“Find the red-haired woman with a tattoo on her left shoulder. Without her at your side, you will not discover the answers you need. But be warned—your adversaries hunt her, too. If you do not stop them, she will be dead before the full moon rises, and with her, the future of your pack.”
-Prophecy given to Jaxson Laurent, first night of the Full Moon Fair.
The woman at table five stared over my shoulder at the TV hanging above the bar, and I inwardly groaned, knowing what was coming. I’d been seeing it all week: the squint at the screen, the little wrinkles of concern between the eyebrows, the casual glance in my direction and double-take.
She didn’t disappoint. “My gosh,” she exclaimed as I mustered a polite smile, “you look exactly like that missing girl on the news! Madison Lee, you know? Doesn’t she look like Madison, dear?” she asked her husband.
Well, to be fair, we shared a slender build, arm tattoo, and fire-orange hair that stood out like a lighthouse burning in a forest of pines. But I didn’t look like her. I knew my own face—pretty enough but hardened from having to make my own way. The girl on TV had a carefree smile and soft features that screamed, I’ve had an easy life with parents and friends and money.
But people didn’t see my face, just my hair. I’d heard the same comment from nearly every table since the news broke four days ago: You look like her.
Thank God I’m not her, wherever she is.
The woman’s husband flipped his menu and grumbled. “Six disappearances in two months. In Wisconsin. We came up here to get away from that kind of thing.”
And yet, it was all that my customers wanted to talk about. It didn’t help that the twenty-four-hour news cycle was doing its best to spread as much panic as possible. Authorities baffled. No pattern. Anyone could be a target.
Talk about milking the situation. Like I needed up-to-the-minute reminders that I, too, might end up in some wacko’s basement someday.
I flipped open my waitress pad. “It’s strange. I always thought this corner of Wisconsin was so safe.”
The woman gave me a pitying smile. “Don’t worry, honey, I’m sure they’ll catch whoever is behind all this.”
Her white shorts and bright pink top screamed out-of-towner, and clearly, she wasn’t familiar with the capabilities of local law enforcement.
Really, I wasn’t worried. The chance of getting abducted was like getting hit with a lightning bolt. I was just tired of having everyone’s eyes on me and repeating the same conversation.
I took their order and headed toward the back.
While I could get out of conversations, I couldn’t avoid the stares. The couple at table seven kept looking at me, so I headed over. “Can I get you anything else?”
They were backwoodsy sorts. The woman had long, tangled hair and wore a tank top, jeans, and a belt with a big brass buckle. Her arms were toned, and she had a barbed wire tattoo around her right bicep and a strange two-headed wolf tattoo above her collarbone. “Another round of Buds.”
The man was ripped, and the buttons of his shirt strained at the seams. He had tattoos all over his arms, and he gestured to my left shoulder with his bottle. “Nice ink.”
“Thanks. You, too.” I’d designed the tattoo myself, but I wasn’t about to share that fact with those folks. They smelled like bad news.
“You from around here?” the woman asked.
“Yes. Why?” They were probably looking for a local hustle.
The man rubbed his chin and nodded to the TV. “You know,” he began, “you look—”
“I’ll get those beers.” I turned on my heel and grabbed the check from booth eight on the way. They’d left a four-buck tip on a fifty-five-dollar check. I slapped the leather check presenter down on the stack.
“Shit,” I hissed. Had I really been here three years?
Stormy, the only other waitress on the clock, leaned against the wall. “You’re in a mood.”
“I’m too broke to get out of here, people tip like crap, and my tables won’t stop comparing me to the missing girl on TV.”
“You do look like her. What if you’re his type?”
I rolled my eyes. “There is no type. They’ve been men and women, young and old. And she was the only one to disappear from our county.”
As I headed to the bar for table seven’s Buds, Jess, our bartender, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the window. “Ho-ly heavens, Savannah. I think I’m in love.”
A man stepped down from the cab of his shining black Ford F-250 pickup. The rolled-up sleeves of his gray shirt stretched over his thick, tanned forearms, and his blue jeans offset a pair of rugged biker boots. Somehow, he made the half-ton truck look small.
My knees locked as he turned toward the restaurant. Every movement spoke of restrained power, and his shirt clung to his chest in ways that made my mouth dry.
I licked my parched lips. Definitely an out-of-towner.
“I call dibs,” Jess whispered, quiet and reverent as if speaking to the pope.
The man sniffed the air like he was searching for something, and a dark expression cut across his face.
I didn’t blame him. Maybe it was my imagination, but I was certain I could smell the scents of grease and stale beer half a mile from the bar.
My apron and white Taphouse logo T-shirt suddenly felt dirty and constricting. This wasn’t a place for a god like him. He was out-of-this-world gorgeous, with thick tousled hair and a trimmed beard that accentuated his strong jaw.
He approached, and my pulse quickened. Something about him screamed danger, and as he pushed through the front door, the whole bar went silent—except for the idiots on TV still rambling about the abductions. Every eye trained on him, and we all knew we weren’t good enough.
He scanned the room, not like a man who was lost, but like a hunter, assessing the two dozen faces all staring back. His search stopped on me, and though it must have been my imagination, just for a second, I swore his coffee eyes flashed gold.
I knew in that instant, that I should run. That I should flee. But his dark eyes had a magnetic hold on me, and I was torn between submission and flight. My legs wouldn’t move, and my breath stilled as if all the air had been drawn from the room.
I’d seen this story before. He was the predator, and I was his prey—a deer transfixed as it looked into the beautiful face of its doom.
Luckily for my paralyzed brain, Jess jerked me behind the bar. “What are you doing? You’re staring at him and practically drooling on the floor. I called dibs!”
She spun me around toward the back of the restaurant. “Anyway, table seven just bolted out the back door. Did they pay? Because it’s on you if they didn’t.”
That hit me like a bucket of ice water.
The only thing the backwoods couple had left at table seven were the empties, and their pile of unpaid beers would wipe out my wages for the day. The creepers had dined and dashed.
The death rattle of my pocketbook drove all thoughts of the man from my mind. I clenched my fists and slammed through the back door.
Those assholes were going to pay.
* * *
The backlot stank of grease and trash, and I scanned the area in vain for the two freeloaders. I strained my ears for any sign of movement, but the only sounds hanging in the air were the song of crickets and the buzzing overhead lights. I was about to head around the front of the building when the echoes of a hushed argument in the overflow lot broke the stillness.
I fingered the mace in my apron as I headed through the trees down to the barren patch of dirt where employees and unlucky customers parked. I wouldn’t have had to carry the stuff if the owner fixed the damn lights.
At least the moon was nearly full.
The couple was arguing in the shadows at the back of the lot. I slowed my pace. They looked like they were about to come to blows, and I didn’t want to get mixed up in that.
The woman got up in the man’s face and jabbed a finger into his chest. “We gotta stick around. That’s definitely the girl we’re supposed to grab.”
The heavily inked man shoved her back with a snarl. “No way. Did you see who just walked in? He’ll scent me out in a second. We’ll snatch the girl another time. We can’t fuck this up again.”
My pulse raced. Holy crap. They’d been staring at me all evening. I had to be the girl they were supposed to snatch.
I skidded to a halt in front of a car that was trying park. What the hell should I do?
Get inside. Call 911.
The car in front of me honked, and I jumped.
“Are you going to stand there like an idiot?” the guy inside yelled.
I glanced back at the couple. They’d stopped arguing and had trained their eyes on me.
“She’s the one! Get her!” the woman barked, and her eyes flashed red.
Shit, shit, shit.
Hands damp and shaking, I grabbed the mace out of my apron and darted toward the Taphouse. In a blur of motion, the man sprinted around the edge of the lot and blocked my path.
No one could move that fast.
Panic seized my mind. Keeping the cars between us, I dashed toward my Gran Fury, but I skidded to a halt as the woman stepped in my way.
“Don’t scream, or I’ll gut you.” She glared at me with those haunting crimson eyes and drew a couple knives.
No. Not knives.
Her fingers erupted into claws.
The woman twitched, and I snapped my mace up and blasted it into her face. She screamed and hunched forward, rubbing her eyes and choking. “You bitch!”
I grabbed her hair, kneed her in the face, and tossed her to the ground. Then I leapt over her body and raced toward my car. At least life had taught me how to fight.
The tattooed man was on me in a second. I raised my mace, but he clamped his hand around my wrist. “I don’t think so.”
The driver who’d honked at me jumped out of his car. “Hey, let her go! I’m calling the cops!”
The tattooed psychopath released my hand, crossed the distance in a flash, and slammed his fist into the man’s chest.
Not his fist, his claws. Blood sprayed over everything.
This is not happening, my mind insisted. Every part of my body started quaking. I ducked around the end of my car and fumbled with my keys as I jammed them into the lock.
Please, please, please.
I wrenched open the car door, jumped in, and slammed it shut behind me.
At the noise, the tattooed psycho wheeled around and hurled the body of the driver into the air. The poor victim’s gurgling cry was cut short as he bounced off the hood of my car.
Screaming, I locked the doors and revved the engine.
Always park facing out—an underappreciated lesson from my dad. But before I could burn rubber, both attackers were at the windows, leering at me. The tattooed man punched through the passenger-side window, spraying glass everywhere. “You’re not going anywhere,” he growled, then thrust his arms through the window and strained to reach me with bloody claws, grazing my shoulder. I was too afraid to feel the pain.
I floored it, and my tires spun on the gravel. Then the car lurched forward, dragging the tattooed man with me. I swerved toward some small pines at the edge of the lot, and he grunted as I slammed him into the trees, breaking his hold.
With my heartbeat pounding in my ears, I fishtailed out of the lot onto the moonlit county highway and checked my rearview mirror just in time to see the woman haul the tattooed man to his feet. Then they started chasing me. On foot.
“What the hell is going on?” I screamed at the Gran Fury and pushed the gas pedal to the floor.
There was no way those wackos should have been able to keep up on the open road, but they were, and gaining.
My throat clenched. Four years of track, and I couldn’t run half that fast.
I glanced down at my speedometer. Forty-five miles an hour? It had to be busted. Usain Bolt never broke thirty.
Wind whistled through the broken passenger window, and glass tinkled as it blew around the seats. I checked the rearview again.
The speed freaks had nearly closed the distance. The man suddenly disappeared, and something landed on the roof with a resounding thump. I jerked, swerving across the centerline, and my heart clenched. This is not happening, this is not happening, this is—
A hand—with claws—scraped the windshield above me, and I screamed.
My reflexes kicked in, and I slammed on my brakes. The car shuddered and swerved, and I fought the wheel to maintain control.
The thing on the roof launched forward onto the road. A second later, the running woman slammed full speed into the back of the car and flipped over the front.
My seatbelt dug into my ribs as the car came to a screeching halt. The body of the woman hit the pavement and bounced a couple times before rolling into a ditch, while the man’s carcass skidded to a stop in the middle of the road.
No, no, no. It wasn’t possible. There was no way that two clawed people just ran my car down on the open road.
My vision blurred as I started hyperventilating.
Ten feet ahead, the man pushed himself onto all fours. His arms bent and buckled, like the broken bones were snapping back into place. My chest heaved, but I couldn’t seem to get any air.
He stood and faced me, raising a hand to block out the Gran Fury’s headlights. His crimson eyes practically glowed in the high beams. When he glanced at the woman in the ditch, he let out a heart-wrenching howl like a goddamned animal.
Then he charged.
My mind spun, and I hit the gas. The car rocketed forward and jerked as I ran the bastard down. Once I bumped over him, I gasped and slammed on the brakes.
Everything was still. I could barely make out the moonlit form of his crumpled body in the rearview.
Had I just murdered someone with my car?
Apparently not. As the unkillable psycho rose, I could almost hear the echoes of his bones snapping back into place through the broken window. My chest seized as he turned toward me with those glowing eyes.
These were freaking monsters.
Adrenaline dumped into my veins. I threw the car into reverse and gunned it. His body disappeared beneath my bumper and skidded as he was dragged along beneath the undercarriage. I popped the Fury back into drive and rolled over him again.
When I checked the mirror, his body lay motionless in the road.
Where was the damned woman? She wasn’t in the ditch.
I let my survival instinct slip into the driver’s seat, and I pushed the gas to the floor with only one thought in my mind: Get the hell out of here.