Excerpt: Bad Moon Rising
Moon Dogs by Erica Kealey
Grant pulled his Jeep up next to a familiar dark blue Camry and killed the engine. He undid his seatbelt, then just sat, thoughts going a hundred miles a minute in his brain because clearly he wasn’t quite sick enough of them yet to leave off. He lit a cigarette and smoked it slowly, savoring it. Once he got inside the cabin—if he got inside—Cary wouldn’t let him smoke, and if he dared to mention it, all he’d get was another cancer stick lecture.
Shit, if this whole damn thing went the way he wanted, he would probably have to give up smoking entirely. That was going to suck hard, but he’d deal with that bridge later.
For now, his only concern was speaking with Cary. Grant took another drag and contemplated the cabin. He was pleased as fuck he’d found it, but goddamn if it wasn’t the saddest looking excuse for a house he’d ever seen—and too many years in law enforcement meant he’d seen some shitholes. If the only bathroom was an outhouse, he was going to cuff or tie or tranquilize or whatever Cary and drive them to the first Motel 8 he could find. Even love was not worth a fucking outhouse.
Shaking his head at himself, Grant finished his cigarette, put it out in his car ashtray, and clambered out, grabbing his duffle from the back and pocketing his keys. Slinging the bag over his shoulder, he strode across over-grown grass up to a front door that might have been blue once to judge from some flecks, but mostly just looked like faded shit.
He rapped lightly, waited a couple of minutes, then pounded more loudly and waited a couple more. Then he pounded again and called out, “Open the fucking door, Cary!”
“Federal Agents, open up!” He called, just to be a dick. When even that did not elicit a response, not even so much as a ‘fuck you, Masterson’, he decided that Cary must be either passed out drunk as a goddamn skunk (or certain other animals, anyway), or he wasn’t in the cabin.
He tested the door and rolled his eyes to find it wasn’t even locked. Making note to razz Cary mercilessly later for such carelessness, Grant slipped inside and closed the door behind him. Then, just because he was a dick, he locked it.
Snickering to himself, because as fucked up as shit had been lately, some things never changed and never would, he went to make himself at home. First stop was the spare bedroom, because even if he had no intention of using it much, and even though he was a dick, he wasn’t completely an asshole and could at least pretend to give Cary some sort of space.
Putting his things away, Grant changed into a fresh t-shirt because his current one had gotten a nice dousing of soda when a fucker in a Porsche had cut him off. He pulled on his dark blue long sleeved t-shirt because he knew it matched his eyes and fit well and knew that Cary knew these things too. Still smirking to himself, belongings settled, Grant picked up a folder he would be needing in a little while, then commenced with the snooping.
Cary’s bedroom didn’t hold much—clothes, porn, lube, other boring things. But Cary had always travelled light, and the bigger the sulk, the lighter the travel. Out in the living room, he found books, movies, dirty movies, and a laptop. Unfortunately, Cary was the geek half, and Grant could not hold a candle to him.
Depositing his folder on the coffee table, he went to the sad excuse of a kitchen—which was only perhaps two grades above a kitchenette, really. Sighing, he poked through the cabinets and pathetic pantry. What the hell did the idiot eat? Grant grimaced as answers suggested themselves.
It was a good thing he’d brought real food with him. He had his flaws, but he had his good points too (though even he wasn’t sure which one outweighed the other). He deliberated going out to get them, but decided it could wait until after Cary got back. Stealing a can of beer from the fridge, Grant wandered into the living room and put in one of the five hundred action movies Cary had brought along (probably because bitching about how stupid they were perversely made Cary happy).
He was just starting to doze off to the sound of car chase number six when he was jerked fully awake by the sound of someone pounding on the door.
“God fucking damn it, Grant, open this fucking door or I swear to god when I get in there I will cram it up your fucking ass one piece at a time.”
Not moving from the couch, Grant called out, “Is that with or without lube?”
“Open the fucking door! If you leave me standing out here naked for one more minute, not even god will save you!”
Laughing, Grant slowly stood up and stretched, then strolled to the door and unlocked it. Opening it a crack, he looked Cary up and down, the smirked and said, “Streaking across a mountain? I’m impressed, Mr. Suit and Tie.”
“Fuck you,” Cary said and shoved the door open, shouldered past Grant, and vanished into his bedroom where he slammed the door with dramatic flourish. Grant got two more beers from the fridge and sat down to see the end of his movie.
Cary appeared a moment later, pulling on a light-weight green sweater over a white t-shirt. His dark blond hair was rumpled, giving him a hint of that just-woken-up look that Grant had always secretly loved. He’d never minded their many tedious stake outs because it always meant Cary eventually looked rumpled and tousled.
“How’s your shoulder?” Grant asked, handing over the beer as Cary sat down next to him.
“Sore,” Cary said shortly. “How the hell did you find me?”
Grant rolled his eyes. “I work for the FBI and was not above making liberal use of resources when I felt the occasion required it. What, did you think I wouldn’t find you? Did you seriously think I would leave you in peace? You got clipped on the shoulder, not shot in the head.”
“Fuck you,” Cary replied with feeling.
“Maybe later,” Grant countered, the response as automatic as breathing. “We have certain things to discuss first.”
Cary scowled at the TV, at his beer, before finally turning his head to settle the full weight of his dark gray eyes on Grant. “Like what?”
Grant picked up the folder he’d left on the coffee table and tossed it in Cary’s lap. “Like the fact that you’re a werewolf.”
He had never seen Cary go so still. Grant might be the one getting yelled at for being too nosy and not always respecting things like personal space, but Cary was the one with the attitude problems. They had been made partners because no one else could entirely stand them, but had stayed partners because their separate flaws actually meshed well together. Grant trusted Cary like he trusted no one else in the world, not even his mother (because he knew damn good and well where he’d gotten his peering into the neighbor’s yard tendencies), and he’d always thrived on the fact that Cary trusted him just as much.
Except it seemed he didn’t, and it hurt—a lot. Enough that Grant had no interest whatsoever in playing nice about anything. He was done giving space. He was done abiding by rules. He was done pretending he only saw Cary as a friend. The only way he would forgive the whole mess was if he got a boyfriend out of it, and Cary had another thing coming if he was thinking about arguing.
“Are you trying to decide between lying to me and punching me? Because both will piss me off, but one will piss me off slightly less,” Grant said, tone light, but his smile razor.
Cary ignored him and finally moved, flipping open the folder. Grant didn’t bother to watch him nose through it; he knew what was in it. But he wasn’t above throwing fuel on the fire by saying, “It was your tat that fucked you over. A few good searches found me the rest of the ‘moon dogs’ and what do I find? Every last one of you mother fuckers is allergic to silver. I’m not paid enough to believe in coincidence.”
“You weren’t allowed to poke your fucking nose into their medical records, asshole,” Cary snapped, still not bothering to look at him. “And so what if we’re all allergic to silver? Maybe that’s what gets you in the moon dogs club, how do you know?”
“So you’re going with denial,” Grant said and finished his second beer, pissed all over again. “I spent two fucking months figuring you out. Do you know how crazy I thought I was at first? How out of my mind I thought I was going? But I figured you were worth going crazy for, so I kept at it—until I really and truly fucking believed it. And I’m here, and now you’re going to deny it?”
Cary threw the folder on the table. Grant scowled. “I put a lot of work into that, you could look at it.”
“There’s no point,” Cary said curtly. “You wasted your time coming up here.
Annoyed—and a bit stung, though he wouldn’t admit it—Grant snatched his folder up and opened it on the empty cushion between them. He spread out all his notes, pictures, copies of reports, records, newspaper clippings—everything. He really had busted his ass, worked harder than he ever had on anything. “There’s plenty of point,” he said. “There’s you. I’ve been worried about you, asshole. One stupid clip from a bullet and you went down like he’d got you in the head. Then you went fucking psycho, and after that you were in the hospital for days looking just seconds from death. Then you just vanished, without even a goddamn goodbye. I thought you’d gone off to die or something equally melodramatic. You could show me a little respect.”
“Why start now?” Cary replied. “I’m not interested in your scrap book. You need to leave.”
“Screw you,” Grant snapped. He didn’t get it. Cary was always abrasive, always cranky, but they were friends. Cary relaxed around him like he did no one else. And always in the back of Grant’s mind, there was that one damned night—
Now, though, gone was the man who had endured all the stupid ‘Hey, Movie Stars!’ jokes at the office. His partner was missing; Grant might as well have been sitting next to a stranger—or maybe someone who hated him. So far as plans for turning friendship into romance went, his could be doing better. But too many years in the FBI had taught him persistence, and he’d never been very good at quitting, anyway. “Man, I don’t know who pissed in your Cheerios, but get the fuck over it. I’m not here to cause you problems.”
“You being here is a problem,” Cary replied. “Just leave.”
“Ouch,” Grant replied. “Get over yourself. I’m going to make dinner, maybe that will chill you out. Don’t lock me out.” He went out to his Jeep and gathered up the grocery bags and cooler that he’d brought with him. To his surprise, the door was actually still unlocked when he returned to the cabin.
But then he realized Cary hadn’t locked it because he’d been busy packing up Grant’s belongings. “What’s your problem?” he asked, ignoring his duffle lying pointedly in the middle of the living room, instead dragging his groceries into the kitchen. He began to unload them, putting most things away, leaving others out. He was going to make Cary homemade burgers and fries, a salad with his own special dressing, and if that didn’t vastly improve things then the chocolate cream cake definitely would.
“Grant, you can’t stay,” Cary said. “I want you gone.”
Grant began arranging all the cooking equipment he’d brought with him because he knew Cary would have shit. “I don’t listen to people when they’ve got a bad case of stupidity,” he finally said. “Shut up until you’re able to act like an adult and say ‘I missed you, thank you for coming, Grant. Those burgers smell like sex, and speaking of that, we should pick up where I left off six months ago!’ When you can say that then talk to me. I’ll also settle for, ‘Yes, I am a werewolf. I’m sorry I lied to you, let’s have make up sex now.’ I’m flexible, I’ll be happy with most anything.” Smile brittle, he pulled out an onion and his favorite knife and began slicing.
“Six months ago was a mistake,” Cary replied flatly.
Grant jerked so hard at the words he almost managed to chop off his fucking thumb. He dropped the knife and glared, really and truly pissed. “Like hell. You kissed me, and I know a real when kiss when it’s stolen from me. That wasn’t a drunken impulse—that was just using drunk as an excuse.” He stalked over to Cary and shoved, sort of surprised that Cary let hm.
Because it was letting, there was no mistake about that. Cary was a brick shithouse. Grant was a wiry little fuck and could boast maybe half Cary’s weight. “It’s not a mistake and you know it, shithead. Don’t say shit like that, I don’t care how knotted your panties have gotten.”
“Everyone gets drunk,” Cary said coldly. “Kissing you was a mistake.”
“You did a lot more than kiss,” Grant hissed.
“All of it!” Cary snarled, shoving him back. “Almost dying makes a lot of things really clear, like the fact that you were a mistake.”
Grant couldn’t breathe for a moment, the words hurt so bad. Nothing had ever hurt more. Nothing. He was used to people thinking he was some sort of mistake, a regular fuck up. He was nosy. He was invasive. He didn’t bullshit. He pried and pushed and prodded until he got what he wanted, crossed lines no matter how much trouble he got for it.
Laughing bitterly, he drew back—then lunged forward again, punching Cary as hard as he had ever punched anyone, putting everything he had into it. His hand hurt so bad he was sort of surprised he hadn’t fucking broken it. “I—I actually thought you meant it, that day you told me I definitely was not a fuck up, that everyone else was wrong. That meant—but, I also stupidly thought that kiss meant something. It you hated me as much as everyone else does, all you had to do was say. You didn’t have to pretend to give a damn. Maybe you thought it was funny, having me on your hook. And boy was I on it.” He laughed again, in so much pain, and he didn’t know where to go with it or what to do.
“I quit you know,” he said when the silence stretched on, Cary’s stony expression not changing the slightest bit. “Stayed long enough to do the research I needed then quit. Used my savings to find you, figure you out. And I was going to quit smoking for you. I can’t believe—” He bit the words off, feeling stupid and used and hurt. He’d come here with his heart practically pinned to his sleeve, and he was rambling—
And he was just another mistake. Story of his life, he should be used to it. “If you want me gone, fine. It’s your loss. I hope the next silver-touched bullet goes through your stupid fucking head.” Striding past Cary, he picked up his duffle bag from the floor and left.
It was a cheap, empty victory, but still, if all he had to be proud of was that he made it to the bottom of the mountain before he turned into a girl, he’d take his victories where he could get them.
He drove until he found a shitty bar. The kind where no one would talk to him or try to be a good Samaritan when he started to get ridiculously drunk. Then he set himself up in a dark corner and proceeded to drink.
The next time he decided to act like a stupid movie character and give up everything for love, he was going to put a gun to his head and just end it all right there. He kinda wished he had not made a point of leaving his guns at home before he went to see Cary. But he’d thought it would prove… something.
Grant slammed back another shot of Jack and tried to figure out what he was supposed to do. It had never really occurred to him that—that—oh, just think it he told himself irritably. It had never really occurred to him that Cary wouldn’t love him back. The assumption was so natural, so perfect, that he had not realized it was an assumption until too late.
Cary didn’t love him. Cary didn’t even like him. Apparently almost getting dead had made Cary realize he could do a hell of a lot better than Grant.
He didn’t get it. They’d been friends. They went running together every morning. They played hoops in the park on the weekend. Watched movies, played video games, went for beer. He fixed Cary’s car; Cary kept him from destroying electronics. All signs pointed to best friends, and that kiss—that damned kiss that had meant something, damn it—had meant something.
What had changed Cary’s mind? Had Grant really been fooling himself this entire time? He just didn’t buy that. No one went running in the rain with a man he didn’t actually care about one way or another. Shit, Grant didn’t know married people who would put up with that shit for each other.
Grant downed another shot then another, thinking absently that girls were a lot smarter to binge on food rather than alcohol.
He thought he would be okay—not great, never the same, but okay maybe—if he just had a plan. But there had only been the one. All he’d had was Plan A: Find Cary, beat the shit out of Cary for being stupid, make him dinner, apply sex. It had never crossed his mind that he would need a backup plan.
Now he was jobless, nearly broke, best friend-less, and aimless. If he got any more pathetic, he’d be a really bad movie.
Despite himself, he kept glancing at the door, some small, stupid part of him hoping that Cary would walk in and—and make it all right again. Yeah, right. Grant stared morosely at his empty shot glass.
They were supposed to be having sex right now, he thought, because apparently he liked to torture himself. They would have argued and maybe thrown a few punches, and then they would have ignored each other for a bit. Then Cary would have admitted he was a werewolf, and then Grant would admit he’d quit his job just so he could come find Cary. That would have provoked another argument.
But then Grant would have made dinner, and Cary would have eaten every last bite of it, and the chocolate cream cake for dessert— And there would have been sex, and they would have been together. That was how it should have happened, more or less.
Reality sucked hard.
He slammed back another shot, relieved that he’d finally had enough the world was pleasantly fuzzy around the edges. Now he just had to work on comatose or alcohol poisoning, whichever got to him first. Pouring another round, Grant kept going. He was on shot eight when three men sat down at his table, boxing him into the corner.
Grant tensed, not liking the look of them, the feel. “I don’t want trouble,” he said slowly, carefully, for the first time missing his FBI badge. But they’d told him Cary was gone and to drop it, and he couldn’t do that. So no more badge. “I just got dumped; I would like to be left alone with my misery. Go bother someone else.”
The men laughed, and one of them said, “Dumped my ass. No wolf dumps a man he’s bitten. Especially those damn Moon Dogs.”
Grant got no further as the men suddenly moved. It was a fucking disgrace how easily he went down, but really—he just didn’t care anymore.
He groaned as he woke up, then immediately wished he were dead. So much of him hurt, he couldn’t properly sort it all out—and it felt as if something had crawled into his mouth and died. Forcing himself to deal with it, Grant dragged his eyes open and took stock of his surroundings.
It was only as he looked around the strange cabin that he remembered what had happened. He’d just wanted to drown his sorrows in peace, and those assholes had ganged up on him. But why? No way of figuring that out, not yet.
He looked the room over again, but came up with only the same observation as the first time—another shitty cabin. Awesome. He supposed it was better than nothing that this one lacked assholes by the name of Cary.
Something twisted, sharp and painful, in his chest. Better not to think about Cary, then. Asshole didn’t deserve to be thought about, anyway. Forcing his mind back to the problem of his kidnapping, Grant took stock.
Whoever they were, they had gone to the trouble of stripping him down to just his jeans and wife beater. Even his shoes and socks were gone. He should probably count himself lucky they’d left him dressed. He wondered where his wallet and cell had gone, stupidly more annoyed about the hassle of replacing his license and cards and phone than anything else so far.
They’d also handcuffed him to the bed. Not a game to which he was necessarily opposed, dependant on who he was playing with, but he was definitely not thrilled with it at the moment. That explained why his shoulder fucking hurt—they’d only cuffed the one arm, but the headboard was high and it left his arm stretched and awkward no matter where or how he tried to sit. It would be his right arm, damn it.
The bed itself was old and creaky; the mattress had stains he preferred not to look at closely. There was nothing else in the room—not a window, a closet, a dresser, or even a table. Not so much as a damned mouse hole.
Where was he? How long since he’d been taken? He tried not to think about the fact that no one was likely to miss him for weeks, possibly months. He’d told his family he was taking off to see Cary, and might be gone awhile. And Cary—
Cary he wasn’t thinking about, Grant reminded himself.
His head hurt like hell, he noted. The other aches and pain had mostly eased off, leaving him with a headache, a sore shoulder, and a bone-deep regret on the drinking. That would teach him to get drunk immediately before a kidnapping.
He tried to remember more, like the well-trained (if former) agent he was supposed to be, but he just hadn’t cared. Cary, the lack of Cary, was all he had cared about. Besides, why would anyone want to kidnap him? If this was related to a case, then he didn’t see why whoever it was just didn’t shoot him.
Grant frowned, forcing his head to work despite the throbbing ache that made thinking a chore. There’d been three men, all dark-haired. Latino. One had been older than the others, about forties, the other two thirties. They’d said something, but what? Think, idiot! Idiot—Cary. He’d mentioned getting dumped, and they’d said no way, wolves didn’t dump those they’d bitten. Especially not those Moon Dogs.
He hadn’t learned much about werewolves, only enough to know that Cary was definitely one. There weren’t many, maybe fifty thousand in the entire United States. They were divided into groups, or something. Packs? Gangs? He had no idea. But Cary was part of a group called ‘Moon Dogs,’ and from what he had been able to tell, no one cared to fuck with the Moon Dogs.
Was this stupid fucking kidnapping a werewolf thing? But why take him? To get to Cary? But that would accomplish nothing, if for no other reason than Cary had made it humiliatingly clear—
Oh, son of a bitch. That was not on. If Cary had done that to him just because he thought Grant was a fucking girl who need to be sent away for his own good—”I’m going to punch you in your stupid face again,” Grant muttered to the empty room. “Then I’m going to kick you in the balls.”
Cary was going to be groveling when this was all over, or they were so staying broken up. Grant was also never cooking for him again. Fuck him.
And fuck his kidnappers. Enough was enough. Time to make some noise. Sitting up, getting as comfortable as he could, Grant bellowed, “Hey, assholes! How about some fucking aspirin?” He heard something—footsteps. Then he heard someone unlocking the door—great, it locked from the outside—and then the door opened.
Grant blinked. “Well, shit.”
A Kind of Remedy by Ashley Shaw
They had said it would be a great scientific experiment.
They had said that it would open the door to more discoveries about the human body and medicine. It would be a way to give people more stamina and strength for everyday tasks. They had carefully explained that he would be fine afterwards.
They hadn’t said that it would feel as though hundreds of razor-edged knives were sinking into his flesh.
Nicolaus cried out against the pain but the sound was muffled by the foul rag the scientists had stuffed into his mouth as they tied down his limbs and placed a blindfold over his eyes. He bit down on the damned rag and focused only on breathing.
In and out. In and out.
It didn’t help.
Another wave of pain coursed through him and he groaned. He felt the prickle of tears stinging his eyes and Nicolaus cursed himself for it.
How could he have been stupid enough to sign up? The gold had been enticing, but it wasn’t worth going through such pain. The scientists hadn’t explained anything properly, and Nicolaus wished he had asked more questions before agreeing to the experiment.
Another stinging ache seized his back. Nicolaus gnawed harder on the disgusting rag, trying to drown out the sounds of his distress.
Damn it. If only he could explain that he no longer desired to be a part of the experiment. He didn’t care about the money anymore—he’d give the first payment back if that would get them to stop.
But the scientists pressed on, and Nicolaus could do nothing but endure it. There was no way for him to get his internal pleas heard.
He really was an idiot.
The picture of Hadrian scolding him was clear in his mind. His best friend had been right to warn him that signing up for the experiment was dangerous. Nicolaus hadn’t listened as carefully as he should have—he never did. Which was why he often found himself in bad situations. The lure of gold had been far too great to ignore. His thoughts were brought to a halt as another strike of pain rippled through his body as though he had been immersed in ice water.
And then everything stopped.
“Thank you, Mr. Andren. The experiment went smoothly.” The voice held no emotion. Perhaps she didn’t care about the torture she had just put her patient through.
Nicolaus felt his restraints being undone, and the blindfold covering his eyes was lifted. The white, artificial light burned his eyes. Just how long had he been sitting there? Once his hands were free, he pulled the vile rag out of his mouth. He let it fall to the ground, too exhausted to care.
He limped as he followed the female scientist out of the room. He didn’t even bother to ask why he was being brought to a room in the laboratory rather than going home.
He was aware that they were moving down hallways and passing many closed doors but it was all a dark blur. They stopped in front of a plain grey door and the woman opened it with a key. Pushing the door wide open, she motioned for Nicolaus to enter. Not having the energy to do much else, he did as was expected.
“Please rest. We will come get you tomorrow for a check up on how your body has reacted to the experiment.” With that, the woman closed the door once again. A second later there was a click. He was locked inside.
Instead of dwelling on the locked door, Nicolaus spotted a bed at the other end of the room. He collapsed down onto it and fell asleep in an instant.
When Nicolaus opened his eyes, he felt confused. He was in a dull room with poor lighting and he couldn’t remember how he had ended up there. Then memories riddled with pain came back and he almost wished he could have kept those thoughts away for a little while longer. Nicolaus sat up on the bed that was too small for him and looked around at the room. There wasn’t much to see: plain white walls, dark grey floor with no carpeting, a large door with no handle. There was a bookshelf holding a few tomes in the left corner but they held no interest to Nicolaus—he couldn’t read.
There was one window, though thick metal bars surrounded it—a stark reminder that he was more of a prisoner than a patient. If they thought he was going to try to escape, they were mistaken. He had gone through with the experiment that far, he wasn’t going to back out. There was no way in hell he was not going to get the rest of his money.
He glanced out the window, but there wasn’t anything interesting to see—some trees, the dirt ground with patches of grass. It was night time, and the sky was clear. Nicolaus lay back in the bed, feeling exhaustion wash over him once more. He stared out of the window as he started to allow sleep to take him.
The moon was almost full.
He didn’t know why that mattered.
It had started with a headache.
The first sharp pain had hit him as he had been staring out the window to the clouded night sky. It wasn’t long before the pain had intensified, bringing tears to his eyes.
Was the pain some sort of reaction to the experiment?
He almost called out for help, for the scientists to figure out what was going on with him. It couldn’t be just an ordinary headache. But he was feeling stubborn, and to ask the help from the very people who were keeping him locked up in that room seemed like a stupid thing to do.
So Nicolaus kept quiet. He could endure the headache—it had to go away sooner or later. All headaches did eventually. He clenched his jaw to keep from making any noises that would alert anyone near his room.
The pain in his head was intensifying. Quickly.
Rubbing his forehead gave no relief, and his whole body felt like it was throbbing. With every ragged breath, he could feel his body struggling with itself. Every heart beat felt like his blood was being pulled through constricting veins.
Nicolaus groaned and clutched his head. It felt as though it would burst from the pressure. His hands started to ache and he felt the throbbing in his very bones. His body felt like it was trying to tear itself apart.
Unable to keep quiet any longer, he let out a yell of agony. It sounded more like a howl.
His skin was crawling and itching, pushed as his insides shifted. Glancing down at his hands, Nicolaus cried out at the misshaped bones. His hands looked crippled and completely alien. The bones in his hands were moving, shifting. With each movement a snap resounded throughout the room, followed by a belated shock of pain. Another howl ripped its way through his throat but he no longer recognized his own voice.
The room began to spin, his thoughts solely focused on trying to escape the pain. But there was nowhere to go.
He heard a door being unlocked and opened.
A sigh. “Another one gone wrong. Well, come on. Subdue him already.”
Then everything went black.