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.”
He chuckled. “Sorry.” He didn't sound sorry.
“You're full-blooded shifter,” I snarled while tying my shoes. “I'm a frigging freak. I'm probably ugly as hell when I shift.”
“No. You're not ugly,” he said.
“I am too,” I argued heatedly as I jumped to my feet and shuffled around to get my jacket. Only I found Dante in my space. He grabbed me by the shoulders. Tonight was the first physical contact we'd had in weeks. Not since Bjorn Tremayne's edict telling him that I was off limits had he touched me in an intimate way. If Dante wasn't Tremayne's scion, he might have gone behind his back, especially since Tremayne's incarceration, as he couldn't physically stop him. But there had been spies—vampires from Tremayne's inner circle—who had been staying at my house, surely placed there to spy on us. I was sure that anything Dante and I did got back to Tremayne, so we had resisted kissing each other. We had to stop everything. I didn't know how Dante was handling this, but I was frustrated. In addition, I was angry half the time, short tempered the other half, and horny all the time. Although right now, I felt relaxed, slightly euphoric, and that made me seriously wonder what else we did while all furry, I simply didn't want to dwell on the fact that the beast coming out of me this time of month was making things harder, more complicated.
Dante's face was mostly in shadow, but the glitter of his gray eyes shone under the thick canopy of pines. His hand's warmth actually came through my sweatshirt. How I wanted to steal his warmth for five or six minutes. I pressed into him and leaned my head on his chest. I needed him to comfort me after such an ordeal. He put his arms around me and I finally felt myself physically relax. My Knowing came over me, and the vision of us in our animal states threatened to engulf me. I tried to block it, but it roared to life in my mind's eye—me racing across a moonlit field, the wolf keeping up with me. Once he nipped me on the back, and then we went tumbling...
“You're not ugly, Sabrina” Dante's voice pulled me away from the vision. “Not when you shift, and not now. I could never think of you as anything but wonderfully alive, vibrant, and pretty.”
“Pretty ugly,” I muttered, turning my face and trying to pull myself out of his arms. Strong arms held me in place.
“Quit saying that!” His voice became a growl. He sounded agitated. I had never seen him angry. Not with me, anyway. Well, I'd pushed him, hadn't I?
“Okay,” I relented. “I'm not ugly, but I'm not pretty when I shift. How could I be?”
“You'd have to be another shifter or Were to understand.”
“And all male, I'm sure,” I quipped, then regretted it immediately. I didn't want to start an argument. We'd had plenty of those in the past few weeks.
“You want to know what happened?” He let me go and crossed his arms across his chest, a challenge in his voice.
“I already know,” I said, and briskly turned aside. I didn't want to know that I ate something furry, and I especially didn't want to know we'd had sex while shifted.
I had wanted this night to be over with ever since I understood I would probably become a Were-creature. The question of whether or not I would change was undetermined until now. Nicholas Paduraru, the first vampire I'd ever met, had been with me when the Werewolf bit me. He had sucked the venom from the wound within moments of the bite. Tonight's transformation confirmed that he had not gotten it all, or else the poison was exceptionally aggressive and had reached deeper into my system than he could access. Whichever it was, I was now some sort of Were-person, not able to change completely into a wolf, but somewhere in between wolf and human during the full moon every twenty-seven, or twenty-eight days.
Now fully clothed, we trekked back toward Dante's car in the parking lot of the forest preserve. It was a long hike, and I was aching for the warmth of my own bed, and the sanctuary of my own house less than a mile away.
As we topped the hill, our ears pricked to sounds alien to the night and its creatures. Dante dropped to a crouch on the path through dead stalks of tall prairie grass and prairie flowers. Swaying slightly in the breeze, the plants stood taller than a man and made for useful cover. I sank beside him in the long, golden grasses, my senses humming. We both peered through the screen and saw a black and white county police car, its headlight beams lighting up the back of Dante's black Mustang. The police radio crackled every now and then, with a voice or some static.
“Shit,” Dante swore softly. Man of few words, he echoed my thoughts exactly.
I remained silent. Either we had to walk back to my place, or wait for this idiot to give him a ticket and leave. I voted we wait it out. Dante didn't have to ask me, he could read my mind—telepathy being one of his many natural talents.
We watched the uniform return to his own car, and ducked in to call over his radio. I could hear the transmission, but I couldn't quite make out the words. I presumed he was radioing the license plate numbers to find out whose car it was, see if there were any wants or warrants, etc. He would only find it registered to Bjorn Tremayne, not Dante Badheart since it wasn't actually his car but from a line of cars owned by Bjorn Tremayne of Chicago.
In my first week at Tremayne Towers, Dante and I had become intimate on Tremayne's orders, and it didn't take much to persuade me since Dante wasn't a vampire and didn't frighten me as Tremayne and Nicolas did. Plus, he was handsome as hell. My dating list of guys now included shifters and vampires, but it was a testament to what my life had become recently that normal human men were now not nearly as intriguing to me, and I made my decisions about who I would see based on whether he had warm blood and a darker complexion than milk.
I glanced over at Dante, his handsome Native American features partially washed in the lights from the cruiser. My gaze lingered on his sexy mouth. What I wouldn't do to kiss those lips again...
While we sat there in the long grass waiting, the sound of gravel crunching drew our attention away from the Mustang and cruiser to find another set of headlights piercing the darkness along the winding drive of the park. I couldn't tell, but I thought it was another cruiser, until it came closer. Unless it was an unmarked, it looked like a regular car, and it parked directly behind the police unit and cut its lights to parking ambers.
The patrolman unfolded himself from his cruiser as two people emerged from the new arrival. I wasn't sure, but I thought the sporty car's color looked deep maroon. Also, I wasn't entirely sure if the two people who'd gotten out were men or women as their hair was shoulder length. When I heard their voices, I knew exactly who they were. Their British accents made them, and my heart did a crazy little dance between happiness and dread. This could go one way or another, and I wasn't sure I wanted to watch.
“The twins,” Dante confirmed for me, but he didn’t need to. I nodded, my gaze never leaving the scene. The voices traveled to our ears. The twins, Heath and Leif Sufferden. Originally from Liverpool, England, they had been turned in 1969. And yes, they had been freaking Beatles fans back then and still are—at least Heath is.
“This car wouldn't be either of yours, would it?” I heard the uniform ask.
“Well, yes it would be,” replied one of them.
“Mind telling me why it's parked here after hours?” the uniform asked.
“Broke down.” “Out of gas…” came voices in stereo.
“Well, which is it?”
“I have the gas can in the back,” said one—I had to guess that had been Leif. His brother, Heath was still standing a few feet in front of the uniform. Obviously, the cop had no idea that the two men were vampires, and if it weren't for the vampiric laws in place, he'd be dead meat right where he stood—all the better for him.
“You got some ID?” he asked.
“Sure.” Heath reached in his back pocket. Wallet out, he stepped forward. Both vampire and human faced one another in the wash of amber and red lights. There came a long pause where no one spoke. Leif moved around their car, empty handed from the open trunk, and now both vampires were in front of the uniform.
Then, without a word, the policeman turned around, got into his car, and drove off. This explained why vampires never got speeding tickets. Mind control by a vampire was total.
Dante was up and moving before I realized it, and I sprinted to catch up. He stopped beside the twins as I pulled up beside him, panting slightly.
“What brings you two to this neck of the woods?” Dante asked.
I cast my eyes on both young men. Twenty-one, and nearly identical down to the wavy, shoulder-length, caramel-blond hair, but I could tell them apart these days. Heath had a more innocent, open face than his brother. Leif simply oozed danger. I saw it every time he looked at me.
“We were driving by—”
“No, they won't believe that story,” Leif broke in. “Tremayne wanted us to keep an eye out, just in case you needed help tonight. I'd say we got here just in the nick.”
“Yeah, gosh, thanks,” Dante said with an aw-shucks voice that didn't belong to him. “He was about to give me a ticket. Gee-whiz, you done stopped him.”
I snickered. Heath stifled his chuckle when Leif shot him a nasty look.
“We actually were prowling for women,” Heath joked. “But at six-thirty in the bloody morning you're not likely to find any.”
“Yeah. Especially in a cornfield, mate,” his brother put in.
“So, what's the real story?” Dante asked with his hands on his slim waist.
“Really, Tremayne wanted to make sure Sabrina didn't come to any trouble.”
“I thought that's why I was here.” Dante sounded slightly peeved.
“Here it comes, brother,” Heath said low, leaning conspiratorially toward Leif.
“Don't matter,” Leif said, hands out in placation. “Anyway, we're here following orders. That's all.”
Dante checked his watch. He looked up at both vampires. “It's nearly dawn.”
Leif and Heath exchanged looks. “Can we bunk at your house, Sabrina?”
“Sure,” I said. “Follow us.”