Full Moon Rising
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I headed for the toilets and had a long, hot shower. It didn't do much to ease the aches of my body, but at least I felt cleaner. And the moon's heat no longer flicked through my veins. Misha had finally seen to that, if nothing else. Maybe he thought it would ensure I'd see him again
But if that had been his thinking, then he didn't know me very well at all. Though what did I really know of him? Or Talon?
At least my questions had been answered - whether truthfully or not still remained to be seen
But the night had achieved something else - it had solidified my determination never to become a guardian. Because guardians, whether male or female, often used sex to gather information, and being with Misha had given me a small taste of what that was like. I had no problems with having sex with someone I didn't know. I'd done that most of my life, in many different werewolf clubs, and enjoyed myself immensely. But having sex with a stranger for the sole purpose of gathering information almost smacked of prostitution, and that sat uncomfortably
Yet wasn't that exactly what I'd just done? Sure, I knew Misha, but did that really make a difference? The fact that I'd gone into the situation ready and willing to do what was necessary proved I was more like my brother - and more capable of undercover work - than I'd thought
And that was the most uncomfortable thought of all
I rubbed a hand across gritty-feeling eyes then glanced at the clock on the wall. It was just past two, and I really had to get moving. I stood under the hot water for a few more minutes, then toweled myself dry and got dressed. Stan and Jimmy gave me cheerful good-byes as I made my way back to the shadows of the lane
Quinn leaned against the car hood, his arms crossed, face impassive. "Are you okay?"
I shrugged. "I got the answers to everyone's questions."
"The answers can wait. You look like hell."
"Strange. That's exactly what I feel like." I stopped several feet away, wishing he'd take me in his arms and hold me. Just hold me. Nothing more - not right away, anyway. I simply needed the comfort of a touch that wasn't hard or rough or calculating
But he didn't move, and I didn't ask
"Misha knew Jack and Rhoan were breaking in to his office."
"That explains the unhappy vibes I've been getting from you."
Was it any wonder he was getting unhappy vibes? Both of my mates were apparently using me for their own ends and never once had I suspected them. So much for trusting my damn instincts
"Talon made an appearance at the club tonight," he continued
Alarm shot through me. "What?"
He nodded. "Went in about forty-five minutes ago and left about ten minutes later."
"Wonder why?" It made no sense, especially considering he'd seemed determined to kill me after he'd learned of my mixed heritage
"Maybe he's reconsidered."
"No." Talon rarely changed his mind about anything. If he'd come to the club, it would be for some reason other than wanting to conceive a child with me. "Did you try and stop him?"
"No, but I followed him in."
I hadn't sensed either of them. "What did he do?"
"Watched you and Misha."
"Misha implied that he and Talon had been partners in the past. Maybe they still are. Maybe Talon came into the club for that reason."
"And maybe realized that while he might not personally like your mixed heritage, you're still too good a morsel to pass up for research."
A chill ran through me. I had a feeling he'd hit the nail right on the head
Quinn studied me for a second, then wrapped his fingers around my arm and pulled me into his embrace. He didn't say anything, just held me, and it felt so good and warm, and so damn right, that I wanted to cry
"We'd better keep an eye on Talon. I fear he may be more involved than we currently think."
"He is. He owns Konane, and he owns Genoveve."
He kissed the top of my head, his lips a feather-light brush of heat. Then he held me away from him, and the night seemed suddenly colder
"If that's the case, we'd better get moving."
I nodded, though I really didn't want to go anywhere but back into his arms
"Here, put this on, then get into the car." His voice was even, yet I had a sense of controlled excitement. Perhaps he, like me, sensed that the resolution of this whole mess was drawing close
I took the thin strap of metal he held out. "What is it?"
"It'll disrupt the chip's tracking signal and ensure we're not followed."
I strapped it onto my forearm as I climbed into the car. "Any word from Rhoan or Jack?"
"They're finished and waiting at Liander's."
We drove in silence to the workshop. Rhoan, Jack, and Liander were seated in the small dining-cum-living room behind the main workshop. Rhoan rose from the sofa he and Liander were sharing and pulled me into a hug. I hugged him back, glad to have someone in my life who was stable. Constant. Someone who loved me for what I was, not what I could do for him or produce for him. Someone who would always accept me as I was, vampire bloodline, wolf heritage, and all
"You okay?" he whispered
I nodded, not daring to answer in fear that the tears stinging my eyes would choose that moment to break free
"Sex for information is never pleasant the first time."
"That's the trouble - in the end, the sex was more than pleasant." I shivered. "I don't want to become a guardian."
But it could happen, and I very much suspected that Jack was right. That I'd not only be good at it, but I'd enjoy it. Even the information-gathering, sex-with-strangers bit
"Then fight it for as long as is practical." He stepped back, his face stern but eyes smoky with understanding. "You need a hot drink?"
"Coffee, with a chaser of bourbon."
He squeezed my hand, then walked across to the minibar. I sat down on a hard wooden chair next to Quinn
"So," I said, voice edgy, "what happened to cutting all the alarm systems?"
Liander looked more than a little affronted. "I may be rusty, but I'm not that rusty."
"Then how come Misha knew you were in his office going through his files when I walked into the Blue Moon tonight?"
"He couldn't have," Jack said. "Believe me, we were very careful."
"Electronically, perhaps, but Misha implied he had more than electronic security systems present."
"He did, and they never saw us."
"Someone - or something - did."
Rhoan handed me the alcohol and I drank it in one gulp. It burned all the way down, but at least it took the edge off the cold knot sitting deep in the pit of my stomach
"Then he didn't answer any questions?"
"No, he was quite happy to talk. He reckons he has nothing to hide."
"And you believe him?" Quinn asked softly
I met his gaze, momentarily getting lost in the depths of his dark eyes. "No, I don't."
"So, why Genoveve?" Jack asked
"Apparently, it's built over the top of a World War II military bunker. He was planning to use it for non-government-approved research."
"Was?" Jack asked
Rhoan held out a steaming mug and I accepted it with a small smile. "Yeah. He was outbid by the same company who owns Moneisha."
"Yep. And Konane is owned by Talon."
Liander groaned. "We had him, and we let him escape."
"And he's probably out of the damn country by now." Rhoan sat on the arm of the sofa and threw an arm around my shoulders. "We'll never find him."
"We will," Quinn said softly. "He was in the Blue Moon tonight, watching Misha and Riley. And he was furious."
"Interesting," Jack murmured. "It suggests that he still has some interest in Riley. Maybe we can put that to use."
"No," Rhoan and Quinn said together
Jack ignored them, staring at me. "This all goes far deeper than one werewolf and one company, but right now, he's the only lead we have. He has to be caught, and he has to be questioned."
"Agreed," Rhoan all but spat, "but why use Riley as bait again? She's done more than her fair share for kin and country."
"I know she has." Jack's voice was filled with a contriteness that didn't show in the green of his eyes. "But Talon is not interested in you or me. And, because of Gautier's influence, we dare not trust any of the other guardians at this moment."
"We know where Genoveve Confectionary is. Why don't we just raid the damn place?"
"Because we don't know where the entrances to the underground sections are, and by the time we find them, the evidence we need might well be destroyed."
I sipped my coffee and met Jack's gaze evenly. While I was aware that he was reeling me in a little bit more, the reasons why I'd walked into the Blue Moon earlier tonight still held true. Whoever was behind this had to be stopped, and if I could play a part in that, did I really have the right to walk away?
And would walking away be any safer? They'd first come after me at the train station, and that was way before I'd really gotten involved in this investigation. Maybe walking would only make things worse
Besides, the wolf within had had enough and wanted revenge in a bad way
"Do not forget that ten guardians have already died, or that Kelly may have made it eleven," Jack added, talking to Rhoan but his gaze not wavering on mine
I closed my eyes, not wanting to think about the other guardians. Not wanting to think that Kelly might have joined their ranks
Dammit, she couldn't have. I didn't make friends all that easily - surely fate wouldn't be cruel enough to snatch her away
"We have to stop this now," Jack added softly
"Riley's not even a guardian!" Rhoan was off the chair, fist clenched and expression livid. "How in hell can you expect her to survive what those others could not?"
"Because she is a survivor," Jack bit back. "And because she's a dhampire, just like her brother. That is more of an advantage than either of you realize."
"She's also sitting in this damn room, not in another building," I interrupted. "Rhoan, calm down and sit. Jack, just give me a goddamn chance to drink my coffee and catch my breath, will you?"
With the coffee in hand, I rose and walked out onto the balcony. The night air was as sharp as ice, and I breathed deep. It didn't clear the fear stirring through me. Fear not of what I had to do, but what I might become
I leaned against the wrought-iron balustrade and sipped the aromatic hazelnut coffee. The wind whispered through the nearby trees and stirred the hair from the nape of my neck. It felt like the fingers of ghosts
I closed my eyes and tried to gather calm from the cool of the night and the brightness of the stars
Though I heard no sound, the teasing caress of sandalwood momentarily overwhelmed the scent of hazelnut and told me I was no longer alone. He leaned on the balustrade, his body separated from mine by several inches, yet close enough that the heat of him burned across my skin
"Is it the moon?" he said softly
"Partly. Jack seems to have forgotten that Rhoan, Liander, and I all turn into wolves tomorrow night."
"It'll surely be over by then."
I opened my eyes. The stars seemed to reflect in his night-colored gaze. "You didn't come out here to try to stop me?"
His smile was bittersweet. "What right have I to do that?"
"Whatever right you do or don't have didn't seem to matter a few minutes ago."
He shrugged. "Jack's suggestion caught me by surprise."
"But now that you've had time to think, you realize it might be the quickest way of finding your friend."
He held my gaze steadily. "Yes."
I looked away and took a sip of my coffee. "There are a great many risks in doing this, and Talon is no fool."
"Neither is Jack. Trust him."
"It's Talon I don't trust." I glanced skyward. "And he's the one who put the chip in my arm. If he snatches me, the first thing he'll do is take it out."
"But he won't suspect that I, too, carry one."
I glanced at him sharply. The smile that touched his lips never reached his eyes. "You're not going in there alone."
"If anyone should go with me, it's Rhoan. He's trained for this sort of stuff."
"And I have centuries behind me. Life and time provide far better training than your Directorate ever could."
"Jack won't allow it."
"Jack can't stop me."
"But Talon might not be tempted to snatch me if you're with me."
"Oh, I think he will. For a start, I gave him a broken nose when I rescued you, and I'm sure he's itching to return the favor. And second, I've killed a lot of his precious clones."
I had to admit, I felt far better about being bait with Quinn alongside me. I probably wouldn't be any safer, but at least I wouldn't be alone
"Thank you," I said softly
He grimaced. "My reasons are purely selfish, so don't read too much into it."
"Meaning if it's a choice between me and your friend, you'll save your friend?"
The warmth fled from his face, leaving it emotionless. "Yes."
Fair enough. He'd known his friend for many centuries. He'd only made love to me a couple of times. Had our positions been reversed, I probably would have made the same decision
"There is one thing we should do before we get in there," he continued. "Just in case we're separated."
"Develop a psi link between us."
"Psi links can be nullified by psychic deadeners, and I'm betting Talon will have the latest installed." Though the latest deadeners hadn't worked with Quinn in the Directorate, they'd certainly stop me. "He couldn't take the risk of not doing so if he's developing vampire clones."
"But we've shared blood."
"So? A deadener is a deadener."
"And it works on one specific section of the brain. Because we've shared blood, our psychic connection will work in a whole different area."
"You're shitting me?"
The smile that tugged his lips made my pulse skip. "No, I am not."
I tilted my head slightly and studied him for a moment. "Why?"
He shrugged. "Because unless it comes down to that choice, I intend to get us both out of there alive."
"And once the link is formed, can it be broken?"
He hesitated. "No, but I'm in Sydney most of the time, so it won't matter."
"And on the odd occasion you're not?"
"It still won't really matter. The link is basically a locked door between two rooms - your mind and mine. And like any locked door, you have to knock to gain entry."
"No master keys?"
Starlight twinkled briefly in his eyes. "No keys."
"Then what do we do?"
"Put your coffee down."
I did so
"Now, raise your left hand and touch your fingertips to my temple, then close your eyes."
He echoed my movements, his fingertips so warm against my head
"Now, imagine yourself standing on a vast dark plain. In the middle of this plain there is a wall you cannot see past. Imagine that wall as your psi shields."
It was harder than I thought it would be. I'd always taken my psi shields for granted - they were a gift of my heritage, something I'd had since birth, and they'd strengthened greatly over the years. Rhoan had taught me how to lower them once he'd become a guardian, but that was about it for training. No one had ever told me I could create "doors." Maybe it was something not everyone could do
Sweat trickled down my face and I resisted the urge to swipe it away. The dark plain was forming, and so too was a wall. It was red, endless, and seemed to shimmer slightly
"Now," Quinn intoned softly, "imagine there is a door on the left edge of that wall."
"The wall is endless."
"Then either you have not envisaged an end, or you have psi talents you have not yet tapped. Imagine the door as far left as you can see without moving."
Again I did as he bid, but the effort left me trembling
"Now, push that door open and see me there."
I took a deep breath and envisaged that door slowly opening. It felt like I was trying to move a damn mountain. I pushed and pushed, and finally, with a snap, it opened, and I fell flat on my psychic face. I looked up, imagining Quinn standing there, imagining him laughing
And suddenly he was laughing, not out loud but deep inside. It was a caress of warmth that stirred the fibers of my soul, intimate in a way that went beyond touch, beyond sex
No one has ever fallen through a door before.
His mind voice was as rich and as sexy as his regular voice, though why I found that surprising I don't really know
Well, I've never liked doing the obvious. I picked my psychic self off the floor, and added, So this door will remain open now unless one of us closes it?
Yes, but I think it best to close it now, simply because you are a wolf and your aura is reaching a peak. The minute we're inside Genoveve, open it.
Meaning he wasn't as immune to my aura as he was pretending? I couldn't be sad about that. So how do I close it?
Simply imagine the door closing, and it will be done.
There was no "simply" about it. Closing that psychic door proved every bit as hard as opening it. But maybe that was because part of me simply didn't want to lose the intimacy of it
It slammed shut the last few inches, as if given a push from the other side. A gasp escaped my lips, and I opened my eyes. His gaze met mine, warm and sexy
I dropped my hand from his temple. "It must be amazing to have sex like that."
He raised an eyebrow, his fingers sliding from my temple to my cheek. "You've never made love to another psychic?"
"Well, obviously I have, because you're psychic and I discovered this evening that Misha is as well. But never once has anyone suggested dropping shields and entwining our minds as intimately as our bodies."
"It's an amazing experience."
His fingers were warm against my cheek, drowning me in sunshine and desire. My heart was hammering so loud I was sure they'd be able to hear it in the living room. I cleared my throat and somehow managed to stutter, "I'll have to take your word for it."
"Maybe one day - "
He didn't finish the sentence simply because his lips met mine. On the kissing scale, it blew the top off anything I'd experienced so far - even with him. It was a wild and erotic possession that was both passionate and intimate. And it totally and irreparably smashed the lie that he didn't want anything more than sex. No one could kiss like that and say it was just about sex
Yet he wouldn't admit it, not in words, and I had no doubt that at the end of this mission he would still walk away
Which was damned annoying
I pulled back. We were both breathing heavily, and his desire was as evident as mine. "Too much more of that and you might just find yourself being ridden right here on the balcony."
"And you think I would have minded?"
"Well, no. I just didn't think you were an exhibitionist."
"With you, I could be."
I grinned. "Remind me to take you up on the offer sometime."
Amusement lingered on his lips, but there was a sadness in his eyes that stirred my heart
"It won't happen, Riley."
Like hell it wouldn't. My wolf soul had his scent in her nose, and she wasn't about to let him go easily. He picked up the coffee cup and offered it to me. "Have I stirred things up too much?"
"The fever is controllable enough." Which was surprising. Even though I'd been with Misha for five hours, the moon heat should still be raging through my system. The full moon was less than a day away, and given the intensity of need earlier in the week, I should have been at fever pitch by now
Maybe it was the situation. Maybe fear of playing bait a second time was overwhelming the power of the moon. Whatever the cause, I had no doubt that later on in the day my need would burn. I was a werewolf, and there was no escaping such a basic part of what I was
"We should get moving." He glanced at the sky. "Dawn will be soon."
My stomach curled. I threw the rest of my coffee over the balcony, then walked back inside. "What's the plan then?"
Rhoan groaned. "Riley - "
"There's no other way, and we both know it."
"I'm going with her," Quinn said, his gaze challenging Jack
Jack didn't look all that surprised. "I don't think you should. As I said before, I can protect Riley but not you."
"If things go down the tube, your protection won't matter to her or to me."
"True." Jack glanced at me. "I won't bother telling you it'll be rough in there, simply because you know what Talon is capable of better than any of us. I will tell you that no matter what, you do what you have to do to survive. Even if that means killing."
I stared at him for a moment, throat dry, then nodded
"We'll insert microchips under both your armpits so we can track either of you," he continued, "and set you up with weapons. Then I think it's time for you to return home, Riley."
And wait for the net to fall, obviously. "They'll do weapons search, surely."
Jack's sudden grin was devious. "But they'll be looking for weapons that look like weapons."
I raised an eyebrow but didn't bother asking him to explain. I'd see them soon enough anyway
Jack thrust up from the seat and repeated what had to be one of his favorite expressions: "Let's get this show on the road, people."
Walking through the front door of my apartment had never proven so nerve-racking. While I'd sensed no intruders, that didn't mean there couldn't be. After all, I couldn't sense humans, and the things that had attacked Quinn in his apartment had smelled like humans to him
Quinn had stopped at the door, and it wasn't until I'd checked all the rooms that I realized why. He couldn't enter without an invitation
I grinned at him. "You wanna come in?"
"It would be easier to play bait from inside rather than the hall," he said, voice dry. "But remember, there are consequences."
I nodded. "Once invited, never refused."
"Meaning I can come and go as I please, whenever I please."
"Meaning you could come in for a little midnight fun when you're down in Melbourne?"
He gave me a smoky sort of look that could have meant anything. "Maybe."
Couldn't be sad about that, either. "Quinn O'Conor, you are welcome to step over the threshold of my home anytime you please."
He stepped through the door, then took my hand and brushed a kiss across my fingertips. Warmth spread like quicksilver through my body, and deep inside, my soul trembled
"You're most welcome."
I took my hand from his, then walked into the kitchen and grabbed a soda and a synth blood pack from the fridge. Quinn was standing near the window when I came back out, the early-morning sunlight streaming in through the glass surrounding him in a halo of gold
He accepted the blood pack with a smile, and said, "I can't see any of them."
"You're not supposed to." I dropped my bag and popped the soda. "Rhoan and Jack are guardians, and good at what they do."
I gulped down the soda, then walked back into the kitchen to dump the can into the rubbish bin. Quinn was watching me as I walked back out. "You're favoring your right leg a little. You'd better shift the position of the knife."
"Easier said than done."
I bent and tried to adjust the weapon. Just getting my hand down the side of the boots was hard enough, and I fleetingly wished I'd gone for something more flexible in footwear. But Talon had liked them and might be inclined to leave them on. They were practically a second skin, and under normal situations would have shown any weapons shoved down them
But the Directorate's knives were far from normal - three of them were thin, clear sheets of plastic that were as rigid as steel and could slice through just about anything - or so I'd been assured. The other was almost identical, only it was made of a special compound that reacted with blood and disintegrated - revealing the silver strip that ran down the heart of it. Ideal, Rhoan assured me, for pinning werewolves and other shapeshifters to human form. Personally, I preferred the microscopic hand laser secured in the topknot of my hair
Quinn had those and more, but I had a suspicion that he wouldn't use them unless he absolutely had to
When I finally got the knife in a comfortable position, he wrapped his fingers around my arm and pulled me close. I rested my cheek against his chest, listening to the slow beat of his heart, feeling safer than I ever had in my life
An illusion, but one I could have easily surrendered to
"It's close to nine," I said, after a long while. "Hope they get here soon." Before whatever courage I'd started with got up and walked away
"There's a van moving up the street," he said, his voice a rumble that vibrated through my ear. "There are eight people inside."
"I think I should be offended that Talon's only sent an extra two to deal with me."
He laughed softly and brushed his lips across the top of my hair. "They're expecting the element of surprise."
"They should also be expecting a fight."
"Talon's never seen you in action, has he? And six were quite enough to overpower me."
I looked up at him. "You never satisfactorily explained that."
He grimaced. "It was simply the fact that they were all the spitting image of Henri. I wasn't expecting it and it shocked me. In a life-or-death situation, a second's hesitation is all it takes to change the odds."
And it was almost his death. "So why the garden center?"
"As I said, I suspect they wanted it to look like a random vampire killing."
It made sense. Given the amount of vamp murders that had happened over the past few weeks, no one would have raised an eyebrow. And while the Directorate would have investigated, if it had looked like a singular event rather than gang-related, it probably would have been given lower priority
"They're getting out of the van," he said softly
Tension wound through my limbs, and my stomach began doing tight circles. "Clones?"
"Mix of clones and werewolves."
I took a deep breath, then raised on my toes and gave him a kiss. "Good luck."
His lips lingered on mine, his breath warm against my skin. "You too."
The doorbell rang. I took another breath, then broke away from his grasp and shook nerveless fingers. "Yes?"
"Special delivery," a gruff voice answered. "Needs to be signed for."
I glanced at Quinn a final time, saw his tension in the set of his shoulders, then walked to the door. My fingers shook as I clasped the handle and undid the deadlock, but I never got the chance to open the door. Instead, it was thrust open by those on the other side, striking me in the nose and flinging me backward
I hit the ground with a grunt, but rolled immediately to my feet. There was blood gushing from my nose and people flowing through the doorway. They smelled of rubbish left too long in the sun. Whatever method Talon was using to create the things was also killing them
Then there was no more time to think as two of them rushed at me. I ducked the blow of the first creature, but missed the second. His fist smashed into my chin and the force of it had me sprawling backward. I hit the floor a second time, my breath leaving in a whoosh of air. For a moment, stars danced, the world went dark, and the bitter taste of blood filled my throat
Someone who smelled of sex and death fell on top of me. Though gasping for breath and fighting the blackness threatening to invade my mind, I still heard the creature snarl. He smelled and looked like a wolf, but his teeth were extending, saliva dripping from the ends in expectation of a feed
The bastard wasn't going to feed off me, not if I could help it
With as much force as I could muster, I slammed the heel of my hand into his face. Bone and cartilage shattered under the blow, and he screamed. I thrust him off, scrambled to my feet, and swiped a hand at the blood running from my nose
Air rushed from the left. I pivoted on one foot, kicking hard. The blow landed in the gut of the clone rushing at me, but didn't seem to have the slightest effect. He grabbed my foot, twisting it hard, making me yelp. His smile was greasy and overconfident and I saw why a second later when he raised the gun. I jerked my foot from his grasp, heard the slight "pop," felt a brief sting of pain in my arm. Looked down, and saw the dart
Being drugged was better than being battered unconscious
Even so, I went down fighting
Talon would expect nothing less