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About the Author
Lori Handeland is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Nightcreature Novels, The Phoenix Chronicles and Shakespeare Undead. She is the recipient of many industry awards, including two RITA awards, a Romantic Times Award for Best Harlequin Superromance, and the Prism Award from Romance Writers of America. She lives in Wisconsin with her family and a yellow lab named Ellwood.
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I have always loved the dark of the moon, when the night is still and serene, when all that can be seen are the stars.
There are those who term the dark moon a new moon, but there is nothing new about the moon. It has been here from time forgotten and will be here long after we are dead.
I spend my days, and most of my nights, inside a stone fortress in the wilds of Montana. I'm a doctor by trade, though not the kind who gives out lollipops after dispensing vaccines and pills. Instead I mix a little of this and a little of that, over and over again.
My degree reads "virologist." In English, that means I have a Ph.D. in the study of viruses. Don't worry, I won't let the excitement kill me. The boredom might, though, if the loneliness doesn't do it first.
Of course, I'm not completely alone. There's a guard at the door and my test subjects, but none of them are great conversationalists. Lately I've started to feel watched, which is pretty funny considering I'm the one in charge of the surveillance cameras.
Paranoia is one of the first signs of dementia; except I don't feel crazy. Does anyone? I've come to the conclusion I need to get out more. But where would I go?
Most days I don't mind being locked tight inside the safest place in the West. The world is pretty scary. Scarier than most people realize.
You think the monsters aren't real? That they're merely the figment of childish imaginations or delusional psychosis? You're wrong.
There are things walking the earth worse than anything in Grimm's Fairy Tales. Unsolved Mysteries would have a stroke if they got a look at my X-files. But since lycanthropy is a virus, werewolves are my specialty. I've devoted my life to finding a cure.
I have a personal interest. You see, I'm one of them.
The powers that be say a life is formed by changes — decisions made, roads not taken, people we've left behind. I'm inclined to agree.
On the day my whole world changed — again — a single decision, that fork in the road and the one I left behind walked into my office without warning.
I was at my desk updating files, when the scuff of a shoe against concrete made me glance up. The man in the doorway made my heart go ba-boom. He always had.
"Nic," I murmured, and in my voice I heard more than I wanted to.
The strong nose, full lips, wide forehead were as I remembered. But the lines around his mouth and eyes, the darker shade of his skin, hinted at a life spent exposed to the elements. The flicker of silver in his short hair was as shocking as him being here in first place.
He didn't smile, didn't return my greeting. I couldn't blame him. I'd professed love, then disappeared. I hadn't spoken to him since.
Seven years. How had he found me? And why?
Concern replaced curiosity, and my hand inched toward the drawer where I kept my gun. The guard hadn't called to clear a visitor, so I should shoot first, ask questions later. In my world, an enemy could lurk behind every face. But I'd always had a tough time shooting people. One of the many reasons the boss kept me isolated in the forest.
I'd learned long ago how to gauge a suit for a shoulder holster. Nic had one. A disturbing change in a man who'd once been both studious and dreamy, in love with the law and me, not necessarily in that order. Why was he carrying a gun?
Since he hadn't drawn his, I drew mine, then pointed the weapon at Nic's chest. Loaded with silver, I was ready for anything. Except the punch of his deep blue eyes and the familiar timbre of his voice. "Hey, sweetheart."
In college that endearment had made me all warm and stupid. I'd promised things I had no right to promise. Now the same word, uttered with cool sarcasm, annoyed me.
I'd left for his own good. However, he didn't know that.
I got to my feet, stepped around the desk, came a little too close. "What are you doing here?"
"I didn't think you'd be thrilled to see me, but this isn't exactly the welcome I expected."
His gaze lowered to the gun, and I was distracted by the scent of him. Fresh snow, mountain air, my past.
He grabbed the weapon, twisted it away, then tucked me against his body with an elbow across my throat. I was no good with firearms. Never had been.
I choked, and Nic released the stranglehold on my windpipe, though he didn't release me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of metal on the desk. He'd put my gun aside. One less thing to worry about.
"What do you want?" I managed.
Instead of answering, he nuzzled my hair and his breath brushed my ear. My knees quivered; my eyes burned. Having Nic so close was making me remember things I'd spent years trying to forget. And the memories hurt. Hell, I still loved him.
An uncommon rush of emotion caused my muscles to clench, my stomach to roil. I wasn't used to feeling anything. I prided myself on being cool, patrician, in charge: Dr. Elise Hanover, ice queen. When I let my anger loose, bad things happened.
But no one had ever affected me like Nic. No one had ever made me as happy or as sad. No one could make me more furious.
I slammed my spike heel onto his shiny black shoe and ground down with all my weight. Nic flinched, and I jabbed my elbow into his stomach. I forgot to pull my punch, and he flew into the wall. Spinning around, I watched him slide to the floor, eyes closed.
I resisted the urge to run to him, touch his face, kiss his brow. For both our sakes, we couldn't go back to the way things had been.
Nic's eyelids fluttered, and he mumbled something foul. I let out the breath I'd been holding. He'd be all right.
I doubted he was often on the losing end of a fight. Since I'd seen him last he'd bulked up — the combination of age and a few thousand hours with a weight machine.
What else had he been doing in the years we'd been apart? He'd planned to become a lawyer, except he didn't resemble any lawyer I'd ever seen. The suit, yes, but beneath the crisp charcoal material he was something more than a paper-pushing fast talker. Perhaps a soldier decked out in his Sunday best.
My gaze wandered over him, catching on the dark sunglasses hooked into his pocket.
Suit. Muscles. Men in Black glasses.
"FBI," I muttered.
Now I was really ticked off.
Nic's eyes snapped open, crossing once before focusing on my face. "You always were smarter than you looked."
I'd been the victim of enough dumb-blonde jokes to last me several lifetimes. The moronic jabs and riddles had bothered me, until I realized I could use the speaker's attitude to my advantage. If people thought I was stupid, they weren't expecting anything else.
So I didn't rise to Nic's bait. He'd been sent here by the big boys, without warning, and that meant trouble.
"I suppose you want me to hand over my gun?" he grumbled.
I shrugged. "Keep it."
A weapon filled with lead was the least of my worries.
He struggled to his feet, and I experienced an instant of concern when he wobbled. I'd hit him way too hard.
"Let me give you some advice," he said. "I've always found that the people we least expect to shoot us usually do."
Funny, I'd found that, too.
"What are you doing here?" I demanded.
His brows lifted. "No hugs, no kisses? You aren't glad to see me? If I remember correctly I should be the one who's angry."
He sat on a chair without being invited.
"Oh, wait." His eyes met mine. "I am."
Nic had every reason to be furious. I'd snuck out in the night as if I had something to hide.
Oh, wait. I did.
Nevertheless, being near him hurt. I couldn't tell Nic why I'd left. I couldn't apologize, because I wasn't really sorry. I couldn't touch him the way I wanted to. I couldn't ever touch anyone that way.
"You didn't come here to talk about our past," I snapped. "What does the FBI want with the Jager-Suchers?"
I wasn't the only one fighting monsters. I was merely the geeky member of a select group —"hunter-searchers" for those a little rusty on their German.
Though financed by the government, the Jager-Suchers were a secret from all but those who needed to know. If it got out that there were monsters running all over the place, people would panic.
Not only that, but heads would roll. Unlimited cash for a Special Forces monster- hunting unit? Someone would definitely lose their job, and we'd lose our funding. So we pretended to be things we weren't.
For instance, I was a research scientist investigating a new form of rabies in the animal population. Most of our field agents carried documentation identifying them as wardens for various natural resource departments.
Until today, the precautions had worked. No one had ever come snooping before.
The question was: Why now?
And why him?
"I work in the CID."
Criminal Investigations Division, my mind translated as Nic reached into his suit and withdrew his ID, flipping it open with an ease born of practice.
I didn't bother to look. I knew who he was. I didn't care about his badge. I wanted to hear why he'd stepped out of the past and into my life. I wanted to discover where the boy I'd loved had gone and when this man had taken his place.
Seven years ago Nic had been easygoing and fun. I'd laughed more with him than I'd ever laughed with anyone else.
He'd been a wealth of contrasts. Quick with numbers, clever with words, fast hands, slow smile, a great kiss.
We'd both been alone in the world, searching for something, or maybe someone. We'd found it in each other. My life had forever been divided into before and after Dominic Franklin had come into it.
I still don't know if I believe in love at first sight. I saw him so many times before I loved him. But a true, deep, forever love? In that, I do believe.
I didn't realize I'd said the words out loud until he answered them.
"Because I'm the best at what I do."
"Finding missing persons."
"What does that have to do with us?"
"You tell me. What do you do?"
Could I put him off by telling the lies I'd told a hundred times before? Wouldn't hurt to try.
"I'm studying a new strain of rabies in the wolf population."
"Never heard of it."
"The government doesn't want people to know the virus is becoming resistant to the vaccine."
"No, I made that up."
My teeth clicked together as I snapped my mouth shut. Why couldn't I keep quiet?
His lips twitched, almost a smile. But the expression faded as quickly as the moon did at dawn.
"You always wanted to be a doctor."
"A Ph.D. isn't an M.D."
I'd given up my hopes of treating people after I'd turned furry the first time. Kind of hard to build a practice when you never knew if you were going to wake up covered in blood the morning after a full moon.
In truth, I'd always been fascinated by viruses — where they came from, how they were transmitted, how in hell we could cure them. One of the few bright spots in the past seven years had been my work. I'd been given carte blanche to study something no one else even knew about. What scientist wouldn't be tempted?
Nic continued to stare at me, no doubt waiting to hear the reason I wasn't delivering babies or performing brain surgery. He'd be waiting a very long time.
"You were going to be a lawyer," I said.
When in doubt, point the finger elsewhere.
"I am. A majority of our agents have backgrounds in accounting or law."
Huh. I guess we do learn something new every day.
"This facility seems huge," he continued. "How many researchers do you have?" We'd reached the end of my lies and my patience.
"If you want more information, you'll have to talk to the boss, Edward Mandenauer."
One call from Edward to Washington, D.C., and Nic would be out on his ear.
"Fine. Where is he?"
"Wisconsin. That's east of here, by a lot."
His eyes narrowed. "Where in Wisconsin?"
"Classified." I shrugged. "Sorry."
"Elise, you're starting to piss me off."
The smile nearly broke through again, and I thought, There you are, an instant before he caught himself and frowned.
This new Nic disturbed me. Had he become so serious and sad because of the job or because of me? I didn't like either choice.
Leaning back, he laced his fingers together and rested his head against his palms. "I'll just wait until he calls in."
I opened my mouth, then shut it again, stumped. I couldn't have him hanging around. I was behind schedule. Besides, how was I going to explain that there wasn't anyone in the compound but me, a single guard, and the werewolves in the basement?
I could throw Nic out, or have the guard do it; however, that kind of behavior would only add to the questions, and no doubt insure we enjoyed more visits from the FBI. Better to convince Nic to leave on his own if possible.
"Edward won't be calling for several days," I said. "He's in the field. You may as well tell me what's going on."
Nic stared at me for a few seconds before leaning forward and lowering his arms to the table. "I've been working on a case for years. A lot of people are no longer where they're supposed to be, and they haven't shown up anywhere else."
"Since when do missing persons come under FBI jurisdiction?"
"Since we have good reason to believe we're dealing with more than disappearances."
I heard what he wasn't saying. The FBI thought they had a serial kidnapper, if not a serial killer, on their hands. Hell, they probably did. What they didn't know was that the culprit was most likely less than human.
"A lot more people vanish in this world than anyone knows about," I murmured.
Nic lifted a brow. I guess I didn't have to tell him that. His business was finding the missing. Which made him dangerous to my business.
To keep the populace calm, part of the J-S job description was to invent excuses, smooth over the edges, make sure that those who were murdered by evil entities were not searched for by the authorities or their families.
"I still don't understand how we can help you. Is one of the missing people from this area?"
"Did you trace someone here?"
I threw up my hands. "What then?"
"We were sent an anonymous tip."
I resisted the urge to snort and roll my eyes. The bad guys were forever trying to throw the government at us. If we were unwinding red tape we weren't hunting and searching for monsters.
Until today, all such attempts had been quelled higher up. The word in Washington was that Edward Mandenauer stood above reproach. He was not to be bothered, and neither were any of his people. Obviously Nic hadn't gotten the top secret memo.
I glanced at him as another possibility came to mind. The Jäger-Suchers might be a clandestine organization, and the location of our compound closely guarded, but recently many of our secrets had gone on the market. We had a traitor in our midst, and we never knew when someone might die.
"What was this tip?"
"E-mail. Said I'd find what I was seeking here."
I frowned. "Not much of a tip."
"Imagine my surprise when I saw your name on the employee roster of the Jager-Suchers."
Which explained how he knew so much about me, how he'd remained so calm upon seeing me, while I'd been paralyzed. He'd already known I was here.
"There was precious little information in those personnel files, considering this is a government installation."
Since quite a few of our agents had been on the wrong side of the law at one time or another — sometimes it took a monster to catch a monster — it wouldn't do for their records to be available to anyone who cared to look. Our personnel files were carefully constructed to reveal the very least necessary — or in some cases nothing at all.
"I thought you were dead," he murmured, "and you were right here."
Strange how one small thing was often all it took to break a mystery wide open. People don't realize how often killers are caught because of an accident, a coincidence, nothing more than a sharp eye skimming an unrelated report and finding a connection.
No, I wasn't dead, but that didn't mean I didn't want to be.
As if realizing he'd skirted too close to an emotional edge neither one of us wanted to cross, Nic withdrew a sheet of paper from his jacket.
"Can you check with your people, with Mandenauer, see if anyone knows any of the names on this list of missing persons?"
His face was set, his eyes gone icy blue — back to business. I was alive; I was no longer missing. I could almost see him checking my name off a list in his brain.
Would he ever think of me again once he walked out of this room? Probably not, and that was a good thing.
So why did I feel so bad?
Nic still stood with the list in his hand. I took the paper and tucked it into a pocket without a glance.
Excerpted from "Dark Moon"
Copyright © 2005 Lori Handeland.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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