Charlie Hiller was a near-perfect specimen of the human male animal. Every time she looked at him, her fantasies grew more intense. She wasn’t exactly sure why she was drawn to him. But Laura had been following him for two weeks and couldn’t get enough of the man.
She was actually getting good at trailing him without looking suspicious or feeling like a stalker. He had a fairly predictable routine. Charlie got up early, ate and hit the gym. That was where Laura had the highlight of her day, seeing his hard body sweat. He was long and muscled with dark hair and crystal-blue eyes. Eventually Charlie went to work as chef at a trendy Chicago restaurant and then back home.
Sitting in her car down the street half a block from his duplex, Laura tried not to fantasize about the sexy creature. Men were the one thing Laura was really bad at. A zoologist at the Brookfield Zoo—Laura Blake was better with animals than with people. Colleagues were different. She knew how to talk to them. Men never noticed her beyond her brain.
Her friends were all married but Laura, at thirty-five, was terminally single. Her friends wanted to set her up and she panicked at the thought. Then there was her mother who complained that Laura wasn’t trying. Mom’s philosophy was that plain girls like her could find someone with a little extra effort.
Laura felt safer in her lab at the zoo. Animals were so much more honest and straightforward. She wanted to help animals coexist with people. Charlie Hiller was the ultimate challenge of that coexistence.
Charlie Hiller needed her help.
He was a werewolf.
That fact should’ve made him easy for Laura to approach but she wanted to keep watching. He was the first man to haunt her dreams—before her fantasies had been of famous or fictional men. No one she met connected so intensely. Every detail of Charlie Hiller appeared in her dreams from the scar on his chin to the yin-yang tattoo on his left shoulder blade. He made her nights restless and the time she followed him an arousing torture. She hadn’t officially met him but eventually she’d have to.
As the moon began to rise, Laura knew she’d waited too long. She should’ve talked to him and explained her plan to help him. Laura could help. But part of her didn’t want to ruin the fantasy. As soon as she introduced herself, Laura knew he’d look at her like a mad scientist and not a woman. It was selfish and stupid but he made her feel like a woman and she hadn’t even met him. Once they were working together it’d change.
She grabbed her cell phone and dialed her brother.
“Hello,” he answered.
“You’re sure Charlie knows the werewolf that bit him?” She wasn’t gifted with small talk or good at the pleasantries.
“Laura. You still haven’t talked to Charlie? I told you, yes. He knows the werewolf who did it and he knows that he is a werewolf. You’re offering him the cure—you’re an angel. Just be careful.”
“It’s a bit late now. I’m going to see how he contains himself and how he acts.” She tried to make it sound like a plan.
“He’s a werewolf, sis. He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way. It’s the night before the full moon—he’ll turn tonight and for two more nights. You need to stay far away from him.”
“I know. I just want to take a quick look. I swear, I’ll talk to him tomorrow and explain everything.” She didn’t believe it but needed to see Charlie in werewolf form. Maybe that would stop the intense attraction and fantasy? She doubted it. He was a man ninety percent of his nights. That’s what she wanted.
“You cured me, Laura. I’m not turning into a werewolf three nights a month anymore. I’m not terrorizing my neighbors or hurting myself trying to escape a cage. You know it works.”
“What if we can’t find the wolf that bit him? What if he’s dead? I don’t want to give someone false hope and then snatch it away.” Laura hated to disappoint people and at times that’s all her life felt like. Mom wanted her to be a beauty queen and she was a short, science geek. Laura wanted a personal life but couldn’t be someone she wasn’t in order to get it. She was a bad liar. And nothing was perfect. It’d taken her three tries to cure her brother’s condition.
“You won’t know until you talk to Charlie. We had no clue it’d even work on me and you did it.”
“You’re my brother. I had to do something. What’d you have to lose? You trusted me. Plus the odds were my cure wouldn’t kill you. I don’t know this guy. He’ll think I’m crazy.”
“The man turns into a werewolf three nights a week and you know it’s real. The rest of the world thinks he’s crazy. You can fix it. Just think of him as an experiment. You can’t make it worse and there’s a chance you can put him back to all-human, all the time. The man is part animal. A danger to himself and the world. I’ve been there. He’ll try anything to escape that hell.”
“Okay, thanks for the pep talk.” She closed her phone and slid it in her jeans pocket where she could get at it easily in case of emergency. Then she took a deep breath.
Laura put her Honda Civic in drive and pulled up in front of Charlie’s place. There she waited until it was a bit darker. Not letting her courage falter, she turned off the engine, slipped from the car and went around the back of the house.
Several times while he’d been at work, she’d snooped around to get the layout. The basement had a cage so Charlie knew what he was and contained the werewolf. On her hands and knees at the basement window set low in a dip, she leaned down and watched.
He was there and already setting up for a full-moon night. A few gallons of water sat in the corner, a blanket and what looked like a fair amount of jerky. Laura had some flashbacks to her brother’s moon nights.
Until her brother was tranquilized by an animal control officer, Laura had no idea werewolves were real. It took watching him turn from human to werewolf and back while inside a cage to believe it. That’s when her life had gotten weird. Really otherworldly weird. She’d had to get her basement outfitted with a tiger cage from the zoo.
Big cities like Chicago did have a rough underworld that came out at night but the fact that true creatures of the night existed in a very real way shocked Laura. Her brother, a cop and former military guy, was thrown into the painful animal existence after a call one night. Since then her life had been strictly about curing her brother. When she hit on the formula three months back it was a huge thrill and quite a breakthrough.
Her academic credibility would be ruined if she tried to publicize this. Claiming to have cured werewolves would cost her her job. And probably a check of her mental health. Of course she couldn’t write a definitive paper for publication. Her work was done here, in the shadows at night with tortured creatures like Charlie who turned into the deadly werewolf.
No one believed it. They were real and there was proof. She pulled her left sleeve up and four claw slashes stared back at her. If her own brother did that on the night of a full moon—there was no doubt in her mind what Charlie could do to her if she let her guard down. Wanting the man didn’t negate the fear she had of the werewolf.
Forcing herself to be on guard, she silently went back to her car’s trunk and got the tranquilizer gun she’d used on her brother a dozen times. And at least three times on the werewolf that had turned him. It was a critical tool she shouldn’t be without. Laura could load it and fire it in her sleep. Her aim was getting more accurate after having hit her brother in the foot, ribs and hip a few times. Werewolves tended to move a lot. They weren’t easy to hit when agitated.
What had her life become? It was scary and yet the thrill of scientific success was unmatched. The knowledge that she could save people and put things right between the animal and human world was rewarding. Laura could do this! She could offer Charlie the cure tomorrow, once he was human again. But she’d do it with poise and confidence because she had the goods. Odds were she could cure him.
In her work, she was strong. But looking into the basement, she saw Charlie take off his shirt and felt the animal desire within her own body. His strong back muscles tapered. She knelt down to get a closer look. She wanted to see him without the pants. For all her gym spying, she’d yet to see him naked.
The shame washed over her. What a sick, peeping, geeky girl she was. He had a right to privacy but still she couldn’t stop looking. Laura was supposed to help him, not ogle the man. But visual research was part of the job. Whoever said humans were evolved was crazy. Laura felt a deep animal desire for this man—the arousal nagged at her. But she couldn’t let her guard down. Not on the full moon or the day before or the day after. That could cost her her life.
She leaned over the window well to get a better look at him and how he changed. Leaning farther with one hand on the gun, she heard a loud clatter right under her. She grabbed for her cell phone that had fallen and clutched the gun, hoping Charlie hadn’t heard her.
ANOTHER FULL MOON and Charlie hated his life. What he’d become was an animal—a danger that no one understood or even believed in. It took him months to put together what’d happened to him. Now he faced a life of hiding in solitude. So far he’d survived two years of this nightmare existence—still not sure how he’d face a lifetime of it.
So far he’d dealt with the basics of his new life. He’d figured out how to keep himself from harming others. So many local pets had been mauled his first moon that people thought there was a pit bull on the loose. The guilt still stabbed him in the gut when he remembered the pictures in the paper and the fur in his hands. The only solace was no humans were hurt.
He peeled off his shirt and stretched. This was always the hardest night, the first one he resisted with everything he had. Once he’d figured it out, Charlie caged himself every night he’d change with enough food and water to keep him alive. The animal in him had thrown itself against the bars all night the first cycle. At least the bruises had healed so his coworkers at the restaurant where he was head chef no longer wondered if he was dating a woman who abused him.
Charlie had to laugh. No girlfriend, no wife. No nothing in his future. His whole life had been changed and he’d be alone. All because of what he became three nights out of every month. But that animal was vicious and the cage worked. A lone werewolf, Charlie was ruled by the pull of the moon. He’d always loved looking at the stars before, now he hated the night sky.
A sound right outside the window caught his attention. Charlie turned and saw movement. That woman was still following him. Her scent followed him everywhere. He should just lock himself up and deal with her tomorrow because the change was already starting inside him. The urge to protect his territory, however, overwhelmed his human senses.
His blood pounded as he tore up the stairs and out the back door. Racing toward her, he pinned her to her car and fought the animal in him. He’d watched her as much as she’d stalked him. She was no match for him but she was too close.
The lush woman was in grass-stained jeans and a white T-shirt. He could smell her—the scent he’d unconsciously sought out for the last two weeks turned him on. It put him on edge. Charlie clung to his reality. This woman was following him. Why?
With the tranquilizer gun in her hand she clearly knew his secret but had yet to shoot. “What do you want?” he growled. The pain of the change had begun. His hair and teeth were lengthening. As he stared into her soft green eyes the pain seemed a bit less.
She was on guard but it wasn’t fear that dripped from her. He inhaled her scent deeply.
“I want to help.” She clutched her gun.
The heat of her body, the scent of her arousal and the drive to mate, which overtook him at every moon, all pulled him to press to her. The sliver of humanity screamed at him not to hurt her and wanted her for himself. It was too much—too confusing. He grabbed at her neck, tearing her shirt to reveal more of her skin.
Charlie didn’t want to change. He really didn’t want to hurt anyone. With her eyes fixed on him, he leaned closer so he could smell her neck. Then he felt the gun press to his rib cage. He struggled to fight the change. The man in him could talk to her, the werewolf wanted to take her right there.
As the final transformation blew all his human thoughts away and ravaged his body, Charlie howled at the moon. The instrument of hell that made his life a living nightmare.
Then he felt a sharp pain in his stomach. She’d shot him. The world went dark in an instant.