Make Me Howl, page 13
Curious, I followed. A young man in a bright orange uniform stood there with an insulated pizza carrier in his hand. “You order a My Pie?”
Without mentioning it to me, Bella had sent out for my favorite pizza. Because of the calorie and fat content, she rarely agreed to it, but apparently she thought today was special.
She pulled a bill from her purse, folded it and handed it to the kid. “Keep the change.”
The bill disappeared into his pocket. He unzipped the bag and shoved a flat box at her. Then he muttered, “Thank-you-call-us-again-for-a-meal-to-make-you-smile,” and was gone as if he were afraid she’d realized how big a tip she’d given him and ask for it back.
She carried the box to the table while I pulled a pair of diet sodas from the fridge. We sat across from each other. I popped my can’s top while Bella opened the box lid.
The escaping steam was laden with the fantastic odor of spicy meats, rich tomato sauce and has-to-be-delicious crust. No surprise, she’d ordered my favorite—a super supreme. The one where they used every ingredient in the restaurant and three kinds of cheese on a crispy thin crust. I drew another appreciative breath. “‘A sigh from My Pie,’” I quoted, putting as much gratitude as possible in my voice.
Glancing up, I caught her watching me with a worried look.
I don’t believe in dancing around an issue, so I said, “Are you thinking this might be my last meal?”
“N-no,” she stumbled over the word while she tried to put conviction behind it.
“Then why cook breakfast and order my favorite pizza?” I reached for the biggest piece in the box and pulled it out, stringing all three cheeses behind it.
“Because we had time.” Her face looked pinched, but she shrugged and took a piece of the pie. “Usually we’re in too big a hurry to have more than a quick salad.”
“Right.” I closed my eyes while I chewed so I could concentrate on the melding flavors. This was too good to rush. I had to take my time and enjoy every satisfying mouthful.
By the time we’d finished, I knew the sun drifted toward the horizon. Occasionally I can feel it when the full moon is getting ready to rise, and this was going to be one of those evenings. Not because of anything atmospheric or astrological, but because I had attuned myself to the natural.
“We’d better get ready to go.”
Bella looked as if she wanted to argue, but after a moment, she changed her mind. “Let me clean this up then I’ll be ready.”
Oh, yeah. She was afraid for me, all right. I just hoped she had the sense to stay out of harm’s way. I didn’t want to have to worry about her while I stalked a killer.
We were quiet as we drove to the park. She didn’t turn on the radio to NPR—her favorite station—and I couldn’t think of anything to talk about. All I could do was concentrate on the night ahead.
If I found him, would I be able to control the beast? I snorted as I wondered if Doc used silver bullets in his gun.
Bella shot a glance at me. “What?”
I shrugged then gave her a half grin. “I was just imagining Doc and his pistol full of silver, out on a hunt.”
“Cut the guy some slack.” She turned onto the zoo’s entrance road. “He’s studied your sub-species long enough to know silver bullets came from some guy’s imagination.”
“Or the Lone Ranger.”
Her chuckle was forced, but I appreciated her trying. We were quiet the rest of the way to the employees’ parking lot. By the time Bella stopped the car, Doc was there to open my door. His gaze held mine. He didn’t glance around or let his attention wander. It was as if I were the only thing in the world that could possibly interest him. “I wondered if you were coming today.”
I all but forgot Bella—the person I’d been aware of since I was in the womb—was with us. I wanted to forget everything in the world existed—even ignore the fact that a mad werewolf would soon be on the prowl—and simply be with Doc.
But I couldn’t. And he couldn’t either.
As we walked to the clinic, he stayed beside me. Never touching, but constantly enveloping me in his nearness.
The sun hovered on the horizon. It wouldn’t be long before moonrise. The werewolf’s strength would hit him full on, and the human part of him wouldn’t know what was happening. If any of his mind remained as he morphed, he’d probably think he had flashback to a bad trip, or had accidentally ingested PCP or some other hallucinatory drug.
But most likely, he wouldn’t have any lucid moments at all. He’d simply turn into a mindless being who craved the taste of blood and killed for the sport. It wouldn’t matter if the victim was animal or human, male or female.
“What about our wolves?” Bella asked, clearly speaking to Doc.
“They’ve been moved to the enclosure where we’re keeping them under observation.”
Bella nodded as if she’d expected him to say that. “If the wolf who killed the calf was one of ours, we’ll know it.”
I went with them into the clinic, found a tall stool and watched as Bella logged into the computer. She pulled up a screen that brought a view of the wolves’ enclosure, but there was nothing unusual going on. Just a pack of canines, lying around.
I let my gaze wander a few feet away, where it met and held Doc’s for a few moments. I knew I’d have trouble tonight, making myself leave his company.
Was it the full moon that made me feel this connection to him? I hoped not, but I couldn’t worry about that then, even though it would take everything I had to tear myself away from him. I could only hope Bella would help me. She knew what had to be done, so I planned to depend on her when the time came…until the door opened and Doc’s brother, Spencer, walked in.
Bella stopped what she was doing and stared at him for a moment as her face paled. I’d never been able to get her to tell me exactly what he’d done to upset her the night of the dance, but I wouldn’t forgive him for it—at least until Bella did. I offered, however, to tear a hole in him—literally—if she wanted. “What is this? Old home week?”
Spencer barely glanced my way then turned back to Bella. “Hello.”
Bella’s brow puckered as her eyes flashed. Her mouth flattened, her anger with Spencer darkening her face. Leave it to her—she wasn’t about to sugarcoat her words. “What are you doing here?”
Spencer crossed the room and stopped in front of her. “I want to talk to you.” His tone was intimate, but if they’d even spoken besides at the dedication dinner and at the spa, I didn’t know anything about it.
I shot a questioning look at Doc, but he lifted his brows and shook his head. He was in the dark on this, too.
The look on Bella’s face gradually softened. “Do you want to go outside where we can—”
“No!” Spencer encircled her wrists with his hands, but he grasped her as gently as if he’d put his arms around her. “Doc told me about the buffalo calf last night. Stay where it’s safe tonight, Bella. They still aren’t sure what did that damage, so whatever you do, don’t go out.”
Bella swallowed hard, opened her mouth then closed it. I’d never before seen her at a loss for words, but she was tonight.
This was going to be interesting.
Too bad I couldn’t stay and watch. I slid off my stool. “Well, I’d better get going.”
Before my sister could respond, Doc crossed to me. “Spencer’s suggestion is a good one for all of us. You were lucky you weren’t attacked last night. Stay inside where you’re safe.”
“I just came in to say hello. I have an appointment in a little while.” I glanced at my watch, then back to his face. My mind went blank when I saw the intensity in his gaze. It took me a moment to remember what I’d been saying. “I’ll be back to pick up Bella in a little while.”
Doc stared at me for a moment as if testing for truth then slowly nodded. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
I should have known better than to go into the clinic. If I’d never gone inside, I wouldn’t have to resort to su
When I got to the car, Doc reached for the door. But rather than open it for me, he moved close. I was trapped within the circle of his arms, his face mere inches from mine. Oxygen left the atmosphere.
“I imagine Spencer would be happy to drive Bella home if you don’t want to come all the way back out here.”
With the lack of oxygen to my brain, it took a moment to grasp the meaning of his words. “Don’t even go there. My sister would sleep in the clinic before she’d accept a ride from your brother.”
Doc lowered one eyebrow then crooked a smile that turned me to liquid. “Especially if Spencer were here to sl—”
“Don’t finish that sentence. If Bella accidentally heard you or even knew you’d thought it, she’d be harder to deal with than whoever killed the calf last night.” I sucked my bottom lip between my teeth and bit down hard as I realized what I’d said—whoever instead of whatever killed the calf. Maybe if I kept talking, he wouldn’t pick up on my mistake.
“And Bella isn’t easy to be around when she’s pissed. I’d rather deal with a rabid viper than have to deal with my sister when she’s angry. I’ve seen her…” I rattled on, trying to obscure my mistake with a gush of words.
He stopped the flood by kissing me.
As if struck by lightning, I flashed hot all over. Very slowly my arms wrapped themselves around his neck and my body leaned into his.
He slid his hands down my back to my bottom and held me against him. He was hard, tight, and almost more than I could bear to walk away from.
But he lifted his head in order to gasp a breath, and over his shoulder, I saw the moon.
A fat, white, perfectly round harbinger of death.
I dipped my head to stop his next kiss, resting my forehead on his chest.
“What’s wrong?” he rasped in a voice so low, I barely heard him.
My brain spun, making it hard to form a logical thought. After a long moment, I remembered my faux appointment. I glanced up at him. “I-I’m going to be late.”
He frowned as if trying to make sense of my words, then tightened his arms around me. “Can’t you cancel?”
It was all I could do to force my head to shake side to side. I didn’t want to leave the shelter of his embrace. I wanted to stay there with my heart next to his, where it belonged.
But someone out there was infected and would, without a doubt, attack. Tonight. And I had to be there to stop him.
I gave him a fast kiss then tearing myself out of his arms, got into the car. I started the engine and, with a wave, drove out of the lot. As I left, I glanced into the rearview mirror. He stood there, his hands on his hips.
Watching me drive away.
I didn’t drive far. A picnic area near the compound stood empty, so I pulled in. After parking at the back behind a small outcropping of trees, I stepped out and quietly closed the door.
The moon had edged higher in the sky, gilding the world with a silvery highlight. It was nothing for me to morph that night. All I had to do was release.
And I did.
In no time I ran on all fours, free in the world of the untamed. I ran hard, heating my muscles as I ducked under low growing bushes and dodged clumps of tall grasses. I dipped into a small trench then back out again, delighted with my freedom. A giraffe rolled her eyes and maneuvered her calf behind her when she saw me running in their direction, but I veered away. Slowing to a trot, I topped a small rise.
Sitting on my haunches, I lifted my nose in the air and howled. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, but the wild in me didn’t care.
As I drew a breath for another howl, I caught something on the wind. Another wolf, but something was wrong with the scent.
His underlying scent was man.
With a jolt, I realized I’d temporarily lost all memory of who I was and why I was on the hunt. I didn’t remember shifting or the beginning of my run.
I moved from the hillock to the low ground then deeper into the tall grasses where I burrowed down, keeping my body on the ground.
He was coming. For a moment, I was in concert with him. I could hear his heart, beating too fast. Feel his breaths searing his lungs. Experience the tumult of his mind—swirling, angry, confused.
His fur practically brushed mine as he passed without realizing I was there. Heat wafted from him, as if he’d run for miles, searching for something. The musk of his scent was heavy with blood. Without actually seeing him, I knew his muzzle was covered with it. He’d already killed. And, if he wasn’t stopped, he’d do it again.
Not wanting him to notice my movement, I slowly raised and, keeping low, crept through the underbrush after him.
When he was far enough ahead not to notice me, I increased my speed so I could keep his stench in my nostrils. We made a huge arc, looping past the area where the baby buffalo had died then turning toward the compound.
Navigating a drainage ditch, I lost his scent—which had to be a miracle in itself—but as I came out, I picked it up again. Instead of it coming from in front of me, it was beside me. I dropped prone then edged along the ground toward heavier brush. Now his scent came from behind
Fear stiffened my muscles as animal instinct hit. The hunted was now hunting me.
Finding a rabbit run through the extremely heavy lower brush, I shoved my way into it, my heart pounding in my chest. If this inexperienced animal, now on my trail, was a male the size and weight Doc had spoken of the night before, he’d never fit into the run. I could barely force my way inside.
The space tunneled through underbrush so dense, I couldn’t see out. And nothing could see in. But I didn’t stop.
I pushed and wiggled until I was safely inside. Even the tip of my tail couldn’t show. I clamped down on my fright until I was able to quiet my breathing so I wouldn’t be heard, and only hoped the rabbit hair, which lined the run, wouldn’t tickle my nose enough to make me sneeze.
Before long, I heard the snuffling sound of his tracking. After what seemed like hours, he must have found the entrance, because I heard frantic scratching, digging, then at last, whining born of frustration.
Good. If I had any luck at all, he’d give up soon.
But I’d have to leave the rabbit hole and follow him once more.
Time slowed. I imagined him lying at the entrance, waiting for me like a cat for a mouse to come out of a hole. I couldn’t turn around in order to look outside before emerging, which meant I’d have to leave tail first.
If he were still there, by the time I could see anything at all, I’d be in big trouble.
Instead of backing out, I decided to force my way farther into the tunnel. Sticks poked at my eyes while tiny branches scratched my hide, but I didn’t care.
Anything was better than being exposed to were-baby, while blinded by the brush. After working for some time, I came to a break in the tunnel that, presumably, another wolf had made at some time trying to get a rabbit. Or maybe the werewolf had made it, trying to get to me tonight. Luckily he hadn’t been able to force his way inside. At least I could see out.
Hanging low in the sky, drifting toward the horizon, was the moon.
I had to move. Now.
Shoving out of the hideaway, I opened my senses. The man’s cleverness and ability to navigate in his new waters amazed me. I couldn’t let the animal take me by surprise again.
When I could get no sense of him, I glanced again at the moon. It had dropped to balance on the horizon. In moments, it would be completely gone, and the neophyte would shift back to human.
On full alert, I started back toward my car. The last moments before he lost the moon could be the most powerful, and hardest, on a phyter. The last thing I wanted was to come upon him unaware.
As I reached the picnic grounds and my car, I heard a pain filled howl.
The moon was gone.
I shifted, dressed then got into the car. After glancing at the clock, I saw hours had passed. I took my cell phone from the ashtray where I’d left it and saw I’d missed a couple of calls, so I listened to my messages.
As I thought, there was one from Bella. “Where are you, Jazzy? Probably hung up in that meeting. I’m going to catch a ride home, so don’t bother coming back to the park for me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
By the tone of her voice and what she didn’t say, I knew someone stood nearby, probably listening.
She couldn’t have contacted me mentally while I was hairy and scary, but I might be able to reach her now, even with all those miles separating us. Especially if she was thinking about me.
Bella, can you hear me? I paused a moment. Bella? You aren’t asleep, are you?
Bella’s gasp crossed the miles to me, but her words were as soft as dried leaves whispering in the wind. Jazzy! I was so worried about you. Are you all right?
Her thoughts, so muted, made me wonder if she’d fallen asleep. I’m fine. I can tell you all about it in the morning.
All right, she answered. If you’re sure you’re okay.
She quickly spiraled away from me, making me think there was something tugging at her. Maybe she’d taken something for a migraine or a sleeping pill. Either would do it, but I couldn’t imagine her letting herself be out of it when I was in such a dangerous situation and not home yet. She was usually such a worrier.
I started my car and put it in gear. Because of the late hour and the light traffic, I didn’t look as closely as I should have for oncoming traffic. I pulled onto the highway right in front of a DPS trooper.
Naturally, he flipped on his lights, so I pulled to the shoulder.
The man talked on his radio for a moment, got out of his car with a flashlight and walked toward mine. I watched as his lights drenched him with color. First red, then blue.
I rolled down my window as he neared the car. “Good evening, ma’am.”