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The scent of wolf was weakest near the boulevard, where Miami night people in shiny cars followed a glittering parade of cruisers in all directions, windows down, music blaring. Weak maybe, Tory McKidd acknowledged, but noticeable.
Taking a last look at the lights, Tory detoured from the street, entering the dark public park bordering the boulevard on its western side. The smell of fur and skin and Otherness became steadily stronger with each step she took. Like a trail of bread crumbs in old children's tales, the scent was easy enough for another wolf to follow.
A pack of Weres had marked this park like a bunch of stray cats until it virtually reeked near the first line of trees. The smell was familiar to Tory, had become an integral part of her DNA, twisted there by her own genetics.
She knew how dangerous it was for a female of any species, human or Were, to be in such close proximity to an unknown werewolf pack. She just no longer gave a damn about her own safety; hadn't cared about much of anything since her brother's death… except about finding his killer.
She pressed on, aware that the moon in the sky was three-quarters full. Her transformation from woman into the beast's shape was still a few days away and the need to return to this park was the only objective keeping her breathing.
Someone here, beneath these trees, had murdered her brother. Something or someone had trapped Mark McKidd and tortured him in unspeakable ways. Beaten him senseless. Shredded his body, then tossed him here on the grass to die. As a mature, genetic werewolf—tall, strong, immensely capable—her brother should have been able to conquer insurmountable odds. But he hadn't. He should have been able to survive almost anything. But didn't.
He'd been gone six months. Dead. Finality. No more dinners, tiffs, or playful outings ever again. No one left in her family to warn her about the rashness of her current mission. Then again, rashness was an undeniable werewolf trait, for better or worse. One that came with the territory.
These last six months she had avoided the park where Mark had drawn his last breath, fearing the images this place might bring with it. Images of evil lurking so boldly in a public space. Pictures that a sister with the ability to See might dread. But things were different now. She'd had enough of law enforcement's helplessness, enough of Mark's killer remaining free. It was time to take matters into her own hands.
On full alert, Tory sensed something else in this park right away. The weight of a sudden presence. Slowing, she raised her chin, sniffed at the air. Besides wolf, this edge of the park also carried a smell of thunder, though there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The atmospheric metaphor for thunder was anger. Here, not far from the unsuspecting crowds, a combination of wolf and evil and anger caused the air to thicken as if all of the dark things in Miami had congealed at once.
So much darkness. Do I really want to look?
Edgy, drawn by a sound, Tory turned her head, her skin already rippling with the chills signaling an upcoming onslaught of Sight—an ability only coveted by those who had never actually experienced it. An ability she had always considered a curse. One that told her now, along with the whiff of thunder, that someone whose body was being fueled by adrenaline approached. And that this might be her chance to find out what had happened here, in this place, to the last male McKidd she knew of. Her brother.
She just had to make sure she was up to the task.
She glanced up at the sky. The moon might not have been full, but was present enough in its current phase to help her. In a rush, she rolled back her black shirtsleeves and held up her arms, soaking in the bright, silvery light like others in Miami soaked up the sun, feeling the burst of extra strength it gave her.
Energy skittered across her skin, sparking like loose live wires. She fended off a growl, opened her mouth and took in light that changed to the consistency of liquid on her tongue. She closed her lips, swallowed, shut her eyes.
An arrhythmical pulse began to beat in her neck, slow at first, before starting to race. Her hands closed into fists that would have, under a complete moon, sported lethally sharp claws. But now was not that time.
A feeling washed over her, similar to the buildup of an unnatural craving, like the ones people trying to kick alcohol and nicotine habits had. Only, this craving was more like the need to give birth. Not to a child, but to something similarly other than herself, and yet still a part of herself. In her case, the emergence of a new shape. A unique blend of woman and wolf. She-wolf. Lycanthrope. It was not going to happen tonight, though. Tonight she just needed some help—in the courage and speed department.
Bathed the moon's light, she started to shake. Alongside the racing heartbeats she felt a surge of fire roll through her, a growing ball of flames that got bigger with each breath she took, banishing the earlier chill. Fortified by the comforting heat, Tory moved on, waiting not only for the distraction in the park to manifest, in whatever form it might take, but also for the dark thing swimming in her DNA to recognize it.
Officer Adam Scott cursed a steady stream and upped his pace. The guy he chased ran like a freaking greyhound, covering way too much ground, too fast for his size and bulk. It didn't help that midnight had come and gone, there were no lights whatsoever in this park, or that as the officer responsible for this beat, he couldn't see a damned thing in the dark except the back of the gangbanger's white T-shirt.
And it sure as hell didn't help that he didn't know this park as well as the guy up ahead seemed to.
There was a moon overhead, providing just enough light to be helpful. It was a typical June Miami night. Humid. Not even a breeze. They were too far into the park grounds, affectionately known as "no-man's-land" in the precinct, for streetlights on the boulevard to have been of use. Waving a flashlight would have been awkward.
On the plus side—if giving chase on foot had a plus side— it was a good thing he'd been working out regularly. What would those fat bastards at the precinct have done if they'd had to go after this guy? Have heart attacks, that's what.
Choosing a four-letter word that best suited the situation, Adam took in air and pushed himself to the limits of his endurance, struggling to keep the gangbanger in sight.
Got to get this guy!
Rob a convenience store in my territory?
The guy sprinted a full ten yards ahead. Adam could feel his own heart pumping near to maximum capacity. He could
hear it throbbing in his veins. Human lungs could only go so far, handle so much. So, was the guy up ahead using drugs or pure adrenaline to keep up this ungodly pace? The department joke had always been that these east side street gangs had nothing human about them.
Adam put a hand to his belt, fingered the cuffs to make sure they were ready, but needed his arm free to help cut through the balmy night air.
Push, dog! Fire up the muscle. Find the zone.
The sudden presence of light up ahead was a welcome sight. But the guy wasn't slowing one bit. Noises, other than the bass beat inside Adam's chest, filled in the silence. Unmistakable traffic sounds. Friday-night stuff. This fool he'd been chasing for what felt like a mile was going to be roadkill when he reached the boulevard if he didn't put the brakes on.
One final heave of exertion, and Adam felt his lungs turn hot. He tasted something sweet on his tongue, thought it might be a side effect of oxygen depletion until he inhaled a fragrance that went along with that sweetness. Orchids. The night smelled like orchids. If not orchids, something equally as exotic.
What the hell is that?
The hair at the nape of his neck stood up with the sudden surprise of no longer being alone. His heart missed a beat. There was movement in the dark beside him. Someone else was running, coming in from the right to take a parallel path. This person was dressed in black and hard to see, except for a spot of white face surrounded by what looked like lots of long, loose hair.
Could the g-b have a cohort? An accomplice?
Adam reached for his weapon, but didn't draw.
Wait. No. Not necessarily an accomplice. The sweetness in the air, coupled with all that hair, suggested that the new runner was a woman. An unbelievably fast woman. Seriously fleet. She was waving something in her right hand that glinted as it caught a stray stream of moonlight. Cell phone.
Was she signaling to him that she'd called this in?
Why would she do that?
No time to think about it. The gangbanger had reached the street, and contrary to all common sense—his recent criminal offense aside—ran right out into the middle lanes. A gangbanger idiot.
Approaching the curb, Adam reached out, took a firm grip on the arm of the mysterious woman who'd gotten closer and was still with him and yanked her to an abrupt stop.
"Hey!" he shouted to the idiot in the street, hearing the distant sirens of approaching backup. "You have a death wish?"
The rest happened quickly. Over the wheezing of lungs trying to recover, Adam watched the g-b stop, and turn. Even beneath the streetlights, he couldn't see the guy's face clearly, but saw him open his mouth. A strange, eerie sound emerged from that mouth. A roar—raw, angry, anxious, guttural. Maybe even desperate.
Seconds after that came the thud of a body being struck by something bigger and heavier. A screech of tires followed, and the crash of several cars piling up. Adam leaned forward, his grip on the woman forgotten. The guy was down. No doubt about that or about his condition. Adam rushed into traffic that was now at a standstill.
"Is he dead?" the startled truck driver who'd struck the guy demanded, his eyes wide, his body language jumpy and distraught.
"Afraid so," Adam said, kneeling, futilely searching the downed guy's neck and wrist for a pulse, and knowing by experience that no one could have survived such a direct hit and be expected to take another breath.
Come to think of it, he noted as he searched the body for ID, finding none, some of that damage looked as though it might have been accumulated prior to the accident. Deep purple bruises ringed the guy's eyes. Open lacerations crisscrossed his arms. It looked as though chunks of his skin and muscle were missing from one bare shoulder, the injury still raw and weeping. A chalk-white scar, puckered, disfiguring, and further evidence of past indiscretions, ran the length of the young guy's face, temple to chin. This in addition to arms and legs lying at odd angles on the pavement from the truck's damage, and a spill of the wad of twenty-dollar bills he'd just stolen from the convenience store leaking from his side pants pocket.
The acrid odor of blood filled the air. Oddly enough, though, above that smell another scent drew Adam's attention upward to the crowd gathered around. Orchids.
Scanning the circle of shocked faces, Adam's search stopped on one. Pale skin. Generous mouth. Big eyes, their color indecipherable. An astonishingly beautiful face, above a drape of black shirt.
The mystery woman.
He experienced a bump in his calm procedure-driven cop exterior as he noted how the woman's shoulder-length hair gleamed almost unnaturally in the truck's headlights. Curly hair, loose, riotous, and an unusual shade of red. The color of a Miami sunset.
Adam's eyes met hers. A second bump occurred, this time in his chest, as though his heart had stalled. The background faded into a distant blur. Sounds dimmed to a dull hum beneath his own ragged breathing. Those eyes of hers…
He had an inexplicable urge to dive right into those eyes, whatever their color. Just jump right in there and lose himself in them. Forget all the bad stuff being a cop meant he had to witness, and follow this woman home.
He wanted to…
"What do we do now?" one of the rear-ended drivers asked, already on his phone, most likely dialed in to his insurance company's hotline.
"The jerk ran right out in front of me. You all saw that, right?" the truck driver demanded.
"Stay back, and stay calm," Adam said, jolted away from his untimely little indulgence, speaking in the practiced, authoritative tone of law enforcement on the job. Hell, he should be good at it; he'd used this same tone on a daily basis for eight years now. And he'd seen it all. "We'll get to the bottom of things in a minute."
First, he would talk to the mysterious woman. The sloe-eyed, flame-haired woman who had joined him in the park. He'd find out who she was and what she had been doing there. How she had kept up. What that delicious perfume was. With luck, maybe he'd even get her phone number.
Digressing from the point here, big-time. Whatever her purpose, and in spite of how good she smelled, she should have known better than to run up on a cop in pursuit. If he'd been anxious or trigger-happy, he could have shot her.
What a pity that would have been. Such a beautiful package.
Almost hopefully, he again searched the sea of faces.
Ignoring the sweat in his eyes, he breathed deeply and narrowed his search. Nada. New faces had taken her place. The woman had gone. Which wasn't odd, Adam told himself. Witnesses to an accident like this one seldom lingered. What was odd, however, was the curious sensation of emptiness he felt over finding her gone. The noticeable flutter in his stomach that her absence caused.
With a body in the road and a seven-car pileup to deal with, Adam felt an incomprehensible urge to go after her, try to find her. He'd actually stood up straight, without knowing he had. One of his feet moved. He set his jaw, knowing he couldn't act on the impulse in spite of the sharp pang of regret that hit him square in the gut for having passed up the opportunity to… What, exactly? And with whom?
It was too damned hot.
Ninety-eight percent humidity for the fortieth day in a row, with no letup in sight—and that was with the sun disappearing three hours ago.