Madison couldn’t move. The only muscle in her body capable of stirring at all was her heart, and it felt like it was trying to make up for the rest. No ropes bound her. Nothing visible pressed her back and legs into the coarse beige carpet of her new rental home. Yet even as she writhed and twisted against unseen restraints, she knew she was trapped. Tied to the ground in a way that made her feel like a virgin sacrifice atop an altar.
The man looming over her, chanting spells and arranging crystals, didn’t look like a powerful sorcerer. David McClellan had too weak a chin and beady little eyes. Those eyes, brown as mud and just as compassionate, told her without words that they would be the last thing she ever saw.
She didn’t even understand why! Not that it would make a difference if she did. But she wasn’t anyone special. She wasn’t important. She was just an elementary school music teacher – or would be after she finished a semester of student teaching. This kind of thing didn’t happen to her. To her friend, Cassie, scion of a powerful family of sorcerers, maybe. But Madison had no family connections and almost no magic aside from her beautiful, subtly enchanting voice. Why would anyone hurt her for a song?
A tear fell sideways into her sweat-dampened hair, joining countless others and doing exactly as much good. How long had she lain here, helpless? Minutes? Hours? It might only have been seconds. The box of “Card and Board Games” she had been carrying into the house lay on its side a foot or two away, some of its contents now strewn across the bare living room floor. There hadn’t been any warning. One second she was on the way to her new bedroom to unpack her tenth or eleventh box, the next instant she was on the floor. Immobile. Helpless. Confused. Terrified.
Oh Lord! Why hast thou forsaken me?
There was magic in the air, growing stronger with each new crystal David arranged into a pattern only he could see. Cold, deadly magic that reinforced her every childhood fear. Her father had told her that magic was from the devil. Was this what he’d meant? Was this her punishment for brushing up against the world of sorcery, no matter how lightly?
David placed one last crystal before ceasing his chant. The silence felt ominous, like a lull before the storm, and when he moved away, out of her sight, a fresh wave of panic seized her. She strained anew at her bindings until the scent of incense filled the air. She had a sudden, vivid memory of Palm Sunday Mass, and of Father Owen making the sign of the cross as he wafted the same scent over his congregation. Father Owen didn’t believe magic was evil; he had told her more than once not to listen to her father’s “superstitious nonsense.”
The time had come to pull herself together. To think. She wasn’t helpless. She had a little magic of her own, even if the thought of using it made her feel sick inside. God had not forsaken her. He had given her a tool, if only she could rein in her stampeding heart rate long enough to search her memory for what little knowledge she possessed.
First, she had to find her quiet place. Madison drew in a deep, shuddering breath and started to close her eyes, when a glint of something metallic caught her attention. She stared at the long, lethal dagger in David’s hands, an ornate golden hilt largely hidden within his iron fist. His eyes drifted up and down the length of her bound body before settling on her midriff. He lowered the blade.
He was going to cut her. She squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself against the expected pain. Or worse.
Think, Madison. Focus!
She took one last steadying breath. Then she counted. Breathe in one … two … three … four … breathe out … five … six … seven …
Her concentration snapped when cold metal bit into warm flesh. Her eyes popped open, her muscles strained once more against invisible bonds, and she screamed.
Wait, she could scream? She had a voice?
“Silence,” David commanded.
Her throat continued to work, but no sound emerged. She felt like a fish being gutted, choking and spluttering as David returned to the work of cutting into the soft, sensitive flesh of her belly. Yet even as tears refilled her eyes and fear devoured her heart, some part of her recognized that her guts remained intact. Whatever David was doing to her with the dagger involved tracing shallow patterns across the surface of her skin.
Fight the pain. Take deep breaths. Ground and center. She was not in the empty living room of a house she had not quite moved into yet, she was at church, singing in the choir. Above her, Jesus hung from a cross, a crown of thorns atop his head, a soft glow surrounding him. She usually found the magic within that glow. She reached for it…
“Stop that!” David slapped her hard across the face.
Once again her eyes flew open. She saw the dagger dripping with blood – her blood. Had her feeble grab for magic actually made a difference? David seemed to have noticed something, but what?
“You’re just making this harder on yourself,” David said.
“What do you want?” Madison tried to ask. Her mouth moved, her lips forming the question, but no sound emerged.
She didn’t think he would answer; he couldn’t even have heard the question, but to her surprise he only hesitated a moment before saying, “Your soul.”
He lowered the dagger.
Her soul? What did that mean? What could a man do with someone’s soul? She now knew what he wanted, at least in part, but she’d been right – knowing didn’t make a difference. If anything, it made things worse. She couldn’t calm down now. She couldn’t focus. She needed to breathe, to block out all distractions, in order to find her quiet place. How was she supposed to block out the razor-sharp sting of a blade slicing across her abdomen? How could she focus with her very soul in danger?
Forget magic. Time to pray. Prayer was something she understood.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
David slapped her across the cheek, leaving behind a fiery trail.
Madison prayed harder.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…
She braced herself for the strike of his hand against her cheek once more, but it didn’t come. For a heart-stopping moment, she thought her prayer hadn’t worked this time. Then an ear-splitting CRASH shook the room. It felt like an explosion. Surely the roof would come crashing down at any moment. Madison instinctively covered her head with her hands and curled into a ball.
She didn’t have time to take in what had happened – either the crash or the fact that her invisible bonds had evaporated as if they’d never existed. The house still trembled and dust filled the air when a great, primal roar made every hair on Madison’s body stand on end.
Slowly, she lifted her head. David stood in profile to her, his face white with terror, his gaze fixed on the splintered front door, which now hung precariously off its hinges. The sun had all but set, casting the unlit room in deep twilight, but she could just make out who had blasted his way through that door.
Her heart gave a painful little twang at the sight of the man she’d spent the past few weeks daydreaming about incessantly. Now here he was like an avenging angel out of one of her fantasies, frightening her enemy and offering her hope. In that moment, she could honestly say she had never seen a more beautiful man. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was powerful, the clearly defined muscles of his bare upper arms rippling with strength.
Rumor had it he was a werewolf, and perhaps he was. Something lent him superhuman strength. The evidence was there in the splintered remains of the front door and then, the next second, in the ferocity of his attack.
David met Scott in mid-lunge, and Madison’s hope turned to newfound concern when she realized that David’s strength matched Scott’s. The front door … David’s white face … her fantasy hero … these things had made her momentarily forget that David, too, was a powerful sorcerer who reportedly sold dark and cursed artifacts out of his shop in downtown Eagle Rock.
What if David won? She could see the scene more clearly now: the crystals placed in a ritualistic pentagram pattern, the bowl of incense, the tiny drops of crimson staining the beige carpet, and …
The dagger! She scrambled on hands and knees to reach the place where David had dropped it, tracing the ruby in the hilt with her thumb as she picked it up. She stood, trying not to focus on her weakness or the blood on her stomach. Now that she had the dagger, she had no idea what she would do with it. She didn’t know how to fight and even if she did, David and Scott were locked together in mortal combat. If she attacked, Scott might get hurt. Still, she watched and waited, her palm growing sweaty against the ruby hilt, ready to help in any way she could. Or make her final stand.
Suddenly, the two men split apart. David staggered into a wall, hitting his head and bracing himself against a fall. Scott only stumbled backwards a step. He looked like he had the advantage, but for how long?
“Here!” Madison called, flipping the dagger around so she could thrust it hilt-first at her ally.
Scott took the weapon from her, turned back to David, and shoved it into his belly. It all happened in a second and with almost feline grace. Scott hadn’t hesitated. He hadn’t balked. His eyes held no remorse.
Time seemed to freeze. David’s eyes popped open, gazing into his own mortality. Madison knew what he was seeing. She had seen the same thing only minutes before, and now she felt it again almost as powerfully as she had the first time. It didn’t matter that he had been about to kill her. It didn’t matter that he was evil and needed to be put down. It only mattered that he was a man, and death was nigh.
Scott withdrew the dagger from David’s belly, raised it to his neck, and cut his throat. David fell. Blood spurted everywhere, drenching bare walls and floors. Scott seemed to anticipate the gush because he backed away quickly, escaping the worst of the spray.
Madison had never seen anyone die before. She was alive. She was safe, but at the moment that knowledge paled in comparison to the horror before her. There was so much blood! The average human body contained five-and-a-half quarts of blood. Such a stupid thing to think, a random fact she’d picked up somewhere, but here were all five-and-a-half quarts – on the floor, on the walls, and on the remnants of the door. Madison trembled, the knowledge of life and death marking her in ways that would scar her forever.
Scott had seen death before. She could see it in his jade green eyes when he turned them away from the corpse as if it were so much busted-up furniture. He had other more pressing concerns, those eyes seemed to say as they scanned her from head to toe. She shuddered at his blatant perusal, trapped between horror and fascination. How many times had she imagined him looking at her just like that? But in none of her imaginings had a bloodied corpse lingered in the background, nor had she borne the bloody, stinging reminder that she had nearly become such a corpse. Gingerly, she pressed a hand against her abdomen, cringing when it came away red.
“The sun is setting,” Scott said. Such a mundane statement in the wake of everything that had just happened.
“The moon is full tonight.” Scott paused. “You know what I am, don’t you?”
“A werewolf?” She whispered the word, as if afraid that saying it out loud would make it true.
She looked out the distant kitchen window, facing the western horizon where the sun had already disappeared. Only the faintest of glows still marked twilight instead of true night.
Would he transform in front of her? Or was he begging her forgiveness while he sought privacy, leaving her alone with the destruction he had wrought? She longed to meet the wolf within him, partly out of curiosity, and partly because she could not stand the thought of staying by herself tonight.
She would never admit it to him, but she had read a couple of werewolf romance novels since meeting him, and they had tickled her imagination. Was Scott his pack’s alpha? He exuded the right aura of power.
“I’ll take care of this,” Madison found herself saying, though she had no idea how. Was she seriously going to dispose of a body? “If you need to go.”
“You don’t get it. It’s too late. There’s rage in my blood, murder in my heart, and the scent…” He sniffed the air. “You’re bleeding.”
She swallowed, convulsively. His words … his tone … this wasn’t right. She saw her fantasies as a bubble on the verge of popping, but she didn’t have enough real information to use as a pin.
“I’ll go clean up, if the blood is bothering you.”
He licked his lips.
Madison crossed her arms over her chest, only just realizing that her torn shirt exposed more than her belly. The ugly old sports bra she had been wearing while toting boxes back and forth from her car, stained in her own blood, would not be a big loss. But she wished she had been wearing her prettiest bra, even if it meant the garment’s destruction.
Not that Scott seemed to care one way or the other. He looked at her with pure heat in his eyes. She felt that sense of being overwhelmed yet again. He’d saved her life, hadn’t he? She owed him a serious debt and among sorcerers, those weren’t just pretty words. What would he want? Would she even want to deny him?
“When I turn into the wolf, it’s not me anymore,” Scott said. “Do you understand?”
“No.” Madison was more than half in shock. She tried to wrap her mind around his words, but all she understood was his tone of desperation – and that she didn’t know the first thing about real werewolves.
“Of course not, but you will. It’s not me. The beast acts on emotions and instincts and hunger.”
“What are you saying?”
“It may kill you.” He swallowed uncertainly. The tiny movement made him seem more human. More vulnerable. It made her foolishly long for him even more. “I might know a way to save you. I’ve never tried it before.”
Save her? Hadn’t he already saved her? “What is it?”
“I need to mark you.”
Her mouth fell open, but no words emerged. In her mind’s eye she could see the pin approaching her fantasy bubble, but it had not yet popped. Something felt wrong. He was supposed to want to make love to her, not mark her. But maybe it meant the same thing to a werewolf.
“Please, Madison. There’s no time.”
Madison still didn’t understand his words, but she recognized the urgency in his tone and she would have done anything to wipe the look of panic off his face.
She nodded, jerkily, and it was all the invitation he needed. He didn’t even remove his t-shirt, only his shoes and pants. He came towards her and she thought he would kiss her, but he didn’t. Instead, he pushed her backwards until she understood that he wanted her to lie down on the floor. As soon as she had, he stripped away her sweat pants and underwear, then he was lying on top of her, leaning over her.
It was all happening too quickly. He’d said it would, but she hadn’t realized how it would make her feel. Overwhelmed. Uncertain. Afraid. Shock almost gave way to numbness, but not quite. Scott was there with her, hot and heavy and solidly real; she focused on that. On his physical presence and his strength. He had saved her already; he would keep her safe now.
“I’m sorry,” he said before thrusting painfully into her.
She bit her lip to keep from crying out. She turned her head to the side so he wouldn’t see the tear sliding down her cheek. It wasn’t for the pain, though the loss of her virginity had hurt the worse for her lack of readiness. It was for the words he had spoken to her, the words that had shattered an innocent girl’s fantasy that a man like Scott would truly want her: I’m sorry.
He withdrew from her long before she had fully wrapped her mind around what was happening. She felt raw. Used. The evening had been one shock after another – life, death, and the loss of innocence in so many senses of the word.
It wasn’t over yet.
She thought she heard him crying. Gathering her last shreds of courage and dignity she peeled herself off the worn beige carpeting and approached him on her hands and knees, past the box of abused board and card games.
“Get back!” he barked.
She froze, paralyzed, unable to bear what was happening to him and unable to look away. His face was twisted with pain, but she dared not approach to lend comfort.
His change came neither quickly nor slowly. He melted into the wolf, limbs bulging and shifting, his form elongating, fur sprouting in tufts. The new form tore away the shirt he had not yet removed.
He looked at her one last time in the instant before the beast took over, something unfathomable in his yellowing eyes. Whatever it was disappeared. Then he was gone.
The wolf wasn’t really a wolf, though the beast did have something of the look of a canine in it. It walked on all fours, it had tufted ears, and its muzzle was the right shape. But it was too big, too fierce, too strong, and simply … unearthly. Its fur was pure black, with none of Scott’s coloring, its eyes a golden yellow.
It wasn’t him. He had told her it wouldn’t be, but until she looked into those eyes she hadn’t realized what he meant. Scott was gone. Only the wolf remained, and the wolf looked at her as if she were dinner.
She scrambled backwards, away from the creature. It growled its menace, but didn’t initially turn its attention on her. Instead, it turned to David.
The wolf was much larger than Scott had been. Fleetingly, she thought it looked as if he could swallow David up in a few bites. As if her thought brought actions to life, the beast sank its teeth into one meaty thigh and pulled away a strip of flesh.
The carnivore is often given an exalted status in Western mythology, revered for the simple beauty of the hunt and the kill. The reality before Madison at that moment was something entirely different. Whatever else David had been, he had been a man. Now a monster was eating him, bit by bit.
She tried to close her eyes, but every time she succeeded, they would pop open again. She couldn’t look away from the blood and the gore and the intestines spilling onto the floor. The beast tore into the guts with relish, lapping up the feast it found there. And still, she couldn’t look away. This was beyond anything she had imagined or could have dreamed.
An eternity later, the beast turned away from its feast. It looked at her, blood and a bit of something unidentifiable dripping from its muzzle, then it stalked her.
Already flat against the wall, Madison had nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. The beast loomed over her, staring at her with those great yellow eyes, and for a moment she knew she would end up just like David. Only he had been dead first. Would the beast kill her first, or eat her alive?
It sniffed her. She reached out a hand to try to push it away but it growled, a sound low in its throat, and snapped at her. She pulled her hand back.
It went back to smelling her. It took its time, starting at her feet and moving upward. When it reached her belly, full of fresh cuts and blood, she was sure it would bite her, tearing her open. It likes the intestines the most, she thought, as it lowered its muzzle.
The beast growled again, but it didn’t attack. Slowly, it backed away, finally sitting on its haunches. Then it looked at her. She had no idea what went through its primitive mind, though when it went back to David’s body and picked through the remains for any meat it might have missed the first time, she had an idea. It was hungry. It was angry. It might even have been confused, but she accepted she might have been projecting her own emotions onto the beast.
It stayed with her all through that night – the longest of her life. If she moved, it growled. She longed to adjust her position, to soothe her stiff muscles, but fear held her captive. Each minute that ticked by could turn out to be her last. Any second, the beast could decide she wasn’t worth keeping alive. Or that it was too hungry.
She tried to remind herself that this wasn’t Scott. That Scott wasn’t a monster so long as the moon wasn’t full. The bestial eyes focused unwaveringly upon her didn’t look like Scott’s so it shouldn’t have been hard to separate the two. Only she remembered how easily and remorselessly Scott had killed. And, unfairly, she remembered how he had hurt her. Even if he had done it to save her life.
Although, come to think of it, how had he known to do that? Why had he come here tonight? The question kept circling through her mind, but Scott was in no position to answer.
The night drifted endlessly on, a nightmare from which she could not wake. After a while, her body went numb, her brain seeming to lose touch with the stiff muscles she could not bend or flex. The fear shifted into something else, something less immediate. It hadn’t gone, it was more like emotional overload had placed her panic on mute. At that point her mind was able to leave the present, to drift backwards and remember how things were supposed to have been.
She’d first noticed Scott at the Fourth of July concert when, for the first time in her life, not one but two men had suddenly shown an interest in her. She hadn’t known what to do with either Scott’s rugged appeal or Nicolas’s boyish charm, but she knew which called to her. She hadn’t even cared if he’d only noticed her because she had revealed her songbird gift to the entire town. He had overwhelmed her, but that was a normal feeling for her. Deep down inside, where nerves and shyness couldn’t penetrate, she’d been secretly thrilled.
She’d asked about Scott since then. Everyone had said the same thing: Stay away from him. He’s dangerous.
Dangerous didn’t half describe it. Every time Madison shifted, every time she twitched, the werewolf growled and she knew it would bite her. No, it would eat her alive. But time and time again it returned instead to the bloodied remains of David McClellan, where it gnawed on the bones.
Dawn came. Miraculously, unbelievably, the night came to an end and the beast melted into Scott in a reversal of what had happened the night before. The wolf didn’t bear its pain as silently as Scott had. It howled during the long minutes it took to transform, leaving Madison with no recourse save to close her eyes and press her hands against her ears.
Her entire body spasmed when something touched her back.
“It’s okay,” Scott said. “It’s over.”
She took a few deep breaths to steady herself then turned to face him, finding only marginal comfort in the return of jade green eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said, repeating the words that had hurt her a lifetime ago when she’d hoped he might have wanted more from her than her safety. Now, she felt too numb to care.
“You did save my life,” she whispered. “Twice, apparently. I owe you.”
“I won’t ask you for anything. Last night …” He paused, darting a quick glance at the body in the corner. “At least it worked. I won’t touch you again.”
Madison didn’t have the will to respond. It was all too much. She needed to think. She needed to get clean. She rose on shaking feet, half expecting Scott to stop her. Half hoping. He didn’t say a word as she hobbled to the bathroom, where she began the work of cleaning her body. But no amount of washing could clean the debris from her heart or her soul, and the terror of that night would follow her into her dreams for years to come.
Two years later …
Madison clutched her cell phone as, for the dozenth time in less than a week, her call went to voicemail. Her younger brother’s too-cheerful voice started to ask her to leave a message, but she hit “end” before it finished.
“Where are you, Clinton?” Madison wondered out loud. It had been a month. An entire month since the last time they’d spoken on the phone. Sure, he was in college, young and having fun, but he had never been irresponsible. He had never gone this long without at least sending her an e-mail. And while he wasn’t a Facebook regular, he would normally have posted something about the end of finals. That, more than anything, had led to the frantic flurry of phone calls this week.
The school year was over for Madison as well. She had brought her fifth graders to tears when she had sung them a final good-bye that afternoon. There hadn’t been a dry eye in the room, not even on the stonier faces of the tough boys. She hadn’t meant to do it. She was normally very conscious of the power her songbird voice had to evoke emotions in those who heard it, but she had been distracted. Not thinking clearly. The prospect of a lonely summer loomed ahead, her fifth graders would move on to middle school where she would never teach them again, and worst of all, her anxiety over Clinton grew stronger as each new day passed without a word.
Clinton was, after all, the only family she had left. The only one who had never hurt or betrayed her. If anything happened to him …
Her mind started sorting through possibilities once again, but nothing made sense. She was Clinton’s “in case of emergency” contact at school, at work, and on his phone. If he had gotten into an accident, she would know. Which left what, exactly? That a straight-A student had suddenly dropped out of school and joined a rock band?
It was probably nothing. He had probably been busy. They didn’t hang out in the same circles, she wasn’t his mother, and for all she knew he could have dropped his phone in a toilet. Weeks had passed between calls before – rarely.
But she had nightmares. These days, she almost always had nightmares. Madison knew better than most what sorts of dangers lurked in the night, but Clinton had always been separate from all of that. On the outside. He, unlike her, was the product of two normal people having a normal child.
She dialed again, this time calling Clinton’s housemate, who had always struck her as being irresponsible. She wasn’t surprised when he didn’t answer her call, nor that he hadn’t responded to the three messages she had left for him. She did not leave another.
Now what? The sun had set, but the moon had not yet risen. It wouldn’t be full tonight, but it was close enough to make her shudder with remembered fear.
There was one final call she could make, one she had been putting off making for days. She had not spoken to her adoptive father, Phillip Carter, since the day he had betrayed her – selling the identity of her biological father to that man’s enemies for the bargain-basement price of $10,000. In the end, that was how much she’d meant to him.
But she and Phillip (she sometimes still thought of him as Dad, but she was getting better) had one thing left in common: Clinton.
She did not have Phillip’s number programmed into her phone, but she dialed it from memory, her fingers automatically jumping from digit to digit. Those fingers stayed curiously still and calm as she waited through four rings. Then she heard the familiar gravelly voice for the first time in over a year.
“What?” he demanded without preamble.
Her breath caught, something got lodged in her throat, and it was a moment before she managed a “Hi.” Stupid girl. Why do you still care?
“What do you want, Madison?” Phillip asked in the clipped, distant tone he’d always used when she misbehaved.
“I haven’t heard from Clinton in almost a month. I was wondering if you have.”
“No.” There was a pause. “I’m worried.” He probably was. Clinton, he cared about. Clinton was really his son. Clinton had never even accidentally brushed up against the world of sorcery.
Madison might have felt jealous, but Phillip didn’t know how to show affection to anyone, not even his son. Which was why Clinton often agreed with Madison that they were all the family each other had.
“I’m going to drive to Springfield tomorrow to look for him.” She hadn’t made the decision until she’d said it, but now she knew it was her only choice. Maybe she was overreacting, but if that was the case then so be it.
“Have him call me when you find him.” That was it. Phillip didn’t want to hear from her, only from his real son. Otherwise, she could turn right back around and go to the devil, where she’d been heading.
Well, what had she expected? A sudden change of heart? A declaration of love?
“I will. Bye, Da–” Madison just stopped herself. Old habits. “Bye.”
Phillip ended the call without saying another word.
Madison tried to push thoughts of Phillip from her mind as she prepared for bed. She called Clinton one last time, not because she thought he would suddenly pick up the phone but because she wanted to leave one last voicemail telling him she’d be making the two-hour drive from Eagle Rock, Missouri to Springfield in the morning. Then she set her phone on the nightstand and started humming to herself.
The tune was a familiar one, a song she’d been working on for years. She had the melody right, but she still had not found the words to go with it. The song needed words full of hope and love, but nothing in her life had inspired that kind of poetry lately.
Not for the first time, Madison wished her songbird gift would work on herself – that she could sing a joyful song and draw that song’s happiness into herself. But that was not how it worked. In fact, she didn’t make people feel the song’s emotions as much as she made them feel her own. The melody and lyrics helped set a tone she could embrace, but she had once managed to make someone cry singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
Today was that kind of day. Music was her refuge, but tonight worry followed her within its sheltering embrace. She gave up by nine o’clock, thinking she should at least try to get a good night’s sleep before setting off in the morning. She only prayed that her nightmares would give her respite.
* * *
She is scared and hurt, but not alone. Before her stands the man who saved her life. He is only a few inches taller than she, but so broad and powerful that he seems much larger. His arms ripple with well-defined, sculpted muscles that she knows he can use to kill. His face is not classically handsome, but it is rugged and beautiful to her. She loves his eyes most of all. Those jade green eyes that carry the weight of the world within their depths. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, so she tries to peer inside to see.
He looks back, giving her the sense that he sees her as no man ever has before – as a woman. He extends a hand to her and she takes it, feeling the thrill of contact. This is it. This is what it’s supposed to feel like when a man touches a woman. She is pure sensation, all flutters and tingles. She wants this man, if he’ll have her. She is afraid to hope that he might.
Suddenly, he shifts. In those soul-deep eyes he betrays a flash of pain, then his body jerks and flexes. Hair begins to sprout even as his bones contort. He looks like he is fighting the transformation, but he is fighting a losing battle.
For one last, lingering second he looks on her with the green eyes she knows. Then he is the wolf, and when she looks into its eyes, Scott is gone. The beast has yellow eyes, without so much as a spark of humanity left.
The beast growls, baring its teeth. It lunges for her, sinking long, sharp canines into her throat. She cannot scream. Her heart is trying to escape her chest. Her throat works again and again, but the scream will not come.
She can smell the blood. It’s everywhere. The beast is going to eat her alive. It lowers its muzzle to sink its teeth into her belly and tear out her intestines – the part it likes best. She knows what will happen next, and there is nothing she can do about it.
If only whoever is calling her on the phone could help her. If only…
* * *
Sweat drenched Madison’s sheets when she finally managed to pull herself away from her recurring nightmare long enough to understand that the phone truly was ringing at two in the morning. She fumbled with several objects on her nightstand before finding the phone, but she had long-since missed the call. Her blood ran cold when she saw that it had been Clinton who’d phoned in the dead of night.
No word for a month and now this? A phone call at two in the morning?
Madison crawled out of bed, removed her sweat-drenched night shirt, then fumbled through her drawer for another. She wanted a shower. She wanted to change the bed. She settled for a dry shirt before taking a seat on the floor near the foot of her full-sized bed and returning her brother’s call.
He answered on the first ring. “Oh, thank God.”
Madison’s pulse jumped. “What’s going on?
“I need your help.”
“You’re in trouble.” It wasn’t a question. “What do you need? Money?” Although, now that she thought about it, if he needed money he could have picked a more reasonable hour to call.
“I don’t need money.” Clinton drew in a deep breath, as though steeling himself for something. “I need magic.”
Magic? Madison sat up straighter, the last tendrils of sleepiness melting away as if they had never been. Sure, she had a little bit of magic, but Clinton knew how she felt about using it. And even if using magic didn’t make her feel somehow tainted, the fact remained that she really couldn’t use it. Magic required a combination of potential, effort, and study. She had little potential, didn’t care to put out much effort, and had only studied enough basics so she wouldn’t hurt anyone with what little potential she did have.
Unless … “What do you mean by magic, exactly? Do you want me to sing for you?” Most outsiders didn’t understand the distinction – Madison herself had only started to understand in the past year or so – but a gift was not the same thing as magic. Her songbird gift was tied to the soul and was as instinctive as breathing. She almost couldn’t not do it, which was something she had never been able to explain to Phillip.
“No, that’s not it. I need real magic.”
“You know I don’t have enough to count.” But Madison had a feeling she knew where this was going.
“You can ask your other brother for help.” Clinton said, confirming her suspicion. He always sounded jealous when he talked about her other brother, as if her recent discovery of the existence of a half brother meant she felt differently about him.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on first?”
“I don’t want you to freak out.”
“How can I not freak out when you call me at two in the morning?” Madison’s voice rose as all her worst fears came tumbling back through her mind.
“More, then. I don’t want you to freak out more. But I need some magical help, and I need you to get it for me.”
“Wait a second, are you honestly suggesting that I act as a go-between when I don’t even know what it is I’m going between?”
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
“Madison.” Clinton had switched to his wheedling tone. If he were there in person, looking at her with the big brown puppy dog eyes they had both inherited from their mother, it might have worked.
“Clinton,” Madison said, trying and failing to match his tone.
“The thing is. Look. I can’t handle losing you right now.”
“Why would you lose me?” Madison could feel her heart pounding a little faster in response to the fear in her brother’s voice. She had never heard anything quite like it there before. Her palms felt slick, and it was hard to hold onto the phone.
“If I told you what was wrong, I might. It’s-look, I called because I met someone tonight who swears he can help me, but I don’t trust him.”
“You should go with your instincts.”
“My instincts have been telling me to run away, but I can’t run from this.”
“From what?” Madison didn’t yell, but it was a near thing. She felt like a string about to snap in two.
“This guy I met says tomorrow will be too late.”
“The guy you don’t trust? What happens tomorrow night?”
Clinton didn’t respond. Madison’s mind whirled. What would happen tomorrow night? Well, that was obvious. The full moon. She always knew when the full moon was coming because …
No. It couldn’t be.
“Please tell me this doesn’t have something to do with the full moon tomorrow night,” Madison pleaded. Her hand shook and her voice trembled.
“Don’t freak out.”
“Okay. Okay!” Clinton was talking faster now. Breathing faster. “You know that girl I told you about last time I called? Clara, the new waitress at Chili’s?”
“Four weeks ago she came up to me and said she wanted to be my mate. I thought that meant she wanted to … well, you know. So I said sure, great. She wanted to drive out to this secluded spot to do it, so I took her, but when we got there she took off. Then the moon rose, and out came this giant thing … hard to describe … it didn’t really look like a wolf. I ran for my car, but it bit me on the back of the knee just before I got inside.”
It was a good thing Madison was sitting on the floor, because if she hadn’t been, she would have fallen. She knew the rest of the story, even before Clinton told her the details. The next day he got sick. Really, really sick. He almost died. He was sick for three weeks and missed his finals. When he woke up, it was to find Clara tending him. She seemed happy that he’d survived, and that he would now be a werewolf just like her.
“I didn’t want to believe her,” Clinton whispered. His voice was so low she barely heard him. “All week, I’ve been trying to figure a way out of it. It’s not like I didn’t grow up believing in things like werewolves, but you don’t want to think it can happen to you, you know? And I’ve been in Springfield for three years, where most people don’t believe in magic.”
Madison could feel the delicate threads of her life slipping through her fingers once again. She should be used to it by now, perhaps, but this … In her worst nightmares she never could have imagined this.
“Madison, are you still there?” Clinton’s voice sounded far away, and agitated, as if he had been trying to get her attention for a while.
“You’re freaking out.”
“I’m fine.” She wasn’t. Her whole body was shaking. From somewhere in the bowels of the house the air conditioning kicked on; it felt like a draft of arctic wind.
“I need help, Madison. I don’t know who else to ask. Clara’s so strong and has such good hearing. I had trouble getting away from her. Tonight I did, and then I met this guy at a bar … he says if I go with him he can fix me, but it has to be before the full moon. Before the first, um, transformation.”
Madison didn’t believe there was a way to fix it, but she couldn’t tell him that, not when he had called her for hope. He wasn’t the only one who needed hope.
“I’m scared,” Clinton said.
“Can you help me?”
“Don’t go with him,” Madison ordered. “Promise me you won’t. I’ll get you some help, one way or another.”
Madison closed her eyes and swallowed, hard, knowing what this promise would mean. Clinton thought it was simple. He thought there would be a cure. She knew better, and she knew that however powerful her other brother was, Evan Blackwood wasn’t the man who could help Clinton. The man who could help Clinton was the reason she couldn’t sleep at the full moon, and the reason she had so many nightmares at other times of the month. He was the reason her hair clung damply to her forehead at that very moment, and the reason she needed to change her sheets.
“Really,” Madison promised.