Thursday, April 9, 2009


When Ramona and Tinker approached Grandma Base, they stopped at a door camouflaged with kudzu. As an eerie prickle skittered down her spine, Ramona threw another quick glance over her shoulder.

What the hell is out there?

Tinker didn’t seem to be concerned, and he, of all people, would sense the unusual or eerie. He had battled in every big and small skirmish the United States had been involved in since the late 80’s. The best of the best would always know if something lurked in the night—wouldn’t he?

“Tinker, doesn’t the air feel weird?”

He raised and eyebrow and looked around. “I don’t think air feels at all.”

Exasperated, she glared at him.

“Weird how?”

“I don’t know—something just feels off.” Maybe, still tense from being used as bait for the first time, the unease would turn out to be unfounded. She wasn’t crazy about posing as a snack for the Big Bad Wolf, but wolf blood ran in her veins, and she had the strength to keep a werewolf from killing her or doing serious damage while the rest of the team bagged the animal. But even she wasn’t invincible. Things out there could still kill her, and she was smart enough to be aware of it.

“It’s okay, Ramona. Everything feels cool.” Tinker unclipped the door remote from his tool belt and aimed it toward the kudzu. A hidden entrance rumbled into view and they ducked under it.

Ramona stared into the dark as the door slowly lowered behind them. A shadowy wisp shifted and faded into the trees. A bit of fog moving with the wind? Unease scattered goose bumps along her skin. Why can’t Tinker sense the damn thing?

They moved along a narrow hall, reinforced with steel beams, and took an elevator down one level. Everything gleamed with silver, turning the underground base into a strong fortress, keeping the werewolves in until they were well enough to be trusted outside. As long as Ramona kept up her daily inoculation of silver and didn’t get too close to the walls, she could handle silver poisoning.

“Did the werewolf bite you or scratch you?” Tinker asked as he raked her body with a concerned inspection.

“I don’t think so.”

“No room for I-don’t-think-so in this business? You’d better be positive.” He reached for her shirt and tugged it out of the waistband of her jeans. As his warm fingers skimmed her bare stomach, a pleasant shiver shook her body.

She let out a small gasp and pulled away from him, removing his fingers from under her shirt. “So, what if it did bite me? It’s not like it can hurt me.”

He returned his hand to her waist, fingers brushing her hip and up her back searching for wounds. His touch shouldn’t have affected her in a sexual way, especially since he had nothing on his mind but business. But, damn it, she’d been attracted to him from the moment she came out of her werewolf state with enough lucidity to notice he was a man—a powerful, dark-skinned male capable of satisfying her every desire.

“Shit.” She jerked away from him. If he touches me one more time, I’ll lose all control and kiss him or something.

Tinker misinterpreted her reaction. “Animal bites can get infected.”

Ramona almost laughed. Leave it to Tinker to worry about something so normal. “Relax. I’ll go to Dr. Garrett and get a thorough skin scan.”

“Good.” He put his arm around her waist, outside her T-shirt this time, and kissed her hair. “Coming to the cafeteria for supper?”

“In a minute. I want to go down and visit with the prisoners for a bit.”

“They’re not prisoners.”

“I’m sure the werewolves would have a different opinion.”

“We’re helping them, Ramona,” Tinker said softly.

“I know. I just remember the way it was for me when you brought me here.” If not for Tinker, the fear, helplessness, and rage would have driven her to beat her body black and blue trying to bust through the steel bars of the cage. Tinker had somehow calmed her. Brought peace. But he must never find out how she felt about him. He could never want a woman who was also part animal.

Ramona stepped back into the elevator and rode down to the fourth level where they kept the new recruits. Howls of rage pierced her ears before the elevator door opened and she stepped out. Another long drawn-out wail, full of hate and madness traveled the narrow corridor.

As she rounded the corner, the werewolf they’d captured a week earlier, hurled himself against the bars, desperate for escape. Grandma Base kept this set of cages separate from the others and sound proof. A werewolf’s first few weeks weren’t very pleasant, and the crew didn’t want them disturbing the others who were well on their way to recovery.

The cage next to that one stood empty and waiting for the newest capture to be brought in later tonight.

The werewolf ceased its howls and sniffed the air. It looked right at her. Hate replaced the fear, and he growled low and menacing, almost as if he recognized her as the enemy. Why wouldn’t he? She stood outside the cage. He squinted through yellow eyes and stared at her as if he planned how to rip her from limb to limb while he kept her alive to enjoy her screams of pain.

“We’re going to help you,” she said, keeping her voice soft. She wished she could offer him a gentle stroke along his beautiful, gray fur, but he’d probably tear her arm off if she tried.

The werewolf shook his head—one small shake—and then he bared his teeth as a ropy string of drool dripped from the fangs and splattered on the floor of the cell.

“Let me leave.”

Startled by the gruff voice issuing from something that shouldn’t be able to speak at all, Ramona took a quick step back. Had the damn thing spoken?

None had before.

“Let me go, and I’ll let you live.” Its voice sounded like a rusty pair of hinges swinging a door open.

Recovering from the surprise, she said, “I can’t do that.” How had they so miscalculated this one’s intelligence? Better, yet, why did the thing even have any form of intelligence whatsoever? It shouldn’t have in its first week as a werewolf. They’re supposed to be little more than wild animals. How had they even captured it?

“We can help you.”

“Let me go or I’ll die.”

“No one has ever died in this facility.”

“I will.” Fear flickered in his eyes as he stared at her and pushed his snout between the bars. “Let me go.” All the fight and hate had drained out of him. “Please.”

Egad! It’d said please.

“Trust me.” It was all she could offer him for now.

The werewolf gave a human-like snort, pulled back from the bars, and settled on the cot against the back wall. It flopped down like a tired dog and stretched out its legs. “Then I’m doomed.”

* * *

Troubled by the werewolf, Ramona tossed and turned on the bed in her quarters. If it was so intelligent, why had it attacked Tinker and put itself in danger of being caught? Did it have moments of lucidity? Did the human side come out in fits and spurts while in the throes of the moon’s madness? If so, it was the first of its kind that could accomplish such a feat.

Loud, frantic banging hammered against her door, snapping her out of the first stages of a groggy sleep. She sprang to her feet, yanked on a pair of jeans, pulled a T-shirt over her head, and stumbled toward the door as she tugged the hem of her shirt down over her stomach.

Tinker stood outside with hands that trembled and a white face.

My God, what could have happened to visibly shake up Tinker?

“One of the recent ...” He took a breath and stared at the floor. “It’s best if you saw it for yourself.” He circled her wrist with his fingers. “God knows I wish I could spare you that.”

Apprehension grew stronger as she followed Tinker to the holding level. What the hell would she find when she reached the cages?