Dark Moon (Chapter Nine)

We hadn't been in Fairhaven ten minutes, when gunshots broke the silence.

"Bingo," I whispered, and climbed out of the car.

"Elise." Nic climbed out, too. "Maybe you should stay inside."

I shook my head and headed for the edge of town. Despite the darkness, I could see pretty well.

Enhanced nocturnal vision and superior sense of smell and hearing while in human form were a few bonuses of being a werewolf. No clouds and a three-quarter moon didn't hurt either.

I listened and heard nothing. Drew in a deep breath and caught… something. Too faint to tell, almost as if the scent were a memory or a ghost.

Lack of sleep, too much Nic, and the damned talisman had made me edgier than I'd ever been before. I blew the strange smell from my nostrils, inhaled through my mouth for several ticks of the clock, and tried again.

This time when I tested the wind, I detected humans. I heard their voices, even though they were whispering.

Shadows emerged from the trees. Five of them.

Nic joined me. At first hovering behind, then pushing in front, as the shadows became people and drew near.

"It is about time you arrived, Elise."

We'd driven almost nonstop, yet it wasn't fast enough. Which was as typical of Edward as his outfit – dark pants and dark shirt accented by a bandolier of bullets across his chest. He carried a rifle in one hand and a pistol on his hip. A black skullcap covered his fading blond hair.

When the others had teased him about his Rambo complex, Edward had no idea what they were talking about. Once I'd explained, he'd thought the reference a compliment. Go figure.

Edward took in my attire with obvious confusion. Sweats, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes were not my style.

His gaze became stuck on my hair, which hung loose to my waist. From his scowl, he didn't like the new me any better than the old one.

"Who is this?"

Edward had turned his faded blue eyes, as well as his rifle, toward our visitor. I tried to inch in front of Nic, but he shouldered me back. I was tempted to force the issue but settled for introductions.

"Nic Franklin." I pointed to the tall, lanky woman on Edward's left. "Meet Jessie McQuade."

With short brown hair and eyes nearly the same color, Jessie was attractive in an athletic sort of way.

She was a law enforcement officer by training, an award-winning deer hunter by hobby, and one of the newest and best agents in our werewolf division.

My gaze shifted to the man on Jessie's left. His high cheekbones and smooth cinnamon skin revealed his ethnicity, even without the golden feather swinging from one ear. With eyes that nearly matched the shade of his black hair, William Cadotte was a professor by trade, an Ojibwe by birth, and an expert in Native American totems and mysticism by choice.

I touched the plastic in my pocket as I introduced Will, making a mental note to show him the totem ASAP.

Both Will and Jessie nodded to Nic, then frowned at me. I was in big trouble for bringing a stranger here, and they knew it. In an attempt to stave off the inevitable, I continued to introduce people.

My arm swung to Edward's right. "Leigh Tyler-Fitzgerald and her husband, Damien."

Leigh was as short as Jessie was tall. Petite, with an almost blond crew cut, her pale skin and blue eyes gave her a doll-like appearance, which had fooled the enemy on countless occasions.

Her family and fiance having been murdered by werewolves, Leigh had taken to hunting them with a ferocity only Edward could love. She'd fallen hard for Damien Fitzgerald – the hunky, Irish-American drifter at her side – before she'd discovered he was a werewolf.

Nic greeted Leigh and Damien the same way he'd acknowledged Jessie and Will: a quick nod before returning his gaze to my boss. I had little choice but to introduce them.

"This is Edward Mandenauer."

"Sir." Nic stepped forward, hand outstretched.

Edward didn't retract the gun, and the barrel tapped Nic in the chest. The older man continued to stare at the younger one without expression.

"I repeat, 'Who is he?'"

Nic's eyes narrowed, but I gave him credit, he managed to hold his temper and ignore the gun.

"I'm with the FBI, Mr. Mandenauer. I have some questions about the J��ger-Sucher agency."

"Uh-oh," Jessie muttered.

"Nice meeting you," Leigh quipped. "Hope you've enjoyed your life so far."

The four of them moved back, away from Edward and Nic, away from me.

"Elise, have you lost your mind?" Edward murmured. "He could be anyone. He could be – "

"He isn't," I blurted before Edward said too much.

In Edward's mind, everyone was a werewolf until proven otherwise.

"Ah, well, it is easy enough to find out."

I threw myself at Nic, propelling him to the ground before Edward could shoot him with silver and see if he erupted into a ball of fire or merely bled.

The others hit the deck, too, just as the rifle discharged above our heads.

"Stay down." I shoved Nic into the grass. He was shaking, which was understandable. Edward scared the crap out of everyone.

I leaped to my feet. "Old man, you're pushing the boundaries of sanity."

He shrugged and aimed his gun at Nic again. I was tempted to yank it out of his hand, but I refrained.

"Leave him alone."

Interest lit Edward's eyes. "Who is he?" he repeated.

He was asking for more than a name, rank, and serial number. He was asking who Nic Franklin was to me, and why I was so concerned for his life. I wasn't going to tell him.

"He's FBI. You can't just shoot him because he annoys you. As much fun as that might be."

Edward's lips twitched. "You are sure he is who he says he is?"

I was sure he was Nic. Pretty sure he was FBI. Certain he wasn't a werewolf – or as certain as I could be with the damned lycanthropes changing the rules every chance they got.

Because there is one other way to distinguish a werewolf in human form. If we touch, skin to skin, we know.

I'd touched Nic in anger, in lust, even love. I'd felt emotions I hadn't thought to feel again, but I hadn't felt werewolf.

"Hold on a second." Damien crawled the few feet separating them and brushed his fingers against Nic's.

Frowning, Nic snatched his hand away. Damien's hazel eyes met mine. He shook his head. He hadn't felt anything, either.

Edward saw the exchange and put up his gun. Nic stood scowling at Damien, who had moved off to join Leigh.

She brushed his shoulder-length, auburn hair back from his face. Just under six feet, Damien towered over his tiny wife. Not only handsome, he had a body that would make a Chippendale jealous. Being turned into a werewolf just after the invasion at Normandy had given Damien a lot of years to work on his pecs.

He pressed his mouth to her knuckles, then rubbed his thumb over his mother's wedding ring, which he'd placed on Leigh's finger less than a month ago.

"Now that that's settled," Edward said. "Go away."

Nic glanced at Damien. "What's settled? Why did he touch me?"

"Damien's…" I wasn't sure what to say. Lucky for us, Leigh was a terrific liar.

"Psychic," she supplied. "He can tell all sorts of things just by touching a person."

"Bullshit," Nic snapped.

I couldn't blame him for his disbelief. Nic lived in the world we had created. A world where monsters didn't exist except in fiction. Our job was to keep things that way.

Edward sighed. "Believe what you will. Now come along."

He stalked toward town and Nic hesitated, looking first at me, then at Edward.

I trusted my employer's quick change –  go away, come along – even less than I trusted myself. I cast my eyes heavenward, then hurried after Edward. "Wait."

Edward turned and stared past me to Nic. "You want to talk? Keep up."

I put my hand on Edward's arm and he flinched. The reaction never lost its power to hurt me. Why I continued to touch the man, I had no idea. Maybe I was hoping that familiarity would end the contempt.

"You can't shoot him, Edward." I kept my voice low, just above a whisper. "Promise."

"I will do no such thing. There is no telling what might necessitate shooting."

He had a point. I leaned forward, ignoring how he tensed as I came closer. "Don't shoot him unless he's furry. Okay?"

"For now."

Nic came up next to me. "Do you have the list I gave you?"

My hand went to my pocket, even as I remembered losing it. The talisman danced beneath my fingers, and I yanked them away. "Must have fallen out while we were on the ATV."

Nic shrugged. "I know it by heart," he said, and followed in Edward's wake.

My boss called back, "Perhaps the five of you should bring one another up to speed on… things."

The two men disappeared around the corner of a building. Since I was the seniormost J��ger-Sucher, I opened my mouth to begin, and Leigh jumped in.

"Have you found the cure?"

I glanced at Damien, then back at Leigh. "Not yet."

Her exhale of annoyance was accompanied by a few choice curse words.

"I've been experimenting with variations of the antidote I used on you," I began.

Not only had Leigh's family been wiped out by werewolves, but the alpha who had ordered the attack had come after, then bitten, her. His plan had been to make Leigh his mate. Damien had other ideas.

He'd killed Hector Menendez and ended the man's bid for power, but he hadn't been able to save Leigh.

Only I could.

"What works on a regular werewolf – "

I took a deep breath. The words regular werewolf always stuck to my tongue.

Damien wasn't like the rest, demonic inside, possessed by blood lust and the need to kill beneath the moon, uncaring of who he hurt or who he killed as long as his belly was full. No, Damien was different, too.

"Well, it might not work on him," I continued. "I need to do more tests. Fiddle with the formula. I'm close. Unfortunately, the compound blowing sky-high is going to slow me down."

"Any clue who was behind that?"

Jessie had inched closer as we spoke. Will, too. The four of them stood in a little cluster, with me on the outside, never one of them, even though we fought for the same thing, worked for and admired the same man.

"None," I answered.

"Had to be werewolves," Leigh murmured. "Unless they're like Damien – and no one else that we know of is – they won't want to be cured. They like to kill."

"But how did they find out what Elise is working on?" Jessie asked. "It's supposed to be top secret."

Leigh rolled her eyes. "Sheesh, McQuade, sometimes I wonder how you walk and chew gum at the same time."

Jessie's eyes narrowed. She took one step toward Leigh and Will grabbed her around the waist and hauled her back.

"Behave," he ordered.

Leigh smirked, and that was all Jessie needed to have her struggling against Will's hold. He lifted her clear off her feet, which was quite an accomplishment considering she was only a few inches shorter than he was.

"Leigh," Damien snapped. "We're supposed to be working together."

He glanced at me and shrugged as if to say "Kids will be kids." Sometimes Jessie and Leigh were worse than two-year-olds fighting over a single piece of candy.

I found it hard to fathom how the two of them could be the best of friends when they were constantly arguing and taking swings at each other. Of course, I'd never had a friend, so who was I to judge?

"Let me go, Slick," Jessie ordered. "I won't kick her ass until later."

Leigh snorted. "As if."

Will set Jessie back on her feet and nuzzled her neck. A soft, goofy smile settled over her lips, and I smiled, too. Jessie and Leigh might be annoying, childish, and sarcastic, but they were also totally, adorably in love with Will and Damien. I couldn't help but envy them.

"Promise?" Will pressed.

"What do you want me to do? Write it in blood?"

"Not today." He let her go. She pushed away from him with a well-placed elbow to his stomach.

"Oof." Will doubled over and Jessie's grin grew.

"Quit playing around," Leigh said. "Does anyone remember our traitor troubles? J��ger-Suchers getting killed? Monsters getting away?"

I hadn't forgotten; I'd just pushed that issue to the back of my mind as I dealt with more pressing concerns.

"Since our identities are already on the market," she continued, "someone might have blabbed what Elise is up to."

"If they aren't aware of it already, they could find out soon enough." All eyes turned to me. "The test subjects in the basement… I don't know if they're alive, dead, or booking themselves on the next Jerry Springer."

"Edward said you killed Billy Bailey." Jessie's skepticism was evident in the way her gaze flicked over me from head to toe. "How'd you manage that?"

If I told her I'd ripped out Billy's throat, she'd rip out mine.

"It wasn't easy," I said, and left it at that. "But I never saw the others. They could be dead."

"Could be." Jessie contemplated my face. "But I have to say, if you'd kept me in the basement, I'd come after you the first chance that I got."

I met her eyes without flinching. "What's your point?"

I had nothing to be ashamed of. They were werewolves, for crying out loud. I wasn't going to feel sorry for Satan in a fur coat.

"My point? If they didn't head straight for you, I think they're ashes."

"Billy wasn't."

"But he is now. Right?"

I blinked. Hell.

"You didn't burn him?" Jessie practically shouted.

"I was fresh out of matches."

"Yet you had a silver bullet?"

Not exactly.

"It doesn't matter," Leigh interjected. "The main reason we burn the bodies is to get rid of the evidence and avoid questions. Where you left him… the scavengers will have a field day. Even if they don't, there's a dead wolf in Montana. Happens."

Leigh was right. Still, I felt like a moron for forgetting standard J-S procedure. That I wasn't a standard J-S agent was no excuse. As second in command I should have known better.

And as second in command I should be made aware of what was going on in Fairhaven. My gaze wandered over the trees. What had they been shooting at when we'd arrived?

I took a step toward the forest, and Damien grabbed my arm. "Not a good idea, Elise, we – "

Damien's power slammed into me; I could taste his heartbeat, feel the virus in his blood. I knew what he was, but then, I'd always known, and because of that I'd never let my skin touch his.

Jerking his hand away, Damien stumbled back. The others stared at us as if we'd both lost our minds.

"Damien?" Leigh reached for him, but he stepped out of her grasp.

"Wait. Give me a second."

I sympathized. Touching another werewolf in human form, when you weren't expecting it, was like sticking your wet finger into a buzzing electrical outlet.

Damien licked his lips, ran a trembling hand over his face, then shook his head.

"You're… like me."