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The white wolf was howling again. Hovering between sleep and wakefulness, Dain Phillips heard himself moan as the wolf's lonely, serrating howl cut through him, opening up that gulf of dark fear within. Dying. He was dying. Only six months more to live…
He drifted back to his dream, a hazy, golden colored world where he could see the radiance of the wolf's coat as the animal stood forlornly upon a red sandstone bluff, nose lifted toward the black sky. Again the baying voice stabbed through Dain, tearing at him, making him sweat–making him want to cry out like a frightened little boy.
Oh, God, no! Dain groaned, flailing around on the bed, tearing the sheets from their anchoring points and knocking a pillow onto the floor. Sweat covered him, tiny rivulets trickling down his temples. The urge to scream filled him—to cry out in absolute rage and terror. He didn't want to die, damn it! He wanted to live! Live!
In his mind's eye, he stood on the reddish sand and looked up at that smooth sandstone bluff above him. He watched as the wolf's gold, glittering eyes turned a deep amber with compassion, then filled with an unbridled menace. As Dain groaned, the wolf pricked up his ears and leaped down the cliff—toward him.
Panic set in. If the white wolf got to him, the beast would tear him apart! he'd kill him! Oh, God, he didn't want to die. He had too many things to experience yet, too many things to see. Dain started to run, feeling as if there were weights on his feet, the red sand sucking at his hiking boots.
Breathing heavily, his lungs burning, as Dain ran like a madman across that red desert. Jerking his head to lookover his shoulder, he saw the white wolf steadily gaining on him, felt his feral amber eyes burning into his back. Faster! Pumping his arms, he stretched his legs until they screamed in pain and his calf muscles began to knot up. Sweat ran into his eyes, stinging them, burning them. His breathing became erratic and hoarse as he cried out over and over again, "No, no, no!"
The white wolf was still gaining on him, steadily, with intent. With savage grace and a primal hunter's instinct, the animal closed the distance between them. No matter how fast Dain ran, no matter how much he pushed himself, the wolf still advanced. Dain couldn't die this way! He just couldn't!
Suddenly, he found himself in a box canyon, the red sandstone cliff in front of him impossible to scale. Whirling around and nearly losing his balance, he sobbed for breath. His knees were like jelly and he lumbered about drunkenly. With the back of his hand Dain tried to wipe away the sweat burning his eyes.
The wolf slowed to a lope, his amber eyes never leaving Dain's blue ones. Standing there, Dain felt helpless. So damned helpless. Wasn't anyone going to come to his aid? Hadn't he prayed to God for deliverance? And then he remembered he'd never prayed to anyone or anything all his life after… So why should God answer his prayers now, when Dain knew He hadn't saved him before?
The wolf slowed even more, stopping within ten feet of him. The animal was barely breathing in comparison to Dain, whose lungs burned. Leaning down, Dain rested his hands against his knees and bent over, trying to think clearly. Lately, his mind was nothing but a damn bowl of mush. Mush. The word brought a fresh wave of pain as Dain remembered the horrid stuff he'd eaten as a kid in that damned orphanage.
Suddenly an incredible rage filled him, as if someone were pouring a teakettle of scalding hot water through a hole in the center of his head. He felt the heat settle first in his toes and then move up, filling the cavity of his body. Burning up. He was burning up, and the wolf was standing there watching him. Dain's heart beat wildly and he couldn't steady his breathing. The intent in the wolf's eyes was lethal as he slowly, one step at a time, began to stalk Dain, just waiting for the right moment to leap upon him, grab him by the throat and kill him.
The will to live tunneled up through Dain, thin and fragile, but unmistakable. Slowly he sank to his knees, unable to defend himself from the stalking white wolf. Sinking back on his heels, his arms trembling with weakness, his breathing erratic, he felt the last of his hope burn away as the flood of scalding heat flowed into his head. The wolf was only two feet away and Dain could see every hair on the animal's muzzle, the way his lips lifted to expose large, deadly fangs gleaming with saliva. The wolf's growl reverberated through him, and Dain felt as if he was standing in the middle of a wild, tumultuous thunderstorm.
Resigned to his fate, he tried to prepare himself to die out on that lonely red desert dotted with scraggly sagebrush. A white wolf had howled his name and drawn him into the nightmare in order to kill him. Dain watched, mesmerized, as he saw the pinkness of the wolf's tongue and felt drawn into the animal's gold, narrowed eyes. Oh, God, I can't fight anymore. I'm too weak. I don't want to die…I really don't…please, let me live, let me—
The wolf leaped. Too weak to even throw up his arms to stop the huge animal's charge, Dain felt the wolf's powerful body hit him, stunning him. Dain rolled over and over in the sand before he came to a rest on his back, his arms thrown wide, the breath knocked out of him. When he heard the fierce, low growl of the wolf, he opened his eyes and saw the beast hunkered over him. He felt the animal's hot, moist breath against his face, saw the droplets of saliva fall from his muzzle onto his shirt.
There was no time to think. In the next instant, he felt the wolf's fangs sink deep into the center of his chest. In shock and terror, he realized the animal was viciously trying to get to his heart! He felt the invasion of the wolf's massive, powerful jaws, the sound of his own shallow breathing.And then, as he struggled to take one last breath of air into his lungs, he felt the wolf bury his fangs in his heart.
The scream reverberated off the walls of Dain Phillips's bedroom. Abruptly, he sat up, naked and gleaming with sweat, a tangle of sheets wrapped around his legs. Burying his sweaty face in his trembling hands, eyes shut tightly, he desperately tried to get rid of the white–wolf nightmare, of the warm blood flowing across his chest and torso as the wolf wrenched Dain's beating heart out of his body.
"No," Dain rasped, angrily jerking the sheets aside.
"Damn him. No!" As he got to his feet, dizziness assailed him, forcing him to drop unceremoniously back onto the bed. Dain hated feeling so damn weak. But there was nothing he could do about it, he remembered with anger and resignation. He was dying.Yes, he was dying. A malignant tumor had grown in his brain, too deep to operate on. The doctors said he would die during the surgery, and without it he had less than six months to live. Six lousy months!
Breathing harshly, Dain battled his own weakness and dizziness and forced himself to stand. Anger had always given him power and control over his life. Now he used it as never before, to fight his failing body as he got to his feet. Water. He had to have water. His mouth was dry. He was burning up. The doctors had warned him of a fever coming and going as his body tried to fight off the swiftly growing tumor.
Sweaty, hot and shaky, Dain used the wall to steady himself as he stumbled from the large master bedroom to the bathroom. His mouth was so dry it felt like it was going to crack. That damn white wolf. He hated the animal! He hated the nightmare that plagued him every night!
Cursing, Dain fumbled for the light switch. The resulting glare hurt his eyes. The doctors said he'd be photophobic from now on—sunlight, or indeed, any bright light, would make him wince like he was being struck. Not that a little pain should bother Dain, who'd taken enough beatings as a young kid. One of the matrons at the orphanage had loved to slap the boys across the mouth. Smiling mirthlessly, Dain reached for a glass on the sink. he'd lost count of how many times that old crone had slapped him, but he remembered he'd always had red cheeks. Back then, it was a badge of honor.
Jerking the faucet handle, he felt the cold water spill across his hand. To hell with it. He set the glass aside, cupped his hands and filled them with the cold, delicious water. Leaning down, he splashed it across his face.Yes! The cold always revived him. Helped him. Steadied him. He remembered going to the boys' bathroom to cry after getting a few good slaps from the matron. When his tears abated, he'd wash his face with cold water and make the redness disappear from his cheeks. What a lucky lad he was.
The cold water chased the last of the white wolf's yellow eyes out of his haunted subconscious—at least, for now. Jerking a towel off the rack, Dain wiped his face. Filling the glass, he drank the water in huge gulps, some of it spilling out of the corners of his mouth, dripping down onto his chest and across his still–pounding heart.
Absently, he ran his fingers through the dark mat of hair across his chest, spreading the water over his heated skin. Water always soothed him. Turning, he put the glass aside. Why not take a swim in that Olympic–size pool of his? Indeed, why not? In six months, he wouldn't be here to enjoy it, anyway.
Moving robotically and using his hands to steady himself, he walked through the fifteen–room mansion he'd bought for a mere ten million. It had every convenience, designer this and designer that, artwork from the Old Masters, Ming Dynasty porcelain from China and anything else a man could want with his money.
But money couldn't make this cancerous tumor deep in his brain disappear. Opening the sliding glass door, he walked woodenly toward the pool as the predawn coolness wrapped around his hot, sweaty body. Dain halted and looked up. The lights of New York City glimmered in the distance. His mansion sat on some of the most expensive real estate a New Yorker could buy. But what did his magnificent house mean to him now?
He laughed harshly and glared heavenward. The night sky was light with a nearly full moon. Many of the stars were blotted out because of the moon's pale, radiant light. Scowling, Dain was reminded of the white radiance of the wolf's coat. Shrugging off the image, he turned his attention to the pool, long and rectangular and inviting. Without hesitation, Dain dove in.
Just the act of leaping into the cold depths, chilled by the early September weather, was enough to shock his senses and bring him back into the here and now. He swam with hard, swift strokes, trying to outrun the last of the nightmare, burying himself in the nurturing water, which surrounded him like a lover. He turned over and did a backstroke, moving like an arrow, his legs strong and powerful. Water raced and gurgled around him, healing him.
By the time he'd swum ten laps in the pool, the eastern sky was just beginning to lighten, not quite gray, but no longer inky black, either—a promise of something to come. As he dragged himself wearily out of the pool and wrapped himself in a thick, white terry–cloth towel, he studied the eastern horizon. The sun would edge it in gilt within a couple of hours. A tremor raced through him as he dried the short, black hair that clung to his skull and wiped the last of the rivulets from a harsh, rugged face that few would call handsome, he knew.
Well, he might not be a pretty boy, but he'd carved an empire that no one on the face of this earth could steal from him. After the orphanage had stolen his soul, crushed his heart and destroyed his hope, he'd sworn that once he got out of that hellhole of the damned, he'd insulate himself against the cruelty of the world and make a safe place for himself.
Laughing bitterly, Dain walked to a chair and sat down. His knees were feeling weak again. As he buried his face in the white towel, he closed his eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. He was dying. How damned unfair! He was only thirty–eight, one of the richest men in the world, and there wasn't a cure on earth his money could buy to stop this brain tumor from growing, from taking his life.