A Cursed Moon
“Damn it, Bren—wake up!”
“Hmmph?” Someone with a death wish was shaking me. You don’t disturb a werewolf’s sleep; that’s just common fucking sense. The breeze shot through the cracked opened window, bringing a strong whiff of Tahoe’s magic. I grinned and inhaled. That shit was better than witch ganja, and it lulled me back to sleep.
But then Dan flipped on the leg lamp on my nightstand and opened his yap again. “Wake up, I mean it.”
“You can take that werewolf shit and shove it up your ass.”
That made me chuckle into my pillow. Dan swearing was damn funnier than Elmo dropping the “F” bomb. He shook me again, this time harder. I flipped over and tried to get comfortable.
“For crying out loud, put some pants on! I don’t need to see your . . . stuff.”
“It’s my goddamn room. I can sleep naked if I want. And what the hell do you mean by ‘stuff’? What are you, ten?”
Dan ignored me. “Bren, your stupid one-night stand stole all our food, our DVDs, and our laundry detergent.”
I half-opened one eye. “Wendy wouldn’t do anything like that.”
“Her name was Natasha.”
“That’s the name she wrote all over my bathroom with her lipstick.”
I sat abruptly, suddenly panicked. “She didn’t take my porn, did she?”
Dan’s jaw slacked. “Is that all you care about, that she took your porn?”
“No. For shit’s sake I’m hungrier than hell. How are you going to fix me breakfast without any food?”
Dan threw his hands in the air, in that same exaggerated way he always did when I pushed him to his breaking point. He kicked my dirty clothes on the floor and paced like an expectant dad. “You have the audacity to think I’d actually cook you breakfast—after what your one-nighter did?”
I scratched my beard. Damn, I needed a trim. “Well, yeah. It’s your job around here, you’re the woman. You’re supposed to cook, clean, and pay most of the bills. My job is to keep your ass safe from humans, vamps, weres, witches, little old ladies, and pretty much anything else you’re afraid of. It’s part of our deal, along with me getting you laid.”
Dan stomped to the side of my bed, stumbling over a pair of my old jeans. “First of all, it was just that one little old lady. I may be human, but I’m pretty sure she was some kind of spirit―especially given the amount of supernatural activity around here lately. Secondly, I don’t need help getting laid.”
I stared at my beanpole roommate. His messy curly hair hung over his thick black-framed glasses, and he tripped over air on a regular basis. Jesus. There were Girl Scouts more muscular and agile than him. “Yes, you do, Dan.”
“I’ve gotten laid a lot lately, all without your help.”
“Ugly girls don’t count, man.”
“Celia’s not ugly.”
I laughed and yanked at my overgrown hair. Damn, I needed a cut, too. But unlike Dan, I did grunge well. “Celia was more than eight years ago.” I chuckled again. Talk about a mercy lay.
He narrowed his eyes. “What’s so funny?”
“I still can’t believe you were her first. How’d you talk her into it? Did you promise to tutor her in chemistry or something?”
Dan’s entire face reddened, making him look more like a tomato than a walking piece of broccoli. “Whatever, Bren. I’ll prove to you I can get laid.”
“Sure, sure, you can get laid. Don’t get your thong in a bunch.”
Dan stamped his foot. Shit, I only thought girls did that.
“I mean it, Bren. I have to work late at the lab tonight, but I’ll meet you at eleven at the Watering Hole. I’m going to get a girl so hot your head will spin.”
I yawned. “Sure you will, buddy.”
“Fine. If you don’t believe me, how about we bet on it?”
“Dan, you don’t want to bet me on something like that. You’ll only lose and embarrass yourself.”
“You’re just afraid. I thought you were a wolf, not a chicken.”
My brows furrowed and I snarled. “Did you just call me a chicken?” This time it was Dan’s turn to laugh. I could be pretty damn intimidating, but he knew I’d never hurt him. He was a mothering pain in the ass, but also the best friend I’d ever had.
“You heard me, clucky.”
A slow grin eased across my face. “All right then, name the terms.”
“The loser has to clean and cook for the rest of the year . . .”
“Is that the best you can come up with? Oooh, I’m real scared now.”
“. . . wearing a French maid’s outfit, regardless of who’s in the apartment.”
My grin widened. The little turd had some balls after all. “You’re on.” I held out my hand. He refused to shake it until after I showered.
I glanced at my dogs-playing-pool clock. “Oh shit.”
“I was supposed to meet Aric and his Warriors an hour ago at the Den.” I shrugged. “Oh well. They should know better than to expect me to be on time.”
Dan shook his head in a way that told me a lecture was coming. “Bren, what’s wrong with you? You should feel honored that Aric invited you to join his pack. He’s a renowned and respected pureblood.”
I kicked off the sheets wrapped around my ankles and stood, feeling my temper rise. “He only asked me to keep tabs on Celia.”
Dan followed me to my closet where I yanked out my last pair of clean jeans and a flannel shirt. “He asked you because you earned his respect when you helped save her and her sisters. Bren, we would have lost Shayna if you hadn’t tracked her.”
I threw the clothes over my shoulder. “Whatever, he’s an asshole for dumping Celia.”
Dan leaned against my dresser while I reached in to grab socks and a pair of boxers. He seemed bummed all of a sudden. But hell, watching our girl Celia get chewed up and spit out had been a nut-punch none of us needed. For all her strength and good looks she’d never had any confidence when it came to males. And thanks to that idiot pureblood, she never would again.
Dan pushed his thick glasses back in place when they slid down his long schnoz. “Bren, Aric didn’t have a choice. He has to marry another pureblood were. Even Celia has come to terms with that.”
I rammed my finger in his face. “That’s bullshit. You’ve seen her, she’s not the same, and everyone damn well knows it.” I stormed into the bathroom and slammed the door, cracking the doorframe. I didn’t want to talk about Aric and Celia anymore. That ass-wipe broke her heart. Then he had the balls to get pissed when she turned to that master vamp prick, Misha.
I took my sweet time getting ready and then drove from
Village to Squaw
Valley. The Den sat on top of , not exactly the
best terrain for my ’71 Mustang, but screw it. I wasn’t giving up my wheels just
because I signed up to teach a bunch of snot-nosed little punks. Granite Chief Peak
The ’stang roared up the dirt path, kicking up pebbles every time I hit the gas. I’d like to say my baby raced up the steep incline like cougar in heat. I’d also like to say I banged Ali Landry. Neither was true. I fought to keep my ride from swerving off the goddamn cliffs. The trek up the mountain took me fifteen hellish minutes. Talk about a pain-in-the-ass commute.
Waves of magic thickened the closer I got to the entrance. The weres and the local coven of witches had combined their mojo to reinforce protective wards surrounding the mountain and any place used as a safe house for preternaturals. Dan was right about one thing; spooks had been popping up around Tahoe like gophers . . . gophers who liked eating people. It wasn’t exactly a shock. Since the Tribe had emerged a lot of mystical shit had gone down. And since our recent run-in with the demon lords leading them, the amount of spirits lurking about had gone haywire. It hadn’t grown too bad too handle—just a couple of ghosts here and there trying to claim lives—but hell it was enough to keep us on our toes.
I pulled up to the iron gates. A werewolf named Bob barreled out of the gatehouse crankier than sin and roughly the age of stone. His scowl revealed his pleasure at my arrival. I flipped him off. I wasn’t pleased either, pal. My hopes were that that hot blonde, Heidi, was working so I could talk her into a nooner. So much for that.
Bob growled hard enough to quiver his lips like a bulldog. Impressive―if I were a toddler and afraid of idiots. I blew him a kiss and peeled rubber through the gates, away from the dense forest and onto the Den’s large campus. The place looked like a ritzy ski resort for those born with silver spoons rammed up their asses―not a school for teaching those who could change into snarling beasts at will. Giant chalets with wraparound stone-stacked porches and outdoor fireplaces made up the buildings on either side of me. I huffed. There was money in being were. Too bad those bastards weren’t willing to share with a mutt like me.
I passed the library lawn where Koda and Liam―two of Aric’s other Warriors―engaged in some kind of training activity with the young weres. They scowled at me. I smiled and gave them a wave. Hey, what could I say? I was a hell of a guy.
I peeled to a stop and parked in front of the administration building, a chalet that ran up three damn stories. Aric’s quarters were supposedly on the top floor. I wondered briefly if he could see God from there.
Gemini lolled down the stone steps as I slipped out of the ’stang. Out of all of Aric’s Warriors, he was the most tolerant of me. It must be because of that whole Zen thing he had going on. At first I didn’t understand how he and Celia’s sister Taran had gotten together. She was a sexy siren and louder than a bunch of frat boys at a strip club. If he was any calmer, he’d slip into a coma. Then I saw how his laid-back nature affected her and I got it. She was his yin, he was her yang.
He probably also likes what she does to his yang. I know what I’d like Heidi to do with my . . . Shit. I wonder if I could track her.
Gemini squared his jaw, darkened by a well-groomed goatee―kind of prissy if you asked me. “Bren, Aric and I would like a word with you.”
I shrugged, knowing he was pissed and knowing I could give a rat’s ass. He led me across the street into the main building used for classes, recreation, and dining hall. Ten-thousand square feet of wall-to-wall dark wood awaited me down the corridor. Too bad Gemini turned left toward Aric’s office.
We found Mr. Royal Among Weres sitting behind a mahogany desk in an office roughly the size of my apartment. He flicked a pen across a paper he was grading, kind of an odd task for a guy who’s supposed to be a big shot. He angled his chin up as soon as he caught my scent and—surprise, surprise—he didn’t appear happy. “Have a seat,” he said through gritted teeth.
Gemini positioned himself at his right side, just like a good ole Beta should. I sat down and put my feet up on his pristine desk. Hell, I’m already in trouble. Might as well have some fun— I hadn’t finished my thought before Aric backhanded my feet off so hard that I spun in my chair. “What the hell, Aric? Do you have your period or something?”
“Bren, when I invited you to join our pack I thought you understood it wasn’t in name only. Belonging requires not only for you to fight evil alongside us, but discipline and commitment to learning our ways and educating the minds of our young males. You’ve been a lone wolf all your life, so I’ve let some things slide—”
“Is this about the sex-ed talk I gave the students?”
Aric gripped the sides of his desk. Any minute, he was going to smash that fine piece of furniture into rubble. I didn’t care; it wasn’t coming out of my paycheck. He let out a deep breath. “That wasn’t a sex-ed talk,” he snapped. “That was a how-to-get-laid speech.”
I shrugged. “Same difference.”
“No, it’s not. Especially when you were supposed to be lecturing on driver’s ed.”
“I mentioned the driving, but that bored the shit out of them. So I talked to them about what to do in the backseat. Believe me, that kept their interest. I was just getting to the extra-credit assignment when you barged in.”
Gemini interrupted, probably to give Aric a moment to calm down. “Bren, we keep males and females separated during their schooling in order to keep them focused on their learning and decrease their naturally competitive natures. In their teens, they’re extremely impressionable and hormonal.”
“You mean horny? It’s okay, Gemini, you can say it. We’re all adults here.”
Aric leaned back in his leather chair and narrowed his stare. “Look, Bren. It’s not just about the damn speech. As weres we’re the ones obligated to protect the earth. Our war against the Tribe has reduced our numbers to a handful of scattered packs.” He swore when I rolled my eyes. “Are you that blind to what’s happening? It’s bad enough we have demon lords to deal with, but this ghost activity is getting a hell of a lot worse!”
Shit, the guy’s testy. “Don’t you think I know all this?”
“Then you need to start getting here on time, start learning everything you can to make yourself a better Warrior, and assist our youth in becoming the best they can be.” The knuckles in his hand cracked when he balled them into fists. He must not have liked me picking that piece of lint off my shirt just then. He growled, further emphasizing his annoyance. “Bren, the Elders don’t approve of your presence. I’m sticking my neck out for you and I expect you to start making an effort!”
“I resent that. I make an effort. Who the hell was pummeling evil back to hell with you just the other week?”
Aric leaned forward. “Engaging in the occasional clash with the dark ones isn’t enough. You need to sharpen your fighting skills as a wolf and a human. They’re average at best, and we don’t know what shit we’re going to face.” He watched me carefully, trying to gauge my reaction to his tirade. “I can’t drive this into your thick skull enough. You have to be ready and capable to take on any opponent―whether it’s another preternatural or something that rises from the demon realm.”
I tucked my hands behind my head, seriously not giving a crap. “Aric, you saw me in action last week. My fighting skills are awesome.”
“No, they’re not. You’re a brawler. All those kung-fu movies you claimed to have watched are not enough. You need to study actual technique and form. It’s the only way to ensure your survival and that of the earth’s.”
I’d survived a hell of a lot more than this rich boy and his buddies ever had. The prick was totally asking for it. “I don’t have to do jack. I can kick any one of your Warriors’ asses.”
Aric’s lips curved into a smile. “Really? You’re saying you can take Gemini, Koda, or Liam?”
I leaned forward and grinned back. “Not only them, but you too, pretty boy. Any time, any place.”
Aric stood slowly and walked around the desk. “How about outside, right now?”
I stood to face him and waved an arm out. “After you, sunshine.”
Gemini straightened. “Bren, I don’t think you realize what you’re getting yourself into.”
I followed Aric out, ignoring Gemini and ready to rumble.
We passed Liam and Koda leading their group inside for chow time. Liam’s eyes cut to Aric then me. “What’s going on?”
I puffed out my chest and winked. “Nothing, buddy. I’m just about to pound the shit out of your fearless Leader.”
There was a brief pause before the tap of fingers drummed across cell phones and the stupefied group clamored behind us and hurried to catch up. By the time we crossed the street and onto the large lawn in front of the library, weres were rushing out of buildings and sprinting down the sidewalks from every direction. Students and faculty alike circled around us. It was about forty degrees outside, and the cloudy, overcast sky had already begun to drop the first traces of sleet. Aric yanked off his navy
sweatshirt and tossed it aside, leaving him only in a black T-shirt. “Okay, the
first guy to get pinned loses. Let’s cut to the rules—” University of Colorado
I stripped out of my flannel shirt and tensed my muscles so they bulged. “How ’bout we chuck the rules and say anything goes?” A loud murmur spread around the crowd. “And how about the first one who gets knocked out loses?” Murmurs morphed into excited shouts. Aric just stood grinning like an idiot. Dumb shit didn’t know what he was in for.
“Fine, Bren, we’ll play it your way. Just to make it interesting, the loser—that would be you—has to do anything the winner—me—wants. Are we clear?”
“Damn straight. Ready when you are, hero.”
Aric advanced. “Take your best shot.”
“How about my best kick?” I led with my foot to the outside of Aric’s knee. As he sidestepped away from my fake kick, I caught him with a left cross to the nose. He winced. I winked.
“Damn shame you punch like a girl.” He landed a spinning heel kick to the side of my forehead when I lurched forward.
I staggered back and grunted. “Lucky kick, asshole.”
We circled each other with our eyes locked, looking for an opening to attack. Around us the young wolves chanted, “fight, fight, fight, fight,” reminding me of the good ole days on the playground.
Aric attacked first with a jab. I blocked it but couldn’t stop his knee from jamming into my ribs or his elbow that slammed into my chin. I went down. Aric followed, but I surprised him with my speed, meeting his jaw with a right cross.
“Oh. I’m sorry, sweet cheeks. Did that hurt?”
Aric responded with a spinning back kick into my solar plexus. I stepped back to catch my breath, but Jet Li continued with a spinning back fist into my temple and followed with a hammer fist to my forehead. For a moment, I thought my brain had actually fallen out of my skull. I shook my head to try to clear it.
Okay . . . that got my attention. When brawn failed, it paid to rely on strategy. Time to get a little dirty. “So, Aric, have you talked to Celia lately?”
A united gasp spread throughout the crowd, followed by a deafening silence. Even the damn birds in the trees stopped chirping.
Aric paused, shooting me a death glare hot enough to singe.
Liam cut through the mob of students. “Bren, I wouldn’t mention her name if I were you.”
Koda clasped Liam’s arm and pulled him back to the edge of the circle. “Let him talk, Liam. We’ll see just how far his mouth gets him.”
My head jerked around, like I had no clue whom Liam meant. “Mention whose name? Oh! Do you mean Celia, his ex-girlfriend who’s now shacking up with a vampire?”
Aric’s deep growl rumbled low into his chest. “I’m warning you, Bren, don’t go there. She’s not here to save your pathetic ass.”
Heh, heh, heh. Am I getting to you, lover boy? “Oh, I know she’s not here, Aric. She’s busy with Misha.”
Aric attempted an uppercut to my chin, but his fury made him sloppy and I drove my knee into his balls. He dropped like a chunk of granite. Heh, heh . . . a snarling chunk of granite.
I stood over him and shook my head. “Sorry, Celia. . . . Well, then again it shouldn’t matter to her, now that she’s got Misha to help her out in that department—”
“Oh!” The crowd yelled when Aric leaped up and nailed me in the face. Two of my teeth hit the grass like hail. I kicked his boys again―more out of instinct than tactic. He hunched over in agony. I spit out a lot of blood and about three more teeth. No worries, they’ll grow back in a few hours.
Things were starting to go my way, so I decided to have a little more fun. “You probably heard that Celia is staying in Misha’s guesthouse. I heard the same thing, but I don’t believe it for a minute. If I know my boy Misha, Celia is probably with him right now—if you know what I mean.”
Aric broke my nose with his fist then under-hooked my left shoulder and slammed me into the frozen ground. I choked, trying to breathe, and spit out more blood.
Okay, now I’m pissed. I’d bled enough, now it was his turn. I staggered to my feet. “Nice one, Aric. Do you think that’s how Misha throws Celia on the bed every night?”
My trash talk didn’t have the effect I wanted. When I charged, he flipped me onto the ground again. I whirled back to my feet—not wanting him to realize how he’d knocked the wind out of me. We faced each other again, circling with challenging stares.
Enough is enough. Time for you to go down, you cocky son of a bitch. I prepared to take him out with my best move, but not before letting one last comment sink in. “So, do you think Celia screams out Misha’s name? You know, when they’re doing it like monkeys?”
I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but the world went black. When I opened my eyes, a hell of a long time later, it was white and I couldn’t see a goddamn thing. It took me a moment to realize that it was because I had a note conveniently stapled to my forehead. It read:
From now on, you will be at the Den on time and ready to work. When you are here you will be respectful to my Warriors and to me, and you will abide by our ways. You will also be in charge of cleaning this bathroom you’re lying in by six o’clock every night for the next month.
One more thing. Celia is my mate. If you ever disrespect her again, I’ll tear out your fucking throat.
Aric Connor, aka Your Fearless Leader, who knocked the shit out of you
I looked around. The place was an endless room of black tile and chrome. It had seven stalls, seven separate urinals, and four showers. I swore up and down. When the hell am I going to learn to keep my mouth shut?
I may have been an asshole, but I was an asshole who kept his word. It took me hours to clean the damn place. Didn’t anybody teach these little pukes how to aim? I was finishing up scrubbing the last urinal when a stampede echoed down the long corridor outside the bathroom. A pack of young wolves stormed in, occupying every last stall and urinal. Apparently, they’d just finished dinner, and judging by the sounds and smell, chili had been on the menu.
Liam, Koda, and Gemini roared with laughter outside the door as I let loose on the evil little bastards. “Hey! You better get your assess back in there and flush, you pricks. . . . You, aim for the hole, aim for the hole, don’t look at me—aim for the goddamn hole! Oh, I know you assholes aren’t showering now. Everyone get the hell out. . . . I don’t give a shit if you’re not done, get the fuck out now!”
Every last turd scrambled out leaving wads of toilet paper and dirty towels scattered across the muddy floor. I swore when I glanced at the wall clock and saw it was five-goddamn-thirty. Somehow, I was going to get the Warriors back for this.
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