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The mist filling the Tennessee mountain pass was either fate's middle finger telling Erin Morgan she was screwed, or a beckoning finger from the grave letting her know that sooner or later she was a dead woman. Sooner, if the budding sixth sense tingling her scalp and twisting her gut was proving itself true yet again. She'd been trying to shake the feeling, but couldn't. It was more than just the Sno-Med billboards lining the road, advertising, "Let us enrich your life. We care for you." Somehow Erin felt that Dr. Cinatas was tracing her escape from Manhattan into no-man's-land, realizing she was after his jugular rather than hiding.
She'd never dreamed -- make thatnightmared-- that Dr. Cinatas was a murderer. She'd worked for the devil for months and hadn't had a clue until this morning. A sudden cold sweat made her shiver. How many people had she unknowingly helped kill during that time? How big a pawn had she been? What evil plan was Cinatas playing out, and why? From what Erin had seen, four people had been murdered to bring one back from the edge of death. Multiply the number she'd help treat by four, and the death toll was . . .
Oh, God. She gripped the steering wheel tighter, her nails biting into the leather padding. A cold sweat broke out all over her body, and her stomach churned with a sickening dread that she could hardly face.
Don't think about it! she told herself, trying to force her mind away from the scene that had greeted her that morning, but she couldn't erase it from her mind. She couldn't stop seeing everything in vivid detail.
She could still smell the antiseptic and the scent of the blood lab at the Sno-Med Clinic in Manhattan. The beautifully pristine marble floors, snow-white walls, fluorescent lights, and gleaming state-of-the-art equipment were all blindingly bright in her eyes. Even now it was hard to imagine that the perfection of it all had been marred by death. But she could still see the bodies on the stretchers. A middle-aged man and woman, and two teenage girls, all dark-haired and wearing colorful clothing, as if they'd dressed that morning with a celebration in mind. The girls had been wearing delicate gold jewelry, crosses at their ears, saints at their throats, and white rubber sports bands on their wrists. The older couple looked as if they'd spent many years toiling just to survive every day. They'd not had an easy life . . . nor death.
Even before she'd walked across the icy, off-limits lab, she'd known they were dead. Her sixth sense screamed it at her, and her clinical eye had quickly registered the unnatural paleness of their skin and the utter stillness of their bodies. Her panicked breath had frosted in the air and her gut had wrenched with dread as she'd touched them, checking for signs of life -- first the young girls, then the middle-aged couple. They'd been strapped to stretchers and drained of their blood. The bags still hung on the hooks above them, tagged for the future recipient: the king of Kassim, Ashodan ben Shashur. Shashur, a close friend of the president's, had been waiting upstairs for Erin to administer the first of four transfusions that were to take place over the Fourth of July weekend.
Kassim was the smallest but most oil-rich country in the Middle East, and Shashur's security team, a force equal to the president's Secret Service, had arrived early this morning. They'd required the skeleton staff at the clinic -- her, an aide, and a lab tech -- to take a scary oath of secrecy. "Cross my heart and hope to die" didn't even scratch the surface of what they'd said would happen to her if she told anyone about the king. If word of his cancer reached the wrong ears, it would start a war nobody wanted.
But why murder for the blood? Surely there were plenty of donors willing to support Dr. Cinatas's investigative treatment for cancer. She herself gave blood for the cause on a regular basis. She'd been hired by Dr. Cinatas to care for his "special patients," so all of the clients she'd transfused had been ultra-rich. Now she wondered if the diseased rich were feeding off the poor.
How many others had been lured to their deaths?
Don't think about it.
She shut her eyes, her body rigid as her SUV barreled into the fog. She wished she could press the gas to the floor and meet her death at the bottom of a rocky ravine. It was no less than she deserved, but she'd see Dr. Cinatas in hell first. Suddenly an icy shiver ran down her spine. Something was very wrong --
Thunk.She opened her eyes at the hard slam against her windshield. The glass cracked from the center outward, like a spiderweb forming right before her eyes. On the other side of the webbing was something huge and black on the hood of her car. She swerved wildly.
Pulse hammering with dread, she slammed on the brakes. The seat belt cut into her neck and her pounding chest. Her chin smacked into the steering wheel, ramming her teeth into her tongue. Pain slashed like a hot knife through her, dimming her vision and cutting off her breath. Something had hit her windshield, but it was hard to see what, between the black of the night, the dark of her car, and the mists that hovered just above the ground like ghosts bound by short chains. What had she hit?
A person? No, she told herself as she strained to see through the splintered glass. The thing was too black all over, and she didn't see anything to denote clothing. An animal, then? A bear, perhaps, but not a person.
Thank God. She sucked in relieved air and prayed she hadn't seriously harmed the animal. Fog whirled so thickly, she couldn't tell if the thing was moving or if it even breathed. She didn't have a weapon to protect herself, so she beeped the horn several times to rouse it, with no result.
Leaning closer to the glass, she hunched over the steering wheel. Maybe she could drive to the nearest town with the animal on the hood and get help. Swiping her hand over the uncracked portion of the glass, she tried to see through the quickly fogging windshield.
The black form rose up and snarled at her. She screamed, jerking back as a pair of blood-red eyes with yellow centers stared at her from a jet-black face. Black hands and red, dagger-sharp nails splayed menacingly against the glass. She rammed back in her seat, pressing the door lock button.
"What the hell?"
The creature smiled, its lips snarling back to reveal an even row of teeth shaped like ice picks. Evil, as palpable and throbbing as her pulse, hit her, and another scream rose deep inside her.
She couldn't look away. She couldn't move. It was as if icy death had frozen everything but her mind. The creature's eyes flamed like an ocean of fire, but its gaze centered a cold burn inside her, making her feel as if she'd never be warm again.
Clunk. Something from behind the creature had flattened it against the windshield. It screamed with rage and struggled against the glass, as the claw of a glittering silver wolf, which seemed to glow against the dark creature, raked across its face, snapping its head to the side.
Suddenly Erin could move, as if released from a spell that the black creature had somehow placed on her. Every fiber of her being shouted at her to get the hell out of there, to escape the wild creatures fighting on the hood.
She stomped on the gas, lurching the Tahoe forward and slamming the creatures against the glass so hard, Erin thought they would break through into the car.
Through the cracked glass, Erin saw the wolf-like thing had the black creature by the throat. It turned to her. Slivers of moonlight reflected off its metallic coat and made its eyes eerily glow. Its gaze, a bright, clear blue like the hottest part of a flame, met hers, burning itself into her mind, making a connection she couldn't even begin to describe. An otherworldly feel with a primal edge seeped deep inside her, as if a greater spirit resided within the animal, but one just as deadly as that of the other evil creature. She shivered.
The black creature reared up and sank its teeth into the wolf's chest. The wolf shuddered and howled, its scream chilling her soul.
Looking her way again, the wolf opened its fanged mouth.LEAVE NOW!
Erin heard the words as clearly as if a man had shouted in her ear. She put the SUV in reverse, pressed the gas pedal to the floor, and flew backward, bouncing the tangle of black and silver from her car hood. Then she shifted into drive and plunged forward, determined to leave what she'd seen behind.
It's not real. It's not real, she told herself. Yet her hands and body shook so violently, she had to fight to drive. She careened wildly across the road, barely able to see through the fog and cracked windshield. Her sweat-slick palms slipped along the leather steering wheel, leaving only her embedded nails to help her grip. Her stomach whirled with nauseating fear that seemed to worsen rather than ease as she escaped the creatures.
Then she hit a wall of thick fog, one that blinded her. Suddenly, the road disappeared, and she went flying into a black void.
Copyright © 2006 by Jenni Leigh Grizzle
Excerpted from Touch a Dark Wolf by Jennifer St Giles
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.