Cold, hard ground beneath me—it was as though every bone in me had been broken. I tried to remember why I was outside without a stitch on. Plus the taste of blood in my mouth almost made me gag.
I cracked my eyes open. My breath came out in wintry clouds as I strove to pull cold air into my lungs. Above, in the crisp, midnight blue sky, stars glittered coldly, indifferently. Suddenly, I remembered why I was here, naked. I got quite frustrated when I couldn't remember what my activities had been for the last several hours. I didn't see the moon above me, full and bright, as I knew it had been when the transformation began.
“Sabrina?” the voice startled me at first, but I knew who it was and remembered he had been with me.
While assessing my physical and mental well-being, I heard him move. The brittle rustle of month old, machine chewed, corn shocks filled my ears. I was in a field. I knew this, but why was it so hard for my brain to function?
The dark outline of a man hovered over me. He was naked too. It would have startled me otherwise, but I knew it was Dante Badheart—shifter, work mate, and used-to-be-lover—he had joined me on my first night of the change. Earlier he had pulled his black hair back off his face into a thick, long braid.
Memory of those moments before the full moon rose slowly returned to me. We'd braided each other's hair in the darkness while seated on the blanket, before the moon rose over the peak of a slight rise in the park where we waited. He'd said it was advisable.
“Sabrina? Are you alright?” Dante lowered himself to his knees beside me, and his voice became my only anchor, pulling me back out of the abyss, back to my very human condition.
Before I could answer, bile rose. I leaned over, and vomited, retching and spitting a few times after I was done. Now I knew the reason why he'd recommended we tie our hair back.
“Oh, God,” I gasped weakly, trembling in the cold. “I can't remember a thing.”
Dante's warm hands helped me to sit up and then, gradually, to stand.
“Be glad you can't,” he said in that quiet, reverential tone that gave this night the feel of some weird religious rite. “C'mon.” He held me for a moment when I refused to budge. He was warm—too warm for someone who was as naked as I was. Still, I shivered so violently my teeth chattered like castanets. I wanted to run my hands over his muscled shoulders and arms, up his well-muscled chest. How long had it been since we'd made love? Ten days? Felt like more.
He moved slightly, parting my thoughts like fog in a breeze. My balance failed me. I was weak, vulnerable, and a little stupid. Naked in the middle of November in a cornfield—that's crazy but not something I could help.
“C'mon. This way.” He braced me with an arm around my waist, and guided me forward, through the harvested cornfield toward a black, thirty- or forty-foot tall wall of mature white pine trees against the backdrop of slightly lighter violet blue sky. This was where we had begun our descent into our strange night among the wild things. My feet felt heavy, my toes numb, as I shuffled over chopped up corn stalks, discarded cobs, and leaves. I wanted to run to where we had shucked our clothes off, where I remember waiting for the change that had come over me once the full moon rose, but resisted. Now, images of what I'd experienced as my creature came back to me in flitting bits and pieces. It was like viewing it through a keyhole, as though watching some weird film. I realized I was in denial. That wasn't me. Couldn't have been me!
Dante wasn't a Were. He was a shift changer, and he had control over when and into what he changed. Normally he'd change into a beautiful, sleek, black jaguar, but tonight, he'd changed into a wolf, since that's what was likely out and about on a full moon.
Who knew what I became—I'd been bitten, not born. I was angry over this turn of events in my life—one I had no control over whatsoever—I wanted to kill Frank Lundeen, the Werewolf who'd bitten me almost a month ago. But I was pretty sure he was long gone. God save him if he ever came back to my neck of the woods.
We picked our way through the sharp, broken corn stalks, and found the place where the fence was twisted, and pushed down to about a foot off the ground and easy to step over, and then we traversed it carefully to avoid the rusted barbed wire with bare feet and legs.
Once we crossed into the park, we were under the sheltered canopy of white pines; their scent filled my senses. We padded across the bed of soft pine needles. They clung to my bare feet and stuck between my toes. Used to the darkness now, my eyes picked out the secret spot beneath the dead lower limbs of the pines. We had chosen this place mainly because Dante felt we'd be safe from farmers who might shoot at us, and we could avoid me killing something I shouldn't. Besides, he said the hunting would be better. I didn't want to think about it—that I'd probably killed an innocent, cute bunny, as I picked something that tasted suspiciously like fur out of my teeth; I needed a toothbrush and a pint of Listerine, and some painkiller. Of course, in an hour, I probably wouldn't feel like every bone and joint in my body had been reshaped, and organs had changed their size and configuration in my body.
Thankfully, I dropped to the soft blanket and found my pile of clothes, and Dante knelt next to his.
“Thanks for coming out with me,” I said between chattering teeth, my hands grasping at my clothes and trying to find the arm and neck holes.
“No problem,” he said. “Wouldn't miss your first time.”
I struggled into my jeans, pulled on my shirt, and yanked on my socks and shoes. I wanted to get into his car, get back to my place, and get warm, pronto. Like in two seconds.
“Uh, I'm freezing!” I said.
“Why are you so cold?”
“Because it's frigging cold out here, okay? Aren't you cold?”
“Must be nice to have a hot body,” I retaliated, then squeezed my eyes. “Scratch that.”