Guardian Wolf - By Linda O. Johnston Page 0,1

Her last shift had been more than a week ago.

But she was not here for pleasure.

She had viewed her target before, a special building not far from where she stood. Now she needed to observe it with her heightened senses. Wolfen senses.

She sought out an opening in the fence between the air force base and military hospital. She slipped through to the medical side, careful to test the scents in the air, listen, ensure she remained alone. Her aide, nearby, would not follow.

The texture beneath her paws turned hard, uneven, warm—a paved road. She loped carefully at the edge so as not to be spotted in moonlight, toward the far border of the parking lot.

She stopped abruptly as she neared the building. The scent—another wolf like her?

Or a feral, nonshifting wolf? Perhaps. But why would it contain a hint of something so familiar? So…alluring?

She waited, still testing the air with her keen senses. Listening. Hearing nothing out of the ordinary. Watching the building surrounded by concealing foliage and shadows. No movement anywhere around.

Too uneasy to approach further, she slowly returned toward where she had crossed from one property to the other.

She inched along the fence on the air force–base side, reaching an area in which shrubbery between the sites was thick.

And waited. Soon, a hint of light over the horizon signaled dawn—and the waning of the full moon’s power. Ready? Yes. Pleased? No.

She felt the tugging at her skin, her insides, that warned of her next shift. Her aide would seek her now, to ensure that, while most vulnerable, she was in no danger.

As the pulling and aches increased, she glanced back through the fence.

And saw what she had anticipated, lurking among parked cars in the large hospital parking lot, not far from the now-distant storage building.

A canine form. Another wolf?

Her change took over then, hurting, not unbearably, but inevitably intense.

It would be over soon.

In a short while, Lt. Grace Andreas, M.D., hunched along the edge of the sand on Zimmer Air Force Base near the fence separating it from Charles Carder Medical Center. She had been sent to the renowned military hospital on her latest mission for Alpha Force, the covert special ops force to which she belonged.

Her knees were bent, her back arched, as she inhaled deeply with her human senses.

She was still nude, and the cool breeze tickled her bare skin. Her assigned aide, Sgt. Kristine Norwood, would catch up soon, with her clothing.

But—with special thanks to the elixir developed by Alpha Force—Grace recalled well the near-human sights and sounds and emotions that engulfed her while in wolfen form.

Including the scent she had smelled near the building at the far edge of the medical center property—the site where, she’d been told, the biohazard materials taken from patients were stored temporarily until incinerated. The site where security was heightened and armed guards were always present, at least in the room adjoining the storage area. The site she had needed to check out, even cursorily, upon her arrival, while in both forms. It was the heart of her mission.

A canine had begun prowling there in the parking lot, most likely a wolf. Another shapeshifter? One not part of Alpha Force?

Dawn had now overtaken the area. She carefully edged along the air-base side of the fence, staying in shadows, especially since she remained unclothed. Other Alpha Force members had altered the base’s security cameras in this vicinity. She would not be photographed.

She wanted—no, needed—to see the storage building from this angle, too.

There. Another gap between some of the non-native, well-watered hedge plants—not much, but enough for her to view the hospital property.

The scent she had inhaled before still seemed to fill the air. She was aware of it even in human form, partly thanks to her enhanced senses.

She looked through foliage and fencing, and saw movement on the other side, a distance from where she crouched. Too far for her to be sure, but the glimpse of something—flesh, or perhaps light-colored clothing—from between cars suggested a person, not a wolf.

One who had just shifted, like her, as daybreak arrived?

She couldn’t see the person at all now. But the scent. It had been very like one she had known a long time ago, though never in shifted form. Perhaps its owner had not, in fact, been a shifter.

She must be imagining that scent. But why now?

Why, after all these years, did she believe she inhaled the musky, enticing aroma of the man she might have loved long ago, had he been