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The shadowed moon hung low in the Parisian sky, thin fingers of dark clouds obscuring its feeble glow.
Only 72 percent waxing gibbous. Not enough to wrench the wolf within free, but more than sufficient to wake it.
A dozen years ago, Rand wouldn’t have known a lunar phase from a lunatic fringe. Now those phases burned in his blood, his power and strength growing with the moon.
Within, the animal writhed, ready to hunt. Ready to end this thing.
He made no noise as he followed the Avenue des Peupliers toward the Avenue Neigre in the Cimetière du Père Lachaise. On either side of him, the houses of the dead rose in the moonlight, their smooth stone surfaces gleaming.
He slid into the shadows and closed his eyes, letting the sounds of the night surround him, the scents find him. He’d been a soldier before the change, first on the streets of Los Angeles, later in Saudi, in Bosnia, in the Middle East. A kid who’d protected his turf. A soldier who’d targeted enemies of the state.
He remained a hunter now. A wolf stalking its prey.
The change had intensified his senses and augmented his strength. He could see now regardless of the level of illum, with his own eyes instead of the night optics he’d trained with so many years ago. But this enemy could do the same, so the darkness gave him no advantage. But the moon remained his ally, and even at only 72 percent, he could hear the softest whisper, could catch the faintest scent. The brush of wind over wood. The scurrying of insects. The scent of rotting corpses.
He opened his eyes, twisting his head as he caught the para-daemon’s earthen scent, like decaying leaves mixed with shit. He followed it, the excitement of the hunt burning in his gut as he stole down the cobbled street and then onto the narrow gravel lane that was the Champs Bertolie.
His muscles were tight and ready to pound the bastard, but he’d brought weapons with him, too. The Ka-Bar sheathed at his thigh. The switchblade in his hand. The length of wire he’d habitually kept in his pocket since the week before his ninth birthday. They were as much a part of him as the wolf that writhed within.
He’d dressed in black, his dark skin smeared with camo paint and his shaved scalp covered by black knit, rendering him nothing more than a shadow in the darkness. He heard the sharp snap of a grate creaking open and realized his target had entered one of the tombs. Rand sniffed the air—he’d lost Zor’s scent. In its place, he smelled only fear.
A hint of foreboding twisted in his gut. Even if the para-daemon knew he was being tracked, he was too arrogant to fear Rand. Yet the scent was unmistakable. He tensed, realizing with sickening surety the source of the fear.
The fucker had abducted another female.
He hadn’t heard that any more Parisian therians had gone missing, but that was the only explanation. Zor had taken another, and now the female werewolf was trapped and terrified and possibly dying.
A cold rage sliced through him, so intense it threatened to overcome reason. He pushed it back, calling up his training to use the fury rather than be used by it. The scent led him north, and he moved silently, curving around the monument until he stood, back pressed to the stone, near a wrought-iron gate that acted as a door to where the dead rested within.
Another step, along with a slight tilt of his head as he peered around the corner, and he could see inside, his hyped-up vision making it easy to see the kenneled woman. Her eyes were rimmed in red, her lips pressed tight together as if she refused to give Zor the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
He shook his head, pushing away the memories and concentrating only on the moment. On Zor. And on the woman cowering in a cage.
The female was naked, and even from a distance, Rand could see the red welts on her back from where the daemon had removed long strips of skin. Zor would pull off every inch, feeding on her pain until the flesh was gone and it was time to kill the woman and find a new one.
Five females. Six counting this one.
A muscle in his jaw twitched. There would be no more.
He checked his perimeter, finding no sign of Zor, then approached the cage.
“Non.” The woman scrambled backward, eyes as wide as quarters.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Rand said in the woman’s language. He studied her face, but didn’t recognize her. “Je suis un ami.”
She remained in the corner, as far away as possible.
He crouched down and inspected the cage. Straw littered the floor, along with a tattered blanket and a dish filled with kibble next to a bowl of stale water. One lone water bug moved across the surface, disturbing a thin layer of grime.
After a moment of searching, he found the hidden hinges as well as the lock that kept the cage sealed. He tugged at the door, but it didn’t give.
Apparently he should have brought C-4 and a det cord, and left the Ka-Bar behind. He peered at the woman. “La clef?”
A hint of hope fluttered across her shell-shocked features. “Je ne sais pas.”
Fuck. Most likely Zor kept the key on his person. Still, he scanned the small room, just in case.
Two ancient swords hung on the wall, forming a cross above a stone coffin. As Rand considered the blades’ usefulness for freeing the woman, a new sound caught his attention. The rough scrape of stone against stone.
The woman’s cry of “Monsieur!” filled the chamber as Rand spun toward his attacker, the switchblade extended and tight in his hand, as comfortable as an extension of his own body.
He sliced through the para-daemon’s shirt and knocked the bastard backward, but not before the para-daemon grabbed the hilt of the Ka-Bar sheathed at Rand’s thigh, taking the knife with him as he tumbled away. Zor’s reflexes were sharp, honed from his recent feeding, and the monster sprang back to action almost immediately. Greasy strands of pure white hair hid his face as he crouched near the opening to the tunnel he’d come through.
“Running, Zor? Go ahead. You won’t last long.”
“Against you? I’ll barely have to strain myself.”
“I wouldn’t bet the bank.” He was being arrogant, and he knew it. Unlike most weren, Rand couldn’t intentionally summon the change that merged wolf and man, elongating his features, stretching his muscles, and turning him into a wolf-man that resembled the creatures from childhood horror flicks.
He changed only with the full moon, and when he did, he lost himself entirely, his body shifting into the form of a preternaturally strong gray wolf, his human mind lost inside the mind of the animal.
But even though he couldn’t change at will, the wolf lived within him always, drawing power from the pull of the moon, and tonight 72 percent would do just fine.
Arrogant or not, Rand knew he wouldn’t lose. The beast within wouldn’t allow it.
Zor would die tonight, and Rand would savor the killing blow.
The para-daemon seemed to hesitate, and for a second, Rand thought that Zor would bolt. He didn’t. Instead, he attacked, leading with Rand’s own knife.
Rand cut to the side as the beast lunged, the blade slicing through the back of Rand’s shirt and the flesh of his shoulder blade. The wound was hot and deep and stung like a mother, but Rand ignored it. Not the time; not the problem. Instead, he rolled over, taking his weight on the wound as he kicked up and out, his heel intersecting Zor’s wrist, forcing the son of a bitch to drop the knife, which skidded across the stone floor until it was lost in the shadows.
His own blood stained the blade now, and Rand could smell it—covering the steel, seeping into the floor, soaking his shirt.
He breathed in deeply, the scent and the pain rousing him, thrusting him into the warm, familiar black where nothing mattered but the kill.
He sprang up, determined to kill the para-daemon right then. The daemon might be older and stronger, but Rand was certain Zor underestimated him. In the ancient daemon’s mind, a werewolf barely twelve years into the change hardly posed a threat.
Sure enough, the creature leaped forward, wiry muscles propelling him high into the air. He lashed out on descent, his kick soundly intersecting Rand’s chin. The blow sent Rand’s neck snapping back, but he didn’t falter, managing to snag the beast around the ankle and sending him to the ground.
Rand pressed the advantage. He lunged forward and slammed his knife through the para-daemon’s gut, releasing a gush of snot-yellow liquid through which ran thin strands of crimson blood, together but separated, like oil and water.
The scent of blood rose, and the wolf within Rand snapped and growled. But it wasn’t the wolf who would take Zor. It was the man—and the animal inside him.