Hunter’s Moon – By Lisa Kessler (Excerpt)
The dry Las Vegas wind stung my eyes as I rounded the corner of
the building, scanning the shadowed parking lot for my prey. Even
the dark of night couldn’t cool the desert heat wafting up from the
pavement. The stench of the spy’s fear stung my nostrils, making
the corner of my mouth twitch. I could admit I was eager to take
this guy down, but knowing he was scared shitless sweetened the
For the past six months, this secret had festered inside me like
an open wound. I’d been traveling too often. Instead of protecting
my Pack back in Reno, I had found myself sneaking around,
unable to stop myself from tracking her. Protecting our enemy.
The wolf inside of me growled, aching to fight for this woman
I barely even knew, who’d tried to kill me. Twice. I forced a slow
breath into my lungs. Patience. I could wait this guy out. My bum
ankle left me little choice anyway.
All my senses were on full alert, adrenaline pumping through
my veins. Nero was still searching for her, and this guy was the
latest in a string of scumbag informants looking for easy money.
With a bounty on her head, they were eager to provide proof that
she was still on the loose.
Finally he made his move. I heard his footsteps racing toward
the alley. Toward me. Perfect. I stepped into his path, blocking his
only exit. He tried to pivot and change course, but it was too late.
The weasel rammed into me, falling backward. Before he could
roll over and scramble away, I grabbed his shirt and yanked him
off the ground.
“You’re not going anywhere.” My eyes narrowed as I pulled
him even closer, his scent filling my nostrils. He was human.
Apparently Nero wasn’t ready to risk another jaguar assassin to
search for her. Maybe they were starting to believe she really had
died at the fight in Lake Tahoe. “Tell me about Nero.”
“I don’t know nothin’.”
He wriggled like a fish, his feet struggling to touch the ground.
I was at least six inches taller than him, and I had no intention of
letting him get away. Instead, I head-butted him. Blood erupted
from his nose, the thick coppery scent immediately bringing the
wolf inside of me to full attention.
“Goddammit,” he shouted, kicking me in the shins while he
yanked at my wrists. “Let go of me, you crazy son of a bitch.”
I kept my grip tight on his shirt. “I asked you a question.”
“And I told you, I don’t know nothin’.”
“You’re lying,” I said before slamming him against the brick
wall of the alley.
He coughed, spewing putrid breath into my face. He reeked
of week-old cigarettes and cheap vodka. “Please,” he stammered.
“I don’t know nothin’ about any Nero.”
“Why have you been trailing the red-haired woman?” He
started to shake his head, so I freed one hand from my grip on
him and landed a solid punch to his stomach to joggle his memory.
He stopped kicking his feet, and his stare met mine. Gradually
the fear in his eyes faded. My patience was wearing thin, but
before I could rattle his cage for a reply, he started to smile and
whispered, “They know she didn’t die in that fight.”
Before I could respond, pain burst through my gut, setting my
entire side on fire. Dammit!
The asshole had stabbed me.
I pressed him against the wall, forcing myself not to loosen
my grip. Fear crept back into his eyes when I didn’t let him go.
I held him up with one arm and yanked his knife out of my side
with the other.
His eyes opened wide. “What the hell are you?”
Using both hands I threw him across the alley, satisfied to
hear his skull crunch against the bricks. He hit the ground like a
rag doll while I clutched the new hole in my side.
“I’m a wolf, asshole.”
Usually Jason, our Pack doctor, patched up our wounds, but that
wasn’t an option for me this time. My twin, Adam—our Alpha—
would demand to know what happened.
And for the first time in my life, I had no intention of telling
him. What could I say? I let the Pack believe I’d killed Sasha
during the fight with Nero instead of admitting I’d pulled her to
safety. And now I was still watching her. Even Adam wouldn’t—
couldn’t—let that one alone.
Never in a million years would I have ever believed myself
capable of betraying my Pack, my family. But I never understood
the depth of my wolf instincts. Now they demanded I walk both
sides of the line, leaving my loyalty torn into shreds.
I couldn’t risk going to the Pack with this wound. I had to sort
it out without them. Besides I was at least an eight-hour drive
from Reno. I’d have to risk a few stitches and be sure I didn’t
allow any blood to be drawn. I could do that.
By the time I pulled into the urgent care center, I knew the
stab wound wasn’t too serious. If he’d hit an artery or a major
organ, I would have bled out by now. But I couldn’t ignore a
gaping wound in my side either. Werewolves may heal a little
faster than humans, but a nasty staph infection could take a wolf
down just as well as the next guy.
The knife was wrapped and carefully hidden under the
floor of the trunk with my spare tire. Maybe I’d be able to pull
fingerprints from it later.
I got out of the car and winced as pain radiated up my leg. I
sucked in a deep breath through clenched teeth. My ankle was
fucking killing me. Perfect.
I wiped the sweat off my forehead and limped into the
brightly lit room. The triage nurse jumped up and rushed me to
an exam room. Being covered in blood apparently trumped the
I hated the smell of hospitals. My acute wolf senses caught
the cacophony of blood, urine, and disinfectant, morphing it into a
disgusting scent of decay that turned my stomach. I got up on the
exam table, slightly wobbly from the blood loss. The nurse laid a
clipboard on the counter and scribbled something quickly before
turning to face me.
“So what happened?” She snapped on a pair of latex gloves
and reached for the hem of my shirt to inspect the wound.
“I’m all right. It’s just a little scratch.”
Her eyes widened when she found the source of my bleeding.
“This isn’t a scratch. You’ve been stabbed.”
I forced what I hoped was a convincing smile. “All I need is a
couple of stitches.”
She shook her head and stepped back. “You can smile all
you want, but you’ll still need to speak with the police about your
injury. It’s hospital policy with stabbings and shootings.”
“It was an accident. I fell while holding a steak knife.” This
was exactly the reason none of the Pack went to hospitals. Too
many questions. “Come on, I feel stupid enough as it is.”
She raised a brow and left the room.
Great. I raked a hand back through my hair and groaned. I
I couldn’t talk to the police any more than I could face the
Pack and tell them why I was in Las Vegas killing Nero informants.
No self-respecting cop was going to believe my story. I needed
something better than falling on a steak knife.
My gaze flicked to the closed door. Physically I was only a
wolf one night a month, but I still had heightened senses while I
was a man. My hearing and sense of smell were far stronger than
any human’s, and right now I could hear a woman’s voice talking
to the staff, followed by the click of determined footsteps.
I recognized that voice.
When the door opened the wolf inside of me howled.
“This is Detective Marsh.” The nurse snatched my chart from
the counter. “The doctor will be in shortly to check your wound.”
Once the nurse was gone, I couldn’t help but stare at the most
incredible woman I’d ever seen. Tough, beautiful, resilient Sasha.
Her full lips were pressed together as her dark eyes met mine. I
struggled to remind myself that this was also the same woman
who had Tasered me and then shattered my ankle with a single
gunshot. She had threatened to kill Adam, and his mate, Lana, too.
The Nero Organization had her under their control, or at least
they used to. They bred jaguar shape-shifters and trained them
as silent assassins for the highest bidder. Sasha had been bitten,
changed, but she was in their employ nonetheless. So what was
she doing here impersonating an officer?
I had every reason to hate her. Yet here she was, standing
five feet from me, and not only was I not attacking her, but I was
drinking in her scent. She didn’t smell like most of the women I
worked with, like flowers and lace. Or like any of the jaguars I’d
encountered. Her scent was spicy, like leather and musk.
And I was more certain with each breath that I’d never be
able to deny my instincts. I needed her.
When my brother told me he’d found his mate, I didn’t
understand how he knew. Wolves mated for life, so when Adam
claimed a jaguar for his mate, I thought he’d gone insane. I wasn’t
sure I believed the old stories about finding that one mate to
spend a lifetime with in the first place, but Adam and a jaguar?
The bottom line was simple. We don’t mate with enemies of our
But here she was, glaring at me in the urgent care room,
and instead of killing her I caught myself wondering how her
mouth might taste. I shoved aside the lust and dug deep for cold
“It’s Detective Marsh now? I thought you’d sold your badge
She dodged my barb without even acknowledging it. “Look,
wolf, I’m doing you a favor by coming in here flashing a phony
badge. I don’t know why, but you saved me at the lake, so I figure
I owe you this.” She tucked the badge into her pocket and met
my eyes. “If you came here to settle the score with me, then bring
it on. I deserve it. But if you think you’re slowing Nero down,
you’re not. I can fight my own battles.” She looked poised to say
something else but just shook her head slowly. “I’m handling this,
so back off.”
I laughed and sat up. It took all I had not to wince at the pain
that burned through my abdomen. “You think I’m trying to help
you? Is that it?”
Her chin lifted as she crossed her arms over her chest. I did
my best not to stare at her breasts. “What I think isn’t important.
What I know is that you’ve been following me, and this is the
second Nero informant you’ve killed. Did you think I wouldn’t
notice?” Her hands dropped to her sides again. “You don’t know
who you’re dealing with, wolf. Nero has eyes and ears everywhere.
Do yourself a favor and stay out of this.”
She spun on her heel and left, slamming the door behind her.
I could hear her telling the nurse she’d sign off on my medical
treatment. She confirmed it was a household accident. No
investigation would follow.
I smirked. So Sasha, the jaguar assassin who tried to kill me
twice, helped me after all.
I cranked up the stereo in the beemer as I pulled out of the parking lot. It was a nice ride. I didn’t lose sleep keeping the Nero Organization’s car. I knew they couldn’t report it stolen. The last thing they would want is the police nosing around their door.
Besides after stealing my career and my life, they owed me.
Or so I told my conscience. What was left of it.
It’d been over six months since I’d heard the Wolf’s voice. I wish that statistic didn’t come to me so quickly. It wasn’t like I missed hearing his voice.
It didn’t help that when I walked in the emergency room he’d been half-naked. And completely gorgeous. I did my best to shove the memory from my mind and focus on the road.
He’d been following me off and on for months now. At first I thought he was hunting me, maybe looking for revenge. I wasn’t really concerned; I’m never more than an arm’s length from a weapon, and when I fire, I don’t miss. But as time passed and he didn’t attack, I realized I wasn’t the prey. Odd.
I kept my attention split between the darkened streets in front of me and the rearview mirror. Since I’d been bitten and converted into a jaguar shape-shifter, my night vision became superhuman. The headlights on my car were only on to keep other drivers from hitting me. I could see just as well without them.
And so far, I didn’t see anyone tailing me.
The wolf killed the last one, but it wouldn’t be long before Nero sent someone else. Ever since the fight at Lake Tahoe, I’d been on the run from them. The bastards were never going to give me a cure anyway. I knew that now. I was stuck. A monster.
But I wasn’t going to be their puppet. Not anymore.
That’s why I had to keep moving. Once they knew I survived the showdown at Lake Tahoe, I’d be marked for death. I’d lived inside of Nero’s walls. I knew about their jaguar assassins they hired out to the highest bidder.
But that was just the tip of the shape-shifting iceberg. There were also top secret government contracts and experimental DNA enhancement. I didn’t have proof yet, but if I could find some before they killed me, I’d have the leverage I needed to bargain for my life.
What was left of it.
I checked my rearview mirror, trying to clear my mind of the memories from the Nero compound. Other women were still inside, bitten, converted and being used for Nero’s breeding program.
And I was never going back.
I pressed the accelerator. I’d been in Las Vegas too long. It was time to disappear again. Maybe this time I could dodge Nero and the wolf. He couldn’t keep jumping in to fight my battles for me. The last thing I needed was more blood on my hands. I didn’t want to know he was hurt on my behalf.
I hurt him enough on my own.
I merged onto the highway and slid my bluetooth over my ear. One voicemail.
Hi Sash. I hope your case is going all right. Maybe we could get together over the weekend? I miss you, Sis. See you soon…
I sighed and glared at the dark sky. It was a goddamned new moon this weekend. Around midnight, I’d sprout fur, teeth and claws until I was fully shifted into a black jaguar. I couldn’t see my sister like that. For all I knew I’d eat her.
I lost everything after Sebastian bit me. I couldn’t lose her too.
I’d just have to make an excuse. Talia would understand. She always did.
But lying to her sucked. I jammed the gas pedal to the floor. My sleek black BMW purred as I maneuvered around the other cars. Speed made me focus. Speed cleared my head. Speed kept me ahead of Nero.
It was almost sunrise when I crossed the Los Angeles city limits. I made record time across the Mojave Desert. I couldn’t help but smile. If the police academy hadn’t worked out, race car driver was going to be my fallback career. Ever since my dad used to put me on the back of his motorcycle, I’d been addicted to speed.
I checked my make-up in the mirror on the back of the visor. I still wasn’t used to my new auburn hair. My hair had always been jet-black. Not anymore. I was no longer Sasha Kincade either.
I closed the visor and punched the number five on my cell phone.
“You made the reservation?”
“Hello, Beautiful One,” he purred. “I trust your trip to Los Angeles was a smooth one.”
I ground my teeth to hold back my frustration. If police work had taught me anything it was don’t bite the hand that feeds you. “I don’t have time for small talk. Do I have a reservation or not?”
He sighed. I checked my new California driver’s license and grabbed my purse.
“Your reservation is under Sasha Smith. You are also registered for the Anime Expo.”
I almost dropped the phone.
“For the what?”
“The Anime Expo is like a police convention, but instead of officers discussing how to subdue assailants; the attendees discuss the latest in-”
I cut him off. “Cartoons. I get it. Why?”
“It’s being hosted by your hotel. I thought you might blend in better there.”
“Bullshit. You thought it’d be funny to see me surrounded by girls dressed up like Sailor Moon and that chick from Inuyasha.”
He paused. A sure sign I was right. Goddamn him. Hadn’t he screwed with my life enough yet?
I closed my cell phone and went inside to check in. If there was any other way for me to stay ahead of Nero I’d take it, but for now Sebastian was my inside man. It was highly possible that he was the one tipping off Nero to my locations, but I doubted it. If Mr. Severino, Nero’s founder and CEO, knew where I was, there would be more than small time thugs tailing me.
They were sending out feelers for now, not sure yet if I survived the showdown at Lake Tahoe. Once they had confirmation that I was still alive, the game might change drastically.
For now, I’d keep running. Eventually I’d find what I was looking for. And when I did, Nero would have to let me go.
At least that’s how I hoped it would end. Outcomes were tricky to predict.
After checking in, I rode the elevator up with Dragon Ball Z and some elf-looking thing that I didn’t recognize, silently cursing Sebastian the whole way. I hauled my duffel down the hallway to my new room and fell onto the bed. It was going to feel so good to sleep.
But I needed to call my sister.
After doing the time-difference math in my head, I figured she was probably up by now. I sat up on the bed, flinched a little when I saw the redhead staring back at me in the mirror over the desk, then hit the speed dial for Talia.
“Hey Sash! Where have you been?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” I kicked off my shoes and stretched out on the bed.
“Or you’d have to kill me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Are you coming home soon? Think we can get together over the weekend? I haven’t seen you in ages.”
I closed my eyes, picturing her face. We looked a lot alike, but Talia’s eyes were emerald green instead of dark like mine. She was also a half-inch taller than me which she used to love pointing out when she was in middle school.
God it was good to hear her voice again. “I wish I could,” I said. “But I’m knee-deep in a big case right now. I promise as soon as I have the evidence I need, I’ll be back home dragging you out to Leggios for deep dish pizza. How’s school?”
“It’s going well. I have finals soon.”
“I will.” She paused. “Sash?”
“Be careful, all right? You’re all I have left.”
“I know.” I blinked hard, shoving my emotions aside. “You do the same, okay?”
Talia laughed. “I’m at Williams College, not much danger around here.”
“Just watch yourself. You still have the pepper spray I gave you, right?”
“Yes, Mom.” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“I love you, Talia.”
“I love you, too. Come see me soon, all right?”
“Will do. As soon as I can.”
I closed my phone and placed it on the night stand with a sigh. At least she was safe. That was all that mattered. Thankfully I’d taken my mother’s name, Kincade, when I went into the police department. After our parents were murdered, I raised my younger sister on my own. The last thing I wanted was a vengeful criminal to hurt Talia just to get to me.
The sun was rising as I pulled the blackout drapes closed. Sleep. The pillows looked fluffy and inviting. I tossed my trench coat on the chair and unfastened my shoulder holster. I freed my compact Ruger LCP from the calf holster and slipped it under my pillow.
The Ruger was quickly becoming my favorite weapon. I carried my Glock in the shoulder holster, but the Ruger was lighter and easier to hide, and it didn’t trade size for accuracy. Accuracy was the one thing in my life that I could count on. A kill shot at thirty feet was standard for me.
With the gun stowed for quick access, I swapped my pants for baggy sweats and collapsed on the bed. My entire body ached. I was definitely going to sleep most of the day away.
As I closed my eyes, my cell phone started vibrating. My pistol was in my hand and pointed at the nightstand before I realized where the noise was coming from. I picked up the
phone and felt the hair on my arms stand on end as I stared at the text.
“Here Kitty Kitty.”
Hunter’s Moon will be released in October 2013!