriff." His gaze swept the forest. "We must go."

"Go? Where? We got him."

"The sheriff was nothing more than a minion of evil. The one who will become remains."

"How you figure?"

Mandenauer flicked me a contemptuous glance. "If he was the one, why did he give the totem to the others?"

I hadn't thought of that. Damn.

"Listen," Mandenauer whispered.

In the distance the wolves called to one another. There were more of them now. The ones who had been here had joined those who waited there. With their leader.

I glanced at the sky. The blue moon had not yet reached the apex. Our night had only begun.

I struggled to my knees, gained my feet without help. I looked for Will and didn't find him.

Had he passed out from blood loss? I took a step toward the door and Mandenauer stopped me. "Your lover is putting a bandage on his scratch. He does not need your aid."

"You call that a scratch?"

"You do not?"

"I say a hole through the arm is a wound and not a scratch."

"I say if you can walk, then walk."

I tore my gaze from the cabin. "You trying to tell me something?"

"Follow those wolves."

"I just knew you were gonna say that."

I stalked inside, retrieved my rifle, went searching for Will. To hell with Mandenauer; I wasn't going to leave until I saw with my own eyes that Will was all right.

I followed the blood trail to the bathroom. Will struggled to fasten gauze around his arm with one hand.

He glanced up and his eyes met mine in the mirror. He didn't appear happy to see me.

"Let me." I stepped into the room, leaning my rifle against the wall.

"It's done." He grabbed one end of the gauze with his teeth, the other with his free hand, and jerked. His breath hissed in sharply when the material tightened on the wound.

"Maybe you should go to the clinic and get stitches."

"I don't need stitches. It's just a scratch."

My lips twitched. "Scratch. Right. What about your ear?"

He shrugged one shoulder. The blood that had bathed his neck cracked, and rust-colored flecks rained down on his already ruined clothes. "I'll live."

"Jessie!" Mandenauer shouted. "Today if you please?"

I stepped closer and smoothed his hair away from his brow. "I have to go."

He shifted abruptly, his body bumping against mine in ways that would have been interesting if he weren't covered in blood and I didn't have places to be, werewolves to kill.

"Let me change my shirt."

"You aren't coming."

"Yes." His eyes met mine. "I am."

"Now that Clyde's dead they need a wolf clan member. Bringing you along would be downright stupid."

"I can take care of myself."

"So can I. Stay here. Clean up. Rest. I'll come back when it's over."

"You think I can just sit here while you face a werewolf army? Wait like a good little boy until you have time to come to me again? I love you, Jessie. If you die, so do I."

The thought of him dying made my palms clammy and my voice sharp. "I'm not going to die and neither are you. Just let me do my job, Will."

"Let me help."

"I don't need your help."

"Of course not. You don't need anyone." His voice rose and anger warred with the pain in his eyes.

"You certainly don't need me. You never did."

"Jessie." Mandenauer stood in the hall. Urgency tightened his features.

I glanced at Will. I wanted to stay, but I had to go. I wanted to kiss him, but he turned away and started the shower.

"I'll be back," I promised.

He didn't answer, and that bothered me more than his anger and pain had. Torn between my job, my duty, and my love, I hesitated.

In the end, I had no choice. I followed Mandenauer and he followed the wolves.