(Moon 3) - Witching Moon, page 1
National Bestselling Author
Ruth Glick writing as Rebecca York
"Rebecca York's writing is fast-paced, suspenseful, and loaded with tension."
—Jayne Ann Krentz
"[Her] books… deliver what they promise: excitement, mystery, romance."
—The Washington Post Book World
The swamp is their sanctuary. Its nights echo with
the beat of their moonlit revels, feeding their dark
hunger for power—and for revenge…
The Nature's Refuge preserve deep in the southern Georgia swamp was a place steeped in superstition and legend—and death. The previous head ranger had ended up dead, but werewolf Adam Marshall is ideally suited to explore the park and investigate its dangers. But in the still of the night, a mysterious fire burns, and even Adam's highly honed instincts are disoriented by the thick, druggingsmoke—leading to a near disaster…
Adam's suspicions are raised by Sara Weston, a botanist who has come to the swamp to research the vegetation. He finds himself drawn to her in ways he doesn't understand, yet fights the passion that threatens to cloud his judgment. And when a coven of witches with a score to settle with the locals decides that Adam and Sara are in their way, Adam will discover that Sara is hiding secrets as powerful as the one that runs through his blood.
Berkley Sensation Titles by Rebecca York
EDGE OF THE MOON
BERKLEY SENSATION, NEW YORK
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Sensation Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Sensation edition / October 2003
Copyright © 2003 by Ruth Glick
Cover design by Brad Springer
Text design by Julie Rogers
A BERKLEY SENSATION™ BOOK Berkley Sensation Books are published by
The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY SENSATION and the "B" design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
SHE WOKE TO the sound of voices and sat up in her narrow bed, rubbing her eyes. The toys on her shelves were only shapes in the darkness. But moonlight peeked in around the edges of the window curtains.
Out in the front room, Momma and Daddy were talking. He wasn't usually here at night, but he came when he could to the little cabin at the edge of the swamp.
He would hug her and tell her she was his special little girl. He would run his fingers through her hair and say it was spun gold.
Maybe he'd have a treat for her. A toy. Or some candy like the last time. Momma didn't approve of candy, but Daddy liked to give her a few pieces—and tell her to enjoy them when Momma wasn't looking.
She started to swing her skinny legs over the side of the bed. Then stopped. Momma and Daddy weren't speaking very loud, and she couldn't make out the actual words. But as she caught the tone of the conversation, the happy sense of anticipation dried up, like the drops of water on the ground in the morning.
Momma and Daddy were worried, the way they'd been that other time when Daddy had said the town was on the warpath. Only nothing bad had happened then. And everything had gone on just the way it always did.
She picked up Mr. Rabbit, her favorite stuffed animal, from the pillow and hugged his limp body to her, as Daddy's footsteps came rapidly across the wooden floor. Flinging the door open, he strode into her room and bent over her bed, scooping her into his arms.
"We have to leave. We don't have much time."
Momma came hurrying after him. "This is my home. I won't let them drive me out."
"You've been taking too many chances."
"No. I've tried to help people."
"And look where it's gotten you. Darlin', you have to listen to me this time."
"If I'd listened to you…" Momma's voice trailed off.
Daddy gathered her up and hugged her to him. "Come on little bit, you're going with me."
"No!" Momma protested, almost drowning out the voices in the background. There were people outside, she realized with a sudden spurt of fear. Angry people.
One of Daddy's arms tightened around her; the other reached for Momma. "Jenna, let me get you away from here, before it's too late."
She could feel Daddy's heart pounding, hear his voice rising.
"Oh Lord, don't do this to me, please."
"Come out and show yourself—you damn witch," an unseen voice screamed, making her cower against Daddy. Other voices joined the chorus. "Come out before we burn you out."
Daddy tried to keep hold of Momma's arm, but she wrenched herself away from him and hurried into the front room. "I only tried to help. I've done nothing wrong," Momma called into the darkness beyond the walls of the house. Turning back to Daddy, she said, "I won't let them drive me from my home."
"It's too late." Daddy's warning was swallowed up by a rising babble of voices, like the wind tearing at the tree branches in a storm.
She was afraid of storms because one time a tree had fallen right across the path to the front door. But this was much worse.
She buried her face against her father's shoulder, her free hand clutching Mr. Rabbit. "Don't let them hurt Momma," she whimpered.
"I won't," he answered, starting toward the front of the house.
Before he could reach the living room, the window beside the door shattered, sending glass dancing over the wood floor.
Momma screamed, rooted to the spot where she stood.
Then a smell that was strong and dangerous filled the air—and a strange roaring noise howled through the house.
"Save her. Get her out of here," Momma screamed.
Her father cursed, started forward. But the heat from the front of the house beat him back. Still clasping her to his body, he sprinted across the bedroom, then bent to push up the window sash.
"Daddy! I'm sca
Daddy coughed and staggered, and she thought he was going to fall down, but he kept going.
"It's okay. Everything will be okay," he said. He said it over and over between coughs as he lowered her out the window. When she was standing on the ground, he quickly followed and scooped her up. His body curved over hers, he ran from the cabin. Behind her she heard a sound like thunder. Raising her head, she saw the whole house explode into flames.
"Momma! Where's Momma?"
Daddy put his hand on the back of her head, pressing her face into his shoulder and hunching protectively over her as he ran into the darkness of the swamp.
« ^ »
THE LAST GUY who had walked in his shoes was a dead man, Adam Marshall thought as his booted feet sank into the soggy ground of the southern Georgia swamp. But he didn't intend to suffer the same fate. He had advantages that the previous head ranger at Nature's Refuge hadn't possessed.
Still, something was making his skin prickle tonight, Adam silently admitted as he slipped one hand into the pocket of his jeans. Standing very still on the porch of his cabin, he listened to the night sounds around him. The clicking noise of a bullfrog. The buzz of insects. The splash of a predator slipping into the murky waters of the mysterious marshes that the Indians had called Olakompa.
The Indians were long gone, but an aura of otherworldliness remained in this pocket of wetlands, which had managed to withstand the encroachment of civilization. It was a place steeped in superstition, and Adam had heard some pretty wild tales—of people who had been swallowed up by the "trembling earth" and of strange creatures that roamed the backcountry.
In the darkness, he laughed. He'd taken all that with a grain of salt. But maybe he could contribute to the myths while he was here.
This was a very different setting from his previous post in the dry desert country of Big Bend National Park.
He liked the change. Liked the swamp. For now. He never stayed any place too long. It didn't matter where he lived, actually. Just so he had the space he needed to roam free.
He looked up and saw the moon filtering through the branches of the willow oaks and cypress trees. It was huge and yellow and full, and he knew there were people who would think that the large orb in the sky had something to do with his unsettled mood. But it wasn't that.
He dragged in a long breath, detecting a scent that was out of place in the sultry air. Nothing he had ever smelled before, he thought, as he walked into the shadows under the oak trees.
Whatever it was had a strange tang, a pull, an edge of danger that he found disturbing. Of course, he was affected by odors as few people were. And by other things most folks took in stride. Coffee, for example, made him sick. And forget liquor.
Later tonight, he'd probably have a cup of herbal tea. By himself, since he was the only staffer who lived in the park—in the cozy cabin thoughtfully provided by Austen Barnette, who owned this three-hundred-acre corner of the swampland, along with a sizable portion of Wayland, Georgia.
Barnette was the big cheese in the area. And he'd gone to the expense and bother of hiring Adam Marshall away from the U.S. Park Service to show he was serious about running Nature's Refuge as a private enterprise. But there was another reason as well. Adam had a reputation for solving problems.
Most recently, at Big Bend, he had shut down a bunch of drug smugglers who had been bringing their cargoes across the drought-shrunken Rio Grande. He had tracked them to their mountain hideout and scared the shit out of them before turning them over to the border patrol.
He had done a good job, because he always demanded the best from himself as far as his work was concerned. It compensated for the other area of his life where he wasn't quite so effective—personal relationships. But he was damn well going to find out who had killed Ken White, the previous head ranger.
He walked to a spot about a hundred yards from his cabin, a place where he often stopped and contemplated the swamp before going out to prowl the park. It was a good distance from the house, where he was sure nobody would find his clothing.
Standing in the shade of a pine, he sniffed the wind again as his hands went to the front of his shirt. He unbuttoned the garment and dropped it on the ground, then pulled off his shoes and pants, stripping to the buff.
The sultry air felt good on his bare skin, and he stood for a moment, digging his toes into the springy layer of decomposing leaves covering the ground, caught by a push-pull within himself. The man warring with the animal clamoring to run free.
The animal won, as it must. Closing his dark eyes, he called on ancient knowledge, ancient ritual, ancient deities as he gathered his inner strength, steeling himself for familiar pain, even as he said the words that he had learned on his sixteenth birthday—the way his brothers had before him. As far as he knew, the only Marshall boys still alive were himself and Ross. But he didn't know for sure because he hadn't seen his brother in years.
It was when he prepared to change that his thoughts sometimes turned to Ross, but he didn't let those thoughts break his concentration.
"Taranis, Epona, Cerridwen," he intoned, then repeated the same phrase and went on to another. "Ga. Feart. Cleas. Duais. Aithriocht. Go gcumhdai is dtreorai na deithe thu."
On that night so long ago, the ceremonial words had helped him through the agony of transformation, opened his mind, freed him from the bonds of the human shape. Maybe they were nonsense syllables. He didn't know. Ross had studied the ancient Gaelic language and said he understood what they meant. Adam didn't care about the meaning.
All that mattered was that they blocked some of the blinding pain that always came with transformation.
While the human part of his mind screamed in protest, he felt his jaw elongate, his teeth sharpen, his body contort as muscles and limbs transformed themselves into a different shape that was as familiar to him as his human form.
The first few times he'd done it had been a nightmare of torture and terror. But gradually, he'd learned what to expect, learned to rise above the physical sensations of muscles spasming, bones changing shape, the very structure of his cells mutating from one kind of DNA to another. At least that was how he thought about it, because he didn't understand the science involved. In fact, he was sure modern science would have no explanations for his family heritage.
But the change came upon him nevertheless.
Gray hair formed along his flanks, covering his body in a thick, silver-tipped pelt. The color—the very structure—of his eyes changed as he dropped to all fours. He was no longer a man but an animal far more suited to the natural environment around him.
A wolf. Where no wolves had made their home for decades. But now one had command of Nature's Refuge. It was his. And the night was his.
Once the transformation was complete, a raw, primal joy rippled through him, and he pawed the ground, reveling in the feel of the damp soil under his feet. Raising his head, he sucked in a draft of air, his lungs expanding as his nose drank in the rich scents that were suddenly part of the landscape. To his right an alligator had gone very still. And a bear had stopped and sniffed the wind sensing the presence of a rival.
The large black beast stayed where it was for a moment, then ambled off in the other direction, unwilling to challenge the creature with whom he suddenly shared the swamp.
Adam's lips shaped themselves into a wolfish grin. He wanted to throw back his head and howl at the small victory. But he checked the impulse, because the mind inside his skull still held his human intelligence. And the man understood the need for stealth.
Dragging in a breath, he examined the unfamiliar scent he had picked up. It was nothing that belonged in this natural world. Men had brought something here that was out of place.
The smell was acrid, yet at the same time strangely sweet to his wolf's senses. And it drew him forward.
Each breath seemed to change his sense of awareness. His mind was usually sharp, but the edges of his thoughts were beginning to blur as though someone had soaked his brain with a bottle of sweet, sticky syrup.
The air stung his eyes now, and he blinked back moisture, then blinked again as he caught his first glimpse of fire.
The flames jolted him out of his lethargy.
Fire! Where no fire should be. Out here in the open—in the middle of the park. The swamp might be wet, but that wouldn't stop a blaze from sweeping through the area, if the flames were hot enough. He'd read as much as he could about the Olakompa in the past few months, and he knew that in the winter of nineteen fifty-five, wildfires had burned eighty percent of the swamp area.
Fires were usually due to lightning igniting the layer of peat buried under some areas of the swamp.
He'd seen no lightning tonight, but it wasn't difficult to imagine a conflagration roaring unchecked through the park. Imagine birds taking flight, animals scattering for safety, the water evaporating in the heat.
His mind fuzzy from the smoke, he kept moving forward, toward the center of the danger. But when he took a second look, he saw that the flames were contained. A bonfire. Deep in the wilderness.
Tall, upright shadows moved around the flames, and in his bleary state, he could make no sense of what he was seeing. Then the wavery images resolved themselves into naked human figures—dancing and gyrating in the glow of the fire.
He shook his head, trying to clear away the fog that seemed to swirl up from the sweet, enticing smoke. For a moment he questioned his own sanity.
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