Dark Moon - By Lori Handeland

Chapter One

I have always loved the dark of the moon, when the night is still and serene, when all that can be seen are the stars.

There are those who term the dark moon a new moon, but there is nothing new about the moon. It has been here from time forgotten and will be here long after we are dead.

I spend my days, and most of my nights, inside a stone fortress in the wilds of Montana. I'm a doctor by trade, though not the kind who gives out lollipops after dispensing vaccines and pills. Instead I mix a little of this and a little of that, over and over again.

My degree reads "virologist." In English, that means I have a Ph.D. in the study of viruses. Don't worry, I won't let the excitement kill me. The boredom might, though, if the loneliness doesn't do it first.

Of course, I'm not completely alone. There's a guard at the door and my test subjects, but none of them are great conversationalists. Lately I've started to feel watched, which is pretty funny considering I'm the one in charge of the surveillance cameras.

Paranoia is one of the first signs of dementia; except I don't feel crazy. Does anyone? I've come to the conclusion I need to get out more. But where would I go?

Most days I don't mind being locked tight inside the safest place in the West. The world is pretty scary.

Scarier than most people realize.

You think the monsters aren't real? That they're merely the figment of childish imaginations or delusional psychosis? You're wrong.

There are things walking the earth worse than anything in Grimm's Fairy Tales. Unsolved Mysteries would have a stroke if they got a look at my X-files. But since lycanthropy is a virus, werewolves are my specialty. I've devoted my life to finding a cure.

I have a personal interest. You see, I'm one of them.

The powers that be say a life is formed by changes - decisions made, roads not taken, people we've left behind. I'm inclined to agree.

On the day my whole world changed - again - a single decision, that fork in the road and the one I left behind walked into my office without warning.

I was at my desk updating files, when the scuff of a shoe against concrete made me glance up. The man in the doorway made my heart go ba-boom. He always had.

"Nic," I murmured, and in my voice I heard more than I wanted to.

The strong nose, full lips, wide forehead were as I remembered. But the lines around his mouth and eyes, the darker shade of his skin, hinted at a life spent exposed to the elements. The flicker of silver in his short hair was as shocking as him being here in first place.

He didn't smile, didn't return my greeting. I couldn't blame him. I'd professed love, then disappeared. I hadn't spoken to him since.

Seven years. How had he found me? And why?

Concern replaced curiosity, and my hand inched toward the drawer where I kept my gun. The guard hadn't called to clear a visitor, so I should shoot first, ask questions later. In my world, an enemy could lurk behind every face. But I'd always had a tough time shooting people. One of the many reasons the boss kept me isolated in the forest.

I'd learned long ago how to gauge a suit for a shoulder holster. Nic had one. A disturbing change in a man who'd once been both studious and dreamy, in love with the law and me, not necessarily in that order. Why was he carrying a gun?

Since he hadn't drawn his, I drew mine, then pointed the weapon at Nic's chest. Loaded with silver, I was ready for anything. Except the punch of his deep blue eyes and the familiar timbre of his voice. "Hey, sweetheart."

In college that endearment had made me all warm and stupid. I'd promised things I had no right to promise. Now the same word, uttered with cool sarcasm, annoyed me.

I'd left for his own good. However, he didn't know that.

I got to my feet, stepped around the desk, came a little too close. "What are you doing here?"

"I didn't think you'd be thrilled to see me, but this isn't exactly the welcome I expected."

His gaze lowered to the gun, and I was distracted by the scent of him. Fresh snow, mountain air, my past.

He grabbed the weapon, twisted it away, then tucked me against his body with an elbow across my throat.