An Excerpt from Keri Arthur's Full Moon Rising: Panic surged. Ten guardians had disappeared under suspicious circumstances in the last few months, and only two of them had been found. Or rather, only bits of two of them had been found. I swallowed heavily. My twin couldn’t be the eleventh. He was the only family I had left since our pack had thrown us out. He was the only person who meant anything to me, the one person I couldn’t live without. Losing him would kill me as surely as a silver bullet.
I took a deep breath and tried to calm my fears. Rhoan wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t dying, because I’d have felt either of those.
He was just in some form of trouble, and, my fault or not, he’d been in trouble most of his life. He could handle it, whatever it was.
The last thing I needed to do was panic. But I could check. I retrieved my cell phone, pressed the vid button, then quickly dialed my boss, Jack Parnell. He was the current head of the guardian division, and one of the few vampires I actually liked. The other, Kelly, was a guardian and one of my few friends. Not only were they both nice, but they actually bathed like regular people.
Jack’s bald features came online. He gave me a toothy grin, but there was an intentness in his green eyes that belied his jovial expression.
“Nice to see you’re unhurt after your evening jaunt,” he said, his tone cheerful and gravelly. “I’ll expect your report in the morning.”
“I’ll write it up at home and e-mail it in. Tell me, have you heard from Rhoan?”
“About two hours ago. Why?”
I hesitated. I had to be careful what I said, because no one at the Directorate knew Rhoan and I were related, let alone twins. The fact that we shared the same last name was no clue, simply because every individual in a wolf pack shared the same surname. So everyone in our pack, related or not, had Jenson as a last name. And whenever someone new came into the pack, they legally changed their names to the pack name. It was the one way to differentiate origins between packs that shared the same coat color.
Most of those at the Directorate actually presumed we were lovers simply because we lived together - a theory neither of us corrected because it was far easier on us if they believed that. Of course, if they actually knew anything about Rhoan, they would have realized how unlikely our being lovers was.
I wasn’t sure what Jack believed—he’d never said anything about the two of us, never asked anything about our situation. He gave the appearance of not caring either way, but after working for him for six years, I knew that was never the case.
“You’re aware that werewolves often know when pack mates are in trouble?”
He simply nodded.
“Well, I’ve got that feeling now, with Rhoan.”
“Is he injured in any way?”
“No. Not yet.”
He frowned. “So you simply feel he is in trouble?”
“Yes.” Felt it through every fiber, and as strongly as I could feel the heat of the moon.
“I don’t disbelieve you, Riley, but as he’s not overdue, I prefer to wait. The mission he’s on is a delicate one, and sending rescuers in could make the whole thing fall apart.”
Like I cared about anything but my brother ...
I took another deep breath and blew it out slowly. “But given the other disappearances, isn’t it worth checking?”
“The others disappeared from a specific area. Rhoan’s mission shouldn’t take him anywhere near it.”
“So you know where he is?”
“Yes.” He hesitated. “Though you and I are both aware he doesn’t always report changes of direction.”
Wasn’t that the truth. And if he wasn’t where he was supposed to be, then finding him was going to be a whole lot of fun. “When will he become overdue?”
“He’s due to report at nine tomorrow morning.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“I shall decide then what to do.”
“I want in.”
“Riley, you’re not a guardian.”
Yet. I could almost hear the unspoken modifier. I could certainly see the amusement crinkling the corners of his eyes. Though I’d failed the tests, Jack, for some reason, held the firm belief that I had the makings of a great guardian. He’d told me so, lots of times. But because I’d already taken the test, he couldn’t force me to take another. I was safe - at least until he found a way to make me do the damn thing again. Or until I played into his hands, as I suspected I might be doing.
“He’s my pack mate. I don’t intend to sit back and twiddle my thumbs if he’s in trouble.”
“Then report to work in the morning, and we’ll see what happens.”
Which was neither a yes nor a no, but about as much as I was going to get that night. “Thanks, Jack.”
“Try not to scent anything else on the wind tonight,” he said, voice dry. “It looks like an ant could knock you over right now.”
“But only a very toned ant.”
He laughed and hung up. I stared at the phone’s blank screen for several seconds. If Jack wasn’t going to be forthcoming with information, maybe I should try someone else. Like Kelly.
Guardians often discussed missions, so maybe she knew where Rhoan had been headed. I had no idea if she was actually home, but I knew for a fact she wasn’t working. It was worth a try.
I dialed her number, but after three rings it clicked over to the answering machine. “Kel, it’s Riley. Give me a call when you get home, no matter what the time.” I hesitated, then added, so as not to panic her, “Nothing urgent. I just have a question.”
I hung up, shoved the phone back in my bag, and walked home.
Only to find the night’s weirdness had not finished with me yet. A vampire stood at my door.
A naked vampire, in fact.
I stopped and stared. I couldn’t help it. He was naked, after all. And damn, he was built.
He had hair that might have been black, but just then looked brown with all the mud caked onto it, dark eyes that were anything but soulless, and a face angels would kill for.
His body was just as caked with mud as his hair, but underneath the dirt, it was lean and powerful - in an athletic sort of way. And to complete the perfect packaging, he was well endowed. Not the largest I’d ever seen, but mighty fine all the same.
The stairwell door slammed shut against my back, knocking me out of my admiring stupor.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” he repeated.
A polite vampire. Amazing. “Is there any particular reason you’re standing naked at my door?”
I was hoping there was. Hoping that maybe he was some kind of present. Granted, my birthday was quite a few months off, but a girl can always dream.
Though my dreams didn’t usually contain naked vampires, especially mud-covered ones.
He answered my question with one of his own. “Is there any particular reason you’re covered in blood?”
“I got into a fight. What’s your excuse?”
He looked down, as if his state of undress was something he hadn’t noticed until that moment. “I really have no idea how I ended up like this.”
His voice was a low vibration that shivered through my soul and made my toes want to curl. Damn if it wasn’t the sexiest voice I’d ever heard on a man - dead or alive.
“But you do know why you’re standing at my door?”
He nodded. “If you live here, then I am here to see you.”
“Well, I can tell you, I don’t get many bare-assed guys turning up on my doorstep.” Which was partly what I’d been bitching about to my brother before he’d disappeared on his mission, and the main reason I’d half hoped this vamp might be a present. Rhoan tended to do things like that. Though admittedly, few vampires had a sense of humor, and most would not have gone along with such a stunt. “So, unless you can explain what’s going on, you can march your pretty body down the stairs and out of our building.”
“I need help.”
Which more than likely meant he wanted Directorate help more than my personal help. Which was a damn shame. My gaze did another tour down his naked torso, and I couldn’t help an almost wistful sigh. Okay, so I saw a lot of nice naked bodies at the werewolf nightclubs, but this vampire was definitely the best-put-together specimen of manhood I’d seen recently.
“Why do you need help? Did you flash your bits at the wrong man’s wife?”
Annoyance flickered through his dark eyes. “I’m being serious. Someone is trying to kill me.”
He might be serious, but it was hard to take him that way when he was standing there so calmly. Wouldn’t the obvious action have been to report problems to the police, or even the Directorate? “There’s always someone trying to kill vamps, and generally, you guys deserve it.”
“Not all of us kill to survive.”
Well, no, but the ones who did certainly gave the rest a bad rep. “Look, tell me what you want or go away and flash at someone else.”
“You’re a guardian for the Directorate of Other Races, are you not?”
“Nope. That’s my flatmate.”
“Is your flatmate here?”
I sighed. Why did all the pretty ones want to see Rhoan? “I don’t expect him back until sometime tomorrow.” Or later, if the feeling of wrongness in the pit of my stomach was anything to go by.
“Then I shall wait.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? Where?”
“Here.” He indicated the floor with an elegant gesture.
“You can’t stay here.” Mrs. Russel, the owner of this ramshackle exfactory they now had the cheek to call an apartment block, would have a fit. The only reason she’d rented us a room in the first place was because it was against the law to discriminate against nonhumans - and because having werewolves in the building had the fortunate side effect of keeping vermin away. Rats, it seemed, didn’t like us.
But finding a vampire sitting in her hall would tip the old cow over the edge and us out of the apartment. Mrs. Russel had a long-standing hatred of vamps - even though she celebrated every day the fact that her husband had become the meal of one.
“Especially when you’re naked,” I added. “It’s against the law to loiter naked in public.”
A fact I knew after having been arrested for doing the same thing a couple of months ago - though I’d been in a park rather than a hallway. I’d escaped with only a small fine, but then, I had the full moon as an excuse. The silk dress I’d been wearing had fared no better against the change than my lacy shirt. Not that either event would stop me from wearing inappropriate clothing. The law might have problems with people running around naked, but werewolves didn’t.
“The light is broken,” he said, his voice so soft, so warm, that I again felt that shiver up my spine. “There are no windows, and the hall lies in shadows. No one will see me.”
I’d seen him, but then, though he must have heard me coming up the stairs, he hadn’t bothered shadowing. And that fact stirred uneasiness. As did the fact he was naked. It was no secret that I was a werewolf, and no secret that the full moon was only seven days away. And it was a very well-known fact that a werewolf’s sexual urges rose dramatically in the seven days before the moon reached fullness. He might be bait.
Though why would someone want to bait me? Other than having a guardian brother, I was a nothing, a nobody. Maybe my apprehension for Rhoan was making me paranoid.
“If you’re in trouble, why not go to the Directorate? There are plenty of guardians there to help.”
Confusion flicked through the midnight depths of his eyes. “I can’t remember.”
Yeah, I was really believing that. “Would you mind stepping away from my door?”
He did so. I grabbed the keys from my bag and approached the door cautiously. He raised his hands, his expression a little amused as I unlocked the door and thrust it open. Once I’d stepped through, I relaxed. While many of the legends concerning vampires weren’t true, the one about thresholds certainly was.
I tossed my handbag onto the nearby green sofa, then met his nightdark gaze. “Don’t bite any of my neighbors, or I’ll drag you down to the Directorate myself.”
He gave me a smile that had my hormones doing excited little cartwheels. “I have perused the contents of this building. You are the only one here worth biting.”
I couldn’t help a grin. He might have been naked, he might have been covered in mud and up to no good, but he looked gorgeous and he smelled positively sweet compared to most of the vamps I worked with. Another time, another place, I might have been tempted to take his mud-covered bait, and to hell with the consequences. “Compliments won’t get you through my door.”
He shrugged, a small, somehow graceful gesture. “I speak only the truth.”
“Ah huh.” I half closed the door, then hesitated. “You really can’t remember why you’re naked?”
“At this moment, no.”
Didn’t remember, or was too embarrassed to say? I suspected the latter, though I didn’t really know why, especially considering embarrassment was not an emotion any of the vamps I worked with ever felt.