Dark Moon (Chapter Two)
Criminal Investigations Division, my mind translated as Nic reached into his suit and withdrew his ID, flipping it open with an ease born of practice.
I didn't bother to look. I knew who he was. I didn't care about his badge. I wanted to hear why he'd stepped out of the past and into my life. I wanted to discover where the boy I'd loved had gone and when this man had taken his place.
Seven years ago Nic had been easygoing and fun. I'd laughed more with him than I'd ever laughed with anyone else.
He'd been a wealth of contrasts. Quick with numbers, clever with words, fast hands, slow smile, a great kiss.
We'd both been alone in the world, searching for something, or maybe someone. We'd found it in each other. My life had forever been divided into before and after Dominic Franklin had come into it.
I still don't know if I believe in love at first sight.
I saw him so many times before I loved him. But a true, deep, forever love? In that, I do believe.
I didn't realize I'd said the words out loud until he answered them.
"Because I'm the best at what I do."
"Finding missing persons."
"What does that have to do with us?"
"You tell me. What do you do?"
Could I put him off by telling the lies I'd told a hundred times before? Wouldn't hurt to try.
"I'm studying a new strain of rabies in the wolf population."
"Never heard of it."
"The government doesn't want people to know the virus is becoming resistant to the vaccine."
"No, I made that up."
My teeth clicked together as I snapped my mouth shut. Why couldn't I keep quiet?
His lips twitched, almost a smile. But the expression faded as quickly as the moon did at dawn.
"You always wanted to be a doctor."
"A Ph.D. isn't an M.D."
I'd given up my hopes of treating people after I'd turned furry the first time. Kind of hard to build a practice when you never knew if you were going to wake up covered in blood the morning after a full moon.
In truth, I'd always been fascinated by viruses – where they came from, how they were transmitted, how in hell we could cure them. One of the few bright spots in the past seven years had been my work. I'd been given carte blanche to study something no one else even knew about. What scientist wouldn't be tempted?
Nic continued to stare at me, no doubt waiting to hear the reason I wasn't delivering babies or performing brain surgery. He'd be waiting a very long time.
"You were going to be a lawyer," I said.
When in doubt, point the finger elsewhere.
"I am. A majority of our agents have backgrounds in accounting or law."
Huh. I guess we do learn something new every day.
"This facility seems huge," he continued. "How many researchers do you have?"
We'd reached the end of my lies and my patience.
"If you want more information, you'll have to talk to the boss, Edward Mandenauer."
One call from Edward to Washington, D.C., and Nic would be out on his ear.
"Fine. Where is he?"
"Wisconsin. That's east of here, by a lot."
His eyes narrowed. " Where in Wisconsin?"
"Classified." I shrugged. "Sorry."
"Elise, you're starting to piss me off."
The smile nearly broke through again, and I thought, There you are, an instant before he caught himself and frowned.
This new Nic disturbed me. Had he become so serious and sad because of the job or because of me? I didn't like either choice.
Leaning back, he laced his fingers together and rested his head against his palms. "I'll just wait until he calls in."
I opened my mouth, then shut it again, stumped. I couldn't have him hanging around. I was behind schedule. Besides, how was I going to explain that there wasn't anyone in the compound but me, a single guard, and the werewolves in the basement?
I could throw Nic out, or have the guard do it; however, that kind of behavior would only add to the questions, and no doubt insure we enjoyed more visits from the FBI. Better to convince Nic to leave on his own if possible.
"Edward won't be calling for several days," I said. "He's in the field. You may as well tell me what's going on."
Nic stared at me for a few seconds before leaning forward and lowering his arms to the table. "I've been working on a case for years. A lot of people are no longer where they're supposed to be, and they haven't shown up anywhere else."
"Since when do missing persons come under FBI jurisdiction?"
"Since we have good reason to believe we're dealing with more than disappearances."
I heard what he wasn't saying. The FBI thought they had a serial kidnapper, if not a serial killer, on their hands. Hell, they probably did. What they didn't know was that the culprit was most likely less than human.
"A lot more people vanish in this world than anyone knows about," I murmured.
Nic lifted a brow. I guess I didn't have to tell him that. His business was finding the missing. Which made him dangerous to my business.
To keep the populace calm, part of the J-S job description was to invent excuses, smooth over the edges, make sure that those who were murdered by evil entities were not searched for by the authorities or their families.
"I still don't understand how we can help you. Is one of the missing people from this area?"
"Did you trace someone here?"
I threw up my hands. "What then?"
"We were sent an anonymous tip."
I resisted the urge to snort and roll my eyes. The bad guys were forever trying to throw the government at us. If we were unwinding red tape we weren't hunting and searching for monsters.
Until today, all such attempts had been quelled higher up. The word in Washington was that Edward Mandenauer stood above reproach. He was not to be bothered, and neither were any of his people.
Obviously Nic hadn't gotten the top secret memo.
I glanced at him as another possibility came to mind. The J��ger-Suchers might be a clandestine organization, and the location of our compound closely guarded, but recently many of our secrets had gone on the market. We had a traitor in our midst, and we never knew when someone might die.
"What was this tip?"
"E-mail. Said I'd find what I was seeking here."
I frowned. "Not much of a tip."
"Imagine my surprise when I saw your name on the employee roster of the J��ger-Suchers."
Which explained how he knew so much about me, how he'd remained so calm upon seeing me, while I'd been paralyzed. He'd already known I was here.
"There was precious little information in those personnel files, considering this is a government installation."
Since quite a few of our agents had been on the wrong side of the law at one time or another – sometimes it took a monster to catch a monster – it wouldn't do for their records to be available to anyone who cared to look. Our personnel files were carefully constructed to reveal the very least necessary – or in some cases nothing at all.
"I thought you were dead," he murmured, "and you were right here."
Strange how one small thing was often all it took to break a mystery wide open. People don't realize how often killers are caught because of an accident, a coincidence, nothing more than a sharp eye skimming an unrelated report and finding a connection.
No, I wasn't dead, but that didn't mean I didn't want to be.
As if realizing he'd skirted too close to an emotional edge neither one of us wanted to cross, Nic withdrew a sheet of paper from his jacket.
"Can you check with your people, with Manden-auer, see if anyone knows any of the names on this list of missing persons?"
His face was set, his eyes gone icy blue – back to business. I was alive; I was no longer missing. I could almost see him checking my name off a list in his brain.
Would he ever think of me again once he walked out of this room? Probably not, and that was a good thing.
So why did I feel so bad?
Nic still stood with the list in his hand. I took the paper and tucked it into a pocket without a glance.
"My number's at the top."
He rose and his gaze was captured by something on my desk. My breath caught as he stared at the small stuffed crow he'd once won for me at a local fair.
Actually won was too lenient a term. He'd spent five times what the cheesy toy was worth trying to sink a basketball into a hoop. Back then he'd been more bookish than buff.
My eyes touched on the broad shoulders packed into the dark suit. He could probably make a basket now, or ram the ball into the hoop by sheer force of will.
I didn't know what to say. That I'd kept the item all these years was far too sentimental a gesture for the cool, distant woman I wanted to be.
"I like crows."
My voice came out impressively blase, as if the toy meant nothing, but my eyes stung. I had to look away or embarrass myself.
I blinked a few times, swallowed, turned to see if he'd believed my lie and discovered him halfway out the door. Surprised, I scurried after, then paused in the hall.
He was leaving without pressing me for more answers about the J��ger-Suchers. I should be glad.
People who annoyed Edward Mandenauer often found themselves on the wrong side of dead.
I'd left Nic once so he wouldn't learn the truth, so he wouldn't be hurt. This time I'd let him leave for the same reason.
I continued to the front of the building so I could watch Nic walk out of my life forever. He might come back, but he wasn't getting in. I left explicit instructions to that effect with the guard.
I should contact my boss, tell him about the visit from the FBI, but it was just past noon. Edward would still be sleeping after hunting all night. There was time enough to call him once I checked on my latest experiment.
The only way into the basement laboratory was through the elevator located outside of my office.
Disguised as a wall panel, the door slid open at the press of my palm to the security monitor.
"Good afternoon, Dr. Hanover."
The computerized voice never failed to irk me; I'm not sure why. Extreme security was part of my life.
Though what I was doing was important, there were nevertheless those who would stop at nothing to keep me from doing it.
As the elevator descended to subterranean level, the same mechanical voice intoned, "Retina scan, please."
I positioned my face in front of the camera. Without the appropriate retinas, anyone who managed to get this far would be trapped inside. Of course, there was always the possibility someone would cut off my hand and dig out my eye in order to access the basement.
Luckily, or perhaps not, most of the beings capable of that level of insanity were already incarcerated on the other side of the door.
The elevator slid open. A bank of rooms fronted with bulletproof glass lined the walls. All of the chambers – hell, let's be honest, they were prison cells – were occupied.
I hadn't been kidding about the werewolves in the basement.