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Yet potential danger, too. Her control was less this night than most times while shifted. She reveled in it.
Now, with unleashed pleasure, she ran beneath the full moon in territory unknown and vast. She inhaled unfamiliar, tantalizing scents of the desert, where military aircraft landed in the distance, and buildings filled with people squatted nearby.
Around her were yuccas and cacti and gritty sand beneath her paws. Coolness, because it was night.
All illuminated by the round, gleaming moon.
She had been in this area for hours, alone and out of the way. Pacing in her cherished wildness, yet not going far. It was long into the night now. The risk of being seen by people, even on hospital property, was smaller. She ached to release even more pentup energy. Her last shift had been more than a week ago.
But she was not here for pleasure.
She had viewed her target before, a special building not far from where she stood. Now she needed to observe it with her heightened senses.
She sought out an opening in the fence between the air force base and military hospital. She slipped through to the medical side, careful to test the scents in the air, listen, ensure she remained alone. Her aide, nearby, would not follow.
The texture beneath her paws turned hard, uneven, warma paved road. She loped carefully at the edge so as not to be spotted in moonlight, toward the far border of the parking lot.
She stopped abruptly as she neared the building. The scentanother wolf like her?
Or a feral, nonshifting wolf? Perhaps. But why would it contain a hint of something so familiar? So
She waited, still testing the air with her keen senses. Listening. Hearing nothing out of the ordinary. Watching the building surrounded by concealing foliage and shadows. No movement anywhere around.
Too uneasy to approach further, she slowly returned toward where she had crossed from one property to the other.
She inched along the fence on the air forcebase side, reaching an area in which shrubbery between the sites was thick.
And waited. Soon, a hint of light over the horizon signaled dawnand the waning of the full moon's power. Ready? Yes. Pleased? No.
She felt the tugging at her skin, her insides, that warned of her next shift. Her aide would seek her now, to ensure that, while most vulnerable, she was in no danger.
As the pulling and aches increased, she glanced back through the fence.
And saw what she had anticipated, lurking among parked cars in the large hospital parking lot, not far from the nowdistant storage building.
A canine form. Another wolf?
Her change took over then, hurting, not unbearably, but inevitably intense.
It would be over soon.
* * *
In a short while, Lt. Grace Andreas, M.D., hunched along the edge of the sand on Zimmer Air Force Base near the fence separating it from Charles Carder Medical Center. She had been sent to the renowned military hospital on her latest mission for Alpha Force, the covert special ops force to which she belonged.
Her knees were bent, her back arched, as she inhaled deeply with her human senses.
She was still nude, and the cool breeze tickled her bare skin. Her assigned aide, Sgt. Kristine Norwood, would catch up soon, with her clothing.
Butwith special thanks to the elixir developed by Alpha ForceGrace recalled well the nearhuman sights and sounds and emotions that engulfed her while in wolfen form.
Including the scent she had smelled near the building at the far edge of the medical center propertythe site where, she'd been told, the biohazard materials taken from patients were stored temporarily until incinerated. The site where security was heightened and armed guards were always present, at least in the room adjoining the storage area. The site she had needed to check out, even cursorily, upon her arrival, while in both forms. It was the heart of her mission.
A canine had begun prowling there in the parking lot, most likely a wolf. Another shapeshifter? One not part of Alpha Force?
Dawn had now overtaken the area. She carefully edged along the airbase side of the fence, staying in shadows, especially since she remained unclothed. Other Alpha Force members had altered the base's security cameras in this vicinity. She would not be photographed.
She wantedno, neededto see the storage building from this angle, too.
There. Another gap between some of the nonnative, wellwatered hedge plantsnot much, but enough for her to view the hospital property.
The scent she had inhaled before still seemed to fill the air. She was aware of it even in human form, partly thanks to her enhanced senses.
She looked through foliage and fencing, and saw movement on the other side, a distance from where she crouched. Too far for her to be sure, but the glimpse of somethingflesh, or perhaps lightcolored clothingfrom between cars suggested a person, not a wolf.
One who had just shifted, like her, as daybreak arrived?
She couldn't see the person at all now. But the scent. It had been very like one she had known a long time ago, though never in shifted form. Perhaps its owner had not, in fact, been a shifter.
She must be imagining that scent. But why now?
Why, after all these years, did she believe she inhaled the musky, enticing aroma of the man she might have loved long ago, had he been what she suspectedand honest about it?
The person she had glimpsed so briefly, in the distance, was surely not Simon Parran.
"This wasn't where we planned to meet," hissed Sgt. Kristine Norwood. Grace's aide held a blanket around her while handing her a backpack filled with clothing.
"You're right," Grace agreed, observing Kristine's struggle with Bailey, her dog, who tugged on his leash, straining toward the fence.
"Sit, Bailey," Kristine ordered. The welltrained shepherdDoberman mix obeyed, but Grace could see his eagerness to get through the fence. He must have smelled the same scent Grace had, with his permanently enhanced canine senses. Of course her senses were better than most humans', especially right after a shift. But at the moment Kristine, acting like a mother henwhich was her dutyseemed oblivious.
Kristine was in her late twenties, with short, ravenblack hair and a strong yet attractive chin that complemented her nononsense attitude. In addition to being a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army, she was a nurse.
Most important, like Grace, she was a member of Alpha Force.
Unlike Grace, she wasn't a shapeshifter. Her mission was to watch Grace's back, in whatever situation, whatever form, Grace found herself. Like last night, and this morning.
"Sorry." Grace finished pulling up her jeans. "I sensed something interesting over by the storage building. I'm still not sure what whoit was."
Kristine regarded her with piercing brown eyes. "Bailey growled when we were near there a little while ago, but I didn't see anything. Some guy was wandering around the area earlier, though, after dark. I saw him in the moonlight. I kept Bailey and me way back like you wanted so you could do your special form of recon on the area. Was it the thief?"
"I don't know," Grace said slowly. She couldn't believe she'd sensed who she'd thought she had. She'd never forgotten Simon but, even as often as she still thought of him, he'd never appeared in her imagination that way before.
Only in her dreams.
Somehow, she had to find out more about that wolf. More important, she had to learn who the person was whom she'd seen, and why he'd been so close to the biohazards storage facility. Logic suggested it was the thief.
Were the two beings one and the same? She'd caught only one scent from this distance.
As if hearing her thoughts, Kristine said, "Well, you'd better find out who it is and why he was therepreferably before we call Major Connell."
Major Drew Connell was Grace's superior officer in Alpha Force. He would expect them to report in soon about how things were goingespecially after last night's full moon.
"I agree, but it won't happen immediately." Grace strode off toward the residential quarters near the entrance to the air force base where Kristine and she, and the other visiting Alpha Force members, were staying while on this mission.
"When do you have to report for duty at the hospital today?" Kristine asked. "Do you have time for a nap?"
She could take the time but didn't want to. "I'll just walk Tilly, then shower and change clothes," she told Kristine. Tilly, a German shepherd mix, was her cover dogone who resembled her in shifted form. If anyone ever saw Grace while she was wolfen, she could laugh it off, say they'd seen Tilly. She had been left in Grace's room last night and would need some TLC this morning.
They had reached the boxy, fivestory residential building. Other military folks poured out, apparently ready to start the day at the base. Grace and Kristine waited, not wanting to buck the crowd. They received a few curious nods and other greetings, but neither was in uniform and no one saluted them.
Soon, as fewer people were exiting, the two used their key cards and went inside.
"I'll call you when I'm ready to go to the hospital," Grace told Kristine, and headed for her apartment.
Grace knew she should be exhausted. Instead, she was full of nervous energy.
Rather than a walk, she took Tilly out for a jog. There was a running track near the front of the base, where most living quarters were located. They were alone at this hour. Fortunately, although the Arizona day promised to be a hot one, the temperature was bearable for exercise.
When they returned to their quarters, Grace fed Tilly and ensured she had sufficient water, then took a shower and dressed. Adrenaline had awakened her enough to face the day.