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EXCERPT from ONCE BITTEN

CHAPTER ONE

The hulk cornered in the dark dead-end snarled and bared its razor-sharp canines at Reece as he inched his way closer. Flanked by Andre and Ed wielding laser stunners, he led the team, ready to shoot if the beast decided to attack. Decided? Did the thing have the capacity to think? Was the human trapped somewhere inside the fur and muscle conscious of the situation, or was it purely a primal instinct for survival?

Fight or flight. Wasn’t that every creature on the planet’s mechanism for safety?

The three men moved in. Half way down the alley.

They had been tracking this monster for weeks, but up until tonight it had eluded them. Now it was exactly where it should be … trapped like the dog that it was.

“Andre, fan out to the left. Ed, you take the right,” Reece directed, keeping his gaze steadfast on the shadows and the impending threat lurking within them. “If that thing tries anything, you know what to do.”

“Got it.” Ed moved into position beside him, arm raised, stunner locked and loaded. Andre mirrored his movements on the other side of Reece. They were ready for anything.

Something slithered in Reece’s gut and a static charge crawled over the length of his tense frame. Was it the exhilaration of the capture or something else?

They continued to edge closer.

The one streetlight in the alley offering a milky spotlight between dark and darker, flickered above them, gave an electrical buzz and evaporated into the murky night.

Green mobile garbage bins crashed to the ground, one by one, their lids flipping open, the sound of cans, bottles and other contents spilling onto the asphalt and echoing off the high-rise buildings. The agitated werewolf wanted out.

“Backs to the wall now!” Reece yelled, his heart hammering in his chest.

Andre grabbed Ed and whisked him across the alley―backs pressed against the red bricks, weapons ready.

None of them could afford to be bitten.

Reece fumbled for the switch on the infrared headset, he hated it when he couldn’t see. The alley lit up like a red neon light through the viewer. The beast was gone. He whipped his head around, scanning the entire area. Where’d it go? He glanced over his shoulder at Andre and Ed. Andre scanned the rooftops with his nocturnal vision and shook his head. Nothing.

Reece swung his anxious gaze back to the landing. The wolf was on the railing ready to make its escape up the fire ladder. He couldn’t let that happen. He aimed Sarah’s high-powered, double-chamber crossbow at his target, finger on the trigger. It was an ugly mother: big, hairy, slobbering, eyes glowing fire engine red. He squinted into the sight and aimed between its eyes, visualizing a bullseye painted on its massive forehead.

“Wait. What if it can tell us where the missing kids are?” Andre asked, moving beside him. “We have the tranquilizer rifle in the van. That would knock it out for a few hours. We could…”

“Not this time, pal. This thing’s run amok long enough. Now that we have it, I want to make sure it never attacks anyone again. Shit, Andre, its last victim was a six year old kid. Remember the mess we found? That kid’s parents will never know what happened to him.”

“I know. But…”

“But nothing. This thing’s got to go. Now!” Reece didn’t hesitate, he pulled the trigger. Two pure silver shafts rocketed toward the roaring, drooling beast, hitting it in Reece’s imaginary bullseye. The creature gave one last almighty roar and dissolved into a puddle of black sludge and fur that seeped through the landing grate and onto the bins below. “Collect some of that, if you want. You won’t find anything more than we already know.” Reece turned on his heel, and stalked along the alley to the well-lit city street.

Ed holstered his weapon, flicked on his flashlight and joined Andre. He could feel the tension between them. “Don’t take it to heart kid. He’s just tired that’s all.”

“No. It’s something else.” Andre looked along the alley.

“Like what?”

“I think he’s still pissed at me for not telling him I was a vampire. Before I had to, I mean. I think he’s under the impression I betrayed his trust.” He headed for the street.

“Nah, it’s all in the past, Andre. I’m sure that’s not it.” Ed tried to console him.

“I thought that too at first, but now I’m not so sure. Our friendship hasn’t been quite the same since.”

“You think?”

“There’s something on his mind. And I know it has something to do with me.” Andre’s gaze moved to his friend waiting under a streetlight beside to the van. “I guess it’ll come to a head soon enough.”




CHAPTER TWO

The minute Detective Charlotte Delaney entered the precinct Ned Bowers spotted her and rushed across the lobby. “Charlotte, just a minute,” he called in his usual brusque tone.

She slowed her pace, gave an irritated sigh and offered him a thin smile as he approached. He was an annoying, patronizing little man and she didn’t want to deal with him at such an early hour of the morning. She glanced at her watch. 8.15 am. Well as far as she was concerned any time of day was too early for Ned.

 “Morning, Ned, what can I do for you?” she asked, continuing toward the elevator, knowing by the scowl on his face he was not a happy man.

“Have you made any progress with that missing person case yet?” he asked, trying to keep up with her pace.

“And which one would that be, Ned? We do have a few,” she told him, although she knew which case he referred to.

“Melinda Grahame, of course.”

Charlotte stepped up to the elevator, pushed the button and hoped the doors would spring open so she could escape Ned Bowers. As acting District Attorney, he thought he had the power to needle the people he considered his subordinates. And he did a fine job of it too. Everyone he worked with hated him.

“Without evidence or witnesses we have nothing to go on. It’s been almost two months since the first abduction and we’re running out of time. I’m bringing Reece Daniels in to help with the case.”

“He’s not with the department anymore, Charlotte. We don’t need his assistance,” Ned told her.

“Reece is good at what he does. He was always an honest, hardworking cop so I don’t see the problem. We’ve had great success with his help in the past, on many occasions, and we do need it now,” Charlotte countered, giving him a sideward glance, wishing she could blink and make him disappear. The elevator doors slid open and Charlotte ducked inside. “I’ll keep you posted, Ned. Gotta run,” she said, pressing the button for her floor and watching the DA’s stocky form disappear behind the closing polished metal doors. She leaned against the back wall and sighed.

The musical tone of her cell phone cut into her thoughts. She plucked it from her shoulder bag. “Detective Delaney speaking.”

“Hi, Mom, it’s meee,” the young male voice crooned.

“Hi, honey, what’s up?” She checked her watch. 8.21 am.

“I just wanted to know what time you’d be home today.”

“I’m not sure, honey.  I’ll try to be home before you go to sleep.”

“Do I have to stay with Mrs. Jenkins? I’m old enough to be on my own,” her son told her with conviction.

“Sweetie, we’ve been over this before and I don’t have time to discuss it right now.” The elevator doors opened and she stepped into the busy workroom.

“But, m-o-m.”

“I have to go. I’ll call you after school,” she promised. “Have a great day. I love you.”

Tommy knew there was no point trying to argue, once his mother made up her mind that was that. “You too, mom. Love you.”

Charlotte sighed as she dropped the phone into her bag. She loved her son with all her heart and it seemed he was growing up without her, and that made her sad. Tommy was ten now. In just a couple more years he’d be a teenager, and she wouldn’t be the center of his world anymore. She wondered where the years had gone. He was the most important person in her life.

Her job was important too. Locating missing people, a lot of them kids and teens, was a satisfying occupation. The outcome wasn’t always positive, although the successful cases seemed to compensate for that―at least most of the time.

She rushed across the workroom, dropped her bag onto her desk and just as she sat down the phone rang. She sighed and picked it up. No rest for the wicked. “Detective Delaney speaking.”

The voice on the other end of the line was anxious. “H – ello, I have some … some information about … Melinda Grahame.”

“What kind of information?” Charlotte straightened in her chair and glanced around the workroom, looking for her partner Josh Jamieson. She needed a trace on the call.

“I – I know what happened to her.”

Charlotte’s heart turned to lead when she heard the words. It probably meant Melinda was dead. “Can you tell me more?” Charlotte scanned the workroom again. Where was Josh? She glanced across to the next desk and snapped her fingers. The detective looked up. She jabbed at the receiver, mouthing the word ‘trace.’

He nodded and got on the other line.

“She’s been taken out to a cabin in the woods and…” the voice stopped.

“And?” Charlotte coaxed, listening for any recognizable background noises. The caller panted into the phone. He was either nervous or excited, it was difficult to tell which. “Hello? Are you still there?”

“I’m – I’m here. I can’t talk now. I’ll call you back.”

The line went dead.

“Damn!” Charlotte slammed the receiver down, her eyes moving to the detective at the other desk. He shook his head. She knew there hadn’t been enough time. She slumped in her chair, rubbing her aching temples. Was Melinda dead? By what the caller had said it was a distinct possibility. Would he call back? She hoped so.




CHAPTER THREE

Melinda’s eyes snapped open to a veil of black. As her terrified gaze darted around the gloom of her unfamiliar surroundings, she couldn't see beyond where she lay. She struggled to get her contorted body into a sitting position and sniffed the dense, humid air. Wherever she was it smelt earthy, similar to a dog’s wet fur after a rain storm. She tried to breathe through her mouth but she was gagged with some kind of tape. Her hands were tied behind her, the rope travelling down the back of her legs and around her ankles.

There was something else, too. Something taped to her left hand. She tugged at it and a sharp sting shot up her forearm. Melinda whimpered, wondering who had brought her here and how long she’d been missing. And worst of all, what would happen to her?

She heard a noise. Someone crunching gravel or sticks beneath their feet. Was she out in the woods? Oh, God, a secluded location. Was she going to die? The sound grew closer. Closer. CLOSER. Another noise. A metallic, high-pitched squeal against weathered metal. Someone unlocked the door.

Who was out there?

Melinda’s racing heartbeat thumped against her ribs, her ragged breathing quickened. If she hyperventilated she’d pass out. She tried to take in a deep breath, her nostrils flaring to inhale the much-needed air to slow her heart rate. What would happen if she were unconscious? She shook her head to dislodge the thought. She didn’t want to think about the horrible possibility.

The wooden door creaked open on rusty hinges spilling sunlight into the small space. Melinda blinked at the glare, her breathing even more ragged now. The figure framed in the doorway was male. He moved toward her, leaving the door open. Melinda squeezed herself into the corner, tears of fear spilling down her face. She would have screamed if she could.

“It’s all right, Melinda, I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured her. The young man crouched in front of her. He made no attempt to remove the gag or to untie her. Melinda couldn’t make out his features or hair color; the brightness from outside haloed his body and shrouded the front of him in shadow, but she could tell he wasn’t much older than her by the sound of his voice. “I want you to listen to me very carefully,” he said. “Nod if you understand.”

Melinda nodded.

“Good.” He stood up, towering over her. “What I have to tell you might just save your life.”



CHAPTER FOUR

That had been one strange phone call, not that Reece hadn’t had strange phone calls before, he had, but there was something different about this one. Something his years and experience on the force couldn’t determine. Not yet. He slid the digital phone onto the desk and frowned at it.

The caller seemed edgy. He told Reece he had information about the Melinda Grahame case Charlotte Delaney was working on, and before he said anything more he’d hung up. He said he knew what happened to her. Was she dead? Maybe. Was the caller the abductor? Could be. If not, he knew who was.

As Reece pondered the brief conversation, he had an uneasy feeling in his gut. He knew there was more to the recent disappearances than just normal abductions, if that’s what you could call them. No abduction was ‘normal’, and the current cases were even more disturbing.

Andre entered the office. He’d been on an errand to the local Deli to pick up lunch for Reece and Sarah. The Deacon of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church had stopped by to see how the pair was doing. It had been a while since they had touched base and it was good to see her again.

Sarah sat opposite Reece, studying him. He was clearly perturbed by the phone call. She had kept up-to-date with the missing person cases and knew there were far more sinister implications than what appeared obvious.

“What was that about?” she asked.

Reece gave her a vague look. “Huh?” When what she had said registered, he said, “Some young guy with information about the Melinda Grahame case.”

Andre crossed the office and sat the brown paper bag and tray of coffee on the desk. “What information?”

Reece stood up, stretched, and stepped over to the window behind his desk. He gazed out at the street below. “That’s just it, he didn’t tell me anything.” He squinted back the glare, squeezed his thumb and index finger into his eyes and sighed. He was tired. “The guy seemed anxious. Said something about a remote location and rang off before I could get anything else out of him.”

“Maybe you should call Charlotte and let her know someone contacted you,” Sarah suggested.

Reece glanced over his shoulder. “I will. I just need some time to get my head around it first. See if I can recall anything about the call that could give us a clue to his location.”

“Can the department trace the call?” she asked.

“I guarantee it came from a pay phone somewhere. Wouldn’t be much point.” Reece returned to his seat. He grabbed the brown paper bag and peered inside. He pulled out the deli sandwiches, slid one across the desk to Sarah, unwrapped his and took a large bite.

Andre sat down next to Sarah. “The recent disappearances have to be werewolf related. There’s been too much Lycan activity in the city.”

“I know. The only problem I can see is how to explain it to Charlotte.”

“She’s an intelligent girl, she’ll understand,” Sarah told him.

Reece gave her one of those ‘Are you kidding?’ looks. “Not unless she sees it for herself. She’s a cop. Cops believe what they see with their own eyes. I should know.” He looked at Andre. “Remember when you told me you were a vampire? I thought it was a joke, until I saw it for myself.”

“I remember.” Andre gave him a furtive glance. That was the issue between them, he could sense it.

“So show her,” Sarah said. “She needs to be aware of what’s going on in this city. How is she supposed to do her job if she doesn’t have a clue what’s happening here?”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Why?” Sarah studied his face for a moment. “You like her.” She leaned on the desk, a broad smile spreading across her face. “You do, don’t you?”

“She’s a friend, of course I like her.” Reece’s expression said ‘Don’t go there,’ but she ignored it.

“No. It’s more than that.” Sarah shook her head. “You care for her. It’s written all over your face.”

“I care about her, just like I care about Andre, and you and Ed and Adrian. That’s all.” Reece was adamant.

“Have it your way,” she conceded, raising defensive hands, although her woman’s intuition told her otherwise.

                                                                                                            ~*~

Charlotte was furious. She scanned the workroom looking for Josh’s six foot two inch well-dressed frame. Why wasn’t he here? Why hadn’t she been able to get a trace on that call? The caller could have been Melinda’s abductor for all she knew. It had been too good an opportunity to pass up and Josh had dropped the ball.

He stepped out of the elevator carrying a cardboard tray containing two coffees. He gazed across the workroom and when he spotted her he gave a thin smile. Charlotte didn’t smile back as she watched him move toward her. She took a deep breath and counted to ten. It didn’t help. She jumped to her feet. “Where the hell have you been?”

“Good morning to you, too.” Josh slid the tray onto the desk.

“I needed you to get a trace on a call and you were out buying coffee?” She folded her arms and glared at him.

“I thought you’d want to kick-start your day with some caffeine. You always do.”

“I just got a call from a kid who said he had information about Melinda Grahame’s disappearance. If you’d been here, I would’ve kept him talking and maybe we’d be on our way to his location right about now,” Charlotte told him.

“Calm down. What did he say?”

“That he knew what happened to Melinda, and that she’d been taken to a cabin in the woods.”

“That’s it?” Josh gave her an incredulous frown. “There wouldn’t have been enough time to get a trace.”

She poked the air. “You should’ve been here.”

“Did he say anything else?” Josh picked up a takeaway cup and took a cautious sip of his coffee.

“He said he’d call back.”

“So we wait until he does.” He walked over to his desk and sat down.

Charlotte followed him. “Look, Josh, I need you on-the-job, not running out to buy coffee. Send a rookie next time, okay?”

Josh’s intense gaze rested on her. “Whatever you say boss.”

Charlotte wasn’t sure how to take his comment. She’d been chosen over him for this particular case and knew he wasn’t happy about having to work under her―his animosity was palpable. Josh had already complained to their boss about her unorthodox approach to the investigation, and she’d been called into his office for a pep-talk. Something she could live without.

She’d worked hard to get ahead in the male-dominated establishment and she wasn’t about to let some arrogant, self-centered jerk sabotage her career. If Josh Jamieson attempted to undermine her again, she would have no choice but to take defensive action. And she would, without hesitation.



CHAPTER FIVE

Melinda sat alone in the dark shed, unable to believe what she’d been told. How could such a thing happen in the 21st Century? Could this be some horrible nightmare? She wished it was, but knew it wasn’t. Why her? She remembered the newspaper headlines about the recent abductions, seeing the missing teens’ faces on the six o’clock news. She wasn’t the only one. How many were there? Three? Four? More? Melinda wasn’t sure. Now her face would appear on the television, in newspapers and on milk cartons. The thought sent a shiver up her spine.

Earlier, in the glare of the open doorway, she’d noticed bloody gashes on her arms and legs and could now feel the hot, burning sensation on her skin. She hadn’t felt it when she’d first regained consciousness; she had been too terrified to notice. Now she had time to sense everything about herself. Melinda also saw what had stung her hand―an intravenous drip, ‘to hydrate your body and keep you alive, for now,’ he’d told her. She thought he was crazy, thought he would kill her.

Still bound and gagged, Melinda replayed over and over in her head what he’d said, trying to comprehend it. “You’ve been attacked. Bitten by a werewolf.” When her eyes grew wide with fear he repeated the words. “Yes, a werewolf, also known as a Lycanthrope. They’ve existed for thousands of years undetected. Lived and worked with humans. And now you’ll become one of the privileged. When the next full moon appears, which isn’t far off, you’ll go through a metamorphosis. You’ll have the inescapable urge to hunt and kill. And your prey will be human. You’re not human anymore, Melinda, you’re Lycan. One of our pack, and the only way you can be released from the curse is by death. I’m sure you don’t want to die, do you?”

She’d shaken her head vehemently. NO!

Of course she didn’t want to die. She was too young. Tears spilled down her cheeks. Her tears turned to a sob and she sobbed for a long time, grieving the life she would never have, the family she could never see again, the boyfriend she loved, and the friends she would miss―but more so for the horror that lay ahead of her. She would become a monster.



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© 2015 M. A. Anderson
Bella Luna Books, Australia

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without written permission of the Author. 

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