"Do you believe in monsters?" Cassie looked Amy straight in the eye when she asked it. She had to look down a little bit. Amy was quite a bit shorter than her friend. And while Cassie was a truly striking woman, with eyes the color of honey amber with flecks of brown and gold, framed by lashes that were nearly black, despite her naturally blonde hair. Amy was not. It wasn't that she wasn't pretty. She was, tiny with porcelain skin and long dark hair that was wildly curly. Still, she had to work hard to look good as Cassie looked naturally. Sometimes she made the effort. Other times, like tonight, after a long shift at work she knew she wouldn't be getting a second look.
She was actually okay with that. Her last relationship had been such a disaster that she wasn't sure she'd ever be ready to date again.
They were on their third drinks, waiting for the pizza to arrive. Petie's had good drinks and great food, but speedy they weren't. The two women had come to the bar together, meeting up with the rest of their group. The guys had gone over to the pool tables to kill some time until the food arrived. Cassie and Amy had stayed here to chat.
Cassie was Amy's friend, her first and only girlfriend since she'd moved into town three months before. Maybe it was the intimacy of a dark bar, and the two of them sitting alone at a corner table. Probably it was the drinks. But Amy opened my mouth and truth fell out, shocking them both.
"Yes, I believe in monsters. A monster is the guy who looks absolutely ordinary, but stalks you until you get a restraining order, then laughs because he knows it's just a piece of paper. He's the one who leaves threatening messages in excruciating detail saying exactly what he intends to do to you, no matter how many times you change your number and slashes the tires of your new car when it's parked in front of the new apartment he isn't even supposed to know about. He's the guy who breaks into your house and kills your pet, leaving the corpse on your pillow so you'll know he can get to you any time he wants. That's a monster. And it's scarier than any vampire or zombie, or any other monster you'll see in the movies." Amy was speaking softly, barely above a whisper, so that only Cassie would hear. She so didn't want Zach, Mike or Rob to know. It would change how they treated her. The last thing she wanted was for her friends to see her as a victim. They wouldn't mean to, but it had happened before. Amy valued being treated like a person and an equal, being accepted at face value. Ultimately, that was probably why she'd confided in Cassie. Her friend had treated her at face value from the first day she'd started working as the admissions clerk in the ER. The time was overdue for some real honesty. But while she liked the guys a lot, Amy just wasn't ready to trust a man-any man.
Cassie's eyes narrowed, and Amy would have sworn she heard her friend growl. It was a low vicious sound, the kind that sets your hair on end and makes your pulse race; barely audible over the sound of the music blasting out of the jukebox. Even so, over at the pool table the guys turned as one, their eyes locking onto the two women, their gaze intense, bodies poised for action. It was . . . disconcerting.
Amy blinked rapidly and looked away, but before she did she saw Cassie give a tiny shake of her head. The guys went back to their game. But Amy could feel their focus on her just the same.
"What did you do?"
Amy turned back again so she could met the concern and curiosity in Cassie's gaze, forcing herself to answer without flinching. "I ran. I gave up everything, my family, career, friends, everything. I even changed my name. Because I knew . . . know that if he finds me he will kill me. Slowly."
There was a long, thoughtful pause. Finally, Cassie said, "I see. That explains a lot."
Amy raised her eyebrows in inquiry.
Cass smiled, to take the sting out of her words. "Amy, please. You've got the three hottest guys in Harmony panting after you, but you act like you don't even notice."
Amy's face heated from a fierce blush. "They are not."
"They hell they aren't." Cassie took a long drink from her glass then gave her friend a rueful look, "Rob even asked me if you were gay."
Amy wouldn't have believed she could blush any harder, but she somehow managed it. A part of her wanted to slide under the table and stay there. Another part was flattered. After all, these were great guys. Rob was tall, dark and lean with intense blue eyes framed by thick dark lashes. He wore his hair cut short, befitting a doctor. Mike worked as an orderly and looks enough like Rob that Amy would've thought they were related. They're not. They were just roommates and very good friends who played practical jokes on each other, but still managed to be completely professional at work.
Zach was the quiet one. County Coroner, he spent most of his time alone in the basement of the hospital. A brilliant MD, he could work with the living if it weren't for the fact that he didn't much like people. Amy hadn't seen him say more than half a dozen words to anyone outside of their little group.
Still, when he did talk, it was worth listening. Zach's dry, wicked wit flew right over most people's heads, but totally cracked Amy up. She liked all three of the guys quite a lot, but she had a real soft spot for Zach. If I were in the market . . . she thought. But no. She wasn't. Not now. Maybe not ever. Besides, Zach could have anybody. He didn't need to settle for a woman with so much baggage she needed a storage unit.
Amy had to force herself not to stare at him. Damn he looked hot tonight. He'd been spending some time in the sun, so his dark blond hair had sunnier highlights, and the muscular arms that strained at the sleeves of his Metallica tee-shirt were nicely tanned. He was a little shorter than both Mike and Rob, but he was built better. He was six foot tall, and there wasn't an ounce of fat on him. And oh, his eyes. Bright green, they wouldn't have looked out of place on a cat. She'd never seen anyone with eyes like that. But they looked perfect on him.
Amy caught herself staring at him, bent over the pool table lining up a shot-particularly his nice, round backside.
She tore her gaze away, and found Cassie giving her a knowing look. "Aha, apparently you're not completely immune to them after all."
"It's all right Amy. Really. They're good guys. You can trust them. They would never hurt you. And I think they might take apart anybody else who tried."
"I know . . ." She did, intellectually. But somehow she just didn't think she was ready to trust her heart to anyone yet, even Zach.
"Wow, talk about your baggage. I mean, yeah, it's not her fault, but wow." Mike took a pull from a long-necked beer bottle still wet from the cooler and leaned back against his truck. They'd driven out to the lake after Petie's had closed. None of the three of them was ready to sleep. Besides, it was a gorgeous night-way too beautiful to be inside.
Zach shook his head as he reached into the cooler for a cold one. He liked Mike, truly. But in some ways his packmate was just a kid. "Like you said. 'Not her fault.' I can wait if I have to. She's worth it." She was too. He'd never met anyone quite like her-smart, kind, pretty, and hey, she actually got his jokes. But best of all by far, she wasn't squicked out by his job. Zach couldn't count the times he'd gone on a first date with a promising prospect only to have her go "EWWWWW, dead bodies? Really?" For the rest of the night she would act like he had some kind of contagious disease she was afraid of catching.
"Maybe she'll never be ready." Rob suggested. "That's a hell of a lot to deal with. It's a damned shame too. She's a great girl." He snarled, showing sharp white teeth. "Damn but I'd love to sink my teeth into that bastard."
Zach shook his head. "Me too." He agreed heartily. The guy who'd done that to Amy was one sick bastard. He richly deserved whatever payback Zach and the pack could give him. Of course in order for them to deliver that payback the bastard would have to find Amy and come after her again. Not something to wish for. Still, he knew it had to be hard for Amy, living her life waiting for the other boot to drop.
# # #
Despite Rob's misgivings, that night launched the beginning of the slow, infinitely patient campaign by Zach to win Amy's heart. It was made up of tiny things: walking her to her car after shift; bringing her a cup of her favorite high-end coffee to her when she was tired. Giving her a miniature rose bush in her favorite yellow for her to plant in the yard on her birthday. When the group would go out for a pizza, Zach somehow always wound up sitting beside her so that he could pay special attention.
He never pushed, didn't rush her. He made her smile, laugh, when she'd almost forgotten how. And while it didn't hurt that he was so scrumptious to look at, it really didn't figure that much into the equation. He was nice, and funny. He helped her to feel again, made her feel beautiful, lovable, and best of all, safe.
In the end, Amy was the one who made the first move.
It was a sweltering summer night-ninety-eight degrees and ninety-eight percent humidity. The air felt thick enough to drink. It was , and as usual the five of them had gone to Petie's for pizza and beer when their shift ended at . They'd eaten, drank, and somehow or other, Zach managed to talk Amy into letting him teach her how to shoot pool.
Having him mould his body to hers as they bent down over the table to line up a shot made her pulse race. The clean, masculine scent of him, the soft brush of his hair against her cheek made her body tighten until she practically ached with need. Being this close to him was certainly distracting enough that she miscued, sending the white cue ball flying off the table and across the room and leaving her feeling like a total idiot. He'd just smiled, winked at her, and gone to fetch the ball. "Maybe you'll do better if I step back a little?" He teased, his grin both wicked and anticipatory.
She stuck her tongue out at him. Immature, but it made him laugh, a low wicked sound that tightened things low in her body and made her pulse quicken.
"Or, maybe it's time to leave?" Amy's voice was just a little breathy. She couldn't help it. He'd stepped closer, close enough that they were not quite touching.
"If that's what you want."
Oh sweet lord yes. She wanted it, wanted him desperately. He was sweet, sexy, kind, sexy, gorgeous, and did she mention . . . sexy. She honestly couldn't believe he was interested in being with her. But he obviously was.
When he walked her to her car she went up on tiptoe to kiss him goodnight. She'd intended just to give him a chaste peck, but her body betrayed her, the kiss growing into something hot enough to make her knees week and leave her breathless and panting. She expected him to push for more, at the same time that she was terrified he might. She wasn't ready. She wanted to be-didn't want what that sick bastard did to ruin her chances for something this special, but she was afraid.
When he didn't push for more she was both relieved and disappointed. She left for home physically frustrated, and mentally torn. She wanted him, and not just for a night. He was being patient, but was he patient enough? It really boiled down to one thing. Did she care enough about him enough to risk it-to try?
She tried to imagine the alternative-losing him to someone else, and felt the sting of tears. She couldn't let that happen. She couldn't.
The next night she asked him out to dinner and a movie. By autumn they were lovers. She was happy-happier than she'd ever been in her life.
She should've known it wouldn't last.
morning, dawned bright and clear, but by an ominous storm bank had moved in from the west. The weather service had issued tornado warnings. Amy could believe it. Looking out across the fields that surrounded her little farm house in the country she could see just how ugly the storm was looking. The clouds had that greenish-yellow underbelly that spoke of hail and worse. It made her nervous enough that she decided to get ready and go into work early-just in case.
She was in the bathroom, drying off from her shower when leading edge of the storm hit, the wind howling like a banshee, rain, then hail, beating against the glass of the bathroom window. At first she could barely hear the wail of the tornado siren over the sounds of the storm.
Abruptly an eerie silence fell. Amy peered around the curtains, not sure what to expect, and was rewarded with the sight of the first rotation of clouds, slowly at first, then gaining momentum. The wind began howling again, a wall of sound like a freight train as a white wedge cloud lowered to touch down in the empty field, no more than a mile away. Mesmerized, she watched as a force of nature, horrible and yet somehow beautiful, tore across the land darkening to brown as dirt and debris were sucked upward into the funnel, the town of Harmony directly in it's path.
# # #
The devastation was unfathomable. It is one thing to watch images of wreckage on the television, or see photos in the newspapers. It's another to view a familiar scene, up close and personal, so hideously and suddenly changed. Massive trees, hundreds of years old, ripped from the ground and tossed, as if by the hand of some massive being. Power lines were down everywhere. Homes were cracked open like eggs, stunned victims roaming the streets past crushed vehicles. She saw it all as she drove her truck with desperate care to the hospital. On the seat next to her, the medical bag she'd set aside for the year and more since she'd fled her old life.
They'd drilled for this. Everyone on staff knew their roles. She had to get to the hospital as fast as possible to help process the injured.
Amy tried calling Zach and the others-there was no signal. The cell tower must have been hit. Amy tried to convince herself he was fine, they all were fine, but her entire body was tense with worry. She had to get to the hospital. Not only to help, but because that's where he . . . they would look for her. Still, it was hard, driving past piles of wreckage, knowing that there might be people trapped inside. But Amy knew she wasn't strong enough, or well-trained enough to help anyone there. Rescue workers would work to get them out safely, without making the wreckage shift. She could, and would, help save more lives at the hospital. Damn the consequences, and hiding her identity. She'd use her medical training. She was a doctor, and doctors would be desperately needed.
Amy arrived into organized chaos and set to work, reporting in to the person in charge in the hospital cafeteria, showing them her credentials and briefly explaining that she was willing to work either as a clerk or a doctor, whatever was needed.
"Doctor." He told her. "We need more doctors. Most of our staff hasn't checked in yet, and half the town has been wiped out. Go down to the emergency room. Check in with Mike, he's in charge. Tell him what you told me and get to work."
"Mike," Amy started to speak, to explain, but he swept her into a hug that left her breathless. "Thank God, you're okay. The radio said the twister came out of the east along I-55. That's out by your place."
"I'm fine. And Mike, I'm a physician. I gave my practice up when I moved here, but I'm still licensed."
"Good. We need every trained body we can get."
"Zach? Cassie and Rob?"
His voice held barely controlled anguish. "I don't know."
They set to work, dealing with the most critically injured first. Each time the doors opened Amy looked up, searching each face, hoping it would be him.
And finally it was.
Amy almost collapsed, her knees going weak with the relief of seeing not just Zach, but Cassie and Rob too, all safe and relatively uninjured. She had to steady herself against the nearest wall and blink back tears of relief and joy.
They came to her, giving her a quick hug, murmuring words of affection before going to check in with Mike and getting to work.
There was plenty of work to do. The storm had wreaked utter devastation on the area. A full half of Harmony was flattened, and the storm did worse to some of the smaller, outlying towns. Amy worked, side by side with her fellow physicians and nurses, as cops and firefighters, EMTs, and plain citizens brought the injured in a seemingly endless chain: trauma victims with broken bones, concussions, patient 87 was a 20 year old man, had been impaled by a length of steel pipe.
To her surprise, none of her friends asked why she was working as a physician. Maybe Mike had warned them. Whatever the reason, Amy didn't waste time worrying about it. There was too much to do. Hours later, when the last patient was stabilized, she was almost too weary to move or think.
"I'm exhausted." She said it to herself as much as anyone in the room. They were all tired. They'd done good work. Lives had been saved. So far there were only two deaths. Not bad, considering she'd heard that the twister had been an F5. But four people were still missing, including the coach at the high school and his wife, one of the nurses here at the hospital.
"You did good Amy." Mike came up beside her. "We all did. Bob and Sandy got here last. They're taking the shift. Things are stable. You can go home."
"I'm too beat to drive." In fact, she was so tired she could barely speak. Her tongue seemed awkward, slurring her words.
"You can sleep in the Expedition with me if you like." Cassie offered. "That's what I'm doing. The back seats fold down and the front ones recline. I'm too pooped to drive. Even if I could, I saw a picture on the news. The duplex is just . . . gone."
"Oh Cass, I'm so sorry." Amy started to offer her condolences, but the other woman waved it away.
"Don't. Really. It's just stuff. I'm alive. Everybody I care about is alive. There's nothing that was there that I can't replace. But oh God I'm tired."
"Me too." Zach came up to the two women. Like everyone else with a medical degree, he'd chipped in and helped. he'd be back to working as coroner, processing the bodies of old Mr. Slocum and poor Emily Johns-and anybody else who didn't make it. But tonight he'd worked on the living, and done a damned fine job of it. But he looked as weary as Amy felt. His scrubs were stained and rumpled, his skin almost gray from the fatigue that always manifests after the surge of adrenaline drains off.
"You did good today Amy. You'd never know you hadn't been practicing for a while." Zach pulled her into a hug, whispering in her ear. "I'm proud of you. It's brave of you to come out like this. Are you going to be okay?"
She went up on tiptoes, kissing him gently. "I'm proud of you too." She didn't answer his question. She knew that by revealing her true identity, and her credentials as a physician, she'd taken a terrible risk. Later, she'd have to deal with the consequences. But not now. For now, to hell with the consequences. She was going out to that vehicle, laying down next to the man she loved and getting some much deserved rest.
"Does your offer extend to the rest of us?" Mike asked Cassie.
"Sure. Why not. It's a big vehicle. We'll all fit."
So, as a group, they walked out of the emergency room to the parking lot. They were all so tired that not one of them saw the cameraman's lens following their progress.
"Where do you think you're going?" Zach mumbled as he tried to pull her close again.
"I have to pee." Amy whispered. "And then I really want a shower. I think they've probably cleared the highway by now."
He groaned, waking the others.
"What's up?" Cassie's voice came from the front of the vehicle as the driver's seat moved upright.
"Amy's headed home to take a shower. I think I'm jealous." Mike answered. I'm not sure my place is even standing, and I know the power's out. So no hot water."
Zach lifted his arm and Amy squirmed out from under as the back hatch lifted at Cassie's press of a button. "You guys can come to my place. I'm on well-water, and the twister passed me by. I've got a generator for electricity, and there's room for anybody who wants to stay. I just wasn't up to driving last night."
"Oh God a shower. I don't suppose you'd have any spare clothes?" Cassie's voice was filled with longing. When Amy smiled and nodded her best friend gave a sigh of pure pleasure and said, "If you weren't already taken, and the wrong sex, I'd kiss you right now."
"Now that's something I'd pay to see." Rob said.
Zach gave a half-hearted growl.
"Aw come on boss." Rob apologized, "a man can dream can't he?"
"Not if he wants to stay healthy." Zach answered.
Amy decided not to get into the middle of that discussion. Instead, she changed the subject. "I'm going inside for a minute." She said as she clambered awkwardly out of the vehicle. "Meet you all at my place?" Amy suggested.
Amy's house wasn't really large. At one time it had been part of a big farm, but most of the land had been sold to one of the big farming corporations, leaving only about ten acres surrounding a white two-story home and a big red barn. Still, it was a nice little place, with lots of amenities, including the generator that Amy'd been so sure she'd never have a use for.
Cassie's Expedition was parked in the gravel drive when Zach and Amy arrived, and Amy's three friends had made themselves comfortable on the wide front porch that had a view so peaceful it belied the chaos of just a few short hours ago.
Like any good hostess, Amy decided to let her guests have first crack at the bathroom. Of course, that meant she'd probably wind up with only cold water. Unless, of course, she doubled up with Zach. Just the thought of that warmed her up all over.
The next couple of days were incredibly busy. Cassie's home had been completely obliterated, so she moved in with Amy. Zach's house was unlivable, but he'd decided Amy wasn't quite ready for a live-in lover. So he used his savings to buy a used motor home that he parked in Amy's drive, hooking it up to her utilities. Rob and Mike spent most of their time at Amy's as well, because while the town was digging out and working on repairs, their apartment still didn't have running water.
It was strange, but Amy seemed perfectly comfortable having the four of them around.
Still, he could tell that she wasn't sorry when he'd suggested that he and the guys take the truck to go on a grocery run to the nearest city outside the disaster area. She'd even given them a list, and tried to give him money to cover it. He took the former, and firmly refused the latter. "We're buying. Don't argue."
She wrinkled her nose at him, which made him smile. Of course he'd been smiling quite a lot lately. Being with her just made him happy. It was that simple.
"Fine." She agreed, going on tiptoe to kiss him. "If you insist."
"I do." He kissed her back and she reacted with enough body English that he was tempted to tell the guys to go without him. But she pulled away, laughing and making a little shooing gesture with her hands.
"Go. I'm completely out of coffee and milk." She turned, walking away.
"Right." He watched her walk all the way to the house, appreciating the sway of her hips, and the way the breeze played with her long dark curls. Only when she was inside and out of sight did he climb into the truck to join the others. They didn't say a word.
The silence only lasted until they reached the highway. Then Rob broached the subject Zach had most been dreading.
"You have to tell her Zach." Rob's voice was firm. "We're practically living with her. Hell, Cassie is. Besides, she deserves to know."
"I know, I know." Zach glared at his buddy across the bulk of Mike's body.
"I'm with Rob on this one, boss. Amy needs to know what we are. We can trust her. She can keep a secret."
Zach knew that. Amy knew all about keeping important secrets. That wasn't the problem, wasn't why he had put off telling her about his true nature so long that now she was liable to feel betrayed at him having kept it from her.
He was afraid.
It was that simple. He loved her, needed her. Finally, he had found the right woman, his mate. And he was liable to lose her. Because he wasn't human. Not completely anyway. How could he expect her to understand that?
How could he risk losing her?
Mike gave him a look, his expression saying clearly that he understood exactly what his friend was going through. "You have to risk it boss."
"What if she runs?"
Rob sighed. "Then she runs. But I think you're underestimating her. She loves you, and she's strong enough to be coming back from something so horrific most people would crawl in a hole and stay there."
"You're right." Zach admitted. But when and how he'd break the news to her he had no clue.
"What's wrong?" Cassie took the paper from her friend's limp hand and spread it out over the kitchen table.
There, on the front page, were images of the devastation along the twister's path-and a clear photo of five "heroic" hospital workers going off duty after "a long shift saving lives."
There was no missing Amy's face, and the photo was helpfully captioned with each of their names.
"Oh no." Cassie looked at the paper in horror, then to her friend's stricken face, at the tears running silently down Amy's cheeks. Stiffening her spine Cassie made her voice firm. "This doesn't mean anything."
"I'll have to go. " Amy whispered, her voice choked with tears. "I'll have to start over. Again."
"No!" Cassie answered firmly giving her friend a steely glare. "Absolutely not."
"You don't understand." It was a sad whisper.
"The hell I don't." Cassie slammed her palm against the table. Eyes blazing with intensity, she willed Amy to believe every word she was saying. "You're afraid. I get that. But you're not leaving. First, there's a good chance he won't see this. Not too many people read the papers these days. Everybody goes online. But even if he does, you have us now. Zach, Mike, Rob and me. We are not going to let some bastard victimize you. We're not. We love you Amy. All of us. Yeah, Zach may be the one you chose, but you're one of us now. And if that sick bastard is stupid enough to come after you he'll have to deal with all of us. We'll show him what real monsters can do."
"Cassie . . ." Amy's heart was breaking.
"You're not leaving Zach. It'd kill him. He loves you that much." Cassie's jaw thrust out stubbornly. "You're not leaving any of us. Promise me."
"But . . ."
Amy stared into those incredible gold eyes, and found herself making a promise that just might cost her her life.
Amy sighed as she pulled back into the driveway and cut the headlights. The pole light in the yard lit the area as bright as day. She'd have to hurry or she'd be late for her shift. She was covering for Molly Emerson, who was away to Disneyland® for the weekend with her husband and kids. But she'd forgotten her office keys and she just had to have them. So she'd turned around and come back home.
Amy had tried to be brave, put a good front on in front of the others, but ever since that photo had appeared in the paper she'd been secretly terrified of being alone. She wanted nothing more than to just stay home and be with Zach and the others. But Molly had begged until Amy had promised to cover the shift-even though it was the first night of the full moon, when all the crazies seem to come out in droves.
The keys were right where she left them, on the hook in the kitchen. She snagged them, surprised not to hear anyone bustling around the house. In fact, the place was almost eerily quiet.
Glancing out the kitchen window she saw Zach's motor home. A flicker of movement caught her eye. Moving closer, she saw a group of large dogs . . .no . . . wolves. "Holy crap, they're wolves," she said to herself. But that was crazy. There were no wolves in central Illinois. It wasn't possible. But there they stood. There were four of them, three male, one female. They were huge. Much bigger than any normal dog-and beautiful in a scary predatory sort of way.
At the sound of Amy's words the wolves turned as if one, staring at her through the kitchen window. Even from this distance she could see the look in their eyes, the intelligence in each gaze was uncanny. And the color . . . the two black wolves had penetrating blue eyes. The tawny female's eyes were honey amber with flecks of brown and gold. Amy let out a soft gasp, the keys falling from her nerveless fingers. "No. It's not possible." She had to steady herself against the counter as she turned to look at the last wolf, a beautiful male with the traditional silver-gray markings. He met her gaze head on, looking at her with Zach's green eyes.
Oh shit! Amy?
At the sound of Zach's voice in her mind, she turned and ran.
Driving to work she told herself it was a dream. Stress. She'd been imagining things. A part of her was sure of it. Another, larger part knew better.
'Do you believe in monsters?' She remembered Cassie's question as she drove to work at the hospital. And 'We'll show him what real monsters can do.'
It was impossible.
But when she thought back, tried to remember, she realized she couldn't think of a single full moon night when her friends had been on shift. Not one. They'd taken vacation days, switched shifts, or called in sick. They'd never, not once, been on duty. And they always hung out together as a group . . . a pack.
"No. I don't believe it. I don't." Amy told herself as she pulled into the parking lot. She climbed out of the car, so lost in thought that she wasn't paying attention to her surroundings.
It was a terrible mistake.
Zach ran, hard as he could, over fields, through yards, a gray blur of fur moving through the night, he couldn't match Amy's vehicle for speed, but he knew where she was going, and he could take the more direct route, going cross country. He tried to reach her telepathically, but she was too distraught to hear him. Behind him, far in the distance, he could feel his pack mates, back in their human form, driving together to the hospital to help her cope, or console him, whichever. He didn't have time to worry about them, his thoughts were all of Amy and of self-recrimination for not having had the courage to tell her himself.
As he rounded the last corner he saw her pull into her parking space and climb from the car. He was less than a block away, bunching for one last full-out sprint when he saw a male figure step out of the darkness and grab Amy, putting a cloth over her mouth as he dragged her into the back of a van with its motor running.
Howling in rage and fury he launched himself across the distance. Too late, the van pulled out of the drive with a squeal of tires and a spray of gravel.
She tried to struggle, to move, but her body simply wouldn't respond. She wasn't bound. But she was helpless. A part of her mind she went through the drugs he could've used, how he might have administered them, so that her mind would stay clear while her body remained passive.
Stan had her. She felt a wave of heart-pounding panic, but fought it down. She had to think if she was going to survive. And she was determined that she would survive.
"Well, well, well. I see you finally decided to join me. You had me worried for a minute there. I was afraid I'd over dosed you."
She couldn't have answered if she wanted to. Still, he prowled around her. She could hear him moving, always just out of sight.
"I've waited so long for this." Stan gave a long sigh. "You've led me on a merry chase. You've been so much more challenging than the others. I almost wish it wasn't ending tonight. But the wait only increased the anticipation. And it gave me time to think about all the things I want to do to you as you lie there, helpless."
He stepped forward, finally coming into her line of vision: a smallish man, average height, but fine boned, his light brown hair straight and thinning, slightly paunchy beneath the blue cotton scrubs that brought out the traces of blue in his cold gray eyes. In his rubber-gloved hand there was a scalpel, on his face a smile that held not the slightest trace of sanity.
"I practiced, you know-with the drugs. It took a long time, but I wanted to get it just right. Enough to keep you motionless, but not unconscious. I wanted you able to scream, to feel the pain." He cut a delicate slice down one arm. She tried to flinch, tried to cry out, but her body couldn't move and the gag was so effective very little sound emerged. Still, she saw him savor that little sound, an almost orgasmic expression passing over his features as he watched her blood rise from the parted flesh. There was an instant's pause between the cut and the pain that happens when you're sliced with a truly sharp blade. There's a flash of disconnect as your mind and body realize that this is going to be bad.
Abruptly, outside there was a terrible commotion-pounding on the door of the next room, a drunken voice shouting "Dammit Giselle! Let me in!"
A familiar drunken voice. It was Mike. She'd swear it. Making enough noise to raise the dead, bring the police and cover up other smaller sounds, like the ones right outside the hotel room window.
Amy, can you hear me? Zach's desperate voice spoke directly into her mind.
She made a sound behind the gag, as if calling for help.
"Come on Giselle! You know I didn't mean it!"
"Oh no you don't!" Stan hissed into Amy's ear. "You are not getting away from me this time. And no one is going to be saving you." Setting the scalpel onto the nightstand he stripped off his gloves, tossing them onto the bed beside Amy. Then with a single swift movement he yanked the bedspread from the second bed and used it to conceal Amy and the plastic, before storming over to the door.
Undoing the locks he yanked open the door, his mouth open to tell off the drunken fool making a racket next door. To his utter shock, he was knocked backward as a gray furred form the size of a pony with scimitar claws and wicked fangs bore him down to the ground with a growl that made the windows rattle.
Stan's shout of rage morphed into a scream that was cut abruptly off with the snap of what had to be bone breaking. The door closed as someone tore the spread from the bed. Amy found herself looking into a furred face and intense green eyes.
You're going to be all right. We're here now. He's never going to hurt you again.
Amy couldn't seem to form a coherent thought. She was so grateful, glad, confused. Tears streamed from her eyes, tears that the wolf lapped gently from her face.
"Aren't you going to finish him?" Cassie asked coldly.
The wolf turned, to look at the form sprawled on the floor just outside Amy's line of sight.
No. The wolf . . . smiled, showing wicked, bloodied fangs. I don't think so. He liked making women helpless, having them completely at a stranger's mercy. Now we'll see how he likes living that reality himself-every day, for the rest of his life.
Cassie laughed. "You're right of course." She came up to the bed, moving with some difficulty around the huge wolf. "Amy, I'm going to take off the tape. It's going to hurt. And then we're going to stitch up your arm and Zach and I will take you home. Mike and Rob are going to clean up in here-make it look like an accident. The way his neck's broken he's not going to be able to talk or move anything from the neck down. Hell, he's lucky to still be breathing."
"He may wind up needing help with that." Mike observed. "The chest muscles really aren't working right."
"But he's alive." Cassie assured her. "And no one will ever know what really happened."
Amy thought about it as the prick of a needle stung her arm and she felt the gentle tugging of the wound being stitched closed. Even if Stan eventually regained his ability to speak, what would he say? The werewolf boyfriend of his last victim bit him?
She looked at Zach's huge furred head, heard his tail thumping hopefully against the floor and wanted to laugh. She knew she was a little hysterical. But the relief was so intense. She was alive. Stan was never going to hurt anyone-ever again. So what if her lover and her friends sprouted fur and howled at the moon? The real monster was helpless on the floor: alive, and at the mercy of others.
Life was good.