Shadow of the Moon (Chapter One)

As a child I didn't believe in the bogeyman. There was no monster in the closet. No dragon under the bed. When I was twenty-six I learned differently. The bogeyman was real. The monsters popped up in my own backyard. I haven't seen a dragon yet, but that doesn't mean one doesn't exist.

I was just a small town cop, doing my job – a little bored, a little lonely. Then the wolves went berserk and the people did, too. Once the dust settled, and I figured out who was good, who was bad and who was a psychotically evil werewolf, I was no longer Officer Jessie McQuade but a Jager-Sucher.

My whole world changed, in more ways than one. I swapped the relative safety of cop-hood in small town Miniwa, Wisconsin for extreme danger as a member of a secret group of government funded operatives. The trade-off was sleeping with Will Cadotte. The man was a sex god.

Oh, not literally. But in my new world, you never know. As I had to kill my best friend after she turned into a wolf god, it isn't too much of a stretch that my boyfriend could be an actual sex god. Stranger things have happened in the past few months. You don't believe me, watch a person turn into a wolf and back again, then we'll talk.

After the wolf god incident, Will and I became Jager-Suchers, or Hunter-Searchers. I was the hunter, while Will was more the searcher. Though he was accomplished in tai chi and had kicked my ass on occasion, when it came time to kill things, he usually left that to me.

Late one night, not long after the previously mentioned incident the doorbell rang. I was uneasy. My mother always said that nothing good happened after midnight. Lately, nothing good happened after sundown.

I retrieved my weapon and checked the load – silver from this point forward. Once I'd taken a quick peep through the peephole, I opened the door.

"Jessie." The leader of the Jager-Suchers, Edward Mandenauer, stepped inside without being invited. "We must talk."

Will was asleep. He wasn't a night person. However I'd been working third shift throughout my career as a cop, which worked out well now that I'd taken to hunting werewolves. They tended to come out under the moon and run around until the sun came back. Go figure.

"Now?" I asked, and followed him down the hall into my living room.

The lines in his face deepened on a frown. "What is wrong with now?"

"Besides it being . . . " I glanced at my watch. "One in the morning?"

"Monsters do not care about the time."

"I bet they don't. However I have a life."

He stared down his long, bony nose at me. This didn't happen often, since I was a solid five-ten. But Mandenauer topped out at over six feet of tough, skeletal old man. He'd spent his youth in Nazi Germany, spying for the good guys, which was how he'd discovered the monsters.

"Any life you have, you must give up to serve me."

"Not likely, pal. I work for you. I live for Will."

It felt strange to say that. Me, who'd never had a boyfriend. Dates? Sure. Relationships? Never. And to have a relationship, a life, with Will . . . I was still getting used to the concept, still waiting for him to wake up one morning, look at me and wonder: What in hell was I thinking?

"Spare me the nonsense," Mandenauer said. "I allow you to work together because – "

"We're stronger together than apart."

Will stood in bedroom doorway. My throat went tight just looking at him.

Short, black hair all tousled, his equally dark eyes were still heavy with sleep. He'd yanked on his jeans but left the button open; the buttons on his shirt were open too, revealing his honed and toned chest.

He was the same bronze shade all over. I'd looked. Will liked to walk around at his place – several acres in the north woods outside of town – completely nude. He says it's an Ojibwe thing. Did I mention he's a member of the wolf clan? One of the reasons Edward shot him, but let's not get into that.

The combination of beauty, grace and his great big . . . brain– How was a girl supposed to think when a guy looked like that?

Will gave me a lazy smile and strolled over to join me. As soon as he was close enough, he took my hand. He was very touchy-feely. For a girl whose dad had taken off before she'd known what the word "father" meant and whose mom's idea of affection was not telling her daughter she was an unfeminine embarrassment for one whole day, Will's openness had been more of a puzzlement than a revelation.

"Why are you here, Edward?" Will was very good at getting to the point. He was also one of the few people who'd dared to call our boss Edward right out of the gate and get away with it.

"We have a problem."

"We meaning Jessie, me and you? Or we the Jager-Suchers?"

"We in the universal sense. Humankind may be in dire trouble."

"Isn't it always?" I asked. "Foil the werewolves, save the world. That should be our motto."

Except mottos aren't too common in the secret agency biz.

"I do not have time for your humor, Jessie."

I guess that meant I should lay off the sarcasm. But then what would I have to say?

"I had a call from headquarters," Mandenauer continued. "I need the two of you to pack your things. And he–" Mandenauer waved his hand vaguely in Will's direction. "Should bring his computer."

"He has a name," I said.

Though Will had no trouble calling Edward . . . Edward, the old man couldn't seem to get his tight lips around the word Will. I wasn't sure if that was because Mandenauer really didn't like him, or because he didn't know how to be anything other than cranky.

I suspect having your world turned upside down when you were still a young man wasn't easy. Devoting your life to killing the monsters Hitler had ordered his insane pal Mengele to make meant Edward had been on the hunt for over sixty years. I didn't know if he'd ever been married; the idea of him dating was scary enough.

Mandenauer grunted but didn't bother to apologize, and Will didn't seem to care. He was the least likely person to take offense I'd ever met, which I guess was a good thing considering how annoying I could be. There were also a lot of people in small towns all over the north who didn't much care for Indians, and weren't shy about saying so. It didn't take fur, claws and teeth to make some folks into monsters.

Will went into the bedroom and returned with his laptop. Then he sat at the table, booted up the computer and started searching for his glasses.

"Here." I snatched them off the end table where he'd left them earlier.

Will was forever misplacing the things, sometimes right on top of his head. I don't know why I found that absentminded professor stuff both sexy and endearing. The combination of that face, the body and his wire rimmed glasses . . . Let's just say I asked him to wear those glasses a lot.

Glasses and nothing else.

"Where, when and what?" Will's long clever fingers skated over the keyboard.

"The village is called Riverview," Edward continued. "For the past several months citizens have been going insane at an alarming rate."

"When you say insane . . . " I let my voice trail off. In our world, insane covered a whole lot of a territory.

There were those who believed they were werewolves and those who actually were. Both were nuts, but the latter had enough supernatural power to cause major death and destruction, not to mention turn normal, everyday nice people into murdering evil beasts.

And that was only the werewolves. According to Edward, there were a whole host of other things out there we didn't even know about yet.

"In this case," Mandenauer answered, "I am talking about normal insanity."

"Isn't that an oxymoron?" Will murmured, still staring at his computer.

Edward ignored him. "The afflicted degenerate into gibbering fools. Nothing medical science has at its disposal will stop them."

Will glanced up from the screen. "Has medical science been able to determine what sent them over the edge?"

Edward shook his head. "They have tested the air, the water, the soil, the very buildings in which they live and the food that they eat."

Will frowned and went back to his computer.