He tasted the air, felt the pungent damp earth. The stench of moist human rolled over him. Beneath it all, he sensed the beat of the street. The life force of the inhabitants pulsed through him. It encouraged and fed his hunger.
They were nothing but empty and discarded pawns. Their only use was for hunting and devouring. The animal in him roared agreement and he shifted fully into the predator.
The beast sniffed, focused on the prey and the fear running through the body of his target. The terror oozed out of his food, his cattle’s skin, with a thick, sweet perfume, inciting the predator, driving him on. There was no division between himself and the animal. They were one blood-hungry entity. Both human and beast lusted for the kill, the chase, and the blood.
Detecting his goal and compelled by the lust for spilled blood, he prowled forward, slithering from shadow to shadow. Like a wraith with an eternal thirst for his kill. His instincts told him the man was old and weak, no longer fit to be near or in the pack. The doomed one knew the beast’s real name and names had power. He had to silence him.
The animal smiled, knowing what was to come.
His prey sensed danger and tried to flee to safety, but it was too late. The leap already taken connected squarely with the center of the soon-to-be-dead man’s chest.
Claws dug in and little by little slipped through the skin. The force of the animal behind them dragged the razor sharp talons down. They sliced with ease, like a red hot poker sizzling through a block of ice as the old man howled for help. The exhilaration of first blood spilled built until it bubbled out from the beast in frantic little giggles of insanity. The victim’s screams were like opera to the killer’s ears. Loud and strident at first, it led into a harmonic gurgle as the depth of the man’s terror immobilized him.
Bloodlust and thirst soared again, only for a moment satisfied. The prey fell to the ground, weakened by the massive amounts of fluid running from its body. The savage predator’s hunger exploded outwards, driven by the ever-spreading blood puddle.
The beast, in the frenzy of a feed, lowered his muzzle toward his quarry. He thirsted for the throat of his victim, a taste of the ambrosia this fool hoarded. A scream broke out from a woman in a parked car and a large object came toward him. A car, his fuzzy mind reminded him. Danger, an insistent voice whispered to him.
The animal broke off and stole back into the shadows like a specter in the night. A scalding beat of bitterness drummed at the thought of his missed feast.
The man within the beast smiled. It was enough of a test of power until next time.
“Okay, I howl at the moon. What’s the problem?” Cassidy Quinn raised her eyebrows and grinned at Bethany, her receptionist and best friend. “Come on, it’s not like I’m an axe murderer or anything nasty. The folks in my family happen to change into howling, snarling, fur-covered eighty-pound wolves. What’s the biggie?”
“Sort of like PMS every month.”
“Except you wake snarling, moody and bloated, while in my family’s case, a normal guy’s likely to wake next to a shedding animal.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“All right, it’s not the normal routine for most people and my family is still in the minority, but we count. We vote. And it’s not like you can catch it through kissing germs.” Cassidy focused on her friend as she scowled back at her.
“I figured by now everyone knows lycanthropy is inherited, like a hereditary blood disease. I suppose there’s still folks around who are narrowed-minded about this type of thing.”
“My father’s right.” Cassidy bared her teeth in disgust. “A strong alpha male can cope with anything, not like that wimp of a lawyer last night.”
Okay, he’d looked trim and buff on the outside, but appearances were obviously deceptive. Look at her, born to a family of Weres and she couldn’t even change properly. Not to mention the fact she was over being patient. Twenty years over it. There had to be a reason why a twenty-eight year old couldn’t do what an eight-year-old cub could.
“He almost wet his pants.” Cassidy grinned at her friend before she continued. “And ran out of the restaurant, leaving me the bill for a very expensive dinner.”
“Lordy, I wish I’d been a fly on the wall to see it.”
Cassidy wiggled her eyebrows. “All because he couldn’t keep his paws to himself, ha.”
“What did you do to the poor guy?”
“Nothing, all I did was to growl.” She chuckled at the disbelieving look on Bethany’s face. “Fine. I flashed my teeth and pinched him with my claws. It’s about all I can do anyway.”
Her friend could no longer contain herself. She covered her mouth with her palms, the laughter still audible. Cassidy frowned, not certain it was funny. Obviously taking note of her look, Bethany started to back out of the room. She mumbled an apology moments before closing the door.
Cassidy slumped deeper into her high-backed chair, the frown still etched on her face. Damn, she was getting tired of dates like last night. How much was a girl supposed to put up with before cracking?
“It’s not like I stripped naked and tried a change right there in the middle of the restaurant.” Cassidy tried to convince herself it was no big deal.
Besides, there was one big thing wrong with that scenario, she couldn’t change into a Were without a hell of a lot of pain. Actually, she couldn’t fully change at all, pain or not. Not something you want to advertise to your enemies or your clients, bad for business.
“Have you stopped sulking or are you up to the ranting and raving part?” Bethany opened the door and sidled inside, a pile of letters balanced on her right palm.
“Peace, boss. I’m on your side.”
“I know, I know. I told him I was a Were. But it’s hip these days to be a monster so he hadn’t believed me.” It wasn’t her fault. Hopefully he’d have to pay some therapist a ton of money to get over it.
“Just because my family wants me married with a litter, is no reason to go and date any sort of scum. Especially a wimp lawyer.” Cassidy paused for a breath and tried to grab back her place of calm. There was no sense in losing her temper. Bethany wasn’t the one she should be mouthing off to.
“Okay, bitching done. I’m past the ranting and raving part and almost to the section where I bite you.”
“Nah, your bark’s worse than your bite. By the way, these letters need your paw print.”
Cassidy scowled. “Stop with the wolf jokes. I’ve enough of a complex about it as it is. Besides, we’re an old and mysterious race. We deserve respect.” She plastered a holier-than-thou expression on her face.
Even though they’d been around for centuries, Weres had only been out of the closet—so to speak—for fifty years. A health check had turned up some very interesting results they hadn’t been able to destroy or hide. Now it was equal opportunity for all.
“Ha, is this the sermon you sprouted to Octopus Sam, the lawyer?”
“Yeah, right about the time he was running for his life. At least I didn’t date a man who wanted to wear my underwear,” Cassidy retaliated. “Especially when I’d been wearing them that day.”
Bethany scowled and poked out her tongue. “What can I say? I have a talent.”
Cassidy pantomimed choking.
“All right. But for the most part, they don’t run screaming into the night.” Bethany spun on the spot and marched out.
“At least mine don’t sniff my panties,” Cassidy yelled to her friend’s retreating back.
They don’t get close enough. She made a face. Actually, her dating life was having a severe drought. Who had time anyway? Between the job and her family, she was lucky if there was time to scratch a flea or two.
Copyright© 2006 Kelly Ethan
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication